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A Cat Trick, A Crossing and a Kill - an Outstanding Opening to a Superb Safari


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Fabulous photos of the journey of giraffes and the male lion in the early morning light. The photo catches the intensity with which he was sniffing the breeze and his regal stance perfectly.

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I didn't really know much about Laikipia or that part of Kenya. The basis of this trip was the 7 nights at Kicheche Bush camp, so when Josephine suggested we do a few nights at another Kicheche camp I thought - why not?? I had read a trip report here that was very positive so we went ahead and booked 4 nights. As we flew back to Wilson and then onwards to Nanyuki to start our stay at Laikipia I have to admit that I was a little worried.


gallery_22974_1113_179943.jpgNairobi's shanty town...


gallery_22974_1113_784594.jpg …contrasting with the green, green coffee and tea plantations.



We had had such a great time on the Mara with so many quality sightings. I was aware of the theory that you should do safaris in the order of less prolific game to the most, otherwise you risk being disappointed. There is the opposite notion that the other way is better. If you have already seen lions and leopards and serval cats, for example, then there is no pressure to find them and you can just enjoy what comes your way, instead of worrying that you might never see the lions and leopards. As the organiser of this trip, I felt a certain responsibility for the enjoyment of the other three, and so I found myself repeatedly saying that we needed to be prepared for the fact that there wasn't going to be as much game at Laikipia as there was in the Mara. I had heard that we might get to see wild dogs, which was super high on my list of animals I really wanted to see, and that we might also see rhino and Grevy's zebras. I had been following Kicheche on Facebook and knew that there was a wild dog den, with young puppies very close to camp so I was confident that that would make our visit worthwhile. All these thoughts were running through my head during our travels to camp.


The trip from the Mara required a stop in Wilson, a bit of a wait and then another flight to Nanyuki. Once there we were picked up by Sammy our guide and taken back to camp.


gallery_22974_1113_1274004.jpgI don't think I'd have the balance for that!


Situated in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which is 90,000 acres in size and overlooks Mt Kenya, Kicheche Laikipia also has only 6 tents and a policy of only two tents per vehicle. The vehicles are different from Bush camp, however, as they have glass windows and there are no charging stations nor photography platforms. We were a little concerned about having to deal with windows, but after our first chilly morning, we understood their necessity - they are needed to keep us warm! And we really didn't have any trouble with the windows vs the open sides. Having had a few close calls with grumpy buffalo, the camp has an electric fence around it. It overlooks a large waterhole which I'm embarrassed to say I don't have a single photo of! We had lunch down by the waterhole, so I must have been just too excited about the food to take photos - sorry! On arrival, we were greeted by Andrew, the head guide and assistant manager and given the briefing of the camp before heading to our tents. The tents were very similar to Bush camp, except they have normal showers.




After a brief break to unpack we were off on our first drive, meeting Sonja and Andy the managers over a cup of tea before we left. I had been disappointed to hear that the wild dogs had moved their puppies only 5 days before our arrival and hadn't been seen since, so I felt my chances of seeing wild dogs on this trip were now pretty slim. Imagine my excitement when this was our first major sighting of the drive:




A pack of adults thought they might have a crack at a baby buffalo! Mum had other ideas!




Within just a few short minutes of first seeing them they were gone. I felt lucky to have seen them, but wished we had been able to see them for longer.


Next up, we headed to the more open plains area and found our first rhinos of the trip - a mother and baby.






And then our first oryx.




While not the Grevy's zebra, these guys did look rather handsome in the golden back light.




As the sun started to head down, and as we enjoyed our sundowners, Mt Kenya peeked above the clouds.




So all in all, a most successful first game drive and we headed back to camp for dinner. The food at Laikipia was superb - Sonja is well known as a wonderful cook who also makes some delicious jams, relishes and sauces.


It had been a big day, so we were happy to hit the sack!

Edited by JulieM
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Love the backlit zebras and the Mt Kenya pics.

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Next morning we were up and off early, as per usual. The big difference up here is the temperature - brrrrrr!! My mate Augustine is very sensitive to the cold, so we were delighted to find hot water bottles on the seats! What a lovely touch!


Finding a nice sunrise location was our first agenda item for the day. Unfortunately Sammy wasn't quite as good as Charles at finding a good spot, but then the location is markedly different as well. It was still nice watching the sun rise over Mt Kenya.




Augustine, resting her camera on a beanbag on the top of the car.


We came across this guy in some lovely golden light - a Jackson's Hartebeest I believe?




There are a LOT of zebra in Ol Pejeta, which is a good thing because they are one of my favourite animals, even though they are inevitably called "bloody zebras" because of their ability to turn their butts away from the camera at all times, or ruin a shot of something else by wandering into frame! These two were having a bit of a scrap in the dust which was fun to watch - they were going for each other's legs and going round in circles.




Also wandering around nearby was our first Grevy's zebra and what handsome fellas they are!






A rhino sighting was up next.




Followed by some more zebras. I love the babies, with their super long legs and fluff!






With the sun getting too high above our heads, we decided to stop in to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary which is within the conservancy. We weren't sure whether we would like visiting or not, and Andrew the head guide had seemed reticent to tell us what he really thought about the place. He summarised it in this way: "I'm sorry that they have to be in the sanctuary, but I am glad that they do have somewhere to live safely". The sanctuary was opened in 1993 and it was a collaboration between the Kenya Wildlife Service, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and The Jane Goodall Foundation. Its intention was to provide a lifelong refuge for orphaned and abused chimpanzees from West and Central Africa. An initial group of 3 chimpanzees arrived from Burundi who had had to be evacuated due to civil war. The numbers have swelled, I believe to 42, and there are now two groups living in separate areas. The female chimps all have an implantable contraceptive device, but this is not 100% effective so there are still some babies born there. All of the chimps are there as a direct or indirect result of the bushmeat trade, with orphans being created when their mothers are killed. Sometimes they come directly to the sanctuary when found, but at other times they are sold as pets and end up in the sanctuary when they become too big to handle or when they are confiscated. All of the chimps arrive traumatised and stressed by their experiences, as well as often physically ill and take a lot of care and dedication to nurse them back to health. The physical and emotional scars from their pasts were still present. I took some video of them interacting - the noise they made was haunting! They did settle but only after a bit of rock throwing by one and fighting by others, with some chimps howling in distress at the disruption. We left feeling much the same as Andrew - pleased they had somewhere to live out their lives in safety and free from abuse, but so sad about what they had been through to get there and sad that there are other chimps out there who are still being abused and traumatised now.










We had a delicious lunch under the trees near the waterhole at camp, before our customary photo downloading, backing up and napping. I learnt from our last safari, that spending too much time messing with photos in the middle of the day and not enough afternoon napping made for a very weary little traveller!


Back out on afternoon drive we came across this jackal who was tucking into this unfortunate beast - he looks like he has been caught doing something wrong! "Who me??!"




Down at the marsh, Mr Floppy Ear (my nickname) was enjoying the sunshine.




And this elephant provided a lovely foreground element for Mt Kenya in the background!




Mr Zebra then provided a bit of foreground for a big stormy sky.




The sky was lovely at sunset.




Two lionesses were around on the plains area but it was really too dark and they were on the move so I don't have any images of them.


After dinner the boys went out of a night game drive but unfortunately the animals were hiding and apart from a cheetah they really didn't see anything.


It's fair to say that we were all feeling a little glum at this point, having not seen terribly much game that day but the underlying problem, I think, was that the difference between the Mara and Laikipia was just so marked. I feel badly because Laikipia was a lovely spot, and the Kicheche camp was a wonderful place to be but I did want to be honest about how WE were feeling. Of course, we got over it pretty quickly, because a "bad" day on safari sure beats a good day at work, and we hadn't even had a bad day!!

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@@JulieM - love those scenic shots of lookout from the balloon .......... That's my fav area in all of the Mara.


Wow - the animals look super relaxed at Ol Pejeta. Was there a lot of fences and things you see on game drives in their area? Were there a lot of Reticulated giraffe and Vulturine guinea fowls there?


Awesome report and images!!! Wow.

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Thanks @@madaboutcheetah - I also love that area of the Mara. Maybe when we go back we will stay down there as well as return to Kicheche Bush camp. Where would you recommend staying in that area?


The animals were relaxed. There were fences, and houses, and you could see the township (?Nanyuki) when in the open plains area on the East side. I think that may also have made it quite a different experience from being on the Mara.


There were some reticulated giraffe, but not a lot. I don't have a single good image to share unfortunately. There were definitely guinea fowls, but I wouldn't have a clue which sort they were…:(

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Thanks for the info ..........


The closest camp to the Look Out area will be Sala's camp ........ On my list too!

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….off to Google Sala's camp…..:)

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We headed out next morning with Andrew as our guide. Andrew is also into photography so we knew we were in for a good day. Our mission was to find crowned crested cranes for Augustine as they were on the top of her bucket list, so we thought we would head down to the marsh area again. We left early so that we could catch the sunrise.




I've had a bit of a "play" with the next one - not sure it worked out but hey, I'll post it just for fits and giggles anyway...




There was some lovely mist and beautiful golden light but unfortunately no elegantly beautiful animal to photograph in it - only these hyenas...






These waterbuck gathered in the mist at one point and looked quite regal.




The hyenas and the waterbucks had a bit of a stoush not long after, but I missed it. Augustine (who I've just worked out is @@AugustineM on Safaritalk) got a cracker of a shot and maybe if we ask very nicely she might post it for us….


Unfortunately no crowned cranes to photograph - although 3 did fly over in the distance just to tease us!


We saw a lot of fish eagles on the trip, but I'm embarrassed to say that I don't have any good shots of them, only this one. They are such beautiful birds!




We decided to head towards the western side of the conservancy. Here off roading is allowed and it is less well developed so there are very few people over there. The eastern side has well developed roads and signs so there are quite a few vehicles there. We were still searching for crowned cranes and Andrew thought there might be some around some wheat fields. We didn't find any cranes again, but we almost ran over two cheetahs who were lying in the grass (not really, we just didn't see them until they were only a few metres away!).




They got up and moved away pretty quickly.


I've included this picture so you can see a little more of the landscape around Ol Pejeta. Forested areas, plains, and houses.




We came across some men who were living in some old huts. They were involved in the construction of some new accommodation nearby - basic bush huts apparently. Billy asked if we could go in and have a look. I loved the solar panel on the old hut!




Still no crowned cranes and it was getting too hot, so we headed back to camp for lunch.


As we were enjoying our afternoon siesta, word came through from Andrew that the wild dog den had been found and that we ought to hit the road. The camp had sent out a guide to try to find them, and he was sitting with them until we got there. They were way over on that western side again, about an hour away from camp, so we went as fast as we could to get there. I was so excited that we might get to see these rare and endangered creatures! How lucky were we that they were in the middle of a field, where we could off-road, and we were the only vehicle there! When we got there, the puppies were hidden inside the den. The adults had been out hunting and were just arriving back.








One of the adults was collared as there is a research team in the conservancy, but no-one other than them knows the frequency of the signal so they can't be tracked.


The puppies came out for a bit of a play, but it is so frenetic that I didn't get any good pictures. The best part of watching wild dogs, in my opinion, is the interaction between the dogs - such a social creature!


Three of the adults settled down for a nap and so one-by-one the puppies headed back down into the den again.










After a bit of a rest, the three remaining adults got up and one posed very nicely for me beside a tree.




Next thing, there was mad excitement as the fourth adult returned from her hunt. The others seemed so excited to see her and went running over to her.






The puppies came back out of the den too, very excited and were rewarded with some regurgitation. Again, it was very frenetic, and we rapidly worked out that it is very difficult to get a good wild dog action shot!!








The puppies carried on playing which was great fun to watch (but again, hard to photograph!).






The adults left again, but not before striking another pose for me and we stayed and watched the puppies play until dark.




We had had a great day and seeing the wild dogs was just so special. Another truck from camp went out and spent the morning with them the next day, and we were going to go back for the afternoon, but they had already moved on. There was another pack on the eastern side but they were settled in some bushes, right in the middle of a large open area, a large distance from the road. As there is no off-roading on the eastern side, very very long lenses would have been required to get any sort of good shot. We did head there on one of our game drives, but it really wasn't a good sighting. So, our time spent as the solo truck with this pack was really precious.









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After the euphoria of the day before, we didn't mind that we had a bit of a quieter day. We started off back at the marsh again but alas, still no crowned cranes. There was no mist and no nice sunrise either. There were a few buffalo knee deep in mud though.




We were watching this lilac breasted roller present a gift to his missus - his intentions were soon clear when he hopped on her back (no photos required).




We hadn't seen a secretary bird in a tree before.




And it turns out I did have more photos of fish eagles.




This zebra was a nice silhouette in front of the sunset.




Our flight the next day left Laikipia at lunchtime. We elected to have a bit of a sleep in next morning and had breakfast in camp (which was a first!) before heading off earlier than needed so we got do a bit of a game drive on the way. It was great to see this rhino as we left.




We made the obligatory stop at the equator and had the demonstration of the water going down the hole.




(I included this to show you the vehicles they use in Kicheche Laikipia).




And so it was farewell to Laikipia! We had enjoyed our stay and again, Kicheche was a top place to stay, suiting our needs perfectly. Unlike the Mara, however, I don't think we'll go back.




Next stop - Amboseli!

Edited by JulieM
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Loving these Kenya trip reports. Another country to add to the growing list!

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As we flew in over Amboseli, hubby was looking down with a certain degree of horror. Stark barren land as far as the eye could see, only punctuated by willy willies* of various sizes was the scene before him. Augustine and I, on the other hand, were quite beside ourselves with excitement, thinking of the amazing photographic opportunities that were before us - what could be better than dust and wildlife??!




There did seem to be this little oasis of greenery in the middle of all the dust. What could that be we wondered? Already we could see that the landscape was covered in wildlife.





It was all just so different from the previous two places we had been. We were met by our guide for the next three days - Nixon - and were thrilled to discover that we would be the only 4 in the vehicle again. We had thought we would probably have to share now that we were at Tawi Lodge so we were very happy.


We headed off towards the Lodge. The road that leads away from the airstrip is particularly corrugated and very bumpy - we hoped that all the roads weren't going to be like that!! Already the dust was making its presence felt! But we soon forgot all that when we saw the sheer number of animals in the park, and an amazing willy willy behind them!




We soon learned that the green oasis was a marsh type area and that is where the animals flock. We saw a two-toned elephant - something we would see a lot of over the next few days - and elephants up to their shoulders in the greenery.






Everywhere we looked was just stunning and already we loved Amboseli!






Jokingly, we asked Nixon if he thought we might see any crowned cranes in Amboseli, as we had spent a fruitless few days in Laikipia searching. With that slight smile, and nod of the head that only safari guides can pull off, he headed away and said he would have one for us within 5 minutes. We thought he was bluffing….




Augustine was very happy nd we fell further in love…. :)


Mt Kilimanjaro is such a tease! She surely knows she is famous, and that we all want a picture of her with a big herd of elephants in front. She hides her charms most of the time, only exposing small portions at a time - just enough to get us excited, but not enough for that "classic" shot. I think she just wants us to go back!




One of the great joys of Amboseli is the herds of elephants on the move. Every afternoon they leave the water and head for the hills, and every morning they return. Seeing the herd advancing, positioning the vehicle in their path and then watching them approach was something that I just couldn't get enough of!











Almost silently, they glide past. They are not bothered by our vehicle and only briefly gaze in our direction. Magic.




And then they are gone.


More dusty animals follow.








It is time to leave the national park. As we head towards the conservancy where Tawi is situated, we suddenly see this gnarly old tree with 4 men standing on it, gazing into the distance. They are Masai warriors, waiting for their cows to come home and it is quite a surreal sight.




We ask Nixon if we can photograph them. He asks and they are more than happy, in fact turning into quite the models!




Billy and Dave hopped up on the tree with them (photo yet to be processed) and we were invited to visit their village some time.


On the way back to the lodge we saw these two handsome giraffes.






The lodge was beautiful. Lush green grounds with a gorgeous reception, bar and restaurant area, which of course I neglected to photograph. I think I get so much into the wildlife photography mode that I forget the other things I ought to photograph! Still, I did manage to shoot part of our room. They were huge, a mixture of canvas and rendered brick, with a big bath as well as a shower. Luxury!




We had our sundowners in the tree bar - a bar built under a beautiful big tree.




And then topped it off with a superb meal.

We couldn't fault our introduction to Amboseli. It doesn't seem to be talked about too much here on Safaritalk, but I have to say we are very big fans!


*willy willy is the Australian term for dust devils. The term "willy-willy" or "whirly-whirly" is thought to derive from an Aboriginal language Yindjibarndi or a neighbouring language. In Aboriginal myths, willy-willies represent spirit forms. They are often quite scary spirits, and parents may warn their children that if they misbehave, a spirit will emerge from the spinning vortex of dirt and chastise them.


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@@JulieM, what an amazing safari you've had. so many cubs and pups, I'm green with envy.

Gorgeous giraffes too.

Hugely enjoyable TR,

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A very enjoyable report with great photos.

I love the Laikipia picture of the Zebra with masses of blue sky behind it - very imaginative composition.

I think you got some excellent photos of the dogs - adults and puppies (one puppy sitting on top of the other)

Do you have an idea of how old the puppies are?


Amboseli looks interesting - the group of elephants walking up towards you and then pass - great.

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@@JulieM - brilliant last segment!!! Stunning images!

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Great safari, great photos. Your photos make me wanna be a better photographer :-)

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Wonderful TR @@JulieM takes me straight back to our trip to Amboseli & the Mara in 2010 - complete with all the frustrations of trying to get any sort of photo of Kilimanjaro, never mind one with elephants in shot as well. Its the good guides that can see the herd, position the vehicle, turn the engine off & wait - here's my version & yes, they crossed the road about 5m in front of us!



I know exactly what you mean with your "Dammit" birds, I've got plenty of those as well but don't give up - probably more by luck than judgment & definitely not attributable to skill, I did manage to catch this one in the Selous in 2009.



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Do you have an idea of how old the puppies are?


Thanks again everyone! I'm glad people are enjoying my report.


@@TonyQ - I think the puppies were about 4-5 months old.

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Exceptional photographic coverage. Ahhhh, Amboseli, brings back lovely memories. Madame Killi was a lot more accomdating when we were there Your elephant images are just brilliant. Thank you.

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After a wonderful sleep, it was up early again to go and see what we could see. Of course, elephants and Mt Kilimanjaro were right at the top of the menu! This herd was moving out of the forest as we passed - a different variation of two-toned elephants!




And that rascally mountain was still being shy...




This little guy was having a great time tearing around between the adults and playing with his little mate who was about the same size. At one point they both disappeared off into some very tall grass - just like a couple of mischievous toddlers!




Moving on from that herd we passed through the gate of the park, spending some time with the hippos in one of the pools (no good photos) before spotting this lone elephant on the horizon.




We had a picnic breakfast with us and we enjoyed overlooking the park from the top of (not sure of the name but it could be) Breakfast Hill - or maybe that's just what Nixon called it because it's where everyone eats breakfast??




The next one is a really big pano - full-size is about 180cm - so heaps of detail in there should I ever decide to print it that big (which I very much doubt!!).








The views were amazing and it was a top spot for a picnic despite the very smelly shelter that is up there - full of bats.


More elephant spotting was in order. There were a couple of bulls splashing themselves with dust, but despite our photographic excitement I didn't get any good shots of that.




There were quite a few cows in the park. Apparently they aren't allowed in there, but there were certainly a few herds. I just love the dust (and yes, I have been removing dust bunnies off my images all evening…).




Hyena Alley was next up and I have to say that they were the mangiest, uglies hyenas I've ever seen - truly a face only a mother could love!




Even the puppies weren't cute!




Heading back for lunch, Billy decided it was time to do some shopping. I'm not a big fan of the whole bargaining thing but he loves the interaction and he certainly made himself popular at the gate for a couple of days as we came in and out!




We stayed out until near midday before heading back to the lodge for our 3 course sit-down lunch followed by a siesta. Life is pretty tough on safari….(NOT!!).


For our afternoon drive we decided to stay in the conservancy and hunt for gerenuks - something we hadn't seen before. It didn't take Nixon long to spot a mother and baby. They were very skittish. They are by far the most elegant antelope I've ever seen. The baby was a little curious about us and posed for a short while.






We saw a male briefly and while he did do the stand-up eating thing I didn't get a good shot. Something else for next time!


The elephants headed back from the marsh into the forest for bed-time, so we did the same!



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Superb pictures @@JulieM, I love the baby Gerenuk.


Also really like the cows and the big landscape shot where you can just see the elephants.

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