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Beginner’s luck: first time safari in Laikipia and Mara North


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I just got back from my first safari on Saturday, and will get started on a trip report. Thank you to everyone who answered my anxious questions over the past few months. I learned a lot and felt well prepared by the time I arrived in camp the first day. As predicted here, I’m hooked. This was supposed to be a once in a lifetime experience to commemorate my 40th birthday, and now I’m looking over my savings plans to figure out how often I can afford to go back.


I went into this is realistic expectations of seeing animals being animals, and I was careful not to pin my hopes on any one species or a checklist of things to see. One of my greatest fears in life is missing out on what is right in front of me because I’m too busy chasing something that might not ever be. As you’ll see in this report, that attitude was well rewarded!


I stayed three nights at Laikipia Wilderness Camp and four nights at Offbeat Mara. I arranged everything through Lauren Lees at Yellow Zebra. All pictures were taken with a Nikon Coolpix B500, save for a few iPhone pics and videos when my battery died (rookie mistake that worked out OK).

After two long flights from Boston to Nairobi, via Amsterdam, I arrived at Ole Sereni around 11:30pm on Friday, with transport to Wilson schedule for 6am Saturday. My Safarilink flight left a bit early and arrived at Nanyuki around 9am, where I was greeted by my driver David. My beginner’s luck was on display about an hour into the two hour drive to Laikipia Wilderness. I didn’t take any pictures because I was exhausted and ready to be in camp, but we saw zebras (Gravy’s and plains), reticulated giraffe, elephants, baboons, and a rock hyrax on they way.


I arrived in camp and was immediately greeted by Steve Carey and the camp dogs, then fed a hearty lunch before being shown to my tent. After a shower, a nap, and tea with cake, I was ready for my first official game drive. I shared a vehicle with Paul and Nam from Bangkok, with Simon as our guide and Mark as spotter. Our first sighting didn’t take long - a lone buffalo, bringing me up to 2 of the big five within my first few hours.




We continued driving, finding a rock hyrax and a red headed agama on opposite sides of a stone bridge. I saw that agama daily while in Laikipia, every time we crossed the bridge. We saw a small tower of giraffe and a leopard tortoise, then drove over to a spot where the local coalition of male lions had stashed a kudu in a bush. The kudu carcass was still there, so Simon and Mark decided to look for the lions who must be nearby. We found them pretty quickly and spent some time watching them be lazy cats.


We drove off a bit, then scrambled up one of the many rocky outcroppings for sundowners, just in time to hear the lion boys calling out to greet the night. From there, we headed over to join the rest of the guests and guides for a bush dinner, which was fantastic and very reminiscent of summer camp.


As we made our way back to camp after dinner, Simon got a call on the radio. Another group spotted a leopard and lion near camp. We joined them to find a lone male lion sleeping in the bushes at the bottom of an embankment along the river, and a male leopard sitting upright on top of the embankment. The two cats seemed unaware of each other, or at least indifferent. This male leopard is the one known for stealing Gina’s (the female black leopard) kills, and he was apparently injured a few weeks ago. The guides in camp didn’t seem optimistic about his recovery. My little bridge camera wasn’t up to the task of low light, long distance photography, but that leopard brought me up to four of the big five on my first day. Not bad considering my minimal expectations.

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Day two started nice and early with light breakfast in the mess tent before heading out shortly before sunrise, again with Paul, Nam, Simon and Mark. This would be a short drive because Paul and Nam were heading to their next stop later that morning. I don’t have any great pictures from this mini drive, but we did see elephants and baboons. We made our way back to camp, where Simon dropped me off before taking Paul and Nam for their transfer.


After a brief break, I set out again with Blade as my new guide, and Mark again as spotter. After some brief conversation about priorities and favorite animals, we set off to find elephants. That is a reasonably easy task in Laikipia. We found a family of females and babies moving through the bush, and took some time to watch them since I was the only guest in the vehicle and elephants are my favorites.



As we made our way back to camp for lunch, we encountered a giraffe in the road and had to wait a few minutes for him to move on. 




After lunch, Blade, Mark and I were joined by my new vehicle mates - Annabell, Debbie, and Cy, all from the UK. We quickly found a large bull elephant in musth, walking parallel to the road on the other side of the river. We followed him for a bit, from a safe distance, but he only seemed to be interested in one thing. Unfortunately, there weren’t any female elephants around, so we let him be.


We saw lots of other small animals, including an encore from the agama/hyrax duo at the bridge, a whitetail mongoose, and a tawny eagle. As we made our way back to camp we got a call about leopards and headed over to see them. It was Giza! I don’t have any pictures of her, but can attest to her beauty. She was stalking impala, and using the safari vehicles as cover. She lined herself up parallel to use, and moved forward every time we moved. Not wanting to unfairly influence the outcome, we made our departure, but not before noting the male spotted leopard was lurking around waiting for Giza to hunt.


There was one final sighting for the night… as the dinner party broke up and guests started making their way to their tents, we heard a call from the Askari. There was leopard in camp! It appeared to be a spotted female, probably Giza’s mother. And I could hear her throughout the night, along with the lions calling.

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AH a @paultsighting!!! 


I'm hoping you will have some pictures of Giza.  A photographer friend of mine was there recently with extremely good sightings of both Giza and the wild dogs.

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Yeh Molly!! :D I had no idea. Sounds like things got even livelier after we left.
Looking forward to the next day. 

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Hi @pault! I figured if anyone I met along the way would be on Safaritalk, it would be you! 

We woke up on day three to reports that the wild dogs were nearby, so everyone set out with a shared mission for the day. We were with Blade again, and now with Joseph as spotter. We had planned the night before to do a bush walk, but tabled those plans in favor of wild dogs. We had our aerial and we’re tracking a specific collar, but  something was off. The pips had a different cadence than usual, and the collar appear to be far from the rest of the dogs. Joseph mentioned that he heard a similar signal a few weeks earlier, and thought it might be a collar that had fallen off on of the dogs. We decided to track the collar so we could return it to the Mpala research team and avoid tracking it unintentionally in the future. We had to go off road and search on foot, but eventually found it. The collar was intact, suggesting it came from a dog that had died, rather than breaking and falling off. We later realized it was likely from the pack’s matriarch who had recently died of unknown causes. 


We then found an elephant by a watering hole, and took a break for tea. 



While we were enjoying our tea, the others from camp found the dogs, so we drove over to join them. The dogs were settled in for their midday naps, along with a few trailing hyenas who seemed content to wait all day. 





Soon it was time for brunch, so we all started making our way to the camps raised platform/hide near the dam. We saw a Grevy’s zebra along the way, and I actually took a picture this time. 



After brunch and some down time in camp, we set out for our afternoon drive and saw our agama friend again. We found some elephants drinking from the river and making their way back up to the road, and spent some time watching them. 



We then stumbled across a female hyena nursing her cub in the middle of the road, and they obliged us with a brief photo shoot.




We headed over to the dogs’ resting spot just in time to see then play fighting before they set off for their evening hunt. They were moving onto the neighboring ranch, so we couldn’t follow their hunt. 


As we drove back to camp after sundowners, we got a radio call about Giza, stalking dik dik. She seemed more skittish than usual, and we still didn’t want to interfere with her hunt to her advantage or disadvantage, so we caught a few glimpses before moving on.

Not a bad way to wrap up my final night at Laikipia Wilderness. I went to bed with plans for a 6am departure to drive to Nanyuki for my flight to Mara North.


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Wow! you got the dogs and Giza as well as the other iconic African Species. a fantastic first trip and more to come over the subsequent days no doubt.


So pleased for you

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A great start to your first Safari!

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A black leopard and wild dogs at your first location on your first African safari - that is fantastic.


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@madaboutcheetahsadly, no Giza pictures from me. I am not a great photographer under ideal conditions, and only saw her at night and from a distance. Half the guests in camp were photographers though, and some spent multiple full days waiting to capture her image. She is probably the most photographed leopard in Africa at this point, and I feel pretty privileged to have seen her with my own eyes.


After the excitement of dogs and Giza, day four started with a very early and uneventful transfer to Nanyuki for my flight to Mara North. After a somewhat chaotic series of hops and transfers, I landed at the Mara North airstrip and met Joseph from Offbeat Mara, my guide for the next few days. Joseph is an excellent guide and his talents are further enhanced by his obvious love for the animals. Especially the lions. On our way to camp, we stopped to see a male lion dining on a days old hippo carcass, surround by jackals and hyenas waiting for their turn. The lion looked like he couldn’t possibly eat any more, but also didn’t want to cede the prize to the competition. He did eventually throw in the towel and the hyenas made quite a show of their meal.





We stopped again on the way to camp to see a female cheetah resting in the grass under a tree. And this was just the transfer from the airstrip.



When I arrived in camp, I realized I was the not only the lone solo traveler in camp, all but other guests were families with small children. I’ll admit that was a bit of a let down after the camaraderie of Laikipia Wilderness, but that quickly resolved when camp manager Jennifer joined me for lunch. It turns out Jennifer and I are kindred spirits of sorts - close in age, both single and child free, and have similar professional motivation and outlooks on the world. Jennifer ultimately joined me for my evening drive on my first two days in the Mara, and for lunch and dinner every day. 

We were also joined by a naughty vervet monkey during lunch, leaping between trees around the deck where the buffet meal is served. He quickly left when the camp staff made hand motions that looked like slingshots, but the vervet monkeys were a constant presence in camp.


After a siesta and tea, Joseph, Jennifer and I set out for my first full game drive in the Mara. The density of game there is just mind blowing. Out first sighting was a gorgeous female leopard in a tree. She posed for us for a bit, but seemed content to stay in the tree for the time being, so we moved on.




Next up was the Offbeat lion pride, with five adult males, 5-6 adult females, and 8 cubs. They were all well fed, having taken a buffalo and a topi in the prior two days. The adults were being lazy, and the cubs were being naughty. They were playing and moving further and further down hill from the adults. The females periodically called them back, but the cubs didn’t heed them. Eventually one of the adult females enticed the cubs into a game of chase to lead them back up the hill.




From there we found a spot for sundowners, then quickly made out way back to camp as a thunderstorm approached with much needed rain.


Edit - I forgot the final sighting of the night! Offbeat Mara’s resident bats, dining on moths in the mess tent while the rest of us enjoyed our chicken curry. 


Edited by mpjjpm
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Day four started bright, early, and very muddy. The askari informed me I had a buffalo behind my tent all night as we were walking up to the main tent. Tent 4 at Offbeat is the furthest from camp and I consistently had animals behind the tent while I slept.


Joseph and I stated with a visit to the Offbeat pride, right where we left them the night before. The cubs were still playing and generally ignoring the adults’ calls to stay close. My camera battery died while we were watching the cubs, and I didn’t have a spare in my bag - rookie mistake. I did manage a couple of pics, including one of a jackal lurking nearby.




Next we visited the leopard from the day before, still in the tree, but she had finished eating the gazelle she had stashed and Joseph thought she would come down from the tree soon. We sat in the drizzle for about 20 minutes, iPhone camera at the ready, and I managed to get a video of her exiting the tree. She stalked off and disappeared into the bushes.



The rain started to clear up and I pointed out a rainbow. Shortly after I noted a bill elephant in the distance. Within minutes, Joseph had us positioned to capture a picture of the elephant with the rainbow in the background. Not bad for a smartphone camera.




We join a few other vehicles to see a cheetah resting in the tall grass, the same one from the day before. She was surrounded by zebras, and the zebras were oblivious. Lucky for them, the cheetah was well fed. Unfortunately, this viewing was beyond the capabilities of my iPhone camera.


After breakfast, we stopped by a watering hole for brief glimpses of a hippo and a crocodile, but they both seemed content to stay in the water. By far the most common animal sighting of the morning was flies, thanks to heavy rains overnight.


The evening drive started with a baboon in the road just outside of camp. I was so fixated on that baboon, I completely missed the troop or 100+ spread out in the grass in front of me. These baboons stuck near camp for the next few days and made quite a racket any time they were upset with each other or other animals.




The baboon was quickly followed by a warthog who was kind enough to stand still while I took his picture.




Next up was a secretary bird strutting around in the grass. We watched it for a bit, and saw it strike its talons into the grass before bringing a grasshopper to its mouth. My first and only kill of the safari.




We then found three of the Offbeat male lions, but it started raining and two of the retreated into the bushes. The third stayed out, but sought partial shelter under a bush. We decided to close up the roof and one side of the vehicle, and enjoy our sundowners under cover with a view of the lion.




I would go on the hear the lions calling throughout the night, along with the sounds of a hippo grazing behind my tent all night.




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Day six would be my last morning on my own with Joseph, and I decided to go to the Ol Chorro rhino sanctuary, as that would be my only opportunity to see rhinos on this safari. We stopped to see the Offbeat pride on the way, then spent about two hours drive through Mara North and Naboisho. There wasn’t much game to see along the way, but the drive gave me a chance to learn more about the communities in the area. Joseph also told be about the Kenyan government’s plans to build a four lane highway along the Mara North boundary, and to run power lines through the conservancy. He said the local communities successfully stopped the power lines (being content with solar power), but the highway was still planned. He was particularly concerned because the planned highway runs through an area where the great migration passes every year. We stopped for breakfast at a hillside overlook near the sanctuary, and continued our conversation about politics/policy and the will of the people.


We were greeted by a couple of rangers when we arrived at the sanctuary, and they lead me on a short walk through the bush to see the rhinos - Kofi Annan and Queen Elizabeth. Each of the southern white rhinos was born while its namesake was visiting Kenya. The rhinos were quite tame and we could walk within 10-15 feet of them. The rangers were careful to keep good distance and not position ourselves directly in front of them. The rhinos were slowly grazing their way uphill while I asked questions and the rangers gave more back ground on the sanctuary program. They currently have two, but plan to bring in up to six more rhinos from other conservancies. They hoped Kofi and QE would mate, but Kofi has yet to bear QE in a fight. Then it was time for the long drive back to camp for lunch and a nap.





At lunch I met my new vehicle mates for the rest of the trip - Michelle and Millie from Hawaii, and Louisa from London. Our first stop on the afternoon drive was to see a cheetah relaxing in the grass. This was a female cheetah who recently had cubs. There was a bit of controversy over the age of the cubs - the conservancy managers thought they were only a few weeks old, but the guides all suspected they were at least a month old based on the mother’s recent behavior. The conservancy had closed the track nearest to the bush where the cubs were hidden.



We had quick consensus that everyone in the vehicle loved elephants, so we took every opportunity to watch them, especially the babies. We also took some time to appreciate the abundance of baby zebras.






We found part of the Offbeat pride - one adult female along with the youngest of the adult males, plus one of the older males watching from a distance. The young male was very taken with the female, sniffing her, following her, and literally sitting on her head at one point. She didn’t seem bothered by his advances, but also wasn’t too keen. Joseph said she was likely coming into heat in a few days, and our young man was making his moves.



Suddenly it was time for sundowners and dinner. I had very much enjoyed Joseph and Jennifer’s company over the prior two days, but was also excited to have new companions.







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Day six, my last full day in the Mara. As usual, we started our drive with a stop to see the Offbeat pride. The cubs were very muddy, and Joseph said they had been hunting near the river over night. Cubs and adults alike seemed pretty tired, and mostly sleeping in a pile together. One by one, they got up and made their way in the bushes. It amazing, and a little terrifying, how quickly they can disappear.




We drove over to the river and found one of the Offbeat males with the remains of the zebra they took overnight. He was still enjoying it, much to the disappointment of the hyenas waiting nearby.



We then found the unattached/solo make I saw eating hippo a few days prior.




Next up were elephants with the youngest baby I had seen so far. Joseph estimated it was two months old.




We made our way over to the river to see hippos, something I had not yet had a great opportunity to view. And now I know how difficult it is to photograph hippos. We saw some crocodiles sunny themselves as well.






On our way back to camp, Joseph suddenly pulled to the side of the road and stopped. There was a dung beetle rolling his prize across the road.




We then came across the young lion couple we watched the day before. They seemed fairly content with each other, so hopefully are doing their thing by now.




The vervet monkeys made another appearance at lunch, and I managed to snap a terrible iPhone picture. A flock of Rüppell’s starlings also visited during lunch, and the camp’s resident rock hyrax Archie joined us for tea.




Our evening drive was perhaps the most exciting hour of the entire safari. We started with a shy male leopard stalking zebra. We watched him for about 10 minutes as he sized up a parade of zebras, but he never made a move, then eventually move on into the bush. Per Jennifer and Joseph, he there are no resident male leopards in the area, so they think he must be looking for a mate.



We then heard word of a cheetah being chased by lions. The cheetah didn’t seem to be too distressed, but she was the female with young cubs and was leading the lions away from her den. 






And with that we enjoyed our sundowners before heading back to camp for dinner.

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On 6/26/2023 at 5:55 PM, mpjjpm said:

This was supposed to be a once in a lifetime experience to commemorate my 40th birthday, and now I’m looking over my savings plans to figure out how often I can afford to go back.


As the kids would say, I feel you!

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Thank you for this trip report @mpjjpm - it brings back fond memories of my two visits to Offbeat Mara.

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What a first safari - awesome, congratulations!

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Thanks for sharing @mpjjpm, glad you had a great first time and already considering future safaris! 


The photo of the hippo carcass is quite something, it almost looks like a throne out of Game of Thrones 😂

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4 hours ago, Toxic said:

Thanks for sharing @mpjjpm, glad you had a great first time and already considering future safaris! 


The photo of the hippo carcass is quite something, it almost looks like a throne out of Game of Thrones 😂

It was like something out of Game of Thrones. That hyena-lion ‘battle’ for the remains of the hippo carcass (really a case of the lion losing to the heat sometimes I think) was well under way when we arrived in Mara North, a couple of days before @mpjjpm 

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Great you saw the wild dogs. And then caught up with everything else in Mara North.


Really nice last evening. Hope you did a morning drive too.


FYI, hippos are a lot easier to photograph when the water level is a bit lower, so more than nose, ears and eyes are visible and there are wider banks for them to sleep on. Likewise everything else when the oat grass isn’t as high as it was in Mara North. 

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12 hours ago, pault said:

Great you saw the wild dogs. And then caught up with everything else in Mara North.


Really nice last evening. Hope you did a morning drive too.


FYI, hippos are a lot easier to photograph when the water level is a bit lower, so more than nose, ears and eyes are visible and there are wider banks for them to sleep on. Likewise everything else when the oat grass isn’t as high as it was in Mara North. 

The exchange between lion and hippos was a great welcome to Mara North, despite the smell. It was the first time I really got to see interactions between different species.


I can’t believe I forgot the Mara North reunions! Truly a small world feeling to cross paths with everyone from Laikipia just a few days later in Mara North, despite being scattered across multiple camps.

I did get a brief morning drive before my flight to Nairobi, culminating in a bush breakfast by the river with the hippos. The drive for Offbeat to the river is surprisingly long and pretty thin on sightings.

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On 6/26/2023 at 4:55 PM, mpjjpm said:

 This was supposed to be a once in a lifetime experience to commemorate my 40th birthday, and now I’m looking over my savings plans to figure out how often I can afford to go back.


I see I am not the only one who took note of this statement.  You'll have many more years to save and safari when #1 is at 40!  And then there is your statement about the "little bridge camera" not being up to the task.  So that's more expense for this darn hobby.


Nice that you noted your first animal.  The buffalo may hold a special place in your heart on your many (let's hope) future safaris.


You were very lucky, but part of that is that you chose good locations to visit.  Seeing dogs on the first safari is a feat, and such active quality sightings.  The lion cub with dirt all over his face is cute and something a little different.  That's great you got to include the elusive rhino by including Ol Chorro.  You even have the dung beetle!


You'll have a beautiful portfolio of a wide variety of wildlife photos to enjoy until the next time.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Thanks for sharing---I really love the idea of Lokipia and spending time with the wild dogs -- and a black panther too? (Leopard) that would be amazing!  PS I think you're a very good photographer---great pics and predator shots!  

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your first safari and you got to see wild dogs and a black panther? what fine boasting rights! i've yet to see a black panther after a few trips so i'm envious.


Enjoying looking through a first-time safari-goer's thoughts and eyes, and horrifying to hear about that four-lane highway along MNC!


Thank you for sharing!

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On 6/29/2023 at 6:36 AM, mpjjpm said:

He was particularly concerned because the planned highway runs through an area where the great migration passes every year.


Oh no - how can this possibly be allowed?  

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1 hour ago, offshorebirder said:


Oh no - how can this possibly be allowed?  

Joseph said it was being promoted as a way to improve transportation to the border with Tanzania. There were granite markers along the route, indicating the width of the proposed road. Not knowing the terrain at all, I can’t remember which road we were on. Looking at the map now, I assume it was either C13 or C14 around Aitong.

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