Humans are not the first and only animals in the animal kingdom to use skin care. Animals without fur covering their skin, like us, also engage in skin care practices, to protect their skin from sun and mechanical damage. The innate need to care for the skin is an evolutionary advantage because it prevents illness and disease associated with unprotected sun exposure. And protecting ones skin has allowed the species who engage in such behavior to survive and carry on their genetics, and those who do not to die out. Evolution by natural selection at work.
One of the best places to study skin care behavior of furless animals who live under the hot sun is Africa, so I went there to learn more. These are my notes:
Stop 1: Nairobi
I arrived in Nairobi before heading out to "the bush". Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and is a city just like any other, but it was the little differences that made it memorable. Some of my Kenyan friends and I were driving through the city, and if this were Los Angeles, you may see squirrels or bunnies on the greenbelt near the sidewalk. But in Nairobi there were baboons. My favorite sight was a baboon eating a gigantic slice of watermelon on the side of the road.
As we were driving around the city I also saw heards Masai Cows walking on the side of the road and it took me a minute to realize there was no one hearding them. 30+ cows walking in a row on their own. I asked my friend about it and he said that the Masai let them out in the morning so they can graze on their own, and then they find their way back by evening. It was a beautiful and natural display of the independence and intelligence of cows, and one whose appreciation has been lost among Americans.
Stop 2: Laikipia
The next morning I went to the local airstrip and boarded a Buddy Holly plane to the Solio Reserve in Laikipia. The reserve is hidden within the valley between Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Mountains, and tthe 19,000 acre conservancy is surrounded by a 45,000 acre ranch. This reserve is one of the most successful private rhino breeding sanctuaries in East Africa, and the money I paid to visit this lodge directly contributed to the continued success of the sanctuary's mission.
When I arrived I was taken to my accomodations, whose back patio opened up to the open plains of the sanctuary. It was around noon, 85 degrees and I had time before our game drive so I walked out on my own and saw what I thought were two large boulders about 100 yards in the distance. When one of the boulders moved I realized they were actually rhinos resting under the shade of a tree.
In the days that followed we went on many game drives throughout the conservancy and saw the following:
1. A leopard sleeping in a tree
2. Countless white rhinoceros and a few solitary black rhinoceros
3. Prides of lions either sleeping or eating a kill
4. Herds of zebras
5. Lots of warthogs
The great thing about the game drives is how close we were able to get to each animal. The white rhinos were friendly and curious and even approached me on a few occasions. This was a valuable opportunity as I was able to view their skin up close, which was often covered in mud.
We saw the rhinos bathing in mud during peak sun hours, then going to lie under the shade of the Acacia trees. This mudding behavior was not seen in zebras, baboons, waterbucks or any other animal with fur. It was only seen in the rhinos who have no fur and indicated this was an act of both natural sunscreening protection and skin cooling.
The black rhinos never approached us, and were almost as elusive as the leopards. While white rhinos were quite sociable, and often seen in groups, the black rhinos were smaller in number and only seen on their own. Although I was able to view (and see close-up) a black rhino on my trip, this was later on and I will discuss later.
I also want to mention as an aside that when I arrived at the lodge, my assistant warned me of the "very naughty" little monkeys that hang around the rooms and to always keep my door shut. These little monkeys have white fur and cute little black fuzzy faces. They looked harmless when I first saw them near the dining area and gave one a piece of banana bread, which soon required me to give 10 of them a piece of banana bread.
One early morning I was brought coffee and a jar of these fantastic little cookies before going on a game drive. I just took two of the cookies and there were 10 left for later. After coming back from the game drive, I go into my room, drop off my equipment and then go to the lodge for 10 minutes. Well I must have forgotten to close the back patio door all the way because when I walk back to the room, like a scene out of Jumanji, about 15 little monkeys are playing and bouncing off the walls and furniture.
As someone from an area where there is no real nature, seeing something like this is a little bit of a shock at first, but then I just realized what was going on and shooed them away and they all ran out the patio door.
Those game drives are pretty exhausting and I went to that cookie jar to get one of those cookies I saved from that morning to see an empty jar with the lid off to the side.
I was kind of mad about it because I wanted those cookies. But what really pissed me off is when I turned around to look out the patio door and all of those little monkeys were partying it up on the deck just happy as can be from their little score.
As I left my room shortly after I saw the "lookout" in the tree outside my front door, who definitely tipped off the group that the coast was clear.
Throughout the rest of my time in Africa I had to be always on the lookout for the little monkeys. From what I gathered from the locals, they are a bit of a nuisance.
Stop 3: Samburu
Probably my favorite region that I visited during my trip, Samburu is a national reserve in Kenya's northern frontier, and unlike Laikipia which was chilly in the early morning, warm in the afternoon, and cold in the evening, Samburu was hot and sunny.
I arrived in the morning and was met by two Masai tribesmen who were my guides throughout my time here. It was a special opportunity to meet them and spend time with them. Like all of the Kenyans I met in my time in Africa, they had all the class in the world and appreciation for the animals and nature of their country.
I was taken to my accomodations for my stay in the Samburu and had time to spare before our afternoon game drive. Now, at this point I had not seen an elephant yet and they were one of the reasons I had traveled this far. My accomodations were technically a canvas tent, in the sense that there were no actual walls, and this worked beautifully for the location as my location opened up directly into a valley below.
This morning, like every morning here, was hot and sunny. Looking around, I didn't see any signs of life in the valley below, which was about 100 yards away. The valley below had a dried up riverbed and along the riverbed was a small forest. Along the riverbed, by one of the acacia trees was a muddy pool.
The area is quiet and, being hundreds of miles from Nairobi, there are no city noises. You just hear mostly the wind blowing and trees rustling. Then I heard what sounded like a tree being brushed to the side, and there it was: a big grey elephant emerged from the palm forest and was slowly walking toward the mud pool. And then another one. Soon there were 6 elephants all walking out of the forest and bathing in the mud.
The elephants took their time to bathe in the mud, and they didn't do so elegantly. The process involved walking to the mud pool, falling into it sideways, rolling around, legs in the air and then getting up, and using their trunks to spray themselves with mud. The process lasted about 10-30 minutes. Once done, the elephants would either stand under the shade of a palm tree in the open valley for up to an hour, or go back into the palm forest.
The above was a common sight that I would see during the sunny hours throughout my time in the Samburu. The elephants would always make sure to keep their skin muddy and covered during daylight. This was no doubt a measure to not only keep themselves cool, but to act as a natural SPF to protect against radiation.
On to the game drive:
On our way to the preserve we passed by a small village where my Masai guides were from. The homes are made of tin sheets and mud. Curtains were made from old clothes. It put the housing mentality in America into perspective, and how no matter the home someone has here in the US, it isn't good enough. And that is something to be worked on here.
School children passed by us on their way to class and they wore uniforms that included a polo shirt and chino or khaki shorts and dress shoes. They always smiled and waved at us.
The schools here are modest and small, likely with a student body of less than 60 students in the entire school. The schools are funded by the Kenyan government but rely heavily on outside donations to maintain the classrooms. We have a great system for education in the United States and going elsewhere made me appreciate the great education I received.
Entering the preserve we went on a long drive through winding dirt roads, along valley rifts and into palm forests. Our one Masai guide looked on the ground at the dirt, said something in Swahili to our other Masai guide driving the truck and off we went into the bush.
He looked again on the ground, said something else, then we went into a hidden area among the palm trees, and then there they were, about 5 feet away from us: 2 lioness mothers and 6 baby lions resting next to the bushes.
The mom seemed a little fed up by the time we got there, to be honest. She probably wanted to rest and the babies were annoying her a little bit. One kept fidgeting so mom growled, smacked the baby and got up and walked off.
The tracking of the lions was one of the incredible skills of the Masai. My guides were able to look onto the ground or off, seemingly into nowhere and spot a sign that an animal was nearby, for us to drive off into the distance and find it hidden somewhere in the bush.
Here is what else I saw:
1. Heards of giraffes among the palm trees or running across the plains
2. A solo ostrich in a field
3. Leopards and lions in the bushes
4. Many more lionesses with baby cubs
5. Elephants eating from the tall trees
6. Dik-diks hanging out by the tents (as prevalent as squirrels are here in the US)
7. Vultures in trees waiting for the carnivores to finish
8. Impalas everywhere
10. A bird that looked like Zazu from the Lion King
11. Animals fighting in the dark
(That was me posing the question)
Additional notes on Samburu:
1. The carcasses of animals did not last long, and so we saw skeletons of animals everywhere. The skin of animals either gets eaten quickly by the carnivores first, then the scavengers or the sun degrades it. The sun will have an accelerated effect on destroying the skin when there isnt a working cardiovascular system to revive the cells.
2. Feathered animals did not seem bothered by the sun, but animals with fur and bare skin avoided the sun throughout the day hours.
3. None of the animals seemed to care that we were there. It was not a case of they are more scared of us than we are of them. I could have reached out and touched every animal there and none of them were either scared or angry of my presence, they were just indifferent. Never once did they get up or react when we were around. They knew we were not there to hurt them, so there was no reason to be afraid.
The Samburu was difficult to leave, the people were very kind and the nature was exotic and beautiful. I'm looking forward to going back soon.
Stop 4: Masai Mara and Serengeti
Back to the airstrip and off to the Mara, I was on my way to quintessential Africa. The Masai Mara is just north of the Serengeti and home to the Great Migration.
My guides, Masek and Tingka were waiting for me at the Masai Mara airstrip, and like all of the Masai I have met so far, they were wearing their traditional Masai garb: a checkered red or blue wrap, beautiful beaded jewelry and grey leather sandals. I think Masek and Tingka were my favorite guides throughout my time here, both had great senses of humor, contagious smiles, and a tremendous sense of pride for the animals we saw. I was moved by how, despite the fact that they have seen these animals every day their entire lives, every time we saw a lion or an elephant or a leopard, they were just as excited as I was. They even took pictures on their phones just as I was doing.
Kenya is a painting.
The Mara was a bit cooler than Samburu, and instead of valleys and desert, there were vast plains of tall grass. We saw great heards of elephants here because the weather was more forgiving. When it rained, the elephants seemed to be happiest. The babies especially, as they would bounce around the fields when the air was cold and wet.
The elephants skin is coarse, thick and as I would later find out (more on that later) has some wiry hair. This is perhaps why they are good in the cold and rainy, but not in the heat. Their skin provides great insulation for cold temperatures, but no protection against the sun. This is why we saw so many more elephants in the Mara: the weather is much more suitable for their skin type than in the heat of the Samburu.
In the Mara I also noticed that the elephants skin was darker, and not covered in mud as much as in Samburu. They likely did not need it as the Mara was cloudy and didnt require the sun protection like in the Samburu.
When we were done with the game drives, and later in the evening I had to have another Masai Tribesman walk me to my tent if it was past dark. In the morning I found out why: Outside my room was a giant potted plant. The plant pot was probably as tall as my hip and 2-3 feet in diameter. And in the morning it was smashed to pieces. Apparently mother elephant came by in the evening, got pissed off at something and smashed the plant. We were indeed in the bush.
The next evening after a long game drive I was laying out on the patio that my tent opened up to. Below was a river bed and beyond that the plains of the Mara. It was pure black darkness outside and I was spacing out and texting and just not paying attention to anything when I heard was sounded like blunt steps behind me. I just ignored it and went inside a minute later to grab a sweater. When I opened the back door to go back outside to my spot I heard a deep, gutteral growl. Just without thinking I closed the door and just backed inside. In that moment I felt like I was back 20,000 years ago and my insticts from a prehistoric time were turned on. I think it was a lion, but I was never able to find out.
On one of the next game drives we made our way to the Tanzanian border and were in the Serengeti. The Serengeti is really just the Tanzanian part of the Masai Mara and is home to the same animals and landscape as Kenya's Masai Mara.
Throughout my time this is what else I saw:
1. A leopard killing a waterbuck, dragging its carcass into a tree, then eating it.
2. While on the search for the cheetahs we found ostriches running in a field
3. Big prides of lions including adult and juvenile males, adult and juvenile females and babies. We saw that the lions killed two wildebeest and the carcasses were about 200 feet apart on the plains. And the lions would walk back and forth between the carcasses to eat from both.
4. Jackals that would hang around the lions and eat the scraps the lions left behind.
5. One gigantic hippo swimming in a meandering river.
6. Heards of elephants along the rolling hills. If there was ever a solitary elephant spotted, it was a male.
7. Impalas everywhere
10. We saw lone cheetahs just resting in the fields. The cheetahs were among my favorite sights because of how they walk. Cheetahs walk like they are a machine: very mechanical, calculated and powerful. The only other time we saw more than one cheetah together was two brothers resting in the bushes together. My guides said that cheetah babies often get killed by lions or leopards, and even though they have litters of 6-7 babies, often only one will survive.
11. About 200 mongooses (sp?) running around and playing in the lodge
12. One of the world's best sunsets
During my time in the Mara, Masek, my guide, asked me if I wanted to visit the Masai village while I was there, so we took the short drive over in between game drives and I was able to visit the main Masai village. I was met by Robert, the son of the Chief, and he showed me around their village.
The village was small, maybe the size of a small community park you would see in America, and had a population of maybe a couple hundred. Their population seemed to skew younger, and most seemed to be under the age of 40 years.
I talked to some of the younger men, the women were preoccupied with building a house, which Robert told me was the job of the women in the village. The mens job was herding the cows, among other things.
He told me his father had 12 wives and I think he was expecting me to be offended by this, which I wasn't, if it was legal in America to have 12 husbands I would probably do it.
We walked around the village and Robert said he wanted to show me inside one of their houses, so he led me into one of them. Their houses are mud huts that are about 15 feet in diameter and about 5 feet tall. We bent over to go inside, the hut was cavernous and although small, there were 3 rooms inside. I was led into one of these small rooms that was about 3 feet wide and 6 feet long. The rooms are dark, there is no electricity or plumbing and there is one window that was a circular opening about 8 inches in diameter and covered in metal mesh. I sat on a small bed, so I was in someones bedroom. Robert sat on the opposite end and lit up the room with the flashlight feature on his cell phone. It was then I realized that behind him was a sleeping 5 year old boy that I did not see before.
We sat there for a while and Robert told me about daily life where he is from, and although their way of life is a lot simpler than what we experience in America, their ambitions and challenges are the same. Robert told me how they are working towards building better schools for their younger generation and he also said he may venture out to Nairobi to experience city life.
The Masai showed me how to start of fire with just a wood board and stick, I said my goodbyes and thanked them for their hospitality, and I was back off to the bush.
After my last game drive, I was back to the airstrip, bid my guides farewell and then I was off again.
Stop 5: Diani, Kenya
Off in Southern Kenya, this spot was more just to take a break from the game drives, which is more of a beating on the body than I had imagined. Diani sits on the Indian ocean and has white sand beaches and warm ocean water.
The most memorable aspect of my time here was when I was walking to visit some of the resident horses on the property and a longtailed monkey ran up to me, grabbed my coffee cup, spilled it, giggled and ran off. The colubus monkeys were much nicer and kept to themselves.
Stop 6: Nairobi, Kenya
Upon my return to Nairobi, I was taken to my accomodations for the last days of my trip, which was a beautiful location called Giraffe Manor. Here the giraffes live on the property and are part of a rehabilitation program with the intent of release back into the wild.
What was great about Giraffe manor was that we were able to directly interact with the giraffes, they would come up to us and we would hand feed them. They even would come to our windows in the morning for treats.
Although this was amazing, and all of the sights on my trip were incredible, the highlight of my trip was coming up.
With OUMERE, I had to make a decision of where everything goes when I am gone. So everything I own, including OUMERE was put into a trust and that trust was left entirely to charity. All of the charities are animal related. The charities are either devoted to wildlife preservation or to animal welfare such as improving the conditions, treatment and welfare of animals farmed for food. I believe the one role of humans on this planet is to care for nature and animals, and whoever neglects that role is a human failure.
The only reason why I mention the above is not to get accolades or for anyone to think I am a "good person." I am a black metal girl, I don't want to be thought of as an angel and I don't want to be accused of being one. The only reason why I mention this is because I want others to also donate to good animal causes. If I can do that, then I have lived a purpose-driven life. And when you buy from OUMERE, you are donating to one of these causes too.
One of the charities I left the trust to is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The DSWT is an organization devoted to the rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction into the wild of orphaned elephants. The men who care for the elephants are doing the real-worlds work, often sleeping next to the elephants who need care the most, the job they do is the most admirable I have seen.
The DSWT goes throughout Kenya to either give medical aid to elephants in need, or to rescue abandoned or badly hurt elephants and bring them to the sanctuary for rehabilitation.
I had the great honor of a private visit at the sanctuary.
When I arrived I was greeted by one of the lead caretakers who provided a great introduction into the work the team is doing to rehabilitate the elephants. I was then led into a large area with a big mud pool. We were just standing there and I heard what I thought were dogs barking, I looked around and asked "you guys have shepherds here or something?" and the caretaker said "look" and pointed off to a little trail, and there I saw it: trotting down in a row were 5 baby elephants. That sound was them trumpeting out of their trunks in excitement for what was about to come, their mud bath. They ran like excited children and straight into the mud bath where they rolled around and played with each other. Even spraying each other with mud from their trunks.
Then more and more elephants came down the trail until I was surrounded by them. I was able to walk among the elephants as they bathed in the mud and walked around the play area. And then in a moment of great anticipation, I approached a 5 month old baby elephant, raised my hands up and rested them on her back. Her skin was thick, coarse and muddy. Just as I imagined, but what I didnt realize was that their skin had thick individual black hairs. I was told they lose these hairs as they aged.
I walked around the elephants as they bathed in the mud and fed on the grass. I pet their backs and gave a few hugs too. They didn't seem to care that I was there but I had to make sure to not feed them as they are to be introduced back into the wild and can't get too used to human assistance. I did see the babies get bottlefed, they are just like baby humans in many ways.
My favorite moment was when I was petting one little elephant, and another little elephant, fresh from the mudbath walked up to me, and smacked me with her gigantic muddy ear, covering me in mud. It was even funnier given that I went out on the town afterwards covered in mud. No one seemed to mind which I appreciated.
While I was with the elephants it solidifed my devotion to giving what I can to good organizatons whose mission is to help animals. It is the evil of humans who kill animals for their tusks, fur, or bones, and the good of humans is needed to stop it. The good of humans was seen here at DSWT and I am working to do more to give to them.
With that said, I am appreciative for every sale of OUMERE because every sale means more is given to DSWT and the other charities OUMERE has been left to. They are doing the real worlds work.
I was also very moved by the good work that the Safari company I booked my travels through is doing towards animal conservation, welfare and rehabilitation. In addition they also contribute to the improvement of local communities including education for the younger generations of the villages.
To contribute my part, I am working on adding a product to the OUMERE line where the profits directly go to their foundation. I will update more on this work as developments progress.
Return to America
I think the hardest thing about returning to America was getting back to American food. Food in Kenya was so much fresher than anything we can get in the US.
The food I had throughout my time in Kenya, whether it was at a lodge or street fare, was better than anything I could get, even in a 3 Michelin star restaurant in New York, Los Angeles or Miami. It tasted like food should taste and this was because it wasn't from a package, it wasn't adulturated with preservatives and it wasn't filled with laboratory modified ingredients.
I wrote in a previous article on what I eat in a day, and everything I eat is from the produce section, so my experience was not one of going from a diet of Mcdonalds to a diet of natural foods. My experience was one of going from the so-called natural foods (bought from Whole foods, allegedly the best) of America to the natural foods of Kenya. And the difference was so astounding I felt like my taste buds didn't work when I got back to the US and food no longer had any flavor.
Despite being a "developing" country, in general, the Kenyans I saw in the city and in the villages just looked healthier than people in America. And the food undoubtedly has something to do with it. Now, that is not to say that people in Kenya do not experience the effects of poverty, sickness and hardship which they do, just like in America. There are unhealthy people in Kenya and people without access to food, but this was not the norm. I am speaking of my experience and what I saw in general. And in general people in Kenya appeared to be healthier than people in the US.
Even my Kenyan friend in Nairobi commented on it. He said, we see so many Americans and youre the first I have seen who, his quote, not mine "has a flat stomach." He also said that most Americans move slowly, are hunched over and always have some medical need.
Acne seemed to be less common over there and I believe that the healthier quality of their food has a lot to do with it. I also believe that they are less medicated as a society and spend more time outdoors and live less sedentary lives. All of which contributes to increased longevity and perhaps why their country's life expectancy is increasing while the US's life expectancy is decreasing.
Additional notes on my trip:
1. Africa was not as hot as I was expecting
2. In Kenya, all wild animals are the property of the Kenyan government, which is an effective measure towards anti-poaching. Poachers are paid by foreigners to kill or kidnap animals for their ivory or fur, or to be as pets and this law permits poachers to be shot on site no questions asked.
3. It was nice to go so long without seeing a botched face, those dopey Snuffleupagus false eyelashes, or mutilated body from cosmetic surgery.
4. Just about everyone in Kenya speaks English
5. Most Kenyans I met had never left the country, and this wasn't because they didn't want to, but because they couldn't and this made me appreciate the freedoms of travel that we are given in America that much of the rest of the world is not afforded.
5. People are the same all over