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The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men … a somewhat turbulent safari to Kenya


twaffle
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Thanks PT, appreciate the comments. We had the sleeping lion on our minds. :)

 

 

Edited by twaffle
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 The scenery in Shaba is quite stunning and it is also great that you saw a (non-habituated) lion. When we visited in January we were told that lion sightings in that area were quite rare. Hopefully a lioness or two will join him and start a pride. (I don't know if the Grants would agree...)

Edited by PT123
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I am really enjoying your report. Great flavour of Saba and wonderful photos. Love the leopard!

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@@PT123

 

Abdi told us that a lion pride is indeed roaming the area now, generally between Joy's and Funan springs. Apparently they see them once or twice a week or so.

 

Hmmmm, sounds like a return trip may be in order!

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 @@twaffle

Loving the trip report guys, and twaffle; wow! What leopard pics!

Ps... Yay! Someone else who hates this silly naming of big cats business!

Edited by twaffle
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Well we all have something to live up to now, I notice no review from Mr Park as yet! I prefer a lion to be nameless too but can understand it is not too bad an idea if it gets the uninitiated involved in all things wild.

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Gorgeous, truly beautiful photos and the writing tango duo haven't missed a beat either!

 

Very heartening to hear about the success of the conservancies. May they live long and prosper.

Edited by Sangeeta
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Oh the leopard!! Quite amazing, and so happy Mr. Twaffle spotted the special tree!

 

Joy's was on my list for the first Kenya trip,but as so happens something had to be dropped from the itinerary and sadly it was Joys. Thank you for taking me there!

Looks very special.

 

I remember a guide telling me in Botswana he does not name the cats. I was relieved as I'd not have to remember them. :)

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Take your time guys. I'll happily look at and read this three times..... not to mention the other great reports to keep up with at the moment. Your photos make Shaba look gorgeous @@twaffle  We had very little time Shaba due to being trapped in Meru by flash floods but it is a gorgeous place, especially in the golden hours. Great sightings - leopard, lion, gerenuk and what a magnificent gazelle.

 

Some of the photos are really beautiful...magnificent even at first look. Definitely to take a more considered look tomorrow. On my big screen here it's like having a little Shaba exhibition in my home. :)

Edited by twaffle
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Oh! I just realized this trip report had started and left me behind at the station. I'm on board now with a good toe hold.

 

I love the gerenuk photos and want to see one some day, the buffalo all looking your way and the sunsets....just beautiful.

 

Your efforts and time in putting this together are much appreciated.

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Wonderful report you two. Thanks to Mr. Twaffle as well.

 

Sorry you did not make it to Ishaqbani, but with the terrible news from the heart of Nairobi today where Somali terrorists evidently have claimed responsibility, its definitely better to be safe rather than sorry anywhere near the Somali border.

 

For other readers of this report who have interest in Ishaqbani and Hirolas and who may not have read @@Safaridude' excellent report from there:

http://safaritalk.net/topic/7542-ishaqbini-conservancy-kenya-july-2011/

 

I was trying to pinpoint Ishaqbani on a map. Looking at the map below is it just south east of Garissa, if so its quite some distance from the Somali border, so I am guessing its further east.

http://www.expertafrica.com/kenya/reference-map

 

This website has a map of the Hirola project in Ishaqbani:

http://www.speciesconservation.org/case-studies-projects/hirola-antelope/392

 

"The 19,000 hectare Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy(located in Ijara district, in North-Eastern Kenya), which came under the umbrella of NRT in 2007, was developed specifically to conserve the highly endangered Hirola antelope (Beatragus hunteri).The Conservancy is owned and managed by approximately 3,500 local Somali pastoralists who inhabit the area. There is an estimated population of 150 Hirola (with a world population estimated at merely 400-600 individuals) within the conservancy area. The conservancy is abundant with other wildlife including e.g., lion, leopard, African wild dog, reticulated giraffe, lesser kudu, desert warthog, bush-buck, harvey’s duiker, buffalo, beisa oryx, topi and recently elephant have been sighted within the conservancy. Two critically endangered primates, the Tana River Red Colobus (Piliocolobus rufomitratus) and Tana Mangabey (Cerocebus galeritus), also inhabit the conservancy in riverine forest along the banks of the River".

Edited by AKR1
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Appears to be quite close to Lamu- Hirolas and beach anyone? Is'nt it quite far from the Somali border?

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I am absent from safaritalk for a couple of days, and already missed so much! @@twaffle  your poetry has teleported me to living your safari, and I thank you for giving me that opportunity.

Edited by twaffle
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I have just returned from Zambia and started reading this TR. I am truly overwhelmed by the beauty of the photos and the writing (a team effort, no less -- Cry of the Kalahari style?)... and we still have a lot more to look forward to.

 

Very sorry to hear about not getting to Ishaqbini...

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Love the detail in the TR and great luck with the surprise cats.

Edited by twaffle
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A few photos of the travellers as we traverse Buffalo Springs and Shaba.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by twaffle
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@@twaffle,

You look very comfortable with the 200-400. Looking good. And pictures to match.

 

 

Edited by twaffle
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I forgot to include an image of the endemic to Shaba Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow Weaver. Terry took a fantastic photo of one building its nest but I've covered it with copyrights because I would hate it to be used without permission, as has happened before. Sorry about that.

 

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WILD AND HEARTBREAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL MERU WELCOMES US BACK

 

(twaffle)

 

 

 

 

 

This section is of necessity, long and a bit disjointed, for which I apologise. Originally it was written a certain way but has been edited as requested many years after the trip and I can't remember everything that happened which has spoilt the story somewhat.  I hope it all makes sense and that you can still appreciate the beautiful park that is Meru.

 

 

 

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Our private charter flight flew us the 20 or so minutes across the Nyambene Hills to Meru National Park, saving us an arduously long drive of many hours. Rick, our cheerful pilot warned us that the flight may be bumpy so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found myself levitated from my seat, head pressed hard against the roof. I tightened my seatbelt harder and lower and hung on.

 

 

 

 

 

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As we came over the top of the hills we could see the drier, more arid country ahead of us and the anticipation of seeing Meru National Park again started to rise. I had heard a lot about the Baridi campsite, where Squack was setting up his mobile camp for the 4 nights we were to be there, and we were all looking forward to experiencing the camp itself. Everything about Meru brings to mind adventure, we hoped this trip would be no different.

 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by twaffle
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Part of a larger ecosystem, that straddles from the foothills of the well watered and fertile Nyambene Hills in the north-west to the Tana river (and beyond) in the south-east, and that comprises also Bisanadi National Reserve, Mwingi National Reserve and Kora National Park, Meru is just 50 or 60 km as the crow flies from Shaba.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meru's climate is classified as semi-arid, with rainfall progressively decreasing the more to the east and south you go, but the park is crossed by 13 perennial streams (in the dry season) or rivers (in the wet season) that originates on the Nyambene Hills and eventually flows into the Tana on its southern boundary.

 

Those streams provide a series of green ribbons of lush – even if narrow in extension - riverine vegetation. The same watercourses create several “swamps”, which in the dry season look more like open grasslands and are a magnet for a profusion of wildlife.

 

If iconic Acacia tortilis (umbrella thorn) are dominant in Shaba, and one of its most striking features, the large stands of the ubiquitous doum palms are trademark Meru, and contribute to give to the park its primeval, almost prehistoric feel. Unlike Shaba, Meru is predominantly flat, and one of its main geographic features, an impressive kopje called Rain Kombe, marks, along with the Rojewero river, the beginning of the nyika.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nyika means, roughly, “bush” or “wilderness and indicates the extremely thick and inhospitable dry Commiphora thickets that occupy vast areas of eastern Kenya and north-eastern Tanzania ((the old name Tanganyika means “the bush beyond Tanga”) and which created so many obstacles and hardships to the first Europeans that penetrated inland from the Indian Ocean coast.

 

 

Generally, the Tana river represents approximately the northernmost limit of the nyika, but is widely accepted that the southern half of Meru fully belongs to this biome.

 

 

The nyika does host substantial wildlife, but it is often so thick that you need to be lucky to spot it – which normally happens when an animal crosses the road in front of your vehicle.

 

 

One of the creatures better adapted to live in such a world of thick thorns is the Lesser Kudu. So beautiful, so regal, so elusive. Luckily, they are found also in the more open areas of the park, such as the fringes of the various “swamps” and Meru is surely the best place in Africa to see these magnificent antelope.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our camp was located well away from the nyika, in the game viewing-friendly northern sector of the park, at a campsite called Baridi, that is along the Murera river.

Nestled under a cool canopy of beautiful yellow fever and fig trees (much appreciated by the local elephants), having your camp at Baridi feels as homely and as close to nature as it can get. Owls are constantly whistling and woodpeckers are always busy. Herds of Common Waterbuck, small groups of Lesser Kudu, journeys of Reticulated Giraffe are never too far away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our game drives were mainly around the northern and central swamps (Bwatherongi, Mulika, Leopard Rock, Mugwangha), as well as a doing a foray into the Bisanadi Plains in the extreme north and a few visits to the Rhino Sanctuary.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rhino Sanctuary, which is currently in the process of being enlarged and will occupy quite a chunk of the park is nothing tame nor artificial. It is just a tract of bush (prime rhino habitat) intensively patrolled by rangers and circled by an electrified fence aimed at keeping the rhinos in. All the other animals are free to come and go as they please. Entering the Sanctuary, you will then conduct a proper game drive, and, like in the rest of Meru, likelihood is that you will not see anybody else.

 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by twaffle
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As I was to find out, our travelling companions were notoriously picky about their food and beverages, and difficult to please.  It caused a degree of unnecessary stress, I have to say, as for my husband and I it is all about the wilderness and the wildlife and provided we have freshly prepared, interesting meals we are more than happy.

 

Coffee became the bane of our drives and then the joke that we shared when we came home.  Squack was a hero, going to the trouble of brewing fresh coffee each day, even when out on a game drive.  It was delicious and I enjoyed a cup or two, but for all the effort it caused I hardly thought it necessary. Moaning about the quality of the coffee or the exact temperature of the wine was never something that I thought I'd have to endure on safari.  It takes all kinds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The food at Squack's camp was superb. Mariana, Squack's mother in law, was in charge of the kitchen, and delivered a series of extremely varied and tasty dishes, from prawns to every type of meat to delicious cakes.  Even the eggs at breakfast prepared each day according to a different recipe, showing a great deal of effort and fantasy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by twaffle
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A beautiful bird deserves its own page …

 

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… more to come tomorrow

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Ahhh... Meru...

 

And Ahhh... good coffee... yes, Rinaldo and his coffee... and his wines for that matter (it has to be at the right temperature even in the bush!)

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