Tag Archives | elephants

Out of Africa…but first a few words about poop

I think Baronness Von Blixen had the right idea: I wants me a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills, or, even better, a little shack at the Oloololo Gate, at the northwest corner of Masai Mara, which is without doubt the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. On our last day there, driving to the airstrip in our open jeep, I watched a lioness saunter down the road towards me. With a switch of her tail, she strolled past me to join her cubs, who were playing under an acacia tree on the other side of the road.

Right now you’re bracing yourselves for pictures of Big Cats, sunsets, maybe an adorable monkey.  That’s all coming, I promise, but this post is about something else. This post is about ecological balance, the circle of life, the perfect synergy of nature.

In other words, this post is about poop, which, in its own way, is as perfect as the lioness I saw on my last day.  As one of the naturalists who took us on a “walking safari” said, poop isn’t just shit.

Take this, for example:

Yep, that’s elephant poop.  And a rather small offering, compared to some other piles we saw.  Elephant poop, it seems, is filled with lots of undigested material, including seeds and even small seedlings, which eventually (if not eaten by some other creature) will sprout, fertilized by the poop.  Fresh elephant poo is sometimes eaten by baby elephants, because the poo contains all kinds of bacterias and enzymes that the baby elephants need to line their own digestive tracts (think: live culture yogurt). And then of course, sometimes dried dung can be burned for fuel; and it can also be compacted into balls, wrapped in old plastic bags, and voila, a soccer ball for village kids.

Here’s a different kind of poop:

 It sort of looks like a big blob of toothpaste, doesn’t it? Nope. It’s hyena poop and it’s white because hyenas eat bones. They’re part of “the cleanup crew:” vultures, buzzards, hyenas, and jackals. Nice bunch, eh? Hyenas eat flesh, but they also eat bones, so their poop is almost pure calcium.  And then these little beetles need the calcium, so they come along and eat the poop. It’s a win-win poop-based relationship.

But the piece-de-resistance of poop has to be this sample:

 What’s that, you ask? Isn’t it just more elephant poop?

Oh no, my friends, not at all. That is hippo poop. While the hippo is doing his business, he spins his tail around and spreads the poop as widely as he can, on bushes, trees, shrubs, rocks. (Note to self: never to stand behind a hippo, for fear of being be-pooped.)  Their poop works on the trail-of-breadcrumbs method: Hippos spend the day in the river staying cool and then at night, they lumber up to the grasslands to graze. But because hippos are so territorial (each family group has its own section of river), if a hippo should inadvertently splash into the wrong part of the river, he would face the wrath of other hippos.  The path of poop ensures that each hippo family finds its way back to the right part of the river.  You can see the hippo paths–surprisingly narrow for such wide creatures–leading away from the river up to the grasslands, and bespeckled all along with the hippo version of road signs.

See? Poop isn’t just shit. Without poop? There’d be nothing, not even this:

Does anyone know how I get a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills?

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on July 24, 2012 in environment, Travel

walking in Jaipur

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  We’d just zipped through the City Palace in Jaipur–carvings, screens, gorgeous mosaics—and the Jantar Observatory was closed, so we thought: let’s just walk through the Johari Bazaar and then meet the taxi driver back at the City Palace parking lot (read: dusty square ringed with small food stands, flower stalls, dogs, cows, beggars).

The taxi driver (who spoke almost no English) said “sure? walking? sure? sure?” (Translation: “are you tourists out of your freaking gourds? walking through Johari Bazaar at rush hour? There are cows in the gutter smarter than you are!”) My Hindi is, um, nonexistent, so I nodded and smiled and nodded, “yes, yes, walking,” the driver and Husband exchanged cell phone numbers, and off we went, on foot, into the scrum.

Caleb’s seven-year-old eyes saw some of the poverty and dirt but mostly he saw only the adventure: look a goat! look a cow! look an elephant right there in the road!

The previous day, we’d been in Ranthambore, the tiny village outside the tiger preserve, where the poverty we’d seen had been, you know, picturesque: we’d been bumping along in an open jeep past roosters walking down dirt roads, pigs ambling along the sidewalks, half-dressed children tossing around a ball, small stone houses with tin roofs covered with ivy and bougainvillea.  Poverty…but pretty. The way tourists like their poverty.

But now we were in a city and the poverty was no longer just local color.  We used to live in New York, so homeless people on the subway or sleeping on park benches are, sadly, pretty typical sights.  My kids are aware (sort of) that not everyone has what they have.  What struck Liam was the sheer scale of what he was seeing: scores of kids begging, babies playing in the dirt, cows munching on garbage, flies everywhere. His grip on my hand got tighter and tighter—he couldn’t see the affluent residents of Jaipur whipping by on their motorbikes or in their tinted-window cars; he didn’t want to see the moon rising over the pink buildings:

he wasn’t amused by the decorations on the elephant wandering by:

or the statute of Ganesha tucked high above an arched passageway:

To get to the actual street of the bazaar you have to cross the traffic circle of death.  You think, oh, it’s just a street, I know how to cross a street. Except…there are no traffic lights, no crosswalks, and no traffic cops. There are, however, tour buses coming this way and tuk-tuks coming that way and motorbikes coming every which way and whoops there’s a taxi and shit there’s a rickshaw and whoa that’s a commuter bus and JUMP! the last two feet to the island in the middle of the circle in order to avoid a car swooping around the curve.

Caleb was scared but excited. He thought it was like a human video game.  Liam burst into tears. I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO DIE. Continue Reading →

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Continue Reading · on November 23, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, expat, shopping, Travel

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