Thursday, October 12, 2017

Laikipia and Maasai Mara Private Safari

Breeding season in full swing.

It’s been 18 months since our last safari to Laikipia and in view of the latest unrest the area has received it was with mixed feeling that we travelled the well-known route from Nanyuki to Laikipia Wilderness Camp. But all fears were soon laid to rest as we drove through striking landscape and seeing the first herds of Elephant, Zebra and the always weird looking Gerenuk antelope. Upon arrival we were met by the friendly camp staff and showed to our tents. Laikpia Wilderness Camp is still the well-kept and exciting destination it ever was and after lunch cameras were polished off as we headed for our first drive along the Ewaso Narok river where herds of Elephant, Eland Waterbuck and a host of other wildlife greeted us against a backdrop of dramatic equatorial stormy clouds.

Our daily schedule for the next few days was an early start (once delayed by soft rain) where we searched for the special wildlife that calls Laikpia home.  We returned to Camp for breakfast after which we did some image processing. Then lunch and leisure until afternoon tea, and the second game drive of the day. Because we were searching for the great light we only stopped for sundowner drinks once the last of the light had disappeared. Then it was off to dinner at camp. 

Laikipia has a very healthy predator population but because we were heading to Mara afterward we concentrated on the special wildlife of the area. Most nights we were serenaded to sleep by distant lions calling, a subtle reminder of the true  wilderness of the place.

Except for the aforementioned Gerenuk, Grevy’s Zebra of which there are only 3000 left in the wild and Reticulated Giraffe were high on our list of priorities. The feature-full Laikipia landscape makes a dramatic backdrop for wildlife photography and catching these unique species against the undulating hills is always special.

There were still breeding activity in the area and an active Jackal den provided interesting opportunities. Yet the most interesting of all was a newly born Elephant calf en-route to the airport on our transfer drive back to Nanyuki.  

Then it was off to the Mara for the next stop of our safari. 

Avoiding the crowds proved very worth while on our first afternoon with this Black Rhino on the plains all to ourselves. 

It is only in the Maasai Mara where the total nonchalance of two large and very indifferent male lions ignoring us, is matched by us, equally uninterested in the very impressive, albeit sleeping, specimens. This happened on our very first game drive in the Maasai Mara. Wherever cars crowded poor animals, especially Cheetah and Leopard, we deliberately avoided the crowds. This approach proved very effective and the sightings we had over the four days we spent in the Main reserve proved to consistently of a very high quality. Often we were the only vehicle in a sighting and if there were other cars present it was but a few. This approach proved particularly productive on the very first game drive when we located a black Rhino out in the open without anyone in sight. This set the stage for the remainder of our stay here and this approach, leaving the crowds behind proved most effective.

Although seeing lions every day, it took three days to get this very large specimen doing something in great light. 

The very first day was probable the best example as within a few hours drive we managed to locate a Black Rhino out in the open without anyone around. What a privilege it was to be able to have this rare sighting all to ourselves.

Our main objective, as is the case with most people visiting the Mara during the migration season, was to get a herd of wildebeest crossing one of the rivers snaking through the reserve. Eventually one such crossing took place only a few hundred meters from camp where we were the only vehicle present.

The days in the Mara produced amazing sightings of lions and cubs, herds upon herds of wildebeest, Topi, Zebra, Eland, Buffalo, elephant and a host more.

Our camp, positioned at the confluence of the Mara and Talek rivers certainly not for the faint hearted. Every night herds of elephant would move through, Hippo’s were regular visitors to camp, (once even following us to our tents!!) and even the resident Buffalos, generally regarded as part of the scenery, provided endless excitement. Hyenas and lions would call from a few meters away and often we would encounter them only minutes out of camp.

Seconds and the action is over. 
 We stayed in the main reserve in order to find a crossing, yet the next stop, also in the Mara were reserved for the cats without the crowds. Off to the Mara North is was.

We stayed in the main reserve in order to find a crossing, yet the next stop, also in the Mara were reserved for the cats without the crowds. Off to the Mara North is was.

Our very forst drive in the Mara North produced this stunning photo opportunity. 

Having deliberately avoided the crowds which swarmed around the leopard and cheetahs in the main reserve, we set our sights on the spotted cats while in the Mara North. During the first afternoon reports came in of a mother leopard and sub on a kill and with this in mind we set of to see if our luck would hold. Not to be disappointed, shortly after arriving in the area we located first the cub and then mom feeding on a Young wildebeest. The afternoon was spent photographing these two as they finished off the remains of their kill only meters from our vehicle.
Behind the scenes of what happened when the following image was taken.  
The Mara North is an old time favorite of mine. This region borders the main reserve yet has a completely different feel. In some parts Maasai people occupy the same territories as the wildlife and although this may seem out of place in todays sterile conservation landscape, it doesn’t take long to realize that this authentic co-habitation of people and wildlife is pretty much how it was for centuries past. As they say the proverbial proof of the pudding lies in the eating, the test of the Mara North as a wildlife destination lies in the quantity and quality of its wildlife.  We lost count of the amount of lions we saw and could stay for lengthy periods following cheetah without crowds overwhelming the sighting.
The three musketeers. 

Arguably the best photographic opportunity came about here when inquisitive lion cubs came to inspect a remote camera.

Sadly, as with all great things, it must come to an end at some stage and with the last flight taking us back to Nairobi and onwards, we had to say till next time to the Mara. But at least its not goodbye.

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