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The Ultimate Mammal Watching Safari - Kenya: July, 2021


Zarek Cockar

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Zarek Cockar

In July of this year, my guest, Venkat Sankar, and I took a 3-week trip around Kenya to look for some specific mammal species targets. Along the way, we picked up more species than either of us had expected, and ended the trip with a tally of 126 species total! We didn't use Sherman traps or mist-nets, but through determination, and LOTS of time in the field, we were able to find a high diversity of both rodents and bats to complement all the carnivores, ungulates, hyraxes, and primates.  Consider this: by day 8, the only cat species we hadn't seen yet (and never did see) was Golden Cat. 

Lophiomys_imhausi_AB_4.JPG.90eb4dc8d649587fc69cd5cb28086559.JPG

Lophiomys imhausi - The Crested or Maned Rat, which we saw in Naro Moru. This, and all other photos here, and in the report, are Venkat's - not mine.

 

"Epic" is probably a little hackneyed and cliché, but it really does seem to be the most appropriate word for this trip for me. We covered over 4,500 KMs, we both picked up a high number of "lifer" mammal species, and I even got some decent birding in.

 

To whet your appetite, here's our basic itinerary:

July 11: Arrive NBO 7AM (via SFO & Dubai) – Mt. Suswa – Soysambu (O/N Mbweha Camp)

July 12: Soysambu – Narok (for fuel and food) – Nyakweri Forest (O/N Mara West Camp)

July 13: Nyakweri Forest – Mara Triangle – Masai Mara NR – Olderkesi (O/N Cottar’s Fly Camp)

July 14: Full day in Olderkesi & MM NR + meet the Pangolin Project (O/N Cottar’s Fly Camp)

July 15: Long drive (10h) from Olderkesi to Ol’kiramatian (O/N Lentorre Lodge)

July 16: Full day in Ol’kiramatian and Shompole Conservancies (O/N Lentorre Lodge)

July 17: Long drive (9h) from Ol’kiramatian to Mweiga (O/N Sandai Farm)

July 18: Full day in Aberdare NP (O/N Trout Tree, Creaky Cottage)

July 19: Mweiga – Nanyuki (breakfast) – Meru NP (O/N KWS Kinna Guest House)

July 20: Full day in Meru NP (O/N KWS Kinna Guest House)

July 21: Long drive (9h) from Meru NP via Mwingi to Tana River Primate Reserve (camping)

July 22: Tana River PR – Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy (camping)

July 23: Ishaqbini – Watamu – Arabuko Sokoke NP & FR (O/N Turtle Bay Resort)

July 24: Full day exploring Arabuko Sokoke forest and nearby caves (O/N Turtle Bay Resort)

July 25: Watamu – Tsavo East NP (O/N Kulalu Camp)

July 26: Full day game drive in Tsavo East NP (O/N Kulalu Camp)

July 27: Tsavo East NP – Rukinga Conservancy (Wildlife Works) (O/N Ndovu House)

July 28: Rukinga – Shimba Hills NP (O/N Shimba Hills Lodge)

July 29: Shimba Hills – Diani (COVID PCR test) – Shimoni – Diani (O/N Sands at Nomad)

July 30: Fly Ukunda to Nairobi (NBO) – Nairobi NP – 12AM Departure NBO (via Dubai & SFO)

 
Piliocolobus_rufomitratus_TR_3.JPG.b7f8fb0d01ad6a1c6eeb871724d17c8f.JPG
Piliocolobus rufomitratus - Tana River Red Colobus, a Critically Endangered Kenyan endemic from the Lower Tana River.  We saw these in both Tana River Primate National Reserve and in Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy. 
 
Venkat has very kindly put in an enormous amount of work to write up a fantastic, detailed trip report, including some excellent photos from our trip. You can access a PDF of the full TRIP REPORT HERE
 
This is exactly the kind of trip I like to organize and lead: visiting lesser-known areas and viewing unusual species. If this appeals to you, let's have a chat!
Tragelaphus_imberbis_TS_2.JPG.493a97361006f78607ef4cfa082663d7.JPG
Tragelaphus imberbis - Lesser Kudu.  This particular individual was from Tsavo East, but we also plenty in the South Rift, Meru NP, Ishaqbini, and Rukinga ranch.
Edited by Zarek Cockar
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Zim Girl

Really interesting trip report, thanks for posting!

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Very interesting indeed. Both of you must have worked hard to see this many mammals, especially the number of different bats were totally new for me.

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offshorebirder

Wow @Zarek Cockar.    I am very glad to learn that Tana River Primate Reserve and Ishaqbini are safe/possible to visit.

 

Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink  @inyathi

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Zarek Cockar
6 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

Wow @Zarek Cockar.    I am very glad to learn that Tana River Primate Reserve and Ishaqbini are safe/possible to visit.

 

Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink  @inyathi

@offshorebirder You just tell me when you're ready!

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ElenaH

@Zarek Cockar It is a great job you've done! Respect! 

I've downloaded the report for later reading. I saw there is a contact to you (email), as well. Of course, I immediately read about African golden cat (Caracal aurata) because I wanted to know what you miss... You also missed Aardwolf and a few other species. 

But nevertheless, you've seen 126 species! And some of them I've never heard about!  :o
I've never been to Kenya. However, I've been to Southern  Africa (Bots, Zim, Zam..) 14 times. It is time to visit this wonderful country. I think I will be happy to see a gerenuk and a reticulated giraffe. :lol: :lol:

126 species sound like mission impossible for me. I love such expeditions; self-driving, self-catering, sleeping in the tent in nowhere and doing something useful like for example, a game census (I've done once in Hwange). And what you achieved is just increadible! I admire you! :)

Edited by ElenaH
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ice
5 hours ago, ElenaH said:

@Zarek Cockar You also missed Aardwolf and a few other species. 

 

 

He was talking about cat species - not sure if an Aardwolf is part of that family, at least not as commonly considered.

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ElenaH
59 minutes ago, ice said:

He was talking about cat species - not sure if an Aardwolf is part of that family, at least not as commonly considered.

yes, @ice, my English is not good! :lol: :lol: but I didn't mean Felidae, of course. In ST Zarek was talking about golden cat but in the report he posted link above "Mammals of Kenya 0721" Venkat is talking about species they missed (from other families)

I know that Aardwolf belongs to Hyenidae (Hyena Family), relatively young family (2mio yrs). I am trying to learn as much as possible about animals because as a self-driver without a guide I need to find the animals myself. Now I am reading "The safari companion" from Richard D.Estes. It is easier to read than "Beat about the bush" and I can recommend it. 

 

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Zarek Cockar
6 hours ago, ElenaH said:

@Zarek Cockar It is a great job you've done! Respect! 

I've downloaded the report for later reading. I saw there is a contact to you (email), as well. Of course, I immediately read about African golden cat (Caracal aurata) because I wanted to know what you miss... You also missed Aardwolf and a few other species. 

But nevertheless, you've seen 126 species! And some of them I've never heard about!  :o
I've never been to Kenya. However, I've been to Southern  Africa (Bots, Zim, Zam..) 14 times. It is time to visit this wonderful country. I think I will be happy to see a gerenuk and a reticulated giraffe. :lol: :lol:

126 species sound like mission impossible for me. I love such expeditions; self-driving, self-catering, sleeping in the tent in nowhere and doing something useful like for example, a game census (I've done once in Hwange). And what you achieved is just increadible! I admire you! :)

Hi @Elena Hanakova@ElenaHThanks for your message!  Yes, it's unfortunate that we missed both Aardwolf and Aardvark, but I assure you I wasn't for a lack of trying!  We did night game drives almost every night of the trip, and in some good areas for both species, but I guess luck just wasn't on our side for those species.

As you'll see in the report, getting to 126 species requires a combination of a very aggressive schedule with very little rest time, a thermal scope, a bat detector, access to areas where night drives are allowed, and email/phone contact with some prominent mammalogists who can help identify species by photo and sound (bat detector). 

Obviously, some bats are impossible to be 100% about their identity without having them in hand to take precise measurements, so we didn't count those. 

 

If you're interested in doing something like this to see whatever target species you want, feel free to get in touch.

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inyathi

@Zarek Cockar @offshorebirder

 

What a fantastic, if exhausting trip, very glad to hear that David Ngala is still showing visitors the wonders of Arabuko-Sokoke, he showed me some of the birds there a good few years back and some golden-rumped sengis.  

 

 

 

My mammals list does include all species I’ve positively identified, so I have got a few bats and a few small rodents (besides squirrels) on it, but I don’t tend to go hunting for small rodents or bats unless there are millions of them, but otherwise I am happy to chase after anything furry from squirrels upwards. With my interest in monkeys, I have always wanted to visit Tana River Primate Reserve someday, for the mangabey and the red colobus, that and Ishaqbini for the Hirola is very appealing, throw in some Somali bee-eaters and I could well be tempted.

 

At the minute though my mind is still on Chad and I don’t really want to think about other travels until I am confident that is all sorted, I’ve just been looking up the information on the US Embassy website on getting Covid tested in NDJ, but that is a subject for the travels in 2022 thread or somewhere else, rather  than here.

 

Having just seen another report that @Pictus Safaris has posted it seems you have some competition, I have to say the chance of seeing the Tana River monkeys and Kipunji in the same trip is also very tempting, but that trip also sounds pretty exhausting.            

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Zarek Cockar

Thanks @inyathi

David Ngala is one of my favourite people in the world, and an absolute legend here. 

As for the Rodents and Bats: I've never specifically searched for them before either, so this was new to me, and a truly interesting learning experience.  Makhuruhu cave in Watamu provided an almost surreal experience. I have never been surrounded by so many bats.  I'm not one to get "creeped out" by bats, but it certainly wouldn't be agreeable to most other people I know.  You had to walk slowly and not make any sudden arm movements, lest you knock a bat out of the air.  They were flying between my legs as I walked and brushing past my ears.  It was honestly like some over-the-top CGI in a B-rated Hollywood thriller, and I loved it. 

 

I'm still cautious about Tana River and Ishaqbini, but now that I have direct contact with the warden and the security manager for Ishaqbini, and a primate research assistant on the TRPR side, I can always make a quick phone call and/or send an email to confirm the current situation on the ground, and I'll always double check again just before we go. 

There certainly is a noticeable Kenya Defense Force presence in the area, but not in a worrying/intimidating way. And the rangers in Ishaqbini are armed and well-trained. We never felt even slightly nervous while there. 

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Kitsafari

hmmm intriguing. tempting. hirola! and those wonderful sengi!

 

but i'm basically stuck here for the near future. :(

 

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