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Trip Report Jan's Kenya Trip Report 1/22 - 2-11-05

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Dear Fellow Fodorites:

Just got back Friday night from another great trip to Kenya.

Left Boston January 22nd. Worried all day whether or not I would be able to get out of Logan airport. Heavy snow was expected starting around 3 p.m. and my flight didn’t leave until 6:15 p.m. Got to the airport early and found that all the British Airway flights had already been cancelled. Not a good sign. While waiting the snow started just as the weatherman predicted, and the more worried I got. We finally boarded Northwest Airlines but by this time quite a bit of snow had already adhered to the plane. Watched them de-icing and we were finally able to take off. About 10 minutes into the flight the pilot announced that Logan had just closed! How lucky we were to have gotten off when we did.

Arrived Amsterdam on time and had the usual three hour layover. Then boarded KLM. Arrived Nairobi on time. As is my usual habit, I rushed to the visa desk (and this time so did about 100 other people) and they only had two people working the desk! Finally got through that, went to Thomas Cooke across the street and changed some American dollars for Kenya shillings and then I was on my way. Stayed at the Holiday Inn that night.

Got up early the next morning to catch the 7:30 plane to Amboseli. While waiting in the waiting area a gentleman approached me and asked if I was Jan. I stated yes (not knowing who this gentleman was) and he introduced himself as the architect and owner of Ol Tukai Lodge. He was on his way down for a meeting so I had a pleasant chat with him. Arrived and got settled in my favorite room, put clothes away and then headed out for the first game drive. Saw lots of elephants, zebra, wildebeests, buffalo and wart hogs. That night there were lots of eles. right outside my room.

The next morning I was fortunate enough to visit my elephant researcher friends and went out with one of them. They are the only ones allowed to drive off road. We were lucky enough to find Echo and her family and spent about 45 minutes to an hour with them. Echo is the 60 year old matriarch of an Amboseli family and she had just given birth to a calf two weeks earlier. We sat and watched Echo, her new calf, her new granddaughter and the rest of the family.

I was informed that there had been no new Maasai spearings since I left in August. When I got home in August I wrote KWS a stinging letter asking why they didn’t jail people who do this and threatening to show the pictures of the speared elephant (with two spears in the head) to National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, etc. I was told at that time that jailing these people “wasn’t possible”. However, I was told in January that indeed two men were jailed for four months. They just got out of jail and have been telling everyone around not to spear – “you don’t want to go through what we have just been through in jail”. Let us all hope that perhaps this example will be meaningful to some of the young moran.

That night as I approached my room after the afternoon game drive (almost dark) there was a huge bull elephant just across the electric fence from my room. The next time I looked there were 10 people standing on the other side of the electric fence snapping photos (with flashes) and shining their torches on him. It was a disaster waiting to happen – they were only about 10 feet apart. I politely asked them to move back as it was dangerous and was just told “nein, nein, OK”. I finally went to the dining room and asked the manager to have security move the people away. If one of them had been injured or killed the unfortunate elephant would have been shot – even though it wasn’t his fault.

Thus I will preach again (not for you regulars because I know you all know the dangers). Please, please stay on the paths, sidewalks and under no circumstance approach wildlife on foot. I would feel badly enough if a human were injured or killed; I would feel even worse if an animal had to be shot because of human stupidity. We are not in a zoo-like habitat. Despite the fact that these animals may seem “tame” because they put up with us gawking at them from our vehicles, they are wild and anything stupid we do may provoke them. It isn’t fair to wildlife to be provoked and harassed so please be careful.

As you may know, this is my seventh trip. Even though I have known that the weather affects what wildlife you will see, I was truly astounded on this trip. Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning it poured in Amboseli. On the morning game drive on Wednesday it seemed as though some supersonic vacuum just sucked all the animals up. I never would have believed it could happen this quickly. It didn’t bother me, but I can only imagine how someone on their first trip must feel seeing so few animals.

Liz, while watching the few remaining wildebeests we saw two females giving birth!
I named one for you. Just hope it wasn’t a boy!

And Susan, one of the cheetahs at Satao now has your name!

About 5:15 one morning I was awakend with what I initially thought was someone blowing a trumpet just outside my room. When the brain woke up enough I realized that it was an elephant. I knew it was in some kind of trouble. Trumpeted strongly every 15 – 20 seconds for a full 9 minutes and then got weaker and finally stopped.
I got dressed and went to wake my elephant researcher friend. She went out but couldn’t find a body or an injured animal. She surmised that perhaps one of the elephant calves had been stuck in the mud of the swamp. Apparently when this happens the mother will trumpet in excitement until she gets the baby out.

Saw more lions and cheetahs this time at Amboseli. By the end of that week some of the herd animals had started coming back into the swamp area so the carnivores would be happy.

Having spent a week in Amboseli and riding all around the park many times I will again reiterate that though both the Serena and Tortillis Camp are fine places, they are in very unattractive areas and they all come into the main area near the swamps on every game drive. Same with the Sopa Lodge (they have a 45 minute drive just to get to the swamp areas). Unless you require gold faucets and toilet seats, I would highly suggest staying at Ol Tukai. It is the newest lodge in the Park and is constantly being improved upon. The views of Kilimanjaro and the swamps are superb.

On my last night at Amboseli it again rained very hard for several hours. Thus there is plenty of water everywhere for the animals. The Kenyans were all remarking about the unusual weather in late January/early February.

On Monday 1-31-05 I flew from the airstrip at Ambo to Wilson. Got off one plane and boarded another for Samburu. Again stayed at Elephant Watch Camp which is super. However, Samburu had also gotten rain so there weren’t nearly as many animals as in August. My first day there we didn’t even see one elephant! Second day we did find one of the families. On the way back to camp the guide spotted something on the ground and asked the driver to back up. We saw a Marshall eagle flat on the ground with a snake coiling around its middle. We watched for quite awhile trying to decided who got who. The guide could see the eagle’s eyes moving but we also saw the small snake coiling. Didn’t know whether it was poisonous and had bitten the bird or what. We decided to go back later in the day. When we did it was unfortunate that a vehicle had driven over where the bird and snake had been so we could only surmise that the bird eventually killed the snake and ate it and then flew off.

One morning saw vultures soaring. We waited until they landed and then drove to the area. A giraffe had been killed and all sorts of vultures and storks were feeding. Later in the day we returned and two lionesses and five cubs were feasting. We thought the lions had killed the giraffe, but the camp owner told us to look carefully at the giraffe’s legs, and sure enough they had been cleanly cut off. Thus one wonders if a human also killed the animal and left the remains.

On 2-3-05 flew from airstrip to Wilson and then transferred to JKIA where I flew to Mombasa and stayed at the Tamarind Village. Had another lovely condo there for the night.

The next morning we drove to Tsavo East for a five day stay at Satao. NO SNAKES THIS TIME FOLKS!!!! I did carry my trusty whistle with me at all times to summons help if one became apparent, but I never needed to use the whistle. Tsavo had also gotten rain so everything was lush and green.

I met with a friend of mine Simon Trevor, who is a wildlife photographer. He has worked on the films “Out of Africa”, “The Color Purple”, “Gorillas in the Mist”, “White Hunter”, “Black Heart” and “Congo”. He has his own non-profit organization www.AEFFonline.org. He produces wonderful wildlife films that he donates to all the schools in Kenya to give the children an understanding of problems facing wildlife in their country. He has given me several DVDs of his movie “Wanted: Dead or Alive” which is a marvelous film depicting problems with poaching, bushmeat trade, cutting trees for charcoal, etc. Has also given me permission to have them shown on our local access television and if our schools are interested to show them there also. Though the problems depicted are African, it might start our young people thinking about problems in their own country with wildlife.

Only saw ONE elephant at the borehole this time folks. Did see some on game drives but again it seemed like everyone had disappeared off the face of the earth. I did get to see my intermediate-aged elephant orphans at Tsavo and they are all doing well now. Five of the babies were bitten by a rabid dog in Ithumba several months ago and they and their keepers had to undergo rabies treatment. They are all fine now though.

On the way back to camp from Voi we stopped at Aruba Dam. When the Dam is dry the hippos walk about 20 miles to the borehole at Satao. However, they were now back in Aruba Dam so I wanted to see them. Then spotted a male lion arriving with three lionesses and two fairly well grown cubs heading to get water at the dam. Luckily I had my video camera going because those feisty hippos decided they didn’t want the lions there. The Mama hippo and the baby starting swimming directly for the lions. The lions immediately ran up the bank. The hippos didn’t even want them there and ran up the hill and the Mama chased the male lion and two lionesses one way while the baby chased one lioness and the two cubs the other. What a scene!

All in all, the trip was a little anticlimactic after the August trip. However, it was also more relaxing and great to spend time with friends there. The last afternoon in Nairobi after I had seen my very young elephant orphans, I was seriously considering calling my boss and quitting my job and staying there for another two months. Then my brain kicked into action and I realized that without working I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills so I got back on the plane and headed home. Am already dreaming of returning the end of the summer.

Jan

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