Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Kenya 2019

East Africa is a place for wildlife like no other on earth and particularly Kenya where the great ungulate migrations take place.  I was first in Kenya in 1993 and have returned numerous times including other countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa.  While in Kenya and Tanzania in 2015 I said that was not returning to Africa again…I lied.  When I am asked why such an enchantment with Africa my response is that if you “don’t go to Africa, you never will understand the meaning of life.” 
 The gerenuk is the Audrey Hepburn’s animal version with its long neck and majestic pose when standing on two feet, to reach the succulent acacia leaves out of the reach of other antelopes.  It is said that it is the closest relative of the giraffes. Not to be confused with the impalas (3rd and fourth images below) that spent the early mornings running and jumping preparing for another day avoiding becoming a meal of the big cats.

 Most people go to Africa to see the big cats…lions, leopards and cheetahs. No doubt the lions are the kings of the jungles but the canny ability of the leopard to ambush its prey and climbing of trees is unique. Pound per pound I say that they are the most powerful ones - see them dragging a full grown male impala up a tree…a meal that may last several days. While the leopards are loners the lions hunt in family groups. Lions can also climb trees but not with the agility of the leopard.

 The cheetahs are ground based and known as the fastest running animal sometimes reaching speeds of 60 miles/hour but don’t have the stamina to run long.  The female raises the cubs on its own and I had seen her catch a young tommy gazelle alive and bring it to the young to play with it; but this is no play but training to make the kill.  The second image of 3 cheetahs was taken at sunrise when they were ready to start searching for a meal…the hunt is on.

 The ostrich is the largest flightless bird and its powerful legs are weapons that can seriously injure a predator or other ostriches during battles for territory and mates.  The females are of brownish colors while the males are adorned with white and black feathers and sometimes with pink legs.  I was lucky to witness a fight between two males for the lady and the territory.  The struggle lasted about 15 minutes of short confrontations and long chases; the challenged male won the day and the family stayed together.

 Birds are abundant in Samburu with such colorful ones as the red and yellow barbet, the vulturine fowl, the lilac breasted lilac that some ornithologists claim as having 72 colors, the most of any bird. 

 Others not so colorful such as the white-headed buffalo weaver; it knits nests of grass leaves that hangs from the trees. The tawny eagle is common and a very successful hunter but the Isabelline shrike is not left behind. The red-billed hornbill makes its nest in tree cavities and during incubation the female is entombed by a mud plug with a hole thru which the male feeds it and the chicks…all that goes in thru the holes comes out the same way. Once the chicks are old enough to fly the mud plug is broken and the whole family abandons the tree hole.

 Due to the long droughts the villagers invade the park to water their animals and the game wardens look the other way. Below a herd of camels brought to the Samburu River to drink; cows and goats also breach the boundaries of the park for survival. As you can see the river was a trickle of water and an ocean of sand.  Did I mention elephants?  No, but there are plenty and I choose to leave the park with an image of a sleepy velvet monkey; it was hot.

 In 1993 the roads were potholes and mud traps but now it is mostly asphalted.  Back then Sweetwaters consisted of about 8 tents facing a waterhole, the major attraction, the Manor House where the meals were served.  It has grown to a second row of elevated tents behind the original ones, then a pool and a new row of rooms that look like a hotel.  The house grew to include a larger dining room the old one morphed into a bar with seating area, and greater dining room with buffet area. When first there a British family ran the place and welcomed you to the Manor House; there was a menu and formal dining…gone with the wind

 Probably the only rhino cemetery in the world that died from poaching or of plain old age is here.  Morani a blind rhino that I met in 2004 sleeps here. 

 There is always lots of the activity at the waterhole, formerly a rock quarry where impalas, giraffes and others go in the early morning for a drink.  The giraffe while drinking is at great risk from predators since it takes a lot of effort in spreading the legs to bend to reach the water Nearby in a bush was a white-bellied go-away-bird; first time I got a decent image of this bird.  It is called that way because its calls seem to say “go-way”.

 Hyenas are known to be vicious killers and robbers but are family oriented.  When around their dens a repugnant odor is notice as well as putrid leftovers of previous meals. But this reputation of being nasty animals is farfetched and can be seen below.  A mom takes its pups to the water trough for a refreshing bath.

 Lake Nakuru.
It has always a stopover on the way to the Masai Mara and the lake has deteriorated since I was there first when there was plenty of water, thousands of pink flamingos making the lake look pink as many other birds, such as cormorants and fishing eagles.  Remember the Black Backed jackals chasing the flamingos and catching them in the air by grabbing them by the long legs.  For a while the lake became polluted by the sewage from the nearby town of the same name but eventually a sewage treatment plant was installed. The lake in my opinion has not recuperated and the water level appeared still low while visiting now, lots of dust and dead trees.  It’s also a Rhino preserve and these are habituated to the tourists as well as are the Cape Buffaloes. Once during one of my previous trips one of these suddenly charged the Land Rover and bent the rear fender; it walked away as nothing affected him.  The Cape buffalo is one of the major killers of people along with the rhinos.  Giraffes are abundant here too.

 Birds are abundant and the ever beautiful lilac-breasted rollers, pelicans, tawny eagles, sacred ibises and my favorite the Verreaux Eagle Owl with its pink eyelids, not to mention the large colored lizards.

 Lake Naivasha.
Most photographs the African Fish Eagles are taken here.  The eagles allow their images to be taken for a price; a friend calls “supplemental feeding”.  They are conditioned to catch dead fish thrown by lake fishermen that have found that photographic tourism is more profitable than chasing the fish.  
 The strategy for the photographers is to be the first ones in the lake early in the morning and motorboat around the shores of the lake.  When an eagle is spotted, the boat stops, the fisherman starts whistling to get its attention and when eagle notices, a fish is thrown in the water. When the eagle flies to retrieve the lure the photographers break loose with their telephotos to catch the action.  This is repeated until the fish is exhausted…not many…since these have to be purchased by bundles of dollars.  There are also opportunities to take photos of swimming hippos, kingfishers and the ugliest birds, the Marabou Storks.

 Masai Mara.
Is the most famous park in Kenya because of the migrations crossing the Masai Mara River? Since 1993 I have seen the decline in wildlife, particularly lions where they were all over the place and by the second day one got tired of seeing sleeping ones.  Not the case anymore, you are lucky if you see one and prides are rare; the victims of poisoning and killings by the invading herders that come with their cows to feed in the grasslands and water and extreme tourism. Urbanizations has moved basically to the gates of the park, in the old days when approaching the park the areas were full of acacia trees and wildlife roamed outside the limits of the parks

 Since the road from Nairobi to the park has been mostly paved (funded by China), tourist vans can come for the day overwhelming the roads and I maintain disturbing the hunts of the big cats.
Tourism has overwhelmed most countries resources to cope with it regardless of been in the First or Third world.
 Thirty years ago it was unusual finding lions climbing trees and I do remember that this practice was mostly found in the West Serengeti in Tanzania.  Now it is common in the Mara by young lions mostly done to escape the flies and the heat and perhaps to search for prey, I assume. Lions do not mind getting wet even when the last image below shows one jumping a creek.

 Currently there is a group of five cheetahs that hunt together and this has been now for a couple of years and very successful hunters.  Was lucky to see the group chasing a topi but unfortunately they were not able to make a kill; did not realize that they could take down such a large animal. Another solitary cheetah had a successful hunt and enjoyed a juicy tommy for dinner.

 The leopard in the olden days was the most elusive of the big cats and hard to find. Two to 3 years used to elapse without being seen but now they are frequently seen and I attribute this to their conditioning of seeing people in vehicles…did not find any with prey this time. Notice the spot patterns compared to those of the cheetah above.

 After many years of going to East Africa finally was able to photograph the elusive serval cat. It feeds mostly on insects and rodents and for birds, it jumps in the air to catch them in the flight; although seen this happening, was surprised and did not catch it.

 Hyenas and baboons are both scavengers that occasionally steal the prey from cheetahs and the occasional single leopard or lion. The baboons are particularly mean and I had seen them eating young ones although male lions do the same with lion cubs. Female baboons at times carry their dead babies around.  Once I witnessed a male taking the dead one from the mother and chasing her away.  In my opinion baboons are mean and will not hesitate to attack and chase leopards from trees…they wonder around in large troops and will not hesitate in getting into a safari vehicle and stealing food or attacking tourists.

 Even birds have become hard to find in particular the raptors such as the Black-Chested Snake eagle that back in the 1990’s and 2000’s were common. I did not see a single Bateleur eagle in the Mara, and for that matter, in all the month I was in Kenya.  Others are still common such as the Black-bellied bustard, the hammercop, the crowned crane or the ever present lilac-breasted roller and the white-browed coucal.

 Time to move on but I will not repeat “I will never return again” since Africa still presents the greatest animal show on earth.  Promise not to poach a giraffe out of the park again.