This may not be too relevant given its age, but here goes.
It was 2005 and we were on our first safari to Kenya as a family. We were sitting amongst a very large herd of elephants at Lewa, our second stop on our itinerary, and were faced with a large bull in musth. Now I have been chased by an elephant as a child (in a car) and it was terrifying but my husband hasn’t … so he was cool and I was anxious.
At this stage our excellent guide Ken (from Sunworld Safaris but booked by us using Bunsons in Nairobi) chose to tell us a story about one of his guiding friends.
The guide was taking out a small group of tourists on a walk in a conservation area and as was the custom had been appointed an armed ranger. This ranger was new to him so they made each others acquaintance and then proceeded to give the walkers the wildlife watching rules. All very familiar to us I am sure.
The walk proceeded as planned with the usual plains game in evidence, usually tail view only because ‘man on foot = danger’, plant discussions, insects and reptiles. As they walked between some small bushes a large elephant, ears flapping stepped out. The tourists froze, the guide tried to calm them saying the usual soothing words, stay quiet, no sudden moves, we’ll back away slowly when all of a sudden the armed ranger started yelling “run, run we’ll all be killed” at which point he charged through the tourists pushing them aside and all they saw was his dust. The tourists threw caution to the winds and followed as fast as they could and the guide, who was left to face the now angry elephant, took off his jumper threw it in a bush and made haste.
The guide confronted the ranger later and asked why he had behaved so stupidly as he was there to provide protection and security and his answer was that he had never actually seen an elephant before and didn’t know that they were so big! The guide retrieved his jumper, now torn and dirty and a bit disgusting and the tourists lived to see another day and went home with excellent stories to tell their nearest and dearest. Don’t know whether the ranger kept his job.
Can’t vouch for the veracity of this tale, but it sounded pretty real the way Ken told it.
Ken drove our family of four from game park, to conservation area to wildlife reserve and gave us excellent guiding throughout, finding us wonderful animals but almost best of all were the vivid and entertaining stories he told us.
Anyway, after that Ken took pity on me and turned the 4x4 around so at least we were facing an escape route. He even (kindly because it was cool) took off his jumper so that it was at the ready to throw out of the window in the event that the elephant bull needed to be put off our scent if he should choose to charge. Unfortunately, when reversing he landed us in a huge hole in the ground, you’ve never seen such a big but obviously invisible hole in your life and the sight of us trying to rock the Landcruiser out of the hole made the elephant pretty grumpy.
Our first 2 nights were spent with family friends who live in Karen and it was interesting to notice that there were no street signs (or hardly any) and no street numbers and our driver really had no idea where to take us. We drove up and down lots of streets past massive gardens with glimpses of some pretty amazing houses. Fascinating to see the razor wire which was the first step in making some of the new fences we observed. This involved large rolls of the razor wire with hedging plants growing up between them. Nasty surprise for any ill intentioned person trying to push through the hedge in years to come! One of the unsavoury things about living in a city such as this. We did eventually find our friends house which had a large wooden gate, and a hedge although I can’t vouch for any razor wire here. There was a large metal disc at the gate with a metal bar attached and you banged the disc making a horribly unfriendly noise until someone (usually the gardener) let you in. All the gates had signs saying ‘mbwa kali’ and our friends certainly had ‘jibwa na kijibwa’ but they were pretty friendly towards us.
One night we had take away pizza, not what I was expecting somehow, but I am still wondering how they found the house. My husband remembered cold pizza so perhaps they hadn’t found the house very easily at all.
We purposefully made this a driving trip so that we could all look at the country, see the little villages and shops and get a feel for the country. Mind you, the terrible driving and roads makes it an experience that is only needed once. We didn’t have to share our vehicle which was a big plus although it is an advantage having a local guide at some parks. We were lucky because Ken had worked as a guide at many different locations so knew them quite well.
We began our safari at Sweetwaters where we saw lots of black rhino, 2 lions, the chimpanzees (including the baby ‘Joy’) and various plains species. Ken did a lot of tut tutting because of the rain and the sticky black cottons soils which made driving and game viewing so difficult, and said “wait until we reach the Mara, this is nothing” … but it wasn’t nothing to us. We saw 4 of the big 5 in our first day, not that it was our aim.
We visited Morani (the black rhino) whose mother was killed by poachers in Amboseli. He is one of the last of the legendary Amboseli black rhinos but can’t breed as he was attacked by another bull in a territorial dispute and emasculated. Now he is in a protected area of about 70 acres with 2 giraffe and a few impala. We walked about 10 minutes with a ranger before finding him asleep. The ranger spoke softly to him all the time so that he knew we were there and not a threat. By the time we had walked back to the car park the wet black cotton soil had given us platform soles of 5 or 6 inches. My husband and I had no problem with this as we had lived through the disco era, but our children struggled.
We left Sweetwaters and drove past vast wheat fields with the Mathews ranges in the background. They looked so prosperous but I imagine that the prosperity is for only a few. We arrived at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy which was quite a change of scenery, much like the Flinders Ranges at home. They were setting up for the Lewa Marathon, to be held in a few days, where all the contestants run through the reserve.
My journal says that I saw something very interesting in the bushes by our tent this day but I can’t read my writing, it looks like chicken but I can’t believe that I thought that was very interesting, even back then!!
About 10pm after we had gone to bed, Ken came to our tent flap and called out that someone had seen a leopard by the swamp and did we want to come and try to find it. We all leapt out of bed and then sagged back as we remembered we had a sick child. She heard the word leopard and pleaded with us to come so we bundled her up in lots of clothes and went up to the car which happened to be one of the Lewa open vehicles. So cold! Ken and the driver with her bucket between her knees. Ken and the driver (I think he was David, but we met a lot of Davids so am not sure) supported her and were very kind. We sat in the back with 3 other visitors and went for an exciting drive through the African night. Actually it seemed to be a faster drive than through the day, but I suppose we weren’t stopping to see animals along the way. We found the tree kill quite easily but no leopard. We drove around the swamps as Ken told us what to look for. The reflective eyes of the cats are different to all the other animals about, such as the antelopes and zebras, so we had a few false alarms including a jackal. Then the spot light picked up the green reflective light we had been looking for and there in front of us was a leopard with her 2 cubs. It was exhilirating and she came within 10 metres of our open sided vehicle. My dear little daughter, all of 7 years old was so pleased to see them and didn’t complain about the long drive, the cold or the vomiting or anything, I was so proud of her.
Lewa was a trip highlight, lots of elephants, white rhino, black rhino, grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, somali ostrich and hardly another tourist in sight. The safari camp was very pleasant and we were looked after well, especially with our sick child.
Trip Report - You can outrun an elephant but not a ranger
This may not be too relevant given its age, but here goes.
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