Mike Mockler

December 2012

Below is Mike’s account of his recent safari in Kenya...


Northern Kenya
After more than thirty visits to Kenya, I wanted to see some different locations, while avoiding the "mass market" features that have blighted so much of the country's tourist infrastructure.  I planned an itinerary which focussed on private wildlife conservancies and decided not to visit any national parks or national reserves.  

On the way from the airstrip to our camp, the first mammal species for the trip was a herd of impalas.  The second was a cheetah that was stalking them!  It was a female with her well-grown cub watching intently a short distance away.  It took the cheetah more than an hour to creep into position without alerting the impalas.  Then she burst from cover and, after a furious, zig-zagging chase, pulled down one of the impalas. A dramatic start to the safari!

On the following days, we enjoyed seven more cheetah sightings and witnessed more cheetah hunts.  There were several encounters with three male cheetahs that specialise in taking zebras: on one occasion, we watched them stalk a zebra herd as dusk approached, though they gave up as the light faded.   Another mother cheetah, with three cubs, also chased and caught an impala, scattering prey animals at the same time.   A few hundred yards away, a lone male cheetah took advantage of the panic to seize a warthog for himself.  While all that was going on, a black rhino stood watching   It was hard to know where to look!  

It was wonderful to see several black rhinos, more unpredictable and stroppy than their cousin, the larger white rhino, but the black rhinoceros really is such an endearing animal!   Tragically, once again, rhino poaching is sweeping  across much of Africa and it's estimated that a rhino is being killed every day. The horn is much sought after by deluded (or callous) people in China, Thailand, Vietnam and other countries in the far east where rhino horn is used in traditional medicine.  In these countries, people mistakenly believe that powdered rhino horn can cure many ailments and heart-related diseases even though it is made of keratin.  They may as well eat their finger nails, also comprised of keratin, to cure themselves.   For this absurd reason one of the world's most spectacular and ancient creatures is facing extinction.  Grotesque and appalling.

The rare Grevy's zebra, the attractive reticulated giraffe, groups of elephants and a pregnant lioness were just some of the other animals we saw on game-drives while, from our spacious, comfortable tent we watched eland, Africa's largest antelope, and the localised Jackson's hartebeest. 

Bird-watching was very good, with resident species augmented by an ever-increasing number of Eurasian migrants arriving from the north: European (barn) swallow, European swift, house martin, pallid harrier, Montagu's harrier, red-footed falcon and European roller to name just a few.

It was a privilege to spend time with a pack of wild dogs, extremely rare animals everywhere in Africa, especially so in East Africa.  In the 1980s, wild dogs were seen regularly in Kenya - perhaps some people took them for granted.  I remember in the mid-1980s, at a wild dog den in the Masai Mara, being horrified as scores of tourist vehicles scrambled for prime position, showing little regard for the wild dogs, their pups or the den.  Incredibly, one driver drove over the underground den, causing the earth to collapse under his vehicle.  

Today, most people realise the crucial importance of this species so it was a joy to watch them hunting and caring for their pups.  In northern Kenya, wild dogs seem to be much darker than those I have seen in Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  All the members of this pack were extremely handsome animals, their dark coats emphasising the gold markings on the napes and elsewhere on their bodies.  On our final drive, we met the wild dogs yet again - the perfect ending!    


Private conservancies near the Masai Mara
Clustered around the Masai Mara National Game Reserve are ten private conservancies, three of which have been created recently.  Although within the Masai Mara ecosystem, significantly they are separate from the over-utilised Game Reserve proper.   In the conservancy where we stayed, there are just five small camps, each of which is allowed to operate a maximum of four game-viewing vehicles.  So there's little risk of meeting crowds of tourists on game-drives.   

Owned by the Masai, these conservancies represent an imaginative approach to wildlife tourism.  In return for use of the land, the camps pay substantial sums to the Masai landowners, so providing the Masai community with valuable income.  In the newest conservancy, I was shown a primary school, clinic, small hospital and bore-hole pumping fresh water by means of a solar panel.  All had been recently constructed and were paid for by tourist who stayed at the camps.  Perfect!

After years of over-grazing by Masai livestock, the habitat will take time to recover fully but there are signs that this is already happening.  Herbivores are present in big numbers and elephants seem to be abundant - we saw an unusually large group of 16 massive bulls.  Spotted hyenas occur in extraordinary concentrations and a large pride of 24 lions with three superb pride males have moved in.  Two of the sub-adults provided great entertainment when they tried to catch a wildebeest.  After some less-than-impressive stalking, they rushed at the wildebeest too early and it fled, leaving the two incompetent lions looking puzzled and apparently blaming each other!  There were other cats too and, each night, lying in my comfortable bed in our spacious tent, I heard the rasping calls of a leopard a short distance away.  

Birdlife is spectacular too.  The incoming flow of migrants continued unabated: white storks, black storks, steppe eagles and European bee-eaters were among the most visible while, around our tent, smaller migrants like pied wheatear and spotted flycatcher vied for our attention with local residents species such as the tiny red-fronted tinkerbird.  

As these conservancies are outside the National Game Reserve itself, some camps offer night drives, which appealed to me as I had heard reports of occasional sightings of aardvark.  To illustrate how difficult it is to see an aardvark, let me explain.  Prior to this trip, I had been on more than 110 African safaris, during which I had seen just one aardvark.   To put that in context, during that same time, I enjoyed well over 400 leopard sightings.   Not surprisingly, therefore, as we set off in search of this near-mythical nocturnal creature, the words "Mission Impossible" were echoing in my mind.  Incredibly, less than twenty minutes after leaving camp, we sighted an aardvark!  Clearly visible in the spotlight, this strange consumer of termites was bumbling around on the plain, just minding its own business.  We stayed with it for some time, during which it didn't just ignore our vehicle, it didn't even notice it!  A bizarre creature indeed but how fantastic!           


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