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Kenya July 2008 - Sightings and impressions

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As it is my first report on this forum and has somebody ask it, I will give you my background and priorities as a traveller.
Since more than 25 years, I devote all of my holidays and spare time to travels.
I began in the seventies by some trips in Europe.
In 1981, some circumstances led me to go to Hong Kong, India and Nepal, where I stayed for the first time in a national park, the Chitwan. It was the starting point of my travels and my first contact with wildlife. In the eighties, I mainly criss-cross Asia, besides the above mentioned countries, the Indonesian archipelago, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. The first half of the nineties was principally devoted to North America.
In 1985, I set foot for the first time on the African continent during a professional trip to Niger and Burkina Faso.
However, what got me to become absolutely mad about the African bush and wildlife finds its origins outside Africa. In 1988, during a trip to Sri Lanka, I had the opportunity to visit the small reserve of Bundala. We lived, my wife and me, an intense moment when we encountered, on foot, an elephant. It was short, but so magical. In 1989, we spend 3 weeks in Kenya. It needed 5 more years to the bug to be back, I went to Kenya again. Since 1996, I made more than 25 trips to Africa, to Botswana especially, but also to Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.
In 2006, I went for the first time to Brazil, particularly in the Pantanal.
My priorities are not going to board and lodging. As long as I have a bed, a shower and decent food, I am happy. I never travelled with a group, always as a F.I.T. Nevertheless in Africa, I experienced all kind of lodging going from luxury (Londolozi and Phinda) to camping, always mainly focused on wildlife and nature.
For those who fear health problems, I can tell you, I have never been seriously ill during all my travels and it will not happened to you if you just follow the elementary precautions.

Last month, I was back to Kenya after 14 years hoping for less traffic in the parks further to the events of the start of this year and so it was except for a few game drives in Samburu and in the east of the Mara. So it also was on the coast where the hotels were either closed of with a low occupancy rate.
The first 8 days could be called the “cheetah safari” while the following 8 days, the “lion safari”. I had a private vehicle 4x4 with driver guide.

First stop: Samburu/Buffalo Springs, Serena Samburu: 5 nights (10 to 15/07/08)

The road after Isiolo is still as bad as it was 14 years ago but this is part of the attraction of Samburu which is my favourite place in Kenya. But it is changing, a Chinese company is building a new road to the north.
I was surprised by the drought, obviously the rainy season was discrete.
Good sightings of all the endemic species: Grévy Zebra, Gerenuk, Vulturine Guinea Fowl, Reticulated Giraffe, Somali Ostrich and Oryx.
Other species: Dik Diks (a lot), Common Waterbucks, some Elephants and Buffaloes, Impalas, Grants’s Gazelles, some Greater Kudus, Rock Hyrax, Baboons (a lot).
Birds: Tawny Eagle, Secretary Bird, Long Crested Eagle, Martial Eagle, Pale and Dark Chanting Goshawks, Kori Bustard.
Exceptional Sightings:
- Cheetahs: 8 different cheetahs on 5 game drives
1 female + 3 subadults (seen twice, private sightings)
1 female + 2 subadults killing 2 impalas (unfortunately with too many cars around)
1 female + impala kill (seen twice, private sightings)
- Elephant charging 3 lionesses along the river (too many cars): 2 ran away, one stayed, the elephant did not have a look at the one staying, running after the 2 others.
It confirms that when you are charged by an elephant or most other animal, do not move and run away.
- Lioness + 3 young cubs (too many cars)
- A Gabar Goshawk getting weavers’ chicks out of their nest
- A porcupine + baby in daylight.
I did not see leopard, only 1 sighting was reported at the hotel while I was there. I spoke with 3 French guys who were camping and self-driving, they did not see leopard either during the 10 days they were there. I also did not see adult male lions. The 3 French guys also told me that they were several times dunned by the rangers who asked them to pay fees because they had professional photographic material, though they were not professional.

Second stop: Lewa Downs, Lewa Safari Camp: 3 nights (15 to 18/07/08)

Good sightings of all the endemic species: Grévy Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Somali Ostrich and Oryx.
Other species: Defassa Waterbucks, some Elephants and Buffaloes, Impalas, Grants’s Gazelles, Burchell’s Zebra, Elands, Hippos (only 2), 5 young male lions (21/2 years old).
Exceptional Sightings:
- Cheetahs: 4 different cheetahs on 3 game drives
3 brothers (seen 3 times, private sightings)
1 female far away in the grass (very shy)
- Black and white rhinos + young ones (a lot)
Still no leopard
For further information on Lewa: www.lewa.org

Third and fourth stop: Masaï Mara, Mara Sopa, 3 nights (18 to 21/07/08) and Karen Blixen Camp, 5 nights (21 to 26/07/08)

- Migration: already a lot of zebras between Oloolamutiek and Keekorok. A lot of gnus between the Tanzanian border and Keekorok.. I saw some gnus and zebras crossing the Mara at Serena. I even saw about 15 huge crocodiles feeding frenetically on a zebra, at the same place.
- Lions are everywhere: - about 25 (mainly male adults and subadults) between Oloolamutiek, Keekorok and Talek: 1 missed attempt by 2 lionesses to kill zebra or gnu, 1 baby
zebra killed by 2 other lionesses
- the March pride (at Musiara): 2 males, 5 females, 11 cubs (from a few days to a few months old)
- between Musiara and Aitong: 1 couple mating, 2 males, 2 females, 3 nomadic subadult males.
- A lot of hippos in the Mara
- Other species: Some elephants, buffaloes , elands, a lot of giraffes, topis, kongonis, Thompson and Grant’s gazelles, spotted hyenas, black backed jackals
- Birds : ground hornbills, different species of vultures, tawny eagle, secretary bird, martial eagle, pale and dark chanting goshawks, kori bustard, African fish eagle, augur buzzard, grey kestrel, black breasted snake eagle, purple roller,……
No leopard in 16 days safari and no cheetah in the Mara.
Leopard was reported to be seen twice by guests at KBC in Aitong as well as cheetahs not far from Musiara and between Musiara and Aitong.
KBC is an old fashion camp (22 tents). The tents are big (a bit les than 50 m2), on wooden floor, simply furnished but with taste, bathroom and toilet en suite, with the shower outside. The camp is along the river Mara where, at level of the camp, about 40 resident hippos are living. For further information: www.karenblixencamp.com

All things considered, though I did not see any leopard, and I was not expecting to see wild dogs, the safari was, with regard to wildlife, nature and sightings, great and interesting. With regard to other aspects, it was disappointing, but it was not really a surprise.
The behaviour of many drivers, mainly minivan, is dangerous, irresponsible and disrespectful to nature and wildlife, driving off road to get closer to animals, allowing teenagers to sit on the roof of the car, legs hanging down on the outside, close to lions and mating lions. There is no other country in Africa where I’ve been, except northern Tanzania, where this is carried out so intensely. I am afraid to imagine what it would be with fully booked hotels and camps. I was mainly confronted to these situations in Samburu, the eastern side of the Mara and on one occasion close to KBC. The area from Musiara to Serena was, considering this, quieter, the camps there being not very busy.
The driver guides are more drivers than guides, they know the essential concerning mammals and big birds, but when you come to smaller birds, they still have a lot to learn.
Compared with 14 years ago, I was surprised by the increase of human settlements around Talek, Sekenani and Oloolamutiek and by the amount and size of the cattle herds grazing in and around the Mara and also in Samburu. Is this demographic pressure the reason why there are less lions in Samburu? On the other hand, there are still a lot of lions in the Mara.
The weather was ok in Samburu, it only rained one evening, but the light was poor, except for a few short moments in the end of the afternoon.
In the Mara, it was worse, the sky was overcast in the morning and in the end of the afternoon. It rained in the evening during 6 following days, sometimes very heavily. One day, we came back to the camp under torrential rain and thunder storm.
Another thing, I was not aware of and was not mentioned to me by my agent, was where you sleep, you pay the entry fee for yourself, the car and the driver. So that I had to pay again the 80 USD for my wife and me and the 1800 KSH each time I went to another conservancy area, in the occurrence Musiara and beyond.
Concerning security and stability, Kenya is safe, perhaps more than some places in Europe and Northern America.
As a conclusion, for those who are looking for remote and pristine places and respect of nature and wildlife, Botswana is still the place to go but it is more expensive if you are reluctant to camping.

Fifth stop: Diani Beach, Asha Cottage: 5 nights (26 to 31/07/08)

Asha Cottage was the good surprise of the trip. I warmly recommend this place. It is a new built hotel. In fact, it is more a luxury bed and breakfast than a hotel, with only 5 beautifully furnished rooms. It is also possible to have lunch and dinner if you wish, the food is gorgeous. The owners are wonderful people. The snorkelling is possible at low tide between the beach and the reef. The submarine wildlife is fantastic, I saw a great variety of fishes: morays, snake eels, triggerfishes, butterflyfishes, wrasses, parrotfishes, pufffishes, clownfishes,……………
For further information: www.ashacottages.com

Mike

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