“I am Obama’s brother!” a stranger shouted to me through the open window of a matatu (small bus) as I was crossing the lush countryside of western Kenya. That was 2006. According to a New York Times article this week, cars in western Kenya “now sport bumper stickers with statements like ‘Obama, first cousin.’” Kenya has claimed America’s president-elect as its own, and the badge is revitalizing tourism, which plummeted following the gruesome riots during the country’s elections last December. Kogelo, the village where Obama’s father grew up, has become a hot ticket on Kenya’s tourist trail, according to the Times article. But there is another reason to visit the region: Kakamega Rainforest. Home to more than 400 species of birds and five types of monkeys, Kakamega is a bite-sized remnant of the vast tropical forest that once spanned the waist of Africa. The forest is being chipped away, but two guru birders aim to save it.
Sometime around 1970, a crate, or perhaps it was a cage, shipped from somewhere in South America, landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Inside were monk parakeets, bright green birds native to the savannahs and scrubland of Paraguay and Argentina. Mobsters may have popped the lid to inspect the goods, expecting fine wine or rare art, a baggage handler could have dropped the cargo, or the container may have been cracked or broken to begin with, no one knows for sure. But somehow the parakeets got out, and in certain communities they continue to cause a fracas.
An English turkey breeder named Jesse Throssel brought birds that were so meaty they had trouble mating naturally to the Portland International Livestock Show around 1930. Throssel’s turkeys, called broad breasted bronzes, were a hit. In the 1950s they were bred with white hollands to create a breed called the broad breasted white, which had a creamier skin tone. Reared for maximum breast meat, broad breasted whites became so popular that breeds such as the Narragansett, Bourbon Red and Jersey Buff were nearly driven to extinction.
Chicagoans silently streamed tears and New Yorkers thronged the streets as Barack Obama delivered his presidential acceptance speech last night but the fervor was also felt in Kogelo, a village in western Kenya and the ancestral homeland of President-elect Obama. I spent a summer near here, surveying avian diversity in maize fields and forest patches and gathering bird mythologies from elders. The Luo people—the tribe of Obama’s father and much of western Kenya—have mixed regard for birds, which can destroy crops, eliminate pests, bring magic or imply death. Here are some of the stories I collected:
Of the 289 whooping cranes brought to central Florida since 1993 under the guidance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only 31 have survived and just nine chicks have hatched in the wild. After meetings last month in which models were presented that pegged the birds’ chances of surviving at less than 50/50, the recovery team made the decision to halt the reintroduction.
The bright, white object ranchers discovered in a field in southeastern Colorado last July fell from the sky and may be the only one of its kind.
It is neither a meteorite nor an extraterrestrial, although it has attracted attention on par with these unearthly items, but a bird, one partially albino golden eagle. By the time the raptor reached Diana Miller, who directs the Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo, in Pueblo, Colo., it was near death.