Menengai Holidays – based in Kenya
I was contacted by Daniel Njaga some time ago as he was interested in our website www.bushdrums.com being keen on ecology and wildlife. I was taken by surprise by his prompt replies and information which I mentally filed away as it is quite unusual in today’s stressful life. We had little correspondence since until I was directly contacted by a member of bushdrums who wanted information on a company to take her and her family on holiday in Kenya. I remembered Daniel and passed on his details to her mentioning that I had personally never worked or met Daniel and his company Menengai Holidays.
2 weeks passed and I was pleased to receive a positive e mail by our member of bushdrums who was overwhelmed with Menengai’s responses and information.
A few months later and I found myself dreaming of the country I was born in and know so well – Kenya. “Time to go back home” I thought, only this time round with my wife, kids, a second family and my father in law. Not an easy task to handle as the age ranged from 7 to 70 and the days of throwing a blanket in the back of my 4x4 and driving off into the bush had to be placed on hold as a couple were new to the African territory and ways of life!
Time to bring in Daniel Njaga from Menengai Holidays based in Nairobi!
From my initial e mail to organise various hotels in Nairobi, lodges and accommodation around Kenya, internal flights, International airport pick up and drop off at crazy early hours of the morning, game drives, sightseeing, lake trips, tours in cities as well as organizing transport to restaurants booked by myself to see old school friends – nothing was an issue or a problem and everything was timed to the minute.
On meeting Daniel personally for the 1st time I asked him if he was Swiss or worked for some Swiss watch company? His prompt response to all my correspondence was immaculate and fast (giving the time difference) and he provided full information on all types of accommodation for me to chose from at various budgets (quality of accommodation highly differs on budgets in East Africa). All I had to do was chose what I liked and he would take care of the rest.
Although his working ethics may seem Swiss, Daniel is originally from Nakuru. Very mellow and well spoken, his academic endeavors and experience I believe is not matched by any travel agent / owner or manager currently in East Africa doing the same professional occupation as him. The company is fairly new but making great progress.
Daniel is a professional wildlife biologist with a Masters Degree in Ecology and Wildlife Management. He has worked as a wildlife research scientist in Kenya and as a communications expert in both public and private sectors.
His has in-depth knowledge and insight into wildlife, national parks, conservation and tourism issues in East Africa. He is a regular commentator on environment, conservation and tourism in the region and contributes opinion articles for the Daily Nation; East Africa's leading daily newspaper, and The East African the regional weekly newspaper.
Other professional assignments that Daniel is carrying out include giving guest lectures on tourism and wildlife management at the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute. He is also a travel writer for local lifestyle magazines and is a member of Marketing Advisory Committee for Kenya Association of Tour Operators.
I spent a few hours with Daniel driving from Nakuru to Nairobi and back and we enjoyed a light lunch by the crater lake lodge discussing farming, wildlife and political land issues to a great extent. His knowledge in these issues are superlative. It was a pleasure to be able to get his opinion and learn from his knowledge. Therefor it was of no surprise to discover that he lectures to foreign students who travel to Kenya for field studies on ecology and wildlife. This knowledge is also reflected in the staff that work together with him.
On our trips into various towns and national parks, we had the luck of having Anthony as our guide. Anthony or better known as “Tony” knows Kenya exceedingly well and has taken guests into the closer more popular national parks such as Meru, Mara, Amboseli etc however he enjoys driving all the way to the extreme northern district of Turkana for the more adventures travelers.
Apart from his vast knowledge on wildlife, birdwatchers will have a good run for their money to try and keep up with the knowledge on bird life as this is Tony’s strength.
Tony like Daniel was a pleasure to be with and his positive character added to the success of our travels.
Daniel Njaga handles all administrative affairs of the company at the Nairobi office to ensure each customer receives uncompromising attention and all inquiries are answered to promptly and satisfactorily. If you want to have a memorable holiday and safari of a lifetime, organized to your specific needs from choosing the type of vehicle, accommodation at your own budget in cities, lodges in the bush, hotels on the beach or close to airport before your flight, I can personally recommend Menengai Holidays Ltd and you can contact Daniel directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or his team at email@example.com
Written by Cody –
Co-founder of www.bushdrums.com
For your information, Menengai Holidays contact details –
Menengai Holidays Ltd
First Floor, Duplex Apartments No. 40;
Bunyala/Lower Hill Road, upper Hill;
P.O Box 2260 - 00202 Nairobi, Kenya;
Cell phone: +254-720-950-500
"We Unwrap Kenya for You”
Mara Leisure Camp –
Kenya - December 2010
Can be reached by road via Narok
By plane on numerous airfields in the Mara
On the odd cold autumn day, taking a 5 minute break to read and go through the itinerary of my next safari in Kenya is a personal way of relaxing. …
Another camp to get to know on my list was Mara Leisure Camp – a lodge/camp that I had yet to visit but from their website which kicks off with “an exclusive boutique camp in the African Wild” made it a camp I honestly look forward to relaxing in.
From their website www.maraleisurecamp.co.ke and price at US Dollars between 280.00 and 350.00 per night (per tent /room high season) I was looking forward to luxury after a few days of trekking it in the bush.
Due to personal issues I had a little change of plan and flew directly on my own from Nairobi Wilson Airport with Air Kenya to an airstrip about 10 kilometers from the camp. Tony, our guide who had been travelling with me the past week around Western and Southern Kenya was awaiting my arrival with his typical genuine warm smile and we drove off into the bush heading towards Mara Leisure Lodge.
A few kilometers before reaching the lodge we passed what was once a small remote Masai village however as with all areas on our ever expanding globe, where there is revenue turn over, there is space for infrastructure and buildings. New guests houses, shops, private homes had sprung up since my last visit and more were visibly in construction. - I just hope that they do not plan on building another Kimana (an area close to Amboseli)!
We reached the entrance of the camp; typical lodge entrance with local Masai decorations, wooden beamed roof with makuti thatching and the reception received by the staff was very friendly. We registered and were promptly shown to our accommodation.
We booked a tent but were given a “cottage” – a concrete build divided into 2 large bedrooms, each with its own very large bathroom and terrace.
The rooms and accommodation: Initial impact was relatively positive as the rooms are large and the bathroom have ample space with a bathtub to relax in after a long days safari. Plenty of hot water (via solar panels) to use in the wash basis. The shower tested ones patience! The options were either cold or hot with water dribbling down making it quite hard to wash the days dirt off! Being bald by nature this did not cause too many complications for me to clean my head however for my wife, washing her hair ended up being one of the most difficult tasks of the day!!
Towels were clean, soft and adequate.
The bedroom – typical local wooden furniture that more or less blended in with the rest of the ambiance. However there was something out of place which was quite familiar with lodges, camps or hotels that are going through changes (will explain as later)!! Most décor in the accommodation was tired, consumed and had past its expiry date. The curtains were semi ripped off the racks and impossible to close, the mosquito nets were either torn or missing, the mattresses where completely consumed and uncomfortable and the pillows…. After an hour’s attempt to sleep, I dropped it on the floor and folded a towel in its place!
The light fittings were chipped and some did not work. A big difference between reality and what is explained and displaced on their website.
In the morning I decided to re charge my torch however the socket came straight off the wall which I attempted to fix for them so the next guest would not have the same issue and risk getting an electric wakeup call!
Wake up call – although I requested one at 5.45 am and my travelling companion at 6.00 am in his room, non came. They were either too busy at that time in the morning or perhaps they forgot.
On requesting our wakeup call the previous night at the reception desk, we were also asked what time we would like to have breakfast. 6.30 was our answer – making it a day with a late start to game drives.
We reached the dining room at 6.45 and noticed that absolutely nothing had been set up. At around 7am the odd member of staff appeared and we helped them set up the table and get organized which was a laugh as the staff (like most Kenyans) were always with a smile and full of the positive joys of life.
Meals; I have worked in some exclusive kitchens producing fine delicacies however when in the bush I always take into consideration where I am, how the produce gets to these remote areas, storage and use of electrical power a couple of hours per day. In most cases I am positively surprised however here again the quality was below standard of lodges of this category.
I was now beginning to wander what category this lodge belonged to…..?
Gardens…. Perhaps the owners have decided to go with nature and let it take its course. The grass around most of the lodge / camp was what they call in central Africa and the Congo as Elephant grass; long and thick left to grow wild. My initial conclusion proved wrong as the next day a shamba man (gardener) with his curved bladed was happily slashing away at the overgrown shrub.
Views from the terraces; either from the tents or rooms – non existence, only thick bush around 1 to 2 meters away but this may have been done purposely to give one the feeling of being closed in the bush.
Tents – here again it looks like they have been neglected. Some canvases were ripped, stained and the wooden built frame they were built on where showing signs of rot.
I had come across such situations before and my suspicious was soon confirmed when speaking to various members of staff. The lodge had been sold and was under new ownership.
Unfortunately at times when owners decide to sell, they close off all taps and expenses to renew or to maintain quality to save as much money as possible before selling. This normally has a negative impact for the new owners as they have a lot more work on their plate to replace and fix the complete negligence of the previous owners and perhaps the most difficult part – to try and get a reputation back!
At US Dollars from 280.00 to 350.00 per night (excluding Park Entrance fee) I currently do not recommend this camp. Even in high season as one must balance value with what is offered and service provided. As stands, they are asking too much for what they are providing. I hope the new owners promptly take action on what can be a wonderful lodge and perhaps with a lot of work and effort they can re call it “an exclusive boutique camp in the African Wild”, but for now, they are a long way away from that!
Staff friendliness – 4 out of 5
Cleanliness of the rooms – 3 out of 5
Cleanliness and care of the gardens – 2 out of 5
Quality of food – 2 out of 5
Quality and comfort of the rooms – 2 out of 5
Quality of the bathrooms – 3 out of 5
Value for Money – 2 out of 5
Co founder of Bushdrums.com
I have just returned from a 10 day trip to Victoria Falls and Hwange. I was born in Zimbabwe but currently live in London and take every chance possible to return home.
An overnight flight from London to Johannesburg with BA, then a quick connecting flight with South African Airways saw us arriving in Victoria Falls. We were met at the airport and transferred to our great little B & B - Amadeus Garden, which we would call home for 4 nights.
Amadeus Garden is set in a lovely walled complex. The en-suite room we stayed in was very spacious, clean and overlooked the tranquil pool area. Cathy was our point of contact and was on hand to help with any activity bookings, taxi requests or general information we required. After a quick bag drop and shower, we were collected by Wild Horizons for our afternoon Sunset Booze Cruise. A lovely way to end our first day, gently cruising up the Zambezi with a Gin and Tonic in hand and the sun setting the only way it does in Africa. Back to Amadeus for an early dinner and bed.
An early wake up, to a very nice breakfast before we were collected by Wild Horizons at 07.45 for our low white water rafting. After coffee and a safety talk we were off down the gorge; slightly treacherous but not too bad. We started from rapid 11 and it was a really good day, lots of fun, some good rapids and luckily we didn’t flip. Here we go… the walk out, OMG, but when I finally made it to the top, a beer and lunch was waiting for me.
In the afternoon we were collected from Amadeus for a helicopter Flight of the Angels which was amazing. It’s great to get another perspective of the Falls and lovely to see them flowing with such a big spray.
After breakfast the next morning we walked into town and then onto the falls themselves. We were hassled a few times by people trying to sell things, but not once did we feel unsafe. Everyone we met was extremely friendly and eventually took no for an answer. The local council have also started to employ “tourist police” which has helped. As mentioned before, the falls where in spectacular flow and we got very wet. Two people in our party were brave enough to do the Gorge Swing and the Flying Fox – both booked with Wild Horizons. The Gorge Swing is as named, you jump off a platform perched at the top of the gorge and when you finally stop falling, you then swing between the gorge until you are hoisted up. The flying fox – you are attached to a horizontal zip line (slide) and fly across the gorge.
After sundowners overlooking the water hole at the beautiful Vic Falls Safari Lodge, we had dinner at the Boma restaurant, which was good fun and great food. I would highly recommend a visit to both.
A bit of a lay in on our final day then off to the majestic Victoria Falls Hotel for mouth watering afternoon high tea, then cocktail sundowners overlooking one of the most iconic views of the bridge, the gorge and the spray in the distance. What a wonderful way to spend our last evening.
Our next stop : The Hide at Hwange National Park.
We were collected in the morning for our two hour road transfer with Dabula Safaris from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park main camp where we were met by Shepherd from The Hide. The one hour transfer into camp was the start of our game drive, where we met the usual suspects of baboons, zebra, impala, wildabeast and the very graceful giraffe.
The Hide is situated on the eastern boundary of the national park in it’s own private concession. The camp is made up of ten very comfortable en-suite tents under thatch. We were luckily enough to spend 4 nights in tent no 10, which has an additional outside bath and shower with views stretching over the vlei and the large waterholes in front of the camp. The main A frame thatched complex is where meals are taken around a beautiful teak dining table. After being met by Cher – camp hostess, and given the camp safety talk, we tucked into a very hearty two course lunch, before retiring to our tent for a siesta. The beating of the drums indicated more food, with tea and cake before we set off on our afternoon game drive. July is winter in Zimbabwe and with a very good rainy season just pasted, most of the water holes throughout the park were still full so we had to look for the game, but we saw a large number of elephants, giraffe and impala.
Back to camp for a very welcoming hot shower, then drinks around the camp fire before a lovely three course dinner.
“Knock knock, knock knock” was our 05.30 wake up call with a tray of hot coffee left on our veranda. Our early morning walk with Nicholas the professional guide, was full with information on the flora and fauna, but alas I think the animals were still very sensibly tucked up in bed. After a delicious breakfast, we were on the road again for a mid morning game drive which took us past Kennedy l and Kennedy ll (waterholes) and onto Ngweshla which has open flood plains, where we saw large numbers of Elephants again. On another mid morning game drive we were luckily enough to witness a cheetah chasing a waterhog, we then heard the squealing in the thicket of a successful hunt.
Each day followed a similar routine, but brought different adventures. One night during dinner we saw the resident leopard drinking from the waterhole. On our second last night, after dinner we spent the night in the “Doves Nest” which is a very secure and steady viewing platform in a large tree with a bedroom above. Being out on your own, listening to all the night noises was a very special experience.
The four nights spent at The Hide were amazing, we were very sad to leave. The camp and all it’s friendly knowledgeable staff made us feel like we were joining their family as soon as we arrived. Our final game drive took us back to Hwange Main Camp where we were met by Dabula Safari’s again for our road transfer back to Victoria Falls for our flight to UK via Johannesburg.
JAN'S KENYA SAFARI
JULY 28 – AUGUST 18, 2009
The much awaited day has finally arrived. After nothing but rain here in New England since May 1st, I can’t wait to get to Kenya and enjoy the warm and sunny weather and, of course, wonderful wildlife. I have read of the drought in Kenya, but I’m hoping I will again see many wonderful animals.
The flight from Boston-Amsterdam-Nairobi was surprisingly full, the economy considered. Upon arrival in Nairobi I went to my hotel and checked in. However, as usual due to time differences and excitement at heading out on safari the next morning, I only slept three hours and then was awake the rest of the night.
On July 30th I flew Air Kenya from Wilson Airport to Amboseli. There were only four passengers on the plane, so, for once, I didn’t’ have to pay extra for excess baggage weight! Cynthia Moss was on the flight, and as she entered the plane she recognized me and said “you aren’t going to like what you see in Amboseli”.
I said, “you mean since Echo’s death?” and she replied “everything is awful due to the drought”. How right she was!! As we circled the airstrip I saw green around the swamp area, but the rest of the park was completely devoid of grass and green. In places the land looked red (like Tsavo) and in others it looked like a beach with the saline soil resembling beach sand. The water levels in the swamps looked much lower than before. On my first game drive at 10:00 a.m. the park was truly devastating. There were many carcasses all over the park, more often than not zebra. I was told the theory behind all the zebra deaths was because zebra eat the very short grasses, they are getting a lot of saline soil with the grass. This causes diarrhea and they die, though they look healthy – not starving. There was only about ¼ of the wildlife that I usually see in Amboseli in the dry season (the rest have left the park).
The Amboseli Elephant Trust scouts were at that time chasing poachers. When they called KWS for assistance they were told that the KWS rangers were too far away (considering one can drive from one end of Ambo to another in less than an hour) one wonders how they could be “too far away”. When I asked whether the poachers caught a few months ago had been sentenced yet the answer was that the poachers were still in jail in Nairobi while the vehicle that had the tusks in it belonging to an MP was still impounded in Oloitokitok. A case as serious and important as that was, and they can’t get their acts together enough to prosecute!!!! To this date, no-one dares utter the name of the MP involved. At the very least he should be charged as an accomplice.
The first day there I paid my respects to Echo, the famous matriarch who died recently. The Trust had seen that Echo’s body had been moved from the area where she died near the road to a place near the acacia trees she loved and had put a small electric fence around her body to keep the hyenas away. I was also unhappy to learn that Odile, a female elephant who had been speared seven times on one of my previous trips, but who had survived for a few years, had again been speared by the Maasai this past spring and died.
Amboseli was very cold this time. I wore long pants and a fleece jacket every time I went on a game drive. Each morning when I left my room I would see a few new carcasses (again mostly zebra). The park looked like a desert. We were lucky enough to see a pride of 8 lions on the Kitirua Road but they were just resting prior to the evening’s hunt. We went to the same area the next morning but only three of the lions were visible. The rest were well hidden. The rest of the week was watching “my elephants” shuffling along pole, pole. No-one had any energy or was doing anything except surviving. In fact I took less than 1 video tape in Amboseli – very unusual for me.
I was told that the elephants from Amboseli who had traveled to the Kimana area were doing much better than those who remained in the park. Apparently they were able to find some food there. I hope and pray that the Maasai living in that area will not spear them. More sad news was that all the 2008 and 2009 elephant babies in Amboseli were dying – and with no food until after they receive rain, it will become even more desperate.
We did see one interesting sight though. I’ve seen many hyenas over the years, but I’ve never seen a hyena “fishing”. On one of our game drives we came upon a hyena standing shoulder deep in the lake. We stopped and watched for awhile.
He would look down below the surface of the water for a minute and then would dive completely under the water. He didn’t come up with anything, but would again begin scanning the water and would again drive. He kept this up for about 10 minutes and I was fortunate to get both still photos and videos of this.
In talking with other people who lived in Amboseli, no-one had never seen anything like this before, so I felt truly fortunate.
Though I enjoyed the week from the standpoint of seeing old friends, I felt it was truly devastating for the wildlife.
I then flew from the airstrip back to Wilson and changed planes. Air Kenya now has a flight to Mombasa, and I managed to catch it. I was met at Moi Airport and driven directly to Satao Camp in Tsavo East. As soon as I checked into my tent I was delighted to see many elephants at the waterhole – and, it was pleasantly warm in Tsavo.
All waterholes, including Aruba Dam, had completely dried up. The only water in the park would be at Voi Lodge, Satao Camp or the Galana River. The hippos that normally live at Aruba Dam are now back sharing the waterhole with the elephants at Satao.
When I arrived in camp there was a young female elephant, about 9 – 12 years old, who had been there for 24 hours – not moving – just standing still very close to the tent area. A veterinary assistant had already looked at her and didn’t recognize her as a former Sheldrick orphan, and since there were no injuries visible to be treated, there was nothing they could do for her. The next morning she was still there but standing near the waterhole in the hot sun – again not moving. I looked up and saw a young matriarch run at the ailing elephant and tusk her in the behind causing her to fall. I started talking with her and saying “come, come, you can do it girl”. Then when she would take a step or two I’d say “good girl!”. Doing this for quite awhile I finally got her under a tree in the shade and away from any other animals that might torment her. At one point I was standing 20 feet away from her (I knew she couldn’t physically charge me, and she showed no nervousness or head shake or ear slap). She continued to hang around for two more days leaving only in the evening and then returning in the morning. The last day we saw her she was finally walking well. We didn’t see her again, and I can only hope she regained enough strength to be able to find some food in the bush. She knows she can always come back to the waterhole for water when she needs it.
The next day the manager asked me to jump in the vehicle with him and a driver. The driver had spotted a dead elephant about a mile away from camp. We drove
as close as we could get without going off road. The dead elephant was a 20 year old and the lions were already feasting.
Saturday we spotted a young orphaned bull elephant in camp, around 3 years old. Tusks were extremely short. It was obvious he was in trouble and starving.
I couldn’t help wondering if the dead 20 year old elephant was his mother. Bobby, the camp manager, tried calling KWS but got no answer. Again on Sunday he called – again no answer. Though this “little bull” was skinny and weak, he was still strong and indeed charged the askari. The veterinarian was contacted but he couldn’t come. Monday, when I saw “little bull” walking to the waterhole I cried my eyes out the entire morning. No-one would help him. After the tears dried I got damn mad. We pay $60.00 a day park fees, and yet when help is needed no-one answer the G-damn phones!!! (Remember, this happened to us in February when the buffalo had two broken legs and KWS never showed up). I thus started noting everything “little bull” did in my journal and taking many pictures and videos of him. It was heartbreaking because he would walk from dung ball to dung ball hoping to find some undigested grass in them. I refused going to meals that day because I was so upset and truthfully so mad I was not fit to be with anyone. The manager sent two askaris begging me to come to dinner, but was so upset I couldn’t eat. I got a limb from the tamarind tree and took it to the askari who was standing about 15 feet from “little bull” to see if he could get the orphan to grab the leaves and eat them, but the little guy charged him and me again!
I know KWS has a rule that people can’t feed wildlife. However, when I think of all the lush green grass in all the country clubs in Kenya and in all the mansions having the lawns mowed regularly, why can’t KWS get a few truck loads of grass brought to places like Voi Lodge and Satao Camp where all the animals go for water, to be used only for those animals who are in risk of starvation? Grass is what they normally eat and wouldn’t be encouraging an animal to eat someone’s garden or tear off bananas from their trees. Something could (? and should?) be done.
I think what tore at my heart most with “little bull” is that everyone – animal and human – hopes that when the time comes for them to die they will be surrounded by loved ones. Little bull was totally alone. He could be at the waterhole with 200 elephants around him, and they were all frightened of him and backed off.
He should have been with his Mama or family and instead was dying by himself.
One might say that is strictly a human feeling, but elephants are family animals and when they are dying family is usually still very close by. This guy was so little he didn’t know what he could eat other than grass – and there was none of it. There were leaves of bushes he could eat – but he was too young to know that.
Tuesday, “little bull” is down but not out. He collapsed during the night and can’t get up, but he is still conscious. His legs and trunk are moving all the time. The manager again calls the veterinarian and tells him “50 people are going up the driveway past the dying baby four times a day taking pictures – please come”. The vet is out of the area that day and can’t come but will come Wednesday morning.
Wednesday – the askari told me “little bull” died during the night. The veterinarian came to camp. He had already checked the carcass of the 20 year old a mile from camp. She had no injuries – the death was drought related. He also checked “little bull”. Again, no injuries – just drought related. He said he would contact KWS to recover the tusks.
We then found out why the veterinarian couldn’t come those four days. KWS had taken him off his usual duties as veterinarian to Amboseli, Chyulu Hills, Tsavo West, Tsavo East and Shimba Hills to instruct census takers!!!!! Imagine that folks, the only man in 22,000 square miles who can help wildlife, and they put him in charge of teaching census takers!!!!!!!
Thursday – KWS comes. They had already recovered the tusks of the 20 year old elephant, and they allowed me to photograph them. Then they went to the “elephant burying ground” under the tree near the waterhole (where another elephant had died several years before – after all, it was the waterhole that drew all the elephants to camp so it was a place they all knew. After the ranger took down information in his book he went and got his assistants who chopped off with an axe the tiny tusks. The camp askarii who accompanied him must have told him how upset Mama was over this baby’s death and cried most of the day.
On his way past my tent he held up a tiny tusk and asked me if I wanted it for a souvenir. I simply said “no thanks, it would be my luck to get arrested at the airport”.
Later in the day the handsome older male giraffe that came to visit me in February returned. It was great seeing him. He stood in front of my tent for quite awhile as I talked with him and took pictures. He finally walked toward center of camp and I thought he would be gone for the day. A short time later I heard a grating noise, and when I looked to the side he had come between my tent and the next and the chewing/grating noises was him was eating the bushes. I got more films of him close up then.
We did see another giraffe with a snare around it’s neck. However, he always came to the waterhole around 5 – 6 p.m. It would have taken the vet an hour to get there from Voi, and the giraffe couldn’t easily be tracked after dark. Therefore, we were hoping he would show up some morning, but that did not happen. Luckily the snare had not yet tightened to the point of obvious injury, so the camp people were going to keep their eyes out for him hoping he would show up early enough for the vet to come.
Due to the elephant deaths, the lions were roaring around camp every night. It is a wonderful, magical sound. The lions, hyenas and jackals were well fed.
Friday I also learned Kenya Airways went on strike. I called Southern Cross Safari Office to see how I am to get from Mombasa to Nairobi. They stated that most flights have been cancelled and many people have been waiting at Moi for over 10 hours hoping for a flight. They tried getting me on Air Kenya or Fly 540 flight Sunday, but they were totally booked. Therefore, they arranged for a private car to pick me up at the Buchuma Gate and drive me directly to Nairobi on Sunday. I then wonder if I will be able to from from JKIA on KLM because Kenya Airways mans the ticketing desks. Will find out when I get to Nairobi.
Saturday several huge black-maned lions were spotted in the park – unusual for Tsavo as most of the lions there are maneless. The lions continued roaring every night close to camp.
Sunday I check out of camp and am driven to the Buchuma Gate where I am met by the Southern Cross Safari driver and van. Two of the camp workers were headed for vacation in Voi, so we drove them to Voi before heading toward Nairobi. The road from Voi to Emali is good – two paved lanes. However, from Sultan Hamud to Nairobi the road is atrocious – dirt, rocks and 6 or 7 dead in the road trucks with no warning signals. I was just glad we were driving it in day time. Imagine at night driving into the back of one of the trucks! It took us eight hours to get from Buchuma Gate to Nairobi!
When I got to Nairobi the SXS airport greeter called me and told me the strike was over, so my plane should be leaving as planned Monday night.
Monday I am driven to the Sheldrick Trust to see the orphans there. The Nairobi orphanage now has 24 orphans – a record (this is in addition to the orphans at Ithumba and Voi). Of course I also checked on Shida and Maxwell, the blind rhino in their stockades. Dame Daphne and her two daughters were away so I missed seeing them this time. Following the visit I went for a quick trip to the Kazuri Bead Factory and then back to the hotel to rest before the evening’s flight.
When I arrived at JKIA in the evening I was met by the SXS greeter and he warned me not to panic. “Last night’s KLM flight didn’t fly, so KLM has put two planes on for tonight and you’ll definitely be flying”. Well, I went through the door to the X-ray machine and it was a MOB! 500 – 600 people wanting to fly out and there was absolutely no organization by airport/airline staff. There should have been one line for last night’s flight, one for tonight’s flight and another for business class/elite passengers. Imagine 500 – 600 people standing in lines for an hour only to be told they were in the wrong line. It was awful folks. Then there were employees who would show up with a late arrival for an earlier flight and would help them jump the line. People weren’t at all happy I’ll tell you.
We finally were able to board our plane but were delayed for another two hours.
After boarding the plane I attempted to lift my photography backpack into the overhead storage. I usually lift it to the top of my head, then stand on my toes and shove it up and in the last several inches. When I did this I pulled the muscles in my right upper arm and it immediately started to throb. I knew I had pulled a muscle and was quite miserable all the way to Amsterdam. I should have had three hours between flights in Amsterdam but had less than an hour. No time running outside for a smoke this time. When boarding the plane for Boston I had to ask for help getting the bag in the overhead. A week later I am still having problems with the darn arm.
This trip was decidedly different from the previous 15 trips because of the devastation of the drought. One can only hope and pray that Kenya will get sufficient rain in the next month or two to save the remaining wildlife (pray for El Nino). If there is no rain until March – May, most of the wildlife, as well as many of the people, will die. Pray for Kenya please.
JANUARY 31 – FEBRUARY 18, 2009
I hesitated as to whether to post a trip report this time as my trips are always very similar since I focus on elephants and stay in the same places trip after trip. However, a couple things happened this time that I feel, sadly, need to be shared. Thus this report.
Due to the poor economy, my flight from
Early the next morning I flew to
The next morning I was sitting on my veranda filming the elephants, zebras, giraffe and buffalo (huge herd of over 350). I looked to my left toward the dry river bank and what do I see but two COWS! They came up over the river bank and proceeded to calmly walk past the waterhole and walked right across the entire camp! KWS was called. It wasn’t until 7 hours later that KWS showed up with the cow’s owner looking for the cows. It turned out that the owner was missing 36 cows in the park – at least the lions would be well fed! Naturally by the time KWS showed up with the owner of the cattle, they were long gone.
Poaching has again become a real problem since CITES decided to allow the sale of ivory to
The veterinarian for Tsavo and Amboseli has been kept very busy helping to rescue orphaned elephants and attempting to treat injured ones.
Tsavo has always had large herds of buffalo, but I’ve never seen them at Satao before. Therefore, it was great seeing them in large numbers coming to the waterhole several times a day. The kongoni had come back (I hadn’t seen any in August) – and this time I was treated to 19 eland at the waterhole (extremely rare for that area of Tsavo). Yes, it was the dry season so water was in short supply, but that has been the case on each of my trips.
Bobby, the host/manager of Satao, knowing how much I hate snakes, had to show me some of his pictures. They had 3 incidences of the Ash cobra in camp last spring. One of the pictures he took showed an Ash cobra that was in the process of swallowing a puff adder. Luckily I saw no snakes in camp this time. Fellow Bushdrummer, Katherine, went out with one of the askaris to hunt for snakes (as she loves them) but only found two old unhatched snake eggs. She really enjoyed her walks around camp seeing all the pug marks, learning about different types of dung, etc. It was great officially meeting her and sharing our love of wildlife. Bobby just emailed me this morning that one of the camp's genet cats was killed by a puff adder yesterday.
On the night of 2-13/early morning 2/14, there was a huge commotion at the waterhole with the elephants trumpeting and making a real ruckus. I didn’t know what was going on, and in the morning I asked the askari what had happened. It turned out that a lioness and two cubs had come to the waterhole for water when about 300 buffalo were there. The buffalo stampeded injuring one of their own old bulls. In the morning we could see that the buffalo bull sustained two broken front legs. We assumed, let Nature take its course, and figured that the lions would get him that Saturday night. However, Sunday morning the poor guy was still suffering – attempting to walk on his hind legs and front elbows. It was very sad. Bobby called KWS wanting them to come and shoot the poor animal and put him out of his misery, but no-one answered the telephone. He called again Monday and no-one showed up. Tuesday KWS said they would send someone out, but no-one showed up. Finally after I got home I got an email that Bobby had finally been able to get the veterinarian who came to dart the bull with an overdose – almost a week from the time of his injury. Not an acceptable reaction from KWS.
I always try to see both sides of a story. I know full well KWS was extremely busy with poaching problems in both Amboseli and Tsavo, having to shoot four problem buffalo bulls causing problems for the people at Taita ranch in which one of the KWS rangers was injured, assisting in rescue of elephant orphans – of which there are now 19 at the Nairobi Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – the most they have ever had. However, KWS should have an “emergency telephone line” that will be answered 24 hours a day/7 days a week where they can assign a ranger to respond to a problem. In Satao’s particular case, it would have needed only one ranger with a gun – the buffalo couldn’t charge because of the broken legs. I have written KWS about my disappointment with the way things were handled and hope that in the future things will improve on that score.
As you all know, tourist numbers are still way down following the clashes of last year. Camps and lodges are really hurting and in many cases have had to lay off some of their employees. Now with the economy so bad everywhere, it certainly hasn’t helped at all. With tourist numbers being fewer, one would expect the level of service to be superior. However, I found it to be just the opposite. I’ve never encountered as many annoying problems in any of my previous 14 trips.
I had problems at my
Are these problems I encountered enough to make me stay away from
Jan's Kenya Trip Report
7-28-08 - 8-18-08
The much awaited day has finally arrived! Last minute packing done, I wait for the Airport Limo driver to pick me up. Then a quick 40 minute drive to Boston, check in and we're off! As usual, the plane was full from Boston to Amsterdam. Two hours between flights and then we're on our way to Nairobi. On both flights the planes were totally full. Thus despite everyone saying business is not yet back to normal in Kenya, there were certainly plenty of people arriving on 7-29-08!
Knowing there is an additional Visa booth down the hallway at JKIA, I rushed toward it. Most people aren't aware of this extra booth and go to the only one visible. Thus I was first in line for the one furthest down the hall from the one most people use. I plunked my $50.00 dollar bill down, gave him my signed visa entry application and waited. Instead of stamping the passport pages, they now have a full page form they fill out, peel off the back protective cover and paste it into the visa. It will use up a passport much quicker this way because this pasted document takes up an entire page. Once the visa process was completed I went to the luggage carousel. It was a little more organized this time and didn't take quite as long for the luggage to come through. I immediately innocently walked past the "nothing to declare" booth and went out the door. My Southern Cross Safaris representatives met me, lead me to the vehicle, allowed me to have a much-needed smoke and then we were off to Holiday Inn. Again due to jet lag I slept from 11 p.m. - 1:30 a.m. and then was awake the rest of the night.
Kenya too has now instituted a no-smoking policy, not only in enclosed rooms/areas but also outdoors. There is no legal place near JKIA one can have a cigarette. Moi Airport is much better with a designated area curbside. Hotels still have rooms you can smoke in. However, many of the out-door lodge bars have instituted a no-smoking policy (doesn’t make sense to me when there is a strong breeze blowing the smoke away). In one place they had smokers sit outside the bar at the fire pit, and the smoke just blew into the bar anyway. Go figure! Anyway, the fine is 50,000 KES or jail, so if you are a smoker beware!
I had an early breakfast and was picked up at 6:15 for the trip to Wilson Airport. Again because my bags were overweight I had to go to the office and pay extra. The Amboseli plane today was an 18 seater, and all seats were filled. The flight lasted about 40 minutes and then we touched down on the airstrip. I was met by Rachel, head of guest relations, and Lemomo, my driver guide from Ol Tukai Lodge. Due to the fact that I was having a lot of pain with my left leg, I decided to forego the 10 a.m. game drive and spent the time getting unpacked and organized for the week. After lunch I started back on my Naprosyn (NSAID) hoping it would knock out the inflammation and relieve the pain. On the afternoon game drive we saw lions lying in the road, lions off the road and some cheetahs relaxing - as well as my favorite elephants. I was also fortunate to see Echo and her famous family, now numbering 35!
The next day on a game drive Lemomo tell me that the lion population in Amboseli is now up to 50!! Great news because we didn't see many in February and I was concerned about it. Then Lemomo gets a cell phone call and hands me the phone. It was Phillip from Southern Cross Safaris in Mombasa telling me they would have to make other arrangements for my charter air flight to Tsavo on 8-6-08. The Southern Cross Safaris charter plane had crashed!! I was extremely concerned about the pilot, Verner, whom I had gotten to know over a few charter flights and was told that he was "recovering". I decided that rather than have them schedule another charter company I didn't know, and didn't know if that company's pilot had ever landed on Satao's grass airstrip, to have SXS send a driver for me again (it had worked well in February).
That afternoon, because the lodge's Nairobi office had overbooked the lodge, I gave up my seat in the Landcruiser to people who had never been there before. However, Rachel insisted I go on a game drive and arranged for the sons of the elephant researchers to take me out. I felt badly about this, feeling sorry for two young men having to take an old lady out -- but we had a wonderful time and I am so glad I went. We were up close watching Echo's family when a young bull elephant of about 10 years old decided to charge us (bluff charge). He ran at us full tilt trumpeting wildly, and then as soon as he got about 10 - 15 feet from us he'd come to a dead stop. We would start off in the vehicle again and he would repeat it over and over - until he got close to his Mama. Then he walked slowly to her side and shut up and behaved himself. It was great fun.
The next day it was very cold, probably about 45 - 50 degrees (colder than I remember in Amboseli in August before). Saw many elephants and so many more hippos this time than before. Before lunch I decide to go to my room and read, but it was so cold in the room that I need a blanket just to keep comfortable - and with the comfort I fell deeply asleep (still had jet lag I guess) and didn't wake until 1:30. Had to rush to lunch that day! A helicopter arrived later in the day dropping off guests for Kibo Village and "parked" very close to the lodge (dangerous). They also did an air game drive in the park scaring many of the animals. I have to remember to write KWS about this. It does not seem right that private planes should be frightening off the wildlife (the animals are used to the larger planes using the airstrip - but they were afraid of the helicopter). Planes with dangerous fuel should only be allowed to "park" at the airstrip and not close to building and lots of people. Guess Kenya doesn't have any hazardous material strictions.
I was fortunate enough to go on a game drive with the elephant researchers and watched while they were doing their elephant family censusing. They know almost every elephant in the park, up to 1,300 now. They check off each elephant there, know who
is missing and record the GPS locations. It is wonderful watching the elephants from the researchers point of view (they are able to drive off-road and get up extremely close to the elephants). The elephants have learned what their vehicle looks like, knows it sound, knows the scent and voices of the people and are completely trusting of them. While with the researchers, we came upon the family of the female that had been speared 7 times several years ago. It was wonderful seeing her. Other than her broken tusks, she looks tremendously healthy. It is a miracle that she survived, particularly the spear wounds in her skull which had been so deep. There are also so many more musth bulls in the park this time. Two years from now there will be a lot more baby elephants!
Again I ran into tourists who don't realize how dangerous these animals can be. One day I showed up for lunch to see Adam, a young bull that hangs around with Echo's family, in full musth, just about 10 feet outside the electric strand fence. Tourists were all running up to the fence to get their pictures. I finally yelled "danger, get back". Adam is normally a fairly placid young bull. But any bull in full musth MIGHT present danger and you don't press your luck with them. People just don't understand that a small strand of electric wire is meaningless if an elephant wants to get you. They could be through that wire and tusk you to the ground in about 5 seconds if they wished to do so. Just a sneeze, cough or sudden movement might provoke an animal who is being crowded by people. I wouldn’t want to see an innocent elephant shot because of a stupid tourist provoking it.
I was told by some experts that the Chinese have already infiltrated the Kimana area telling people they will buy ivory from them for 200Sh. for any pieces they find. When those small pieces of ivory are no longer available, the people will most likely start thinking of poaching. I don't think the Kenyan government has yet caught on to the fact that their relationship with China may well end up devastating their country of its natural resoures and wildlife. So sad.
All in all, Amboseli was wonderful. There were many small herd animals, but not quite as many elephants as I saw in February. It seems many of them are "out of the park", which is worrisome for their safety. I saw far more lions this time than before, not quite as many cheetah, saw a beautiful serval cat nearby, many birds. We also discovered that the hyena dens in the rocks had been taken over by a family of bat-eared fox! Perhaps the best thing this trip is despite not much food and water (except for the swamps) the elephants and rest of the wildlife looked healthy, and I saw no spearing or snaring. Great news!
After a wonderful week in Amboseli it was time to move on for 10 days in Tsavo East. Southern Cross had sent a driver in a Prado to pick me up. I met the driver at 8:40 a.m. The GSU agents were there. One vehicle would be the lead vehicle and one at the end of our caravan. We set off at 9 a.m. Had to stop at the Kimana Gate and check out of the park. Then on through Kimana. The road is even worse than it was in February. The road was washboardy much of the way, but in one place there was a huge 3 - 4 foot deep gully right down the middle of the road for quite a distance. If someone tried driving that at night and didn't know about the gully, they would be doomed! When we stopped at the Shetani Lava Flow to let people get out and walk around, there were several KWS buses filled with kids learning about their country. I'm so glad to see KWS doing this to let Kenyans see the wonders of their country as we tourists do. After existing Tsavo West we stopped in Mtito Andei for fuel and then continued on to Tsavo East. We arrived at Satao about 3 p.m.
It was so wonderful checking into camp and getting to see old friends again. As soon as I got to my tent I knew I'd be in 7th heaven. There were about 200 elephants at the waterhole right in front of my tent!! At the bar that evening prior to dinner one of the chefs had specially prepared my favorite samosas for me. This is going to be a great time! My first night in camp the lions were roaring on all sides. It was wonderful.
The next day there were 300-400 elephants at the waterhole at one time. They came and went all day and night. It is truly fascinating to watch them, their antics, their domestic squabbles between families, etc. I found out that last night a jackal had again taken one of the baby impala. Impalas must be really quite stupid. This has happened over and over again. The jackal will walk right into camp in the evening where the impalas feel they are safely resting for the night. It will lie amongst the impala for a night or two behaving itself. Then the next night when it joins the impala it just grabs one of the babies and runs. The adult impalas have never learned to distrust the jackals and just let it happen! There were also many dwarf mongooses around my tent today, making me worried that perhaps they knew snakes were around (although the manager, Bobby, had assured me the men had found and relocated the snakes before I got there).
Bobby introduced me to a veterinarian that was staying in camp. He is from Holland (WildCare International) and has been working with wildlife under many circumstances - zoos, circuses, with KWS and other wildlife organizations. He has been aware how successful planting chili is in keeping elephants away from crops. However, he also knows of times that KWS is called in because of crop damage. They try scaring elephants away by shooting in the air or throwing thunder flashes at them. Some times it just doesn't work and they are forced to kill an elephant. This was unacceptable to the vet, and he had invented a small plastic pellet filled with capsacin, about the size of a large marble, which he can shoot with a paint ball gun. When he aims the gun at the elephant's chest, the pellet explodes against the skin (not hurting the animal), but letting capsacin escape which wafts into the trunk, mouth and eyes of the elephant - thus causing it to run away. He has been testing this with KWS in Tsavo and thusfar they are excited about the prospect of having this to use instead of shooting and killing a problem elephant. Let us hope and pray that they will accept the use of this new method of getting rid of "problem" elephants in human-wildlife conflict areas.
The Managing Director of Southern Cross Safaris, Torben Rune, and his wife Beth and 10 month old baby Kai were in camp for two days while I was there. It was wonderful seeing them again. Southern Cross owns Satao Camp, Satao Elerai (in Kimana near Amboseli) and Satao Rock (in Taita Ranch). Due to the fact that the people who own the Taita ranch have allowed 20,000 cattle to be grazed in this area, game drives were no longer possible at Satao Rock. Therefore, SXS was closing the camp. It is too bad this happened because it was in a beautiful area with marvelous views of the mountains. Southern Cross is working closely with the Maasai community in the Kimana area trying to acquire land to create corridors for the wildlife. Let us hope and pray this will work!
Tsavo also is in the midst of their dry season. However, one day at lunch time we had a shower followed by tropical gale winds which knocked over a 20 – 25 foot tall acacia near one of the tents. The manager had some of the men chopping off some of the limbs which were preventing the tractor from moving the tree close to the waterhole. As I sat down to my table, about 300 hundred elephants ran in terror at the sound of the pangas chopping.
As many of you may know, Tsavo had an awful problem with poaching in the past. I’m sure many of the older elephants that had been at the waterhole remembered the sound of pangas chopping off the tusks of their family members, and when the pangas chopped the tree limbs, it sounded the same – thus they all ran in fear. Then, as soon as the tractor was able to pull the tree out near the waterhole, they all returned and were fighting for space to grab some of the leave and limbs from the trees to eat. That tree was decimated to a small part of trunk about 3 feet long in about one-half hour! Once that was finished, the young bull elephants enjoyed playing with the remaining trunk for the rest of my stay in camp.
Lions were roaring around camp every night I was at Satao. One morning Bobby told me they had made a kill of one of the zebra during the night. One of the camp drivers took me out to see them. There was one lioness guarding the kill under a bush and another lioness lying under a tree a short distance away with two cubs so I managed to get some pictures of them.
Does anyone know of a good brand of small taper recorder that would pick up the sound of roaring lion? I need to get a new one because mine isn’t sensitive enough to capture the sound.
One day my favorite bull elephant walked right past my tent. I was so happy to see him because I missed him in February. He is a huge bull with “great horns”. He stayed around camp for the rest of my stay enjoying the company of so many other elephants.
Again I couldn’t help but notice the difference between the Amboseli and the Tsavo elephants. The big bulls in Amboseli are mostly seen and travel alone. The babies in Ambo are usually quiet except for a few calf calls. The young bulls in Ambo are play fighting a lot of the time. In Tsavo the big bulls often travel in groups of 7 or 8, often remaining together all day at the waterhole. The Tsavo babies are much more vocal. Only occasionally do you see the Tsavo young bulls play fighting.
Also in Tsavo there are many more “domestic squabbles” between families coming for water. There is a very distinct rank or hierarchy of the female groups. Some times one group will stop for an hour or more waiting to approach the waterhole if another group is there. Some females chase other groups away. It is very interesting to watch. I’ve mentioned this to the Ambo researchers and suggested that at some point they go to Tsavo to see the differences.
I heard the rumor that Tony Fitzjohn, an associate of the late George Adamson’s, who has been a principal in Mkomazi Game Reserve, has been asked to start up George Adamson’s lion project in Kora. Let us hope that this will come to fruition. It is much needed.
Again, it was another wonderful Kenyan trip. The wildlife seems to be faring better than the people now. Between the scarcity of some foods (due to the clashes in January) and the high prices due to the shortage of fuel, it is particularly tough on our African friends.
I can’t decide if what I have suffered from the past two days is jet lag or Africa Withdrawl Syndrome – but I must being coming out of it a bit as I am at the computer actually writing. Since arriving stateside late Wednesday night I have logged on several times with all the good intentions of writing a trip report while it is all so fresh. But the minute I start a report, some good memory floods my mind, my eyes glaze over, my fingers hover over the keyboard and I’m back There again and it is such a lovely place to be – even if only in my mind – I don’t want to break the spell – I step away from the computer again.
I called this trip the “People and Predators” tour. My husband called our “Second Trip of a Lifetime”. It was both.
I will start with the Predators, since most people want to know about the sightings.
Our first encounter with African wildlife began in Maun. There are donkeys everywhere there.
A group stationed themselves on the river road in front of our room at the Maun Lodge, eating the vegetation and occasionally providing us with song ( ? ).
Then it was into the bush. First stop Chitabe Lediba with our guide Newman. A word about Newman – he is my hero. Our first afternoon game drive started out with a couple who were birders – avid birders. Now, I have gained an appreciation of birds in Africa but our goal that afternoon was to have a sundowner at the hippo pool and see the dead giraffe that the crocodiles were slowly eating and pulling into the water. Not that I was all that keen to see and smell the dead giraffe – but this was my predators tour. We didn’t make it to the dead giraffe because after another stop to photograph yet another African dove the starter on the Landie protested and failed. Newman set up sundowners when it appeared there was no quick fix. Did I mention Newman is my hero? He kept working on the vehicle with just the Leatherman tool – a spark flew and the dead starter was resurrected. By then it was too late to see the dead giraffe, so we started back to camp.
Out came the spotlight – “We are looking for the eyes” Newman informed us “don’t look for shapes – look for the eyes” We were getting guiding lessons along with the game drive. Lots of eyes – lots of impala, tseebee, bushbuck. A million stars overhead. We hit a straight stretch on the winding dirt path. Newman gave the Landie a little more gas, going at a good clip, when suddenly he stopped, threw it in reverse, stopped again and peered down to the loose dirt on the side of the road.
“Fresh lion tracks” he said as he pointed to the earth. How did he do that?
With a quick right turn into the bush, we found we were just twenty feet from our first lioness. She posed in majestic glory, then turned to the left and vanished in the bush. With one hand holding the spotlight, the other steering we kept up with her until she settled near the mopane woodland.
Somehow during all of this Newman had radioed the other guides and after we had our chance (never our fill) of admiring the pregnant beauty we left the scene.
Sunday – the morning game drive goal – the dead giraffe and the hippo pool. As we made our way from camp Newman got a call. A male lion was spotted quite a distance from where we were. A vote was taken, we opted for the lion, fur and fangs over dead and smelly any day. The birders might have felt short changed that morning as they received the abbreviated descriptions and names of the same birds we’d seen the day before and when we did stop there was time for only a couple of photos. We found the other vehicles around the male and his mate. The male was magnificent but getting ready for siesta. The female, the same pregnant lady from the night before was still on the move, looking for a quiet corner, which she found in the mopane again.
We headed back to camp, not too disappointed that we didn’t get to see the dead giraffe.
As we got into the vehicle for the afternoon game drive Newman said to us “Okay folks, we didn’t get to see the dead giraffe this morning, so we go there now and we have a beautiful sundowner next to the hippo pool” The best laid plans….
We were waylaid by huge dazzles of zebra, giraffe and so many birds that even our vehicle mates put down their cameras and notebooks for awhile. We cruised by the Gometi channel and began to work our way to the dead giraffe. A pair of black-backed jackals grabbed our attention before darting away. We continued down the road. We came to a large tree and Newman stopped – female leopard!! We watched her glide down the tree, strike a pose and sashay down the road. We followed her for a while then she headed to the thicket, blending in like a fade out shot. One minute she was there, the next, she was gone.
“Sorry folks no time for the dead giraffe now” Newman apologized.
After a quick sundowner on the side of the road we headed toward camp. But Newman wasn’t done with us yet, we followed a pair of porcupines down the road, had a quick glimpse of a spotted genet, bushbabies played peek-a-boo from treetops and we watched the eyes of springhares in the dark do the bouncy bounce along the side of the road. (I can’t figure out if those springhares remind me a Disney Toon or Tim Burton characters).
As Newman dropped us off at camp I said “Newman, you are my hero. Can we find a cheetah tomorrow – you’ve shown us everything else.” “We will see” he replied with a smile.
Monday morning - “Today we will make it to the hippo pool” Newman declared.
“Well finally” I whispered to my husband “All those darn cats have kept us from the dead giraffe for two days”.
Just as we crossed the second bridge out of camp a golden shadow hovered on the edge of the early morning mist. An older lioness emerged. She came up to the vehicle then ambled down the road in the direction of camp.
On with our quest to see the dead giraffe. We were near a pond when Newman stopped suddenly. By now, as you can guess – when Newman stops suddenly it means something really good is about to happen. “”Shh – shh – shh” he warned us – “Cheetah” And there she was – a lone female finishing up her impala breakfast. We spent a half-hour in blessed silence, watching and listening to her eat. Due to a very full belly, she got up slowly, stretched and moved on into the bush. Not to repeat myself but, Newman is my hero.
Then it was on to the dead giraffe. First we had coffee by the hippo pool – it was a lovely spot and I can see why it is on Newman’s break-spot list. Then finally, onto the dead giraffe. Even Newman was surprised to see that the giraffe had been completely pulled into the water by the crocodiles. The sixteen viewable crocs in the water and the two fat bellied boys on the far shore of the pond looked completely sated, so we didn’t witness any feeding frenzies. And thankfully the carcass had just begun to stink.
On the way back to camp we were blessed with another lion sighting. This time, a lioness with two eight-month old cubs rested in the shade, with another lioness keeping watch nearby.
Our final night drive at Chitabe Lediba brought us back to the group by the airstrip. The females and cubs were still on siesta and not far away the handsome male roamed the perimeters of their resting spot.
The next morning game drive on the way to the airstrip – we were given a farewell by a shy male leopard and a troop of baboons that was overloaded with clowish babies.
Duba Plains – Disclaimer here – I quizzed and requizzed the guides to make sure I had the names of the different lion prides correct. I remember that some people wanted to know what the dynamics were as the shift seems to be the Skimmer male expanding his territory and taking over the Tsaro females who used to be aligned with the Duba Boys. I hope I recorded everything correctly.
We arrived at Duba Plains in time for a short siesta and tea before heading out with our guide, Lets for evening drive. It is a little disconcerting when your guide informs you that he is famous in Botswana – for rolling a tractor. We were in a newer vehicle, which we found out later rides a bit lower to the ground than the others, and the flood was coming in, which meant a lot of deep water crossings. This was to be our first private drive. We came to a troop of baboons having dinner in a lily filled pond. Then our first, but not last aardwolf sighting. Our first lion sighting came as the sun was setting – grandmother, mother and daughter from the Tsaro pride were napping next to a termite mound. The radio crackled, another sighting – with cubs! It was quite aways from where we were – Lets demonstrated his driving skills in the rush to get us there before dark. I kept thinking of his claim to fame.
It was well worth the white-knuckle ride. Three Skimmer females and five cubs were ensconced under some trees next to a watery pan. Two young males and three even tinier cubs frolicked while their mothers napped with one eye open to their young. By the time we had soaked up enough of the cubs the sun had gone down – so our sundowner was more like a night-starter.
On the way back to camp, the eerie silver form of a lioness sloshed in the watery reeds next to the Landie.
Wednesday – several sightings of temporarily dead Landies on our morning drive. The flood changes the landscape and waterscape daily. First casualty – Carlton’s vehicle stuck in the soft bottom of a watercrossing – we got to watch the feat of jacking it out of the hole and manuvering out of the water – all guides knee-deep in the water. Second casualty – the radiator hose in our vehicle sprung a leak. Another bush repair committed to video. Then it was off to see the buffalo as they were crossing over. Everyone was excited as this could be the start of some lion/buffalo interaction.
We opted to go on night-drive with another couple with Carlton as our guide. I did better with the deep-water crossings with more people in the vehicle, and the older, taller Landie. Highlights – seeing the Skimmer cubs again. We two women outvoted all the men when they were ready to move on – we couldn’t get enough of their antics. But we did move on and saw another aardwolf and side-striped jackal during our sundowner.
Driving back to camp on Kudu Road (the only road name I learned) the Skimmer male made an appearance – bossing around two Tsaro females. When they left he exerted his dominance with a roar so fierce it reverberated through our bodies. He spotlighted himself in the headlights and let loose.
Thursday – are we a vehicle curse? We started out for another private game drive. We got a call from Rueben that his vehicle was down, in the middle of lion country. We drove to his vehicle and picked up his passengers, our vehicle mates from the night before. We had a glorious morning chasing after the Skimmer male who was actively expanding his territory. He was following a Tsaro female who was hiding her sub-adult daughter from him – a daughter of a Duba Boy. Two females he had impressed and conquered the night before were with him. How thrilling to see a dynamic male as he bounded across the plains. As the morning wore on the big guy decided it was time for a break – he settled beneath a palm tree, his ladies took shade under another and the Tsaro mother rested under a third, keeping an ever watchful eye on the up and coming king.
After coffee and a stretch we started down the road again, only to discover we had a flat tire. This car trouble stuff seems to become a reoccurring theme. By then Rueben had his vehicle fixed and came to our rescue with a good spare as ours was flat.
We didn’t go on the afternoon game drive as my upper back went out in a major way, and though I took out the big guns of pain meds – nothing but a lie-down was going to help. We missed a night spotting of Silver Eye who is obviously pregnant by all accounts.
Friday – We awoke during the night to the violent rustle of the bushes next to our tent. But fell asleep before investigating. My wake up call was the blare of an elephant nearby – I attributed the moving bushes to the ellie. We got an escort to breakfast this morning – reason – lion tracks in camp. Actually on the pathway by our tent, leading out to the bushes. Carlton said that due to the size of the tracks, and them being in camp they reasoned that it was Junior, who along with the remaining Duba Boy, Silver Eye, and the Tsaro female with her cubs have been in hiding.
Buffalo were on the move to cross the channel so we headed out to the other side of the airstrip.
It wasn’t long before we came upon three Tsaro females purposefully striding up the road. They stopped and looked to the left. All of their attention was on what was off the road. When they started down the road again we passed and looked to see a huge herd of buffalo. The stalking had begun.
In the mopane the three took a strategy break – facing the channel now hidden by trees and brush. One came to attention and turned the opposite way – a family of warthogs was scurrying behind our vehicle and made it to a clearing where they froze. One of the cats prowled to the front of the vehicle and used it as cover to peer at the hogs. We held our breath as the other two used the thicket to flank the first cat. The skittish little hogs high tailed it into the brush when they heard a call from the Skimmer male who was following the Tsaro ladies.
We all turned our focus to the channel. When we crested a small mound we faced a sea of buffalo. The three females came out of the bush, watched, separated and began to get closer. They walked through the marsh their footfalls muted by reeds and soggy grass, flying diamonds of water droplets haloing their steps.
As we waiting, a fourth, then fifth lioness appeared. The mother of the female sub-adult was the sixth to arrive, followed by the grand old dame – the grandmother. Seven lionesses waiting and watching as the buffalo began their move across the channel. Two lionesses were missing, Silver Eye and the mother of the Duba Cubs. As the buffalo began crossing the channel, we backtracked to the airstrip, past the staff camp and across the bridge, hoping to meet them on the other side.
Our hopes were high when the radio crackled with news that lion was spotted in camp. The idea was that the lions would use the bridge themselves and we could have front row seats to a show down. But the message was garbled as we were in an area out of range. Finally the message was received by one of the other vehicles – Junior had made his way into the staff camp – no sign of the stalkers working their way across the channel.
Our afternoon drive found us with the buffalo, but no sign of the lions,
Our last morning at Duba – no morning drive – darn back out again. But we got reports from the others that the lions had hooked up with the buffalo and were patiently waiting for their moment.
Having spent a number of nights at Xigera last March – it was a homecoming of sorts. A few of the faces had changed – but we still received a lot of welcoming hugs for those who remembered us. Since Ishmael had retired and Sam had moved to another camp we were assigned to a guide named KD. Turned out he was Ishmael’s cousin and that Ishmael had trained him so we felt like we were in good hands. Our first sundowner was to be mekoro – but having done it once and probably one of the few people who didn’t like it we opted for a game drive. We were alone in the vehicle so moseyed along at a nice pace – the rest up from that morning seemed to help my back.
We saw the usual suspects, zebra, impala, kudu, red lechwe, reed buck and tseebee and got to hear a hyena near the airstrip. KD had seen our sundowner pictures from the year before and took us to a place he said was just a beautiful and he was right.
Sunday – First animal sighting – or hearing was at 2:30am when an elephant herd decided the tree next our tent would make a fine midnight snack. For the first five minutes it was a great adventure. We dozed between nocturnal feedings and the changing of the guard and got up to the hyena’s song at 5:30 thinking our wake up wasn’t that far away, plus we had hot water and the makings for coffee in our tent. Six AM came and went with no wake up and we wondered if we should make our way to the lounge on our own. I stepped out on the deck and heard clapping and loud voices. I returned to the tent –
“Honey” I said, “Breakfast has been delayed due to elephants”
Under the watchful eye of KD, we ended up treading very lightly on the boardwalk as the herd foraged between the tents.
We opted for another game drive with the couple we had met at Duba Plains. It all started tamely enough – sunrise in the bush, photo ops of various antelope species, an old impala carcass hanging from a tree, the leopard’s version of a meat locker. As we were hunting for the hyena den near the airport the call came through “Leopard sighting”. KD radioed back that he would be there in ten minutes. Gone was the leisurely drive as we raced to the site. Every couple of minutes KD would throw back the “You OK?” question and we all replies “Great”. In fact we were whooping it up a bit.
The other vehicles came into view near a small island of brush in the marsh. We could see every person on both vehicles had their cameras focused on something, but we were still too far away to get a good look. We began to slosh across the flooded plain – and got thoroughly and completed stuck in the mud. Here goes that reoccurring theme. Diya who was driving one of the other vehicles filled with travel agents came to fetch us and we left KD knee deep in mire working on getting his vehicle free.
Diya got us an eighth of a mile back towards the leopard sighting spot when splot, we went down.
The jack alone wasn’t going to work with the overloaded vehicle (ten passengers at that time) and it sunk into the mud. Diya radioed the third vehicle, which had disappeared on its merry leopard chase. The two men, my husband and Brad got out of the vehicle to help harvest logs and brush to wedge the jack. ND (the guide in the third vehicle) radioed and Diya said I should answer.
I radioed back “ND help – we’re stuck too”. He heard us and was working his way towards us, he crested a hill of a small island, then we saw him take a hard bounce and vehicle number three was stuck in the mud. The guys kept working on their respective vehicles while the ladies took photos of the event. Xigera mobile radioed that they were on their way, and made stops at each vehicle. By the time they got to our vehicle, the logs, brush and sweat had paid off and we were out of the mud and on an island in time for coffee break. By the time the break and stretch was over, KD had freed his vehicle and came for us, and Xigera mobile had helped ND get the third vehicle free. The two vehicles fill with the travel agents heading south towards camp as they had an early flight out. We rejoined KD and headed north to dry land.
We had barely kicked the mud off the tires when we encountered two leopards lounging on a tree limb with a bird’s eye view of our mudbound dilemma. I like to think that they had been laughing at us the whole time and that might account for how incredibly relaxed they were. Mother and sub-adult son descended the tree and we followed them for a leisurely half-hour as they ambled through the bushes. They stopped in the middle of the road and posed – moseyed on – stopped again to groom each other in a clearing – found another clearing to give us some good cuddle shots.
Then with a flick of their tails they did the disappearing act into the thick bush.
We ended our last day in the bush with a private boat cruise on the Boro River. No game, a few birds, lots of tall reeds, papyrus, bullrush, peace, the breeze in our faces. Stopping the motor and allowing the flood currents to take us wherever. A perfect ending to our time in the bush.
JAN'S KENYA TRIP REPORT
2-2-08 – 2-21-08
After booking my trip to Kenya, my 13th since 2001, I had real misgivings due to the strife in the country following the much disputed elections. Even my family were questioning whether or not I should go, putting myself in harms way. After many emails between safari company within Kenya, friends who work in the lodges and camps, wildlife authorities (one even promising that if anything broke out within the parks/reserves I would personally have an armed escort out) I decided to proceed with my plans. I did for the first time, however, register with the U.S. Embassy in Kenya so they would know where I was in the country “just in case”. It turned out that all the worry and concern was for nothing. Unless one is preparing to go to the western province or one of the slum areas, travel is perfectly safe.
I would suggest for anyone now interested in going to Kenya, please use a Kenyan tour operator. They know precisely what is going on in the country and where the trouble spots are. If you deal with them you are almost 100% going to be safe. I have personally used Southern Cross Safaris for all my 13 trips and I have always found them to be excellent in their handling of tourists (www.southerncrosssafaris.com). There are many other local Kenyan operators also that you could use. It is far better doing it this way than using a tour operator in your home country that isn’t up to date on what is happening.
I left Logan airport in Boston on Saturday, February 2nd. I had a three hour layover in Amsterdam. When I got on the plane in Amsterdam for Nairobi I was a little frightened. I had just put my camera backpack in the overhead bin when a man ran running and screaming into the back entrance of the plane followed by five men grabbing at him. My first thought was an attempted highjacking and I immediately moved out of the aisle and got in my seat. The stewardess must have seen the shock on my face and came to me and explained not to be concerned. The screaming man was being deported, something KLM apparently did regularly. She assured me that once the plane took off he would quiet down – he was screaming because he didn’t want to go back to Kenya. We never learned what his offence was, but the stewardess was indeed right, as soon as the plane took off he was quiet. Whenever he needed to use the men’s room, two guards escorted him and waited outside the door until he came out and escorted him to the back row.
Incidentally, Schiphol airport is now totally non-smoking. They wouldn’t even let me go outside for a cigarette between flights! By July 1 everything will be no public smoking, including all hotel rooms, bars, restaurants, etc. Thus by the time I arrived in Nairobi I was ready to kill anyone getting in my way of getting off the plane, getting visa and luggage. The Southern Cross Safaris airport representative, Benson Maluki, met me at the luggage carousel and walked me past Customs and let me light up as soon as we got out of the building.
The ride to the Holiday Inn was the quickest I have ever traveled. There were very few vehicles on the road and no-one walking. Due to the clashes people are apparently trying to be home and off the streets after dark. I checked in and was presented with an empty box (as I requested). I have a friend who is a lion researcher in Samburu, and she had asked me if I would transport three Nikon binoculars and several headlamps and batteries for her that she ordered through Amazon.com. When I got to my room I placed her articles in the box, labeled the box to be left with the hotel manager who knows her family very well. I was flying out to Amboseli leaving the hotel at 6 a.m. and her family would pick the box up around 9 a.m.
I got to Wilson Airport about 6:45 a.m. I was the first there. They immediately recognized me as the lady whose luggage is always overweight and who they make extra money from for being over weight. However, this time since tourism was way down and since I was the only one flying to Amboseli they did not charge me extra.
On take-off from Nairobi I noticed many new buildings that have gone up since my August trip that look like 3 – 4 story housing. It was an extremely cloudy day so I didn’t see much down below until we touched down on the Amboseli airstrip. I got the feeling that the flight was a training flight. We had a male and female pilot. My gut reaction was that he was training her. She flew most of the way, but when we landed on one wheel he immediately took control and all was well.
I was met at the airstrip by Lemomo (my usual guide) and the lodge secretary. Usually my friend Rachel, the head of guest relations meets me. I learned that her father-in-law had died that weekend and she was off for the funeral that day. We headed for Ol Tukai Lodge where I was greeted by many old friends and checked into my preferred room (an elephant view room overlooking Longinye Swamp where you can watch elephants and other wildlife all day long).
On my first game drive after arrival I found many elephants (about 300 currently in the park) but much fewer zebra, wildebeest, gazelles, giraffe) than before. We noted a small abandoned baby hippo all alone. He has been on his own for awhile and seems to be surviving. His back left leg has a deformity, ? question fracture, ? genetic problem, but manages to walk where ever he wants to go. That week we saw cheetah on quite a few occasions as well as a serval cat. On one of the game drives we could see rain coming. Since the Landcruiser has canvas sides with zip-up windows, Lemomo got out and zipped the windows, then it started to POUR! Wouldn’t you know it, on the ride back to the lodge we came upon a group of lions relaxing in the rain. I did not dare suggest Lemomo get out and unzip the window, but he did manage to unzip one little corner so I could stick the camera out and get a few shots. Due to the rain, within about two – three days areas that had been brown then greened up quickly. It is amazing to me to see how quickly this happens in Africa. If grass at home dries up and browns, it takes days of heavy watering before it greens up.
On one game drive we could see the elephant research vehicles along with the veterinarian’s vehicle. They were off-road between two swamps, and we could not follow. Lemomo asked his sister, who is one of Cynthia Moss’s researchers, what had happened. He was told a 13 year old bull elephant from the IB family had been speared in December. Since Dr. Ndeerah (the usual vet) was on holiday that month a veterinarian from Nairobi had been called in. He had treated the bull twice but the leg was still badly infected. Thus Dr. Ndeerah was called and darted the bull (for the third time) and spent a long time cleaning out the wound, giving the antidote and watching the young elephant run off. The researchers were hopeful that since this treatment was more thorough than the previous two, that the infection and the antibiotics given, would cure the elephant.
Ol Tukai Lodge was as great as ever. The management wanted to completely re-do the rooms and the employees had already re-done two rooms including new baths with granite counters. However, the management didn’t feel it was quite what they were looking for. The week I spent there they had designers all over the place who would prepare a presentation for redecoration. Once the plan is agreed upon, they hope to have all the rooms redecorated within the next few months. Thus I will be excited to return again in August and see what they have decided upon for design and accomplished.
Many of the usual employees I know were not present during my visit. What many of the lodges/camps have done is insist employees use their vacation time (paid). Since there are far fewer tourists a large number of employees are currently not needed. I was assured these people were not “laid-off” with no pay but were indeed getting vacation pay.
Another decision made, which was probably a good one, is that right after the clashes started employees were told not to talk politics. About half the employees were Kibaki backers and half for Odinga. Many tribes are represented in this group of employees and they have always gotten along very well. Management didn’t want politics to affect the lodge family and it has worked. They are all still getting along very well, not letting tribal differences interfere in their lives.
Almost all lodges/camps have instituted changes in the generator schedules. At Ol Tukai the power was off all day long, coming on around 6 p.m. and going off around 11 p.m. The only thing that one needs to consider is getting camera batteries charged at the appropriate times. It did also affect laundry. Normally when my laundry was picked up in the morning I would have it back the same afternoon/evening. However, since the laundry could be done only at night, it delayed getting the clean, pressed clothes back to the following afternoon.
Sunday, the day before I was leaving Amboseli, I made the mistake of “pigging out”. The chef, knowing I loved shredded carrot salad with pineapple and also red cabbage slaw, made me a huge containing both salads. I also had a pork chop, two small potatoes, and a scoop of fresh garden spinach. That afternoon my stomach was as hard as a rock and I was very uncomfortable. Then during the night I awoke with vomiting and diarrhea (something I had never had before). In the past I had flown by charter flight from Amboseli to Tsavo. However, the plane was grounded awaiting for a part. Knowing I had a seven hour drive ahead of me in the morning from Amboseli to Tsavo East, I took an Imodium and hoped. However, by the morning I knew I couldn’t make the drive that day. I stayed in my room just not feeling well at all. Rachel visited me on numerous occasions and had the lodge nurse come and see me. He brought me Buscopan (an antispasmodic) and Diadis if I needed it for diarrhea. As the day went on I felt a little better but was still so bloated I looked seven months pregnant! That evening the nurse came again. I had more attention given me by Rachel and Samuel (the nurse) then I could ever have gotten in a clinic here. I was deeply grateful to both of them.
The next morning I met my Southern Cross Safaris driver, Shiyuka and we started for Tsavo East. When I had flown to Tsavo before I was busy taking pictures of the mountains and craters and had never been through Tsavo West before so this was a new experience for me. We were stopped before entering Tsavo West to pick up a General Services Unit escort (armed). While waiting for him to join us we had the usual dozens of Maasai at the vehicle window trying to sell bracelets, carved items, canes, etc. On our way again I noted that the bush was much thicker and we saw very few animals along the way. I had never seen the Shetani Lava Flow before, so we stopped for 10 minutes while Shiyuka explained it to me.
A little further along the road we saw a vehicle across the road, and my first thought was it was a hold-up/robbery. Then as we got closer it turned out to be a Sheldrick Wildlife Trust bus filled with young school children with the driver/guide pointing things out to them.
While on the subject of Sheldrick Wildife Trust I must honestly state that I feel that this is the best wildlife organization going. Not only does the Trust raise the orphaned elephants and rhinos, but they have seven desnaring teams that walk the boundaries of the park collecting snares and arresting those setting them, they have the veterinary team for Amboseli-Tsavo and another vet. team caring for the wildlife in the Mara/ Rift Valley. They work closely with schools explaining wildlife conservation, have donated huge sums of money donated to them to Kenya Wildlife Service for fuel for vehicles, parts for the anti-poaching airplane, have installed fencing in areas of high human-
Wildlife conflict, and installed windmills in Tsavo to draw water for the wildlife. I would encourage any and all of you to help them out by adopting an orphan ($50.00 a year) or contributing to the veterinary or desnaring teams. Your money will be well spent. It can be done safely using a credit card online. Since tourism is down, their income is also down but their costs remain high (they have to fly in the milk substitute for the orphans from England as well as hire charter planes for rescue) as well as all their other expenses including veterinary care.
We exited Tsavo West at the Mtito Andei Gate and then proceeded along good highway from there to Voi where we entered Tsavo East National Park. From Voi to Satao Camp we saw many elephants along the way. I was welcomed by many of my Satao friends and immediately made to feel right at home. They had saved my favorite tent, Kocha, for me and I immediately started watching the wildlife at the waterhole. I had forgotten the difference in temperature between Amboseli and Tsavo and it was a bit of shock to the system which necessitated a quick, cool shower.
There were not nearly as many elephants at the waterhole as I had seen in August, partly because there were still puddles of water in the roads from previous rains, and the elephants could get water there (they save the waterholes for when there is no water available anywhere else).
Due to decreased tourist numbers, many of the lodges and camps had instituted a power-saving (money-saving for the camp owners) order of limited generator use. At Ol Tukai the generators were off all day long and came on at 6 p.m. and went off around midnight. At Satao the generators were on from 11 a.m. until about 3 p.m. and then on from 6:30 – 11 p.m. In the past the waterhole had been lit all night long which was great. When one heard animals during the night you just had to sit up in bed and look at the waterhole and know what was going on. However, with the flood lights off now it did diminish the safari experience for me personally. Where I am in a room/tent alone, and since I had been robbed on a previous trip, I sleep lightly, and if I hear a noise I am awake quickly and want to be able to see what is around. Thus if lighting at night is important to you, check with your tour operator before you leave to see what the lighting/generator rules are now.
During the night I heard the hippos grunting at the waterhole. I mentioned it to the manager in the morning and he said they had left. Satao shares the hippos from Aruba Dam. When the water level in Aruba gets very low, the hippos come and stay at the Satao waterhole. Apparently what had happened is that the 4 year old male hippo had come to the waterhole on his own without his family. During the night his family had arrived and convinced him to move elsewhere, so that by the time I got up they had all disappeared.
At breakfast Bobby, the manager, asked me if I had been awakened by all the commotion near the restaurant during the night (I hadn’t as my tent is quite a distance away). Apparently between 11 p.m. and midnight a leopard had walked into camp and grabbed one of the impala right behind one of the tents. (Satao now has a resident herd of almost 100 impala and 40 waterbuck. They are all out in the bush during the day, but as evening approaches they all come into the center of camp). Thus Bobby and I followed the drag marks of the kill to a tree at least 200 yards from camp where the leopard had hidden the carcass. Though we know the big cats are strong, I wouldn’t have believed the leopard could have dragged a 100 pound animal for that distance and then managed to put it up high in a tree.
After returning to my tent, a herd of 20 old male buffalos arrived for their daily water followed by a large family of elephants and their babies. In the past there had only been 3 or 4 buffalo there. It was a 2-shower afternoon this day. Temperature was well over 100 degrees!
Another interesting event I watched on a few occasions was the way the jackals make friends with the impala families. The impalas would be lying down for the night and the jackals would be in amongst them. The impalas got so used to the jackals being there that they didn’t see them as a threat. Then on two occasions the jackals just grabbed one of the newborn impalas and ran off with them to have their feast. One would think that the impalas would learn and become leery of jackals, but they don’t.
I went to the dining room at supper time, though I am still not feeling like eating. I had a Coke and sat and talked with friends when it started to pour. Not the typical Tsavo 5 minute shower. Thunder and lighting, unusual for February in Tsavo. I knew I wouldn’t see many animals the next day as there would be water everywhere. Indeed, the next day only bull elephants were at the waterhole along with zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, impala, kongoni, wart hogs, etc. As I was enjoying watching the bulls, one of them walked right up towards my tent looking at me the whole time. I asked an askari if he was close enough that I needed to go inside the tent, but he reassured me that the bull had no bad intentions and that everything was OK. It made me wonder if this could have been one of the former Sheldrick orphans because he didn’t seem at all uncomfortable in the presence of people.
I noticed several differences in the elephants in Amboseli and Tsavo, and I’m not quite sure of the reasons for it. I’ll try to get an answer from one of the experts. In Amboseli the young, usually male, elephants are always sparring with one another. In Tsavo you rarely see it. In Amboseli the older bulls are usually off by themselves, joining the female groups when in musth for breeding purposes. In Tsavo you will often see a group of 7 – 8 bulls always traveling together, not off on their own. Also, on all my previous trips to Satao the big bull elephants would spend their entire day lying in the waterhole and only get out to feed at night. This time, despite it being very hot, the bulls never went into the waterhole – only drank from it. Interesting.
At dinner time my stomach still wasn’t right and I didn’t feel like eating. The bartender suggested Angostoura bitters which I had never heard of. I tried it and it amazingly did help a little bit. Thus I will keep that in mind should I ever have a stomach problem again.
While in Amboseli there were very few tourists with the lodge only about half-full. At Satao with only 20 tents they were almost full every night. It was school vacation and a lot of families from Mombasa brought their kids out for a day in the bush. Because there were so many young children in camp, Bobby decided to leave the generator on all night meaning the waterhole was again lit at night (Yeah).
Finally on Saturday, almost a week since the tummy upset, I felt like eating and started enjoying the wonderful Kenyan food again. This was an unusual event and I won’t let it stop me from enjoying the great cuisine.
The next morning a large matriarchal herd of elephants arrived at the waterhole and had their fill of water. They started to leave and came to a dead stop beside my tent. They stayed for an entire hour and I was able to get some good video and pictures of them. I am convinced that elephants remember people, voices and smells. I always talk to the elephants as they pass next to my tent. I am convinced that this family remembered my voice, knew that I was no threat and stayed close by.
This day I saw a young male elephant I had originally seen back around 2003. There were two bulls in 2003 I had seen at a waterhole in the Ndara Plains, both badly crippled, the older one with an old fracture of his right leg around the ankle area and
a younger one, about 12 years old with a totally stiff right knee. I was told by Simon Trevor, a wildife photographer who lives in Tsavo that both the elephants had been hit by the Nairobi-Mombasa train. I saw the older one at Satao last year so I knew he was still alive but I hadn’t seen the younger one. Today the younger one showed up beside my tent. Thus despite their severe injuries, they have survived and are doing well. Both realize their weaknesses. They always give way when they see other elephants approaching so as not to be jostled or knocked off balance, but they have been able to travel about 20 miles, eat and drink and it was so good seeing them. One wonders about the amount of pain they might be having, but one has to remember that animals feel pain differently than we humans. ( A dog of mine had a mastectomy and hysterectomy and the next day was up and running around like she had never had surgery). I would surmise there is arthritic like pain for these elephants, but still they seem to be doing well.
This is the first time on safari that I began to feel resentment of policies. We all know that tourists are charged a higher rate than the residents/citizens in both park fees and lodge/camp rates. This had never bothered me until now. However, the past two weeks I’ve seen so many WEALTHY Kenyan families showing up in parks and lodges paying a heck of a lot less than I and I felt it unfair. As tourists we hope our higher park fees and lodge/camp rates will allow poor families to see what we see when we see their beautiful country and wildlife, and learn to appreciate it as we do. However, when you see family after family pulling up in their LandRovers, with several nannies, drivers, etc. it makes me think we are being played for fools. I have mentioned this to KWS and to lodge/camp owners, but there is really no politically correct way for them to distinguish which citizens can afford to pay full rates. It was because of the political turmoil that occurred and the tourist agencies trying to promote local tourism that this was so very obvious this time. I don’t like feeling this way, but it did happen. No easy answers.
Sunday evening after 6 p.m. when the reception had closed for the night (people aren’t supposed to be driving in the park after dark), tooting and honking occurred from the car park. A group of six (three couples) who work in the port in Mombasa arrived drunk as skunks. Sorry Nico, but they were all Italian. They sat on their verandas talking loudly. When one of the askaris was chasing a big male baboon away from camp the men were yelling at him (not a good sign). These folks somehow managed to stagger to the dining room at dinner time thoroughly wasted. There wasn’t much the manager could do – he couldn’t send them away from camp (driving at night is illegal in parks plus they were so drunk they might have killed wildlife along the way). After dinner Bobby and I sat around the campfire talking of events we had seen that day. One of the men approached me and Bobby just pulled me up and insisted walking me to my tent and had the askaris walk the drunks to their tents (adjacent to mine). The next morning they were sobered up and quiet. As the day went on they started drinking again, and again became obnoxious. They were yelling at and teasing another large male baboon standing just below their veranda. When the baboon jumped onto the veranda railing they all jumped back and threw things at the baboon (even though they had provoked him). I used by walkie-talkie to call the askari and he read the riot rules to them. As they left camp they emptied the contents of all their bottles they brought with them onto the African bush.
The day before I left Satao a large wedding party arrived. The couple were from England and had brought many of their friends with them. They were staying at Satao for two nights and then the wedding would be performed at Satao Rock. Once the wedding was over at the Rock, the Rock would be closed until July 1st. Since tourist numbers were down so much, Southern Cross Safaris would keep only two of their three camps open – Satao and Elerai. Also adding to this is the fact that there were over 20,000 cattle in Taita Ranch, so game drives at the Rock weren’t possible now. Hopefully in July, August and September tourists will feel safe coming back to Kenya and camps/lodges will again be at their normal capacity.
Since the charter plane was still grounded, they sent a private vehicle to drive me from Satao to Moi Airport. On the way out of Tsavo we saw many, many elephant families enjoying the grass and water in many waterholes. The road from Buchuma Gate to Mombasa has now been completed (about time!) and is great. I now wouldn’t hesitate to drive rather than fly.
On my last day in Kenya I made my usual trip to see the Sheldrick elephant and rhino orphans. All were fat and happy and doing well, and it was so good to see and talk with Dame Daphne and her daughter Angela. Before I left home for Kenya Angela had asked if I would be able to bring some adoption brochures back to the U.S. with me. I heartily agreed to do so. When I was at Sheldrick Trust they showed me the brochures and my heart sank. It was a full carton of adoption certificates and pictures, which I knew I couldn’t fit into my duffel. However, they had a spare duffel and we fit them all into the borrowed duffel and I guaranteed they would get to the U.S. (for a fund raiser in the state of Washington). I then went to Kazuri Bead Factory and picked up some beautiful necklaces to give to the ladies who covered for me at work while I was away.
Upon my return to my hotel my friend Shivani Bhalla, the Samburu lion researcher, was waiting for me. We had a lovely lunch together and she brought me up to date on her work. She told me of a new lodge, Sasaabe, just outside Samburu, which she said is beautiful. She said there is a difference between the lions in Samburu and those outside. The Samburu lions are much easier to find (not as much bush) and are habituated to people/vehicles. It is much harder finding them outside Samburu due to thicker bush and fear of people. You can keep up to date on Shivani’s work by going to
www.ewasolions.org. Shivani is trying to find out what effect, if any, the lions have on the decline of the Grevy zebra. Thus she is collecting lion feces, drying it out in her tent, and then searching for Grevy zebra hairs in the dung. You can read of a close encounter she had at http://www.ewasolions.org/diary.php?hash=35ba54939852b66d72dad9206b192785&mnid=13&page=
It was wonderful having the opportunity of seeing this lovely young lady again and following up with her studies and work.
Alas, that evening it was time to leave Kenya. On showing up at JKIA I checked in and went to the area where smoking was allowed. Guess what? They now have a no smoking policy. Thus I exited the building and hid in the back of a parking lot to have my last smoke before Amsterdam. Upon arrival in Amsterdam, with an eight hour layover, I decided to get a hotel room where I could relax and have a smoke if I wished. I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott which was very nice. I was told by reception there that all of Amsterdam including restaurants, hotels, everything will be non-smoking starting July 1, this despite the fact that 60% of these people are smokers. He said it will be interesting because the no smoking rule goes against another law there of not discriminating. Thus they are breaking their own law of discrimination in their creating the non-smoking law.
Before I had left for Kenya I had read of empty planes flying to and from Nairobi. However, I must state that on every single flight to and from Kenya the flights were totally full (with the exception of my flight to Amboseli in which I was the only passenger). The trip from Amsterdam to Boston was likewise full. We circled the airport for a long time. The pilot then came on the intercom and announced that due to a snow storm we might have to land in Syracuse, New York (a 7 hour drive away). Luckily they managed to plow the snow from one runway and we were able to land safely.
Home at last,, but already wishing I were back in Kenya.
After an uneventful flight from Kariba our little plane was met at the airstrip & we were soon heading for Vundu Tented Camp on the Zambezi shore, Benson, forever vigil, soon had us in the company of a Nyala & calf. This shy antelope soon disappeared into the bush.
We were met at the camp with cold drinks & a refreshing towel. The two guests already at the camp would ship out the following morning leaving us as the only occupants. We were shown the facilities by Fiona & instructed on the use of the whistle in the tent. See “Something big & Unpleasant” under “Jokes Related to Africa”.
Vundu camp is nestled in a grove of trees on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. The five double walk-in tents have en-suite facilities, flush toilets and traditional bucket showers. The dining room is on a patch of sand under the spreading branches of a tamarind tree, just a few feet away from the river.
Yet again the food & hospitality was fantastic, we wanted for nothing.
On our evening game drive we met our first Eland of the trip & as with Eland everywhere they soon set off at a trot away from us. We have never ever been able to take a good photograph of Eland the largest of the African antelopes but one of the shyest! They always set off at a steady trot with dewlaps swinging long before we get close!
Again our first drive in a new area was for Benson to read spore & discuss the areas news with whoever we met! The main reason for visiting Mana Pools was to see & photograph Painted Dog (African Hunting Dogs) we encountered a young Leopard as we returned to camp.
Over the Bushdrums we learned that a known den of a pack with five pups had been raided by Hyena & the new den site of the dogs was unknown. Over the next couple of days we set out by vehicle & on foot to find them & to see how many pups had survived the attack!
Benson had, unbeknown to us, spotted fresh activity at Aardvark holes as we had come into land & we set out on foot to take a look.
He found plenty of dog spore but a day or so old, they had been checking out the area & holes, with some minor excavations, for a new den site. But, alas, we found no dogs.
The day before we arrived there had been heavy rain, which had dispersed the animals away from the river for food now that the water holes would be full but the promised rains had not yet arrived & they were soon returning to the river area for water. We did notice that the dry sand over the three days took on a green hue as grasses sprouted due to the shower of rain!
There was plenty of bird life to console us for our lack of hunting dog.
We also encountered the most laid back bull elephant ever! He had found a fallen tree & the pleasure he was getting just chewing on sticks was evident from his expression. If this had been the sixties I bet he would have had flowers in his hair & used words like "Yea Man! Cool!" & "Just chill out man!" A hippie Elle!
In our quest for the dogs baboon alarm calls were heard, nothing spotted through the bino’s so we set out on foot to investigate…..Oooops!....Nearly walked into lions laying in a gully about 20 meters in front of us, taking refuge behind a termite mound they totally ignored us.
This was our last day.
During the afternoon siesta, I watched Benson & Rick, camp manager, fishing for Zambezi tiger fish. The national sport of Zimbabwe!
Kath had found a book with a picture of wild dogs, we photographed it & showing them the screen on the camera we nearly convinced them that hunting dog had been at the camp while they were fishing!
The staff had brought the tea & muffins to the fire area for our tea before setting out for our last game drive, I was sat waiting for Benson & Kath when there was a commotion behind me, a large bull elephant had crept up behind me & shook his head to indicate his displeasure of me being there. Slowly I retreated to allow him right of way.
Who was I to argue?
Rick by now had joined me as the bull stepped into the clearing, we thought we had said goodbye to the muffins but no he stood for a while then walked past the chairs down to the river bank stopping to feed on the trees before disappearing into the bush.
He disturbed not a single item as he deftly negotiated the chairs in his passing!
Tomorrow we would fly out to Vic Falls, Johannesburg & home. Yet again hunting dogs had eluded us.
That night in camp it was discussed “Game drive out in the hope of finding them or one last quick try?” We decided that at first light we would have a quick last try in a different area but we would have to be back in camp early to ship out to the air strip.
Dawn was just a light on the horizon as we left camp, heading north out of the protected area. Upon reaching the hunting conservancy we turned back.
Oh well! Next trip!
A herd of Impala was spotted running in the distance, we stopped, eyes straining, binoculars scanning!
Then a growl or a rustle in the dry scrub!
They were there!
Hunting Dog with a kill!
The light was still poor & the carcass was soon stripped of flesh, the dogs spooked on the arrival of a lone hyena but were soon back feasting until, with bloated bellies, as one, they left the scene at a fast trot! The speed at which they covered the ground was amazing. We followed but lost them a few times in the bush until finally we left them as they returned to their new den somewhere ahead of them & we for a hurried breakfast back at camp before our trip out.
Alas there were now only three pups we assume two had been taken in the hyena attack on the old den.
On our return to camp I had my earliest celebratory beer of the trip at 0645 in the morning, a habit I had acquired from South Africa. Celebrate a good sighting with a beer! At any time of day!
After a two hour flight we sadly bade our farewells to Benson at Victoria Falls airport, a couple of hours wait at Johannesburg airport then home to the UK.
Unfortunately we discovered our luggage had been tampered with & equipment stolen! A week or so later we learnt that arrests had been made for baggage thefts at Jo’burg airport.
Unfortunately Virgin Atlantic refused our claim, “Not their responsibility! Read the small print!”
Two camcorders were stolen, one was old & faulty, the other new, they were in a special carrier disguised in a padlocked rucksack, we can only assume the cams were spotted & selected as they were X-rayed. Our insurance did not reimburse us the full amount even though we only claimed for the good camcorder.
Except for the theft, an excellent trip arranged by Ngoko Safaris. Our thanks to Fiona for her organization & to Benson for his skills & friendship.
All photo’s were taken by "Bridge cameras" that cost less than £300, some editing with Video Studio or Elements 5. The Hunting Dog photographs at the kill have been enhanced because of the poor early morning light.For further photos and full size images, please visit the photo gallery.
It was rather cramped in our little four seater aircraft for the flight from Hawange to Kariba a flight of just over an hour, we encountered some buffeting as we crossed the Zambezi rift, thank you BA for the little emergency bags we carry for my wife in situations like this!
From three thousand feet the landscape bore the marks of its formation all those years ago with the large lava flow ridges clearly visible.
We were met at the grass strip by Jenny, proprietor Rhino Island Camp & with our bags safely stowed we set out for the camp 45 minutes away by boat.
Rhino Island Safari Camp is set on a peninsular at the mouth of the Ume River on the shores of Lake Kariba, Matusadona National Park. The camp enjoys stunning views of the nearby Matusadona mountains and the Lake.
This rustic camp accommodates a maximum of twelve guests in six twin bedded rooms on stilts overlooking the lake. The rooms are built of wood with thatched roofs, reed half-walls and roll down reed mat blinds at the front. Each room is en suite with an open air shower, flush toilet and hand basin. The rooms are situated discreetly along the shoreline and offer magnificent views of the lake.
The main boma comprises an elevated wood and thatch dining, lounge and bar area and is the place to meet, eat and relax.
Shower an excellent light lunch & out for a game drive….Well nearly!
There was a herd of elephants feeding along the lake shore, so instead of heading out into the bush we decided to take a closer look as there were a number of youngsters. We got stuck in soft sand & while the staff from the camp recovered the Land Rover we sat & watched, kicking at tuffs of grass to loosen them, pulling them out with their trunk then swishing them to & fro across a foot to remove any traces of sand before passing them to their mouth.
With the Land Rover now free, we set out into the bush, Benson checking for spore & a short reconnoiter of the area to head us in the right direction the following morning. We returned to camp for sundowners & an excellent dinner.
There may be shortages in Zimbabwe but what they have they made the most of it. The food & hospitality at all the camps we stayed was exceptional, if you have a sweet tooth wait till you try the cakes & biscuits made in camp!
All drinks on our trip were included in the price & each menu was announced at the table by the staff. All officials we met, police, immigration & rangers were also extremely friendly & helpful.
We were roused from our sleep by the rhythmical beating of drums!
All activities at Rhino Island camp are announced by drums played from the main boma. The drums this time were our early morning call!
Coffee & toast, we were away before the sun was up. As this was Rhino country.
Yup! You got it our first encounter was elephant! A large bull grazing blocking the track & in no hurry to move! So we sat & enjoyed his company. Finally & without hurry he decided to move off into the bush for better offerings passing within arms length as he passed us.
Benson, forever vigil found lion spore & rhino spore. We found lion! A lone female, but due to lack of habituation we were unable to get close, at about 300 meters she vanished into the bush. We had seen the rest of the pride at a distance earlier, water buck & impala watched them as they returned from the lake in the early light.
We left the vehicle & set out on foot in the hope of finding recent rhino spore, there was a small watering hole in the hills where it was hoped we would find fresh tracks.
Matusadona because of the escarpment & the lake is very isolated & black rhino have been relocated there to reduce the poaching also captive bred rhino have been released there.
A boma is built for night protection & the rhino with an attendant spend time until the animal knows the area until one morning it wakes to find the human has gone. A very traumatic time for both!
Any tracks we found were a day or so old but we did enjoy the spectacle of a sea eagle with a guinea fowl, struggling due to the weight of its quarry.
We spent the day following old spore with no sighting or fresh sign of rhino.
Woken again by the drums we set out the next morning with high hopes yet again we tracked old spore by foot to no avail.
The sun was high & the day hot. On our journey back to camp it was decided to check out 3 baobab trees that stood on the high ground & were the only shade for miles.
There were signs of a male rhino in the vicinity. With in the hour of walking we found a fresh midden & with Benson following the spore we trekked nearer to the trees. Following hand signals we stopped near each tree while Benson went ahead alone to check. In the shade of each tree were elephants dozing, some with young stretched out fast asleep. We found a fresh midden & tracks but because of the elephants we had to circle the high ground in the hope that we could pick up his trail on the other side.
Unfortunately after circling the area no further tracks were found, it was assumed he was dozing in the shade with elephants.
Back to the Land Rover, our clothes soaked with sweat, unload our empty water bottles & back to camp for a beer, shower, another beer & lunch. Hmmm! That cold beer was going to be good!
Huh! Forget the beer!
As we dropped down to cross the isthmus that linked the island to the mainland on the edge of the scrub was a large boulder except it wasn’t a boulder it was Mvura! A captive bred female rhino released here at Matusadona, she had bred & had a wild born calf.
Her & the calf, a male, lay in the shade at the edge of the scrub. The calf against the bush & Mvura in a protective position between him & any danger.
We spent a good while with them, Mvura every so often would stretch out to check on his well being & stand up to allow him to suckle.
Untill now I have never looked on a rhino as being beautiful but she is, it may have been motherhood, I’m unsure but I am now in love!
That afternoon as we were preparing for the game drive a strong wind built up, everyone hoped it was the harbinger of rain alas no but the sunbird in her nest by the cookhouse had the ride of her life!
The ever present elephants on the shoreline, with much squealing rushed for the shelter of the bush & very soon there were none to be seen!
After the wind had died time was spent replacing everything displaced by it & we set out to game drive. The winds had upset everything as we spent an uneventful two hours no sign of spore in the freshly levelled sand.
On our return to camp we were informed that a VIP & more guest were arriving the next da, till now we had been the only guests.
By now with the skills & knowledge that Benson had he was now nicknamed “Super Ranger” & everyone was falling around laughing at his attempts to swagger! As “Super Ranger” we had decided he should enter the boma swagger up to the VIP, tossing his hat like a frisby,10 meters to hook onto a Buffalo horn. Trouble was it was my job to dash down the steps to recover it every time he missed & it sailed over the balcony into the bush!
Ah Ha! Jehmbe! It was those drums again! 0430 time for up & at ‘em!
Again at the isthmus we got lucky & we believe the same pride of lions from previous were laid up in the shade this time cubs had joined them, a nervous herd of Impala were close by.
What was worrying was the pride was about in the same position as the rhino the day before. There were no sign of her or her calf but why had the lions travelled this way? Except for the lions & cubs the morning was uneventful.
The discussion at the lunch table was off the impending arrival of the VIP & his party.
That afternoon we took a boat out on the lake following the shoreline exploring the inlets & many side waters. Upon our return the new guests had arrived as well as the British Ambassador & were sat round the camp fire with drinks.
I have catalogued our meeting under “Diplomatic Kipper” in jokes about Africa!
The following morning, the drums! The drums!
We were due to leave for Manna Pools so Kath had a lay in & Benson & I set out for a short bush walk before breakfast, boat trip & flight out.
We were met on our return by my excited wife. “She’s here! She’s here! She was right out side our room when I got up”.
Mvura had decided to visit the camp. As she was hand reared at Imari she often visits but her wild born calf is ready to take on anyone who goes near her. “You keep away from my mum” With a full grown rhino wandering around camp mayhem ensued. She took a liking to getting behind the bar! After considerable damage she was enticed out with cabbage turning the bar over as she left. Meanwhile the calf having charged everyone in sight took to the safest place deep inside the thorns. Our worry over the proximity of the lions eased. He knew what to do! There was no way a lion would ever reach him if he done that & Mvura really had polished & honed her horn.
Alas we could not remain for all the excitement, we had a plane to catch. With our gear loaded aboard the boat in a dry place we set out.
Problem was Nyaminyami, was not in a good mood.
When the Kariba dam was built in 1957 it trapped the river god Nyaminyami in the lake but his wife was in the lower reaches of the Zambezi every now & then the god would show his anger! This was one of those times we arrived at the airstrip soaked!
Our next stop Manna Pools a forty minutes light plane flight away up the Zambezi circling the dam on the way & no need for the bags this time!