Sunday 24th July 2016
The title of this post can be read in two different contexts -first in the context of our repeated visits to Kenya, every one of them classes as a happy return; but today was my wife, Sandra’s birthday, and where better to spend it than in a country that both of us have fallen in love with, Kenya.
We were awoken this morning at around 4am. Outside it was still dark, but we were not alone. Just beyond the walls of our tent we could hear the sound of foliage crunching underfoot. Looking outside we could make out the shape of an Elephant passing by our tent on the riverbank, browsing as it went.
Birthday or not, the wildlife waits for no one in this slice of paradise, so as usual we were up before dawn and waiting by the vehicle for Daniel. There was a slight delay in setting off as the vehicle wouldn’t start, but the staff literally ran around to ensure that a replacement vehicle was brought to us in double-quick time. Having climbed aboard the replacement we set off to see what wonders Samburu would reveal to us today.
As usual we were not to be disappointed – there were plenty of Elephants about including some family groups with youngsters. The African Elephant, this giant of the natural world, is amazing to observe. For all their size and weight, they are incredibly graceful in their movement and to observe them with their babies is to witness a demonstration of tenderness and motherly love. Elephants tend to move about in extended family herds with an elderly matriarch in chrge of the group, accompanied by any number of younger females, together with the calves. Each adult female, whether it be an aunt or the mother, or even an older sibling, will take care of and look out for the youngsters.
Elephants were not the only mammals out and about his morning with their offspring, as we encountered a Giraffe with her calf, already several feet taller than an adult human!
Driving close to the river, we disturbed a Crocodile that had been lying on the opposite bank absorbing the early morning sun, as it rose into the sky and the day started to heat up. As we got closer the crocodile launched itself from the river bank into the water.
This side of the river was alive with various species of antelope this morning; Gerenuk – the rather odd looking “giraffe antelope” with a long slender neck, out of proprotion to the rest of its body, topped by a small head, again lookin lightly out of proportion. Oryx – with its black and white face and long slender, scimitar like horns. The horns are made of Keratin, the same material that human fingernails are made from. This is also what Rhino Horns are made from, which really does beg the question as to why some humans believe that they have medicinal properties!
Zebras were present in abundance, their herds interspersed with Impala and Waterbuck. The latter are nicknamed the “toilet seat antelope” by the guides, to describe the elliptical ring marking on their rumps, which looks very much like a toilet seat! As we entered a clearing we disturbed a Warthog, which raced away from us, tail erect like an antenna, demostrating by this sudden burst of speed, from a standing start, why the Kenyans nickname them “Kenyan Express”. The Common Warthog is capable of speeds of us to 35 mile an hour!
We returned to camp for lunch and to spend the hottest part of the day in the shade of the palm trees along the river bank, or in the cooling waters of the swimming pool. After lunch we took a walk along the fenceline of the camp, watching the birds on the trees and bushes, and picked up some discraded Porqupine quills lying on the ground. The Porqupine is a nocturnal animal, so we were unlikely to see any, but the discraded quills were evidence of their presence in the area. A pair of Little Bee-eaters were perched on the wire of the fence, one of them with an insect in its beak.
As the afternoon started to cool, we set off on our second game drive of the day, this time Daniel took us to the far side of the river. On our way to the bridge where we would cross, we saw the lodge on the far side of the river, which had been where we stayed on our 2008 and 2011 visits to Samburu. Continuing to the bridge we crossed over on the northern side of the Ewaso Ngiro river into an area that we knew, from our previous visits, was prime Leopard territory. Sadly, today was not to be the day for a Leopard spot, but Daniel did manage to find us a Lioness with her cub, and we were able to witness some beautiful interactions between the mother and her cub.
Monday 25th July 2016
We got off to an early start this morning – the first vehicle out of the camp, and we were heading once more for the bridge across the river, with Daniel determined to try and find us a Leopard today. En-route we saw the sunrise, but very little else. It appeared that we were up even before the wildlife this morning!
Once on the other side of the river it was not long before we came across a line of vehicles parked up by the side of the track. Daniel stopped and spoke to the driver of one of them, and then turned to us and advised us that they had seen a leopard go down into the ditch on the far side of the track. Daniel decided that we would go to the far end of the line and wait to see if the Leopard would reappear. So, having passed all the other vehicles, Daniel switched off the engine and we settled in to wait, trying to keep as quiet as possible.
It was not long before, to our utter amazement and delight, that the Leopard emerged from the ditch, right in front of us! Here we were, the last to arrive at the party, but the ones with the best view of all! It paused on the edge of the track, allowing us time for plenty of photographs, perhaps even posing and asking, “have you got my best side”, before crossing the track and heading off into the bush on the other side. One can only imagine the frustration of the occupants of some of the other vehicles, who had got there before us, and perhaps didn’t get as good a view as us. However, we had had a fantastic Leopard encounter, and possibly the best one so far of all our trips to Kenya.
On our return from Kenya we went to Birdfair, at Rutland Water, an annual event where we usually catch-up with Kenyan resident, wildlife photographer and film-maker, Jonathan Scott, a man who knows his way around filming and photographing Kenya’s wildlife. Without fail when we catch-up with him, he asks if we have been back to Kenya recently and we discuss our latest trip. I showed him the photograph (above) of the Leopard we had seen in Samburu and his immediate reaction was , “Wow! That is pin sharp!” That will do for me, coming from a professional wildlife photographer of his calibre!
We had now seen three of the Big Five on this trip and we don’t reach the Masai Mara until tomorrow. The photograph above left demonstrates quite clearly how well camouflaged the Leopard is in the sometimes dense bush of its habitat. Note how the bulk of its body is virtually invisible behind the bushes and foliage. After seeing the Leopard we drove to the river, where we stopped to have our bush breakfast in the shade of the trees along the riverbank.
After breakfast we continued our game drive, spotting a pair of Tawny Eagles and some Elephants, before exiting the reserve and driving into Archer’s Post and along the main road to re-enter the reserve on the other side of the river and drive back to camp for lunch. The Tawny Eagle is a common resident brown eagle, which is quite widespread in many parts of Kenya. However, coming from a country that has few large birds of prey, it is always a thrill to see them, however common they may be.
Once we were back in the reserve we passed a herd of Giraffe and then a huge herd of Oryx as we neared the camp. after lunch, as temperatures climbd to 33 degrees, a cooling swim was the order of the day, before preparing for our afternoon game drive.
The afternoon game drive produced sightings of Giraffes, Zebras and Elephants, with one female Zebra suckling her foal. Antelopes included Oryx and Gerenuk, both unique in their own way and markedly different from one another. The sky produced a sighting of a Martial Eagle, riding the thermals and soaring ever higher – another widespread bird, but again exciting to see.
One of the thrills of safari is witnessing animal behaviour that you might not otherwise see, unless it was in a wildlife programme on the television. While zoos have their place in conservation, as has been proven by the reintroduction of some species bred in captivity, in these captive situations you rarely witness truly natural interaction. A pair of bull Elephants took the measure of one another, each sizing up its rival. With heads raised high, they engaged their tusks and trunk bases – was this the prelude to a challenge ritual, play, or serious fighting between the two. Usually in this behaviour the larger of the two will usually dominate, while equals will often proceed to pushing and trunk-wrestling. In this instance the pair appeared to be merely playing, but nonetheless this was a privilege to witness such behaviour.
As the sun started to sink behind the hills we headed back to camp, for a cold Tusker lager and dinner, before we turned in for the night to dream of the adventures that await us tomorrow.