I invited one of our volunteers Kimberley, a visiting student, to send us a guest post from Mombasa about the conservation activities down there. She went to Haller Park, a rehabilitated quarry that I used to run. Here is her news about Owen and Cleo amongst other interesting things!
This past July, I have been lucky enough to spend the month studying Kiswahili in Mombasa, Kenya, and when taking a break in my studies, I have tried to learn more about local conservation efforts in the area. Haller Park, a wildlife sanctuary and rehabilitated quarry of the Bamburi Cement factory, just north of the city, is one interesting example of what’s going on here. Just next to the factory, the park has achieved a small degree of fame in recent years as the home of Owen and Mzee – Owen, being a young hippo orphaned in the December 2004 tsunami that befriended an Aldabra giant tortoise called Mzee, inspiring the children’s book, “Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship”. While visiting last week, I spoke with Stephen Tuei, the chief animal caretaker at Haller Park and Owen’s keeper, who reported both animals are doing well, though Owen now spends his time with a fellow hippo, Cleo(patra). He kindly let us visit Owen and Cleo (who are kept in an enclosure not yet open to visitors though plans are underfoot to expand the park) and we were able to see the young hippo (now about 4-5 years old) and his new companion (a female hippo, about 15 years of age) ourselves and snap these photos.
Haller Park boasts a variety of animals and immediately upon entering the park we were greeted by several Rothschild’s giraffe (comically near signs asking visitors to stay clear of the wildlife). Visitors are given the opportunity to feed the giraffe every day at 3PM at an enclosure set up nearby and the giraffe were clearly waiting for feeding time. (As the hour approached, the park’s Vervet monkeys also gathered, to seize the opportunity for scraps.) The park receives many school groups of all ages from all over Kenya and feeding times are also set for the hippos (Sally and Potty, another male and female pair) at 4PM. Visitors from all over the world also visit the park when in Mombasa, though our guide, Samson, informed us that numbers had sharply dropped this year due to the political troubles associated with the election (a report on the decline in tourism I have heard echoed throughout Kenya).
Tours of Haller Park are available in several languages and Samson, our guide, was nice enough to accommodate us with a mix of Swahili and English. Samson’s background was in environmental studies, though since being at the park, he told us he has become increasingly interested in ornithology. Haller Parks hosts some 230 different bird species, such as the weavers and Pied Kingfisher we spotted over the crocodile pond. The tour of the park covers the reptile park, crocodile farm, fishery, and general wildlife enclosure, where Sally and Potty reside along with other mammals such as Cape buffalo, eland, oryx, and bushbuck. Though my guidebook warned of poisonous snakes, only non-poisonous snakes are now kept in the reptile park, along with several Leopard and Star tortoises. There are approximately 30 adult Nile crocodiles, introduced to eat waste fish from the fishery and bred regularly, though it was a bit unclear what for – Samson implied the young crocodiles were sent to other parks throughout East Africa. He also informed us that the fishery (primarily Nile Tilapia) is in the process of being scaled down from commercial purposes to only Educational use and a continued role in the park’s ecosystem.
In addition to its tours, Haller park also clearly posts information about their resident wildlife and various activities for interested visitors. For example, in front of the mangrove nursery, there is information postedf about the Biofiltration Project, a joint project with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and Coastscape Ltd., to treat the park’s water systems with Rhizophora and Avicennia mangroves. There is also information regarding further quarry rehabilitation, and about an initiative to promote Biofuel – “Plantations for Carbon-Neutral Fuel”. Targets for 2008 include planting 150 hectares of Biofuel trees in the Diani and Vipingo areas of Kenya and further involving local communities, for instance, by inviting schools to participate in planting trees and creating employment opportunities.
For more information about Haller Park, visit their extensive website: http://www.lafargeecosystems.com/