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Found 5 results

  1. I had a terrific first trip to Kenya with a 4 night, five day trip to Offbeat Mara. This camp is in the Mara North conservancy. I wasn't sure what to expect exactly with weather and sightings in January, but I was pleasantly surprised! With the changes in weather patterns, the Mara was green like a giant golf course (I was told it was supposed to be dry in January). We had several rainstorms during my stay which provided some beautiful lighting. My other trips to Africa were in the dry season, so I was thrilled to have the chance to photograph the animals with the lush green backgrounds. My main goal was to see lion cubs, and I saw lots of them, from all three prides that roam that conservancy. I still have not managed to see a successful hunt, but we saw two unsuccessful hunts--a cheetah going after a warthog baby, chased away by mom, and 2 young lions stalking warthogs unsuccessfully. Lots of babies around--impalas, zebras, kopi, gazelles, elephants, and of course the lions. We even saw a gazelle give birth, which was very exciting. I was very impressed with the guide I had throughout the stay there, Stanley; he was the equal of the best guides I had in Botswana and South Africa. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the trip... The first afternoon we had a great lion sighting--we followed a lioness while she retrieved her 3 cubs at the top of a cliff, where they were well hidden, and then joined her sister and her 3 cubs at the remains of a zebra kill. The lionesses were jealously guarding the kill, while the cubs were playing around in the carcass. The next day the carcass had disappeared, so some other animal had made off with it. It was fantastic to see the six cubs, nearly the same age, playing together! Other great sightings--a crowd of hyenas at a hippo carcass and a mother hyena peacefully nursing her pups...
  2. Where: Mara North Conservancy for 6 nights (preceded by 5 nights in Rwanda, which is reported on here) When: Feb 2017 Who: Amy (me) and Kim. We did our China Panda Volunteer trip together and our first safari in Tanzania together. We only see each other on these sorts of trips but we both agree that it's rare to find someone that we travel this well with. Honestly, I've never had an easier, no-friction travel relationship with anyone. It was a no-brainer to ask her to go with me. How: I booked with Offbeat Safaris directly. I worked with Peter at Offbeat on booking the 6-for-5 deal last June. He arranged for our pickup at Nairobi Airport, transfer to Wilson, the Safarilink flights, and a driver for the day on our return to Nairobi before we flew out at midnight that night, all included in that package. Why: I am ridiculously, passionately in love with the Mara. There was no way I'd go back to Africa and not return. I also had a bit of "business left unfinished" from my last safari, and I wanted to remedy that. I read a bunch of trip reports here and decided on Offbeat pretty easily. I wanted to experience a different conservancy again and appreciated honest feedback from other STers. Whatever I had wished for during the last 12 months (and I wished for a lot and bargained with the Safari Gods for even more), the Mara delivered for me far beyond even my wildest expectations. My rule of "never try to repeat perfect" may have to come into play again. Guides: David and Kapen. I consider us blessed to have been assigned to these two guys. David is an incredible guide. His knowledge of the area, the animals and their histories and his ability to convey it so that it's interesting and memorable is unsurpassed in my limited experience. And Kapen…man, if anyone has better eyes out there in a safari vehicle, I'd be surprised. He's so good that he can spot something you'll never find on your own miles away, and then turn around to where you're sitting behind him and point your arm to exactly where you need to look to see what he sees. To say he's incredible is a vast understatement. When Kapen stood on the seat and popped his head out of the rooftop, we knew he was looking for something and he always came through with a sighting. More on these two coming up. Accommodations: Pretty typical canvas tent with porch, bucket shower, flush toilet and dual sinks. Comfortable beds. Meals were excellent, even for this vegetarian (to be honest I don't eat as well at home!) I'll write a more extensive lodge report once I'm done with the TR. They offer a lot more than game rides, like walks, village visits, etc. but we only took advantage of the night drive. We were all about game rides and eaked out every one we could. Camera: for those who suffered listening to me whine about the Nikon that was failing me, fear not, I invested in the Sony RX10 iii and LOVE IT. I knew I couldn't buy my way to better photos, but could buy a more reliable camera. So I figured that if I’m investing in the camera, I better know how to use it. I took classes, shot a lot of animals at zoos and got up on weekends for sunrises more than I wanted to. But I think in the end, it paid off. I’m beyond thrilled with the results. I took 7 16-gig memory cards which I almost filled (5880 photos and 65 videos) and 7 fully charged batteries and only used 4. The Sony has excellent battery life. Logistics: I spent the last 8 months worrying that five hours to connect between NBO and Wilson would not be enough on a Friday late morning. In reality, between our empty flight, no lines at customs/immigration, almost immediate delivery of Kim's luggage, and the new bypass road that takes you from NBO via the Mombasa Road to Wilson, we had just shy of 4 hours to kill at Wilson, which we spent having a late breakfast and vacuuming up iced coffee at the Java House at the Aviation Club nearby. We'd been up since 3:45 am and at that point needed every ounce of caffeine to keep us going. But soon enough, we were on our Safarilink flight to Mara North.
  3. Blue-headed Tree Agama This prologue is for a trip report covering a recent Kenya safari I took with my friend Roger, who is a fellow birder-naturalist. Conditions were DRY throughout our travels, which ran from January 14 - 29. Throughout much of Kenya, we learned that the short rains came late or little this year, or almost failed completely - depending on the area in question. After reading @@michael-ibk's recent Kenya trip report, I suspect places like Kakamega Forest (that seemed OK when he visited) had dried out by the time we came through a few weeks later. Our guide Ben Mugambi said it was the driest he had ever seen Kakamega Forest - and also Aranbuko-Sokoke Forest on the coast. The forest trails and forest floor in Kakamega and Arabuko-Sokoke were carpeted with crispy dry leaves - which made moving quietly or stealthily pretty difficult. Dry Kakamega undergrowth - January 18 In the Mara, Musiara Swamp was almost completely dry, with dust devils blowing round. Orange-leafed Croton bushes were either shriveled or bare all around Mara North. Dry and dusty Musiara Marsh with Governor's Camp and the Mara River in the background -- But we still did very well - and the theme of the trip was "quality over quantity". Another theme was "improbable chance meetings". We got almost all our major bird and critter targets and the Mara delivered fabulously again. Some highlights of the safari included: - Three big cat species in 19 minutes in Mara North Conservancy, followed by a sighting of the "Offbeat male Leopard" from the porch of our tent #4 after lunch. Viewing two male Leopards within a couple of hours of each other was a real treat! Leopard stalking Leopard resting Cheetah - 18 Suni in Nairobi National Park! Photos and video obtained. - Black Rhinos parading and sleeping in the open in Nairobi National Park. And the first Verreaux's Eagle sighting in Nairobi NP in over 10 years. And a pair of Crowned Eagles over the forest just west of Nairobi Tented Camp. Black Rhinos - Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. (wait for that day's report for a photo) - Frank and Jesse the Offbeat pride males, are still large and in charge in Mara North. Had good quality time with the Offbeat Pride of Lions with cubs of varying ages. Jesse - A very enjoyable birding over lunch experience at Little Governor's Camp and finally meeting a "nemesis bird" - Schalow's Turaco. Crossing_Mara_River - Great shorebirding and coastal birds at Mida Creek and the Sabaki River Mouth. - A neat boat excursion on Lake Victoria to break up the drive from Kakamega Forest to the Mara. - Stumbling on a great birding spot at a crest in the Tugen Hills and photographing a Narina Trogon. Narina Trogon - Great birding at Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria. Heuglin's Courser Pygmy Kingfisher - Ongoing evolution and improvements at Offbeat Mara camp. They are so flexible and accommodating to guest desires. For example: one day we did a bush breakfast and all-morning game drive, then afternoon game drive, transitioning into a fine bush dinner with some other guests and then straight into a night drive ending up back at camp after a couple of hours. Birding behind Offbeat Mara - down behind the dining tent, beside the Olare Orok River. - Shy and difficult-to-observe birds in Kakamega Forest Spotted Flufftail Dusky-crested Flycatcher -- Before the trip, I had warned Roger that "something will go wrong" and that we would just go with the flow and with Ben and his network's help, things would work out. Sure enough we had a few blips during our time on the coast, but things worked out just fine. Our first issue was before leaving the USA - our Emirates flight was very late departing JFK and we missed our connecting flight from Dubai to Nairobi. But we were met exiting the plane in Dubai with tickets for the next morning's flight to Nairobi, a hotel voucher, and an explanation that we did not need to collect luggage - it would be put on tomorrow's plane for us. So we got a free night in Dubai and had some good birding in the hotel garden that afternoon. The downside was that we would miss our day trip to Nairobi National Park on January 14 but I had a plan to address that. Our itinerary ended up being: January 14 - Arrive at JKIA one day late. Hit the Nakumatt, do some birding along Red Cross Road. Overnight Boma hotel. January 15 - Drive to Lake Baringo for lunch and afternoon birding, Overnight Tumbili Cliff Lodge. January 16 - Lake Baringo + Lake Bogoria. Overnight Tumbili Cliff Lodge. January 17 - Drive to Kakamega Forest by way of Tugen Hills and Kerio Valley. Overnight Rondo Retreat. January 18 - Kakamega Forest, overnight Rondo Retreat. January 19 - Kakamega Forest, overnight Rondo Retreat. January 20 - Drive to Mara North, via Kisumu. overnight Offbeat Mara. January 21 - Mara North Conservancy, overnight Offbeat Mara January 22 - Mara North Conservancy, overnight Offbeat Mara January 23 - All day in the Main Reserve, lunch at Little Governor's, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 24 - Morning game drive in Mara North, after lunch bush flight to Malindi, overnight Ocean Sports Resort in Watamu. January 25 - Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. overnight Ocean Sports Resort in Watamu. January 26 - Sabaki River Mouth and Mida Creek. overnight Ocean Sports Resort in Watamu. January 27 - Morning birding at Mida Creek, fly to JKIA in Nairobi. Overnight Boma hotel. January 28 - All day outing in Nairobi National Park. Overnight Boma hotel. January 29 - Morning birding along Magadi Road south of Nairobi. Fly home in the late afternoon. -- I talked to Ben and Roger and we agreed to cut a day off our time at the coast, in order to return to Nairobi a day early and get a full day in Nairobi National Park. For this safari, I had obtained a new camera backpack - Think Tank Photo's Airport Commuter. I love this camera bag! It held my camera, lens, a Swarovski spotting scope, Swarovski binoculars, laptop, iPad, memory cards, batteries, a La Cie portable hard drive, cables, camera cleaning kit, and 1 day's clothing. I checked two bags, including a large duffel bag (Patagonia Black Hole Bag). This was to take my tripod, beanbag, and other bulky gear. When we arrived at JKIA, there was a long line of dozens, maybe hundreds, or people in the e-Visa line. Roger and I walked up to an empty desk for Visa-on-arrival passengers. I see no reason at all to put forth the effort and time (and online credit card activity) for an e-Visa. We spent part of our first afternoon in Nairobi birding Red Cross Road - the road where the Boma hotel and Boma Inn are located. We tracked down the ATM near the gate of the Boma Inn and of course we had our binoculars with us and started birding from the gate and out onto the sidewalk. There is a nice hedge and some trees across the street from the Boma complex - we had close to 30 bird species just standing by the gate. Both young security guards - a gentleman and a lady - were interested in the birds we were seeing. We loaned them our binoculars in turn - they could not both be distracted at once you know. They both relished seeing the birds closer and clearer and the young man in particular looked and looked at birds. He had fun tracking swifts and swallows especially. Boma birding We were guided throughout the trip by the incomparable Ben Mugambi, of Ben's Ecological Safaris. I booked all the accomodations and bush flights through Ben's as well. Ben and his office staff handled everything deftly - including a few unforeseen hurdles. Ben knew people everywhere we went, which came in handy a couple of times. The vehicles: Offbeat Mara won "Best Safari Vehicle" again - closely followed by Ben's Ecological Safaris. Offbeat continues to improve and evolve, and their vehicles are no exception. They seem to have taken @@pault's advice and added flat trays to the armrests of their game drive vehicles. These trays are great platforms for photo beanbags. Offbeat photo tray While at Campi ya Offbeat, we had the same trusty Landcruiser as last time - with the photo tray improvements. This vehicle has pop-top roof hatches over both rows of rear passenger seats, and another pop-top hatch over the driver and spotter's seats. These hatches let you see and photograph birds and other things directly overhead. Or stand on the seat and observe + photograph from above roof level. Or sit on the roof in certain situations. Or close the hatch if you need a break from the sun. Offbeat vehicle We used two of Ben's vehicles during the safari - his large Landcruiser for most of the non-Mara safari, then his pride and joy - a 1980 Toyota Landcruiser VX - in Nairobi National Park and Magadi Road the last two days of the safari. Ben's primary safari vehicle, with Ben and driver Simon parked in front of a Baobab Tree near Mida Creek. Ben's Safari Vehicle Ben's Landcruiser VX Ben's VX Landcruiser is the quietest safari vehicle (and quietest diesel SUV) I have ever seen! It is a 12-cylinder turbo-diesel and Ben has the idle speed turned down low. So it purrs along very quietly through field and forest. Ben has some real war stories about using it to deliver late-arriving clients to the Mara late at night in stormy weather and passing abandoned Landrovers and other Landcruisers stuck deep in the muck. The companions: We were fortunate to have Ben Mugambi with us the entire time. We also had great local guides helping in different areas. Super-sharp Francis Cherutich guided us on his home ground of Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria. We were fortunate to have Josphat and Kapeen at Offbeat Mara. At Arabuko-Sokoke forest we had William (Willie), and on Lake Victoria and adjacent land birding we had Solomon. I hope this teaser post stokes some interest. Maybe a few videos will help:
  4. This trip report covers a safari I took to Kenya with my friend Tommy Graham. Tommy is a good naturalist who also knows his birds, though he is not a lister or twitcher by any means. Mammals are his primary natural history interest. Tommy went to school with my father and has been a friend of the family since before I was born. This was the first trip to Africa for both of us. Prologue By rights I should do acknowledgements first - because this exceptional safari would have been a much poorer experience without the safaritalk community at large, as well as several individual members who were extremely generous and helpful with their advice for this Safari newby. For key advice I am particularly indebted to @@Safaridude, @@armchair bushman, @@pault, @@Tom Kellie, @@madaboutcheetah, and @@Geoff. For inspiration - too many to list but particularly @@Safaridude, @@Game Warden, @@madaboutcheetah, @@twaffle, @@Paolo, @@Bush dog, @@michael-ibk, @@pault, @@COSMIC RHINO, and @@AKR1. And for outstanding guiding, agent services, and "riding to the rescue" to overcome the unexpected loss of a private guide in the Mara at the last minute - Ben Mugambi of Ben's Ecological Safaris. I am so glad to count Ben as a friend and field companion - he is a "birder's birder", a fabulous field man and safari guide, and a scholar and a gentleman who is rock-solid dependable. The theme of this safari was "good luck". And baby animals I suppose. Time and again the guides or camp managers said "We have never seen X before". Or "we have only seen Y two or three times in our lives." I suspect some camps say things like that fairly often to set the hook with their guests - but in our case, I believed the statements to be true! Itinerary: January 7 - Arrive Nairobi late pm. Overnight at Purdy Arms. January 8 - Recovery day (birding the 20-acre grounds) + shopping in Nairobi. Overnight at Purdy Arms January 9 - Day trip to Ngong Hills + Magadi Road w/ Ben's. Overnight at Purdy Arms. January 10 - Day trip to Nairobi NP w/ Ben's. Overnight at Purdy Arms. January 11 - Drive to Mt. Kenya NP with Ben's. Overnight at Castle Forest Lodge. January 12 - Mt. Kenya National Park with Ben's. Overnight at Castle Forest Lodge. January 13 - Drive to Samburu + Buffalo Springs. Overnight at Samburu Simba Lodge January 14 - Full day in Samburu + Buffalo Springs. Overnight at Samburu Simba Lodge. January 15 - Full day in Samburu + Buffalo Springs. Overnight at Samburu Simba Lodge. January 16 - Short game drive in Samburu, drive to Naro Meru River Lodge. Overnight Naro Meru. January 17 - Bush flight from Nanyuki to Mara Naboisho. Overnight Encounter Mara. January 18 - All day in Mara Naboisho. Overnight Encounter Mara. January 19 - Morning game drive then vehicle transfer to Offbeat Mara in Mara North Conservancy. Overnight Offbeat Mara. January 20 - All day in Mara North, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 21 - Masai Mara National Reserve 7am-4pm, game drive in Mara North, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 22 - All day in Mara North, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 23 - Morning game drive, lunch, then 4pm flight to Wilson Airport, transfer to the Boma. January 24 - Depart JKIA for USA We flew Jetblue from Charleston to New York City, then Emirates to Dubai and another Emirates flight to Nairobi. It was a 26 hour trip and I was not able to sleep a wink. My carryon was a Think Tank Photo camera backpack - Airport Essentials. I loved it - but next time I might get the model that is one size larger. It held my camera, lens, a Swarovski spotting scope, Swarovski binoculars, laptop, iPad, memory cards, batteries, a La Cie portable hard drive, cables, camera cleaning kit, and 1 day's clothing. I checked two bags, including a large duffel bag (Patagonia Black Hole Bag). This was to take my tripod, beanbag, and other bulky gear. Next time I will travel lighter - did not need sweater, long underwear and various other ballast it turns out. Upon arriving at JKIA, there were not different queues for eVisa and Visa-on-arrival. But the lines moved quickly. The immigration agent asked for my eVisa and I said we needed Visa on arrival. She scowled slightly but then took $50 from each of us, gave us the slips of paper and we were on our way. The baggage claim was chaotic, crowded bedlam. After following our flight number as it moved from carousel to carousel, we watched an endless succession of luggage parading around and around. After close to an hour, we finally started seeing our bags. Huge relief! When we got outside and saw the guy holding the sign with my name on it, a wave of relief washed over us. We were home free now and on our way to our lodging. We were the only guests for our entire stay at Samburu Simba, and the only guests in camp for the first part of our stay at Encounter Mara. There were only a couple of other parties staying at Castle Forest Lodge while we were there. We had private vehicles the entire safari. I cannot say enough good things about Offbeat Mara camp and Encounter Mara camp - we loved them both immensely. And I loved the Purdy Arms in Karen - a nice laid-back place, green + leafy + good birds, very affordable, good food and drink, convenient to Magadi Road + Ngong Hills and Nairobi National Park, as well as the Galleria mall (for beer, Forex, and a SIM card). Many thanks to @@armchair bushman and @@pault for suggesting Purdy! There are those who scoff at the notion of a photo safari in Kenya during the green season, particularly one this green - high grass everywhere, etc. Let me tell you - things worked out very well. The green season is a double-edged sword for sure but the good edge far outdid the bad edge on our trip. We were still able to find extensive short/cropped grassland areas, and even in tallgrass areas we could usually pop out the top of the roof and shoot down on targets to overcome the tall grass. The Vehicles: Offbeat Mara won the "most functional safari vehicle" contest - closely followed by Ben's Ecological Safaris. But the vehicles at Encounter Mara were very good and completely satisfactory as well. Ben's Ecological Safaris vehicle: Encounter Mara vehicle (David on the left and our guide Wilson on the right): Offbeat Mara vehicle (the short wheel base was invaluable for not getting stuck): Interior shot of Offbeat Mara vehicle, showing the very handy storage shelf behind the cabin: The companions: For our first week we were guided by a sharp young birding and safari guide named Francis Rutich, from Ben's Ecological Safaris. And our driver John was a fine driver and very good spotter. Francis has some of the sharpest eyes I have encountered in my field travels. I run with guys like Steve NG Howell and Todd McGrath - and Francis would give them a run for their money at sea. He might take them on land... I am no slouch at spotting birds + wildlife, even in heavy cover but it was spooky how good Francis is. Francis on the job: We had a Maasai gentleman named Wilson for a guide at Encounter Mara - he is one sharp safari guide! Good driver, good at route planning and very attuned to our wants and needs. No complaints whatsoever. A young man named David from Koyaki Guiding School was attached to Encounter Mara during their semester break - he was very sharp as well. * See the above Encounter Mara vehicle photo to see Wilson and David. During our time at Offbeat Mara, we were fortunate to have a Maasai gentleman named Josphat for a driver/spotter/guide. Josphat is superb! Though we had intended to have the legendary James Sengeny for a private guide at Offbeat, a foulup that we learned of 5 days before our arrival in the Mara meant James was unable to guide us. This is a somewhat sensitive matter, and I won't mention the agency involved, but suffice it to say I am 100% convinced that James was in no way at fault either for the foulup or for us not getting notified very far in advance. When I learned the bad news, I was sitting in the bar at Samburu Simba at 3pm on January 14. By 4pm Ben Mugambi had agreed to fly to Mara North and guide us during our time there. Ben handled the Safarilink tickets and other details, and he knows the crew at Offbeat well. What a relief! Ben saved the day and I am so glad to have spent time in the field with him - great learning experience and lots of fun all around. Here is a photo of Josphat, Tommy, and Ben at our first sundowner together: The next post will cover our first day afield - a day trip visiting the Ngong Hills, a long stop at 'Corner Baridi' (cold corner), and various stops on the way down to Oltepesi and beyond. Lots of birds and birding, but also a very unexpected mammal find!
  5. In February 2014, ST members Safaridude and the Game Warden undertook a Kenyan safari staying at three Offbeat Safari properties in Meru National Park, (Offbeat Meru), Sosian Ranch in Laikipia, (Sosian Lodge), and Masai Mara, (Offbeat Mara - Mara North Conservancy). In the following interview series we focus the Safaritalk Spotlight on Offbeat Safaris and gain an insight into each of its properties: here we speak about the Offbeat Meru camp, situated in the Mara North Conservancy. Part 1 of the interview series, Offbeat Meru can be found here. Part 2 of the series, Sosian Lodge can be found here. To read the ongoing photographic trip report, click here. To find out more regarding Offbeat Safaris, visit the website at ---------- James Stewart, the Game Warden and James Sengeny. What is the history of the Offbeat Mara camp and how is it/its management team involved in the Mara North Conservancy? The camp opened for guests in June 2005. Piers, the owner, worked for Offbeat Riding Safaris for 3 years before opening the camp. Offbeat riding safaris also camp in the same valley on mobile horse riding safaris. Offbeat Mara is one of the founder members of the MNC and Piers sits on the board. Offbeat contributes to paying Mara North in order to preserve the amazing landscape and wildlife that inhabit it. How does the experience of staying in Mara North Conservancy differ from that of staying in the Mara Reserve proper? MNC markets its product as low density tourism and has a strict game drive code of conduct. The management company, Seiya Ltd has a ranger force that monitors the code of conduct by patrolling around the conservancy. They also work with the guides on enhancing the guests experience and explaining the need to enforce regulations regarding the number of tourists in the conservancy. In the reserve you can find up to 25 cars per sighting. The rules in the conservancy are that there are no more than five cars per sighting. We are also able to night game drive up until 10pm in the conservancy, can drive off-road to sightings, sit on car roofs etc. How does the green season in the Mara North differ from the main tourist season? What is a visitor more likely to experience during this time? MNC has some of the best game around. Lions are almost always seen by guests and we have two big prides that reside in the conservancy; EPC and Offbeat. Other game such as leopards and cheetah are also seen often and year round. MNC also hosts the world famous Leopard Gorge. During the short rains in November visitors are more likely to see the smaller plains game such as gazelles and impala. After the long rainy season the grass is tall and visitors are more likely to see a lot of elephants, buffalo and Eland. The rain has little effect on the habits of the predators. How long has the Mara North been in operation and in that time, how has it changed? What were wildlife numbers when it started compared to now? Mara North has been in operation since 2009. It consists of 850 local Maasai landowners who have come together to lease the land to the camps. Since the Mara North Conservancy was set up the animal numbers have increased especially the predators. It is hard to know whether herbivore numbers have changed due to the fact that they move in and out of the conservancy so frequently. We have seen, especially with elephants, that they are more relaxed in Mara North than in the peripheries. Have you for instance noticed an increase in a specific species that you wouldn't have expected and conversely wildlife which you may have expected to return which has not? Since Mara North started the numbers of lions in the conservancy has doubled. For cheetahs the number is still constant but they have huge home ranges so it is hard to monitor numbers. Currently we have two cheetah researchers who are trying to work out exactly how many cheetahs there are in the Mara ecosystem. We have also seen an increase in serval cats and reedbuck. How has the ecosystem recovered from its previous land use? The previous land use of the area that is now Mara North was local homesteads and cattle. Now that we control the grass and grazing we have seen more nutritious grass growing back. This now serves as a grass bank for the local community in times of drought, whereas previously the cattle would die of in large numbers. Notably one species of Acacia Gerrardi is becoming less and less due to elephant destruction, (as they are restricted to smaller and smaller areas of land), and another type of acacia called Acacia Drepanolobiun is taking hold. Under the lease conditions of the conservancy, how are the Maasai allowed to use the land? MNC has a rotational grazing project, allowing local cattle to graze under control. Under what specific conditions and where are they permitted to graze their cattle? Mara North decided that cattle could be incorporated as part of the community conservation process in MNC. MNC believes that the culture and traditions of the Maasai including cattle and herding should be part of the tourist experience. We do not force it upon them but the cattle herders are encouraged to participate. The cattle are controlled in small areas and the areas are constantly rotated in order not to leave lasting environmental damage. What is being done to educate them about and improve animal husbandry techniques and livestock security? MNC runs the Bright Green Project, (OBEL Family Foundation), we have a pilot project based at the MNC HQ, we aim to teach improved management practices and using Boran cattle to improve local zebu cattle. The conservancy took fifty Maasai elders on an educational trip to Ol Pejeta Conservancy, one of Kenya's finest cattle and wildlife conservancies in existence. As a result we have seen local cattle owners buying in Boran bulls in order to breed with the local cattle and improve the quality of the livestock. The aim of the project is to teach the Maasai that quality is better than quantity and hopefully reduce the environmental impact that the cattle are having on the ecosystem. How many instances of human vs predator conflicts have occurred and what is being done to prevent further such occurances. Indeed, have there been any cases of revenge killings, (or the tradition of young Morans killing lion), in the conservancy and if so, what action has been taken against the culprits? There have been instances in the past but now when the Maasai threaten to kill a lion the rangers are on hand to guard them. MNC runs a livestock compensation project funded by the camps and landowners. A set of rules with a board governs the payments. A verification team with a motorbike verifies all claims. Who is responsible for enforcing the law in the conservancy over such matters and how affective are such laws? Management works very closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service. Any issues are done together with them. The punishments differ on individual cases and Kenya has just passed a new wildlife act that has seen stiffer penalties come into place Bearing in mind the success of the conservancy model first championed I believe by Jake Grieves-Cook in the Mara region, how many more conservancies will be established in the future and how far will they radiate out from the reserve proper? How important are they for wildlife dispersal areas and how essential is it that wildlife corridors exist between them? The Masai Mara Wildlife Conservancy’s Association has just been formed. This is now the body that will help and govern these issues on a county and national level. The conservancies are important in ensuring buffer zones around National Parks between humans and wildlife as well as allowing wildlife to move freely between big areas of land. Without conservancies Kenya is at risk of turning their National Parks into glorified zoos where animals are kept in by the encroachment upon the land by for human purposes, thus increasing human/wildlife conflict. Being a small tented camp obviously reduces its environmental impact and footprint: from where does the camp draw its water supply and how do you encourage responsible water use? Offbeat Mara draws it water from the Musiara Springs about twenty minutes from camp. We have introduced reusable drinking water bottles that guests are given on arrival and then can keep in order to reduce our waste of plastics. How do you dispose of grey and black water? What about waste disposal and recycling? There is currently a project in Aitong that is being set up for waste disposal. As a camp we will take all our rubbish there and it will be recycled. We will also participate in a clean-up day in the local town and help educate the Maasai people about recycling and waste disposal. How does the camp generate electricity? All tents are fully solar powered and in the office during the day the internet is run off solar using a converter from the battery. At night we switch a small generator on for a couple of hours in order to charge up guest’s electrical equipment. How have you found that guests demands for electricity has changed over the years the camp has been operating and how do manage to meet those demands? The camp runs on solar power during the day. In the evenings we offer the guests the chance to charge all electronical items on a small generator that also runs the kitchen and office as is on for 3/4 hours a day. What is the story of the Offbeat Pride and how is this pride connected to your camp? The Pride normally resides on Lion Hill about half a mile out of camp and are seen daily. As cars from other camps are not allowed in this area they are the Pride of Offbeat and have been followed fanatically by the guides and spotters from Offbeat. As a consequence our guides know their history and the relationships between different members. The have also named some of them. How many lions does the pride consist of and how many cubs have been born this year? The pride numbers 18 in total of which 10 are cubs, (there was previously 11 cubs but 1 was recently killed). What is the extent of their range in the conservancy and have they ever ventured outside of its limits and come into conflict with the Maasai? In 2006 there were only four lions in the pride: in 2007 they attacked cows in the village and one of the lionesses was killed which left three. In 2009 eight cubs were born five of which were males and those boys were kicked out in 2012. Two of the kicked out lions attacked cattle in the village at night and were killed and the other was killed by buffalo. We have only seen one since. Once every year we notice that this pride move out of the area for about a month often intruding upon the territory of the Elephant Pepper Pride. The pride moved in February this year and one cub died, we assumed killed by another lion. What is your personal favourite spot in the Mara North Conservancy and why? What are the "secret" locations which you know but that perhaps guests don't get to see? There are some fantastic spots that can only be reached by foot/horse up our valley stretch. Alternatively the stretch of the Olare Orok between Offbeat and Kicheche often proves to be a favourite with guests. How in your opinion can such high visitor numbers to the Masai Mara be sustainable and how many more properties/bed spaces can it support before the negative environmental impact really degrades the ecosystem to beyond repair? What is the answer to overcrowding at the crossings? In Mara north I think we are about at visitor capacity. I.e. we want no more camps and those that are there can only slightly expand. The reserve is too busy and needs better management in general. All images courtesy and © @@Safaridude. The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.

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