When I wrote about our trip to Kenya, I stressed the luxuriousness of our camps. The camp guides can identify each mammal, bird, reptile and probably insect. In addition, they know all the plants. Each camp guide leads you to a plethora of animals doing whatever they do normally.
I heard the Latin names of each of the plants we saw but remember none of them. The savannah seemed to be strewn with trash; recent rains produced the tissue flower. Despite taking dozens of photos, none show how much these lovely blossoms look like Kleenex scattered everywhere. During our entire time in the bush we saw only one real item of trash: a soda bottle which our guide retrieved while remaining in the vehicle.
We passed several bushes covered with berries and learned that lions like to lie under them to keep the flies away. I broke off several branches, but when the flies were out, they seemed undaunted by my waving branches at them. We discovered that there are myriad varieties of acacia. One variety has lethal thorns. Another acacia has a flat top and can be seen everywhere against the horizon.
What makes these safaris so special is seeing the animals’ behavior. Over the course of a day we might return to a location and find the same animals there. One morning we saw a herd of elephants with two youngsters (not babies, perhaps pre-adolescents) sparring. We weren’t sure if they were fighting or playing as it occasionally looked serious. A baby watched closely. When we returned after lunch and tea (many hours later) the two were still at it while the baby continued watching their actions.
We often saw elephants, giraffe, antelope, warthogs, and zebra grazing on the same plain. The giraffe nibbled on trees while the rest of the menagerie enjoyed the fresh, tall grass. When the grass dries, the elephants will eat trees. Their frequent killing of trees encourages new trees to grow. Everything has a purpose; everything is used; there is no waste when nature is allowed to flourish.
One day we were entranced by a Cape buffalo and a zebra. They seemed to be having a spa day together. The Cape buffalo was already lounging in his mud bath when one of the zebras decided to have a dust bath. The two enjoyed their respective treatments side by side.
This was also an X rated safari. We missed seeing the mating of a butterfly pair, but we saw the widow bird in his “foreplay” garb (long black tail and a splotch of brilliant color which will disappear once the mating season ends). He looks elegant until he does his mating dance. Then he springs up from the grass and bounces down and up again. He looks as if he is riding a pogo stick. The most salacious activity we saw was watching lions mate. When the female is in estrous, she and her lover will copulate as often as every twenty minutes. The act takes about two-to-three minutes (I checked my camera for the timing). The first couple we saw embarrassed me. The noises could have come from a porn film. The second couple we saw was more efficient. They also appeared to be older than the first couple we saw. And they were quiet.
Another cat species we saw often was the cheetah. For those of you who remember “Big Cat Diary,” Jonathan Scott was the narrator for the cheetah segments. He filmed a cheetah named Kiki who loved to scan the horizon for prey from atop one of the vehicles. Unfortunately she taught her children to do this and they taught their children. This poses a serious problem for both humans and cheetahs. The vehicles are open. The canvas roof rolls back for easier viewing. However, the vehicle is not a safe perch for a cheetah! It is easy to slip, sustaining a serious injury leaving the cheetah unable to hunt. The cheetah could also fall into the vehicle and, becoming frightened , seriously injuring a passenger. Guides are warned to discourage this. We, however, were caught unaware. Our attention was focused on something in front of us.
The guide was in the driver’s seat, Carl was in the middle seat, and I had the rear seat. Suddenly there was a noise and the car rocked. I looked up to see Kiki’s granddaughter, Malaika. Her foot with its non-retractable claws hung in my face. Next came her tail. Finally after a scramble she balanced on top of the car. We couldn’t move forward or she would fall. If revving the engine didn’t persuade her to leave of her own accord, we would have had to wait until SHE chose to leave.
On our last game drive we had another exciting adventure. One of the cheetahs we had watched trying to obtain a meal for her three young cubs finally made a kill. She may have made ten or more attempts before. Despite her terrific speed, she uses all her energy in one fell swoop. Even if she brings the animal down, she will not be able to eat for as much as thirty minutes until her body returns to its normal state. Our last day, she was successful. She caught an adult male Grant’s gazelle. She strangled it before struggling to deliver it to her cubs. Meanwhile vultures waited to clean the remains. The cubs tucked in to lunch while mom caught her breath and waited for her body to return to normal. Finally all four ate their fill leaving the rest for the carrion eaters to clear and clean the table. The cheetah family had eaten enough to last them at least two days.
Visiting Kenya’s conservancies is like returning to the beginning of life. It is a spiritual, mystical experience.
Learn how to create an outdoor living space at the March 23 Garden Club meeting at 4070 Jackdaw from 6 to 8 p.m.