It’s not every day you get to see something that you know is going to be an image that stays with you for the rest of your life. Today was one of those days though, one of those rare occasions when you know you are witnessing something pretty spectacular.
Walking along continuing our survey we spotted something on the forest floor not far from us. My mind immediately started thinking of the floor-dwelling mammal species like sunis or elephant shrews, but the other spotter in the group, shouted “monkey!” I didn’t put it together at first as usual when “monkey” is shouted it is a Colobus and these are NEVER seen on forest floor. My mind then jumped to Sykes, the other most commonly seen primate on surveys but as soon as the individual in front of my eyes moved, I realised that its shape was all wrong. It was definitely a monkey though. I couldn’t believe it..Yellow baboons running amongst us, here one was… and another! And there’s one more over there! Soon we were counting baboons left right and centre as we realized there was a whole group around us, with the smaller juveniles on our left hand side staying close and observing us, while the adults led by one HUGE male seemed to be moving towards the younger members, right by us giving us an awesome view. I can’t say what the coolest thing about the experience was, it’s so hard to chose. The fact that the baby baboons were so curious about us, observing us in the exact way we were observing them, giving this weird sense of blurring between who is doing the observing and who is being observed. Or maybe the fact that we saw so many all at once… 18 we counted! Or the fact that they were so close and it was just the most surreal and incredible experience to see them in this beautiful environment where they belong. Monkeys to me have always been in the general class of zoo animals – exotic beings who come from places so far away or so under threat that they exist only in captivity in my mind. To hear a rustle in the trees and look over and see a young baboon pacing back and forth looking directly in your eyes is just one of the coolest things I have experienced in my life. I know I will keep that memory for as long as I live, I really just can’t explain how amazing it was for me.
Anyone who does forest can’t deny that sometimes it gets tough. It is tiring work and sometimes I get frustrated with the terrain and how long it can take to get such a short distance but it is all just so incredibly worth it for moments like these. Where else can I have this kind of experience? Walking through the bush at home is going to be so anticlimactic now after experiencing the wilderness that is this African jungle. You know, despite how hard it can be sometimes, my main advice to people doing this program would be to remember to look around! I’m constantly looking down, I get so caught up in the ground right beneath my feet. But then we hear something and I look up and for a second my breath is just completely taken away. This place, this jungle is beautiful. But I don’t just mean beautiful I mean it is unbelievably, magically STUNNING. It is so drastically unlike anything we have in my country or in most countries come to that. There are huge baobab trees everywhere with other smaller trees wrapping around them, vines that hang among the canopy and hang down to me as I look up at their towering figures, the figures of all these plants wound together like they’re in some sort of eternal embrace. My words cannot do justice to a place like this but it is so nice to truly experience the landscape like this. It is different from doing a safari as so many visitors to Kenya do – here we are truly witnessing and experiencing the landscape and it is so incredible! Almost other wordly. I love it. Forest gives you a real chance to be an explorer… walking along, binoculars around the neck, putting one foot up on a rock to get a better view of some grand African bird and shielding your face from the sun and you just think “Man, this is how Indiana Jones must feel every day.” It’s pretty wicked.
Rachel Cunningham- Forest Volunteer