Wednesday, September 3, 2014

GAME DRIVES


That it was (about wildlife), and for six to eight hours a day, starting at 6:30am and going past sunset, with a break in the middle of the day for lunch and maybe a shower and a nap.


We bumped along in a Toyota Land Cruiser modified for the off road challenges of a safari. In 2 of the 3 camps Frank and I were the only passengers with a driver doubling as a guide.

Our third camp was an And Beyond camp called Kichwa Tempo on the Masai Mara National Game Reserve. We shared a Land Cruiser with Zach and Lisa, a young couple from New York, a producer and actress. Also with us were Brian Lupton-Smith and his wife, JoAnne from South Africa. They own a chemical company which makes a wide variety of products.








The peak animal encounter for me was one in Sambura National Park where we stayed with a pair of lionesses for over an hour, watching them stalk some impala. They used a strategy where one was a "striker" who would charge, and drive the antelope toward the "catcher". In this case the catcher was creeping up on her potential prey - and we were right in between. The lioness came straight at me, ultimately using our car as cover, crawling right underneath me!

The two lionesses did not make a kill in the end. After all that stalking they didn’t attempt a charge. The antelope moved out of striking distance, and the lionesses trotted back to their cubs.

Stalking Lioness with Masai Chanting from Mike Holtby on Vimeo.









These encounters often involve a lot of waiting for something to happen. We saw a lot of lions laying around on their backs with full bellies from a kill the night before.















I saw my first cheetah - in fact 3 or 4 cheetah sightings. Again we waited for something to happen. One young cheetah waited almost until dark to charge (their sight isn’t for nighttime hunting like lions and leopards). When he finally did charge it was very impressive how fast he moved. A cheetah can reach speeds of 70 miles per hour, but runs out of gas in thirty seconds. In this case the cheetah was unsuccessful. It was a streak and I lost sight of him in the failing light.



More than once we came upon a kill from the night before. In one case it was a hippo we’d seen lying in a ditch the day before. I had taken a photo of it’s eye - showing fear at the time. On this trip we saw dozens of hippos in the rivers, on land and even in the pools of small streams. Usually a hippo is a formidable opponent - even for lions. This hippo was alone and evidently injured or sick.



A lion kill proved to be a productive spot to see jackals, hyenas, vultures and other raptors. We saw a tawney eagle fight over some leftovers with a juvenile fish eagle - and got some dramatic photos. It is amazing how a large kill like a hippo or buffalo can be picked clean in a matter of hours.

Unfortunately, we missed the Great Migration by a matter of days. We saw two lone zebra cross the river. We also saw wildebeests but I didn’t even get a good photo of one.

When the wildebeests mass on one side of the Mara River their numbers push the ones ahead forward into the river. They can number in the thousands. It becomes a stampede into the jaws of waiting crocodiles. But even more lethal is the wildebeests jumping on top of one another on the way down - drowning some or breaking bones. The banks become littered with carcasses. And the Masai harvest the tails to make ornamental fly swatters with beaded handles. (Both Frank & I bought one from John, made by his wife).