Day 26 LEAVING MOUNTAIN LODGE; LEAVING KENYA

Bittersweet day—our last safari day in Africa.  We are lucky to see Mt. Kenya at dawn.  As the sun rises, the clouds quickly roll in, obliterating the view.

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We take a walking tour in the forest around the lodge.  We see colobus, waterbuck, and one huge chui print.  H’mmmm.  Leopards nearby? Makes a good tourist story, anyway.

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We pass many of the Massai nettle plant that (I can personally attest) causes significant pain if you rub against it.  (Bottom line: Bewre of wearing sandals in the grass!  The good news– it only lasts a few hours.)

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Walking in the forest, we stop for mid-morning tea.  This was pretty cool.  We each have a seat and a small stump-table and enjoy hot tea and cookies in the wild.

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Back at the lodge, one group shot before we leave.

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We make it back to big-city Nairobi,

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And have time for a brief stop at the Nairobi Museum.

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Where we see part of the Richard Leakey human fossil collection.

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Tomorrow we head for home—the end of a wonderful month long journey.

Check back for my next posting of our January trip: traveling to Santiago, the Falklands, scientific cruising with geologist/ecologists to St. George Island and Elephant Island (beaucoup animals and the Shackelton adventure), Antarctica, Cape Horn, Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego, Buenos Aries, and ending at an estancia in the Argentinian pampas.  Wheee!

Day 25 SAMBURU to KENYA HIGHLAND’S MOUNTAIN LODGE

We have one last morning game drive leaving Samburu. 

We watch a matriarch herd of elephants watch over an unhappy baby. 

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First the little one gave huge shrieks and all the females rushed over to it.  Then the baby played with another young one and they appeared to squabble.  Again all the older elephants rushed in to separate them. 

Fun to watch as the baby nurses and peace is restored.

A Somali twiga triumvirate munch leaves as we leave the park.

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We’re heading south through Isiolo into the Kenya Highlands, along the edge of Mount Kenya.  We pass the equator again at Nanyuki. 

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At Mountain Lodge, in Mount Kenya Park, we immediately see wildlife.  A large group of black and white colobus monkeys are high in the trees. 

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This is a unique monkey.  It has beautiful fur with a huge long tail and it has no thumb—only a stump.  The colobus is herbivorous, with a diet of fruit and flowers, leaves and twigs—this is a perfect protected arboreal habitat. And loss of habitat is endangering survival of this species.

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We take advantage of the knowledge of our guide/Ornithologist, Titus Imboma, the whole trip.  He is from the Bird Department at the University of Nairobi, and he takes us on a tour around the lodge.  He actually calls the birds in…

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The Baglafecht Weaver in a coffee bush,

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The White-Eyed Slatey Flycatcher,

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The elusive Bronze Sunbird hiding among the leaves,

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Then coming in for a landing.

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Back at the lodge we go to the viewing deck.  Sitting on stilts above the forest canopy, the lodge is reminiscent of the times William Holden and Earnest Hemmingway hunted in Africa.  The deck–and bar– looks like it could have been a hunting blind looking over a water hole. 

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This one is strictly for photographers!  At the watering hole we see a warthog with a growing problem—its tusks are way too curly and will eventually cause him big complications.

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We also see a buffalo, being cleaned by oxpeckers, nursing her calf.

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We also watch colobus in the trees.

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And we have a great view of the water hole from our rooms.

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At night the water hole is beautiful.  We hope to see something tonight.

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And we watch as a Greater-spotted Genet feeds at the station that lured a chui (aka  leopard) for up-close viewing a few days earlier.

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We’ll get up early tomorrow (surprise) to try to catch a view of Mount Kenya before the clouds roll in.  No chui tonight.

 

Day 24 SAMBURU VILLAGE VISIT and BUFFALO SPRINGS

We have a full day scheduled!  We are going to visit a native Samburu manyatta..  We have been waiting to do this since we arrived.  The Samburu are distant relatives of the Maasai.   They live similar lives but are not the same cultures.

On the way to the village we pass Samburu herding their camels.

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Oh the faces when we get to the village! 

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We are welcomed by men and women in ceremonial dress, singing traditional songs.

The young men immediately leave to graze the goats.

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The women continue to sing.  They have many layers of bead collars, a sign of prosperity.  They tell us they must buy the beads from Europe, so they are an expensive investment.

The young children also welcome us with songs.



And they love to see the photos we take.

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Some of the village elders also pose for us.

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This is the oldest woman in the village.  She is the revered village midwife (age unknown).

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The huts form a circle with acacia thorn bush around the outside perimeter for protection from wild animals.  In the center of the village is another circle of thorn bush.  This is where they keep their animals protected at night. 

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They show us how they build their huts,

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And allow us to go inside.  They live a Spartan existence.

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They demonstrate how they start a fire.

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Plus we have an opportunity to buy some of their crafts.

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We say goodbye to the Samburu women,

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And our guide, before leaving for Buffalo Springs.

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The Buffalo Springs National Reserve is just on the other side of the river. 

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And right after we arrive we see our big prize—the endangered Grévy’s zebras.  These look different from their more common cousins, the plains, or Burchell’s zebra. The Grévy’s are bigger, with a longer face and, most obviously, their stripes do not extend under their abdomen.  Scientists now believe zebras are white animals with black stripes—and the stripe exists on its skin as well as its hair. 

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Two adolescent stallions show us zebra boys will be boys.

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This is the only area where we will see the Beisa Oryx.  As a special treat, they have two beautiful calves with them.

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The Black-capped Social Weavers also are only found in Kenya’s Northern Territory.  The trees in this area are loaded with them.  We catch one in ‘Builder Bob” mode.

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For protection, they build their nests with two entrances.  Some pairs watch us from both their first and second story vantage points.

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The red hornbills dot this baked riverine woodland. 

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The Uaso Nyiro River is the true source of the diversity in the area.  It is dry, but not a desert.  We head back to Samburu.

On the other side of the river we see our first Somali Ostrich.  The male, when courting, displays a bright blue head and neck.

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We even get to see a male and female fluff their feathers as their do their mating dance.

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Heading back to lunch—more to come—we see a brilliant yellow hornbill.

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Lunch is a special treat at Larsen’s Camp.  The tables are under trees beside the river.  (The Samburu warrior is there to fend of the cheeky monkeys.)

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We have a visit from a flock of Vulturine Guinea-fowl.  These guys are FAB-u-lous, Simply FAB-u-lous!

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And a vervet monkey stops close by, in case any food drops.  The locals call them the blue ball monkeys.  Duh!

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Our afternoon drive starts in the woodland savanna where we find small cubs beside the road.  We’ve noticed, African babies tend to stay put when mom gives an order.  Natural selection.  Those that don’t usually don’t make it.

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Along the road, we see the matriarch pride on a hunt.  The lead female, two adolescents and another adult female.  Suddenly the older female takes off into the brush.  The other adult female remains behind and appears to be training the adolescents.  They are waiting for orders.

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The three continue to wander down the road, watching in the direction the lead disappeared.

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Suddenly they stop.  The lead lion breaks through some brush to rejoin them.  All this without a sound we could hear.  The prey must have moved off.  They appear to have been in contant communication during the whole hunt.

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Moving out to the higher woodlands, we see two klipspringers.  They are small and wiry, almost like mountain goats.

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And our big find—an elusive Greater Kudu.  Their horns are magnificent, curly and huge.  We get a quick look as he hides behind a commiphora tree.

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When he moves into the brush, we can see a little bit more of the animal.  With bands of color, he reminds me of a re-paint, where someone smears a paintbrush trying out new shades.

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Tomorrow we’ll leave Samburu and head to the Mount Kenya area–our last safari stop!

Day 23 SAMBURU NATIONAL RESERVE

We wake to a beautiful sunrise over the Ewaso Ng’iro river flowing outside our canvas room at Larson’s Tented Camp.  

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If you look carefuly, you can see the vervet monkey outside the door. The staff bring us coffee and a biscuit each morning before breakfast.  These clever little devils will rush in to look for food, if given a chance.  And they will charge the tray if you turn your back when you bring it outside.  (And we always take itrays back to the front desk–we aren’t about to leave crumbs in our tent.  I think these guys would find some way to get in.)  We keep any snack bars or gum in locked suitcases.  Not only must we keep our tent zippers closed at all times, we have to lock them with a pin or the monkeys will just unzip and make themselves at home.  Cheeky little @#$@$!

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Samburu is an interesting area.  It is where George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness of  “Born Free.”  It is also where a lioness unsuccessfully attempted to adopt—rather than eat—several oryx calves (she wasn’t a good oryx mom and they didn’t make it.)

We start our first drive at dawn—the sun rising over the Doum palms is spectacular. 

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I’m told ths is the only species of multi-branched palm.  It’s been around for a while…3,000 year old Doun palm fruit was found in King Tut’s tomb. 

We immediately come upon our third type of giraffe—the Somali reticulated giraffe. 

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This species has a defined square pattern, none of the rosette splotches we saw in the Maasai giraffe and no white legs like the Rothchild’s.

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Three lioness walk down the road, right beside our car.

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Soooo close!

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Driving a bit further, we meet a large matriarch herd of elephants, with babies from several generations. 

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And we spot a March Eagle is in a tree picking on the remains of a dik dik leg (the tiny antelope).  We don’t know if the eagle caught the dik dik,

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But it now must fend off two fan-tailed crows who decide they want to try to get in on the feast.

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A beautiful red-beaked hornbill lands on a nearby tree at the road.

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Then we see it’s mate throwing a worm into the air to catch and eat it—much like we might throw popcorn to catch in our mouths.

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In an open field we find a herd of oryx.

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And one even sticks out his tongue to give us a raspberry!

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At dusk, we find several genenuk.

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These long-necked antelope typically browse on their hind feet , eating the top leaves and shoots of prickly bushes and acacias.

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The young bucks seem to  love to spar at the end of the day.

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And we end the day with a colorful sunset among the doun palms.

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Tomorrow we begin our day at a Samburu village.  These are  semi-nomadic people who are related to the Masai.  They herd mainly cattle but also keep sheep, goats and sometimes camels.

Day 22 LAKE NAKURU to SAMBURU

The Sarova Lion Hill Lodge is lovely and we have visitors at breakfast…African Speke’s Weavers.

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They have made nests outside the main hall at Lion Hill, so we get to enjoy their antics before our game drive. 

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Lake Nakuru National Park is small and quite unique.  It is a refuge right beside the city of Nakuru–like having a huge natural zoo at your back door.  Almost all species of African animals live here except the elephant.  Because it is next to the city, there is no way to contain the huge elephants.  They pretty much go whereever they want, so they would endanger the people in town.  We plan a full morning before we must head off to our next lodge.  We start in the yellow acacia forest and find our olive baboon friends, again. 

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Then a real treat—a beautiful Long-crested Eagle.  It’s early morning so it is watching for prey, usually a rodent.

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We move toward Lake Nakuru—bird central– and find an old tree “decorated” with yellow-billed storks.

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Near the lake, Sacred Ibis crown the yellow acacias,

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And a Sacred Ibis lift-off from the lake.  This is a grand sight.

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Then  we see a Hammerkrop wading at the shore. It is named because the feathers on the back of it head resemble a hammer.  

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Flamingos reflect across the lake as they take flight.  

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Nakuru is an alkaline lake and is one of the prime viewing areas for lesser and greater flamingos. Flamingos are attracted here becuase the soda lake produces the Spiruina algae. This food source also produces the pink of their plumage.   When they dry their feathers we can appreciate the spectacular display.

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Beside the flamingos, we have a mélange of other water birds—Maribou stork, Great Cormorants, Egyptian Geese, heron and gray-headed gulls in flight and on the ground. 

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This is a birder’s paradise.  There are large numbers of pelicans.

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And they put on a synchronized swimming show

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As they nosh along the shore—it is still breakfast time, after all.


The African spoonbill (no queston how he got his name) uses his adapted bill to sieve food from the mud.

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A yellow-billed duck (again, naming follows form) swims by us.

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And an Egyptian Goose also looks for food in the shallows.

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The lake is a focus of life at Nakuru.  Zebra cross our road in an area that may soon be cut off as the water rises. 

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Finally, we see our first Rothchild’s Giraffe walking near the water …times three!  Note the white legs.  This is one of the most endangered giraffe species and Lake Nakuru is one of the few places we find some of only a few hundred still in the wild. 

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Once again, a plug for scheduling extra time in Nairobi: beside the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, try to visit the Giraffe Manor, a Rothchild Giraffe sanctuary, if you can.  Giraffe can stick their head in your window while you sip morning coffee.  Again we didn’t leave enough time to schedule a night.  Unfortunately, we got this information from others who had made the stop.  We now know you also can go for a day trip!

As we head back to the woodlands we find another Rothchild Giraffe herd with a young calf.

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And an olive baboon is beside the road nursing a tiny baby.

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A bit farther, a white rhino is grazing in the grass.  He walks right beside our car, totally ignoring us. 

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We need to head back to our cabin at the lodge before lunch.   

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I found this pink trumpet vine by the pool.

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We’re heading off to our next lodge at Larsen’s Tented Camp, in eastern Kenya, near the Somali border.  Nakuru gives us a final gift…a black rhino stands on the edge of the riverine woodland as we leave.  We would have stayed here another day!

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As we head to our next location in eastern Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve, we pass more local shops, like this butchery with meat hanging in the window.  Oh, yummm.

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Continuing through the Riff Valley, we see a geyser in Kenya’s geothermal fields.  Although Kenya has for long depended on hydropower for electricity needs, it also is investing in alternative native sources of energy, such as geothermal and wind.

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Then a quick stop at Thomson’s Falls, a 243 ft scenic waterfall on the Ewaso Ng’iro river.

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We cross the equator.

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Then enjoy a beautiful sunset…on the road.

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This should have been a good thing.  However, it get’s a bit uncomfortable (read menacing) here.  Obviously we are behind schedule and traveling after dark.  It seems the eastern part of Kenya has become a haven for Somali immigrants.  These people are predominantly Muslim, have caused some problems for Kenya, and are forming their own poor isolated enclaves.  So Kenya has brought in armed troops all over the area, placed spiked barriers on the roads and military check points.  We were supposed to be within the Samburu National Reserve by sundown.  Arriving after dark, the border guards in the town of Archers’s Post Gate don’t want to let us through.  We wait for about 30 minutes while the issue is sorted out.  Our guides tell us not to stare at people in the village—who are not smiling as they stare at us– and definitely NO cameras, no pictures.  Young boys throw rocks at one car in our group and break a window.  Money is exchanged and we pass through.  Whew!  We arrive at a lovely tented camp… another world.

 

Day 21 MARA TO LAKE NAKURU GAME RESERVE

We take our last tour of the Mara as we head off to another part of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru Nation Park.  What a great surprise!  We find a cheetah with four cubs. 

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What beautiful animals.  The babies have shaggy-haired backs so they can hide in the long grass while the mother hunts.

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And this mother has her work cut out for her.  She will have difficulty feeding four cubs and keeping them safe.  

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Right now she is still nursing so she must be very concerned feeding herself.  

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We watch the mother stalk and run at a Thompson’s gazelle.  She didn’t make the kill this time.

We have one last surprise—we finally see a black rhino. 

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We now have our Big Five!  This term refers to the five African animals big game hunters of old determined were the most dangerous—the most dangerous when cornered during a huntThe elephant, leopard, lion, Cape buffalo, and the rhino.  Most are now only hunted by camera…most.  We learn Nakuru is a protected reserve where black and white rhinos are secured because these endangered animals are still poached in some parts for their horns, if the opportunity presents.

Our Twiga is on the road again as we leave, a final goodbye.

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 We roll past more elephants on the way out of the Mara Conservation Area.

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These famous Olaloololo Escarpment is a beautiful back drop for the iconic Balanites trees.  This escarpment is the western border of the Mara and the Great Rift Valley. The trees are found throughout Africa and into the Middle East.  It has been called the desert date and the soap berry tree.

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Out on the road, we are back to isolated African settlements. 

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Some of these areas even use euphorbia as fence posts—much like ranches in the American Southwest that use the long ocotillo cactus branches for fencing.  Once in the ground euphorbia can take root and become living enclosures.

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We pass a few shops on the road—full of colorful African memorabilia, like the Maasai blankets, 

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 And yes, tchotchkes too, like this rack of “hunting shields.”

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We enter Nakuru Park just after a rain—and a wide rainbow stretches across the sky!  More good luck?  This is a unique place.  Very small and right beside the city of Nakuru.  They don’t have elephants here because it would not be possible to contain them and they would endanger the town.

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An impala family greets us. 

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Along with olive baboons cleaning each other.

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Out on the open plains of Nakuru we see our first White Rhino. 

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Their name is said to be a mistranslation of the Dutch and later Afrikaans word “wijd” which means wide,  a description of the shape of its mouth.  The white rhino has a wide, square mouth built to graze. 

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It is also the most social of the rhinos.  Don’t read that as friendly, but it is often seen in groups and isn’t as skittish as the critically endangered black rhino (that has a narrow mouth and hooked lip). The black rhino is a browser, the hooked lip used to strip leaves from branches.  It is found at Nakuru–but we’ll have much less chance of seeing one here since it typically hides in the woodlands.  The white rhino is native to southern Africa and Nakuu is one of the locations where it has been introduced to help stabilize the species.

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We work our way around the lake shore and see large flocks of Lesser Flamingos.  The Lesser Flamingo, smaller than the Greater Flamingo, feeds primarily on Spirlina algea growing in very alkaline lakes, like Nakuru. 

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At dusk we head back to Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge where we have a special treat after dinner…native dancers.

Tomorrow we’ll explore more of Lake Nakuru and hopefully find our third type of giraffe, the majestic Rothchild’s Giraffe.

 

Day 20 LAST DAY ON THE MARA RIVER

First thing this morning we head back to the hyena cubs.  They are still in the red oat grass but we now see they have a social structure—the babies have a “nanny.” 

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The matriarch has a tracking collar (hyenas packs are always lead by a female, and females are bigger than males). The rangers only tag the lead female hyena as they gather data so they can manage the area.

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We see the nanny carry one of the babies in her mourh—a bit of discipline for this youngster who has been acting up.  These are lucky babies.  Born to the matriarch they have high status in the pack.  Babies born to other females will have a very tough life.

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Suddenly we hear a starling noise coming at us—a crazy hot air balloon is almost landing on top of us—and the hyenas are agitated.

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The balloon moves over us and they resume normal life.  

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Moving back to the Mara we see two female lions—are these the ones we saw during our night drive?  If so they were much more ominous in the dark!  Or I should say they are deceptively benign resting in the grass.  Lions follow the herd…they follow the food.

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Back at the river we continue to see crossings.

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The wildebeest make quite a sight leaping off the rocks into the river. 

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We feel very lucky to have seen so many huge crossings.  Really a remarkable spectacle.  We even see a Topi swim across.  Who knew?

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Heading back to camp, we drive by the wetlands one final time.  

We find a batchelor herd of young Topis.  We stop to enjoy the boys sparring.


A mother Topi and calf look on.

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Out of the wetlands, we meet a large giraffe family

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And watch while one drinks.  They are in such a vulnerable position when they go for water. Quite an amazing pose.

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Tomorrow, we’ll do a quick drive before heading to the next game reserve at Lake Nakuru National Park.  This is one of the smaller parks in Africa but it’s a real gem.  More on this tomorrow!