National Geographic : 1956 Oct
536 A New Look at Kenya's "Treetops" Though Mau Mau Raiders Burned Down the Famous Hotel-in-a-tree, Elephants and Rhinos Still Crowd This Game-watcher's Paradise BY QUENTIN KEYNES With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author BABOONS broke in once in a while and tore up the lampshades. But as a rule, Treetops was orderly and com fortable, and in all Africa it was unique: a five-room house with a balcony, set so high in a fig tree that wild animals on the ground could not catch the scent of its occupants. Elephants, rhinos, and many lesser animals disported almost nightly at the water hole and by the salt lick in the clearing below the structure. Word of so beguiling a view drew visitors from all over the world to this snug hide-out in east Africa's Aberdare National Park, in the Kenya highlands. From Princess to Queen at Treetops You entered Treetops on a retractable lad der. Once safely up, you enjoyed tea, din ner, some rest, and then breakfast-all be tween long looks at uninhibited wildlife. On really dark nights the guide made the animals visible by switching on a dull electric "moon." If neither elephant, nor rhino, nor buffalo showed up, you got your money back. On February 5, 1952, Princess Elizabeth climbed this ladder. Thousands of miles away in England, her father, King George VI, died in his sleep. The young girl who had gone into the tree house a princess descended the next morning a queen. Thanks to Treetops' balcony and to almost incredible luck, I had once captured 67 ele phants on film there in a single afternoon.* But now, I heard, marauding Mau Mau rebels had left Treetops a charred ruin. Had the animals been frightened away as well? Curi ous to see for myself, I returned to Kenya not long ago at the invitation of Susie Mar rian, a young American friend of mine who farms with her English husband at the edge of the forest. Peter Marrian met me at Nairobi, and after a 100-mile trip north in his little Cessna plane we landed on a grassy airstrip adjoin ing his farm. I planned to return to the Treetops clearing with my cameras and see what luck I would have this time, shooting from the ground. But the local Army com mander refused to let me do it; there would be danger not only from Mau Mau, he pointed out, but from his own patrols, which could not be notified in time. Even Eric Sherbrooke Walker, the Kenya settler who built Treetops in 1932, had been allowed in only once to inspect its remains. Hearing that I had arrived near by, Walker asked me to lunch at his farm. "I stayed at the clearing just long enough to pick out some trees for a new Treetops," he told me. "I'd welcome an opportunity to go back." Luckily, a few days later the Army turned the Treetops section of the forest over to the local police for patrolling. Again I asked permission to visit Treetops. "If you'll accept a police escort, and don't mind my coming too," police chief John Fletcher said, "my answer is 'yes.'" It was cold and drizzling when Walker, Fletcher, and two African policemen picked me up at the Marrians' at 2:30 one afternoon. Two farm guards also joined the party. We piled into a couple of Land Rovers, along with Col. George Jarman, who had guided scores of visitors on trips to Treetops. Elephant Screams at Forest Edge As we wound our way along slippery farm tracks in the rain, I felt a keen sense of im pending danger. This was not lessened by the screaming of an elephant as we reached the forest's edge. Leaving the policemen in charge of the cars, our party headed single file into the tangled undergrowth beneath the tall trees. Even though we were in a national forest, where hunting is forbidden, everyone except myself carried arms in case of trouble with the Mau Mau. Every 50 yards or so Jarman would stop dead, signaling us to do likewise. We listened to every sound, straining our eyes to catch *See "Africa's Uncaged Elephants," by Quentin Keynes, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1951.