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Found 11 results

  1. INTRODUCTION This will be a three-part trip report covering visits to several different conservancies in Kenya during the latter part of November 2018: Ol Pejeta Conservancy via Porini Rhino Camp, Ol Kinyei and Naboisho Conservancies via Porini Mara Camp, and Olare Motorogi Conservancy plus the Mara Reserve via Porini Lion Camp. I am a relative newcomer to SafariTalk, but I found it an invaluable resource in planning this trip, so it is time to start paying it back (or paying it forward for the next person contemplating such a trip). This won't be an hour-by-hour detailed recap of everything on the trip. Instead, I will try to post things that might interest more experienced ST members, such as animal behavior, new and unusual species (at least new to me), critters I find particularly photogenic, etc. However, this is only my second safari trip and my very first ST trip report, so when it comes to my narrative text and photos . . . be gentle. A little background pertinent to this trip. I did one of those "package safaris" to Kenya in Sept 2016 with Odyssey Safaris. It seemed like a good introduction to safaris in general and to Kenya specifically, as it covered Amboseli, Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, and the Maasai Mara Reserve, all-inclusive with international airfare from the US for under $4000USD. After an initial night on arrival in Nairobi at the Safari Park Hotel, there were two nights at the Amboseli Sopa Lodge, two nights at the Naivasha Sopa Lodge, and two nights at the Ashnil Tented Camp in the Mara Reserve. I had a feeling I would fall in love with Africa, so I viewed this first safari as sort of a budget reconnaissance trip for me, and it delivered well for that purpose. The food and lodging were all better than I expected, the single driver/guide was good (only four passengers per pop-top Land Cruiser), and the quantity and variety of the wildlife was amazing to me. Interestingly, of the eight guests on that package safari, I was the only one who caught the safari bug and was determined to return as soon as possible. For everyone else on that trip, an African safari seemed to be a one-time "bucket list" sort of trip. That said, I knew there were a few things I wanted to do differently on my next safari. First, I wanted the smaller tent camps versus the larger established "lodges". Second, I wanted to fly between the safari destinations; a lot of potential game-viewing time was wasted on my previous safari in driving time between the various parks and reserves (and on Kenyan roads, that can be hard for someone like me with bad disks). While photographing with a beanbag under the open pop-top of the Land Cruiser worked well, the side windows made photographing out the sides quite frustrating. Third, the all-inclusive package price included international airfare that was purchased at the lowest possible fare class through a ticket consolidator - which meant no seat assignments until the day of departure at the airport. For someone whose personal travel nightmare would be a middle seat on a long international flight, I resolved to handle my own airline reservations the next time around. Fourth, the arrangement of a single guide that handled multiple safari destinations in Kenya meant he could not be knowledgeable on the latest game activities at a particular location, so I knew I wanted to stay at safari camps that had "resident" guides. Lastly, being conscious of the numbers of other visitors at places like Amboseli and especially at the Mara Reserve, I wanted to try the private conservancies bordering the national parks and reserves. After doing underwater photography for 30 years, I have learned that crowds of more people never make for a better wildlife viewing experience, nor for better wildlife photographs. A little research, including a lot of time reading ST trip reports, led me to Gamewatchers and the Porini Camps in Kenya. From my perspective, they were PERFECT for this second safari. The Porini tent camps absolutely hit the sweet spot for me - the food is good and the lodging comfortable, but the real emphasis is on the game viewing. After reading a couple of the most recent Kenya trip reports here on ST, I guess other people already figured that out. The open-sided Porini safari vehicles (with canvas roof and side-curtains) were were photographer-friendly. As an aside, of the 8 guests on my previous safari, only my buddy and I would count as remotely semi-serious photographers - one person had a borrowed a DSLR with non-working autofocus, one had a small point-and-shoot, and the other 4 were using only cellphones. This is not meant as a criticism of how other folks do their safaris; rather, I was not impressed that Odyssey did not seem to put any thought into how they assigned guests to their vehicles, so I felt sorry for the two non-photographer guests who were stuck with us two photographers. Porini gets it - with the exception of one afternoon game drive, every other drive during this most recent trip was just me and my photographer friend Harry in a single vehicle. Porini staff make an effort to accomodate each guest's particular safari interests in a way that did not happen for me in 2016. With a lot of patient help from Phil Bottrell, one of the Gamewatchers representatives in the US, I put together this trip on the assumption I would be traveling as a single. Fortunately, a friend of mine (Harry from California) decided to join me about four weeks prior to departure. I welcomed the company of another photographer, but Harry's presence also brought my cost down by roughly $500. Total trip cost (1 night in Nairobi plus 8 nights in the field), including tips and everything (and use of 80,000 United miles) came in under $4000, which I consider an outstanding value for the safari experience delivered. PART I - THE OL PEJETA CONSERVANCY AND PORINI RHINO CAMP For this return visit to Kenya, I wanted to add a destination in central Kenya to pick up some of those unique species resident there such as Grevy's zebras and reticulatied giraffes. And most especially I wanted to see some wild dogs. As I was finalizing the arrangements for this trip, I used to tease Phil at Gamewatchers about making sure to "reserve" a pack of wild dogs for me (preferably slow ones that would be easy to photograph). When Harry decided to join this trip, seeing leopards was at the top of his wish list, to which I readily agreed as I never saw any leopards during the 2016 safari. Believe me, I understand from my scuba diving days that you have to take whatever nature gives you, but I find having a goal or two in mind makes the trip planning more focused. And it does build up one's anticipation prior to the trip. After a late evening arrival in Nairobi on 19 Nov (Phoenix >> Frankfurt >> NBO), and a short night at the Eka Hotel, we departed at 0615 for a short drive to Wilson Airport (which would not have been a 15-minute drive later into morning rush hour). Since I was carrying a photo pack with approx 11kg of camera equipment, I was a bit concerned about fitting within the 15kg total baggage limit for in-country safari flights. Before I ever had a chance to put a camera and lens over my shoulder and a couple batteries and chargers in my pants pockets, the staff at Wilson weighed my total baggage at 16kg (Harry's was similar). Nobody seemed to care about that slight over-weight issue, and once we boarded our AirKenya flight, we realized why - Harry and I were the only passengers on the DH Twin Otter flying to Nanyuki that morning. Technically, we flew into an alternate dirt airstrip (Nanyuki West?) on the western side of the Conservancy, as we were told the main Nanyuki airport was undergoing repairs. One additional aside regarding air travel - after obsessing a bit about the plastic bag ban in Kenya, on arrival at NBO - no obvious signs regarding plastic bags, no questions about plastic bags, in short zero hassles. The Nanyuki West airstrip is only a 10-minute drive or so to the Rhino Camp, so we did a lazy meandering drive to reach the camp around lunchtime. Nice small tent camp with only seven tents spread along a small creek. To me, it has two big advantages - first, most camps and lodges are on the eastern side of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, so it felt like Rhino Camp guests had the western half of the Conservancy pretty much to ourselves. Second, the porch of the main dining tent looks out on a nice waterhole which attracts a good variety of animal life (and bird life on the vegetation bordering the streambanks). After checking in, getting unpacked in the tent, and a nice lunch, we did a short walk with the Maasai staff for the spear-throwing and dancing demonstration, and then headed out for our afternoon game drive. My personal highlights of that first day (20 Nov) at Rhino Camp included a Kori bustard doing his mating display, some attractive reticulated giraffes (these photos were taken at the camp waterhole,as was the nearby Speke's weaver), and several curious young jackals and hyenas. A Speke's weaver, taken from the porch of the Rhino Camp dining tent: As you will eventually figure out through this trip report, I do have a thing for some of the smaller mammals in Kenya, and some of the ones like hyenas that we sort of take for granted. And for zebras. But those were just the appetizers. Toward the end of the afternoon, our guide Benjamin and his eagle-eyed spotter Henry saw something light-colored high in the trees in the distance. Turned out to be a leopard! Mind you, this was quite distant (photo is taken at 500mm with DX sensor, and cropped significantly), but still . . . any leopard sighting is a good sighting when you have never seen one in the wild before. A promising end to our first day at Rhino Camp in Ol Pejeta. We awoke early on Day 2 (around 0430), with nearby hyenas making quite a racket over their breakfast of zebra. Enroute to the eastern side of the Conservancy, we came across a small pride of lions working their way through the acacia scrub. Lion cubs of any size, age, and location are always cute . . . even when wet. Also a pair of cheetah brothers, either just waking up or just falling asleep - one can never be entirely certain with cheetahs. I should note that, when driving between Rhino Camp and the eastern side of the Conservancy, one passes by a substantial livestock operation including a slaugterhouse and worker housing (little village is named Kamok?). At first this struck a bit of an off note with me in the midst of so much natural beauty, but I came to accept it. After all, the Conservancy was formerly a 90,000-acre cattle ranch, and continues with a sustainable livestock operation that provides a source of both food and income to the local people. And the wildlife certainly seems to enjoy the watering stations that were built for the cattle. The eastern side of OP, though it gets more visitors than the western side, definitely has more beautiful terrain, especially the riverbanks along the Ewaso Nyiro River. Made a lovely spot for a bush breakfast. A local elephant herd seems quite at home in the river valley environment, and several family groups with cute baby elephants were present in the area. Note where the elephant calf is nursing in the first photo; this fact becomes significant later in the trip. Several African fish eagles also seemed to appreciate the location along the river. The central part of the Conservancy abounds with both southern white and black rhinos, though there seemed to be quite a bit more of the southern white variety (or possibly the black rhinos were feeding back in the bushes and therefore less obvious). These appeared to be family members playing together rather than any serious tussle. On the drive back to the western side for lunch, we came across a nice martial eagle, and one of my personal favorites (another underappreciated animal), the common warthog. But then, but then . . . let's just say that Christmas came early for me last November. Our guides spotted a lone wild dog moving around in the shade of a large tree. Apparently this young female was separated from the rest of her pack during a hunt roughly half a year ago, and the pack moved on while this young female was left here. Sort of sad to see a pack animal without her pack, and a social animal being all alone, but fortunately she looked quite healthy. After a lunch break, we headed out later in the afternoon with Benjamin and Henry trying to see if we could find the wild dog again. Close by the camp, we were passed by a herd of Thompson's gazelles zigzagging past us at full speed, headed in the opposite direction . . . followed soon thereafter by the wild dog. We tried reversing course to follow them, but it wasn't really possible with all the acacia scrub and the speeding animals, so no pictures of the solo wild dog hunting. Shortly thereafter, as we reached an area of more open grassland, keen-eyed Henry spotted our wild dog in the distance, apparently feeding on a kill. It was clear she has figured out how to catch gazelles on her own, without the rest of the pack to help. Also clear that she had to pass through some muddy terrain to catch her dinner this day. It was fascinating to see the hunting and feeding behavior of this distant relative of our domestic dogs. I know our Norwich terrier had a pretty strong hunting instinct around small rodents and lizards, but the shih tzu - not so much. His idea of hunting was to bark at the refrigerator. So within the span of about 26 hours at Ol Pejeta, we had both a leopard and a wild dog sighting. At this point, if the rest of the trip just had shown me the routine African wildlife, I would have felt this to be a successful safari that already met my expectations. We did spot a bird I had never seen before, the white-bellied go-away-bird: But there was one more interesting incident later that afternoon. Near the wild dog kill, a pair of young jackals were engaged in a tug of war over their dinner (some sort of very young grazing animal, not sure what). Unfortunately, they made enough racket to attract the attention of a nearby hyena. One jackal had sole possession of his prize for a brief moment in time, but as soon as the hyena came near, the jackal dropped the carcass and the hyena came away with a free dinner. If nothing else, these pictures show the significant size discrepancy between the two animals. Smart jackal. The end of a good full day in Ol Pejeta. Our Day 3 morning (22 Nov) involved another trip over to the eastern side of the Conservancy, this time to see the three remaining northern white rhinos and the Grevy's zebra. The morning drive eastward brought us a nice tawny eagle looking for breakfast: Some up-close-and-personal views of a reticulated giraffe: And the ugly-but-strangely-elegant marabou stork: I love seeing cheetahs, especially young sibling groups. They seem to share an almost telepathic connection. Cheetahs on the hunt are so focused . . . But sometimes their brother is only dreaming of the hunt . . . so much for my telepathy theory. As I mentioned before, there were lots of healthy-looking southern white rhinos in the central part of the Conservancy and other healthy grazers, I guess visual proof that the conservancy model is working well. On the previous day, we had visited the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary along the Ewaso Nyiro River to see Poco and the other rescued chimpanzees from elsewhere in Africa. Admission was included with the stay at Rhino Camp, and it was a worthwhile visit, but nonetheless a somewhat grim place. We had the option of visiting the Endangered Species Boma the next day, but opted to pass. Our guide Benjamin suggested that we could see the endangered Northern White Rhinos and the Grevy's almost as well from the outside of the fence, which is what we did. Again, this facility is a sad place, to see animals fenced in that should be in the wild, but it is sadder still to know that it is necessary because of human actions. Other than a nice view of the Grevy's zebras, I did not come away with any good pictures of the three northern white rhinos other than some for record purposes. Soon afterwards, we did go to visit Baraka the blind black rhino. Maybe a little inconsistent that I did not have such a negative reaction here, but that might be because here humans are taking care of a native Kenyan animal that was injured by forces of nature rather than by human actions. In any case, Baraka was worth seeing (this is Harry with one of the local rangers). On the way heading back to the west side and Rhino Camp, Harry and I had been looking for small birds such as lilac breasted rollers and bee eaters. My friend Harry is a real birder; I am not. I enjoy photographing large impressive birds and small colorful birds, but the little brown jobs (however rare) don't do it for me. I wasn't getting great shots of these small perching birds, so to amuse myself I tried to get some flight photos, right after they take off. I tried quickly panning to the right or left, but wasn't at all successful, so eventually I zoomed out to try to catch the bird in flight in any direction it might head. I apologize in advance for the quality of the following two photos. They are poor technically, but are interesting for another reason. This first photo shows what Harry tells me is a European bee eater, perched on a branch. Not real exciting, right? Now take a look at the picture taken just a split second later, when this bee eater has decided to fly away. Note that he not only did a nose dive off from his branch, but he has also rolled through 180 degrees, which is why we are seeing his underside rather than his back. I thought that rollers (and related bee eaters, in the same order Coraciiformes) were so named for acrobatic maneuvers they perform during courtship - either these particular birds also do these acrobatics during daily life, or this guy is practicing for his big date. Or more troubling, this little bee eater is courting a Land Rover Defender. In any case, I am impressed . . . Came across a rhino parent and young one enjoying a mud bath at the local spa And a warthog family group enjoying the same treatment. Entertaining watching a warthog parent and adolescent interact with each other (well, maybe more fun for the little one than the parent). A few more scenes that caught my attention on the drive back to Rhino camp, all pretty much self-explanatory. Black rhino with oxpeckers (kept waiting for the rhino in the first photo to sneeze out the oxpecker, but didn't happen): Olive baboon mothers with young ones: And an elegant (and not ugly) sacred ibis: Can never go wrong with more baby elephants . . . Though young hyenas might give them some competition in the cute category . . . I knew I was visiting near the anticipated end of the short rainy season, so I fully expected to see some rain during this trip. We were lucky with no showers during the first three days, but rain started during dinner on Day 3 and was occasionally pretty heavy during the night. The game drive the next morning, enroute back to the Nanyuki West airstrip for our flight down south to the Mara Camp, was fairly sparse as far as large game goes, and the ground was still pretty wet, but we did see a few interesting birds including this Speke's weaver, and one good-looking black-backed jackal. And of course a parting shot of our wonderful spotter Henry and our guide Benjamin. Both did an exceptional job, as did camp manager David and all the staff at Rhino camp. Thanks for reading this far. END OF PART I.
  2. Keep abreast of news from the greater Mara ecosystem here: https://www.flipsnack.com/flip-preview/ftji6phhw/
  3. Morning ST'ers. Yesterday, @@Calvin wrote the following write-up and presented the attached 'Powerpoint'. While I'm unsure that this will ever be agreed to by the many operators in and around the reserve, I do believe it's the way forward for the Mara ecosystem. I believe there's also no reason it cannot be replicated and tweaked to fit other National Parks and Reserves in Kenya (and elsewhere) - mandating that tourism operators pay for ecosystem services to protect the very wilderness areas from which they profit. "So, in an effort to rationalize and correct the imbalance in tourism revenues being paid inside the Mara Reserve (where natural habitat is not actually threatened) compared to what is paid outside (where agriculture is growing at 8% per annum, where human population is growing at 19% per annum, and where wildlife is being removed by landowners at up to 4% per year for land use change), I propose a voluntary 'land rating' scheme for lodges and camps in the Mara ecosystem whereby all lodges are vetted and rated according to how much land they lease per room - the more land secured, the more tax and selling advantages they get from the selling chain ( DMC's and tour agents). To get onto the land rating scheme, lodges and camps 'freeloading' inside or just on the peripheries of the Mara reserve SHOULD have to be required to also lease land outside the reserve because national protected land where their lodges are situated is not under threat from subdivision, farming, and elimination of wildlife 'vermin'...these lodges will have to increase their prices, continue to pay the Narok County their Mara entry fees, while using the additional money they charge to lease land outside the Mara reserve. This is the right thing to do - for the Maasai Mara National Reserve ( as it will help in decongesting the reserve) , for the wildlife generally, for the people because it boosts livelihood income, and for the government because it resolves human wildlife conflict and uplifts the economic outlook for their voting constituents.. But for this to work, we need the 'buy in' and total understanding and commitment of the tourism selling chain - the agents and local ground operators have to priorities and support the the lodges and camps with the highest ratio of land secured per room...and educate their clients on this need. Please go to www.maraconservancies.org for more info on how the conservancies work, and which camps are leasing land for wildlife." https://onedrive.live.com/view.aspx?resid=88C853BAB6E9694A!113&app=PowerPoint&authkey=!AG_qIBzJTHSuEh8 EDIT: Apparently I am "not permitted to upload this kind of file" as an attachment, so click on the link above instead.
  4. An agreement was found between Tullow Oil and Africa Oil with Pokot and Turkana comunities in Western Kenya, to fund new conservancies which will be suported by NRT. The companies comited to fund over 11 MUSD in the next 5 years to conservancies management Oil exploration has begun in the region in 2011. http://www.nrt-kenya.org/nrtandtullow/ http://www.nrt-kenya.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/NEW_MAP_INC_TURKANA_Attachment-1_NRT-Conservancies-Map.-copy.jpg I think it is great that part of the oil investments benefit to the local comunities, I am worried about the posible impacts over the ecosystem. On the other hand, it seems great that NRT will support these conservancies to establish good practices of management of the natural resources, and ensure peace and stability in this remote region of the country. However I have no idea if there is still wildlife in this semi-arid area of Kenya.
  5. This is an interesting read. It is a blog post from Jake Grieves-Cook, MD of Gamewatcheres safaris and Porini Camps and also a Safaritalk member ( @@JakeGC ). http://www.porini.com/blog/the-importance-of-wildlife-conservancies-in-expanding-the-protected-habitat-for-wildlife-in-kenya/
  6. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/campaigns/giantsclub/giants-club-the-new-conservancy-conservation-concept-giving-kenyas-local-communities-jobs-income-and-a-brighter-future-10440511.html This article from the U.K. Independent has an interview with Jake Grieves-Cook of Kenya's Porini Camps in which he extols the benefits of the conservancy concept for Kenya's wildlife conservation. The establishment of conservancies is noted as benefitting both local landowners and wildlife visitors seeking a closer connection with nature.
  7. An interesting read SWARA EDITOR, ANDY HILL, INTERVIEWS JAKE GRIEVES-COOK
  8. Click on the link below to hear an interview by Tamara LePine Williams on ClassicFm.co.za with Jake Grieves-Cook http://www.classicfm.co.za/classic-lifestyle/podcasts/2015/january/15-january/masai-mara-conservancy-1/at_download/file
  9. Following the recent article by Calvin Cottar on the establishment of wildlife conservancies on community-owned lands in the Mara Eco-system, here are some maps which trace their development and show the locations: Conservancies in the Mara Eco-system
  10. To secure the wildlife around camps in the greater Mara ecosystem, many lodge owners have over the last few years leased land for wildlife conservancies giving them the possibility to better control the wildlife experience for their guests while paying the Maasai landowners to keep the wildlife alive on their land and averting the 'de-wilding' process that normally happens as land is converted to food production...this conservancy movement has shown that leasing land to remain extensive and open, unfenced and inhabited by a wide variety of wild animal species has given the landowners very good alternative to farming and land fragmentation, and it has been good for the local Maasai people, their culture, the wildlife and the tourism industry. However, with the security issues the country has recently had to face and which undoubtedly has the potential to reduce tourism arrivals to the country, some conservancies may not be able to meet their payment commitments to their landowners....The consequences of not having these conservancy payments underwritten and guaranteed is clear; it can result in the loss of trust by landlords, reversal of all the good conservation work that has been achieved and may well prompt the removal of wildlife from these conservancies and conversion of this land to farming. Should wildlife in Kenya - or anywhere for that matter - be dependent only on the sensitive and fickle tourism industry ? What would give the wildlife conservancies more financial resilience?
  11. In a quick twiter and facebook survey to find out which protected areas in Kenya are best managed, I got a diversity of responses from the general public that revealed a real (and scarey) ignorance of what management of a protected area involves and how to measure performance. What criteria would you use to evaluate effectiveness of park management? And, how would you go about evaluating these measures? Finally, are there any specific protected areas in Africa that really stand out for you as a role model for being "well managed", and why?

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