Friday, March 20, 2015

Kenya 2015

During the 3 decades that I have been visiting Kenya, this is the first time that I was asked for proof of a Yellow Fever vaccination.  This is as a result of the Ebola scare for which the health authorities at the Nairobi airport have established and interesting screening scheme.  First one has to fill a questionnaire and as the official revised it, you see yourself in an overhead LCD screen with a couple of yellow dots moving that follow your head movements and target your forehead/temple.  And then ouch, your body temperature appears on the screen; if it is normal, you are OK to proceed.
 The safari started in Samburu where I first set foot back in 1993. Back then, the road was basically non-existent, just a dirt surface paved with potholes.  Never seen it so dry, the Samburu River was just meandering sand, I got to watch the elephants digging wells to drink.  Due the drought, the Samburu people are bringing their cattle herds for grazing and watering using the elephant’s dug wells for drinking.  As one travels across Africa, the color of the elephants changes due that of the soil in their environment, they dust themselves and take mud baths for protection against insects and the sun; you may call it their insect repellent and sun screen.
 The main reason for revisiting was to see species of mammals not seen or not abundant in other areas such as the gerenuks.  These are the most attractive antelopes in my opinion, with the graceful necks and standing in two legs to reach the acacia leaves in which they feed.  Below is one with its young one feeding.  There was a great waterhole in the Isolio River where water was readily available and frequently visited.  I spent some time there observing the Grant’s gazelles, giraffes, baboons and many others drinking…it is a stressful endeavor and any noise caused the animals to stampede in fear of a predator.  The Superb Starlings were busy at the time of the visit collecting material for their nest, and I caught this one in the act.

 Sweetwaters is a conservation site whose main attraction is the waterhole around which a tented camp is set allowing for the viewing of the activities of the various animals and birds come to drink.  It is most interesting at night…just seat at the tent, watch the action and drink the wine.  It is also a refuge of injured rhinos as well as a site for chimpanzee research.  Two years ago I got my best image of a cheetah here and this time, one of the most majestic lion.  It was at sunset and he was just sitting in a hill admiring the sunset.  I was lucky to find a hyenas’ den where I spent sometimes watching the kids playing.  And most unusual for me, photographed a flowering cactus as a well as a nearby Anama lizard.

 Arrived at Lake Nakuru after traveling both tarmac and dust roads, here there is a drought too but the lake is at the highest levels I had ever seen.  The water inundating Lake Nakuru are coming from underground sources and not from the rains; lots of acacias that circle the lake have died…not a pretty sight.  Also the huge flocks of flamingos are not there due to changes in the alkalinity of the water, so their food source does not grow.  Black and white rhinos can be seen here as well as the regular retinue of mammals.  I was able to get an image of a lilac breasted roller, among one of the most colorful birds in Africa, a snake eating hawk and the always present velvet monkey.

 Finally, reached the Masai Mara, the ultimate destination in Kenya.  It was dry here too and the Mara River reduced to a trickle in places; the result of the drought, deforestation and the pumping of water for irrigating the farmlands that has emerged in the vicinity of the park during the last 10 years.  When I first visited, here approximately 30 years, the land around the park was basically untouched, with all kind of wild animals and covered with acacias and few humans.  The animals have been poached, the acacias cut down for charcoal, and the land fenced fields with multitude sheds from where people try to scratch a living. But the dusty and pot-holed road to the park remains the same as it was back in the early 1990’s. I got the 3 big cats; the cheetah in its customary place on top of a mound searching the horizon for a meal, the young lion deciding whether to climb a tree, and the leopard taking a break from eating its prey hanging from the nearby tree.

 The birds are abundant and I got to see again my favorite owl with the pink eye lids…the Verreaux Eagle- Owl.  The saddle-billed storks were busy doing their courtship dances and the yellow-billed storks’ busy gathering energy for their migration back to Europe. Large flock were flying overhead in circles just ready to go…but I did not see any with draped babies hanging from their bills ready for delivery in France, Italy or Spain…maybe they contracted this duty to UPS.  One of the advantages of going to Africa during the winter in the northern hemisphere is that one gets to see European and Asian birds here.

I always said when there it is my last trip but Kenyan friends just do not believe me that right Moses?  How many sleeping lions are there left to photograph?  Not as many as they used to be.

So go soon.