Its such a thing with lion, when you see one, always wonder where are the others. That couldn’t have been more true than during a wildlife photography course we did a while ago in the Masai Mara in Kenya.
The wildlife photography course was part of a team building photographic safari and we had two open 4x4 jeeps to have enough space for photography. It was an afternoon game drive when we saw two mail lion lying in the grass on the open plains. It was an area where off road driving was allowed and we drove closer to the lion. All was fine. The male lion were beautiful, majestic lying in the grass with a bit of a distance between them and we drove from one to the other to see and photograph. While we were driving to the second lion we suddenly got stuck in the wet soft soil and all attempts to get out did not work. Fortunately we had two vehicles, so the other one came to pull us out, with the two male lion watching us. The drivers got out of the vehicle to connect the rope, carefully keeping an eye on the lion. The closest lion was about 60 meters away, but watching only relaxed what these creatures (us) were doing there. We all watched the two lion to make sure the guys on the ground were safe. Suddenly a third lion popped up, very close only about 20 meters away and he was annoyed. Most likely he had been sleeping and was now disturbed. He felt uncomfortable with us so close and we felt uncomfortable too, but our drivers managed to get the rope connected without problems and a moment later we were out and driving again.
The essence of this story is keep watching out when you are on photographic safari in a Big 5 area and be careful when you see a lion, there are most likely more and you don’t want to end up standing in the middle of a lion pride. Being in a vehicle is safe, but standing or walking on the ground is completely different. Then you are in their world.
Just keep that in mind when enjoying great lion sightings, don’t forget where you are.
Day 20 Our last full day in the bush and we went back to the waterhole from yesterday. When we arrived the waterhole was empty and that means in times of drought that there must be cats around. And yes, when we got close we saw them. Two male lion were lying at the waterhole. We took a closer look and found out that they weren’t well. One of them was limping and he looked very dehydrated, skinny and his belly looked like a balloon. The other one didn’t look injured but very skinny too. Paul told me that they are brothers and we made the conclusion that one got injured and his brother stayed with him and shared the pain and struggle. It was very touching to watch them and very sad too. When the sun came out they tried to get some shade under a skinny tree about 100 meters away. It took them forever to get there and I was afraid they wouldn’t be alive for long anymore.
When we came back to the camp that morning we had visitors for lunch. A breeding herd of elephants was resting about 50 meters away from our tents under the trees. This was awesome. They allowed us to be so close to them and to share the site. It felt magical.
In the afternoon I wanted to go back to look for the two lions. They were still there under the tree and after a while they started moving again towards thicker bush, probably to find some food. It was very impressing how they carried on trying to survive and how the brothers stayed together. And it was also very sad to watch them and to feel their pain.
We had to go back to Nairobi. On one hand we looked forward to sleep in a bed, having a shower and being at home. On the other hand we had become a good team and we would miss each other and the bush. Anyway, we had to go and Paul drove furiously fast to get quickly back. He also wanted to be with his relative in the hospital and Alex and me wanted to relax, it was after all a Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately the bats had left behind quite a mess in the bathrooms and it was really a shame that nobody had thought about nets to keep them out. The facilities were really nice, except the other visitors. I found out later that every morning people are coming to clean the whole place and it’s fine until the bats come back. Nobody seemed to be bothered by it.
Tsavo East is well known for the elephants and we went out to find some. It was very dry and then the best thing to do is going to a waterhole. According to Paul there was a big dam where we could find plenty of animals. When we got there the dam was dry. Even Paul was surprised. He had never seen the dam dry. Not far away was another smaller waterhole and there the elephants were. It actually didn’t look much like a waterhole, more like a mud-hole, but the animals seamed happy with it. The elephants were standing in the mud, enjoying cooling down. Zebra, warthog, jackals and ostrich carefully tried to sip water from the mud. We stayed for hours.
In the afternoon we cruised through another part of the park and also there were plenty of elephants. Beautiful red colored elephants, from the red soil in the park.
Day 17 We decided to have a quite day with our game drives and also a long rest around lunch. It was just so hot. It felt like being roasted on lave stone and at the same time it was so beautiful, so irresistible beautiful that one takes it all just to be there.
Day 18 We left the campsite at 8.15 a.m. and headed to the main gate of Tsavo West Mtito Andei to hit the road to Mombasa. It was a short drive to Voi where we did some groceries and I got myself some chocolate and a stroll through the market place. The main gate of Tsavo East was just outside Voi and the campsite Ndololo just 20 minutes from the gate. We arrived there before lunch and pitched camp.
When we were about to have lunch a troop of baboons was lining up to get our food. I encouraged Alex to make a statement with the catapult to make clear who is the boss. He would be the one staying in camp when we are out and they would make life for him very hard if he wouldn’t do something right now. He went after them and they got the message.
Tsavo East is huge and doesn’t have many roads. It felt to me like a paradise for the animals, because they can live their lives unbothered by vehicles if they want, yet we had great sightings too. The first afternoon we spotted already lionesses, actually quite close to the camp, on their way to hunt. It was a good start.
When we got back to the camp I wanted to take advantage of the good facilities of the campsite and went off to have a shower. It was almost dark and when I entered the shower I saw them, bats everywhere. I didn’t feel comfortable and hurried up to get away form them quickly.
They are lovely creatures these warthogs, the wild boars of the bush. They always look funny when they run with their tails up as soon as you stop the vehicle. Do you know why they are always running with their tails up? When warthogs run through the bush or high grass they close their eyes not to get branches and grass in their eyes, but when they close their eyes they don’t have enough skin anymore and their tail goes up. …. Well it’s an African tale, but one wouldn’t be surprised, if it would be true with these funny animals.
They would actually be great pets and in some bush camps they are living right in the middle of all the guests, but claim their ground, if you come to close. And so they do at Kichwa Tembo in the Masai Mara. A whole family lives in the camp where they feel safe close to humans. But don’t be mistaken, they are wild animals and you cannot touch them neither approach them, they are very particular about their personal space. Yet there is nothing nicer than getting out of the tent in the morning and the first thing you see in front of your tent is a warthog family enjoying the morning sun of a brand new wonderful day in the bush.
So, when you see somewhere excellent warthog photographs, the photographer might have had the opportunity to photograph them just in front of his/her tent. That makes the photographs still great photographs only there is no exciting adventure of spotting them attached.
The battery of the vehicle was flat again. It was the fridge, draining it. Again with the help of the Masai we got going to our next destination, Tsavo West. Paul told me that we have to drive in convoy and need to be at the checkpoint at 9 a.m.. We hurried there, but only got there at 10 a.m. and it was fine. Everybody else had just got there. The convoy drove fast through the volcano landscape around Mount Kilimanjaro. It was beautiful. Black rocky ground, streams of lava. That’s what makes Tsavo West so special and hot like in an oven. We arrived at the campsite at 11.30 a.m.. What a nice short drive. And it was really very hot and dry.
After a rest we took off for the afternoon game drive. It was thick bush everywhere. The scenery was breathtaking and the tsetse flies were horrible. But it was all worth it. It was very beautiful and the view on Mount Kilimanjaro was the best. On our way back to the camp Paul spotted a lioness, just on the edge of the thick bush and close to our camp. We would come back first thing in the morning to follow up with her and the rest of the pride.
It was a clear morning. The wind had died and the Mount Kilimanjaro was beautifully visible. We went out to the little mountain/hill, serving as a viewpoint to photograph the Kilimanjaro. It was awesome and I enjoyed the serenity of that moment. A clear, calm morning in this majestic landscape, it was splendid. After a while we carried on with our game vehicle and followed for the rest of the morning the animals from swamp to swamp.
At lunch time the wind was back. 1.45 p.m. a rainstorm, 2 p.m. again a sandstorm, 2.15 p.m. sun and hot. This carried on for the whole afternoon rest time and there was no place without dust. At 4 p.m. I stopped practicing accepting and started thinking again. We need to change that. I got out of my tent and talked to Paul an Alex. We need to move the tents behind the bushes. They looked at me in unbelief but did move the tents, mine first still skeptical. But soon they were happy we did it. It worked!
4.30 p.m. we wanted to leave for the game drive but the battery was flat. With the help of a couple of Masai we got the car going and left the camp. Just around the corner on a smaller swamp was an elephant baby lying on the ground and two adults were standing next to it, watching and not moving. I thought the baby was dead and felt sad for them, but then arrived an elephant bull and the two adult females woke up the baby. It had been very deep asleep and needed some time to get up. I felt relieved.
The sand storms carried on that night, but we had a good sleep behind the bushes … until the mongoose came, shouting at each other and turning the whole place upside down.
Duba Plains is an island in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, famous for its lion and buffalo encounters. Over years the “Duba Boys”, two lion brothers, were the dominant males of the local pride, but times got difficult when a buffalo killed one of the brothers. That meant for the remaining brother that he had to control the entire territory by himself and this was a difficult task. Male lion walk the borders of their territory to make sure there are no intruders to maintain their authority. But when the territory is a bit big for one male lion the intruders can slip through. And that is what “Skimmer Boy” from the neighboring island did.
We found him one day mating with one of Duba Boy’s females. He didn’t get to that point easily, like his face showed. There was obviously a heavy fight between the two male lion, which the intruder won. He was at last happily mating with the female for days. That was definitely a sign that change was coming upon the pride, the remaining Duba Boy was not strong enough to control the territory without his brother and Skimmer Boy had made his move.
Let’s hope that the situation was cleared before the new cubs were born. Otherwise the naughty move of Skimmer Boy might be not so smart for the newborn cubs. Male lion do not accept cubs of another male and kill them.
Being a lion is not an easy life, although we might think that when seeing them snoozing for the whole day.
Amboseli was very dusty, windy, flat and breathtaking beautiful. It looked like a moon landscape with craters of swamp where the animals meet and enjoy a day at the pool while it’s hot, dusty and windy around. The wind and the dust were challenging. The dust was everywhere. When I was lying on my mattress in the tent I had to close my eyes because of the dust coming in. It felt very much like Lawrence of Arabia. Alex and Paul took it like the Masai did and the animals, they accepted. I watched and learned.
I was awake and just about to get up when I heard a scream and another one and another one. What was it? A bird? When I got to the main house I heard that somebody saw a leopard next to my tent killing a duiker. I was excited. This was spectacular and I would have loved to see the leopard. We were all standing on the veranda with binoculars trying to find the leopard. Nothing. Suddenly while sitting at the table chatting, Richard (the manager) said, I can see him. We all jumped up. I got my camera and only with the big lens I could see “him”. The leopard turned out to be a cheetah and a female, just up the hill behind my tent, feeding on the kill. What a start of the day.
At 8 a.m. I met Paul and Alex at the gate. They managed to get us a new vehicle and new tents. Nonetheless we decided to go straight to Amboseli and to skip Mount Kenya and Aberdare. The first part of the drive would bring us back around Mount Kenya to Nairobi and from there down to the border with Tanzania. We drove back to Nairobi through Meru. It was very different from the other side of the mountain, lush and tropical with many plantations and colorful villages. Everything went well and we arrived in Nairobi at noon, had a stop at a supermarket, our packed lunch along the road and carried on towards the border, 251 km to Arusha and it was 2 p.m. at Ngong junction. One hour later we had a flat tyre, at 4.55 p.m. we arrived at Amboseli Gate and at 5.45 p.m. at the campsite. What a drive, but we were glad we did it. From now on we wouldn’t have to drive far anymore, except the way back to Nairobi, but that would be at the very end.
It was November 2006 and the time of the short rains in Tanzania, normally not the time photographers want to visit the Serengeti, but I thought it would be great to see the savannah during rains and to shoot with the soft light. At arrival in Arusha it was announced that our safari flight to Klein’s Camp in the Northern Serengeti would have a delay and would not be able to land at Klein’s. There had been too much rain and the airstrip’s soil was to soft for a plane to land. After a while a solution was found. We would fly to Seronera in the middle of the Serengeti and from there carry on by 4x4.
During our flight over the Serengeti we got a pretty good impression what was going on. The Grumeti River was full and the plains were flooded. The often-dry Great Plains were wetlands. From Seronera airstrip we carried on in our 4x4 Landcruiser, heading north towards the Kenyan border where Klein’s Camp is situated. The road we were driving on was still all right, although we had to be careful with the patches of black cotton soil, a tricky soil that looks dry and the moment you drive on it, its like driving on wet soap. After driving for a while we got a call via the radio that another vehicle from Klein’s got stuck and if we could help pulling them out. Their position was quite close and we headed to them to help. The vehicle had dug itself deeply into the black cotton soil and we had to be very carefully to not get stuck as well. The guests were standing next to the vehicle with a desperate look in their eyes, but it was soon clear that we couldn’t pull them out. We would get stuck too. So all the guests got in our vehicle and we carried on. The guys would find a solution for the vehicle later, at least the guests were off the road and on-route back to the camp.
In order to get to Klein’s Camp one has to cross the river. When we arrived at the river it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to drive through it, definitely not with all the people on it. We had to drive to a little pedestrian bridge, get out and walk with our luggage over the tiny bridge to reach the vehicle that was waiting for us on the other side. Masai people were awaiting us on the other side, dressed traditionally and with spear and with a big UMBRELLA! It was such a funny sight to see the brave Masai warriors with an umbrella to shelter from the rain.
Well, we finally arrived at the camp and our driver proved to be brave and a good driver as well. He drove through river with the empty vehicle and everything was fine.
We were the last guests arriving at Klein’s Camp for several months. They closed the camp after we had left. The short rains turned out to be very long rains and the camp was only reopened in August of the following year. Nature has always the last word, not matter what humans want.
Tsavo East is a huge National Park in Kenya with vast bush sections and a big elephant population. We were driving one morning to a waterhole, usually a place with a guarantee so see animals. When were already close to the waterhole we saw no animals at or around it and we looked at each other and had all the same thought, there must be a cat. When a cat is at a waterhole the other animals stay away and yes, there were two male lion drinking. What we didn’t see at first was that one lion looked very ill. He was incredibly skinny and could hardly walk. His brother was also skinny, but not injured and didn’t look ill.
We settled to watch them. It was a heartbreaking morning. The ill brother was obviously suffering a lot, he had difficulties with drinking and seemed very dehydrated. His brother stayed always with him, never left his side. When the sun got stronger they moved a bit away from the waterhole into the shade of a tiny tree. It took the ill lion for ages to walk the 50 meters to the tree. There they rested for a long time before they continued moving into thicker bush to hide from the sun and maybe to find some food. It was so sad to see the ill lion walking very slowly and weak with his brother on his side. It was very moving to see the healthy brother rather dying as well than leaving his brother behind. His ill brother slowed him down and with the weak brother as a “burden” he was obviously not successful with hunting, but he bared with him and stayed.
We watched them as long as we could see them moving into the bushes towards a little river that was running there and we hoped so much that they would bump into small and easy prey to fill their stomachs and to get some strength back.
I don’t know what happened to them, they could have died both or the ill lion could have died or with a miracle they could have survived both. Lets hope for the latter.
I met her first in January 2007. At that time she was a sub adult leopard of about 16 months old, called Vomba young female. The people in the game reserve give the offspring first the name of their mother until they establish their own territory. Then they get a name related to their territory.
This young lady had a brother, Vomba young male. The two were very different. The young female was a very confident girl, not afraid of anything, chasing hyenas away at this young age. The hyenas were most likely only surprised that this young leopard went after them; at least they looked like that. She was just the same cool lady as her mother, very beautiful and determined. Her father was the territorial male, a very strong short built beautiful male leopard. At this time he was in his best years and controlling a big area. Her brother was completely different from the rest of the family. He was shy, almost a bit neurotic, he would do queer things, but somehow also a bit sad. Maybe all the strong characters surrounding him were too much for his fragile personality. He was also always very uncomfortable in the presence of game vehicles, while his mother and sister were not bothered at all. The young lady’s mother’s territory includes the lodge and she does not care if there is a bush dinner in the parking lot of the lodge, she just walks passed it and guests can watch her from their tables. Well, this young leopard lady has definitely inherited her personality.
Since they were old enough to live by themselves, her brother was very rarely seen. The young lady instead is now a grown up beautiful leopard and mother, still in the area, neighboring her mother’s territory. She is still the strong personality and as comfortable as always with vehicles. That doesn’t mean you can easily go and see her, she just does what she wants and if she wants to hide, she hides.
See some of her moments in life in pictures below.
After 9 days in a leaking tent and a long list of other unsolved basics we arrived around 10 a.m. at Lewa Downs Conservancy. Nairobi office was supposed to book me there for two nights, but didn’t. Anyway, they had a tent for me and I said good buy to Paul and Alex for two days. They went to Nairobi to get things sorted that we could reset the whole trip and have a fresh start.
Lewa Downs is beautiful. The landscape is made of rolling hills bordered by Samburu on one side and Mount Kenya on the other. It’s a Grevi’s zebra, rhino and cheetah paradise and it was a pleasure to drive there with only a few other vehicles. I stayed at the Safari Camp, a tented camp with lovely bathrooms attached to the tents, a real luxury of dry tent with shower. It was also a chance for me to reset, to rinse out the anger and exhaustion of the last 9 days and to get ready for the second part of the trip. It gave me the time and peace to reflect on the last days and what I had learned. There was one conversation we had one night at dinner, which had impressed me a lot.
Paul and Alex are Kikuyu. The Kikuyu tribe lives from agriculture and it’s a custom that there has to be always enough food in the house to feed the family and unexpected visitors. They don’t throw food away and it makes them happy and proud when they can feed others.
Paul said, in the village where he grew up was one family who had a TV and always when there was a football game, the whole village came to watch it at their place. He said this family was very lucky and I thought because they had a TV but he continued, because their food got eaten and not because of a TV. This was completely logical for him and I was quiet and touched by this approach. Thinking back to this conversation always helps me to put things in perspective and reminds me of the basic values of life.
We had just started our afternoon game drive in the Masai Mara when we spotted a herd of zebras. They were grazing on an open plain close to the river. Everything seemed completely normal until we got closer and had a better look. We noticed a young zebra lying on the ground and its mother anxiously watching it. It was soon clear that the young zebra was dead. Its neck had a bite mark, we thought maybe from a leopard, but it was strange that it was still lying there. Maybe the leopard got disturbed. The mother was looking at us as if she was asking for help. It was heartbreaking. She tried to make her youngster to get up and follow her and when the little zebra did not move she came back and tried again. It was terrible to watch her pain and not being able to do anything to comfort her.
After a while the herd started moving of the plain towards the river. It looked like they wanted to cross before it got dark. The zebra mother was still standing next to her youngster, still confused and anxious. Then something very beautiful happened. The herd had to pass her and the little one when moving towards the river and every group of the herd that passed stopped for a while and stood with her watching the little zebra. They shared a moment with her, probably also wondering why she was standing there and not coming. Nonetheless the herd comforted the zebra mother and with the final group she was eventually able to move on as well. And we did too, silent and impressed by the care of nature.
It was Monday and day 8 in a leaking tent. I was determined to fix it today.
We went out for the morning game drive. It was lovely sunny weather and Samburu was lying there in its breathtaking beauty. We were looking for elephants. Paul explained that the elephants retreat into the mountains when it rains, but should come down again with this wonderful weather. We cruised around to cover all possible paths they could take down from the mountains to the river. Another guide told us they saw them and we hurried to get to the area they were seen, but nothing. No elephant at all. After three hours search we decided to have breakfast, on a spot with a cell phone signal. The office would be open by now.
The breakfast was delicious as always and Paul phoned the office in Nairobi. He had to tell his story over and over again to different people. Nobody seemed able or willing to understand what was going on with the tents. They would call us back with the solution. We waited half an hour and then carried on with the game drive and our elephant search. That was actually what I was here for.
In the afternoon was excitement all around. Lions had been spotted and we headed to the area, but first we had to find a signal to phone the office again. Actually quite close to the lion sighting we had a signal and I just wanted to get things solved quickly to get to the lions. But that didn’t happen. Next to the tent issue was a change in the itinerary I didn’t agree with. I had booked a stay at Lewa Downs and because Lewa has no campsite we should camp just outside the conservancy. That just outside turned out to be 50 km away from Lewa, which made no sense at all and as an alternative they offered me a stay at a farm with game. It couldn’t get into their heads that that wouldn’t be bush and no alternative to Lewa Downs, a rhino conservancy between Isiolo and Mount Kenya in the Laikipia area. At the end it all came down to money. I could stay at Lewa, but had to pay the full rate, next to the amount I had already paid for those two nights. I was furious. Here I was, 8 days in a leaking tent, a vehicle with a couple of main issues, a mixed up itinerary, an unacceptable alternative for Lewa and no way that the company was taking responsibility. We ended the conversation with the result that the new tents would be flown in tomorrow morning and I would think about Lewa. And when we got to the lions, they were gone into the bushes. What a waste of time in beautiful Samburu.
Back in camp Alex had prepared again a lovely dinner. He is an excellent cook. No matter what the circumstances, he managed to create wonderful food, although Samburu got a bit on his nerves. He was very eager to have a fire all night, which wasn’t the case in the Mara and Nakuru. And this evening he came up with a couple of stories he had heard about cooks working in Samburu. One guy had kept papaya in his tent and got visited by an elephant. They love this fruit and can smell it from a big distance. The elephant smelled the papaya, but didn’t know how to get to it. So he grabbed the tent with his trunk and threw it up while the cook was sleeping in it. The tent landed in a tree and the cook was screaming. The other people just opened the zip a bit to see what’s going on, but didn’t dare to get out. Fortunately the cook was able to throw out the papaya, the elephant ate a couple of pieces and went off. Another guy had taken meat out of the fridge to defrost it during the night in his tent. The smell attracted a hyena and she managed to scratch open the tent to get in. At that moment the cook woke up and screamed, the hyena panicked, both were moving wildly, the tent collapsed and both tried to get out. Somehow the hyena managed to get out and ran off. Both cooks resigned and never went back to the bush again. Also this night we had our fire burning all night.
I woke up, still tired and exhausted, my mattress surrounded by rainwater. I had enough of that. This had to be solved.
We wouldn’t have a game drive this morning. The vehicle had to be fixed and the leaking tents had to be replaced. Paul and I went off to find a signal. He wanted to call the office in Nairobi and finding a signal for the cell phone was quite a mission. I was running out of patience and told him, enough now we are going to use the sat phone. The sat phone can be tricky as well, but we managed to get a signal and I got the operational manager on the phone. I made clear that the situation is unacceptable and that they have to send over new tents. He promised he would do that and the tents would arrive with the first plane. Next thing was the vehicle. The tank needed to be welded and Samburu Lodge workshop could do it. We drove there and I decided to have breakfast at the lodge. It didn’t take long and Paul came to tell me that the generator was switched off, so no welding and we had to come back after lunch. We went back to the camp and I collapsed on my “bed”, still surrounded by water. It was just so annoying that the equipment didn’t meet the basic needs and I was very angry and knowing that that wouldn’t help either.
Paul went to the airstrip to fetch the new tents. He came back with flysheets. I thought I must explode when I saw that. These flysheets were lighter, but to small to cover the tents and new tents were promised. I fetched my sat phone and called the operational manager and the owner. Nobody answered the phone. After all it was Sunday.
We tried to make something out of it and some kind of a weird flysheet construction covered Paul’s and my tent. It had to do till Monday. Phoning the office would be first thing in the morning.
After lunch we went back to the lodge to fix the fuel tank and we could go off for the game drive at least in the afternoon. Samburu is so beautiful and that made the disturbance by poor equipment even more annoying. Samburu’s landscape is breathtaking and the light was awesome because of the rain. Everything looks soft and bluish, which gives completely different shots. Eventually the animals made our day by rewarding us with beautiful sightings like fighting giraffes in front of a blue/gray sky and the green of the acacias. After all a peaceful closure of the day.
Again the night ended at about 4.30 a.m. with hooting matatus and the mullah calling for prayer. We got up to find out there was no water. Fortunately we still got some in our jerry cans. We left the campsite at 7.30 heading north to Samburu National Reserve. The first stop was after an hour and a half at Thomson Falls. A nice place with a small hotel, good facilities and the waterfall. We had breakfast and a walk to the falls. We were awake now for what promised to be a long day.
From Thomson Falls the road goes along Aberdare National Park and then north around Mount Kenya. It’s a clime up to about 3.000 m through a fertile agricultural area. Although the altitude is high the rain and the soil make everything growing in abundance. After two hours and a half we reached Nanyuki. I liked the name and the place. A colorful buzzing African place. Nanyuki is Masai and means “place of red water”. I didn’t see water, but maybe when the Masai first arrived, they found the water colored by the red soil of the area. We stopped and did some shopping to have enough food for our stay in Samburu.
From Nanyuki we drove to Kenron Grill, a restaurant just about one km away from the road to have lunch. When we got there we were the only guests except the local police officers, having their lunch as well. Because our itinerary was mixed up from the first stay in the Mara, the restaurant had expected us yesterday and not today, what meant that there was nothing prepared, what meant the meat was still in the freezer. So we got grilled frozen chicken, but we were hungry, we ate it all.
We left Kenron Grill at a quarter to two and started descending to Isiolo from about 3.000 m to about 1.600 m altitude. It was a beautiful drive, down the slopes of Mount Kenya with a view over the Laikipia area. The vegetation changed. It was dry land, desert like. Isiolo felt different. The market was along the road, it was buzzing, people herding their camels and yet it felt more poor than other places. Maybe because it’s not a fertile agricultural area and people have to fight every day to get food on their plate. We had to register our vehicle before we could continue to Samburu. There had been incidents in the past with bandits on this road and registration is for security. If you get lost they know where you were last and when you departed for Samburu. It was a weird feeling. I had read about this in the Rough Guide and now I was there. Alex told me that there was nothing out there when we left Isiolo, only desert with poachers from Somalia. But he said quickly, that was in the past. It’s much better now. Anyway I was sitting in the vehicle thinking what am I going to do when we get ambushed. Nothing actually. Give them what they want and hope that they are happy with it.
We carried on to Archers Post. There would be the gate to Samburu National Reserve. It was the most horrible road I experienced throughout whole Kenya and the only way to make it bearable was to drive very fast. There were roadwork’s going on to provide a wonderful and comfortable new road, but it was far from being finished. The good thing was, that the roadwork’s had brought many people there working. Small settlements were along the road and it turned out that the drive didn’t feel as unsafe as I had expected. There was something out of Isiolo.
We reached the Archer’s Post Gate at 4 p.m. and lost our fuel tank. Paul had filled up both fuel tanks (the Landcruiser has two) and the rear one had just fallen off. Rangers, Paul and Alex were underneath the vehicle fixing it with ropes that we could continue. It was actually just another thing that didn’t work properly, the fridge (repaired in Nakuru), the leaking tents (still not fixed!!!), my car door (when I closed the window the door fell open) and now the fuel tank. Half an hour later the fuel tank was roped up and we carried on to the campsite. It was 4.30 p.m.. A truck was driving in front of us, it had rained, the truck got stuck and we got in his trail and got stuck too. Everybody out, spates out and digging. We pitched camp at 5.30 p.m. The public campsite in Samburu is next to the river and also next to the rangers headquarter. Alex choose a spot next to the river and close to the facilities. They were challenging.
It started raining again and even with the flysheets (still the heavy ones) my tent was leaking badly. I kept everything packed and in the middle of the tent in case I have to get my stuff out quickly. We all had an early night after an exhausting day. At about 11.30 p.m. I woke up from voices next to my tent and then I heard THE noise. The river. When we arrived the river was low and small, now it was a dangerous stream. This is also called a flash flood. It had rained in the mountains and all the water came suddenly like a wave. My tent was the closest to the river and now just about two meters away from the water. I rushed out, gave Alex and Paul a shout to wake them up, got my stuff in the vehicle, broke down my tent together with Alex and Paul and set it up again on higher ground. That all happened in 10 minutes. It probably sounds quick, but it isn’t. If the flood had got to me, there wouldn’t have been any time to get out. It was about midnight when I was in “bed” again and it was still raining and my tent still leaking. I woke up a couple of times from heavy rain and the noise of the waves coming down the river. This day taught me once again what it means to be in the bush. No matter how tired or exhausted you are you got to take on the challenges.
How do lion cubs learn? Just as children by playing, falling and standing up and teasing the adults. We were on photo safari in the Masai Mara when we spotted a lion pride with a little cub, as it turned out later the little star of the family. There were more sub adult young lion, but only one little cub, the baby of the family. Just as young children, little lion cubs love to play and by doing that they learn important skills for their life in the bush. In this case the little lion cub felt very confident with his mother and aunts around to explore the mount they were lying on. Unfortunately the mount had a whole on one side, what made a good rim to sit on, but for a “feeling confident” little cub it became a trap, not a dangerous one, but he made a good role head first into it. His mother watched him calmly and maybe even amused when he lost his balance and fell over into the whole. But no worries, he was just learning about his balance. He climbed out and found a new target, his older brothers. The first brother’s tail became the subject of learning how to bite in moving objects. His brother made in a gentle way clear that this was not what his tale was there for and the little cub moved on to the second brother. He did that by stalking him carefully, just like he would do during a hunt and then jumped on him, biting in his neck. His brother didn’t even move, the little one was to little to heart him and only practicing hunting. However, the little cub seemed very pleased with his results and took a nice nap using his brother’s belly as a pillow, before he embarked on new adventures of his young life.
It was a good first night in the bush. The sleeping bag I had brought with me was to warm, but that was little concern. Everything else was fine. It hadn’t rained that night, so the tent was dry too.
We got up at 6 a.m. and had a quick breakfast. We planned to stay in the bush for the whole day to see a crossing at the Mara River and it’s quite a long drive to get there. Alex made us a packed lunch and we were off.
We drove to a part of the river where wildebeest had been seen and that meant there could be a crossing. Very few vehicles were waiting in a safe distance from the river to give the animals the space to gather together and get ready to go. It’s all about patience. They start moving and everybody gets excited and then they change directions and the waiting starts again. After a while we thought, just let’s try another usual crossing spot and we headed further up the river.
On our way we heard about a leopard in a tree and we went there first. A female leopard had a kill and was feeding on it. Only three other vehicles where there and it was a relaxed sighting. The female was a bit restless and annoyed by birds that were shouting at her. She went off and on the tree, getting a drink and thinking what to do next. She decided to stay in the tree and to have a nap. The birds carried on with their noise and her ears were flat in annoyance. We enjoyed being with her for hours. The other vehicles had gone to their lodges for breakfast and we stayed alone with her, enduring the increasing heat and the camera always ready in case she was going to move.
Our only source of electricity during the safari (also in the camps) was the vehicle. An inverter transformed the power from the cigarette lighter into power to recharge the laptop and batteries. That meant one had to be very conscious about using battery powered equipment. When and for how long do I need the laptop? When can I recharge the laptop again? The laptop couldn’t be recharged while being in use and only when the vehicle was driving or the vehicle’s battery was full after a longer drive. It would drain to much power from the vehicle’s battery and the inverter switched off automatically when it became critical. For that reason any chance of battery power had to be used wisely. That made me setting up “office” while we were with the leopard. A couple of memory cards were already full and it wasn’t even lunchtime. I had to upload them to the laptop. So while I watched her and had the camera ready to shoot, the laptop was running and the processing had to be watched too. I was tired by noon. We decided to leave her alone and carried on to the river.
Paul and I had different opinions on where a crossing would be possible. I thought let’s go to the main crossing where they usually gather and he thought let’s check first other possibilities. So we first checked on other spots and got to the main crossing as the last option. There were probably about 12 vehicles and they had the good news for us: just half an hour ago about a thousand wildebeest had crossed. We stayed to watch the last 5 or 6 to cross the river and Paul became cross with himself. It made no sense to get angry. It was gone and that’s just how it is with looking for wildlife interactions, you never know for sure what and where it’s going to happen. It’s on their terms.
We started heading back to the camp, a long drive and a thunderstorm building up at the horizon. It started bucketing in an instant. You could hardly see the road and Paul got nervous. He told me later that he panicked a bit, because the road had a couple of deep dips and getting stuck was the last thing you want. When the rain stopped we were on safe roads and were rewarded with the sighting of a big pride of lions. The light just after the rain was soft. The playing cubs and mums looked smooth. A serene scene of family life.
From the lions it was just a short drive to our camp. It was about 6 p.m. when we arrived and still raining there. I fetched toilet paper and dried my tent, organized the luggage that I could remove it easily if it would start raining hard at night, had a shower, a quiet dinner and wanted nothing more than to sleep. I was so tired.
The Sabi Sand in the greater Kruger National Park in South Africa are famous for their leopard sightings. And because one can see leopards pretty often, it is possible to follow their family life quite good, especially when working as a ranger and being out in the bush every day. Leopards have territories. The female territories usually do not overlap, but the male territory overlaps or rather covers the territories of a couple of females. These are the females he is mating with. Often female leopards stay close to their mom and set up territory next to her. Leopards are not as solitary as one might think, they usually only don’t want to be seen and that makes that we can’t follow their movements. But in the Sabi Sand we can. They let us often see what they are up to and this is very interesting. Don’t get me wrong, they are wild animals, trusting that they will be left alone and not threatened by humans.
There was this one family, a male leopard, an older female, her daughter and the two cubs of the daughter. The older female, lets call her granny was already pretty old, but a strong spirit. She was more or less allowed to pick a bit more from the male leopard’s kills and also the daughter was looking after her. And granny did what grannies do. The daughter left one of her cubs with granny and granny raised the little “boy”. That gave the daughter more freedom and strength to raise the other cub and to hunt. Some days the daughter left even the cub she had with her with dad, just to check out something. And dad was staying with the cub, looking after it until it’s mother came back. It was observed that the cub thought to test daddy and slapped him with his little paw. Daddy showed the little one that he can do that too and the cub was rolling all over the place. When observing these beautiful interactions one learns to understand leopards so much better, their close relationships and family dynamics. The little “boy” raised by granny is now a big boy and still tolerated by dad in his territory. It might be not for nothing that he looks a bit like a spoilt boy, raised by granny and having the sweet life of being allowed in the save territory of dad. He is the one on the picture above. Granny doesn’t live anymore. She became 17 years old, a great age for a leopard in the wild. She was a very special and strong spirit.
I was on safari in Africa and it was pouring rain and it was hot. It was tough and it was beautiful and it all started in Nairobi.
Departure 8.15 in the morning. The safari vehicle was waiting for me with Paul the driver and Alex the cook. Alex was tired. He had worked a lot and fell a sleep as soon as the vehicle started to move. We headed towards the Masai Mara through the suburb Muthaiga to get onto the road to Mai Maihiu, a more scenic road than the A104 they said. I’m actually not sure if the road was more scenic. For my feeling it took longer than the highway and it was probably not such a good idea, because it was already a long drive to the Mara. Anyway we took this road and it was a good road, built by Italians after the war. After Mai Maihiu the road was really bad. I guess lots of traffic to the Mara from Matatus, safari mini vans up to trucks and 4x4s like us. It was hot, dusty and bumpy. The road went through dry land. Every now and then a settlement or market and some animals, most of them cattle, little wildlife.
We reached Narok after a three hours drive and had a break at a gas station. Narok is a busy town and it seemed that everybody took a break there to get ready for the Mara. Lots of mini vans with tourist, having a last or first (depends where you come from) bathroom stop, a drink and a snack. A good business for the inventive, friendly and persistent vendors. The gas station was fine, except that there was no gas. So, Paul went off to get some somewhere else and we hit the road again.
The tar road stopped shortly after Narok and from there it was a bumpy dirt road to one of the gates. After an hour and a half we entered the Mara through the Sekenani Gate and it was like a miracle. It was dry land until the gate and from there it was green with plenty of wildlife. It almost felt like entering a zoo, like the animals know they are supposed to be there, because it’s the famous Masai Mara with lots of wildlife. It made immediately everything worthwhile, just to be there with the animals. Another 40 minutes drive brought us to another gate, the Talek Gate where we pitched camp just outside the gate at the Crocodile Campsite. This was after a 6 hours drive, including the stop in Narok and we drove just 245 km. The campsite was next to the river Talek and a bit further was the Masai shopping center. We choose a nice spot and two Masai came to help setting up the tents, which was nice, I guess for all of us. Alex the cook was very strict with the kitchen stuff. Nobody was allowed to touch it and he set up his kitchen in a secure cabana, which has the function of a kitchen. Secure means for the food. The animals can’t get to it and that makes the life of the cook much easier. The facilities where ok. Simple but tap-water, shower, a sink and dry toilets. And my tent looked good as well. A light dome tent with enough space for me and my equipment. So, everything looked good and I was ready for a small snack and off on the game drive.
We drove for 15 minutes and there was a leopard in a tree and we drove another ten minutes and there was a pride of lions and a cheetah with three cubs. This is unbelievable. Three big cats in one game drive just around the corner from the camp. But that’s also a result of the Mara of the cell phones and because it’s so crowded with vehicles. The Mara is quite flat and open and when you see more than seven vehicles looking at something you know it’s a cat sighting. If there are no vehicles in sight, just call other drivers and they’ll tell you. I was struggling with that a lot. On one hand you see really lot’s of animals and on the other hand it’s a disaster with all the vehicles on the cat sightings. About fourteen vehicles fighting for the best spot making a game drive a competition and stressful event for all, the drivers, the guests and the most for the animals. There are rules, some kind of, but it seems a sport to get around them. It annoyed me a lot that I had to spend so much energy on anger about vehicles blocking a sighting forever, driving through the picture and getting so close to the animals that they almost drive over their tail. It started raining, or no actually it was bucketing. Great to see and lovely shots of wet cheetah cubs playing with mum. And I was worried about the tents.
When we got back to the camp the rain had stopped and unfortunately there was reason for worry. My tent was leaking. It came through the stitches where bottom and top were stitched together and it was all around. The nice tent became smaller. Luggage and mattress in the middle and toilet paper around as a safety belt to soak up the rain. I told Paul and Alex about the leaking and Paul had the same in his tent. We would call the office in Nairobi the next morning to ask for flysheets to cover the tents and the fridge was also not working, so this was on the list too. The dinner was delicious and I had an early night. A leopard was calling next to my tent. I thought, yes, that’s what I’m here for. Wonderful.
We were on a morning game drive when we approached a tree where a leopard was seen earlier that morning. When we came closer we saw that there was a kill in the tree and a male leopard lying underneath in the grass. He was lying on his side, eyes closed, but probably not sleeping. We watched him and suddenly another leopard approached the leopard in the grass from behind. It was a female leopard. The two knew each other well, but she was very cautious. She was trying to steel his kill (he had stolen the kill earlier from another female leopard, actually her daughter). When she knew where he was she retreated back into the bush, all happening without any sound. He stayed the whole time lying on his side in the grass, pretending not knowing that she is there. Then out of nowhere the female leopard climbed the tree in the back of the still in the grass lying male leopard. At that moment the male leopard jumped from lying on his side in the grass into the tree in less than a second (didn’t manage to get a photo of that), chasing the female leopard up into the very top of the tree. The female leopard was sitting in the treetop with a leg of the kill in her mouth, shaking from the stress and urinating on us in the vehicle under the tree. The male leopard growled at her, she growled back and he wouldn’t let her come down. After a while the male leopard chose to have a look at the kill to see what the damage is. At that moment the female leopard took her chance and jumped past him down the tree and ran off, with the leg from the kill! The male leopard was not happy, rearranging his kill and by doing that angrily, he dropped it. Now he had to watch how a hyena took off with his kill. She had been sitting under the tree waiting for the moment the kill would fall. The hyena had the biggest portion of the kill, the female leopard had al least something, the male leopard was still sitting in the tree and had nothing. He had played cool for too long.