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Trip Report - Short and Sweet

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Sep 11th, 2008, 04:39 AM
  #1
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Trip Report - Short and Sweet

As a new (nervous) contributor to Fodorís I feel some trepidation about putting this report on line but it may be of interest to someone. At least when it comes time to plan for my next trip I will able to ask for lots of advice knowing that I have some credibility by then for making a contribution.

Some history: Back in 2005 I visited Kenya for the first time since leaving as a teenager back in the 70ís. My childhood had been spent in Kenya and Uganda and I had always hoped that I would return unlike poor Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). The 2005 trip was cathartic and I was able to show my children and husband my old house, school, favorite hangouts etc. Lots of wildlife, Sweetwaters, Mountain Lodge, Lewa, Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru and Tsavo East. Unlike some travellers to Africa though, I knew I would have to return again and again but how that was going to be affordable remained the question.

The planning: In preparation for my 50th birthday earlier this year I had been planning a big party with an Africa theme and had thought of painting stripes on our horses and having Africa at Night sound tracks playing throughout the evening. When I looked at the cost I thought ďI can go to Kenya for that money!!Ē. No contest. With little planning time left I looked at the options available as I had 1 week to be away plus the weekends either side for flying time. I didnít want a touristy lodge but something which would offer more in the way of conservation activity and contributions to local communities. I looked at Campi ya Kanzi (will get there one day) - closed in April, looked at Rekero - closed, Lewa Safari Camp - closed Ö the list was getting longer and longer. I began to feel pretty despondent. Never one to give up and encouraged by an online search which showed some excellent airfares with Qatar I gave it another try and emailed Bush Homes of East Africa to see what they could suggest as they were agents for the sort of place I wanted.

I canít complement them enough for their efficient response and help. Admittedly, my itinerary was always going to be simple. First night in Nairobi and 5 nights at 1 place.

They suggested Wilderness Trails at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy Ö fine by me but they were listed on the lewa.org site as being closed. I was assured that they were open and indeed it turned out that they were opening during April for the first time this year. One of the reasons being the changing cycles of the rains, climate change?! Who knows.

Not liking people who canít make a decision, I went ahead and booked the airfares and paid for the land component and worried about the credit card bill and over draft secretly at night.

Sorry for the long introduction but I hope it will explain why we went for such a short time and to only the one place.

Day 1 We landed around midday after an uneventful but long flight from Oz and I just felt all the stress leave my body as we walked out of the airport. We were met by Paul from Bush Homes and had a wonderful 2 hours in a traffic jam trying to wind our way over the short distance to the suburb of Karen. We made use of the time chatting about the recent elections and the aftermath of the troubles. We talked about why the various tribes in Kenya so often donít get on when put under pressure. I would like to know how they can tell a member of one tribe apart from a member of another and asked Paul about this. A combination of bone structure, voice inflection, body movements all came into it. Was there any hope for a Kenyan to one day think of him/her self as a Kenyan first and member of a tribe second? Paul said that the children at school in Nairobi, such as his, didnít make the same distinction between tribes as the generation before and that maybe that was a sign that there was hope.

We eventually reached Karen and because time was short decided to do some souvenir shopping (my dogs all wear smart beaded collars now), visit the giraffes (because how could you not spend time looking into those beautiful eyes) and then just time to get over to the David Sheldrick Trust for the evening feeds and to see the latest additions to our elephant family. I love those babies and it is always so hard to leave them as night falls. Shida visited whilst we were there although he is now a full grown rhino and living a wild life. He busily sharpened his horn on the nearest available object, fortunately not human as we were all happily hiding behind various bushes. Eventually he went into a yard for some sustenance. Last time we were there Shida was a bottle fed baby so it was great to see him so large and healthy.

Feeling a little weary we arrived at House of Waine and only wished we had more time to enjoy just being there. We were welcomed warmly, had a great dinner, hot bath and fell into a deep sleep. We surprised ourselves by not feeling jet lagged, but didnít question it too hard. House of Waine is a great option for stop overs in Nairobi, especially if you are not interested in going in to the city. Lovely gardens, roomy accommodation with antique furniture and many wonderful small touches such as the home made biscuits left in the room for us. Nice and close to Wilsonís airport, Sheldricks, Nairobi National Park, the Giraffe Centre amongst others.

Day 2
We enjoyed a relaxed breakfast before Paul came to collect us for our transfer to Wilsonís airport. The drive was easy, traffic not too bad being a Sunday. We sat in the departure lounge looking at the few other passengers waiting for their flight and wondering about their stories. I really enjoyed the flight, small planes have their advantages if you can get past the noise. We caught glimpses of antelopes in Nairobi National Park, looked in amazement at the size of Kibera slums which had been an almost vacant paddock when I used to travel to school past the Barnardoís sign all those years ago. We flew over the affluent suburbs of Nairobi and the valley which Wangari Maathai worked so hard to protect and onward over lush farms and huge hot houses for the export market. There was nothing which wasnít interesting until we flew through the clouds and then it was clear blue sky which could have been anywhere. We were fortunate to see the peak of Mt Kenya and I was so glad as it was the rainy season and who could tell whether we would have sight of it from the ground in the days to come.

Our first landing was at Nanyuki where we did a quick Ďone off, one oní. There was a small bi-plane which had just landed after what was, I imagine, a thrilling joy flight for some lucky traveller. Next stop was Lewa and as we neared the conservancy I started to recognise some of the landmarks from our previous visit. It was at this point that the adrenalin really started to kick in and you finally realise that you have arrived. Stepping onto the red dirt of the air strip I felt my heart sing and I was finally back in the country that I love above all others.

All safari goers would have to agree that the guide can make or break the trip and we were fortunate to be met and guided for the duration of the trip by Silas, a Maasai from one of the local villages (about a 4 hr walk for him when going home!!). Silas had a great sense of humour, loved the conservancy, knew the animals and the birds both from his childhood experiences as well as his training as an adult and was such a pleasure to spend time with. We laughed about the exploits of little boys in my culture as much as the little boys in his, finding that they tended to do the same things Ö i.e. lie to their mothers about the dangerous things they were doing when they had been told not to!

Our drive back to the lodge was slow, as all such drives are because when you have been starved of wild African animals too many impala and zebra are just not enough.

Sunday is curry day so we arrived just in time to enjoy a guinea fowl curry along with lots of other delicious things before unpacking our bags in our spacious banda which comprised a living area by a small fire place, a large bedroom with king sized bed, dressing room and bathroom. So much space. We couldnít see any of the other bandas as they were all so well placed. Ours overlooked the valley and the river and late at night we could just see the lights of Isiolo in the distance. I found this surprisingly comforting as it brought back memories from my childhood when I thought the townís name was so evocative of all that was wild and remote Ö mainly due to Born Free and Elsaís life with the Adamsons who often wrote of Isiolo.

We had company on our day light walks to and from the banda in the form of a dik dik family. Male, female and a small fawn which we just saw in the shadows. They made the bush around the farthest rooms their home, maybe they knew that predators were less likely to frequent this area.

Our first game drive was approaching fast so we headed up to the carpark to meet Silas and get going. He explained that not only were we the only visitors at Wilderness Trails, but we were the only visitors on the whole conservancy. Imagine that, all that wildlife for us to discover on our own Ö no sharing at all! I felt like a selfish child not wanting to share my toys but felt no guilt.

We started off our sightings with 2 magnificent male lions, spotted at a distance across a ravine. Not to be deterred, Silas drove up and across and down and around until we were totally confused but happily sitting within a couple of metres of the brothers. We had crossed boulders, scraped through thorn bushes, leaned precariously to one side as we drove along the side of the ravine then lurched to the other but it was all worth while. I donít know how long we sat with the lions but it didnít matter because there were no other vehicles and no other tourists and so as long as the animals were content with our presence, we could stay. I didnít care if I didnít see a Ďkillí, or a wildebeest crossing, or a cheetah flat out over the plains, it was enough to sit silently listening to the birds, feeling the African breeze across my cheeks and watching the lions lazily begin to stir and to be alone far from the madding crowd.

The rest of the drive was shared with elephants, lots and lots of elephants with calves and all the other plains game of which Lewa has plenty Ö Grevyís and Burchellís zebras, reticulated giraffe, eland, oryx, warthogs, impala, Grantís gazelles, Somali ostriches, water buck, klipspringers, dik diks and so many birds. We saw white rhino, albeit from a distance on this day.

Dinner was a happy time, the 2 of us and Silas chatting about the dayís sightings. David the Askari escorted us back to our banda as the lodge is not fenced so anything could be around the next dark corner.
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Sep 11th, 2008, 11:11 AM
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Thanks, for sharing your wonderful story and belated Happy Birthday. I think I'll start planning my 60th in foreign lands also!
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Sep 11th, 2008, 07:19 PM
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Day 3 Birthday today (mine and my husbands!) and an early start. Strangely, we didnít see much to begin with apart from a slow moving leopard tortoise so we stopped and sat quietly. It is then that you see the bush come to life. First, all the little birds. If you look carefully you can see them sitting on top of an acacia bush, just one per bush but every bush has itsí little bird. They sing their little hearts out, fluff up their feathers and soak in the sunshine. We have beautiful birds at home on our property but nothing like the variety of species we saw here. So we moved occasionally to another area and sat and watched the birds. No hurry to be anywhere else. We ambled around enjoying a different safari experience, glad not to be sharing our vehicle with people interested in checking off lists. Instead of heading back to camp for breakfast, we found breakfast set up for us under an acacia tree. I know that this happens at many camps in many parks/reserves and I wonder if we ever think or appreciate just how much work goes into moving everything to some exotic location. I donít think that I really let the staff know at the time how much it meant to me, perhaps if I concentrate hard enough they will feel it over the miles. It was a lovely breakfast, shared with hornbills and superb starlings (of course). As we were finishing, 2 camels came walking through the bush Ö another surprise. Rakita, a young Samburu man, took us on a short (about 45 mins) camel walk back to camp. It was fun chatting to him as he had taught himself so much without ever going to school, including English. Even Swahili was a second language which he was still mastering. We wanted to practise our Swahili and he wanted to practise his English so we all ended up laughing a lot.

Later that morning we headed out again and Silas stopped in a small clearing saying that we were going to see something special.

Not long after we saw a keeper walking through the bushes followed by 2 small black rhinos, both being hand reared. One has a blind mother who canít care for her calves and I donít remember why the older of the 2 was being hand raised. It was a sunny day with a warm breeze and to share it with these 2 young rhinos was such a fantastic experience. My husband and I were offered the bottle to feed the youngest rhino which we accepted quickly. The older rhino was a bit feisty so we stayed away from him but the baby of the 2 was sweet and they both talked the whole time which was an amazing sound. Stroking the baby behind the ears was a revelation, the skins was so soft and silky. We sat with them for a while, watching their interactions with the keepers who were with them all the time. We felt very privileged and what a birthday present.

Later that afternoon we went for a walk which gives you a chance to see lots of the little things in the bush. We were followed part of the way by a young male giraffe who was a little annoyed at finding us blocking his path up the hill, however he was pretty well mannered and only passed us when the trail levelled out. We were rewarded by some excellent views of Mt Kenya and madly took photos even though it was getting darker. You never know whether you will see Mt Kenya or Kilimanjaro in the clear so take your pictures when you can. We were lucky because we had several good sightings on this trip.

We were sitting in the open sided lounge waiting for dinner when Silas rushed in saying that he had heard a leopard quite close to the dinning room so we dashed outside and down a dark path not hearing anything ourselves. Rounding the corner we found a dinning table set by the pool with hurricane lamps all around Ö all this effort for just a birthday. We both felt quite humble and not sure how to take all this attention. We managed!

No leopard that day, in case anyone was wondering. However, a couple of days later whilst we were having lunch with the owners of the lodge, Will and Emma Craig who shared lunch and breakfast each day with the guests (in this case just us - poor things) when Emma spotted a leopard across the gorge. It was walking in broad daylight across the clearing and leapt onto an old tree where it sat for some 10 minutes before heading into thicker bush. We saw the leopard on and off for quite a time but of course didnít have our cameras with us. Stupid stupid.

Hopefully will have some photos posted soon.
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Sep 12th, 2008, 10:59 AM
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I'm absolutely loving your report -- you capture the feeling of everything so well, I feel like I'm there. Looking forward to more.

Belated happy birthday!
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Sep 12th, 2008, 02:53 PM
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Your report is lovely! How wonderful you could get back to Kenya for your 50th, including the surprise of no leopard. But the stage was set for your later leopard sightings. Lewa was a great spot to spend your birthday. One of my favorites in Kenya.

How nice to have a dik dik family as neighbors.

Please post the rest of your trip and I'm still imagining how you'd paint stripes on your horses and how they'd feel about it.
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Sep 12th, 2008, 05:30 PM
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Thank you for the encouragement. I am struggling with putting photos on a web sharing site but am hoping to finish it all this weekend so that I can go back to enjoying other peoples trip reports.


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Sep 12th, 2008, 10:35 PM
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I am really enjoying your trip report, twaffle. I was at Wilderness Trails about 5 years ago; your report brings back such fond memories. I remember those incredible views from the bandas. When I was there, the bandas were new and they still had several of the older rooms. Have they now replaced all of those with the newer style bandas?

It's nice to hear that Will and Emma Craig still take meals with the guests. I loved the atmosphere at Lewa. It was as if you'd been invited to a friend's home for a holiday.

The conservancy is quite large, so even with a good number of guests it never became crowded, but I cannot imagine being the only guests at WT TRails, let alone the entire Conservancy. What a treat. To be able to spend entire days out there alone with only you, your husband, your guide, and of course the wildlife must have been amazing.

What a wonderful experience to bottle feed the baby rhino. And what a wonderful birthday trip for you and your husband. Did I read correctly, that your birthdays are on the same day?

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Sep 12th, 2008, 11:31 PM
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Thanks for the comments Dana Ö I read so little about visitors to Lewa so it is nice to know that someone else out there enjoyed the experience. I don't know about the old bandas, everything looked of a similar era but to be honest I didn't look closely. In the wildlife zone!
Yes, sadly my husband and I share a birthday along with Christmas and anniversary so we never get our own day although this trip was mine (because I hit the big five zero) and the next milestone will be his choice. Mmmm, I have a desire to visit Selous and Katavi so I shall just have to make sure he thinks it is his idea!
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Sep 13th, 2008, 11:07 AM
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Go to Southern Tanzania for your husband's birthday.
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Sep 14th, 2008, 01:49 AM
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Day 4 and 5
Rain put paid to an early drive but it didnít take long to dry out many of the black cotton roads and we were away. Some of the roads are being re made in murram to survive the rains better.
The high light of day 4 was centred around rhinos. We saw a white rhino and calf some distance away, then another white rhino in the bushes and then after some excellent detective and driving work by Silas another white rhino with a male tucked away in some bushes on the side of a hill. It was only when we came around a small group of acacia that we saw the tiny calf at her feet. Silas estimated an age of only a few days so we felt pretty lucky. The rhino cow didnít appear too concerned by our presence and we were very quiet, hardly wanting to breath so as not to disturb her. The male was lying under another acacia a few metres behind the female and was not at all interested in us.
I was quite surprised that we found so many white rhinos in the bushes and all the black rhinos we saw were on the plains. Must have been one of those weeks! Indeed, if rhino are your interest, there are plenty here to see.
The rains had been kind to us although by late afternoon the clouds were gathering again. We had some lovely views of elephants migrating down a valley, illuminated by sun with gathering storms in the background. They were on their way to Samburu on their traditional migration route.

Apparently plans are well underway to open up another migration route from Lewa and the wider Laikipia, through Ngare Ndare forest and up to Mount Kenya. This entails the building of a tunnel under the main highway leading from Nairobi to the north. An interesting project which should help the elephants keep their migration patterns and also relieve pressure on the local villagers. We mused about how the elephant herds would be trained to walk through a tunnel under a main road out the other side. Like to see that one day!

One of the aims of our trip was to spend time at Lewa headquarters to meet some of the wonderful people who run the various community projects. We hope one day to sponsor a student through high school then university but that will have to wait for a few years. We met John Kinoti who is the community development manager and were very interested in the work they do with micro credits and the women (in particular) in the surrounding villages. John said the reaction of some of the men had been most interesting in that they were defensive at first, but when they saw how well their wives were doing they became very supportive. Some said that having their wives helping to support the family was lifting the burden of being a sole provider. We made some valuable contacts for future contributions to the wonderful work being done by Lewa and also the Northern Rangelands Trust.

Our last full day at Lewa included our cheetah highlight. After some hunting we found 3 cheetah brothers who had been spooked by one of the rangers who had been walking on the plains. One minute we were looking hopefully in one direction, when out of the corner of our eyes we saw a flash of movement and there they were. The trotted down the road and off to one side to sit under a small group of bushes. If they hadnít moved we would never have seen them. We loved the sound of them mewing to each other, probably swearing at the ranger who had disturbed their rest. Cheetah are one of my favourite animals and although I know that Lewa has a small population of them, I wasnít too hopeful of a sighting. I was pretty happy with this encounter.

During the afternoon we set off to see if we could see kudu as they are pretty elusive in this area. We managed a good sighting of several animals including a magnificent male, just as mists were starting to roll in over the highlands of Lewa. Whilst mists werenít high on my list of must have experiences I have to say that it was eerily beautiful. Driving along dirt roads in the twilight, seeing little through the swirling mists, most sound muffled which was the strangest of all feelings. It is hardly ever really silent in the African bush. We had earlier seen lion and cub spoor along this particular road so were looking out for them on the way back to camp however, with the mists it was too difficult to look for them although we did see more buffalo and white rhino. Tomorrow we leave.
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Sep 14th, 2008, 11:39 AM
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You write beautifully and your report captures what I love about safari in East Africa perfectly. Thank you--it is nearly as good as being there.
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Sep 14th, 2008, 03:19 PM
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Rhinos galore and the the cheetah, which are a favorite of mine as well.
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Sep 14th, 2008, 03:57 PM
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twaffle, how long did it take you to get your visa's? Oh, I'm assuming your got in Oz.
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Sep 14th, 2008, 04:55 PM
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Hi Sally, we left it very late to apply for visas and left it to our local (excellent) travel agent to send our applications and passports off to the High Commission in Canberra by secure courier. It took about a week. I know you can get them in Nairobi on arrival but I like to have all official things in place and in fact was glad I had the visas as we had an official in Kuala Lumpur checking that we were going to be let into Nairobi Ö imagine that! Having to fight someone in KL to get into Kenya. Has that happened to anyone else?

Leely Ö thank you for your kind comments. I have found writing it has brought back lots of happy memories and I have enjoyed it more than I imagined. Tempted to write a trip report about our 2005 visit for that reason but it is all a bit irrelevant now!!!!
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Sep 14th, 2008, 09:28 PM
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Here is a link to the photos, I hope it works.

http://picasaweb.google.com/hilaryh6...ancyApril2008#
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Sep 14th, 2008, 09:36 PM
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Last day.

Sadly our time had to end and we said our good byes and headed off on a last drive to the airport. More elephants and 2 black rhino (male and female) who had a stand off with a lone elephant. We were so sad to say goodbye to Silas who had been such a great guide and companion. We were sad to say goodbye to Lewa which is an awesome treasure in the Kenya wildlife and conservation landscape. The work done there to rehabilitate a cattle ranch and then incorporate communities all around them in their work to save some of the endangered species of the area has been so successful that it is being emulated in many other areas now.

The flight back took us to Meru and Samburu airstrips and it was a little hard to see people arriving for their safari when we had finished ours. Very jealous.

Our travels back to the International airport was an exercise in deadlines with our flight landing at Wilsonís at midday, and our international flight leaving JKIA at 3pm but despite all our misgivings with this schedule Kenya was again, extremely kind to us and we made it with time to spare.

Some comments on our trip.
Wilderness Trails is a great place to stay. Last time we stayed at the Safari Camp which is under canvas and also excellent.
At WT all drinks are included and unlike some lodges/camps this covered imported spirits as well as local drinks.
Meals were varied and plentiful and taken in an open sided cottage overlooking the river and valley side opposite. Staff were friendly and welcoming although many were on leave and it was very quiet.
We had a fire in our room every night along with a selection of pre dinner snacks so that we could enjoy a drink before dinner. A nice touch.
The 4x4 we travelled in was an open sided vehicle which had canvas roll down sides and top in case of rain.
We only went on one night drive but on this trip didnít see anything out of the ordinary.
Bush Homes of East Africa were easy to deal with and answered all our queries. We were very happy with their service.
At Lewa you have many choices of activities including game drives, walks, camel rides, horse back rides, community visits, lots of variety.
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Sep 18th, 2008, 01:47 PM
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Nice to have another report about Lewa. I thoroughly enjoyed it and your photos!
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Sep 18th, 2008, 04:49 PM
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I think I missed your last day. It's always a little sad to leave, but with luck there will be another "next time."

Thanks again, twaffle.
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Sep 18th, 2008, 06:44 PM
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Twaffle,
This is so enjoyable. I hope my husband and I can go there sometime. I love the idea of five days at one safari location -- won't even hope for the luck of having it all to ourselves!
Samcat
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Sep 18th, 2008, 06:55 PM
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You have a great selection of photos. Was Waiting for the Orphans a candid shot? What was going on in the Zebra Oops shot? Was it really a stumble or just a frolic? Lovely colors with the wood at the Guinea Fowl. The eland herd is huge and appears almost pastoral. Nice flying vulture. Great job on the cheetah. Beautiful Wood Hoopoe. Loved the lion scratching post. Your mother and baby rhino in the mist and the pair of rhinos mean mugging the elephant are different perspectives.
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