Narayani River

Entering Chitwan, we crossed a large river which our taxi driver told us was part of the Ganga river. We later learned that this is the Narayani, or Gandaki River, which is one of the major tributaries of the Ganga river. I spent 7 months in Varanasi, Indiat living and teaching on the banks of the Ganga (way back when this blog was first conceived). It was pretty incredible to see the same waters much further upstream.

During our stay in Chitwan, we took a boat ride along the river. We saw all kinds of animals in the water and on the shores, including the endangered gharial, or fish-eating crocodile. We also saw a group of men using two canoes to bring a Jeep across the river! And we took a morning walk with the elephants and mahouts that work at the lodge to cut food for the elephants. The elephants passed a bundle at a time up to their mahouts (stealing bites along the way) and carried the stack back–the whole elephant-load is only about half of their food for the day.

Nepali Pachyderms

We went on multiple jungle walks in Chitwan, including a visit to a watering hole. On each of these adventures, the highlight was pairs of rhinos, each a mother with a calf. Young rhinos stay with their mothers for about four years, until her next child is born. One of the calves was pretty small. It was fun to see them wander around, with the mothers always watching nearby. We also had a great time watching the tame elephants, who provide security and continuously munch on their favorite forest plants.

*Pachyderm is a term often used to describe elephants, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses, all large vegetarian mammals with thick skin. Despite their similarities, these animals are not closely related, and are all taxonomically grouped into different orders.

More Mpala Mammals

On my first few game drives at Mpala, I saw more wild mammal species than I can remember seeing in the rest of my life combined. The later weeks did not disappoint, with a longer drive to the northern, drier areas of the reserve, different antelope species, the elusive straw-tailed whydah bird, charismatic reptiles, broad-shouldered raptors, and multiple elephants with young babies, including one that we watched nurse!

Game Drive

The only legal way to shoot wildlife in Kenya is from a car, with a camera. In the afternoons and evenings after the day’s fieldwork, we drove around to different parts of the reserve, stopping whenever we spotted something in the bushes, trees, or skies.

The diversity of wildlife here is mind-blowing. In just a few weeks, I’ve seen 34 different species of wild mammals, and more birds than I could begin to count. I’ve also gotten pretty good at taking pictures out of a truck window, aided by the best drive and tour guide imaginable (my advisor).

The Hippo Pools

On Mpala Ranch is an area commonly referred to as the hippo pools, which is just upstream of a small dam, so the water level stays consistent even during the dry season. It’s one of the best places to go to see wildlife, including the hippos that give its name, and many other animals that take advantage of the predictable resource. We saw over fifteen hippos there on our first visit, as well as a small herd of elephants, a troop of vervet monkeys, two giraffe, a fish eagle, a little bee eater, and a hadada ibis. The big yellow-barked acacia that grow near the river are called fever trees.