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Found 34 results

  1. I call this a Safari Talk Safari as we followed in the footsteps of two ST members on this trip @Towlersonsafari and @michael-ibk . Once we read their trip reports we knew immediately that our journey to Kenya would include their recommendations and they proved to be perfect for us. Thank you so much for all the help you gave us in particular @michael-ibk who introduced us to Petra Allmendinger who has a guest farm near the Aberdare's, Sandai Homestay and arranged a wonderful 11 day tour for us with our own private vehicle. We spent 5 weeks discovering this new, for us, country travelling from Nairobi where we met our adopted orphans and their wonderful keepers at the David Sheldrik Wildlife Trust orphanage onto the Masai Mara, The Aberdare's, Solio and Samburu. We also stayed at two of the fabulous DSWT release sights Umani Springs and Ithumba and finally to Amboselli before a last wet and muddy visit to the orphanage on our last evening in Nairobi. We travelled with different companies and different drivers and all of them were friendly, helpful, welcoming people who took great care of us. We arrived a few days after the disputed general elections and everyone went out of their way to reassure us that we were safe. We had no problems what so ever. Although we began our trip with a couple of days in Nairobi I will begin with our 6 nights spent in the Masai Mara at Brian Freeman's camp and will return to Nairobi and our onward journey from there later. @Towlersonsafari had so enjoyed their stay at Brian's 'secret' tented camp that we contacted Brian and booked with him direct. He included a private vehicle and if we wished we could stay out from sunrise to sunset. Brian does not advertise his camp on any web site other than his own. He has a few, excellent, reviews on Trip Advisor but his business is mainly return clients. We flew to the Masai Mara on 16 August 2017. We left Nairobi on the early morning Air Kenya flight and landed at Ol Kiombo airstrip. Its only a short drive to Brians camp and our guide/driver Josh met us and we immediately set off on a game drive before going to camp for lunch. Josh asked us what we wanted to see most of all. 'Leopards please! and everything else of course'. We have had bad luck with finding leopards on our previous trips to Africa and hoped that this time we would fulfil our dreams of spending quality time with a leopard/leopards. Josh promised to do his best for us and boy did he deliver
  2. Many years ago when Samburu in northern Kenya had a good population of cheetah, we had a very special moment as we were leaving the reserve. As we headed for the gate we came across three cheetahs that were in a playful mood as they chased each other and practised their tripping technic. It was a very nice way to finish our stay in Samburu, but as we watched we noticed a large figure in the distance which was making its way towards us. Through our, now well trained eyes, we could make out that it was a male Lion. He was moving at quite a pace and soon caught the attention of the playing Cheetahs. The Cheetahs stopped playing as the lion broke into a gentle run. This prompted the Cheetahs to split, each moving about twenty meters apart in the shape of a triangle. The lion showed a lot of attitude as he got closer making it clear who was the boss, but I don’t think the Cheetahs were overly impressed. When he was closer, the Cheetahs, each in turn moved towards the lion tempting him to chase them. He turned from one cheetah then to another, and then charged at the one to our left. As he did the other two Cheetahs moved closer calling to each other, or were they teasing the lion? He turned and gave chase to the Cheetah on our right. They knew as we did, he would never catch one of them, but he had to make a statement of intent and back up his position as top cat. The Cheetahs moved back & forth pulling the lion first this way then the other testing his resolve to prove himself. Again he gave chase, this time a little half-hearted, then stopped abruptly in a cloud of dust. The cheetah also stopped and turned walking square to him, almost as if taunting him. The other two Cheetahs were now quite close to him and as he turned around he seemed unsure which one to take his frustration out on. He decided on the Cheetah on the right, but in half charge he veered off to the left surprising the other Cheetah and almost caught him. This game of tag went on for about 15/20 minutes and we had to go. As we drove away, looking back we saw the lion walking away, the Cheetahs now standing together looking rather pleased with themselves. No photos as I had packed all my cameras away.
  3. Orphaned female elephant social bonds reflect lack of access to mature adults Shifra Z. Goldenberg & George Wittemyer Scientific Reports 31 Oct 2017 LINKS TO FULL PAPER: Abstract: Compensatory social behavior in nonhuman animals following maternal loss has been documented, but understanding of how orphans allocate bonding to reconstruct their social networks is limited. Successful social integration may be critical to survival and reproduction for highly social species and, therefore, may be tied to population persistence. We examined the social partners involved in affiliative interactions of female orphans and non-orphans in an elephant population in Samburu, northern Kenya that experienced heightened adult mortality driven by drought and intense ivory poaching. We contrasted partners across different competitive contexts to gain insight to the influence of resource availability on social interactions. Though the number of partners did not differ between orphans and non-orphans, their types of social partners did. Orphans interacted with sisters and matriarchs less while feeding than did non-orphans, but otherwise their affiliates were similar. While resting under spatially concentrated shade, orphans had markedly less access to mature adults but affiliated instead with sisters, bulls, and age mates. Orphan propensity to strengthen bonds with non-dominant animals appears to offer routes to social integration following maternal loss, but lack of interaction with adult females suggests orphans may experience decreased resource access and associated fitness costs in this matriarchal society.
  4. This sounds like good news: "The Ewaso Lions Project in Kenya has reported the arrival of four new males (who have manes!) in Samburu – the first time since 2008 that new lions have been seen in the area." (scroll down a bit to reach the article text):
  5. “Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don't need a diploma to plant a tree.” ~ Dr. Wangari Maathai in ‘Unbowed’ Respect for the Land ~ During an eventful safari in August, 2014 there had been ample evidence suggesting that Kenya’s seemingly timeless landscape was, in fact, changing as a consequence of ongoing development, whether in the form of urban expansion or in the form of herding and grazing activities by those squeezed out from the benefits of high technology and advanced education. As a guest in Africa, it wasn’t my place to judge what I saw as the antecedents were far too complex for a casual safari tourist like me to adequately understand. While I cringed when observing large herds in national reserves and national parks, it was clear that the economic pressures involved were far beyond any simplistic understanding which I might have. Added to that were several less than pleasant scenes with safari van overcrowding around plainly harassed predators, sparking questions in my mind about my own presence as part of the telephoto lens and smart phone scrum. Leaving Nairobi for the long journey back to China, there was a malaise which sullied the memories of the wildlife I’d observed. Was Kenya’s verdant land in the process of losing much of the natural charm which had originally attracted me? My very good fortune was having true friends guiding me in farflung areas of Kenya. Safaritalk member @@Anthony Gitau and his wife, Maggie, of Bigmac Africa Safaris,, had been with me on four highly productive safaris, including the August, 2014 visit to Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru. We had developed trust and rapport such that there was unspoken understanding of what made an ideal game drive. Anthony and Maggie are both such intelligent, warmhearted, humorous individuals, representing Kenya’s finest qualities. One week after returning to China, I contacted them to ask about their availability for a safari in the first week of October, when universities have a one-week vacation in connection with China’s National Day on 1 October. The turnaround time to plan the safari, booking accommodations, was brief, little less than one month. With admirable finesse, Maggie Gitau pulled together the elements of an itinerary which matched my interests and limited time schedule. There were no complaints, despite the scant time available for arranging the details, which is typical of Anthony's and Maggie’s graciousness. They implicitly understood that I needed to return to Kenya as soon as possible to restore my enthusiasm by visiting land with minimal human impact, where the songs of birds and the tracks of herds were the primary evidence of life. Anthony had told me several times that his uncle, who now resides in the United States but was once a safari guide ranging throughout East Africa, had taken him to Meru National Park. That initial visit has triggered Anthony’s love of wildlife tourism, and had given him a special appreciation of Meru National Park. In communicating about possible locations for the October, 2014 safari, I stressed that an itinerary with Meru National Park would be especially welcome. After Anthony praised Meru’s charms, my interest inspired me to learn more about it. Having read several of Mrs. Joy Adamson’s books set in and around Meru National Park, I sensed that a visit there might be a special experience, no matter what sorts of wildlife might be observed. Meru National Park is the training base for newly recruited staff for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and therefore is well maintained despite the relative paucity of visitors. I’d visited nearby Samburu National Reserve with Anthony in May, 2014, and was eager for a return visit. With those considerations in mind, Bigmac Africa proposed an itinerary comprising Meru, Samburu and Lake Nakuru, beginning and concluding at the Sirona Hotel in Nairobi. I agreed with gratitude, for I realized that it had been a complex process to arrange a private safari on such short notice. As I enjoy fresh challenges, I decided to take only one camera, the EOS 1D X, with three lenses, the Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/2, the Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2, and the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II super-telephoto. As it turned out, that trio of lenses was more than adequate for photographing all that was observed during the safari. I’d never used Tv, Shutter Priority shooting mode before, therefore I resolved to use it throughout the safari, with a constant shutter speed of 1/2000 sec. An untested piece of equipment was an iPad Air which I’d purchased somewhat reluctantly, with the hope of being able to share with Anthony any especially satisfactory images from game drives on the previous days. On every safari there’s invariably something forgotten. In this case it was a recharging cord for the iPad Air. In Hamad International Airport, in Doha, Qatar, it was possible to buy a replacement cord. Nothing else was forgotten or broken, such that it was a trouble-free safari from start to finish, with exceptionally lovely weather every day. The Qatar Airways flights were all on-time, with ample connection time in Doha. The in-flight meals were excellent. At my request, we stopped for lunch at the Trout Tree restaurant near Naro Moru, making a pleasant break during the all-day drive from Nairobi to the Murera Springs Eco-Resort near Meru National Park. The off-the-menu trout en papillote at the Trout Tree restaurant is a special joy on any Meru or Samburu safari. Accomodations were respectively at the Murera Springs Eco-Resort, the Samburu Sopa Lodge, and the Kivu Lodge in Nakuru. Making allowances as needed, all were more than adequate for my needs. I’d previously stayed at both the Samburu Sopa and the Kivu in prior safaris, but it was the first visit to the Murera Springs Eco-Resort owned by Safaritalk member @@nhanq. What a terrific experience! The staff was delightful, adding to the pleasure of visiting Meru for the first time. I had no idea that I would subsequently be a guest at Murera Springs on two later safaris. I’m not especially meal-oriented, but felt that all meals throughout the safari were excellent. As is my custom, when Anthony stopped in Nairobi on the departure morning to fill the fuel tank with petrol and check both tires and suspension, I wandered into the service station convenience shop, strolling back out with a rather large sack filled with small boxes of juice. Apple, black currant, red grape, guava — they sustain me during long drives between destinations, and refresh during lulls between game drive sightings. Whenever the white Toyota safari van stops for refuelling, Anthony’s ritual is to rock it back and forth to assess how the suspension is functioning. That’s a favorite with me, because it signifies “safari” in my mind. Notes about each day on safari were made, as usual, in a mini-notebook from Muji. I’m a devoted Montblanc fountain pen user, therefore two pens were brought along for late-night notes and sketches. The late @@graceland told me that: “a trip report is for you. If others enjoy it, that’s great, but write to express what you feel”. In that spirit this trip report is prepared fully two years after the fact. Life has gone on in Kenya and for me, but the natural beauty I observed during the October, 2014 safari retains its appeal. As will be apparent, this was a “Big Five” safari, the third of eight consecutive “Big Five” safaris. Encountering any species is a treat, whether obscure or “Big Five”. I’m especially drawn to plants, including wildflowers and palm trees. Beauty abounds if one takes time to spot it. Although my profession involves teaching life science students about field ecology, in a trip report I’m far less concerned with precise species identification and far more interested in appreciation of the intense loveliness of the natural world. Simply being outside in Africa’s vibrant scenery is more than enough. There’s a place for carefully reasoned analytical reports about wildlife behavior. That’s not my purpose here, where I prefer to share what I saw, using photographs and poetry to convey cherished memories of a hastily planned safari. A special thanks is in order to @@fictionauthor, @@Peter Connan and @@offshorebirder, all of whom have regularly encoraged me during the past half a year, each being remarkably gifted individuals and loyal friends. Most of all, heartfelt thanks to @@Anthony Gitau and Maggie Gitau, for making this gem of a safari possible.
  6. My family and I are living in Nairobi for four months. We recently went to the Mara with Mara Explorers Camp & Backpacker (not to be confused with Heritage Hotels' luxury Mara Explorer), which was fantastic and precisely my family's style and speed. We're not luxury travelers--and we definitely do not have the budget for luxury safari trips. We're trying to book a similar journey to Samburu, but are having a lot of difficulty finding budget accommodations. We tried Lion King Bush Camp, but they haven't been answering our emails. We tried contacting Samburu Game Lodge but there is no active phone listed and emails to the main Wilderness Lodges address were unanswered. Any ideas? We're hoping to do two adults and two children (10, 7) for four days and three nights for about $2000. I know that maybe sounds crazy, but that's what we did with Mara Explorers in the Mara. Everything I'm seeing for Samburu is at least 50% higher. Any help? We'd like to get in before the long rains come. One more Q while I'm at it: Looking for an inexpensive option to rent a 4WD with decent clearance for a day to drive around Nairobi NP. I've been fine driving through in a compact Toyota while it's been dry, but when the dirt roads start getting muddier and ruttier, I'm going to need something a bit more capable. Anyone know a reputable place to go in town?
  7. As promised, since my plans have changed, our title needs to be changed from: First timers too, mother / daughter combo Hubby Harry was sad to be missing out on all the fun, although 4 bulging discs in his back makes flying (sitting too long in one position) excruciating. Ergo, our plans are evolving. It is likely that his vacation schedule will dictate a trip beginning in mid-June, so Aberdares is off the table for this trip. Samburu and the Masai Mara are still "must-do"s and I have two bookings at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, hoping to make one of them work. I was browsing the Porini Rhino website yesterday and saw a walking safari mentioned on Laikipia. It looks delightful. Has anyone done walking safaris in Kenya? I believe Sabache Safari Camp offers them too. Thanks!
  8. I´m pretty much decided on doing a 2-week Kenya trip in autumn 2014, with Meru, Samburu, Aberdares, Nakuru and the Mara. I have a pretty appealing offer for a jeep safari from an operator with 3 nights Meru at Murera Springs Eco Lodge 3 nights Samburu at Samburu Game Lodge 2 nights Aberdares at Aberdares Country Club 2 nights Lake Nakuru at Flamingo HIll Camp 5 nights Mara at Mara Bush Camp Does any of you have personal experience about these accomodations? (Game drive times at lodges are not an issue since we would have our private car for the whole trip.) Our time frame would be September/October. Of course we would like to have good chances for experiencing a crossing so advice on when to go would be welcome, and of course I am interested in your thoughts about this itinerary. Thanks in advance.
  9. 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!
  10. "Africa? Are you mad? With all that Ebola? What? KENYA?!? Completely mad? With all that terrorism I hear about on the news? Haven´t they even issued travel warnings?" Normally when I tell friends and familiy about my safari plans they are pretty positive. Though they think I must have seen enough animals by now and are not really getting it, it´s mostly "Wow, safari! Really cool, must do that sometime." (Sometime=never in a million years) Not this year. All my "Africa is huge, Spain and France are closer to the Ebola countries than Kenya" and "Really, trust me, I´ve researched this, it´s totally safe where we are going" did little to convince anybody that I was not out of my mind. A minor nuisance for me. A heavy blow for Kenya´s tourism, and therefore devastating for the country. Bloody shame. What a fantastic country it is, and how much it has to offer. I always felt completely safe and people were friendly and welcoming everywhere. On this 16-day-trip I was totally blown away by the many facets one can experience in Kenya, and how different all those magnificent places are I was lucky enough to visit. The unspoilt wilderness of Meru: Samburu with its unique Northern animals: The Aberdares, the surprise highlight of this safari for me. Wow, did I love this place. Lake Nakuru, good for rhinos and - yes! - still flamingos. No need to say anything about the Mara. A gnu´s world there. And of course THE place to see all the big cats. And some smaller ones. You know what they say. Relax and go to Kenya! I will again, that´s for sure.
  11. The Turkana Bus – Journeys to the Jade Sea (I should mention that this is a composite report that covers my time driving the Turkana Bus rather than a TR of one specific trip) Early in 1981, I was in Nairobi after completing an overland journey across Africa. I decided that Kenya was a country I'd like to explore a bit more and so I approached one of the local safari operators for a job. Lake Turkana was one of the places I'd long wanted to visit, ever since reading John Hillaby's 'Journey to the Jade Sea', the story of his 1,000 mile walk with camels across Northern Kenya to Lake Turkana. At the time the local operators were only too keen to employ ex-overland drivers. They had a familiarity with the same Bedford trucks that the local companies were using and, for the most part, they had demonstrated an ability to keep the show on the road in trying conditions. At that time, there was no problem with the fact that we were foreign and did not have work permits. Even though we were stopped at police checkpoints every day and had to present all our papers, our status was never an issue. Even when I moved on from the Turkana run and started leading groups on wildlife safaris into Maasai Mara and other National Parks it was never an issue. The way things worked was that all the foreign drivers working at SCS – there were 3 or 4 of us at any one time – would live in a rondavel in the garden of our employer's house at Langata, a suburb of Nairobi. We were paid the grand sum of £25 a week. It didn't matter, most of us would have done it for nothing. When we were not on the road we joined the family for meals. If we ever got a week off it was spent in the workshops, fixing trucks or Land Cruisers. The roughest bus ride in the world this is a postcard of an artist's impression of the Turkana Bus Billed as 'the roughest bus ride in the world', the Turkana Bus was in fact one or more Bedford trucks (exactly how many depended on how many bookings there were). That would collect passengers every Saturday morning in Nairobi and set off on a journey to Lake Turkana and back. Our route Leaving Nairobi we'd climb the escarpment overlooking the Rift Valley and drive to Gil Gil before turning north east to pass through Nyahururu and Rumuruti before reaching Maralal. From Maralal we'd continue through Baragoi to South Horr. After a night at South Horr we'd continue up through the Chalbi desert to Loiyangalani on the shores of Lake Turkana. Our return route took us back down as far as Baragoi before turning south east to go through Barsaloi and Wamba on our way to Archers Post and Buffalo Springs game reserve. After 2 nights in Buffalo Springs/Samburu we'd leave the park and drive south to Nairobi, arriving back in town on Friday afternoon. A slap up meal and a good night's sleep, then back into Nairobi on Saturday morning to do it all over again. The Turkana Bus was very special. Even though the trip was about as basic as it could be it attracted an amazing diversity of people; not just budget travellers at all. We used to get Kenyan residents, UN workers, foreign executives posted in Kenya and international travellers. The great appeal of the Turkana Bus was that it took people to a place they were unlikely to visit by themselves. The rough terrain and the lawlessness of the Northern Frontier District, with very little accommodation to be found meant that even those who would happily self drive into the game parks were wary of visiting the NFD. Sometimes I'd do the route in just one truck, with a cook for company. Other weeks, there could be 2 or even 3 vehicles travelling together. The trip was, consistently, incredibly popular. SCS was one of 2 companies that ran regular trips to Lake Turkana, and by far the most established at it. So much so that in addition to our regular departures I took private groups from San Diego zoo and also from Marlboro Adventure Travel. Although the Marlboro groups only drove in one direction then flew from Loiyangalani to Lamu. Now that was a cool trip. In terms of interest, the trip really got going once we'd passed through Rumuruti and left the tar roads behind. We'd generally stop in Maralal for drinks (tea, cola etc) in the late afternoon then leave town and look for a place to spend the night. We'd literally scour the roadsides for a suitable spot where we could leave the road and drive 50 metres or so into the bush. Then we'd unload the gear and people would set up their tents while the cooks set about preparing dinner. Collecting wood was a ritual that began as soon as we left Maralal. All meals were cooked on open fires and it was impossible to have too much wood. We would collect huge piles which we'd then stack on top of the trucks and carry with us. It was not so much for the roadside camps as for our time in South Horr and Loiyangalani where firewood was harder to find.
  12. Samburu in March is Hot, very hot. But it is also the time that the Somali Ostrich is rearing their new broods. We had never seen so many, from Immature right down to new chicks, they were everywhere. On one drive we came across two different males, one with 10 chicks and the other with 8. Later that day we found one of the males with all 18 chicks. The other male never returned during the week we were there. It is difficult not to get caught up in the awe factor when young are concerned and we spent quite a bit of time with them during our time here. With all youngsters there are always the bossy ones, the adventurous ones and those who keep their heads down and get on with life. I have always liked the adventurous ones, the ones who push the boundaries, but they are of course a nightmare for the parents. With so many bundles of fluff dashing here & there and becoming more & more spread out the danger increases significantly. Samburu has many birds of prey and one of these chicks would make a nice meal. Each day we came across groups of 6-8 Immature Ostrich. As we never saw them with any adults we assumed they had left the protection of the parent' and were big enough to take care of themselves. On our next encounter with the brood of 18 was in the evening and it was good to see that they were still all there. We spent some time with them filming the chicks who were very active. The day was cooling down as the sun had slipped behind the hills that form the backdrop to Samburu. As I was filming the shadow of the hills was slowly creeping across the plain, but the chicks were still in good light. As I zoomed in on one chick who was pushing the boundary and moving further away from the rest, a shadow suddenly covered it. I stopped filming, looking up to see what was causing the shadow, and as I did I saw that a Martial Eagle had swooped down and grabbed one of the other chicks and was now flying away with it firmly in it's talons.. I had no chance to film what had happened as it was literally over in seconds, and all I could do was watch as the Martial Eagle flew off towards a distant Acacia tree. "Wow! that was amazing" I said, I got no reply, my wife was firmly on the chicks side. In an instant of it happening all the other chicks ran to the parent for protection. But within a few minutes the chicks went back to feeding, and the parent, like a huge sentinel took up guard duty. So, does safety in numbers really work? I thought the chick I was filming was the most in danger, and yet it was one of the chicks on the edge of the brood that was taken. Could it be a case of; it's the chick in the most suitable position for the Eagle to take with as little difficulty and harm to itself?
  13. Samburu in July, after the rains, is a proverbial garden of Eden. The landscape changes dramatically from being semi arid into a verdant oasis with an abundance of grasses & foliage for the game to feed upon.The Elephant herds which left the area at the height of the dry season return, their numbers bolstered by new born calves, and even the greater Kudu come down from the surrounding hills. The whole reserve springs into life and at this time the birdlife is prolific. During a morning game drive we picked up on the smell of a dead animal. We were following a track which ran parallel with the river. The smell was getting stronger the further along we drove. The breeze was coming from the rivers direction so we followed a track that looped and took us closer to the river. Stopping half way we could see in a small open area the cause of the smell. There were two of them, big males, feeding leisurely. One had his head inside of the victims underbelly while the other was feeding on a large piece of meat. The Lion on, or should I say in, the kill started backing away pulling a large piece of flesh from within the victims belly. His light coloured mane was darkened with the blood of the young Elephant. It must have been several days since they had made the kill but they had devoured most of the abdomen, in contrast their bellies were bulging. We returned the next day, and as we approached we could see the top of an Elephants head & back. We stopped in the same spot and the Elephant, a female, was standing just to the right of the dead Elephant, swaying slightly side to side. We could not see the lions anywhere, we assumed she must have chased them away. After about fifteen minutes she raised her trunk into the air in our direction, was she picking up on our scent or could she still smell the Lions? Suddenly she let out an enormous trumpeting and half charged towards us. We were at least 3meters above where she was, was it us she was angry with? No, it was the Lions who were right below us in the scrub. She trumpeted again and this time charged in earnest. The two Lions appeared at speed from beneath us running off through the bush to the right. The Elephant did not pursue them but turned and walked slowly to where the dead Elephant lay, her trunk reaching out towards the lifeless body. By chance I looked towards the rear of our vehicle and saw one of the Lions appear from the bush. He walked around the rear of the vehicle and as he did he defecated, rather loosely, no doubt because of the shock of the Elephant charge and the close call it was. The other Lion appeared from the bushes a little further back and they both moved off together, no doubt to return later as there was still a lot of meat on the carcass. The Elephant must have been the dead calf's mother. Standing over her youngster she gently touched and meticulously examined every inch of what remained. It was such a sad scene and she looked so forlorn. We felt like we were intruding so we left her to mourn as only Elephants do. Over the next few days the remains of the carcass was devoured and the Vultures did the rest.
  14. In January 2002 a sensational story broke regarding a Lioness who had adopted a Oryx calf. This astonishing event happened in Samburu Kenya. The local Samburu had named the lioness Kamunyak, the blessed one. By the time we arrived in Samburu in October she had adopted four calves and since the fourth calf there had been no more news on any further adoptions, so we arrived without expectation, just a little disappointed of having missed such a sensational event. Samburu is our favourite park. It's scenic beauty sets it apart from others, though Meru comes a close second, and we always feel at home when we are here. The whole reserve area actually comprises of Samburu & Buffalo springs reserves, one separated from the other by the Uwaso nyiro river (Brown water), but connected by a bridge near to Samburu Serena lodge where we were staying. Our first few days were very rewarding with good sightings of Samburu's famous northern species, Grevy Zebra, Gerenuk, Somali Ostrich, Beisa Oryx and the most beautiful of Africa's Giraffe, the reticulated. Birdlife was prolific, as it often is in dry country, with a good selection of eagles and even an Egyptian Vulture, and Elephant sightings were also very good. Our forth morning continued in the same vein with Elephant crossing the Ewaso Nyiro river, but then we came across one of Samburu's many Leopards and it was only 7.15am. We left the leopard resting in an Acacia tree up along the ridge and headed down onto the plain which once was home to black Rhino who fed on the Croton bushes when we first came here. As we ambled along enjoying the beautiful scenery reflecting on what a lovely morning it had been, Leonard our driver stopped the vehicle and reaching for his binoculars said "Alan, look at the small Acacia tree ahead, then to the left, there is something at the bottom of the bush". I found the bush and yes, there was a Lion. "yes, I see it Leonard" I said, and he replied "not the Lion, to the right of it". Looking again I saw something move and thought it must be a cub and said "yes she has a cub". "No" came the reply, "look again". This time it stood up, turned around and laid down again, this time clear of the bush. By now my wife had found it and in a whispered breath said "oh my goodness it's a baby Oryx". Yes, it really was. We sat there for what seemed like an age in total disbelief, then reality sank in and with camera at the ready we move as close as the road would allow us, and although with binoculars we could see perfectly, it was not ideal for the camera, but this was not a time for regrets. When we left the UK it was with our usual expectation of, you see what you see, and with no thought of seeing such an incredible moment in nature, especially as there had been no more news since the adoptions earlier in the year. This would be her fifth adoption and if I am honest, there were times I could so easily have cried with the sheer joy of being so blessed in witnessing something so monumental. I asked Leonard if he knew the Lioness had adopted another baby Oryx? "No, no" he said, "I am as amazed at seeing this as you are". I only took a few photos as it seemed to make more sense to try and take in every minute detail of what was before us, and to enjoy what would surely be a once in a life time event. When we arrived back at the lodge our good friend June Kyula (manager) was in reception and asked us if we had had a good drive?..... She contacted the ranger station and passed on what we had told her, Leonard gave them the approximate position and we spent the whole of breakfast going over & over every detail. We checked on them during each game drive we took, and June was there that afternoon as was everyone else. Thankfully the lodges were not to busy so disturbance was kept to a minimum, and the rangers made sure it stayed that way. On our last evening Leonard drove to a high point in the Buffalo springs reserve which over looked Samburu. It was a beautiful spot with views of the Ewaso Nyiro river lined with Doum palm's which cast their long shadows towards the hills with Mount Longonot in the distance and the sun setting behind us. We were totally mesmerised by the scene that lay before us, and it was the clinking of glasses that brought us back to reality. June had arranged a sundowner for us on our last night at Samburu Serena before we moved on to Ol Pejeta conservancy. It was the perfect finish to what will always be our most memorable safari moment
  15. On safari in Samburu with all its specialised species, and with a good chance of seeing Leopard, we had one of our most memorable experiences. Samburu is a beautiful park, and never disappoints. One Leopard in particular was very accommodating, and gave us wonderful photo opportunities. The third time we found her she was resting up a tree, when suddenly she climbed down and set off at a pace. We followed her, keeping a respectful distance. We got ahead of her and positioned ourselves for some more great photos. To our surprise she came strait towards us, and without breaking stride she lowered her body and disappeared under our vehicle. She re-appeared on the other side, her body hugging the ground, her shoulder blades working like pistons. It was then we noticed a Dik-dik behind the bush directly ahead of her. When only metres away she froze, time seemed to stand still, then suddenly she exploded forward. For a moment we lost sight of her amid the dirt & dust her powerful back legs through up as she launched her attack. The Dik-dik never knew what hit her. Seconds later she appeared from behind the bush with the Dik-dik clenched firmly between her teeth. Amazingly she repeated the feat the next day.
  16. Kenya - February 2016 It was the best of safaris. It was the most provocative of safaris. I experienced the single greatest day amongst countless safari days I have spent in my life – a day in which I shed tears of pure joy and appreciation for life… twice. I witnessed the aftermath of the severe drought of 2015 and the associated livestock encroachment into many parks and reserves of Kenya. And along the way, I was able to share fantastic wilderness moments and heady conversations about conservation with an old friend, James Sengeny, and a new friend, Squack Evans. This one… hit like a ton of bricks.
  17. “They had made this safari with the minimum of comfort. There was no hardship; but there was no luxury and he had thought that he could get back into training that way. That in some way he could work the fat off his soul the way a fighter went into the mountains to work and train in order to burn it out of his body”. ~ Ernest Hemingway in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ Pre-Safari Planning ~ All safaris I've experienced have been unique yet in certain respects the preparations in each case were nearly identical. My first safari was in 2011 as the guest of a former student who was then working in the Paleoanthropology Department of the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. As he organized all aspects of that safari, I did no more than bring two overpacked bags, enough camera gear for an around the world trek and my own illusions. As it turned out, it was a fine experience on a standard joining safari in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, staying at a tented camp. Based on that experience I waited, taught a series of extra courses and thereby saved enough to upgrade both camera and travel gear. I returned to Kenya for a second safari in 2013. There have now been seven safaris, all in Kenya, with an eighth safari scheduled for less than four weeks from this writing. Why do I go on safari? To enjoy the experience of being outdoors in nature. Doing so is a contrast to my life as a university faculty member in Beijing. Occasionally Chinese life science and medical students join me. They've told me that they notice that my skin rapidly tans and I laugh every day while on safari. Wearing no pith helmet the equatorial sunshine has its way. The laughter may be my response to the untrammeled joie de vivre that I experience while being driven at breakneck speeds on dusty tracks to a far-off big cat sighting. Smiling is my innate response to the freedom from tedious convention, the warmth and jovial hospitality of Kenyans, and the long-delayed fulfillment of childhood dreams of being with wildlife in its home, which is also our original home. Perhaps the only extraordinary experience I've had in Kenya was on the first safari, when a kindly curator graciously invited me to photograph the 1.5 million year old skeletal remains of Turkana Boy, or Nariokotome Boy, when they were temporarily out of storage to be photographed by visiting National Geographic staff photographers. That experience underscored that biologically we're equatorial primates whose genome was shaped for life in the very biomes in which I've travelled. The six safaris which I've planned following the initial safari, have all been organized on nearly the same pattern. What will be described for this, the seventh safari, would equally fit the second safari and the others between. My reticence to recommend anything I've done stems from the conviction that others know best for themselves and my own approach is far from ideal. This description serves as no more than a prelude, to set the stage for the safari which followed. Others in similar circumstances might understandably follow substantially dissimilar approaches. While variety is said to be the spice of life, the spice of my safari experience has been the cheerfulness of those who've made possible all aspects of the travels. Although Christian churches dot Kenya, what's even more ubiquitous are small schools, academies and institutes. The Kenyan graduate students in botany who I taught in Beijing were astute in their approach to research. Kenyans by and large have treated my frailties, ignorance and missteps with grace, good humor and intelligence. To have been a frequent guest in their homeland is one of the treasures of my life. What stands out has been the consistently high quality of my experience out in the bush. Not high quality in the sense of luxury, but rather in the sense of authenticity, modesty, kindheartedness, care and awareness of basic needs. My career has been predicated on the feeling that quality trumps quantity as far as those aspects of life dearest to my heart. Maggie & Anthony Gitau of Bigmac Africa Safaris Although safaris focus on wildlife and plant viewing, they start with those who make everything possible. In my case that's been a couple, Maggie and Anthony Gitau of Bigmac Africa Safaris in Nairobi. ( They're a young Kenyan couple with a son, Adrian, in kindergarten. Anthony's from Nyeri County and studied tourism in university, with a specialization in large mammals. He's a gifted photographer with a fine set of lenses, such that he's highly sensitive as to what might be an optimal shooting position. As the portrait shows, they're warmhearted, loving individuals, which is what I most appreciate. Anthony and I share a predilection for staying back from larger wildlife so as to disturb as little as possible. As I use a super telephoto lens during game drives, the distance is seldom an issue. Last year year Anthony remarked to me: “I could never, ever kill any animal”. He's been my guide, driver, field instructor and friend on six safaris. We don't talk all that much between game drives as he's typically on his mobile phone talking with his wide network of friends. At the gates of parks and nature reserves it's self-evident that he's very popular among park staff and other drivers. When we talk it's delightful, as we share an active interest in the photography of trees, wildflowers, shrubs, grasses, butterflies, dragonflies, spiderwebs, rock formations, birds of all species and sunsets, as well as larger mammals. I fully and implicitly trust them, who have made my safaris trouble-free and satisfying. Initial safari planning amounts to seeing an availability on the academic calendar, looking at the bank balance, proposing tentative travel dates to Maggie by e-mail and tossing out places of interest. All of my safaris have been private safaris in which I hire the vehicle, a white Toyota safari van, with Anthony as guide and driver. I originally stayed in tented camps but have shifted to lodges. When Chinese students have accompanied me, the per person rate has reduced accordingly. They propose an itinerary to which I've heretofore always agreed. By now Anthony understands that I'm interested in observing seasonal changes to ecology, hence welcome repeat visits. Visiting unfamiliar parks or reserves or observing previously unfamiliar species is a much lower priority for me than watching the process of change at different times of the year, hence the safaris have been scattered throughout the calendar. Anthony picks me up and drops me off at the Sirona Hotel in Nairobi, which is walking distance from the National Museum of Kenya and has been my Nairobi overnight lodging. As a consequence of Safaritalk reviews, I may begin including the Emakoko in my travel plans. During game drives we eat box lunches provided by the lodges. I'd never heard of sundowners until reading Safaritalk trip reports. After Maggie confirms the tentative dates, I go to the city ticket office of Etihad Airways to purchase an economy roundtrip ticket between Beijing and Nairobi, with a change of aircraft in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I've flown once each respectively on Ethiopian Airlines and Qatar Airways and wouldn't hesitate to do so again. The inflight catering on Ethiopian was superb and the Doha, Qatar Hamad Airport was impressive. Most trips have been on Etihad due to their convenient timetable and reasonable prices. Etihad's ‘Seafood Special Meals’, by advance request, have been flavorsome and well-prepared. All three airlines have been accommodating of the larger than usual camera bag with a bulky lens, permitting it be carried onboard as cabin baggage. Roundtrip airfare, PEK – NBO – PEK, has ranged between RMB ¥6500 to RMB ¥10,500, depending on season and advance purchase timing. The January, 2015 safari rate was for an all-inclusive private lodge safari with two guests in separate rooms priced at USD $340 per day for 11 days/10 nights which was reasonable in light of the value received. All of the safaris since the initial experience have involved a single soft-sided camera bag plus a small camera. I've never felt constrained, aside from occasionally wishing that it were possible to bring a few more lenses. Airline weight restrictions rule, therefore I've made the necessary adjustments. Maps and Field Guides • While daydreaming of the next safari and enjoying memories of safaris past, I find maps and field guides to be indispensable tools. Since childhood my approach to science has been largely empirical, emphasizing field observation and analysis. The maps and books shown above were nearly all purchased at the National Museum of Kenya Gift Shop. At the close of every safari I buy a few more books to bring back to Beijing. Through having a variety of materials, it's possible to cross-check information in hopes of increasing certainty. There's nearly always one of these safari-oriented books in my briefcase to read and highlight key passages during breaks between classes. They're an excellent way to increase familiarity with species, binomial nomenclature and locations. What I've happily learned in recent weeks is that Safaritalk also provides a comparable educational function, but larded with humor. I don't bring books on safari and bring only a single map, as in the field I prefer to relax and enjoy the experience, leaving detailed identification to the long months at home. Safari Essentials • Above are the essentials which are packed for each safari. What isn't worn by me travels in a sturdy Lowepro Pro Runner 450 AW camera bag. It snugly fits into overhead baggage bins on all flights, albeit with occasional squeezing and shifting of contents before finally being safely wedged into place. To date nothing has ever broken, nor has anything ever been lost or stolen. The bag stays with me at all times, even in washrooms. • I wear tan khaki long pants and light, short-sleeved shirts, my favorite shown in the photo above. A floppy pair of well-worn Timberland slip-ons has served me well in all safari situations, including walking through thick mud during a Nairobi downpour. I habitually take a new pair of light colored socks with me. A former student photographed birds and insects in the Hong Kong Wetland Park, after which he generously gave me a Nikko sun hat with a neck covering. I seldom wear it, yet at midday in Amboseli, it's a godsend. A light-colored cloth is useful for drying forehead perspiration or wet hands. My U.S. passport, wallet, reading glasses, and wristwatch I check several times a day, to be sure they haven't been misplaced. A safari diary keeps me honest in my recollections and is invaluable for accurate photo labelling months or years later. A yellow Staedtler marker and an EF nib Montblanc 149 fountain pen with blue ink are reliable tools, which write in all sorts of weather. They're protected in a black sheepskin leather Clairefontaine pencil case. The fountain pen has never leaked during flights and has had enough ink for use throughout each safari. The most recent addition is an iPad Air. I hesitated for several safaris before buying it, as I want to limit carryon weight. It's primary value is showing images from the previous day's safari to Anthony, other drivers and both lodge and restaurant staff. It's also useful for sending brief messages from lodges confirming my safe arrival and safari experience. By far the most frequent question from students and friends is: “Have you seen a leopard?” or “Did you get your leopard?”, to which there has usually been a positive response. • Every safari I bring a Sony RX1 R full-frame camera with a fixed Zeiss 35mm lens. It's discreet, lightweight, user-friendly and takes fine images in low light. The moderately wide lens suits landscape scenes. I've found that it takes excellent shots out of a moving vehicle window. The other camera is an EOS 1D X full-frame camera. It's rugged and versatile, which I highly appreciate. As a back-up there is an EOS 1D Mark IV with an APS-H sensor. Students may borrow it if they join me on safari. The custom neck straps by Phat Straps are comfortable in high temperatures. A Manfrotto 680B monopod is used to support the large lens. I usually hold it in my hands, rather than extending the monopod to rest on the ground. The monopod's solid design makes it a joy to use. • The primary safari lens is an EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II super telephoto lens. It's well-suited for low-light conditions and generally produces the bright images typical of fast lenses. There are two extenders, respectively 1.4x and 2x, which are sometimes used with it, but not very often. I'd originally planned to acquire a 500mm or 600mm lens, but was dissuaded by the same friend who gave me the Nikko sun hat. He said that I'd eventually be glad that I had the brighter lens. He was right. The other lens which now is a regular on safaris is the Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 ZE manual focus telephoto lens. It's color rendering is the finest I've seen of any telephoto. I like the 3-dimensional quality of the images it produces. There are other lenses, chiefly Zeiss wide angle lenses, which I occasionally bring, according to my interests of the moment. • No pith helmet and certainly no ‘mankini’, but one has one's own safari traditions. A student who's now a mineralogist gave me a safari vest for the first safari. It's now in sore need of a tailor's care, due to having accompanied on all seven safaris. Handy for carrying pen, passport, reading glasses and the like, when I wear it I feel like it's really and truly ‘Safari Time’. It also seems to accord me a certain sympathetic treatment by airport customs and immigration officials. After switching to lodge-based safaris it was a pleasant surprise to find they usually have a swimming pool. When I neglected to bring a swimsuit, Anthony stopped at the Nakumatt supermarket in Meru where I bought the colorful blue suit above. I think of it as my only African apparel, but truth be told, it was ‘Made in China’. • There's one more essential on a safari which isn't visible. Music. The sound of birds, animals and wind is all that I hear on game drives, yet something else occurs. In my mind is a horde of western classical music and jazz, which plays along with changing scenery. I don't bring music with me nor do I own any headphones. While flying along through the African savannah and bushland, strains of Beethoven, Mozart, J.S. Bach, or Schubert mingle with the deftly composed melodies of Gershwin, Kern, Jobim, Ellington and Berlin. When my heart soars, there's inevitably an elegant soundtrack, but none other hears it but the angels. ~ Now on to the safari in question...
  18. Gotta escape the snow and the cold. In a few days, I am heading for Kenya once again… Namunyak (Sarara), Samburu (Elephant Bedroom), Loisaba (Cottages), Tsavo West (Severin and camping near Lake Jipe), Masai Mara/Olare Motorogi (Kicheche Bush). I will be guided by Squack Evans in the north and James Sengeny in the Mara. The highlight, however, will be when I will be with both at Lake Jipe. Squack is going to provide a very simple mobile bush camp there (and James must come since a few years ago James and I sort of "discovered" that Lake Jipe might be the best kept secret in Kenya). Will report back soon.
  19. Here is another of Mr Cheetah80's videos - summarising sightings from our 3 trip to Kenya. Makes me want to go back! PS - watch in HD
  20. The (wild) dog regurgitated my trip report - a SafariTalk Hong Kong-Italy Mara-Sundowner-get-together and other things I thought I would put down a few things about the recent safari (end September - early October 2015) my wife Jill and I enjoyed before events and procrastination overtake me (yet again). I suppose, since it was a wild dog which ate my previous trip reports, the wild dog kindly regurgitated this one up [some of you already know I’m pretty bad at trip reports. I tend to start and then run out of time and steam.] Our itinerary was straight forward, and in keeping with my desire to stay in one country and not waste precious game drive time waiting for border (officials and) formalities. I provide details in the hope that it informs others (those researching these places) as to what to expect at various junctures in their own safari. We did 3 nights in Sasaab Camp in Samburu and 7 nights at Serian Main Camp in the Mara North Conservancy. (Plus 2 nights on aeroplanes). Day 0: Evening flight out of Hong Kong International Airport to Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) on Kenya Airways (KQ). This is the best value business class flight for getting into Africa from HKG. KQ flies new Boeing 787’s. The seats are horizontal-lie-flat. Everything else is secondary for me. The cabin crew is Thai for the first leg of just over 2 hours into Bangkok. I believe it is the Thai authorities who want us all to de-plane (with all our cabin baggage) and spend money in their airport for this short stop (about an hour to an hour and a half). This is a negative, but bearable. We troop through the gates, go through security (another negative), head upstairs and go straight to the Lounge. Then we troop through the gate back onto our own seats – now cleaned and with fresh pillows and blankets. The cabin crew changes to a new set – all Kenyans now – for the 8-9 hours into Nairobi Kenyatta. This pattern is repeated in reverse for the return flight. For this flight, we already started an ST HK GTG. As we had known, we shared the cabin with @@Anita. Lots of excited chatter ensues before we settle down. This continues in the Lounge in Bangkok. So you could say we had a 12 hour GTG right from Day Zero. Day 1: KQ arrives in NBO around 6am local. We get picked up for our transfers to Wilson. We separated but when we saw Anita again a little later, she was a little bit tense as her driver had not shown. We of course said we’d accommodate her in our vehicle but she spots her guy shortly thereafter and all was well. We have to get all our bags through X-ray to get into the Wilson domestic terminal for Safari Link check in. We cool our heels for several hours at the terminal refreshment café area. At round about 10am, we get called to board, which is a rigmarole of getting out of the terminal, going through X-ray screening again, and into the Safari Link departure gate. X-ray screening twice just to get onto a SafariLink Cessna seems a bit excessive. A few hops later (10:20 airborne from Wilson; four of us last out at Samburu Oryx air strip 11:40) we were picked up from the strip for our 3 nights at Sasaab Camp. Our expectations were not high. We had come to see the Samburu Five for our first time (Gerenuk, Somali Ostrich, Reticulated Giraffe, Beissa Oryx and Grévy’s Zebra). Here are a few observations: · There’s a drought in Samburu; there’s been little to no rain for the last 4 years already. The Ewaso Ngiro River which Sasaab is built next to has largely dried up; elephant and man have to dig to get water. Never having been in Samburu in non-drought conditions, I cannot compare. But people are saying it’s been and continues to be pretty hard on man and beast alike. · Samburu is cool in the evenings and mornings, but it gets pretty hot during the day. Sasaab only does morning game drives and we all return by lunchtime. Visits are offered for the afternoons but we declined so I cannot say what they would have been like. We did do sundowners (on Baboon Rock (or was it Baboon Hill?) and did go for leisurely drives along the “river” on the 3 evenings we were there. As it is pretty hot, and even though the winds blew strongly pretty much all the time we were there, we did use the plunge pool in our unit. Quick dips (without drying off after) and padding around sopping wet helped. There’s a Masai spear which is used as a house signal – placed in the opposite slot, it means “Privacy Please”. · Sasaab serves a buffet lunch; Margaret and Ron (from the Carolina’s in the USA if I recall) will sit at the long lunch table to eat with guests. My safari diary is my camera. If I did not take pictures of something, I tend to forget. So I forget what the food was. · Samburu (& Sasaab) has spoiled us for Günther's dik-dik. All quick movements spotted during game drives turn out to be dik-dik. This gives the impression that there are more dik-dik than impala. Whether this is because the drought has resulted in the low vegetation being decimated, and hence revealing all those dik-dik, or whether there just is a higher density of dik-dik here than anywhere else I do not know. Then there are those dik-dik which have taken to hanging around the Lodge. As Sasaab have their own vegetable garden (which supplies fresh salads for meals), and as conditions are so harsh, people have been feeding them. And the dik-dik here have taken to emulating your taller brethren, the gerenuks. We saw many of them rising on their hind legs to browse on leaves. We have never seen other dik-diks do this anywhere else. · Seeing herds of cattle and/or goats where one expects to see wild animals does tend to spoil things a little. This is true of Samburu and the Mara. (For that matter, this is also true in Uganda – especially where main public trunk roads cut through national parks and reserves.) · The Samburu Five are numerous enough that we were pretty much guaranteed sightings. Apart from the aforementioned Günther's dik-diks (Madoqua guentheri), we also found healthy populations of birds we have not easily spotted elsewhere, such as: Von der Decken's Hornbill (Tockus deckeni) Blue-naped mousebird (Urocolius macrourus) Yellow-necked spurfowl or francolin (Pternistis leucoscepus) White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali) Vulturine Guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum) Probably due to the drought conditions, we did not find the landscape and scenery to be remarkable The young warriors of the Samburu tribe dress up even more colourfully than their cousins, the Maasai (both tribes speak Maa). We saw a vehicle (marked with a sign “Ewaso Lions”, a lion protecton project founded in 2007 with some of these colourful peacocks peering out excitedly at a lion sighting. We were told many young Maasai/Samburu have never seen many of the big mammals (or indeed many wild animals) which bring the rest of us on safari in Africa. This had never occurred to me (leading my cloistered life) and it was an eye-opener.More to come (my intentions are good - now to see a man about a dog)
  21. On January 30th & 31st 2016, the Grevy's Zebra Trust, along with other organizations is hosting The Great Grevy's Rally, a national census of Grevy's Zebra in Northern Kenya. They're inviting members of the public to help out in the census. Check it out on the website below: From the Website (@@Game Warden - please advise if this is ok - I've copied & pasted directly from the website....)
  22. Hello everyone, I'm one of the founders of the Cambridge University Wildlife Conservation Society (which started in December 2014), and we are running a trip to Kenya, departing this Tuesday, for a total of 5 weeks! We'll be visiting a number of community conservancies including in the Loita Hills, Athi-Kapiti Plains, Magadi/Shompole, Laikipia/Samburu region as well as the more famous national parks of Maasai Mara, Tsavo and Nairobi National Park. It will be to learn more about conservation and research initiatives as well as seeing Kenya's iconic wildlife. The trip also has a strong component of visiting local communities themselves, and all the places we will be staying at are either community-owned or community-run. There will be radio-collar tracking, camera-trapping, night-spotlighting and walking alongside the traditional game drives. There may even be a couple of aerial excursions! I hope that the blog can provide people with an insight into the lesser-visited community areas and fresh perspectives, through conservation research initiatives, on the more popular ones too. About me: I have been to Kenya many times (family connections), and have been lucky enough to have safaried in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa - as well as India and Borneo! And, I've just graduated. The last safari was July/August 2014 to Rekero and Naboisho camps - simply spectacular! The blog can be found at: , I also hope (dependent on internet connection!) we'll also be posting frequently to our facebook page at and twitter @cambridgewcs and instagram @cambridgewcs! Lots of social media channels there! Our society's most recent highlight was having the Tanzanian Minister for Wildlife, Lazaro Nyalandu, coming to speak to us a few weeks back in Cambridge. We've also held fundraising & campaigning events, and film screenings (of 'Virunga' and 'White Gold'). I have learnt so much from following trip reports and many other discussions on here, and I hope you all enjoy our posts. Would be very happy to receive comments, feedback and further thoughts on what you see + read either on this thread, or through comments on the blog, tweeting us, commenting on our fb page and so on - I promise we'll do our best to respond! Best wishes!
  23. Google has used its Street View camera on dusty tracks in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya to provide a virtual tour to those unable to visit the park. Save the Elephants leader Iain Douglas-Hamilton stated that the project would help to better protect Samburu's elephants from poaching.
  24. Ok guys be gentle with me, this is my first trip report! A short summary, impressions, maybe some helpful information and some photos from my trip last October/November to Kenya. Green season (not so busy, also not so expensive) and a return trip but visiting parks which were new to me. Basic schedule was 2 nights Lake Elementaita /Lake Nakuru (Sleeping Warrior Camp) 3 nights Samburu (Elephant Bedroom Camp) 4 nights Laikipia (Laikipia Wilderness Camp) And to end my trip 6 nights on Zanzibar to (finally) visit Stone Town and for some R&R after the wildlife, Why I hadn't managed to see Stone Town on my previous visit is a story for another time.,,,,,,for that you will have to wait Impressions. Most importantly I totally lucked out with my guides. Apart from Laikipia which I had chosen because I knew I would have good guides this was more by luck than judgement! As I am serious about my woldlife I wasn't going to tag on a few gane drives in between lazing by the pool or having a facial. Nope I was going first and foremost for the wildlife and birdlife! Therefore my guides made this a truly memorable trip. Their knowledge, experience and intuition meant I had some fantastic sightings. I chose three new parks to experience different habitats, eco-systems and to see new species. High point was always going to be the wild dogs in Laikipia. But I also wanted to see African Rhino for the first time. The camps were not completely my choice, I went with the advice of my travel agent. He had also spent time at LWC and was so enthusiastic that I knew I had made the right choice there. Sleeping Warrior was really a stop off point to visit Lake Nakuru NP. I ended up in the lodge instead of the camp as it was closed for the start of the short rains. The lodge was a tad more luxurious than my usual camp! I have the impression that it is more a place to kick back and relax with the odd game drive thrown in. Their morning game drives are not usually scheduled to start before 9am! View from the lodge was spectacular, overlooking the Sleeping Warrior crator (which you can climb.) From my cottage (huge, by the way!) I got an excellent view of one of the waterholes. Food was excellent but way too much for me: cooked breakfast, 3 course lunch and 4 course dinner. I was really pleased I wasn't staying longer, I would have gained kilo's If going to the lodge I would check for national holidays/long weekends, it gets packed with residents from Nairobi coming up for the weekend. The co-owner Jacqueline was fantastic, nothing was too much trouble and she manages the lodge very very well. Her hisband who had designed and helped build the place was unfortunately away so I didn't get to meet him. . I did one afternoon game drive in the Soysamba Conservency. The lodge is the only camp/lodge in the conservency so no danger of being overrun by other vehicles. They also arranged a proper night drive (starting 9pm).for me. Lots and lots of birdlife, zebra, Rothschild giraffe, golden and black backed jackal, buffalo, hippo, impala, Thomson and Grant's gazelle and yes, a leopard. A fleeting glimpse of it stalking through the bushes but I saw one, Night drive was pretty quiet but Spring hares were spotted leaping or is that bouncing around! A new species for me! Day in Lake Nakuru NP was great. The lodge did take some persuasion to leave earlier than 9am but as I had booked sole use of vehicle and guide I eventually got there a bit earlier. The black rhino were elusive but in total I spotted 7 white rhino, one lion (high up a tree....Uganda isn't the only place with tree climbing lions then!) and the usual suspects of buffalo, gazelle, dik dik, jackal, zebra, giraffe, impala etc etc. There are a few more flamingo on the lake but defintely not the high numbers in years gone by. Water levels were retreating so they were hoping for more to come back from further north as lower levels meant more algae for them to eat. So I got my wish to see African Rhino. The way things are going with poaching I count myself very lucky! My guide on all drives and my day in Nakuru was John. Knowledgeable, personable. Very good! Ok, that is part one. It's not very short afterall Thank goodness fior my notebook from the trip! Photos coming up but am going to post this in case I lose it all.
  25. ~ Designed to connect ecosystems with minimal interference by human activities.

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