Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Article excerpt

Laikipia, Kenya

For weeks the farm has been in the eye of a storm, with violence swirling all around us in clouds of dust kicked up by multitudes of cattle. Last week to the west, tribal invaders burned down Kuki Gallmann's tourist lodge overlooking the Mukutan Gorge. On Sosian ranch to the south our neighbours are bravely pushing on a month after the invaders murdered Tristan and burned down several homes. To the east on Suyian ranch, Anne's safari lodge -- the loveliest camp I ever saw in Laikipia -- also lies in ashes. To the north invaders are still poaching elephant, as they are everywhere around us, spraying bullets into their legs and then hacking out the tusks.

Since they wandered off with their herds before Christmas, the invaders have still not returned to our place. This might be because we were left with no grass and little water. It is dead quiet now. Walking through the bush at noon, I hear only my own breathing and footsteps, which kick up little explosions of dust. No birdsong, no wind. The landscape's colours are those you see in the images Nasa spacecraft transmit from Mars, reddish and with stark light and shadow. There is no pasture left and the animals are dying. In the valley our fever trees stand like vandalised umbrellas, their branches collapsed on all sides from starving elephant that smash them down in their desperation for anything to suck out of the bitter, yellow bark. On my path I find a waterbuck that must have collapsed only a few minutes before, its eyes still open as it dies.

The invaders appear to have vanished, but I frequently see tracks in the dust -- and sometimes figures scampering away through the bush. Beyond the farm's perimeter fence I see vast herds of cattle, tens of thousands of them. I am anxious to know why they have not smashed down our fences again, as they did in October -- and why they have not yet burned down the farmstead, the hay barn and offices. Perhaps they are just saving us until later. I question a Samburu friend about this and he says, 'to us you are like a white bird'. I wearily ask what on earth he is talking about and after an esoteric conversation I finally deduce that he is comparing me to an Egyptian vulture. Supposedly, the Samburu avoid killing such creatures for fear of bringing curses down upon themselves. …

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