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Another bloody safari - Mara and Ol Pejeta October 2015


pault
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You can't miss this one, even if it's another of the "boring ones".

 

Strange, new creatures there were! Giant caterpillar cats.

 

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The rare Eastern Black Lion

 

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And I am not swearing in the topic title... honest! You'll see. :)

 

I regretfully announce I am going to start this report about a third of the way through the trip. I would like to give you a better reason but the simple truth is that my wife wants the photos from the Mara quickish, and I live to please. So Ol Pejeta will have to wait. However, the expedition to find Safaritalk the rhino goes in the Safaritalk thread, not here. It doesn't have to wait as long.

 

Nevertheless the actual itinerary was (dates being nights in camp so our last day was 10 October).

 

September 26 - 30 Pelican House* Ol Pejeta Conservancy October

 

1-3. Kicheche Bush Camp Olare Motorogi Conservancy

 

October 4-5 Serian Nkorombo Maasai Mara Reserve

 

October 6-9 Ngare Serian. Mara North Conservancy

 

Chalo Africa did the legwork, deal-spotting and negotiations for me and Gamewatchers did the bookings and transfers on their behalf, as well as providing guide and vehicle for Ol Pejeta. My wife did the spoiling and checking for “interesting things”. These were purged.

 

* Pelcian House was technically on a salf-catering basis, but as someone fairly pointed out, since we had a maid, cook and private guide that description isn't quite accurate. Colonial style self-catering perhaps? About all we had to do different from normal was push the shopping trolley for our cook and pay the bill... and ensure our guide got enough chapatis and ugali to keep driving - he weakened noticeably when faced with two days of potatoes, pasta, rice and fluffy bread. Anyway, it is not to be confused with Ol Pejeta Hiouse owned by Serena Hotels.

 

Just so you won't suspect an "agenda" is behind this - that I am lying through my teeth and just putting off a damning expose of Ol Pejeta long enough for the blackmail cash to be transferred to my Swiss bank account, at Ol Pejeta this time around we saw more rhino that I could be bothered counting, including small calves and everything else we could have expected except for the dogs, who we couldn’t find and who everone said were not denning in Ol Pejeta this year (then just after I got back Ol Pejeta proudly post a picture of denning wild dogs on Facebook – damn! Where were they?) Just as important, Mount Kenya was nicely visible quite frequently. It was good - very good.

 

Anyway, do remember not to expect much excitement this time around. We're back to a boring trip again. Well-run conservancy to well-run conservancy. efficient transfers, lots of wildlife, no vehicle mates (except for one day at Kicheche), no visits to the locals, nothing new at all. It was so boring that crossing the rope bridge to Ngare Serian was a notable experience. Pah! We did meet up with accompanied by a rather striking "Italian Stallion" who our guide had to protect from my wife, who just thought he was insanely handsome. That was different. Otherwise, it was just bumpabumpabumpaclickclick click bumpaclick bumpabumpa where?there!clickclick bumpabumpaclickclickclick.

 

In fact if it wasn't for the camps, wildlife, scenery and guides this trip would barely have been worthwhile at all.

 

Oh, excitement… I did get sick! First-time-ever-on-safari. Not a tummy thing though – if any camp ever gives my rusty iron pot of a stomach trouble, they don’t need to improve hygiene, they need to quarantine the kitchen staff, burn the kitchen tent and possibly relocate the camp.

 

 

Ironically, we begin our trip report with some actually unwelcome excitement at Nanyukii airstrip, where we arrived more than an hour early to find our Safaritalk flight on the runway and two pilots pointing at their watches. Record time goodbyes to Francis (you'll meet him later) a trot across the runway to impress everybody waiting we were considerate, and off we go - leaving an hour early for the Mara.

 

 

 

Sitting on the right hand side of the 12-seater plane I have a beautiful view of Mount Kenya..... wonderful! I wonder why I didn't appreciate this on the last flight to the Mara from here. Then I look at my hands. The right one is closer to Mount Kenya, which means left one is west. So my nose is north! Why are we following my nose? Did someone move the Mara? Are we going to take a shortcut by flying over a pole? Nobody else has noticed yet and the pilots hadn't mentioned it, so I guess we are going to pop in a pick up a passenger from Sosian....or Laikipia Wildnerness Camp...... or maybe it is Borana.... Lewa? Must be Lewa as we've been going 20 minutes now.

 

 

 

But this doesn't look like Lewa in pictures I've seen. I know it's a dry year but....

 

 

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"We're going to Samburu." I tell my wife.

 

"I thought something was strange" she replied. She was right, despite having her eyes closed and headphones, trying to ignore the terror of the take-off.

 

 

 

Being on their first trip to Kenya the family in front were unconcerned by this conversation. I decided that the effect on fellow travelers of asking the pilot why he was flying us in the opposite direction to that expected, toward the Somali border, would be unpredictable and so ignore-ance was the best policy. Instead of worrying I sat forward to enjoy the free scenic flight over Laikipia and Samburu districts that Safarilink had added to our itinerary for free. Good for them. Enjoy!

 

 

House with a view

 

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3D Strata

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The Wild North

 

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An hour or more and two stops later the last of the arid, vacant space turned into fields and heavily logged forest and it was starting to get a bit boring? More importantly, tingly-buttock time was arriving. Mr Right Bun was beginning to doze. We'd actually been beyond Samburu to Saruni before turning around and heading for the Mara. Now we were on the familiar route to the Mara and the scenery is a lot less interesting now. It's nice enough the first time, but I think this is fourth or fifth. I just wanted to get there. Eventually there is the Mara River and then, ooh hippos, wildebeest, giraffe, and the mighty river. The hearts of my fellow sufferers rose. Mine did too, but sinks a bit at the same time as this is Mara North and for some reason we have to get off at Naboisho to transfer to Olare Motorogi. God and the pilots only knows how many stops there will be in between.

 

 

 

Actually it wasn't too many and we arrived only 25 minutes late after a 2 hour 40 minute flight. We were met by a transfer driver rather than our guide and got to ride in what I am pretty sure was the same vehicle we had when we first visited Kicheche Bush Camp back in 2008. Happy memories! Further reminiscences as we passed through Naboisho (there's the turn off for the guiding school!; look at all the giraffes)

 

 

 

We arrived at camp 45 minutes after setting out, and were greeted not by Darren and Emma and their dog, all of whom were on leave while Darren got a dodgy knee fixed, but by Aki the relief manager, who is lovely.... and great company.... but can't be Darren, Emma and dog.

 

 

 

So nothing had been as expected so far. Wrong way, wrong time, wrong airstrip, wrong person picking us up, wrong vehicle, wrong manager. Had everything changed? But Aki told us we had "our" tent and that we'd be with Nelson as requested, and there was the huge frame of James making sure everything was fine with the catering (and who would dare say it was not to a guy built like Victor Matfield, carrying a billy club? Especially when everything always was decidedly all right). Even better, from the next afternoon we'd have Nelson all to ourselves, although after a couple of game drives with our companion we were genuinely sorry to see her leave. You do seem to get the best of vehicle mates at Kicheche Bush Camp (touch wood).

 

 

 

Tent was the same - couple of small changes for the better to better reflect the price range now, but still just the basics done well and with a few touches for the softy in us all. Still the only tents I have seen with a covered and (at night) closeable ante-room where you can sit separate from your partner at night (if you want to do so, which of course I didn't) relax sort of half-way outside during the day, or even have meals served if you wish (although the communal dinner table conversation is usually decent at Kicheche with lots of photographers and wildlife travel junkies - of course a few of such people can be real wazoos too, just like any other group; but at least they are wazoos with interesting stories).

 

 

 

Actually the first day is a little atypical. We find ourselves the relative youngsters at the lunch table. Perhaps Kicheche is moving further upmarket than would be good for it, I pondered, but judging by our experiences over the next three days nothing has changed except that things they always did well have got perhaps even a little better, and since the kindly folks at the lunch table seemed to be having a great time, maybe I am simply becoming a worse instant judge of character. It wouldn't surprise me.

 

 

But I am not here to tell you about this. Let's fast forward past the unpacking and straight out to meet Nelson, who delivered that "most remarkable day on safari ever” back in 2011 and has since been added to the permanent guiding staff at Kicheche Bush. All the guides at Kicheche have their fan clubs, and the others have been there longer than Nelson, but I am not sure any of them can be much better than Nelson is now. Lovely and generous man too. No question who we'll request next time. You'll see.

 

And off we go. Cheetahs for my wife; wild dogs frolicking with lion cubs for me (or bar that anything the day brings, thanks). Like a maitre d'hôtel, before setting off Nelson suggests we might start with a search for lion cubs, and if we don't find them we will probably at least find some of the Moniko pride instead. Then maybe we'll follow that with a look for leopards. Or should we start with the leopard? Lion appetiser sounds good we all agree, especially as they may be getting active and there are plenty of wildebeest around.

 

Only one other Kicheche vehicle out today, guided by Patrick, and we head in the same direction, but at different paces - our pace very slow as we are chatting a lot - our vehicle mate is a very interesting woman and very experienced traveler, and has some excellent gossip to share and a sharp tongue to share it with. Oh, the zesty feeling of fishwife superiority...... "Oooh,er – he didn’t did he? What was he thinking?"

 

 

But back to the lions.... drive, stop, get the binos out, look for signs, follow the signs, binos again... find a lion, and then there are two ....and where might the cubs be? Not here.... Too dangerous, Let's have a look at that lugga.... Oh, there they are, just coming out of it. And they are absolutely filthy! Since I don’t have a scrubbing brush and hosepipe I got my camera out.

 

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Mother’s a bit nervy because the sub-adults are getting a bit too close and the cubs haven’t been properly initiated into the pride yet.

 

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Warning the sub-adults that they better not come any closer

 

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Yeah, yeah, auntie!! Scary!

 

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The cubs were dirty with mud from playing in mud in the lugga rather than from the ground. While it was raining a bit, it was only a mild drizzle really, about to stop.

 

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After some play they calmed down and joined their mother for some licking and milk.

 

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While watching the cubs we were also (at more distance) able to watch some of the other lions around – spread over quite a wide area. With the light rain Nelson reckoned it was good hunting weather and predicted one or more would have a go if we stuck around. He was right and one lion did make an effort to stalk some wildebeest, but she was spotted and the hunt aborted at a jog. No harm done… food was in plentiful supply at the moment, with Olare Motorogi starting to heave with wildebeest again despite the return of the majority of the herds to Tanzania a couple of weeks before.

 

The sub-adults on our side of the valley we were in already had a carcass to chew on, and Nelson had pointed out that they had killed another wildebeest the night before and hadn’t even touched it yet. It just lay by the side of the track, 100 meters from the cubs, with no hyenas or jackals reckless enough in this time of plenty to come close enough to the cubs (and more importantly the mother and sub-adults) to make a start on it.

 

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With the sun now below the horizon (although we would make it come up again simply by coming up out of the valley) and the wildebeest now keeping a greater distance, the lions started to nod off a bit. Nelson suggested we leave as he thought Patrick might have found the main course by now and it would be dark very soon.

 

The lions meanwhile appeared to be deciding which one would be their main course that night.

 

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Not too long after... our main course. Was there ever any doubt?

 

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And then time for drinks…….

 

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Looking at the beautiful sunset after the wildebeest had passed by, I joked how all it needed for a classic picture was a leaping Maasai warrior. Nelson agreed, and to my complete surprise he made it happen (more for our vehicle mate than me I think, but what a sport anyway!). He received a warm round of applause from his fans on his return to the sundowners.

 

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YES! What a great start! Great humour, great writing style, great wildlife (so far), and superb photos.

I want more.

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Oh my goodness. What a fabulous first day! Ypu have managed to make me laugh out loud several times with your entertaining text and the photos are lovely.

 

The trio of muddy cubs is wonderful and the leopard, and as for the jumping maasai at sunset - classic!

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@@pault

A great start (I have been looking forwards to this as we will be going to Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Kicheche Bush in January).

Lion cubs, leopard and beautiful sunset!

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ahhh one of the two reports I had been way looking forward to! (@@Safaridude, hint hint, or did i miss the beginnings already?)

 

A typical Paultesque report - humour, suspense (who's the dastardly handsome man? and i want a pix of him too), beautiful flow of words and wonderful photos.

 

I love that first pix of the dirty rumbling WWL cubs.

Edited by Kitsafari
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I love the report already, and the cub photos are adorable!

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Yeah! I was looking forward to this report. Thank you for sharing. With lion cubs and a leopard that was a really awesome start :)

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Really enjoying this, thanks for the humor and beautiful photography.

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So that was a pretty impressive reintroduction to Olare Motorogi. Still it couldn't carry on like this could it? It was like Dial-a-Predator. Well, we didn't do any dialing (or not that I noticed, although Nelson definitely got a couple of text messages - possibly "don't forget the cornmeal" but also possibly "leopard at lugga 6 north side of Moniko Hill". Seriously though, while Nelson and the other Kicheche guides share their sightings with each other and do sometimes seem to coordinate their drives to cover 2-3 areas they have together decided are promising.... assuming we the guests agree of course - they are more than capable completely on their own, as we found out that afternoon and the next morning when we were the only vehicle out. Even Kicheche Bush has been hit by the slump a bit and was quiet, although they were apparently pretty full again as usual from the following week. The day started with two surprises. First an aardwolf, caught short of her burrow by our 6 am pre-dawn start. It was still dark so the first three shots were blurs, but I managed to get the camera and lens down on the bean-bag rest for the last shot and she fortunately took a look at us before heading underground. Good wake-up call.

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Second, back in 2011, Nelson had been pretty good with vehicle placement for photography but he didn't really have a clue about cameras. However, I'd noticed him taking some shots (with a pretty decent DSLR set up) for our vehicle mate the day before - especially when it was getting dark with the leopard (the shot above is high ISO - it was very murky in reality) and she couldn't really see it very well. And this morning he was in full-on photographic tour leader mode. Let's get low down in that valley and see if we can get some shots of those lions against the rising sun, he suggested. Sounded good to me! Would have suggested the same myself but for some reason not many people see the excitement of sitting parked in a dark,cold valley staring at a blinding sun while the animals you want to see frolic in the warm morning sun 50 or so meters above you - and you can't actually see them because the sun is so bright. But the plan sounded good to my wife too, when he added "and then we'll look for a cheetah." Great save, Nelson.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention we had found the lions within 15 minutes of leaving the brief aardwolf sighting. They'd obviously called Nelson to set up a rendezvous as they weren't in the same place as the previous night. Or maybe it was just that reading the signs stuff again, combined with a bit of good guesswork. And there are a lot of lions about.

We couldn't quite get lions in the right place at the right time. Have to say they were very poor models. Still got some interesting stuff in the end, although not quite when the first rays of sun were hitting the horizon as hoped. And Nelson was distracting us by looking in a particular direction a lot. What was he seeing? We had active lions. What could be more interesting than that? We needed to know.

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And his binoculars confirmed it. Cheetah coming. So that was it with our uncooperative lions- time to get down to where the cheetah would likely be arriving soon, even further down in the valley below us.

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Still in 'backlit' mode under instruction from our photo tour leader. Vary the light guys - work the subject! (He wasn't really saying that - just placing the vehicle suggestively.)

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But front-lit was working for me.

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This turned out to be the last of the Oloololo boys, whose remaining brother had died the previous day. I am not a naming person (although hard to avoid in the Mara these days) but simply by matching stories and the look (these boys had a look) I am sure we have followed them from when they were three brothers. I could compare the spots but I am sure enough not to do so. We met them for the first time, fat and barely able to move after consuming an adult male impala, in 2008 and it's sad there is now only one, but at the same time (putting on my tough realist hat) maybe the Mara has enough of their progeny now.

Anyway, he hadn't accepted his brother was gone and at this time he was not interested in anything but relocating him. He was doing a long tour of their territory, chirping and then listening for a response 5 times or so every couple of minutes. It was so, so sad but he's a fine figure of a cheetah and providing he recovers from his illness he'll be good. In fact we met him four days later in Mara North (we think) and he was no longer calling and looked well.

Looking for the lost brother

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So a mixed emotion sort of sighting. Magical to see such a magnificent cheetah, so interesting to see how hard he was trying to locate his brother, and very sad to see he was feeling such loss (to be fair I have to point out that there is a picture of him checking out his dead brother on the day of his death on Mara Cheetah Project Facebbok page, but we don't admire cheetahs for their ability to solve complex math problems, do we?).

The Mara Cheetah Project people had been monitoring him since the death of his brother and another male cheetah in Lemek, fearing a virus that might decimate the cheetah population, and sure enough they showed up soon after us. Not sure if Nelson texted them or if their vehicle was one of the signs that Nelson spotted to make him think there might be a cheetah a mile away. Nelson promised to keep an eye open and report in any sightings of this guy or any other cheetahs with a swollen neck. However, we left them soon after, since he wasn't doing much except wandering a bit and calling and it was our vehicle mate's last drive - we had to find something special for her if we could.

 

And of course we did. Something special for her but very special for us, as we'd never seen such a young one and this was the same leopard we had seen treed by hyenas when she was a half-grown cub back in 2011. I have since learnt her name but I'll resist the urge to tell you.

 

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They were in good cover (the photographs lie - how many angles did we have to try?) the light was pretty unhelpful, and the cub kept on frustrating us by playing behind a bush and then running down into the lugga, which we couldn't approach without causing disturbance. Finally she gave us a look - not a perfect look but it'll do for me.

 

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Learning that necks have no milk. Don;t laugh - you used to do this and worse yourself.

 

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After over an hour and with mother sleeping and the cub in the lugga, we decided to try our luck on the other side - a bit of a drive but it got us at least a very quick glimpse of cub in the open, playing with grass stalks and whatever else moved. Unfortunately on spying us up on the lugga banks she scarpered back to her mother. We decided to call it a day - or rather a first part of the morning.

 

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Again there was a sad side to this sighting. One cub meant it was two days since anyone Nelson knew had seen two cubs, and it wasn't hard to work out what that meant. That wouldn't be the last bad news about the iconic animals of the Mara either. Disney-cute it isn't.

 

But this was wonderful. What a start. The vultures thought all these kills was wonderful too. I felt like joining him up there.

 

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For vultures time to bask and cool. For us, time for breakfast. Best meal of the day and they seem to remain intent on ensuring they have the best packed breakfasts in Kenya, despite some much tougher competition now. Even more adventurous ways of serving the morning eggs than ever - a "bush pie' today, which is a homemade pork pie with an egg on top instead of a top crust.

 

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And after breakfast we returned to see if the leopard cub was out again, but the signs of the bush (more specifically the impalas grazing) said they had moved on, and they weren't wrong. We moved on to a hippo pool next to the Kempinski (yes, you read that right if you don't know about Olare Motorogi). Unfortunately for the hippos and I imagine (when the wind blows the wrong way) for some Kempinski guests, this river had ceased flowing some time ago and the pool was like... well, you can see.

 

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We met a hippo out of water who didn't seem too keen to get back in - possibly as a consequence of the cause of the wound, or just because there was grazing to be done,

 

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At last after breakfast we get a little break. We were all more or less asking Nelson for no more big cats, so we caught up with some of the other residents. It was a glorious sunny day and horrible for photography by this time. I wouldn't let that stop me posting normally, but since these are pictures i am preparing to wife's orders, herbivores doing nothing in harsh light are missing the cut. There will be plenty of herbivores later though, and I can tell you that there were a lot of wildebeest (compared to very, very few in the reserve), endless topis, plentiful giraffe, hundreds of eland and buffalo, many impalas, plentiful zebras, non-stop gazelles and even a few elephants. Lots of bushbuck and dik-diks too, but they were staying hidden. Dik-dik country is tsetse country, and there were plenty of them with the migration here. Nelson knew how to avoid the hotspots, but we met them from time to time and it wasn't one or two, I don't mind, but it will be part of the story later.

 

Eventually, back for a very short rest before lunch. Totally happy.And we've only just started...

 

 

 

A singing cheetah shot (really off-key but he tries hard) to end with - it just wasn't right to post it with the others above.

 

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Not sure what is wrong with the font above the first photo ... can't change it either. Reminds me of the early days of word processing.

Edited by Game Warden
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More of this lovely report.

 

Pleased to see the HP Sauce on the table for this lovely sounding,and looking, breakfast

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As they always say in public speaking, it is not the message you tell but how you tell it. Kudo's to a job well done! I am totally captivated!

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@@AKR1 @@bettel @@Towlersonsafari @@wilddog @armchairbushman @@Kitsafari @@Safaridude @@TonyQ

 

Thank you...

 

ahhh one of the two reports I had been way looking forward to! (@@Safaridude, hint hint, or did i miss the beginnings already?)

 

A typical Paultesque report - humour, suspense (who's the dastardly handsome man? and i want a pix of him too), beautiful flow of words and wonderful photos.

 

I love that first pix of the dirty rumbling WWL cubs.

 

You missed the start. It's a good one too! I am afraid I cannot reveal the identity of the dastardly handsome man, but his son may draw his attention to the fact that pault keeps his word. :D I know he reads Safaritalk trip reports so I even hope he may comment himself.

.

 

@@pault

 

Yeah, "boring", dull, really terrible… B)

 

Sorry! Dull old Mara. Npthing ever happens. :)

 

 

@@pault

A great start (I have been looking forwards to this as we will be going to Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Kicheche Bush in January).

Lion cubs, leopard and beautiful sunset!

 

You'll love it.

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More of this lovely report.

 

Pleased to see the HP Sauce on the table for this lovely sounding,and looking, breakfast

 

Chilli chutney next to it too - for days when the egg adventures go too far.

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Ironically, we begin our trip report with some actually unwelcome excitement at Nanyukii airstrip, where we arrived more than an hour early to find our Safaritalk flight on the runway and two pilots pointing at their watches

 

 

Did anyone notice this? If so, then no, @@Game Warden has not branched out, Branson-like into aviation. Just a slip of the spellchecker on my iPad, which appears to have added Safaritalk to its list of words, but not Safarilink.

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What a start, @@pault ...... Great narration along with the photos.......

Been following the updates online about the cat flu incident...... I bet it was a tough sighting watching him call out for his brother who won't be joining him again ....... I know i would have a hard time watching it.

 

Can hardly wait for all the news and photos of the other cheetahs in the Mara. Malaika etc etc.,

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@@pault

 

No, seriously, I love the "singing cheetah". The aardwolf… what an unexpected bonus. The Mara Conservancies are amazing.

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@@pault, a quick question on the cheetah continuing to "look' for his dead brother despite the fact he had indeed been observed and photographed "checking out" his dead brother the day before. Curious to understand how can one discern that the cheetah is looking for his dead brother ? Is it because he ignores obvious hunting opportunities despite having not eaten for some time?

Thanks again for a great report so far.

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@@pault, a quick question on the cheetah continuing to "look' for his dead brother despite the fact he had indeed been observed and photographed "checking out" his dead brother the day before. Curious to understand how can one discern that the cheetah is looking for his dead brother ? Is it because he ignores obvious hunting opportunities despite having not eaten for some time?

Thanks again for a great report so far.

 

You would know if you saw it, I am sure, and Nelson and the Mara Cheetah Project Director, Dr Femke Broekhuis, had no doubt. It was relentless and cheetahs only call for other cheetahs so far as I know. And he wandered, called, wandered a bit more, looked around, sometimes coming back to a spot he had called from before. And his eyes, while he waited for a response..... We'd meet him twice more. In the evening of this day it was even worse as he appeared to be getting more desperate by then, as night fell. And yes, he ignored all hunting opportunities and much more besides. You'll see. Worst thing is they use more or less the same call (to my ears) mothers use for cubs or cubs for lost mothers (when it's time to dump them).

 

@@madaboutcheetah I'll even name them for you, although we didn't go out of our way, @@bettel saw a lot more of the cheetahs than we did. Not all good news though - although I am sure you are up to date with it. I am watching the Facebook page of the news from the KWS blood tests on him. Hopefully a known flu and not too contagious.

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@@pault

 

So so boring. Yawn. Nothing at all happening. Stifled yawn. Lion cubs, leopard cub, cheetah ya di ya di ya. BIG yawn.

I wouldn't bother writing the rest of this report.

:)

Edited by CaroleE
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@@pault

 

What a fantastic trip and you really have your way with the camera. You make Looove to it :wub:

 

I´m off to Masai Mara next week (my third time), what a treat and inspiration this is. I will return with a trip report of my own.

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Ironically, we begin our trip report with some actually unwelcome excitement at Nanyukii airstrip, where we arrived more than an hour early to find our Safaritalk flight on the runway and two pilots pointing at their watches

 

 

Did anyone notice this? If so, then no, @@Game Warden has not branched out, Branson-like into aviation. Just a slip of the spellchecker on my iPad, which appears to have added Safaritalk to its list of words, but not Safarilink.

 

I did and was a bit confused. I thought it might have had to do with looking for the rhino Safaritalk, except you'd already done that by this stage! Very happy to see a (very boring) report from you!

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