Thursday, January 5, 2012

Kenya Safari Part IV

Continuing posts about our safari and the interesting time spent in, especially the Maasai Mara, got me thinking how Grant and I aren't actually people who regularly visit game reserves to view wildlife. We visited the Kruger National Park in 2003 and saw the Big Five but have not since returned. Later we enjoyed an idyllic week in the Kgalaghadi Transfrontier Park even spending one night at Grootkolk, near the Union's End where the three countries of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia end. At Grootkolk we were  - apart from the overseer in his hut nearby - the only people there that night and there were no game fences.  The Grootkolk link above shows a family cabin, but at the time, we stayed in an ensuite tent, with a double bed and gas lamps for lighting. There was a gas hotplate outside, a sink with running water and a table and chairs to eat at. The entire area around our tent and outdoor "kitchen" was sandbagged for protection against the leopards and other wildlife roaming the area. We had to sign an indemnity form before being shown to our tent, exonerating the park if we were eaten by wildlife! The pathways to the other tents and communal kitchen (which we didn't use) were marked with white stones; we were told to stick to these pathways for our own safety. Our tent overlooked a waterhole and we watched blue wildebeest, eland and springbok drinking there in the late afternoon.

That evening sitting in our outdoor kitchen/dining area, the overseer snuck up to the side of our tent and whispered that if we crept quietly a little way along our path and looked up to the next door tent, we'd see a spectacular sight. As we're quite the intrepid couple, (lol!) we did just that and were thrilled to see a leopard lying on the tented roof of the kitchen. Now, to South Africans and overseas visitors alike, a leopard sighting is very special as these are very elusive cats who normally hide up trees, or pad around in forests. So we stood and gazed at this rather relaxed leopard, who fortunately had either not seen us or wasn't interested in two gawking humans on the path below. Believe it or not in those days, before the digital camera era,  I didn't take photos. I remember videoing the wildlife we'd seen during the day, but although my camcorder had a night-light, it was lying in the tent behind us!

We do have the memories of this wonderful sighting though.
Early next morning the same overseer, bless him, called to us through the tent walls and told us to look out onto the waterhole. The Kalahari Lions (which we'd not yet seen) were drinking at the waterhole.

I don't have photos of leopards, so have downloaded this one from Google (courtesy of National Geographic) A leopard lies on a branch about six meters above the ground and is most difficult for the novice park visitor to spot 

So after that [long!] explanation about us not being people who  visit national parks frenetically looking for game, why did we embark on this safari? Well, if you live in Kenya, it make sense to visit the parks; no airfares to pay and the resident gate fees are a lot less than tourists rate. Another reason (mine, of course) was that all the parks in Kenya are home to many and varied bird species and I wanted to see and photograph as many as I could. Years ago when we visited Ndumu Game Reserve with Grant's brother, Charles and his wife, Shelley (my sister-in-law who helps me with bird id's) they taught us to look for birds in a game reserve. Ninety percent of the time, while you're watching the birds, the big game will saunter past/into view, or you'll spot them while you're driving slowly through the park.

On our second day in the Mara, we set out at about 10h30 for a quick look around. When we came to the area where we'd spotted lions the day before, we were thrilled to see them lying in the shade of a copse of thorn bushes. Note: Maasai Mara lions are territorial and we saw the various prides around the park in the same places every time.

Above a lion rises and resettles himself in the shade. The second photo is of a lioness' tooth which I zoomed in on while she lay panting in the shade

During the migration the lions feed mainly on wildebeest and zebra. However it's the number of resident species such as buffalo and various antelope which sustain the lion populations. The Mara has over 500 lions, many in very large prides of up to 30 individuals, with each pride occupying its own range. The lion (Panthera leo) is 1 meter tall; males weigh up to 230kg; the females around 160kg with a life expectancy of 15 years. Lions are social cats and often hunt for larger prey such as zebra and buffalo, in groups of two or more, which increases their success rate.

Within minutes of us stopping to watch the lions, half a dozen tour operators drove their mini-busses up and parked. The vehicles have a part of the roof which lifts and the visitors stand and photograph the wildlife from there.

Grant moved off (he felt he was being crowded, LOL!) and stopped down the road for me to photograph a butterfly.
Time for me to practice my bokeh photography on this butterfly

Although there are many rhino in the Mara, we only got a sighting of this one wandering off into the bush
The bottom left photo shows a Thompson's Gazelle with a Ground Hornbill (a bird) which I'll post about later

All around the park were herds of antelope, known to South Africans as buck. Ample food for lions, leopard, cheetah and hyenas here in the Mara.

As it rained every night we were at Fig Tree Camp, certain sections of the roads were rutted and very marshy. Grant had to negotiate several slushy parts, muddying the vehicle. Having to clean the windscreen regularly, the little tank supplying the window washer pump was dry. We turned into Keekorok Lodge for more fuel and to replenish the washer tank.
Signs of very muddy roads in the park
Two little boys were sitting on the ledge housing the diesel bowsers;  one looking very pensive, the other rather sombre for someone so young. However, their faces lit up when I gave them a handful of sweets/candy and couple of bananas and apples that I had in the car

We drove through the beautiful grounds to the lodge. I needed a rest-stop and what better place than at a beautiful lodge. Along the way Grant stopped for me to photograph a mother monkey and her little baby. Shortly another monkey (I think it was a male, but not sure) sauntered up and tried to look at/take the baby. The mother - true to form - clutched the baby closer to her. When the other monkey persisted, she loped off on three legs, with the baby grasping her belly fur and her holding onto it with her right hand.

Returning to the camp, we enjoyed a many-coursed lunch and retired to our tent to rest while the heat of the day abated.


  1. Wow, you got to see a lot of wildlife. If I lived there I'd spend a lot of time at game reserves. Maybe even work at one.

  2. How thrilled I was to read you stopped off at Keekorok. Sadly after leaving my last comment, I googled the lodge and found that it seems to have gone downhill in the last few years. I suspect this has something to do with the ownership controversy they've gone through in the last few years.

    Wonderful photos!

  3. Hi Jo, All of my life I have read about Kenya and the wildlife... So glad that you two went there...That lion you pictured is a big one...Glad you captured the rhino also...

    Interesting pictures of the Gazelle... Can't wait to see the Hornbill.


  4. What a wonderful, wonderful post, Jo. I'm just thrilled with all you saw and photographed.

  5. Lots of Belgians or other Europeans are going to Kenya on a Safari including the parks of course. Your pictures are wonderful. Love the monkey mom ! Fortunately you didn't end up as Christmas dish for a Lion !

  6. Yes, Jo, the resident prices were our passport to many happy hours in the national parks of Kenya. Of course prices have now soared - even for locals - and last trip we also had to pay a huge USDollar amount to enter the park, even though we were in a professional Safari Van. BTW - the unidentified buck that looks so much like the Topi was Hartebeeste and the small herd with no "racing stripe" are either Grant's Gazelle or Impala. (I, the great expert, THINK) Ahaha.

  7. What a fantastic experience you had in the game preserve. The collages of springbok, topi, gazelles and other buck and of the monkeys are great! What photo editing program do you use to create these nice collages? My PhotoShop Elements 7 doesn't have templates like these--just randomly placed photos for collages.


Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate your feedback. Jo