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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field

"Notes from the Field" provides frequent updates and pictures from our biologists and students who are working in the field or at our headquarters, the World Center for Birds of Prey.

Found 39 entries matching your request:

The Peregrine Fund Provides Expert input for Africa-Eurasia Migratory Raptors Conservation by Munir Virani

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

“It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

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Maasai Mentors Workshop - Mentoring for conservation and Kenya's Heritage by Munir Virani

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

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Identification of migration routes of Eleonora's Falcons breeding in Cyprus, eastern Mediterranean. By Thomas Hadjikyriakou

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

The following account is by PhD Candidate Thomas Hadjikyriakou who is studying the migratory patterns of Eleonora's Falcons that breed in the eastern most region of Cyprus. The Peregrine Fund is proud to be supporting such an exciting project that will unravel the migratory routes of this charismatic species. - Munir Virani

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Monitoring the endangered Sokoke Scops Owl in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is classified as the second most important forest in mainland Africa for bird conservation. I had the pleasure of studying the Sokoke Scops Owl, Africa's smallest owl, for my Masters dissertation project nearly 20 years ago. How time flies? Over this period of time, the forest has remained relatively intact although the human population living around the forest edges has substantially grown. This has no doubt put a lot of pressure on the forest resources and especially its inhabitants. The Peregrine Fund has documented that the owl population has declined by about 25% over the last two decades. It is critical that we continue to monitor this flagship species as a barometer of the health of this remarkable forest.

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Finding Zen on the Himalayas after a nightmare ride to the top by Munir Virani

Munir Virani — in Asian Vulture Crisis

In Hindu mythology, Kali is the Goddess of Death. In Sanskrit, the translation is “She who is black or she who is death”. Kali’s iconography, cult, and mythology commonly associate her with death, sexuality, violence, and, paradoxically in some later traditions, with motherly love. That is what I felt when I rode up the Kali Gandaki Valley in Nepal’s Annapurna Conservation Area in May of 2013. The Kali Gandaki River is one of the major rivers of Nepal and a left bank tributary of the sacred Ganges in India. In Nepal the river is notable for its deep gorge through the Himalayas and its enormous hydroelectric potential. It has a total catchment area of 46,300 square kilometers (17,900sq.mi), most of it in Nepal. This blog is about my journey up the Kali Gandaki from where we began our survey of Himalayan Vultures and other raptors of the region.

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Audio from Tsavo National Park raptor survey

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Podcasts recorded in Tsavo National Park in Kenya during a raptor survey.

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Steve Lewis: My Perspective of the Kenya Raptor Safari 2013

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

I had the immense pleasure of sharing ten days with Steve Lewis and other exceptional people during our inaugural African Raptor Safari in Kenya. For a 72-year old man, Steve looked no more than 58 and exuded passion, enthusiasm and a zest to enjoy life and nature. I invited Steve to write about his experiences in the field with me and am privileged to be able to share this on our website. Munir Virani

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Raptor Safari with Munir Virani - The Masai Mara

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

"I believe there is no sickness of the heart too great it cannot be cured by a dose of Africa. Families must go there to learn why they belong together on this earth, adolescents to discover humility, lovers to plumb old but untried wells of passion, honeymooners to seal marriages with a shared sense of bafflement, those shopworn with life to find a tonic for futility, the aged to recognize a symmetry to twilight.

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Kenya Forest Service Director Presents David Ngala with the Disney Conservation Hero Award

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

He came on an overnight bus from Malindi, a journey that usually takes up to 10 grueling hours. No frills but lots of thrills along the way. The buses are known locally as “flying coffins”. But David Charo Ngala braved the bumpy journey from the coast to arrive in Nairobi this morning to collect his Disney Conservation Hero Award that was to be presented to him by the Director of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Mr David Mbugua.

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Close encounters of the elephant kind by Munir Virani

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

On Wednesday 23rd January, Teeku Patel, Shiv Kapila and I left for our 4th annual raptor road survey of southern Kenya. Over a period of five days we cover a distance of nearly 1300 km that also incorporates three of Kenya’s premium protected national parks – Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East. The latter two Tsavo parks collectively form one of the largest national parks in the world and comprise nearly 5% of Kenya’s land area. Tsavo also hold the largest population of African Elephants in Kenya.

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Kota Shatabdi Express - The Journey from Delhi to Kota

Munir Virani — in Asian Vulture Crisis

The Kota Shatabdi Express from New Delhi

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The Maasai Wedding - Part 1

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

The Maasai wedding - Part 1

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The Eagle's Snatch - A poem about the African Fish Eagle by Munir Virani

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

The ear-piercing call of the African Fish Eagle shatters the dawn silence

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Birds, Bees and Busy at Baringo

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Munir's note: This is part two of Seren Water's blog about his African Fish Eagle study at Lake Baringo

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Peregrine Falcon strikes at Lake Baringo

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Note from Munir Virani, Africa Program Director

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The Bumpy Ride

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Editor's note: Eric Ole Reson is a Maasai student that we have provided a grant to conduct a study on Perceptions of Maasai towards vultures and birds of prey. His story follows.

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Long-crested Eagle study in Uganda

Munir Virani — in Pan Africa Conservation Program

Note: The following was written by Nicholas Gardener MSc. Candidate, University of Exeter U.K. - To describe Uganda’s capital as a bustling, buzzing city would be an absurd understatement. Kampala is a truly fascinating place to be. I find myself incapable of adequately describing the melee of the streets, bursting at the seams with matatus (sardine-like jam-packed minivans for public transport), yet miraculously squeezing in swarms of boda-bodas (motorsycle-taxis), cyclists and pedestrians, all of them abiding by an unwritten set of rules, or otherwise following no rules whatsoever. One particularly earnest taxi driver told me with a grin: “if you can drive in Kampala, you can drive anywhere”. On top of all this is the inescapable ubiquitous presence of the almost comically large police force. With teargas trucks on most roundabouts, and hordes of armed officers crowding every major street corner, I’ve been advised that taking any pictures in Kampala itself is a no-no. It’s a pity because there has been ample opportunity for some unique and often humorous shots (today’s example being a sign reading: “development nose no boarders”). Needless to say, when I first arrived I was somewhat overwhelmed. Having only ever been to a very rural part of Africa once before, I attempted to prepare myself for the culture shock prior to my departure from the U.K, but still felt a certain sense of removal from reality, of being in a different dimension for the first few days of my stay. Luckily, I had a focus.

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C.A.R. Blog 3: Deeper into Dzanga Ndoki

Munir Virani — in Central Africa Project

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working to begin The Peregrine Fund's project in the Central African Republic. — When our BaAka tracker turned to us in the forest and yelled, “Run! Big Daddy coming!” we didn’t wait about to find out who Big Daddy was. When we came to a halt ten minutes later, after a series of stumbling sprints through the rainforest, we found out that Big Daddy is one of the biggest Forest Elephants that live in Dzanga Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic, where we are currently carrying out a bird of prey survey for The Peregrine Fund.

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Too close for comfort – a close encounter with Tsavo's Lions

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Last week, volunteers Teeku Patel and Shiv Kapila assisted with our annual raptor surveys. We drove from Nairobi via the Kitengela plains and onward towards the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro at Amboseli National Park, and then to the rugged Tsavo West before entering the vast plains of Tsavo East National Park. The drive was spectacular and we observed 311 individual raptors comprising 30 species (we actually saw 34 species but couldn’t include the four as they were “off the transect”.

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C.A.R. Blog 2: Raptors, Rivers and Rainforest

Munir Virani — in Central Africa Project

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working to begin The Peregrine Fund's project in the Central African Republic. — Week two in the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve in the Central African Republic and our bird of prey survey for The Peregrine Fund is going well. Although forest-dwelling raptors are notoriously difficult to find, due to the dense habitat they choose to make their home in and their secretive habits, we have been getting some interesting records.

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An historic meeting at Kwenia-Olorgesailie that aims to conserve this unique ecosystem and benefit Masai communities

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Every journey begins with a small step. Over the last nine years my colleague Simon Thomsett and I have been monitoring populations of Rüppell’s Vultures at the Kwenia cliffs in Kajiado district, about a three and a half hour drive south of Nairobi. This colony is the largest breeding colony of the species in southern Kenya and should be considered a national asset. Unfortunately, Kwenia has no conservation status whatsoever. The surrounding areas of Olorgesailie, Kilonito, and Oldonyo Nyoike also have no conservation status. These regions are harsh, arid and water deficient. In contrast, and by virtue of being in the southern Rift Valley, the region also contains some of the most diverse species of vertebrates on earth. Notwithstanding the importance of this very important vulture colony, other species such as Lesser Kudu, Gerenuk, Wild Dogs, Cheetah, Hyena and a myriad of raptors and other prolific birds abound. Olorgesailie is also an important prehistoric site, recognized globally as one of the places where early hominids used hand axes. Hominid fossils go back nearly nine hundred thousand years based on work conducted by Dr Rick Potts and his colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution. The species of animals unearthed at Olorgesailie and other locations in southern Kenya changed over time as environmental conditions shifted time and again. Species of baboons, elephant, zebra, pigs, and hippopotamuses that had been very abundant in the region went extinct. They were replaced by closely related species that still survive in East Africa today.

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Central African Republic entry 1: Destination Dzanga-Sangha

Munir Virani — in Central Africa Project

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working to begin The Peregrine Fund's project in the Central African Republic.

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Secondary Poisoning and Persecution - A Masai Perspective

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working in the Masai Mara as part of our East Africa Project

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Three days at Ol Ari Nyiro, Laikipia

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

I wasn’t sure what to expect when David Waters (also known as Maji) invited me up to Ol Ari Nyiro Conservancy on the western edge of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Maji is a long-time friend of mine, both of us having played cricket together for one of Kenya’s finest clubs as well as having toured India in 1988. Maji is currently involved with the task of helping to further develop Ol Ari Nyiro at an education and scientific level that will hopefully see this massive 100,000 acres of untouched Africa remain the way it is. Ol Ari Nyiro belongs to the legendary Kuki Gallmann, an Italian writer and poet who has written several books about her life in wild Africa. Her most famous one – “I dreamed of Africa” has inspired many writers and travelers to write about and visit Kenya.

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Two weeks on the edge. . .of the Masai Mara

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working in the Masai Mara as part of our East Africa Project

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Photos from vulture field work

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Munir Virani, Shiv Kapila and Teeku Patel attached four GSM-GPS units on Ruppell's and African White-backed Vultures in the Masai Mara last week (October 17th, 2010). This is part of Corinne Kendall's PhD study where she is looking at how land-use changes in Kenya is affecting vulture diversity and abundance.

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Masai Mara Vulture Workshop

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

It was quite a frantic week planning ahead for the 3rd Vulture Workshop (the second in the Masai Mara) funded by The Peregrine Fund, which took place at Basecamp Explorer in the heart of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The Basecamp Foundation and the Explorer Camp were extremely generous to provide subsidized accommodation while Vintage Africa provided a vehicle for participants attending from Nairobi (National Museums of Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service, and Nature Kenya’s Raptor Working Group) and neighboring Masai villages. The Masai Mara National Reserve provided free entry to workshop participants.

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Mara Moments

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

I have just returned from a visit to the Masai Mara where I had gone to help Corinne Kendall (see Tracking Mara’s Vultures) tag and release some more vultures. Corinne has now been in the Mara for two and a half months and has been working incredibly hard on her transects and carcass watches. Last week, with the help of her field assistant, Wilson Masek, she managed to trap and attach two more GSM units on Lappet-faced Vultures, the largest and heaviest of the vultures in Africa. The reason for my trip to the Mara was to carry a newly designed unit that Corinne will test that has been kindly donated by Henrick Rasmussen, from Savannah Tracking Ltd (a company based in Nairobi that makes telemetry equipment).

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A trip down memory lane in Hell’s Gate National Park

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Last year, when Chris Parish, The Peregine Fund’s California Condor Director wrote to me about Evan Buechley (a staff member on the California Condor Project) wishing to volunteer in Kenya, I jumped at the opportunity. Having worked on Augur Buzzards in the south Lake Naivasha area for my PhD in the mid 1990s, I revisited these sites in 2005 and documented marked declines in Augur Buzzard territories that ranged from 18 to 50% over different land-use areas. The southern Lake Naivasha area is the hub of Kenya’s horticultural industry with annual revenue close to five hundred million US dollars a year. Naturally, with the prolific growth of the horticultural industry, comes loss of foraging ground for the Augur Buzzards. Also, the human population has increased fifty fold from 7,000 people in 1969 to nearly 300,000 people presently. Given the changes that have taken place in Kenya especially over the last five years, I was interested to know whether the species has further declined or remained stable.

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The Chambal River Sanctuary in Rajasthan India

Munir Virani — in Asian Vulture Crisis

Counting vultures on the Chambal River can be quite an ambivalent experience. We are on the boat from dawn to dusk with an opportunity to see some of the most fascinating wildlife in India. However, it is usually hot and one does end up with a sore behind at the end of the day. The Chambal is one of the only rivers in India that flows from south to north. I was accompanied by Dr Patrick Benson, who has been studying Cape Vultures in South Africa for nearly 30 years and Shiv Kapila, one of my students supported by The Peregrine Fund, who successfully completed a Masters degree at the University College of London. I have been very fortunate to have Pat regularly help me over the last seven years that we have been observing vultures in India. He has a wealth of knowledge and I have benefited tremendously from his vast experience.

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Rukinga's Raptors

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Immature Bateleur
Immature Bateleur
Having spent a productive full two days at Tsavo surveying birds of prey, we were quite excited to explore Rukinga ranch, an 80000 acre private piece of land just south of the Taita Hills, a world renowned biodiversity hotspot. I was particularly ecstatic because of the possibility of seeing another Taita Falcon (I saw my first ever Taita Falcon in the wild in Tsavo West a couple of days ago). For those unaware of what exactly a Taita Falcon is, it is the avian equivalent of a wild Amur Leopard. The rare Taita Falcon is a winsome, yet powerful little falcon with huge feet, and capable of attaining speeds of up to 160 miles per hour at full stoop, leaving its prey no chance of survival. The Taita Hills was where the first specimen was discovered. My colleagues on this survey - Teeku Patel and Karim Kara are avid raptorphiles and we were invited by Dipesh Pabari (Manager of Kenya Camps International) on the last day of our survey to Camp Tsavo to document the ranch's raptors and look at the possibility of assisting with specialized raptor training courses.

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Rekero’s Release

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Conservationists the world over usually say that “the field of conservation can be extremely frustrating.” This is true to a certain extent but as scientists and conservationists, we simply cannot give up. While “feel good” factors are few and far between, they are there. Look at how populations of the Mauritius Kestrel have recovered (from only four known individuals in the wild in 1980 to over 600 individuals presently), or the fact that Peregrine Falcons have been taken off the US Endangered Species List. Some events can make you feel good no matter how small they seem - whether it is watching your child release an eagle after banding or giving a bird a second chance to live after all hope is lost. Yesterday was one of those days where a group of Kenyans felt that “feel good factor.” It was also a great example of how people working together can make a difference. A huge difference in the life of one vulture—a Rüppell’s Vulture nicknamed Rekero.

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International Vulture Awareness Day 2009: Celebrations in Nairobi, Kenya

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

I knew immediately when I was talking to Siddhanth, that he was unusually interested and knowledgeable. He came up to me and asked, “Does the range of the Rüppell’s Vulture and the Lammergeyer overlap?” I was stunned. This was a ten-year-old boy asking me questions about the distribution of vultures. “Yes, I replied, although the Lammergeyer is a high-altitude species and we are probably left with only two individuals in the whole of Kenya.” We also call them Bearded Vultures, which is a more widely accepted name for the bird.

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East Africa’s Vultures—Unsung Heroes

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is unequivocally rated as one of the world’s premier wildlife destinations. Every year between July and September, approximately 1.2 million grunting wildebeest cross over into the Mara from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The wildebeest provide an unparalleled culinary feast to crocodiles, lions, and a myriad of other predators that prowl the Mara’s magical plains. However for one group of animals, the wildebeest migration in the Mara becomes a prolonged period of festivity—these are the vultures—nature’s unsung heroes. I’d like to think of them however as Africa’s most efficient clean-up crew.

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Trapping Fish Eagles at Lake Naivasha

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Trapping African Fish Eagles is not only fun, it is incredibly therapeutic. Furthermore, it provides a wonderful opportunity to take photographs of these charismatic eagles in action as they majestically swoop down over the water towards a dead, belly-up floating fish. Sorry to burst your bubble but I am afraid that’s how all the “action” fish eagle shots are taken. The late Leslie Brown in his epic book “The African Fish Eagle” said that fish eagles spend on average only about eight minutes a day hunting. So it would be a long wait if you were to try and get the naturally perfect shot!!

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The Magic of Kwenia

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Nestled in the heart of the Kedong Valley is Kwenia—ome to the largest and most important colony of Ruppell’s Vultures in southern Kenya. My friend and partner in raptor conservation studies, Simon Thomsett discovered this spectacular site in 2002 during a helicopter flight to the Gol Mountains in northern Tanzania. Ruppell’s Vultures, along with four other species of vultures in East Africa have been placed in the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red Data List. This means that their populations need to be closely monitored to ascertain whether they will either (barely) survive or become extinct in the not-so-distant future. Lammergeyers or Bearded Vultures have almost completely disappeared from Kenya while Egyptian Vultures are listed as endangered species. The White-headed and Lappet-faced Vultures are only confined to the big game areas while there have been noticeable declines in numbers of the two species of Gyps vultures—African White-backed and Ruppell’s.
Kwenia cliffs (Photo by Munir Virani)
Kwenia cliffs (Photo by Munir Virani)

I have previously written about my hair-raising flight to Kwenia and have since then visited the site every year with Simon to monitor population trends and reproductive success of these near-threatened species. During that first visit, Simon and I made a gentleman’s pact whereby we pledged not to write extensively about this magnificent site but more importantly not to reveal its exact location. Every field biologist has his or her “secret spot” where they share their fieldwork, experiences, passion and enthusiasm with close and like-minded friends. Kwenia is one of those “secret spots”. While I will not reveal the location of the site, I would like to share with you my experience at Kwenia.

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Raptor Conservation Photography Workshop for Kids – Lake Naivasha April 24-25, 2009

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

In November last year, I had the privilege of presenting a lecture entitled “The Raptors of Kenya” to participants of the Kenya Museum Society’s “Know Kenya Course.” This is held every year and is open to Kenyan residents and expatriates eager to learn about Kenya’s fascinating wildlife, history and culture. After my talk, I was asked by a lady if I would be kind enough to give a similar lecture to students of the International School of Kenya (ISK) in Nairobi. I can’t remember whether I said yes but I had a card thrust into my pocket and the next day received an email asking me what day would be suitable for me to give a lecture at the school. After corresponding with the school’s headmaster, we agreed that sometime in January 2009 would be better.

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Flight to Kedong Valley at Ol-Donyo Kalulu

Munir Virani — in Asian Vulture Crisis

Kedong Valley
Kedong Valley
As we prepared to land, I felt my stomach churn. I closed my eyes and saw my life flash by. There wasn’t a landing strip but hundreds of Acacia bushes at the base of the towering Kedong Cliffs. Crash, bump, thud. Suddenly it was all over. Surprisingly, with a tail wind, the landing was smooth. Simon asked me if I was all right. I stared into space for a good 60 seconds. I couldn’t decide what shocked me more – the 40-minute flight from Athi River or the breathtaking views of the Kedong Valley. The scene was like time had stopped in Africa. There were golden rolling savanna plains, imposing cliffs, picturesque hills, and not a person in sight. Unlike the modern-day African image of shiny aluminum roofs, curio shops, and overgrazed livestock pastures, I stared in awe and immersed myself in the beauty of the moment. The sun was going down, the sky was a jigsaw of pastel colors. Harriers soared over the meter-high grasslands. A Lanner Falcon stooped towards a flock of mouse birds. Gerenuk and bat-eared foxes stared nervously at us. This was the face of Africa at its wildest.

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Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve Munir Virani in Koshi Camp, Nepal

Munir Virani — in Asian Vulture Crisis

Only those scientists working on the Asian Vulture Crisis project in south Asia know how many chickens have been "sacrificed" in order to save the vultures from extinction.  At this moment, I am in Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in lowland Nepal with local biologist Jeet Bahadur Giri (aka JB) and his assistants Badri and Chakra.  We are watching nest number five, one of only two Slender-billed Vulture nests built high up a Kapok tree.  Our lunch comprises of fried chicken (our dinner the previous night was chicken curry and this evening we have been promised a special Nepali chicken treat!!).  In the distance, a small herd of Indian Wild Buffalo glares at us nervously, while the enchanting cry of a Crested Serpent Eagle alerts us of impending perils in this magnificent riverine forest. 

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