Monday, September 18, 2006

African Lion Safari in Kenya: The Ultimate African Safari and Lion Country

The African lion is fabled as the King of the African Jungle. On a recent holiday to the Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya, I was awed at the sheer respect that the African lion commands. It was one of the most rewarding trips in all my wildlife safari vacations.

It was the morning a day after our arrival at Olarro Camp located in the Maasai Mara, one of the best animal safari destinations in
Africa. We departed camp at around 6.00am in the morning for our much awaited morning game drive. Our Maasai guide, Sammy, and the camp manager Sean packed us in their open Land rover truck and off we went on a popular game track. We were pleasantly surprised at Sammy’s spotting prowess that, less than a kilometer from camp, had already spotted a lone male cheetah. Probably on its early morning hunting stakeout, the cheetah wasn’t very amused at our unwelcome intrusion and trudged along grudgingly.

The mating Lions
Off we went to look out for the elusive lions in the short savannah brush. We were negotiating a blind corner when …..Wham… a pride of 3 young males in the company of a lone female. The minute I spotted the lions, I knew this is not the situation you want to seem too intrusive. One seemingly larger male Lion with a slightly darkening mane was separated from other 2 young and was busy courting a Lioness. The two other lions seemed to have lost the contest for the single lioness and were circling around the pair with a lot of bitterness. Our arrival had simply compounded their anger. On the other hand, we had walked onto a mating pair and the dominant male was so infuriated by our interruption of his engrossing activities with the lioness. We simply had too many lions against our arrival. For a full 5 minutes, there was absolute silence as each party looked deep and hard into the eyes of the other. Trying to read the intent of either, we starred long and hard. I could feel my thunderous pulse as through my heart had moved into my arms and ears. Our fear was worsened by the fact that we were riding in an open vehicle and the lions would have had no trouble taking us out …. one by one.
Deceitful distraction
The African lion has this uncanny behaviour when faced by such an intense gridlock. It simply looks aside as if something else more urgent got its attention, while keeping you within its visual sphere. This serves two purposes, one is to disarm you by trying to distract your stare and secondly to cleverly provide a leeway to the impasse and hostility created by locking eyes in an imminent confrontation. When faced by a formidable enemy who it cannot translate to food, the African lion will never attack if you have your eyes locked. One cannot be too cautious; “you never know what surprise these humans can spring… a club, machete or worse even….a bloody gun”.
The day is saved
A relief to this situation came from the other two young, small maned lions who noticed their chances of contesting for the lioness, had just gone from worse to impossible…..there were just too many of us for their liking. They casually strolled of with their heads high and into underbrush. It took the older male Lion about five minutes to be reassured that we posed no threat to his mating advances to the lioness. Usually, the most dangerous situations to be caught in are between a mating pair or a lioness with its cubs. The King lion proceeded to mate with the female unperturbed by our presence; like we never existed…. and if we did then he was seeing things or could as well have been blind. “A lion’s got to do what a lion got to do….you want to stay and watch… well that’s your problem”
We finally decided that we needed to give them their space and started to drive off. The dominant king lion must have thanked us for making his competition from the other two go away. But just as we started off we heard excited human voices and knew they were headed for certain disaster. We revved off our car towards the noises and found four Maasai women chatting animatedly as they made a beeline to a river, 100m between them and the mating lions.
Maasai co-exist with the wildlife
We were about to leave when I noticed their surprised look. Like we didn’t understand that lions are part of their life. Like we needed not to have bothered them with the obvious. That’s when I realized how much the Maasai have learnt the art of co-existence with the wildlife. I wouldn’t have been amazed if they had walked right passed us, as we watched the lions like there was no danger. I imagine them walking in between us and the pride, chatting and laughing at this group of tourists huddled silently, scarred stiff and almost immobilized by the sheer might of the African lion at a mating contest.
The million dollar gaze of the lion
This was an experience that I always relive when I look at the photos taken on that safari. Its what an African lion safari does to you. You get to be in the presence of his highness the majesty king of the Jungle…in his tuff. Nothing beats that glaring look and the thrill that goes with it when your eyes lock into his menacing, unblinking and threatening stare…That’s the African lion stare….humbling it is.
African Lion coming of age
The African lion matures at the age of 4-5 years. A fully grown male lion has a very dark mane while the youth grow a mane gradually, which then darkens as they progress in age. The males are pushed off their families when they become sexually mature by the king of the pride. African Lions usually sleep and rest for 16hours a day only getting up to hunt in the early mornings, late evenings and at night. Usually the King-lion of the pride commands between 5-10 lionesses including the cubs. This male will aggressively protect its territory against intruding males who contest for the females.
Overthrowing the Lion King
There are a lot of coup d`e’tat in the lion kingdom and the male constantly gets into territorial wars with invading lions. Once in a while a female becomes disenchanted and leaves the pride to seek out younger and more aggressive males. Once a lion has successfully overthrown a dominant male, they set upon establishing their kingdom immediately by making the females submissive. How they do this is what will surprise you.
Conqueror males kill all Cubs
One of the most bizarre behaviour of lions is that a conqueror male often kills all young cubs fathered by the defeated former king lion of the pride. The lioness will fight, sometimes to death, when the male lion goes for her cubs. There are two reasons for this behaviour, one is to establish a lineage of his own and secondly to as quickly as possible make the females come to oestrus and ready to mate. It’s always a rush before other male lions come to undermine his authority over the pride.
Traveling to the Maasai Mara –Kenya
On arrival in Nairobi, one is picked up by his tour operator for an overnight stay at the city’s many five star Hotels. It’s always advisable to have a night rest before embarking on to the Mara; if you are to enjoy your game drives. The next morning you drive about 400km to the Mara in either a 4x4 or a minivan and you are booked into many of the world class lodges in the Game Reserve. You will be entitled to at least 2 game drives a day and you will be surprised at the animals you will see immediately outside the gate to your lodge…That’s Mara for you.
The wonder that is the Mara
Elephants graze 1 metre off your game drive tracks, cheetahs will stare at you seated majestically under tree trunks and occasionally jump on the hood of your car for that vantage view point for prey, a herd of a thousand buffalos will gaze at you all at once with over 2,000 eye balls, lions will sprawl for an hour underneath your van for the shade and wildebeest will gallop past your car in their millions as they head for the breath taking river crossings packed with crocodiles and strong currents. (See previous articles and shots on the great wildebeest migration at:,
An experience worth its weight in platinum. Please email this article to friends who enjoy wildlife in the Wild. 


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Why a Lioness Adopted ‘6’ Oryx Calves in A Single Year

Wonders in the world come in all shape and sizes. In Kenya, East Africa on December 2002, the world woke up to the most unimaginable news.
The Blessed Lioness among African Lions
A 2-3 year old lioness ‘Kamunyak’ had adopted a Fledgling young Oryx calf. The news was treated with a lot of skepticism since an Oryx is a type of antelope upon which lions usually prey. Experts were at a loss to explain the big cat's affection towards the calves. The lioness, nicknamed Kamunyak, or The Blessed One, by locals, had protected her adopted young from danger and had allowed them to nurse from their biological mothers.
The Hungry Lion King
According to wildlife experts in Kenya, believe the lioness might have been unable to conceive her own cub and had ''unfulfilled maternal instincts. "Unfortunately the union was short lived and the 1st calf’s life was snubbed out by a hungry male King Lion. This happened when Kamunyak had gone to drink water from a river. The African Lion is known for being overly aggressive of cubs/calves sired by other males… let alone one from an Oryx.
Lioness adoption history
Three years have passed and astonishingly Kamunyak, (the lioness’ Samburu name), had in total adopted six Oryx calves. The sequence of her adoptions are as follows:
· Dec - Jan 2002 1st Adoption: 16 days – calf eaten by male lion;
· Feb 2002 2nd Adoption: 2-3 days – calf rescued by Kenya Wildlife Service(KWS);
· Apr 2002 3rd Adoption: 2 days – calf rescued by mother, lioness injured;
· May 2002 4th Adoption: 24 hrs – calf abandoned, rescued by mother;
· Sept 2002 5th Adoption: 2 days – calf starves to death, and when dead is eaten by the lioness (lions sometimes eat their own cubs when they die).
· Jan 2003 6th Adoption: 24 hours – calf escapes back to its mother, shortly after there were reports of a battle between Kamunyak and other females.
Lioness age
It is thought that Kamunyak may be around 7 years old now. She was estimated to be about 2 to 3 years old when she adopted her first Oryx calf, so she was still an adolescent. Kamunyak was most often alone. She seemed to move in the same territory as a pride of 7 lions, which is in the heart of Samburu National Reserve, and is possibly one of the better feeding grounds for Samburu African lions. When she adopted Oryx calves she moved in a very small area and when she was alone she sometimes disappeared for months. She has not been seen since February 2004. If she shares the same territory as the pride of 7 African Lions, could she possibly have had a history with the pride in whose territory she resided?.
It is believed that in the past Kamunyak had a sister. However her solitary life could be a result of being kicked out of a pride. Perhaps her pride became too large and sub-groups split off to form new lion prides. Perhaps she was cast out as a single lioness and had to fend for herself, in between warring territorial prides, as a vagrant nomadic female, eking out an existence on the periphery.
Kamunyak had been seen hunting warthogs and other small prey. During the first adoption when she remained with the Oryx for 16 days, she kept a 24 hour vigil over the Oryx. Despite being very thin and hungry, when she caught sight of prey she refused to let the Oryx out of her sight.
In February 2003 she was seen in a big fight with two females who are thought to come from the same territory. She was skulking around the edge of a giraffe carcass that the pride of 7 lions had been feeding on. There are several theories that have been proposed to explain this extra ordinary behavior of the female African lion.
1) The question has been raised whether this could have begun on a hunt with an unusually long game of cat and mouse, where after 24 hours she bonded with the calf. Sub-adults have been known to play with mongooses and other small species over a short period of time. However three weeks suggests that the cat and mouse game turned into something else. However, now on her 6th adoption, it seems that the lioness actively goes in search of Oryx calves to kidnap.
2) The Samburu people suggested Kamunyak is barren. However this seems unlikely considering that her body is responding to an overactive maternal drive. Plus she was so young and it is very difficult to tell whether a female is barren.
3) She could have a serious hormonal imbalance, which is triggering this abnormal behavior with another species. There have been records of lioness with huge cysts on their ovaries that affect their behavior, but perhaps not to this degree.
4) According to a scientist who has studied elephant reproduction, phantom pregnancies are quite common in feline species. It could be compared to domestic dogs that have phantom pregnancies and start lactating. If a lioness’ rank affects their endocrinology perhaps a phantom pregnancy is a possible explanation.
5) Kamunyak only adopted Oryx calves. Like all cats, lions have acute vision primed especially to pick up on movement. But they do not seem to be very good at individual recognition from a distance, and rely primarily on their sense of smell at close quarters to identify one another. Oryx calves are remarkably similar in colour to the tawny coat of an African lion, and it is possible that once the lioness had locked onto the smell of “cub” in the calf then it’s lack of a feline physique ceased to matter.

6) The park rangers suggested that she found the calf shortly after it was born and the smell of the amniotic sack on the calf’s body triggered some kind of maternal response.
The fact is that we will never really be sure by in the middle of the Kenyan game reserve, a young female African Lion decided to start adopting Oryx calves. And not just one, but six different calves at different days and for increasingly longer durations. Sometimes even to her expense as she could not effectively hunt so as to keep guard; a fact that emaciated her to a point of near death.
Where to see the cast Today
Samburu, one of the calves rescued by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was taken to an orphanage in Nairobi. The Oryx is now a fully grown male. In September 2006 he had a fight with another orphaned antelope and one of his long horns broke. The KWS were quick to administer veterinary aid and he is now fine but will have to do with a single horn. The operation on the wound was recorded on tape as most of his life in the orphanage probably for visitor education on their Kenyan tour. He has continually attracted a lot of tourists in the Nairobi National Park –Orphanage on their Kenyan Tour. He continues in good health. Kamunyak, the Lioness has not been seen for over 2 years now and all we can guess is that she got her groove back.
Kenya Tour
The Nairobi National park is the only park within a city in Africa and possibly the world over. It is extremely popular with business and holiday visitors on their Kenyan tour or safari vacation. Getting there can be arranged from your transfer hotel in Nairobi before or after your interior Kenyan safari.
Samburu National Park is to the 400km North East of Nairobi and is usually included in wildlife safari itineraries over 3 days long. Accommodation in the reserve is available as tented camps, safari lodges and ground camping. You might just be lucky enough to meet Kamunyak. See below for more info:


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What is the Kenyan Safari Experience

Kenyan Safari Experience
The Kenyan holiday experience is touted to be the most comprehensive in Africa. It is the only country that you will experience 3 district climatic conditions namely, Coastal Humid, cool highland and dry desert. The attractions here also range from the beaches
1) white sands,
2) wildlife,
3) the scenery of the great Rift Valley,
4) the green plantations of the highlands,
5) the cradle of mankind archeological sites,
6) No distinct cultural ethical endowments show-copped markets among others.
a) Wildlife Safaris
Kenya has managed to maintain its wildlife in natural areas in National Parks and Reserves. The big five wildlife including Rhino, Lion, Leopard, Elephant and Buffalo is all found in these parks Including the small bovid. Among Kenyans most parks include the indomitable
§ Massai Mara
§ Nakuru National Park
§ Aberdares National Park
§ Tsavo National Park (11,000 kms equal size of Israel)
§ Samburu
§ Amboseli National Reserve
§ Among other 57 Parks and Reserves
Nairobi National Park is the only park located within a capital city in the world. Lions, Zebras, gnus, Leopards, Rhino, Buffalo are 5minutes from the CBD.
Wildebeest Migration
The single most popular wildlife spectre in Kenya is the annual wildebeest migration to and back from Serengeti into the Maasai Mara. The wildebeest migration is such a phenomenon it involves movement of over 10 million animals crossing plains and rivers. The huge migration is such that the satellites in space picks it up as a fluid mass of black trail. The Maasai Mara lodges are usually overbooked and full in the migration months of June-Nov.
Lion and Oryx
Some years back a story ‘extra ordinaire’ caught the attention of international media. This was the story of an old lioness called ‘Namunyak’ in Samburu National Reserve. The lioness had formed a bizarre habit of adopting 4 young Oryx for days on end. The lioness was actually protective of its adoptee(s) that she couldn’t go to hunt for fear of her being killed by the males of her pride. This made her loose a lot of weight but still held on strong. On four different occasions the lioness adopted an Oryx calve after the other despite being frustrated by the male lions and disposition of others by the rangers. Namunyak is still out there in the wild while the 4th adoptee was rescued by the Kenya Wildlife Rangers can now bee seen mature at the Nairobi orphanage.
Mzee the Tortoise & Owen the Hippo
Haller Park is the former world reclaimed Bamburi Nature Trail at the coast. Reclaimed from cement Quarries of Bamburi Cement Factory the park has been fully rehabilitated with conserving trees and stocked as a zoo with giraffes, hippo gazelles Oryx, Eland, fish, snakes, etc.
A very recent and ongoing development at Haller Park has been the extra ordinary friendship between 100+ old tortoise and a young 5+ hippo. While mzee the Tortoise has seen it all unfold at Bamburi, Owen the baby hippo was orphaned after the mother died elsewhere. Now, the story is said that Own started to spend time with Mzee (Old man) upon arrival at the Park. This bond has now developed such that the two, feed, sleep and walk together. They are inseparable and Owen is especially aggressive to any intruders.
Other stories always emerge of unique unions between different wildlife species including one between a lone buffalo and a murderous black Rhino in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. It all goes to show how free ranging animals take their entitled liberties.
Wildlife viewing in the Mara is done in 8 seater Mini vans and land cruiser trucks. The Mara is so beaming with wildlife that you can almost touch an elephant feeding. 1 – years one metre off the road. And that is from right next to the gate. Balloon safaris are the most satisfying way to view the gazillions of wildlife and especially the big five balloon safaris are booked on demand from Nairobi.
ii. Beach Safaris
Nothing beats a coastal holiday like one experience in the Kenya White Sand Beaches. This is especially good for visitors in need of lazing in the tropical coast sure for a tan and swim. Other water sports available along the beaches include
- Water/wind skiing
- Surfing
- Deep sea fishing
- Scuba diving
- Swimming with dolphins
- Jet skiing
- Coral garden snorkeling and
- Glass bottomed boat rides into marine parks
The accommodation facilities along our beaches range from 4-5 star deluxe with top of the range international service standards. You can make your choice between beach cottages, lodges, hotel and eco-camps
iii) Cultural Safaris
Kenya has a diverse cultural background from its over 42 ethnic groups. The most spectacular is however the Maasai warrior tribe which lives among wildlife in the Mara Reserve. The Maasai have a specifically intriguing lifestyle as they co-exist side by side with very dangerous wildlife. Their Moran warrior culture prepares young initiates into the warrior (army) age set. These Morans emerge from their clustered life in braided, red ochre hair, clad in very colourful red kikoi (cotton fabric) tyre sandals and complete with a spear, they are a sight to behold.
The Swahili culture at the coast is also very unique including their architecture, dressing, food etc. Cultural safaris are also organized around mythical stories like the Samson-like Lwanda Magere, Warriors, the Nyamgondho man who turned into a tree stamp after chasing away his wife given from the Gods.
The Bomas of Kenya offers traditional dances and foods and is located in the city far 1 day excursions. There are also National Museums that have collected artifacts from traditional societies for display in Museums in most towns in Kenya.
iv) Adventure Safaris
And for that visitor full of energy, Kenya offers a variety of high energy, high adrenaline, dare devil activities for that memorable feeling. The snow-copped 5000m+ Mt Kenya is a challenge to may seasoned mountain climbers. There are several built-up resting camps as well as provided for climbing routes. Climbing gear and guides are lined at base camp for the 5-6 day climb.
Bungee jumping and white water rafting is done 50 km from Nairobi town at Sagana/ that is along the upstream of Tana River.
Biking is usually organized activity within wildlife areas from your lodge. Trekking game safaris are also done in community group ranches in the Maasai Mara area.
Other adventure safaris include the overlander camping, off the beaten truck trips. These camping safaris usually involved covering larger areas and gets more interior, takes longer days but is also the most rewarding.
Adventure safaris will usually include camping in mobile 1-2 man tent units. Catering is provided while transport is by overlanders and or trucks.
v) Sport Safaris
Kenya is globally recognized for its world class, record breaking athletes. Our success in International athletic gains is attributed to high attitude training. World standard high altitude camps have now been started and caters for athletes looking to improve performance.
In addition there is now a national calendar of Marathons in Kenya that athletes can test their performance i.e Nairobi Marathon, Lewa Marathon among others. Lewa Marathon is especially unique as it takes place in the middle of a game community reserve. The runners are running in the middle of Lions, Buffalo, Zebra, giraffe etc. It is a world famous event that attracts international participation. Other sparking activities in Kenya popular with visitors include Deep Sea fishing, the Coastal Regarta,
vi) Nature Safaris
Kenya enjoys a spectrum of scenic attractions test the appetite of any nature loving tourist. From the snow capped mountains in the tropics to the descent dunes to the North East of the Country.
The Natural tropical forests of Arabuko SoKoke is a must go for any nature tourist. The coastal forest has resident elephant regulations. Among the endemic species include the elephant shrew, and the little scoops owl. The community butterfly project is also a must see for visitors.
Kakamega forest is a remnant of equatorial forest running through to DR Congo. The forest canopy is so high and interlocked it creates a permanent dark under cover. Activities in many of Kenyans forests includes bird watching, forest walks, camping Biking etc.
The Great Rift Valley provides scenic beauty observed from the Eastern Escarpment. The Rift Valley floor is dotted with active volcanic activity in the form of geysers, hotsprings and smouldering mountains, fresh water, lakes and crater lakes. L. Bogoria is an exciting destination where one boils eggs off the steam of hotsprings, flamingoes are plentiful in these lakes including Elementaita, Nakuru and Bogoria . Preferred accommodation is exclusive camps and lodges.
vii) Charity & Mission Safaris
The philanthropy safari magnitude is growing exponentially due to the increasing North South pro-pour movement. Needy situations in Africa including Kenya are a result of HIV/AIDS, Education, poverty environment, Hunger etc. There exist very ideal projects with which charitable financial and human resources are channeled to Kenya including:
- Destitute Homes
- Conservation Organization
- School teaching
- Hospitals
- Churches/mosques/temples
Participants in this kind of travel include
- Gap year students
- volunteers
- Missionaries
- Internship programs etc
There are as such organizations and tour operators that handle the traveling, orientation, booking and other logistics of such groups. Others also understand placement of these human resources in needy institutions as volunteers, teachers, interns, missionaries etc.
Accommodation is mainly hostels, home stays & Budget hotels due to the lengthy stay and the fact that this group is more of workers than tourists.
viii) Historical Safaris
Kenya is credited as the cradle of mankind, from where the earliest remains of human bones were discovered by Dr Richard Leakey. Evidence of the earliest, man were discovered at Koobi Fora on the shores of L. Turkana, formerly L. Rudolf. Other areas that remains and tools of(adze) of the human ancestry have been found include Kaariandusi and Ololgesailie, archeological sites. All early ancestry artifacts are collected and displayed at National Museum at Nairobi. These archeological sites are also developed into tourist attractions.
There are also caves believed to have been shelter of the early man across the country. Rock paintings are evident in such areas as the
a)Mt Elgon Kitgum and Makingeny Caves
b) Mfangano Island and in Malaba district.
The USAID has recently given aid to rehabilitate and preserve these caves. Other caves at Shimoni have been used as stockade for slaves in transit to major markets in Zanzibar for onward transmission to South America & Europe.
Recent colonial war between the Mau Mau freedom fighters is also evident. Bombings of the Mau Mau that created lakes can be seen at Aberdare forest and Buffalo Springs Reserve.
Accommodation for historical tourists is arranged in towns closest to such sites.
Visiting Kenya for Safari
Tour operators have already pre-packaged safaris on Beach, Nature, Historical, Wildlife, Adventure Cultural, charity and Mission, Sport activities. You will need to select from a pre-arranged list of the sum.
Alternatively, some tour operators have facility to tailor a safari, whereby you fill in a form indicating your preferences from which the tour operator makes your itinerary with your endorsement. Accommodation in Kenya depends on your budget and you are able to choose from budget to 5 star deluxe.
Onland transport also offers you options between 8-seater minibus, self driven cars or 4x4 and coaches.
I welcome you to Kenya for an experience worth its weight in gold.