August 8, 2004

It's the last Sunday of the field season, and we're certainly enjoying our day off. Amanda leaves tomorrow, and today she, John, Alison, and I spent some time reflecting on the season. We talked about the work, the artifacts, and what kept us busy, but we also spent a lot of time talking about the animals we'd seen this season.

As every year, there were lots of baboons in the area, both at the baboon cliffs where they sleep each night and across the landscape during the day. We've also heard hyenas frequently, and one night I heard a hyena whooping with satisfaction after it had caused much disturbance with the sleeping baboons. We've spotted Grant's gazelle, gerenuk, and eland, and two female ostriches ran by camp one day. Occasionally, we'll see the footprints of a cheetah, leopard, or jackal, and paths of snakes in the dust, but we don't often see these predators. Every day, we see many birds, from the pied crows that play in the air currents near our camp cliff, to the small weavers, English sparrows, and superb starlings that clean up our dropped crumbs and drink from our water basins. This year we haven't seen many hawks and eagles, since there are fewer rodents than normal, but Amanda and Jenny did see a Secretary bird - a kind of raptor that has very long legs for wading through tall grass.

A superb starling       Baboons on baboon cliffs

Over the past eight years, the number of large animals has really decreased. At the distant edge of the rift valley, people are putting up fences, and this has prevented the natural migration of giraffe and antelope herds down into the rift between the rainy and dry seasons. I was very happy, though, when last week Warren and I saw two warthogs in Locality A, and Amanda spotted a juvenile giraffe wandering near the base of Mt. Olorgesailie. Yesterday, around 11:30 in the morning, we also heard a lion grunting nearby as we excavated at the handaxe site near the Site Museum. Although some years ago we used to hear lions on many nights, we seldom hear lions anymore. The local people, who are concerned for their cattle and other livestock, don't particularly like the lions, and the effect of so many domestic grazers in the area means that there aren't any longer as many natural herbivores that the lions can count on as prey. All of us in camp wish the wild animals weren't on this sharp decline, but it helps us appreciate them even more.