You probably think you know what Africa will be like from television, but the real thing is a far richer experience than you might imagine. There are a lot of animals and creatures that are rarely seen on wildlife programs and they often interact in surprising ways. For example the gazelles follow the monkeys because the monkeys make good lookouts. In some places a lot of different animals gather together, so you see a sort of garden of eden effect with baboons, elephants, zebras, giraffe, gazelles and other antelopes all keeping watch for predators at different levels.
The enjoyment of your safari depends a lot on your guide. I was very lucky to have excellent guides in Jackson and Richard. Firstly, Jackson at Ol Donyo was outstanding, very affable and obviously enjoyed tracking and imparting some of his tracking techniques. The image of the cheetah hunting in the early morning light (see below) is one of my favorites captured with Jackson. The safari experience seems to tap into the human hunting instinct to track animals, except that the aim now is to get a good photo. It is exciting to track a big lion by examining the freshness of its paw prints. Tracking is like solving a puzzle where many factors like terrain, water sources and behavior come into play. For example you can see a story develop when you see the lion prints over the top of fresh zebra prints.
Richard is the manager at Mara Plains but also acted as a guide for a few days, and on one of those days we saw 29 different cats, which must be some sort of record. On another day Richard heard some warning calls of monkeys high in the trees. He recognized that the calls were for a leopard so using the binoculars could see the monkeys looking in the same direction, presumably at a leopard. Richard got us closer to where he guessed the leopard might be, but we still couldn’t find it. Then Richard spotted a bird in a tree looking at us and then down at angle, so we looked at where the bird was looking, and suddenly the leopard appeared in full sunlight and looked straight at us. The leopard seemed almost embarrassed to have been spotted (so to speak) and disappeared just as quickly into the trees along the river before I could capture an image of it. Strangely enough, this leopard and the story of finding it will be something I will never forget.
Africa is an amazing immersive experience it is not just seeing the wildlife but at night you can clearly hear thousands of different animals. The sounds of Africa seem to create a type of rhythm and melody that is reflected in the continuously evolving and improvised singing of the Masai women’s welcome song to visitors. Kenya is indeed a welcoming country, easy to get around and a place that once you visit you will want to return many times. A safari is an unforgettable experience, so my advice is to go sooner rather than later, that way you can savior the memories for years and leave time for future visits.
Click on this link to see the full Kenya – Africa Gallery (by Travel & Wildlife Photographer Matt Considine)