He is no chicken

It wasn’t hard to spot an ostrich in Kenya. As we drove out of the airport, the road passed next to the Nairobi national park and we saw an ostrich in the middle distance. In Amboseli we kept seeing ostriches every now and then, but they were usually in the middle distance or far away. Eventually, just before leaving the park we saw one right by the side of the road. Anthony pulled to a halt, saying “This one wants to cross.” Indeed it did. While it was deciding whether or not it should, I managed to snap off a series of photos. All our sightings were of the common ostrich (Struthio camelus). The number of presumed species has varied greatly over the years. Initially, many species were names based on variations in appearance. Eventually genetic studies seemed to show that there was only one species, but now with larger sampling sizes it seems that there are really two. We never went to parts of Kenya where one can see the second species, the Somali ostrich, which can be distinguished by its blue neck.

When tortoises decided to hunt ostriches, they lined up in two long rows. One of them steered the ostriches between them. Then each one asked the next “What are you doing?” and the next one answered “I’m hunting ostriches.” The ostriches heard this and ran and ran until they fell down exhausted. Then the tortoises came to where they had fallen and ate them up.
— Bantu folk tale

We enjoyed the safaris in Amboseli national park (in spite of the dust) and I’d wanted to write one post about the park and its keepers. Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the entrance. Among my photos the gate appears only in the background of this shot of the ostrich crossing the road, so I will just pause here to acknowledge the great job being done by the gamekeepers.

You can see in this photo the remarkably muscular thighs of the ostrich. They enable it to reach top running speeds of about 70 kilometers per hour, and sustained speeds of over 30 kilometers an hour. You can also see the oddly elongated and clawed two-toed feet, so unlike those of other birds, adapted both to running and kicking hard in its own defense. I wondered how the bird manages to keep its temperature under control as it runs. When I read that the bird’s body temperature is around 40 Celsius, I realized that I should have asked how it stays warm. Perhaps by eating a lot. So, by all rights it should have crashed from habitat loss. Thatg it hasn’t is probably due to the fact that it is now extensively farmed for meat and leather.

Author: I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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