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stokeygirl
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I know there are a few people out there keen to hear about this trip, so I'm going to post the words bit now, and hopefully some photos at a later date. I haven't done a day by day account as frankly it would get a bit repetetive! But I'm going to break it down into multiple posts for readability.

 

Laikipia Wilderness Camp is owned by Steve and Annabelle Carey. Steve is a Zimbabwean guide, and Annabelle is originally from Scotland. They ran a walking safari business in Zim for many years until tourism there collapsed and they moved away, working in Zambia for a while before moving to Kenya where they managed a camp in the Mara, then Sosian lodge for a few years. They opened LWC in June last year.

The camp focuses on 3 main interests-tracking wild dogs, walking and family activities. I was there for the dogs, but I was also keen to do some walking. The trip was booked as a third safari for 2013, so I was in a bit of a squeeze for holiday time- originally I had been thinking of combining with the Mara, but my other plans expanded slightly so I only had a week to spare. So I decided to just spend a whole week at LWC. They were closed in April and May, so I picked the second week of June to be spaced between my other two trips. I also hoped they would be quiet (they were) so that I could have free reign to do more or less what I wanted, which was mostly to spend time with the wild dogs. (Note- next year they plan to open all year round).

 

 

 

 

 

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There are two collared packs of wild dogs in the area, and one uncollared pack which passes through occasionally. Steve doesn’t believe in naming animals, so the collared packs are unromantically known by their collar numbers- the 106 pack and the 113 pack. We saw both the collared packs during my stay. The 106 pack currently has 18 dogs, and the 113 pack has 26, but the numbers seem to change quite often, as dogs simply disappear- either deceased or when a few split from the packs. We didn’t see the uncollared pack during my stay.

 

Both packs seem to patrol the area that can be accessed from the camp, which is the ranch where the camp is located and one or two neighbouring ranches where they have permission to go. The total area is about 30,000 acres. Both packs sometimes go into areas where they can’t be followed, but this never seems to be for very long as the dogs do move around constantly. In theory, both packs could be out of the area at the same time but Annabelle said that so far this hasn’t happened. We managed to locate one or other of the packs whenever we went looking, so I would say sightings are about as guaranteed as you can get. The 106 pack seems to be the more “local” of the two. The packs look quite different, with the 106 pack having more very dark dogs, whereas the 113 pack have more blond and white patches and are probably the slightly more photogenic of the two packs. Apparently the 113 pack is the parent pack of the 106 pack.

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The area is so popular with the dogs because of the large numbers of their favourite prey- the dik dik. Sometimes they take an impala, but the vast majority of their kills seem to be dik dik, and hares. Probably each pack will take 10 or more dik diks a day, and I lost count of the number we saw them kill in the week. The terrain is quite scrubby, and when hunting the dogs split up and run through the bush looking to ferret out the dik diks and then give chase. Following them isn’t too hard, as the collars can be used to find the pack if you lose sight of them. Photographing them when hunting isn’t so easy, as they move so quickly and in amongst the bushes. Sometimes if the bush is too dense to drive through, we would get out and follow on foot, and a couple of times we got out to watch them swimming across a river. I learnt that I needed to be prepared to walk at any time, so I wore walking shoes and walking appropriate clothing all the time. Most of our activities ended up being a mix of walking and driving. Sometimes we would get out of the car and walk up a kopje to scan for signal, sometimes we would get out to follow the dogs on foot, and sometimes just to lie on the ground and wait for the dogs to get curious and approach us. Or sometimes, we’d just go for a walk after the dogs ceased to be active.

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In the morning, the dogs would usually be hunting by the time we found them. In the afternoon, we usually knew roughly where they were, and they typically didn’t get up for their afternoon hunt until 6pm. This was a good chance to get out and just lie on the ground waiting for them to get active, and the dogs often approached us within a few metres. We also did this a couple of times in the morning when the dogs had finished hunting and come to rest.

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I had plenty of opportunity to grill Steve and Annabelle on the dogs’ denning habits and when would be the best time to visit (I certainly plan to return). Last year both packs denned and had puppies within a few days of each other, around 17 September. Annabelle pointed out one of the initial den sites to me, which was actually just off their property. However, both packs den high up in the rocks, and the den sites are definitely inaccessible to vehicles. They also do not visit the dens on foot, so as not to disturb the dogs. This means that during denning time, the puppies probably won’t be seen. The packs come out to hunt and then go back to the den to rest. Therefore, if photography is the aim of a visit, this probably isn’t the best time to go. Whilst following the dogs hunting was fascinating and a lot of fun, the best photographic opportunities were when the dogs were at rest or just waking up, when they would approach you very closely if you were out of the vehicle and grovelling on the ground. At denning time, the dogs will mostly go to the inaccessible den site as soon as they finish hunting and rest there. Steve also mentioned that at denning time their hunting habits become less predictable- sometimes they will hunt in the middle of the day, or at night if there is a moon.

 

Apparently the dogs typically move the den site down out of the rocks when the puppies get bigger. This can be as early as 6 weeks after denning, if they are disturbed, but more likely will be around Christmas time. At this point the puppies are mobile and in Jan/Feb will be moving with the pack, although they still have a den. For photography, this is probably the best time. Annabelle and Steve said that the photography group that came this year in early Feb had the best success. However, Steve did think the dogs might mate and have puppies a few weeks earlier this year, which could shift this timing.

 

July and August are their busiest months, mainly due to families visiting in school holidays.

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The main aim of my visit was to see and photograph the wild dogs, and as I mentioned, this was a mix of walking and driving. We also did some walks that were non dog focussed. Sometimes we would sit by the dams waiting for elephants and other game to come and drink. Sometimes we would go up onto rocky viewpoints just to sit and watch what was going on. A couple of times we had a great perspective from the top of a kopje to watch the dogs hunting amongst the bushes below.

 

Besides wild dogs, we often saw elephants, reticulated giraffe, zebra (Grevys and Common) and various antelope- impala, eland, waterbuck and oryx. There are a few kudu who hang around the camp. On my transfer from Loisaba we saw one gerenuk, and we also saw one Laikipia hartebeest. We saw buffalo a few times, including one large herd. On the predator front, the dogs were often tailed by spotted hyenas, and on one night drive we saw two leopards (a mating pair). Despite our best efforts we didn’t see any striped hyena or aardwolf, although apparently these are not uncommon.

 

Besides walks and drives they also do other activities on the river- more aimed at families, such as rafting and tubing and fishing.

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Many of our meals were taken in the bush- brunch by a dam, dinner in the bush. These were usually casual affairs, just eating from plates on our laps. For dinners in the bush, Steve and Annabelle would cook meat or warm up food over the camp fire. We camped out one night, which was also a simple affair- just bedrolls around the camp fire.

Many activities are escorted by Buster and/or Boris, the Careys’ dogs. Boris is a massive ridgeback cross and Buster is an African beach dog, originating from Lamu. Buster looks to me like a ginger border collie. Sometimes they would come with us on walks and/or drives. Boris is only 7 months old and isn’t yet used to the wild dogs, but Buster accompanied us one afternoon when we walked to where the dogs were resting close to camp. Apparently the presence of their domestic cousin has a relaxing effect on the wild dogs! Boris and Buster both came camping with us, which was interesting- fortunately I was already awake when Boris walked over my head in the night, or it could have been a shock awakening. The Careys’ two children were also in camp for some of my stay. Steve and Annabelle are great hosts, and with the kids and pets around it gives the place more of a feel of visiting someone’s family farm than a safari camp.

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The camp itself is pretty comfortable without being overly luxurious- the five tents are spacious, with outdoor bathrooms and hot water on demand (no bucket showers). There’s a mess tent with sofas at one end and a dining table at the other.

 

I loved my stay and am already planning a return. However, I should warn that it is probably a place for those of a more outdoorsy persuasion, and not for those of a nervous disposition. You have to be prepared for insect infested bathrooms, to be licked and jumped on by (domestic) dogs, crawl on the ground, pick a few ticks out of unmentionable places, and jump in/out of the vehicle as instructed. The terrain is hilly, so the walking was a bit more strenuous than other places I’ve done walking safaris, and some of the climbing up kopjes became a bit of a scramble. Some level of child tolerance may also be necessary depending on whether the Careys’ children are in camp and/or they have any families visiting- they do attract quite a few families as guests. They try not to mix families and adult guests on activities, but on my last morning I was picked up from a walk and taken on a bit of a drive in a vehicle containing (besides me) 5 adults, 3 children, two dogs and a large cool box. We stopped and went for a short walk in search of an owl’s nest, which involved the kids scrambling down a gully where I’m amazed one of them didn’t brain themselves on the rocks.

 

So it’s all very relaxed and haphazard- no plans and no rules.

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I was lucky enough to be almost the only guest- I was alone for the first night, then a guy from Nanyuki was visiting for 3 nights, then a family from Nanyuki for the last two. The family did separate activities- driving with their own vehicle and one of the local guides from camp. I’m not sure how they organise activities when busy. They have a couple of vehicles, but only one telemetry antenna and only one Steve! He said that when busy they usually have 2 or 3 activities, with Steve usually taking the walks. Overall, going in June worked out pretty well in that I had Steve’s almost undivided attention and could have free choice of activities.

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So that's it for the words.

 

I only got back yesterday, and hopefully might be able to add some photos this weekend. I haven't got loads because although I took a lot of the dogs, I tend to leave my camera behind for walking.

 

Any questions?

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africapurohit

Thanks @@stokeygirl, very useful information and I look forward to seeing your photos - did you travel with your trusted 7D + 100-400mm combo?

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@@africapurohit I did indeed and it did well.

 

I was a bit concerned at times about getting sand in the push-pull zoom from all the lying on the ground but touch wood it seems to be OK.

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madaboutcheetah

Hey SG, great info!!! Thanks for sharing - we spoke about this a few months ago, WOW - glad you got your fair share of your dogs!!!

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Hari, yes, I have to say it's probably the best place I have been to for wild dog sightings, although some would say using the telemetry is somewhat "cheating".

 

You have just reminded though- on her way out to meet us for our camp out, Annabelle saw two cheetahs. She said it's the first time she (or Steve) have ever seen any in the area.

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@Paulo - they were Greater Kudu. We didn't see them anywhere else in the area, just a handful that for some reason (safety perhaps) liked to hang around the camp.

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Actually, I lie, I've just remembered we saw one male kudu on a walk.

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@Paulo - are you going with Squack? His name got mentioned a few times and I think Steve and Annabelle mentioned he was coming in Sept. I thought they said with a photography group but they could have been confused or I could have misunderstood, or perhaps they count you and @@twaffle as a "photography group"!!

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I think there are only 1 or 2 ranches they can go onto in total. Whether they pay or not makes no difference to international guests- I think this is all absorbed into the rate. I know we were going onto Impala Ranch, and Steve mentioned that the Kenyan resident guests would have had to pay extra conservancy fees for this. I guess with their lower rates for residents they have to charge them the conservancy fees on top.

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They didn't mention Sosian, so I don't know if we were ever on their land or not. I am guessing that we were, just because Steve and Annabelle seemed to know more about the dogs than just one year's worth of knowledge, so I am guessing these are the same dogs they were tracking from Sosian.

 

Correction- the adjacent ranch is called Mpala and is a research place http://www.mpala.org/

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can you tell us some details about their rates? couldn't find anything on the net, except a mentioning of a "special offer", though this one is not quoted, either

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I paid $400 a night, no single supplement. I think that might have included a long stay discount but I'm not sure.

 

To get there you can fly to Nanyuki or Loisaba, and they charge for a transfer from either airstrip (I think $150). They also offer road transfers to/from Nairobi for $250, which is probably the cheapest way. It takes about 5 hours. On the way up I flew but to be honest by the time I'd got across to Wilson, waited around for the flight and then it's 1.5- 2 hours drive at the other end, I think driving all the way is probably just as easy.

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I think the 113 pack were on Mpala most of the time I was there, and for at least a couple of days both packs were. At one point the 106 pack strayed across a river into Loisaba, where we couldn't go.

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I paid $400 a night, no single supplement. I think that might have included a long stay discount but I'm not sure.

 

To get there you can fly to Nanyuki or Loisaba, and they charge for a transfer from either airstrip (I think $150). They also offer road transfers to/from Nairobi for $250, which is probably the cheapest way. It takes about 5 hours. On the way up I flew but to be honest by the time I'd got across to Wilson, waited around for the flight and then it's 1.5- 2 hours drive at the other end, I think driving all the way is probably just as easy.

 

does that include conservation fees? how long did you stay? did you book through a TA or directly with them?

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Yes, we saw then swimming twice. No particularly good photos as the first time it was getting dark and the second time we approached on foot and I failed to throw myself on the ground fast enough. I do have some photos, though, and it was pretty cool to see.

 

They seem to actually enjoy the swimming and not be scared of it, but there are no crocs in the river. I know in Bots that dogs often get taken by crocs and so avoid going into deep water unless it's absolutely necessary- I've seen them splashing in small pools but at Duma Tau we saw them chasing a lechwe and when it went in the water they wouldn't follow.

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I paid $400 a night, no single supplement. I think that might have included a long stay discount but I'm not sure.

 

To get there you can fly to Nanyuki or Loisaba, and they charge for a transfer from either airstrip (I think $150). They also offer road transfers to/from Nairobi for $250, which is probably the cheapest way. It takes about 5 hours. On the way up I flew but to be honest by the time I'd got across to Wilson, waited around for the flight and then it's 1.5- 2 hours drive at the other end, I think driving all the way is probably just as easy.

 

does that include conservation fees? how long did you stay? did you book through a TA or directly with them?

 

 

Yes it does and I have no idea how much the conservancy fees are. I stayed 7 nights and booked direct with them.

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