It is probably not a surprise that most of the animals here are more famous outside Kenya than within. It is the same story with human Kenyan celebrities such as Lupita and Mutu, we never really give you time and space unless an outside validates you first. The cuter animal friendships are grouped together, while the one with psychopathic tendencies gets an entry on its own, as does the slithery one that might roll up under your bed tonight. Please check before you sleep.
#7 Nicky the Blind Rhino
With rhino poaching having wiped out the larger part of the population in Kenya, it is something of a surprise that the most famous one is a blind baby rhino called Nicky. He is a gorgeous rhino inflicted with cataracts since birth that cannot be treated by surgery.
Rhinos generally have poor eyesight, relying more on smell and sound than sight. Although there are two blind rhinos, Nicky from Lewa Conservancy and Alfie from Ol Jogi, Nicky is the more famous of the two. He was saved by Mike Watson, the Lewa Conservancy CEO after he was spotted bumping into trees and straying away from his mother.
Nicky has two full time minders, Yusuf and Tonga. He is a diva who enjoys his mudbaths a little too much, and hangs out with a Yellow Labrador in one of those animal friendships that flip at the natural order of things.
#6 Odd Wild Animal Friendships
— Owen the Hippo and Mzee the Tortoise
When the tsunami waves hit the Kenyan coast in late 2004, they dragged back with them a young hippo out to sea. He was stranded on a reef from here he had to be captured using nets, ropes, boats and cars. As if this wasn’t enough, it took a rugby tackle by a volunteer who does not watch Animal Planet enough to bring the hippo down. In recognition of this act of who-cares-if-this-wild-animal-goes-apeshit-nuts, the hippo was named after him, Owen.
Most likely due to space issues, Owen the hippo had to share a habitat with a 130-year old Aldabra giant tortoise called Mzee. The two struck an odd mother-son relationship, bathing together and sleeping together. Owen would lick Mzee’s face and become protective if anyone approached the tortoise. Apparently, he had called dibs on licking the old tortoise’s face just quick enough to be faster than its reaction. Mzee learnt to live with the crazy young hippo, or maybe took too long to plan his revenge.
They had to be separated in 2007 as Owen grew bigger and Mzee’s safety as he ran the risk of being smothered with just enough smooches and love by his bigger but younger sidekick to kill him. He was introduced to a female hippo called Cleo while Mzee was introduced to another tortoise called Toto.
Sidenote: Who names these animals? They deserve a presidential commendation.
— Gakii the Bushbaby
When Gakii, a three-month-old bushbaby was rescued in Nyeri and placed in the Nairobi Animal Orphanage, no one thought she would find a mother figure outside her species, a yellow baboon nonetheless. The odd friendship between the primates dumbfounded animal experts as they are not considered socially compatible. Yellow baboons live on Savannahs while Galagos are native to continental Africa. It has been implied that the baboon in question has better maternal skills than Casey Anthony.
—Omni and Digby
In another charming animal friendship story, an abandoned rhino calf christened Omni struck an odd friendship with Digby, a warthog. Omni and Digby started a talk show and became comedy hosts, they got wasted together and then exchanged the last letters of their names just for fun. Okay they didn’t. Wait, are there talk shows in the animal world? Or is it a King Julien kind of tyranny all the way?
Their friendship was apparently not founded on looks as they were “Perhaps not the cutest couple, but heart-warming nonetheless.” Every night, Digby the warthog would sleep on the back of the Omni the baby rhino, both covered by a large blanket. Tell me that did not get you all mushy mushy.
#5 Mountain Bull, MT Bull
Among farmers whose crops have been ravaged by MT Bull, the elephant is a nuisance that should have died years ago. The bull is a hero among his peers, having forced everyone to reconsider the true origin of human-animal conflict. I don’t know how they fete heroes in the elephant world, but this guy deserves whatever is the equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize for calling BS on human settlement.
The 46-year bull is a celebrity for his utter dedication to using traditional elephant migration routes. MT Bull, like the rest of his kind, is motivated by the three “s”s: Sex, safety, and sustenance. His instincts drove him to snap fence wires and crash gates in a bid to follow those migration routes, bringing him in direct conflict with the human beings who settled on that course. MT Bull became that guy, yanking fences, opening gates, tearing down things, throwing a proper ratchet party. Alone. Sometimes with company. Like a Boss. An Elephant Boss.
Lewa Conservancy spearheaded efforts to protect the famous elephant from his instincts, trimming its tusks in 2012 and tracking him using Google Earth Interface. His Mafia days gone, MT Bull’s efforts almost single-handedly led to the construction of the famous elephant underpass which took a decade to build and is the first of its kind in Africa.
He did not use the underpass for two years, only using it first in January 2013; he was evidently waiting to see whether it was worth his time.
MT Bull was featured in the BBC’s “The secret life of elephants.”
#4 Kamunyak, the Blessed One (Lioness)
If there ever was a sociopath among animals, it would have to be Kamunyak the Lioness. Her given name means The Blessed One in Samburu. In 2002, the lonely lioness was spotted cuddling up with five baby antelopes she had cradle snatched from their frightened mothers.
She adopted at least 6 oryx calves who should have been food as soon as she met them. “After securing a newborn, the lioness would lie down next to the baby and, like any protective mother, ward off strangers, antelopes and antelope-eaters alike.”
This was so strange that one animal behaviourist said of Kamunyak “This lion has to have a mental disorder. To understand this, we’d have to study the history of this lioness. We’d have to put her on the couch.”Coincidentally, that’s what they say about people with psychopathic tendencies. She was all nutcase for the festivities as ”local newspapers have noted that all three adoptions occurred on significant days – Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Good Friday.”
It turns out she might have been playing with food the way we poke around the sheep right before we kill it. Or let the chicken run so we can hunt it down like our cave ancestors. Kamunyak ate one of her adoptees shortly after the young oryx died of starvation. Another one was eaten by other lions who knew better than to play with food, while another was taken from her care before the Blessed One starved her to death by loving her and not feeding her.
Kamunyak was last sighted in February 2004 and has never been seen since. She either went the Raymond Reddington way or was killed by a professional Oryx hit squad known as…you know the answer to this question…the Oryxes! Bam! Her story was featured in the film Heart of a Lioness.
#3 Ahmed the Elephant, King of Marsabit
Arguably the most famous elephant in Kenya, Ahmed the Elephant died in 1974 at the retirement age of 55. The male elephant was born at the Marsabit National Reserve sometime in 1919. In 1970, as the threat of poaching to extinction became more grim, President Jomo Kenyatta placed Marsabit’s royalty under his protection by presidential decree. Ahmed was thus declared a living monument to be protected by at least 2 armed guards day and night.
When he died in 1974, a cast of his body was made, leading to rumors that he was actually preserved in ice to be resurrected later when elephants are either extinct or have evolved a third tusk that shoots back at poachers.
Ahmed’s full-size replica still stands at the Kenya National Museum today.
#2 Elsa the Lioness (1956 to 1961)
Elsa the Lioness was a film and book celebrity. She was also a lioness with a really really hot name, and a penchant for the camera and the red carpet. Brought up by Joy Adamson and her husband, game warden George Adamson, Elsa is the subject of the movie Born Free (1966). She and her sisters, Lustica and Big One, were adopted by the couple after George shot and killed their mother. The two sisters were sent to the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands, while Elsa became a superstar. Lustica sounds like a stripper’s name, doesn’t it? But Big One is even worse, WWE, anyone? Anyway, little is publicly known about their life’s history in the Netherlands.
Elsa first became famous in 1960 when, following a visit by BBC Presenter David Attenborough, the book Born Free was released. The book sold 5 million copies and was translated into 24 languages.
It was turned into a movie Born Free, which features Joy Adamson’s efforts to train Elsa to live in the wild. In Living free (1972), a sequel to the movie, Elsa becomes a mother to three cubs, Little Elsa, Gopa and Jespah. She is also featured in a 25 minute-long series of footage called Elma and her Cubs.
Her humans were both murdered; Joy Adamson in the Shaba National Reserve on 3 January 1980 and George 9 years later in the Kora National Park.
#1 Omieri the Serpent
Omieri the serpent strolled into Benta Atieno’s home in Wasare, a village on the banks of Lake Victoria in early 2003, causing a media flurry that brought the 16-foot python to international fame. Thought to be a harbinger of good tidings in traditional Luo folklore, Omieri is not a specific snake but a manifestation. She has reappeared many times before 2003 and 2006, the most controversial being in 1987 during the controversial burial of criminal lawyer SM Otieno.
In the 1987 case, there was a furore when Omieri was airlifted to Nairobi for treatment after her bush nesting place was set ablaze. Residents demanded that she be moved back to Nyanza as the SM burial case pitting his wife Wambui Otieno and SM’s clan became headline news. Omieri was moved back to Kisumu where she died. She was given a proper burial, with a condolence book placed at the Kariokor Social Hall.
In the 2003 manifestation, government authorities were more sensitive to the community’s connection with the snake. Kenya Wildlife Service sent officers to assess the situation and recommend proper foods the nesting female snake was to be fed.
Other people wanted to make a meal of her. According to some reports, there was an offer of a very tempting KES 20, 000 by a crew of foreign engineers who wanted to turn Omieri into a cuisine. It was, of course, turned down. Her eggs began to hatch in May and she disappeared back to wherever she had come after surviving floods said to have been caused by rain she had brought. She resurfaced in Ombeyi village in Kano, Nyando District, in February 2006.
Among the Taita, another snake, christened Sadu the Serpent god, is the custodian of the Taita culture and wealth.
Owaahh, 2014 ©