The rhino's bones gleamed white under the sun. Bleaching bones were to become a familiar sight throughout our safari: great middens of them lay heaped on the roadsides of the game parks, some of the animals the victims of predators, others of poachers.
We walked away, out of the scent of death. All around us the grass brimmed with life. Button quail flushed nearly underfoot, tiny birds half the size of North American bobwhites, buzzing off furiously like feathered darts. Beyond the water hole, where a raft of yellow-billed ducks paddled and preened, a dozen or more gazelles grazed on a sunlit ridge. The pug marks of a leopard led up from the mud near the water hole toward the kopje—recent tracks, clearly defined, probably made no longer ago than at dawn. Driving in we had seen zebras, eland, giraffe and big bands of impala glowing like russet jewels as they watched us pass. In the presence of such fertility, it was hard to believe that the death of a single young rhinoceros could matter very much; it was easy to imagine the temptation of the cattle drover as he squatted in the thorny cover beside the water hole as the rhino came close, all covered with dollar signs.
Winter, his head tracker Lambat, and I drove southwest out of Nanyuki toward the Masai Mara in Winter's green Toyota safari wagon. Whydah birds flapped over the savannas, struggling to keep their long black tail feathers from causing a crash landing. We stopped to photograph jackals and vultures contesting a kill beside the road. What was left of the dead antelope—it was small and already so torn as to be unrecognizable—had become a battleground. One jackal leaped into the air, snapping at a tawny eagle as it flew in for a feed.
Plumes of blue smoke rose from the forests of the Aberdare Range. The locals were busy, as usual, making charcoal. Much of the deforestation of East Africa, which is rapidly turning once-fertile land into desert, is the result of this widespread practice. But again, it is too easy for an American or European visitor to condemn the charcoal makers: it is cold at night at these altitudes (Ol Donyo, the highest peak of the Aberdares, rises 13,104 feet above sea level) and the wind is as sharp as a spear; and after all. what happened to the woodlands of Ohio? Even here, where lions prowl and giraffes give flat-topped haircuts to the acacia trees, the price of fuel oil is unconscionable. The world has not yet produced a political leader brave enough to demand that his people freeze in order to save the forests.
We descend into the Great Rift Valley, that huge gash in the earth's surface where the plates of Africa and Eurasia mesh. Stretching from Lake Baikal in Russia to the depths of South Africa, it is (according to the astronauts) one of the most visible features on the earth. For us, as we go down into its depths, it is only a source of sweat and earache. The cool of the Aberdares gives way to stifling heat, the game of the highlands surrenders to trucks and scruffy towns. The main road from Uganda runs through the Rift, and along it pound lorries laden with coffee, the newest source of wealth in the region—a windfall that has turned many East African entrepreneurs away from the trade in animal curios, ivory and rhino horn onto less destructive paths. The lorries chuff black diesel smoke into the air. Around and between them scoot the matatus, privately owned cars and minibuses crammed with passengers and bearing names such as "The Professor," "Safari To Happiness." "Good Friday" and "Kill Me Quick." Naivasha, once a tranquil, pastel-painted town near the shores of a lake full of flamingos, has gone dirty gray with exhaust fumes; paint peels from the stucco roadside shops and restaurants. The Bell Inn, where in colonial days travelers sipped tea on the airy, cool verandah, now smells like a cross between a latrine and a slaughterhouse. Even the flamingos have fled. Still, on the hillsides south of Naivasha, just before we turn west toward Narok, I see herds of feeding antelope and giraffe, just as I did on my first visit 14 years ago.
The Suswa Plain unrolls ahead of us, undulating waves of grassy hills stretching north to the Mau Escarpment and south to the Tanzanian border. Herds of game browse in clots on the slopes as far as the eye can see. And this is no national park, this is real country. "The green hills of Africa," says Bill Winter, "just as Hemingway saw them half a century ago. This is where I had my hunting concession when I got plugged, about 2,000 square miles of this country just stiff with game. It's Masai territory and since they're a cattle-herding people there's been very little agricultural development here thus far."
At the edge of a tree line to our far right stands a group of eland, registering at this distance as white daubs against the dark green foliage. Eland, which weigh up to a ton apiece, are choice eating and much sought by the type of poacher who is merely trying to feed his family. The sight of this group of more than half a dozen is heartening. Yet the saliva begins to flow: this is the first safari I've been on where fresh meat was not ours for the shooting. I begin to understand why the Kiswahili word nyama means both "meat" and "game."
Narok is the end of the pavement. An oldtimer named Ole Pussy used to have a bar, restaurant and small hotel here, but now it is closed, and we have to drink warm beer from the lunch box in the truck. The dukas are shabby and fly-ridden. The last outpost of civilization. Masai in red shukas, wearing sandals made from the tread of truck tires � la Viet Cong, stare at us from the shade of their roadside stands. Their spears glint in the fierce light. Rain threatens from the north, where the sky has gone an ominous, gunmetal black.
Winding westward through red rock hills thick with candelabra trees, we come to a vast plain. One stretch is plowed clear across the horizon. Winter says it is a government wheat project under the management of Americans. "All of this country from here on down into the Serengeti Plain of Tanzania is ideal grain land," he says. "Look at the thickness of the grass where the plows haven't ripped it off. It's like the American Great Plains a century ago. But you people shot off your buffalo herds and turned it into farmland. Believe me, the temptation to the Kenya government is just as great in this era of paucity. It's a credit to Kenyatta and his people that they haven't acceded to the demands of the developers—yet. But if Western critics keep nagging at the government, they may just throw up their hands and turn it all over to cattle and wheat. That'll be the end of the game, you can bet."
Toward evening, we spotted a dark mass crossing the gravel road—a herd of Cape Buffalo. Winter stopped the truck and we watched. They were moving from south to north, hundreds of them, their horns glinting in the dying light, their hooves stirring dust into a dim red cloud. Herd bulls pulled out to challenge us, their nostrils flaring as they stood foursquare in our path, heads up, tiny black eyes fixed on the strange shape of the Toyota. The light caught the ridges of their coruscated bosses. "There must be at least a thousand of them," Winter whispered. "Look at the lovely sods move! Like a bloody black river in spate. Don't you love it, Bwana? It was one of that ilk that did my leg, but I love them dearly, I do. Crikey, just look at that!"