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Oh boy, yet another Masai Mara report? A return to the Mara, February 2019


janzin
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I've been reluctant to start this report....Do we really need another Masai Mara report? How many photos of lions, leopards and cheetah (and birds) can one really look at? Especially so soon after @Atdahl's splendid report and wonderful photos? (We were actually in the Mara at the same time.) Will anyone bother to read mine? :unsure:

 

 Well, I have nothing better to do at the moment--birding is slow right now in my neck of the woods, and no trips scheduled for the next few months (sob!!) so I here I go :) It may be shorter than usual, I'm not sure...we'll see how it unfolds!

 

Of course after our first trip to the Mara, in September 2016, we couldn't wait to return. But there are so many other places to see! What really clinched the deal was the startup of Kenya Airways non-stop flight from JFK to Nairobi, which cut the former 20 hour travel day to a relatively short 14-1/2 hr non-stop, with no exhausting layover in AMS as we had done before.  Once that was in play, I thought "well we could do a quick trip to the Mara for our usual winter getaway."  It was to be just a short trip--thinking two camps, 4 nights each.

 

Initially we thought we'd go right to the Mara from our international flight, as it arrived early enough--10 something in the morning. But upon more thought, I decided to play it safe given the potential for delays and winter snow storms coming out of NYC in February, and spend our first night in Nairobi.

 

The main focus of this trip was to be CATS. I really, really wanted to see the five cheetah brothers who hang out in the Reserve. Little did I know this trip would be cheetah-mania!

 

I knew we wanted to stay again at Enaidura Camp, The Wild Source's camp in the Mara Reserve, guided by Ping as we had been before. But I wasn't sure where to go for a 2nd camp...I only knew I wanted to be in a conservancy, and that we had to have a private vehicle. While before we'd been in Naboisho and Olare Motorogi, I was keen to see some new areas. As tempted as I was to return to OM--mainly to see Fig and her new cub (who @Atdahlhad a wonderful time with--so jealous!), in the end, we opted to check out Mara North and stay at Serian's camp--in part from the great recommendations from @Kitsafariand other STers who have stayed there. And importantly, Serian gives all guests a private vehicle. It was a little more expensive than our usual choices, but we (me ;) ) opted to splurge a bit as we'd be there over my birthday.  A gift to myself.

 

Working again with Bill Given/The Wild Source, we ended up with:

1 Night Eka Hotel Nairobi
4 nights Enaidura Camp
4 nights Alex Walker's Serian "The Original"

 

However, a small hitch developed! Having booked this whole trip back in February 2018, in early December we were notified by Kenya Airways that they were reducing their daily flights to five per week! Thankfully our inbound flight remained intact--but our return flight was now cancelled. :o:angry:They had moved us to the same flight the following day. Well, that at least was better than if they'd moved us back a day---which would have really messed everything up! But now we were "forced" to spend an extra night in Kenya. After a very short debate (hmmm...should we spend a night in Nairobi or add another night at Serian?) the not-so-tough choice was made...and luckily Serian had space for us to extend our stay to 5 nights.

 

That's a really long, probably boring prologue so I'll leave you with a couple of tasty bits to keep you coming back.

 

I remember awhile back someone asked on the Trip Planning forum if February was good for cats in the Mara. I can say without hesitation, YES.

 

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Edited by janzin
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Well I can't say I can ever get too many big cats, so I'm looking forward to more. :D certainly the first photos are awesome,and promising for future installments. 

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michael-ibk

Absolutely, your reports and photos are always special, can't wait to see more!

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The flight on Kenya Airways was fine, I don't remember too much about it, which means it was uneventful. It actually arrived almost an hour early and we were the first through immigration, with our e-visas in hand it was super quick. In fact, so quick that our ride to bring us to the Eka Hotel was not there yet.  A very nice man standing in the taxi area saw us looking lost and when we explained the situation, he lent us his phone so that we could call SafariTrails, the ground agent who was to pick us up. They were surprised we were already there but sent their driver who arrived in 10 minutes.

 

After lunch at the Eka, we spent the afternoon resting. If we'd know we'd get in so early we might have booked a trip to Nairobi National Park, but we just couldn't be sure what time we'd actually arrive or how much time we had, so I didn't want to book anything in advance. Anyway, resting wasn't a bad idea.  We had our first Tusker with dinner at the Spur steakhouse in the Eka, and then a good night's sleep.

 

Pretty well rested, the next morning we were off to Wilson Airport and our flight on Air Kenya. I was expecting a little bush plane, but we were on a huge 50-passenger plane, a Dash 7.

It was a change to see the Mara so green...our September trip had been much drier.

 

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Our airstrip, Ol Kiombo, was to be the last stop of a multi-stop trip. We landed at the first airstrip, in Mara North, and were met by a bit of a surprise. Everyone off the plane!

 

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 Its not unexpected to get a flat tire on safari...but you don't expect it to be your plane!

 

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So we were a bit delayed...actually almost an hour...getting back up in the air. This was a large plane and they actually had to dig the wheel out of the dirt before they could change the tire. Miraculously, several mechanics magically appeared to do the deed, while the pilot watched.

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Eventually...almost an hour later...we were off, and finally arrived at Ol Kiombo. A warm greeting by Ping, and we were off to Enaidura camp for lunch.

 

Just a quick word about the camp: when we stayed at Enaidura previously, it was a mobile camp, situated in the Triangle. But now it has a permanent home along the Talek River, on the Reserve side. This location is fantastic during crossing season as it is near many crossing points; however in this season it seemed a bit far from where the action was. More on that later.

 

 

 

 

Edited by janzin
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offshorebirder
2 hours ago, janzin said:

Do we really need another Masai Mara report?

 

Yes!    Especially one with photos as good as yours.

 

Thanks for this report @janzin - looking forward to following along.

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@offshorebirder, you stole the exact reply I was going to post :).

 

@janzin, outstanding photos to wet our appetite already.   More please...

 

Alan

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@Janzin I especially want to see your report because Alex Walker's Serian Camp is one of the lodges where I am planning to stay next year. I love your photos and your writing style.

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Great start.  We will be with Ping this coming February so are very interested in your experience.

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19 minutes ago, optig said:

@Janzin I especially want to see your report because Alex Walker's Serian Camp is one of the lodges where I am planning to stay next year. I love your photos and your writing style.

 

@optig it will be a bit before I get to the Serian part, but I'll say here and now, to avoid any suspense :lol: that we absolutely loved Serian and it was probably our favorite safari experience ever. So no worries ;)

 

 

4 minutes ago, mapumbo said:

Great start.  We will be with Ping this coming February so are very interested in your experience.

 

@mapumbo congratulations, you will have a great trip with Ping. Obviously we wouldn't have requested him a 2nd time if he wasn't fabulous!

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So I'm sure you are all eager to get to the actual safari part. Needless to say, so were we! So without further ado...

 

After lunch and a bit of settling into our tent, we were off on our first afternoon drive. Of course, Ping knew that we wanted CATS.

 

So without further ado (did I just say that?), he immediately took us to where he knew there was a lion pride. 

 

They weren't doing much...but there were a lot of them. Below is just a quick snapshot to show the numbers. Ping told us this was the Nkuyanai  (I sometimes see this spelled Enkoyonai) pride, comprised at the moment of 17 lions. I believe this was in the Bila Shaka area...but I could be wrong, as its really difficult to keep track.

 

You can see 9 lions up front here, but if you look carefully, there are more behind the bushes.

 

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Not much was going on, but we soon fixated on one cub that was desperately trying to get Mom's attention.

 

Wake up Mom!

 

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Mom wasn't having any of it, so the cub was getting frustrated.

 

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There just seemed to be the one cub, at least that's all that was visible/awake. So he entertained himself with some leaves.

 

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Yuck what's in my mouth?

 

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Soon though, he tired of play and went to sleep by Mom. Since it didn't look like anyone else was waking up, Ping suggested we move along and see if we could find some leopards.

 

Well, sure...let's do that!

 

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We headed to the area which was the territory of the female Kaboso, and her two daughters. At the time, I didn't know the daughter's names and Ping either didn't know them or didn't volunteer them. (I've since realized he doesn't always get the names right.) But there is a Facebook page called Leopard of the Mara/Mara Leopard Watch, and in the last few months a researcher has been collecting/cataloging leopard images and reconciling them with known names. So I now now that the two daughters are Kidonda and Maridadi. All three of these gals are pretty used to vehicles and not particularly shy.

 

It didn't take long before we found Kidonda. She is easy to recognize (now that I know!) because she has an old wound on the side of her face. It looks like a bit of a dent on the left side. BTW, that is Kidonda in the opening prologue.

 

The beautiful Kidonda, daughter of Kaboso.

 

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Eventually she moved and climbed into a tree.

 

 

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After a while of watching her pose, we decided to move up along the river a bit to see if we could find Kaboso, the mother. We didn't find Kaboso but we found Kidonda's sister, Maridadi! But only briefly as she went into the bush.

 

leopard_JZ5_1586a.jpg

 

Not a bad start on our first drive!

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19 hours ago, janzin said:

Will anyone bother to read mine? :unsure:

 

 

Yes!

and you're photos are always of such a high standard how can I not enjoy them?

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1 hour ago, Soukous said:

 

Yes!

and you're photos are always of such a high standard how can I not enjoy them?

aww thanks @Soukous !

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We didn't see much else of note that first evening, but that was okay. We headed back to Enaidura and enjoyed a great dinner, meeting our camp-mates. There was one other couple staying at the camp, two young American honeymooners. They were really nice folk and we got along with them great--they were from Chicago, one of our favorite cities, so we had plenty to talk about. Of course, they too had their own guide and vehicle and so we only saw them at dinner. No night drives in the Reserve, so a good night's sleep awaited us.

 

We had already discussed with Ping our desire to look for the five cheetah brother coalition, and the plan was to do that the following day (2nd full day), as they were quite a bit distant from camp. So this first full day was just meandering, to see whatever we could find.

 

We headed out with our packed breakfast. It wasn't long before we came upon this hyena in lovely backlight.

 

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As the sun rose a bit, I got the  perfect opportunity to practice rim lighting.

 

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And not too long afterwards we found the male cheetah, Olchore. (Ping at the time gave us the wrong name, he thought it was Hodari, but I was corrected by the Mara Cheetah Project/Big Cats of the Masai Mara Facebook group.) After comparing photos of Hodari and Olchore, it is definitely Olchore.

 

He was hunting, but wasn't too interested in these Impala--I think too large for him on his own. He was looking for gazelle breakfast.

 

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But not having much luck. We watched him for awhile.

 

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Eventually he lay down in the middle of the grass and as there was no prey anywhere in sight, we decided to move on...but we'd see more of him later :)

 

 

 

 

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Always good to get more info on camps, guides, operators, etc.  Gorgeous start!

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16 minutes ago, Atravelynn said:

Always good to get more info on camps, guides, operators, etc.  Gorgeous start!

 

Thanks @Atravelynn I'm not saying too much about Enaidura and Ping, because its already been covered in my previous report, my review, and also @amybatt's report from last year. Not much else I can add about it... not much has changed other than the location and the fact that its permanent now. The tents, and service, are all just as good as before (maybe even a tad better!) But I'll have more to say about Serian when we get to the Mara North section (all good!)

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Well as I said, we spent this day mostly meandering. And so I will meander through my various photos, they may not be in order but I'm at least attempting to put things in on the right day. There's really no exciting narrative here :)

 

 We found the lioness Yaya,* along with another of the Marsh pride, and her cub. They were in tall grass and we didn't stay with them too long.  *Ping told us this was Yaya, but honestly I can't be 100% sure, because we found him to be wrong with names a few times. I need to check with the Big Cats of the Mara page. So for now I'm leaving them unlabeled.

 

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Since the grass was high and the light harsh, we left them.

 

After lunch, which we had back at camp today (knowing that tomorrow we'd be out for a long day looking for the cheetahs), we found some sleepy lions.

 

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I don't have an ID on this male yet.

 

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Not sure what's happening here...scratching I imagine...or just banging his head against the wall. Or holding up the tree?

 

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We didn't stay too long with them, as a) they looked well fed and they weren't doing much; b) the light was bad; and c) flies! The flies--on these as well as most of the other lions we saw--were just terrible at this time of year. I don't recall it this bad when we were there in September. There were several times we saw lions and I just didn't even bother taking photos, as there were just so many flies.

 

This was a good day for birds. Although generally speaking, we found Mara North had a greater variety of birds than this area.

 

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Towards the end of the afternoon, we encountered another lion. I've since learned this is Baba Yao, of the Marsh Pride. He's a handsome one...despite the flies!

 

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Oh, and how can I forget the antelopes!

 

We saw this Hartebeest, not so common.

 

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And here's a Thompson's Gazelle in nice light.

 

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We did make a few attempts during the day to re-locate some leopards. We drove back and forth along the river in the Kaboso territory again, but no luck.

 

All in all it was a quiet day in terms of action, although we saw a lot of animals and had some nice photo ops!

 

 

 

 

Edited by janzin
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Beautiful photos as usual Janet!  Were most taken hand held or using a bean bag?  The clarity of your photos is always so fantastic :).

 

Alan

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56 minutes ago, Atdahl said:

Beautiful photos as usual Janet!  Were most taken hand held or using a bean bag?  The clarity of your photos is always so fantastic :).

 

Alan

 

Thanks @Atdahl  I did of course have beanbags and used them at times, but not always. Hard to say which ones were off the beanbag. 

 

Might as well add a word about camera gear for anyone interested. I was using the Nikon D850 with the 500 F4E lens, and the D500 with the 70-200 2.8E.

 

Some of the scenery/snapshots are with either the iPhone or the Fuji X-e3.

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On 6/20/2019 at 5:52 AM, janzin said:

Will anyone bother to read mine? :unsure:

 

Errr YES!?! I for one have been waiting months for your Kenya report!

 

Your photos are just incredible. I really look forward to new ones :)

 

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UPDATE: So right after I posted that last unknown lazing lion, I posted it to the Big Cats of the Mara Page. And didn't take long to get the ID: Its Koshoke , one of the "6-pack" lions in the Reserve. Interestingly Baba Yao is another of the 6-pack, and they weren't far apart.

 

The 6-pack males are a coalition of males that were all fathered by Lolparpit and Olbarnoti. 

 

Details here: https://wildfact.com/forum/topic-other-male-lion-coalitions-from-masai-mara?pid=61428#pid61428

 

 

 

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Alexander33
On 6/19/2019 at 2:52 PM, janzin said:

I've been reluctant to start this report....Do we really need another Masai Mara report? 

 

As far as I’m concerned, yes, we really do. And I’m not even past post #1.  So get on with it already, and I’m looking forward to more.  :)

 

Edit: Awesome to see the Kiboso female’s daughters: they were just small cubs when we were there in February 2018, and we did not see them at all (although one of our camp mates did). Glad to see them doing well. 

Edited by Alexander33
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The more Safari reports the better :)  - awesome photo's too!!

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We were very excited to start our 2nd full day as this was to be our search for the 5 cheetah coalition. This group of five cheetahs has been variously known as the Fast Five, the Five Musketeers, and now, recently, they are being called "Tano Bora." which is Swahili for "five best." I think there was some confusion as different guides were using different names, and there is also a group of lions called the Musketeers, so Tano Bora has become the accepted nomenclature. But when I saw them, Ping was calling them the 5 Musketeers.  There is also confusion/speculation as to how many of this group are actually related. Some sources claim that three are brothers, and two outsiders; others say only two are related. No matter, they are the largest and longest lasting coalition of male cheetahs in the Mara...going strong now for almost two years, I believe.

 

Ping told us that the area where they had been hanging out lately was about an hour away from the camp, east towards the town of Talek. Here is a map showing the approximate locations of the camp, and where the cheetahs were hanging out at that time.

 

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We left camp extra early, of course with our packed breakfast and a packed lunch as well. We didn't dawdle and I don't think we stopped for anything at all until we got to where the cheetahs were. It wasn't hard to find them once we were in the general area; since we'd had to come quite a ways, we weren't the first ones there.

 

Can you find them?

 

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Yes, there were a lot of vehicles and I was surprised because I didn't think there were many camps that far east, but Ping told us that a lot of the larger, hotel-like lodges were in that area. But not to worry, because he said they wouldn't stay that long. And he was right...most only stayed 10 or 15 minutes and while cars kept coming and going most of the day, there were never as many as this first early morning group. 

 

But we were staying for the duration. The hope was eventually to see them hunt--even if it took all day. But for now, I'd just be happy to see them get up :)  Meantime, we watched them grooming and resting!

 

Four of them were resting together, with one other a bit further back.

 

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One would sit up...

 

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More grooming....

 

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We spent a long time just waiting for them to do something.

 

Three up!! And a half!

 

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Would they move?

 

Eventually they got up and started moving. On the hunt! Although there wasn't any prey around that we could see. But at least they were on the move.

 

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We, and a few other vehicles, followed them as best we could. We were of course still in the Reserve, so no off-roading allowed.  For the most part, people seemed to obey this rule. Also there were many fewer vehicles at this point, many I presume had returned to lodgings for breakfast. There were also rangers present. At one point in the morning, the head warden (who knows Ping well, of course) came over to us and asked Ping to be "warden for the morning" and keep an eye on things as he was heading off somewhere else. They trust Ping :D

 

They moved stealthily through the tall grass...although they weren't actually stalking anything.

 

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Ping saw that they were heading to a small tree and he knew they would mark it. So we made our way around to the tree, and sure enough he was right.

 

Although I think in this case one poor brother is getting more marked than the tree :lol:

 

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Unfortunately, they then proceeded to lay down in the shade underneath another nearby tree.

 

Can you see them? Not really a good photo op :(

 

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We waited quite  bit but they weren't moving. By now it was after 1 pm, getting quite hot and it seemed like they were settled in for awhile. So we decided to take our lunch a bit further away, and come back in a bit.

 

We drove about 15 minutes back west, and started eating our lunch...but just in the midst of it, Ping somehow got word that they were moving again! (Although he never used a radio, of course all the guides had cell phones...there was always texting going on.)

 

We quickly threw what remained of lunch back in the vehicle and high-tailed it back to where they were.  They were indeed moving, but at this point the light was really terrible--high and harsh.

 

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Still, we hoped for a hunt! But...no one could see any prey anywhere nearby. You can see in my photos that there was just nothing on these plains. Ping thought they were going to have to head pretty far to find something to eat.

 

They actually passed very close to our vehicle.

 

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But soon it was apparent that it wouldn't really be easy to follow them...they were heading into an area with few roads. It was already after 3 pm and Ping left it up to us (of course)...should we keep with them or go back?

 

It was a tough decision but we decided to start heading back. So all in all, it was a bit disappointing that after 7 hours with them we didn't see any action---but, we still got lovely views of these five magnificent cheetahs!

 

(OF COURSE...later that night we found out that they had successfully hunted and killed a Topi...but it wasn't until close to 5 o'clock. We would have had to leave them before then anyway, as in the reserve you need to be back in camp by nightfall.)

 

Anyway, the day wasn't quite over yet...it still held a couple of nice surprises.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by janzin
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Hopefully those five fellows will still be together next February.  

What was the temperature like?  It looks hot.

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