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First time Kenya - a Self-Drive Safari TR to 5 parks, August 26-September 16, 2021


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ElenaH

WOW! What an amazing self-driving day! 

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KaliCA

With George, we find lots of lions, a lioness hunting unsuccessfully, a cheetah mother with small cubs hunting and sharing the gazelle with her cubs, a lioness playing with a topi baby, and we see a private crossing at the Sand River of wildebeest and zebra filing back into Tanzania. 
So in summary, we have some of our best ever cat sightings in the Reserve and thanks to our guides, we maximize our sightings over the three days we spent with them. In addition, we like how both guides keep respectful distance to wildlife, but still find advantageous spots for photography without crowding the animals. We decide that we would most likely not go back to the Reserve that seems lacking in rule-enforcement and lacking in visitor’s facilities. 

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Hartebeest babies: a first for us

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A lioness hunting, but no luckDSC_0548.jpg.a81519f9cde57608b22721ccb1fdf074.jpg

 

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A different mother with cubs, maybe Imani1057041123_DSC_0603(2).jpg.7846b7aaa9159a3ef191f44f8561826d.jpg

 

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They all were desperate for shade but cars formed a circle preventing her from finding a bush, so she opened the kill in full sun. grrrrrrr

 

By the time we reached the lioness with the topi, she had stopped playing around with it. It is still alive next to her. Glad I didn't see the kill. 

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We were on our way to see lions on a buffalo kill, but George insisted he needed to go help a friend.

George with shuka, trying to assist a stuck vehicle. We let them use our towing belt which snapped into strips, but for obvious reasons, I would not let him use our car to pull this one out. Because of stopping here, we were too late to see the lions on a buffalo kill and only found vultures on a skeleton.  Grrrrr

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Lunch along the Sand River. There was a heavy rain the night before and plenty of water was flowing

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Our own, very exclusive crossing when wildebeest and zebra traverse the Sand river into Tanzania.

 

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Looks like we had lunch in Tanzania since this border marker is about 2 km north of the river.

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Later a deja vue, it's unmistakably the same Mister we saw with Ken.  Can anyone confirm that this is the brother of Scarface?

 

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And deep in the bushes, George finds three treasures just for us. How cute are they?

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This is the end of our visit to the Mara Reserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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KaliCA

The Mara Conservancy, also called Mara Triangle
Entrance fee $70 pppd, sleeping inside the Conservancy
camping $30pppn, car $3 pd


A true highlight: If ever we go back to Kenya, it will be to the Mara Triangle. We loved it a lot. The landscape is charming with forests, rivers, swamps, open savanna with single trees, hills, and the escarpment to the west. The main roads are fantastic and the network of tracks quite extensive. Swamps are full of feeding animals. It is clear where off-roading is allowed and where it’s forbidden. You are almost guaranteed to be alone in the South Western corner and we found a lion family on a kill there one day, and a pride of lions by the river another day. We wish there were a few more spots where it’s allowed to get out of the car for picnics, not just in campgrounds. 
The roads and tracks are very well maintained and there is good signage for us self-drivers. There is very little game driving traffic; we can drive hours and not meet another car. So it’s a pleasure to do game drives and find our own sightings. 
We reach Oloololo via Talek and the road inside the Reserve that leads to the Musiara Gate. We needed a transit pass, (free) valid for two hours from Talek Gate to Musiara Gate. This is more convenient than paying the daily entrance fee. This way, our entrance time to the Triangle is 11 am, which means the exit time is 10:59 on our last day. Much more practical than 6:30 am. 
Upon arrival at Oloololo Gate, we notice right away that the Conservancy is much better administrated. Rules for game driving are posted and handed out with the payment receipt(as opposed to the Reserve where a ranger tells me “Google the rules”)!!
We even get a small map and one can buy other maps at the gate. Later, we find out that rules are enforced. Rangers are actually present at major cat sightings and enforce the 5 car and distance rule. What a relief! There is order in the Triangle! This is much more to our liking and we applaud the Conservancy to stand on the side of protecting the animals’ space while still allowing encounters with cats; even off-road driving to cat sightings is allowed in low-usage areas. 
A highlight to the Highlight: The herds of the migration are scattered by the thousands around the savannah and we enjoy seeing their daily movements and of course the hyenas and lions nearby. This year, as a lucky coincidence, most of the herds are grazing in the Triangle while we were there between September 1-5, and they were missing in the Reserve. We have heard that guides on the Reserve side were very frustrated, because they could not show their clients a crossing. 

 

Here some iPhone pics from Talek, through the Reserve, out the Musiara Gate, through the Mara North Conservancy to Mara Rianta Village and to the Oloololo Gate of the Mara Conservancy. Confused? Google the directions!

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Whoohoo! The Mara River

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Yes, we made it just before 11 AM. Another promised land awaits beyond the pearly gate....

 

 

 

Edited by KaliCA
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penolva
On 11/5/2021 at 5:46 PM, KaliCA said:

@icethanks for your excellent video capture of the mayhem created by a crossing. I’m kind of glad I missed seeing all that dying…. But at least the chaos was not created by humans. This is what makes me so furious: Rules and distances are not enforced anymore on the Reserve side, and, it seems, like many of you have pointed out, it has become worse over time and probably because of social media fomo pressure. I seem to remember the Warden walking up to a car and money was exchanged….so there may be an element of corruption as well. 
Well, we can vote with our dollar and not visit there any more….

Hi KaliCA when the cars were waiting at the river we drove away and had the rest of the Reserve almost to ourselves. That is when we saw the leopards mating, the serval with it's kitten and many sightings of leopards with cubs including Bahati of course. I guess that is why we loved the Reserve so much. Pen 

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Zubbie15

@KaliCA I’m just catching up on the start of your report, I’m really enjoying the unvarnished truth you’re providing.  I don’t think I’d be adventurous enough to self-drive in Kenya, I’d be too stressed.  But I’m enjoying the baby animals in particular, we should be in the Mara in February so I’ll see some of those animals at a slightly older age.
 

The crossings sound awful; we were in the northern Serengeti in 2019 and had some crossings with 40 cars which seemed crazy, I can’t imagine more (and 200 pre-Covid, craziness). The rangers there had started to implement signage for where to park before the crossing started and then once the animals had begun to move, but the guides would generally ignore it until someone reported over the radio that a ranger was on the way. I’m definitely not anxious to return for crossing season any time soon…

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KaliCA

@penolvaand @Zubbie15thank you for your comments. I guess Pen did it right: just leave the craziness behind and go see what else is out there. Or.... go visit the Mara Conservancy...

 

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KaliCA

Oloololo Public Campsite

 

Acceptable: This campsite has great views and we enjoy seeing elephants, giraffe, zebra, eland, and a band of mongoose while having brunch there. But, we decide not to spend the nights so close to the Ranger station and the exit. We use the shade of the campsite twice for lunch, wash hair, and take a shower in the ablutions. Everything is old, unappealing, and dirty. The showers only have cold water but I take some hot water with me in the stall and manage somehow. The toilets are stinky squat toilets with a bucket of water and a pitcher for flushing. 

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The Ablution block. This is the only Public campsite in the Triangle with water and cold showers.

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What I neglected to document are the ranger buildings in back of the campsite.
 

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KaliCA

We are now sans guide and connections so it's up to us to find nice sightings. And we do...

Hippos surrounded by many Black Heron at a waterhole

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Two lion boys lounging close to the migration herds

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Tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra dotting the enchanting landscape. Hard to capture...

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Hippos in the Mara river at "Hippo Pool and Toilets"

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It's very clear where off-roading is prohibited. Just ask the giraffe...

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Later that day it is starting to rain. No worries of mud, as the roads are solid and superbly carved out. We watch a band of wildebeest running across the road. Then my husband calls out, "She got one!" The running stops abruptly and now we see a lioness on the left side of the car struggling with a small wildebeest. She is choking it at its neck while the poor creature is flailing around in a death struggle. It's of no use; the lioness is waiting patiently then drags the body from the ditch to the mound and eventually opens up her kill. It's not our fist kill, but it's nevertheless a bit emotional to see life snuffed out right in front of our eyes.

The good thing? A ranger comes by and says that if car number 6 is showing up, we will have to vacate the sighting since we saw the kill. Number 6 never shows and its all good. We are happy to know that the rules are enforced!

 

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After this exhilarating sighting, we return to Eluai public campsite where earlier we had pitched our dome tent. Before dinner, we are waiting inside the car for the rain to stop. Time to use our freeze dried meals where all we have to do is boil water,  and voila, dinner is ready. We go to sleep while lions are roaring below the hill and spend a quiet first night on Eluai. 

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KaliCA

Eluai Public Campsite 

 

Just an Ok spot: Sadly, the rocky Eluai access road might be the worst road in the whole of Triangle. We spend two nights on this campsite which has no facilities, and we use the toilet at Hippo Pool. Correction, my husband uses the squat toilet at Hippo Pool, I can not. After seeing a bunch of bats fly into the dark toilet pit, I am too grossed out to use this spot. 
While we are camping at Eluai, a filming crew with rather large tents is already there and two self-drivers show up later. So it feels a little crowded. There is absolutely no shade and while we were present, there is no chance of a crossing happening far below, so we relocate to Iseiya Public Campsite. 
 

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AKR1

Beautiful pictures, the Triangle delivered for you. 
PS: note to self- NO camping in the Mara. 🤐

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KaliCA

Well, if you camp on your own, the facilities are atrocious.  But if you camped with a tour operator, then they bring along a shower tent and a toilet tent with a portapottie. I know people who only camp on private campsites and then they dig a toilet pit and use a shower bag. 
How did we “suffer” to self-drive and camp without proper facilities! :lol:

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Africalover
40 minutes ago, KaliCA said:

Well, if you camp on your own, the facilities are atrocious.  But if you camped with a tour operator, then they bring along a shower tent and a toilet tent with a portapottie. I know people who only camp on private campsites and then they dig a toilet pit and use a shower bag. 
How did we “suffer” to self-drive and camp without proper facilities! :lol:

To me the way you do it, is the most adventurous. At 60 me and my upcoming wife, don’t mind digging a hole and take a bath behind a bush in the middle of the day. We mostly do special campsites. Enjoying your trip report.

Thanks for sharing.

 

 

 

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KaliCA

Eluai Public Campsite 

 

Just an Ok spot: Sadly, the rocky Eluai access road might be the worst road in the whole of Triangle. We spend two nights on this campsite which has no facilities, and we use the toilet at Hippo Pool. Correction, my husband uses the squat toilet at Hippo Pool, I can not. After seeing a bunch of bats fly into the dark toilet pit, I am too grossed out to use this spot. 
While we are camping at Eluai, a filming crew with rather large tents is already there and two self-drivers show up later. So it feels a little crowded. There is absolutely no shade and while we are there, there is no chance of a crossing happening far below, so we relocate to Iseiya Public Campsite. 

 

We visit "Hippo Pool and Toilet" for sunrise

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It has been raining hard all night, but we stayed dry and cozy in our tent. The roads are flooded and the swamps are fuller than normal.

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At the Mara Serena Lodge garage, we fill up washing water, however, for drinking water we use what we have purchased in Nairobi. It takes about 5 Liters for two people per day.

 

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Then we drive the main road that runs parallel to the Tanzanian border to the most South Western part of the Mara. Hardly any vehicles make it down there.

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We are lucky to find one of our best ever sightings there. It's a Mama, a Papa, and four lion cubs.  We comment how this is quite rare to find a family unit of lions, as we could not see any other members of this pride. The papa, of course, has first dips on his meal and he opens up the kill for his family. When some of the cubs start eating with him, he is letting them, again, we mostly have observed that males will chase females and cubs away until they have finished feeding. We stay with them, enjoying every minute, until it's time to leave in order to make it back to Eluai by 7pm. 

 

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After a meal of fried chicken and rice, we go to bed reflecting on an other amazing safari day. We love the Triangle!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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JayRon

Wow, what a trip, with a lot of great sightings!... A great to see a self-drive trip report from Kenya ...And very informative your review about the car and challenges it presented. I was thinking about doing a selfdrive trip in Tanzanian and use Roadtrip, but it seems I will have to look elsewhere. Bu very much looking forward to next chapter...:)

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KaliCA

@JayRonthanks for your kind comments. Problem is there are just not many car rental places to choose from. You might be luckier than us, who knows. Renting in East Africa is very different from Southern Africa. Have you been? Anyway, if you look under Self driving here in this forum, there is another TR by me from 2018 when we did the Northern Circuit for the second time. It will give you the name of the Car rental agency we have used, and it will give you an idea what to expect in Tanzania. Looking back it was rough too, but not as challenging as Kenya was. 

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KaliCA

Driving the roads lined with thousands of wildebeest and zebra of the migration is certainly an added bonus while game driving in the Triangle during migration season. We were hoping for a crossing at the Serena Lodge Crossing Points, but it was not to be. I would have liked to compare how drivers behave and how Rangers check during a crossing. On our last day, the herds are spread out up to Eluai, but they veer south and not east, thus following the rain that we have daily in the Triangle. 

 

Morning has broken....over Eluai

the Mara River is on the left side of the pic and we are looking into the Reserve side

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It's hard to describe the feeling of seeing and driving through thousands of animals every day. We never get tired of watching them slowly vacate the road to let us pass. Parting of the Red Sea...

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The guide of the filming crew has been seeing a pride down in the SW corner, so we are intent on going there and try our luck. Two other vehicles have already found them and so we drive across the prairie and around swamps to get closer, which is allowed in this area.

Sadly, it's a short visit as they all get up in search of shade in the riverine forest. But, there is a track on the other side of the forest and we see the lions again and watch them "lyin'" around and mostly snoozing.

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This beautiful big tusker is very close to the lions

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Sometimes a boy just needs a pillow!

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KaliCA

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Buffalo with cattle egret riders

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Wildebeest with cattle egret riders...makes sense... they are all bovines.

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Before heading back towards the Serena Lodge, we take a little used track and just bump along a small river, when all of a sudden a leopard is coming off an acacia tree in front of us. Wow, she walks in the tall grass, then disappears in even thicker reeds. My husband is lucky to get this one shot. We vow to come back to this spot tomorrow and mark it on the GPS.

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Tonight we camp at Iseiya public campsite

 

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Iseiya Public Campsite

 

A big highlight! In contrast to others who don’t like this little forest… we just love it and it feels very cozy camping there for three nights among the tall trees. We find a flat, grassy surface for our tent and later see warthogs and a civet cat. No other animal visitors we could see. We are totally alone there, which is an added bonus. There is a squat toilet available for those who dare….yes, more bats call this stinky place home. We did hear some cars go by until 8 pm and then again early morning, since the Serena Lodge is only a few kilometers away. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks for your TR, especially the Mara Triangle looks appealing, I hope to go there in February 2022.

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KaliCA

@Biko, you're welcome. Will you be self-driving in February? 

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KaliCA

Another great sunrise in the Mara, much better than the sunsets we have had.

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We meet a grumpy, flower decorated  hippo getting home late.

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A nice looking group of hartebeest with kids

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Our daily dose of migration participants

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A muddy hyena clan appearing from a culvert

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A Mama and a Papa coming to a creek to drink

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Fighting bull giraffe. It is not only torture for the one receiving the blows, but also for us spectators to see and we wince at how their necks get twisted.

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Having the escarpment as a backdrop feels almost like being inside Ngorongoro Crater, don't you agree?

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An especially cute Dumbo

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KaliCA

All these wonderful sightings and it's not even lunch time! We are low on bread and fruit, so we decide to exit at Oloololo to go shopping and fill gas in Mara Rianta. I buy eggs and bread in one store and fruit, tomatoes, and water in a different store. There are at least two filling stations and we buy gas at the newer one. One more chore awaits. Washing hair and showering. We usually wash just before bedtime the way our grandma's used to wash before there was inside plumbing.  There is cold water here, so we overcome our disgust and use the facilities at Oloololo campsite.  We survive,  it's not a pleasure.

 

Shopping in Mara Rianta

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Cows at the Mara Bridge

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Back inside the park, at the deep canyon,  we find this intruder from the Reserve who was stalking the Mama and Papa from earlier. 

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The rest of the afternoon, we are fortunate to spend with not one, but two leopards.

To be continued.....

 

 

 

 

Edited by KaliCA
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On 11/14/2021 at 3:39 AM, KaliCA said:

@Biko, you're welcome. Will you be self-driving in February? 

No self-driving, I will stay in Tangulia Mara camp for ten days.

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JayRon
On 11/13/2021 at 3:06 AM, KaliCA said:

@JayRonthanks for your kind comments. Problem is there are just not many car rental places to choose from. You might be luckier than us, who knows. Renting in East Africa is very different from Southern Africa. Have you been? Anyway, if you look under Self driving here in this forum, there is another TR by me from 2018 when we did the Northern Circuit for the second time. It will give you the name of the Car rental agency we have used, and it will give you an idea what to expect in Tanzania. Looking back it was rough too, but not as challenging as Kenya was. 

I done quite a few selfdrive trips in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana and always use Bushlore, which I find very good. I am (hopefully) going again to Kruger and Kgalagadi in january. But I haven´t been to East Africa since 2003, so it is about time :) Must have changed quite a bit. But I know the standard of rental cars is not the same as southern africa. I will look into your trip report from Tanzania. The main reason we always in end up in southern africa is it is just so much cheaper (or less expensive ) compared to East Africa. 

 

And again I really enjoy your trip report, so many big cat sightings :) 

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KaliCA

@JayRonYes, many more big cats than any place in southern Africa. The sheer number of other animals is astounding. In the Kgalagadi, one has to work hard and drive a lot in comparison, just to spot a fraction of wildlife...but it has its charm for sure. Hope you can go and find those black-maned lions! Kruger in January will be toasty hot and green, but maybe you like that? Have a wonderful  trip.

 

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KaliCA

After shopping and bodily care, its time to check out the place where we saw the leopard jump out of a tree. This side road has also shown us the same two lion boys again, so we are hopeful...

Look at this picture below. Notice anything unusual? Yes, you're right, things are hanging down where they shouldn't be hanging in a tree. So this is what got my attention. A look through the binos confirms my hunch... I have found a leopard with its kill. Hurrah! I have found my first LIT after nine safaris... a dream come true. 

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As we come closer, we see a beautiful leopardess lounging below a baby zebra kill. Well, that's a little sad, but as I said later," it's the spotted and the striped."

 

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My husband has some trouble shooting in the afternoon light at first, but he kept trying. After a while, the mother leopard is calling, and we spot a half grown cub climbing up the tree to join her. He had been hidden at the base of the tree and we never saw him! What is better than a leopard in a tree? Two leopards...of course!

 

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Well, this idyll is only lasting a few seconds and then the mother comes off the tree and walks away to the thick reeds.

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Handsome cub is surveying its surroundings

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After a time, the cub gets bored and he comes off the tree as well, joining its mother in the reeds. We then watch them in a grooming and playing session.

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After a while, they return to the tree. The mother is lying down in the grass while the cub is climbing up to the zebra kill and begins to feed.

 

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At one point a curious hyena is coming close, probably attracted by the smell of the kill, but all is well and she leaves them be. We just can not believe our luck at having found this family. We have been alone with them for three hours, but it's time to head back to our campsite. Oh happy day....

 

 

 

 

Edited by KaliCA
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