Friday, May 31, 2013

On safari: Samburu Intrepids Club - game drive observations

On our first day Art was recuperating from his bout with "traveler's illness"; on the third day it was my turn.  But we had a couple of afternoon game drives with Peter, our driver/guide.

This Grevy's zebra was alone, an uncommon sight. It's distinguished by its white belly.

See the zebra? It's on the left.

Members of a troop of baboons.

For a baby baboon's first three months, it clings to its mother's underbelly. For the next three, it rides on its mother's back. After that, it's part of the troop on the ground, staying close to its mother.

Giraffes from a distance.

Getting closer to the giraffes.

Remnants of the weaver bird. The male makes a nest and hangs from it upside down, waiting for a female to come along. The female checks out the nest and decides upon a mate. She lines the inner test and the birds made. Thereafter, the male leaves the female and starts building another nest!

Elephants will eat the sausage tree fruit when it falls to the ground.

The elusive leopard! A good hider. Six safari jeeps searched for this female; we found her just before dusk, with her baby. Leopards hunt at night to avoid competition with lions in the same territory. Leopards are solitary animals; the male leaves the female after breeding, and the female raises her young along. 

Waterbucks may graze with other herbivores such as impalas and zebras. Each species has a different way of recognizing predators; with multiple species together, all the animals benefit.

 An anthill. Eventually this tree will die.

A well-camouflaged chameleon.

A community of elephants. We got to within ten feet of these beautiful animals and hung out there for over 15 minutes.

A dik dik, the smallest of the antelopes. This is the only antelope that mates for life.

A group of impalas. The group may consist of one male and a number of females and their young. Or it may be a bachelor group - males who have not yet fought and won a group of females. They practice fighting with each other until they have a chance to fight a male with a group of females. The male with females services the females and defends his position against other males. Over time he grows weaker.

On our way out of Samburu on the last day, we had one more game drive. We'd heard a camel had been killed by a lion the day before. The camels live on the other side of the river, but apparently this one had crossed the water, to his peril. The guides talk to each other in the evening, and by radio, so Peter knew where to look to find the remains of the camel.

We passed by a crocodile. These animals have no sweat glands, so they open their mouths to cool off.

As we approached the site of the lion kill, we saw it was clearly marked by a tree absolutely full of vultures.

Peter explained that the vultures wait until the lion has had its fill. Then other scavengers come around to share in the feed. At the end, the hyenas eat the bones. It's a very efficient system, the wilderness.

A short distance away, a cheetah had been sighted in an open area. We found it without much trouble. Sometimes a couple of safari vehicles parked near each other is a good indicator! The cheetah was sitting quite still in the grass near a small tree. Peter told us the cheetah was beginning its hunt. It could see a couple of gazelles about 400 yards away. The best distance between a cheetah and its prey is much shorter; though the cheetah can run 60 miles an hour, it's a sprinter. So the animal approaches stalks its prey quietly and patiently until it's within 33 to 98 feet, a range with a good possibility of success. Over the 15-minute period we watched, the cat moved forward twice, never taking its eyes off the prey ahead. We would like to have stayed to observe the whole hunt, but we had a schedule to keep on departure day from Samburu.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

On safari: The Bag Lady learns about Kenya

Of course we are seeing the animals. But we're also learning about the country and people.  Here's some of what I've learned.

1. Kenya, in East Africa, has a population of about 40 million, from 42 tribes (or "communities). Many Kenyans speak English - the language of the British who colonized the area - or Swahili - or a local language. They speak with variations of "British" accents, some harder for me to understand than others.

2. If you stay in a Nairobi hotel near the government buildings and are eating in the restaurant, you will observe many men in black suits having business conversations. You may also observe them having conversations with Chinese businessmen. China is a major economic presence these days.

3. If you eat in restaurants you will have an excellent selection of fresh fruit to choose from. You will usually leave the breakfast buffet feeling quite nourished. At dinner, you may not be able to eat all the courses presented to you.

4. If you decide to have a cup of warm tea at a curio shop alongside the road instead of a bottled soda, you will regret it all night long, even if while you get up to go to the bathroom numerous times you see hyenas, mongooses and elephants outside your window. That was Art's experience, at least. I missed the gettings up, the hyenas and the mongooses. But not the elephants!

5.  Jet lag is easier to deal with when you arrive at your African destination at 8:30 p.m., just in time to go to bed, than when you're getting to Europe in the morning and have to stay awake all day. It helps to take No-Jet-Lag every two hours on the airplane. That was actually a surprise to me.

6.  The most pressing need of the Kenyan people is the education of their children. Public education is free until the sixth grade, but after that families may struggle to pay for the uniforms, books and schooling of their children. Especially in the rural areas, families may need their children at home for such activities as herding the family goats and cattle.

7. Girls in rural areas may not have as many opportunities to be educated. They may be married off young, or they may miss a month or more of school following female circumcision, which is sometimes a rite of passage similar to the circumcision of boys of the same age. Among the middle class the girls are educated as well. There is currently an educational program in place within the country to encourage alternative rites of passage for girls.

8. Public transportation is handled by "matatus"or minibuses. Usually crowded, sometimes quite battered, these smaller buses are cheaper to operate than larger buses. In the city, the drivers can be quite reckless. The traffic is bad enough without them!

9.  A driver/guide on a safari is a wealth of information about the people, the history, the animals - even while they are keeping a very close eye on the road. In most places, the roads are quite narrow, with paths alongside for the many people walking. And in the rural areas most roads are unpaved. 

10. Morning noises in the countryside are different from home. Right now I can hear unfamiliar birds, roosters, goats and a donkey.

Here's where we'll be for the next three days:

On safari: On the road to the Samburu Game Reserve

We left Aberdare National Park for a three-hour drive to Samburu Game Reserve. We'd been in lush green hills and were headed for a lower, drier, warmer elevation.

Our first stop was at the equator, where we were greeted by enthusiastic vendors beckoning us into their shacklike shops. I spent a few minutes with a man who showed me, from 20 meters north of the equator and then 20 meters south, how water swirls clockwise in one spot and counterclockwise in the other and not at all on the equator. I could have bought a certificate that I'd been there, but I gave him two dollars instead and thanked him for his demonstration. I knew this, but I'd never seen it demonstrated.

We stopped for lunch at Mt. Kenya Safari Club, quite an upscale resort where I enjoyed the lunch but felt gratitude we wouldn't be staying there. I'd need to be thinner and more elegant. Nearby was the William Holden Wildlife Education Center which includes an animal orphanage.

Gold crested crane (national bird of Uganda).


Can't remember the name, but it's related to the elephant! Ah, HYRAX!



Black and white colobus monkey.

We didn't get a picture of the bush pig who fostered an orphan warthog. The orphanage staff is looking for a mate for each of them.

We arrived at Samburu Intrepids Club at dusk. We'll be spending three nights, with time for game drives and some relaxation along the Uaso Nyiro River.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On safari: Going to the animals: Aberdare National Park

We left the city and journeyed north to Aberdare National Park. We made a stop for lunch at Aberdare Country Club, originally the homestead of an English couple that settled in Kenya. Our destination for the night was The Ark, a hotel within the national park built next to a water hole, but that accommodation is traditionally accessed by a bus from the Aberdare Country Club -  from the days of British colonialism when access to the area was reserved for British royalty and other VIPs. We were allowed to pack only an overnight bag; the rest of our luggage was held at the country club for our return the next day.

At the country club we saw a family of warthogs. The babies were darling! Who'd have guessed?

On the way to The Ark we came upon a family of elephants.

We also saw two troops of baboons, and a small contingent of impalas - a buck and four does, and a lone oryx.

Once at The Ark, we settled ourselves at one of the viewing windows. There's a watering hole below, and the staff puts out salt to attract the animals.

The Ark has a webcam at the watering hole; if you're interested in seeing what's going on right now, check it out.

Besides elephants, we saw rhinos and cape buffalo. Late-night observers also saw a leopard. Art was up several times during the night with "traveler's disease"; through the window of our room he saw a hyena and a white-tailed mongoose.

I'd heard that elephants have a social community, but I'd never observed these animals except in a zoo. Watching them at the watering hole, though, I could really tell. Babies stood under their mothers or were watched out for by other elephants; young males sparred. The movement of these animals was fluid and unhurried. We were fascinated.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On safari: The first day in Kenya: Nairobi

We spent a full day in and around the city after our arrival in Nairobi.

Greater Nairobi has a population of about four million, but the vast majority live in the suburbs. Central Nairobi is mostly businesses.

Here's what we saw on the first day.

The Nairobi National Museum. I'm usually not keen on museums, but this one held my interest. Our young guide, Djanice, was engaging and interesting. We actually had a conversation beyond what was in the museum displays - my first "local" contact other than George Gituku, owner of Sandrage Safaris, who planned our trip.

I gave DJanice the name I use on my Facebook page, so we might keep in touch. We have learned that some people in the safari industry started out as museum guides. I was impressed with DJanice and hope she has that good fortune.

The Karen Blixen Museum. The book and film "Out of Africa" portrays the life of Karen Blixen. The British influence on this estate was apparent as it was at the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden, where we had lunch.

The Giraffe Center is a sanctuary for the Rothschild giraffe - which is endangered - and rhinoceros.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an elephant orphanage. The sanctuary cares for these young animals until they can be released into the wild. Part of what we paid for this safari includes the "adoption" of an elephant. The babies have to be bottle fed every three hours for three years. Their human companions have bunks in the individual stalls.

This rhino was born blind and lives at the shelter. 

Another rhino has been released into the wild but returns to the shelter from time to time. It knows where its pen is. Staff leave the pen gate open for it. During our visit the rhino trotted into the shelter.

By the end of the day I could barely summon the energy to eat dinner before going to bed early. There's a ten-hour time difference between Seattle and Nairobi. It will take me a few days to get my body clock into sync with African time.