Yesterday we compiled a list of 46 distinct mammal species that we have seen in Kenya. That list excludes all domesticated animals and most small rodents. In addition to the unbelievably good luck we have had with mammals, Shawn (the bird crazy student) has found over 200 species of birds, many of which are not on the official Mpala bird list for the area. We have not been quite as successful with herps but there are Agama lizards basking at every turn and in total we have seen about 10 species. The insect crazy student on the trip would certainly be very frustrated if I did not mention the uncountable insect diversity. Many of the students were lucky enough to see an aardvark (a species so rare and awkward looking that neither of the two instructors had seen one until now) and the first lion that the class has ever seen on Mpala. The lion was absolutely gorgeous and much bigger than anyone thought it would be. Certainly much more substantial than the leopard we saw eating a dead gazelle. The aardvark, on the other hand, was absolutely ugly and we had a long discussion about how such a strange looking organism could continue to survive when all the other animals must be constantly teasing it about its long nose, short stubby tail, and tall flappy ears.
A few days ago we made a stop in town and the students had their first opportunity to haggle for souvenirs. Vendors are aggressive and overwhelming but most students left with plenty of souvenirs without spending too much money. Now all of the students are working on collecting data for their final projects, ranging from ant lion experimentation to vast dung surveys. They will have a hard day of writing up the projects tomorrow and then we will try to get out and have some fun seeing even more animals on Wednesday before beginning the long trip home on Thursday. It will be another busy few days until we leave.
As for me, I am nearly finished collecting my ants and then I will just need to preserve them in some dessicant and I will be ready to head home. While I dread leaving Kenya I cannot wait to get home and start using my labeled primers in earnest so I can get some real data and learn everything that I can about these ants. I have been bitten so many times that I may be starting to develop an allergy. I often find ants on myself well after I have left my collection area.
Despite a few brief stints of stomach aches and difficulty sleeping from hyena yelping and elephant roaring all night, spirits are high and I have heard no one expressing regrets of coming. The brave among us tried camel for dinner a few nights ago. It was chewy and fatty but not as bad as you would think it would be. At the very least it was an interesting experience.
Overall, we are all dreading leaving Kenya and most of us will try to come back again someday.