I was very fortunate to go to Kenya and spend sixteen days there this past September. I landed in Nairobi on September 5th and travelled to various areas including the famous Masai Mara Nature Reserve. "Magical Kenya" is the slogan used to market the country by Kenya's Tourism Board and I have to agree with their choice. Before I left I met a photographer who told me that once I went to Africa I would get the "bug" (not the bad kind ) and would want to go keep going back. He certainly was 100% correct- I am so looking forward to getting back some day. I travelled with Joanne Williams, the tour leader and three other participants. This first blog covers the first two days of being in Africa.
This shot was taken from the van I travelled in. In many places in Kenya people do not like having their pictures taken, therefore I found that I had to just photograph from a van and in most cases the van was moving. So I have included snapshots just to show what life is like in the small villages that we passed on the road. This was a road-side market that we drove by on the way from Narobi to our first destination- Sweetwaters Tented Camp.
A typical colourful market scene. Kenyans who live in small villages and rural areas do their shopping from outdoor markets as opposed to "grocery or department stores".
Another photo taken from the van as we passed through a city. From memory it was the city of Nanyuki. Nanyuki is a market town in Laikpia County of Kenya lying northwest of Mount Kenya and is situated just north of the Equator. Currently this city is the main airbase of the Kenya Air Force. The British army also keeps a base at the Nanyuki Show Ground from where it conducts yearly desert and jungle training exercises on the mountain and in the arid areas to the north.
During the drive we made a stop every once in a while. This was a typical store selling souvenirs etc. This Kenyan was happy to have his photo taken.
This is a photograph of my "tent" at the Tented Sweetwater Camp. The camp was located on the plains of Mount Kenya. All of tents has their own private verandas, washrooms etc. Sweetwaters Serena Camp (game reserve) is actually located in the private 110,000-acre Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The camp is located 17 kilometres from Nanyuki and 217 kilometres from Nairobi. By the way the food wherever we stayed was fabulous- lots of choices put together by chefs from all over the world. There were always East Indian dishes, pasta and lots of North American food. In some places in Kenya it was quite cool at night. When I came back from dinner I often found that the netting had been placed around the bed (not that I saw a mosquito) and that I had heated hot water bottles left in the bed. When I was able to get email I would read how hot it was at night in Toronto and here I was in Africa using hot water bottles! Overall the weather was very pleasant- a few places became quite hot (not humid) for a few hours in the afternoon but I found that I needed my ski jacket and or a sweatshirt until mid morning and then again would need the sweatshirt late in the afternoon.
We visited the only chimpanzee sanctuary in Kenya which shelters large numbers of rare and endangered species. This sanctuary opened in 1993 in a negotiated settlement between the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Jane Goodall Institute.
The facility was initially established to receive and provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees from West and Central Africa. The chimpanzees had lots of space to roam around unlike most zoos.
Curious, intelligent and social, chimpanzees are the closest living relates of humans, sharing approximately 98% of our genetic blueprint. These mammals have the ability to stand and walk uprights while also being able to move effectively on all fours. Chimpanzees make use of tools such as rocks to crack nuts in half or sticks inserted not mounts to fish for termites. They are the only primates to have developed tool use to such an advanced level.
We all took turns feeding and petting Baraka-the sign did not stop anyone. Baraka was very gentle and happy to be fed. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a 90,000 not-for-profit wildlife conservancy. The conservancy boasts the largest sanctuary for black rhinos in East Africa.
The impala is a medium-sized African antelope. Its height ranges between 75 to 95 cm (30 and 37 in) and it weighs between 40 and 60 kg (88 and 165 pounds). As you can see its coat is short and glossy, normally reddish-brown in colour and has lighter flanks with a white underbelly. This male has lyre-shaped horns which can reach up to 45-92 cm (18-36 in) in length. The female lacks horns.
During wet seasons when grasses are fresh, the impala grazes. During the dry season which runs from January to March and July through October the animal feeds on foliage, shoots and seeds. Leopards cheetahs, lions and wild dogs prey on the impala. We saw lots of impalas on the game drives.
The ostrich is a large flightless bird native to Africa. This male ostrich has a long neck and legs and can run at up to about 70 km/h (43 mph). This is the fastest land speed of any bird. Also, the ostrich is the largest living species of bird. Their diet consists mainly of plant matter, though it also eats invertebrates. Ostriches usually weigh between 63 to 145 kilograms (139-320 lb).
The African bush elephant is the largest living terrestrial animal. Males stand 3.2 to 4.0m (10-13 ft) tall at the shoulder and weigh 4,700-6,048 kg(10,360-13,330 lb) while females stand 2.2-2.6 m(7-9 ft) and weigh 2,160-3,232 (4,762-7125 lb). The elephant is considered one of the big five game animals in the parks and were plentiful in all of the reserves we visited. The term big five game was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult and dangerous animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Over the two weeks on safari we saw lots of elephants an I never got tired of watching and photographing them.
The elephants are difficult (to hunt) because despite their large size, they are able to hide in tall grass and are more likely to charge than the other species. This elephant has a thick, almost hairless skin, a long and flexible trunk (considered a fifth limb), upper incisors forming long curved tusks of ivory an large fan-shaped ears.
This Superb Starling is a member of the starling family of birds. It was very common in Kenya and we would see it walking on the ground looking for food. These birds are quite gregarious and generally rather tame and unafraid of people.
In the early afternoon we arrived at the Samburu Simba Lodge overlooking the Buffalo springs and the Uaso Nyiro River. After settling in the hotel we left for our afternoon safari drive. The guides headed towards the river where we came across a family of elephants. African elephant societies are arranged around family units. Each family unit is made up of around ten closely related females and their calves. The family is led by an old female known as he matriarch. After puberty (around 13 years) male elephants tend to form alliances with other males.
African elephants are highly intelligent-they have a very large and highly convoluted neocortex, a trait also shared by humans, apes and certain dolphin species. With a mass of just over 5 kg(11 lb), elephant brains are larger than those of any other land animal.
A scene along the river. During the safaris we were almost always in the vans for safety reasons. The roof of the van was opened up so we could stand up to get our photos.
Elephants exhibit a wide variety of behaviours including those associated with grief, learning, play, sense of humour, altruism, self-awareness, use of tools, compassion, cooperation, memory and possibly language.
A young elephant heading for food.
African elephants can eat up to 450 kilograms (992 lb) of vegetation per day, although their digestive system is not very efficient given that only 40% of this food is digested. They use their trunk to pluck at leaves and their tusks to tear at branches which can cause enormous damage.
Watching an elephant in the Kenyan landscape.
The Helmeted Guineafowl is the best known of the guineafowl family. It breeds in Africa, mainly south of the Sahara and has been widely introduced in the West Indies, Brazil, Australia and southern France. These birds are particularly well-suited to consuming massive quantities of ticks, which might otherwise spread lyme disease. These birds are terrestrial and prone to run rather than fly when alarmed. They are actually great runners and can walk 10km and more in a day.
The Gerenuk also known as the Waller's gazelle is a long-necked species of antelope. These animals are sometimes called the giraffe-necked antelope for obvious reasons. Gerenuks have a relatively small head for their body but their eyes and ears are proportionately large. Only the males have horns and they also have a more muscular neck than females.
The Egyptian Goose is a member of the duck, goose and swan family Anatidae. These Egyptian Goose were considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians and appeared in much of their artwork. This goose swims well and in flight looks heavy, more like a goose than a duck, thus the English name.
Sandpipers eat small invertebrates picked out of the mud or soil. These birds have long bodies and legs and narrow wings. Their bills are sensitive allowing the birds to feel the mud and sand as they probe for food.