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Boredom in the Rain - Kenya 2023


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It has been a long time since I wrote a trip report and I have to say I am somewhat concerned that age, retirement and spending too much time at the gym will have affected my ability to make a trip primarily to the Masai Mara interesting. It was difficult enough in 2017!


I do remember the only way to prevent stilted prose, unnecessary qualification and strangulation by actual timeline is to just write, see what comes out and either go with it or delete and start again. So that’s what I will try to do. It may end up as the equivalent to me showing the youngsters how we used to dance in the early 80s at my niece’s wedding (thank goodness I live a few thousand miles away from anyone there that day, except my wife who did not see) but at least I’ll have died trying.


So, to set the scene…


For a variety of reasons, it has been more than 5 years since we last set foot in Africa. We are older, wiser, poorer and effectively newbies again. We have no idea if Kenya will be the same as the last 7 or whatever times or irrevocably changed. Worryingly, Nelson appears to have left Kicheche Bush Camp and the managers, Darren and Emma, definitely have. They have been replaced by Dido and Sharon, who is apparently a sommelier. What? We’d need a new guide and new managers would have to work out whether we were joking or serious and whether my wife crying was a good or bad thing for the camp’s reputation.


Then of course we had chosen June to avoid any crowds but it became clear that this year would be the year the drought broke in Kenya. Plentiful rains was wonderful news for the country but for sure it would mean long grass, thick bush and potentially muddy roads. Your chances of seeing a proper sunrise or sunset on any particular day are variable at best in June – what would this wetter year mean? Was finally booking Loisaba Star Beds some 15 years after we first considered it a really dumb thing to do? Would this at least bring some excitement?


Most importantly, would we even remember how to safari, or would we be just too rusty and sit passively in the vehicle, go to bed at 9 and look forward to sundowners as the drive had been very nice but quite long enough, thank you. Would we even still like it?


The only important bit of this post:

We booked the following, a mix of new and familiar:

June 14-16  Laikipia Wilderness Camp

June 17-18  Loisaba Star Beds

June 19-22  Elephant Pepper Camp, Mara North

June 23-28  Kicheche Bush Camp, Olare Motorogi


So I am afraid it is a really boring conservancy safari, safe from the hoi polloi and lacking any ‘what could go wrong?’ excitement. Paul back firmly in the bubble! I felt very uneasy about it, but for some reason every time I suggested a change my wife said “No… don’t you dare.” before I had even begun to explain why it would (potentially) be a good idea. I was thinking “how am I going to write a trip report about this?” before we even paid the second installment. Where’s the excitement going to come from?


And it did rather turn out like that. It was a fantastic trip but there wasn’t really any sense of adventure. Thank goodness our tents/ bandas got invaded by wildlife a couple of times or I’d have no material at all. I’d be writing about the food (which was excellent and not at all like having ugali porridge sludge on top of Mount Ololokwe) and naming all the animals. Which is all absolutely fine and fun to read too, but you don’t need me for that!


As has been the case before, Chalo Africa did the suggestions, booking and initial, pre-wife vetoing and Cheli and Peacock did the ground operations and stuff in Kenya. They are now only a ground operator since selling out to Elewana, but still have very posh vehicles and very nice (and professional) staff.


Of course, it cost a small fortune in the end, despite taking advantage of a significant discount from Elewana, but it was our silver anniversary trip and first for a long while so that wasn’t wholly accidental.


Random picture inserted to raise expectations somewhat ...




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I think, Paul, that you fell into the simple "newbie" mindset of not being clear with your operators and camp staff about expectations.

Some mention of need for excitement will, I feel sure, have resulted in a flat tyre at dusk just as the Lion pride were getting ready to hunt and surrounding the vehicle. A testosterone fuelled Hippo at a river crossing, or something as simple as noises in the tent at night!

All possible if the staff know in advance.

And I just love the service provided by Cheli & Peacock in Nairobi. Being met at the air bridge and escorted through without queuing. Coming with us into Wilson to check in bags and what not. Looking after us at JKIA when an hour early for departure. Just love them, and the office staff are so easy to deal with.

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The trip started with a catastrophe (hyperbole intended!!!). Since we couldn’t book Kenya Airways direct any more we flew via Doha and the Bangkok-Doha flight was delayed by nearly 3 hours due to some very minor issue. That meant we missed our connection in Doha and instead of spending the afternoon of 14 June at Laikipia Wilderness Camp we spent it in a hotel in Doha. We tried to make the best of it but there was an almighty wind blowing and we were very dispirited by this. It seemed like a terrible sign and just unfair that our only other similarly late arrival had been the last time we visited Kenya.


Anyway we got there at midnight, spent the night at the Tamarind Tree Hotel (can be recommended although it was like a prison to us – an expensive prison since I suspect we could only get a posh room at short notice (surely not all their rooms are that big?).


After a quite impressive breakfast we were excited to finally get started and ready to run the gauntlet of the Air Kenya weigh-in. We had made a great effort to get close to 15kg but hadn’t really succeeded so we had asked the Cheli people to be ready to take a bag if we couldn’t pay for the extra weight. As it turns out that was hardly necessary as they have a guy at Wilson anyway to help passengers with any issues (I told you this was boring. Do you believe yet? @AndrewB does.). We had no issues and this was one of the days they didn’t bother to weigh camera backpacks and other hand luggage. I can’t say for sure whether Cheli helped with this or it was more to do with the plane not being full.


So we were off on our way to Loisaba airstrip (best choice for Laikipia Wilderness Camp - LWC-  if you have that option) and it would be first stop! Suddenly we had to drop the blues tribute act and get ready for zebras, impalas and who knew what else. In an hour we’d be seeing them.


The next few hours is a bit of a haze. It was all rather surreal, especially after too little sleep. We’d be back at this airstrip twice more so the visits tend to merge into each other, with this somehow being the least memorable. The drive to LWC is a pretty good one, with the open terrain from the Loisaba airstrip being something you won’t see again once you arrive at LWC, filled with zebras and gazelles, mixing with some eland, hartebeest, oryx and elephant. Animals are a bit more skittish here but reasonably so. Well worth taking the scenic drive option if visiting – although we’d see the Grevy’s zebras, Lewel’s Hartebeest and Besia Oryx in decent numbers in Loisaba and the rest in the Mara conservancies, on this drive was probably the easiest place to see all three, if not at close quarters.


Grevy's Zebra getting excited by nothing much. "It was a catastrophe, I tell you!". 




It took over an hour (with stops) to get to Ol Donyo Lemboro, where LWC is located. After checking with us that we’d rather take the long way to camp (dumb question but we understand he is obliged to ask) our guide, Simon, took us on a drive along the river. There we found a breeding herd of elephants with calves of various ages peacefully grazing. Simon stopped some way from them, having been told my wife is nervous around elephants. Except she wasn’t nervous around these elephants and so we went closer. And then closer still because these were still not making her nervous. In fact very few of the elephants made her nervous this trip and I have to wonder if she isn’t at least partially cured of this (sensible) phobia. It has never been all that bad (we were heading for Mana Pools before covid made it impossible) and it has now been well over a decade since we last had a real scare so maybe it is just time, maybe absence making the heart grow fonder,  maybe that Laikipia and Mara elephants are particularly gentle creatures or maybe that food was so plentiful every elephant we met couldn’t help but be in a gloriously good mood.


The elephants then decided to cross the river and I was in a gloriously good mood, despite the thick bush and midday sun making photography tricky.




Gloriously happy elephants (except for the little one who'd had to snorkel across)




Just because of the little one, another.





Talking of photography, I was so rusty it was comical. I had everything set up on both of my camera bodies and that was just as well because this dreamy, hazy state was not helping me to catch the action. Sure I was happy just to see, but I was a few seconds late on everything and five seconds into shooting before I thought to check my shutter speed and ISO. Fortunately, Simon was a very gentle and forgiving guide. I wouldn’t have got away with such sloppiness with Patrick at Kicheche Bush Camp after he’d driven over rocks for 5 minutes to give me the opportunity to shoot something. Without any sense of impatience, Simon gently suggested I get out of the vehicle to photograph this Leopard Tortoise and find out for sure if it was dead or alive. Definitely alive… and a monster. LWC seemed to have no shortage of big Leopard Tortoises.


Leopard tortoise expressing some disappointment that I am still there, despite best efforts to play dead.




We arrived at camp in time to check into our tent before a latish lunch. As previously reported a number of times, LWC is a very comfortable but fairly basic (for the price range) camp run with some love by Steve and Annabelle Carey. It has an almost unfinished feel (although it is certainly not unfinished) and is super casual. You’re not always sure whether somebody is staff, guest or other – although that is mostly made clear. Make yourself at home, anyway! It’s cool.


As also previously reported, the emphasis here is on activities and, in our case, this was driving. The only variation on what we’re used to in Kenya was the cereal before leaving at 6 and then brunch, in line with Southern Africa norms. Walks would have been available but after the rains it was hard enough to find the animals in a vehicle. Simon seemed keen to explore every inch of the conservancy and since the dogs had disappeared the week before and we only had two nights left now, we were more than happy to go along with that plan so that is what we did, with one exception (shhh, don’t mention the…).


That exception was the first evening, when Simon suggested we might take a drive along the river just in case something turned up. In fact, something had already turned up and was still there so Simon needn’t have been so coy – although I had so far also been coy about my knowledge of the existence or even the possibility of a black leopard.

Giza was sleeping on the opposite river bank with only the occasional fly giving us a chance of a shot as she shook them off and changed posture. I’d imagined this encounter might take some planning and involve can we find her tension. Instead, there she was and how is the rest of the drive going to be interesting now?




Although I honestly could have sat there for the rest of the evening, like an Australian couple who had come to spend a week specifically because of her, I had to agree with Simon that we should probably move on and come back later when she might get up and hunt. The Australians and their guide were not going anywhere. Apart from anything else I wasn’t going to shake off the photography cobwebs waiting for a leopard to move. We didn’t see much of interest (hence the exploring from that point on) but reintroducing ourselves to Reticulated Giraffe (a lot), rock hyrax (targeted), agamas and a few buffalo was great right at that moment, with a black leopard safe in the back pocket.




Vulterine Guinea Fowl not at their best in such flat light, but they are an attraction of the area and so need to be posted.




Not a bush (or bridge) without a pair of dik diks in this concession.




By the time we got back to the river it was dark and Giza was on the move, so we were spotlighting. Giza had been lost and then found and then lost again, but we knew pretty much where she was. Unfortunately we were the ones who found her – unfortunate because we were the ones telling the other vehicle where she was and where she would be going. Just the luck of the draw and exciting all the same, but a pity to only have bum shots of her on the move.


Giza flashing her bum at the paparazzi.




Because the bush was so thick and there were gullies we had to go around, it all got a little chaotic in there. A third vehicle turned up at some point and we saw Giza breaking into a run briefly but had no idea she had caught and killed a dik dik until dinner that night. We completely missed that. It wouldn’t be the last time this trip a leopard fooled us like that.


It seemed to me that this following Giza had probably gone too far and it turns out that everybody felt the same way and visits to Giza, even when around, were being rationed, especially when she was hunting. So I knew (and rightly) that this was probably the end for us and Giza on our horribly shortened visit. And, as it turned out, she wasn’t even seen the next day anyway.


Dinner was kind of confusing as there was a large family group of Americans who had taken over River Camp and had their own guide on top of the LWC guide. Plus we hadn’t yet met some people, like Steve (we just arrived remember). By the time we worked out who everybody was pre-dinner was over, so my wife and I kind of hung with the Australians to eat (we knew who they were!) and that was nice. Fellow spirits. Anyway, we were still kind of stunned from the travel.


And maybe by the next day we'll find some rhythm and start taking better photos? 

Edited by pault
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@paultNo worries about this report being boring, I read all the above with a big smile on my face!  

Your photos are really very good and I think the one of the guinea fowl makes their colour stand out very well despite the light.

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Not boring at all, in fact one of the most entertaining reports I've read recently. And however could starting off with a black leopard be boring? No apologies needed for the fine photography either! Looking forward to the continuation!!

Edited by janzin
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Wow  black leopard within an hour or two of arrival? A pretty good start in my opinion....and the photos are fine


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There’s another @paultclassic!!!! 

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Don't worry, Paul, you're still the master of highly entertaining reports. You should have brought Bibi along though, that always helped a lot. :)


Very cool you got to see the Panther! 


Bring it on, I'm ready for more! 

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After sleeping through lions taking down a buffalo outside our tent (or we would have done if the lions had been near camp and if they had done such a thing, we were that tired) we set out just after 6 with no expectations. The morning light was kind of nice, despite or because of some haze which surely couldn’t be dust (fire somewhere the best guess) but unfortunately there weren’t many obvious animals near camp except for the dik diks. Zebra and dik diks would have to do!


We’re going to explore today.



Magnificently tufted male Guenther’s dik-dik



Other than more giraffes there wasn’t that much else to see that morning at first although we eventually came across a group of jackals (parents and pups) who were causing considerable distress among the local plovers. Of course, we have to be very sceptical about the distress of plovers as they are veteran luvvies and chronic over-actors. However, in this case their distress was justified as the jackals were helping themselves to some eggs and not at all bothered or distracted by plovers with broken wings and piercingly loud calls.


Some of the jackals



Delicious jackal mouth sized eggs



Genuinely distressed plover, giving up the act.



We decided not to count this as our first kill of the trip (obviously not counting the unseen dik-dik of the previous evening) although presumably if we had been American Supreme Court judges we might have found a way to do so.


We also had a really good sighting of a Tawny eagle.




And what I guess is a D’Arnaud’s barbet



We saw our first hyenas of the trip soon after (for reasons that will become obvious I am not posting hyena pics yet) but this time they provided no clues as to where the rest of the large predators might be so we continued on our way. Driving up a large hill provided some shy kudus but nothing else other than distant, skittish birds and even more distant giraffes. Beautiful view though.


Were we here for the view? Simon wasn’t saying for sure but I thought I could guess from the way he was looking for prints and scouring the bushes especially hard where birds were sounding alarms (could have just been us as it is fairly remote up here) we were on the hunt for a spotty cat. Without any real clues I wasn’t optimistic but it was kind of fun to pretend to help.


After quite a long time with very little to show for it, since we were on top of the hill now and the view was limited, Simon finally asked if we could see it. Naturally, I couldn’t but my wife could and she and Simon finally got me onto it. A male leopard.


Not much to see, in my defence, and this was after it sat up a bit to check us out.



We did try to get a little closer but he was having none of it and retreated deeper into the bushes. Still, we’d found a leopard! Things were looking up for the morning.


We then stopped a while at the top of a cliff to enjoy the view some more. It would have been a great coffee stop but since we didn’t have any we satisfied ourselves with water and spotting a troop of baboons. Then, after checking quickly for the leopard (as expected still asleep in the bushes somewhere) we headed back down to see what else we could find.


It was getting warmer and much brighter by now and we were just about to give up with this area (already slowly heading back towards the dam at which we were to have brunch) when Simon spotted some marks on the road. He pointed out the lion tracks and how there were signs of a fairly large animal being dragged down the road and towards a little valley. So we were off peering into bushes again, as there was little chance any lions would be out in the open at this time of day, especially with full bellies. To us the situation looked a bit hopeless as it was tortuous driving terrain but to Simon it was obvious which of a few bushes the lion(s) would have gone to and sure enough, within 15 minutes or so we had another sighting of a heavily obscured big cat.

Easier than the leopard, mainly because we were so close – I managed this one without help.




Another series of orange blobs on the other side of the bush signified one or two other lions sleeping and finally Simon found what they had been eating – a kudu.



Take Simon’s word for it that it is a kudu for now – when we came back later it had been moved slightly and was more obvious.


After such a successful morning of sleuthing, even if not of quality predator sightings, we headed to brunch. The pay-off would come later of course – now we had to decide between leopard and lions for the afternoon drive.


There were quite a few birds around camp. Nothing that exciting and still tricky to photograph in my slothful state (I’d have nailed them a week later) and with all the branches and twigs in the way.


Red-billed Hornbill (so you can see why it isn’t necessarily the best place for bird photography)



The I Can’t Remember bird… I will look it up later. I know this one!



Many more but this wasn’t a birding trip (in my case, code for “I was too lazy or incompetent to get good photos or have no clue what the brown ones are now”).


After a short rest it was time to head out and make that lion or leopard decision. We had Molly @mpjjpmon board now to help with the decision, but she was very willing to defer to our logic of 2-3 lions in a bush are worth more than a shy leopard on a hill. On her first full drive in Africa looking for lions probably sounded like a pretty good idea. Anyway, Simon agreed this was a wise choice and that was that.


Before we reached our destination bush, and sort of on the way, we saw some giraffe, vulturine guineafowl, a beautiful martial eagle and a hamerkop doing some fishing in the rapids. We also saw a buffalo, noted by Molly in her report.


Vulterine guineafowl in better conditions, thanks mostly to that persistent haze.



Martial eagle, which flew off the wrong way (lovely butt shot – tack sharp)








After some premature panic by me that this was indeed becoming a birding trip we found another plus-sized leopard tortoise. “Huge” said Simon. This one was definitely not dead and I got out of the vehicle to snap some action shots.



And, even closer, from under the vehicle, pretending it was the wild dogs that never showed for us.



Great stuff, even if not really appreciated by the tortoise I suspect - although it did decide on flight rather than withdrawing into its shell.


We arrived at the bush with almost perfect timing, just before the lions decided to have a bit of stretch, wander and reinforce some bonds. It was a three-male coalition – vain, hungry and full of energy (best expended in very short and languid bursts)


Lion mane-dressing



Two lions



Getting really active now!



We also went around the other side of the bush to show Molly why they were so lethargic (and rotund) and, as mentioned, could now see better it was a kudu ourselves. When we came back (this was far from straightforward due to the terrain) the lions were not encouraging further viewing and, since it was nearly sunset we went for a sundowner on a small kopje. It wasn’t much of a sunset but the night wasn’t over.


Vehicle at sundown.



We then headed slowly to our bush dinner rendezvous with the rest of the camp. I’d say it was an excellent meal but preparing food around a camp fire under the (few but increasing) stars is cheating – everything tastes much better.


And finally, on the way home, Simon heard on the radio that both a leopard and a lion had been spotted. It wasn’t Giza but her arch-enemy and dik-dik thief.

Not much of a photo but this guy is a super-villain so we have to feature him.



The lion was just a splash of yellow in a bush really. Looking for it we spotted a Leopard tortoise – the hugest yet, but dead this time we were pretty sure.


Oh, I forgot the agama who (as Molly noted) was always at the bridge with the hyrax. He has a really nice top on, so needs to be here.



Edited by pault
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If the photos are too big for you, please say. I know they might be and that they won't necessarily resize for everyone, I've increased the size a bit from the past as people tend to have much higher resolution devices nowadays. Not sure if it is a good decision.

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~ @pault:


      Is that Pseudonigrita arnaudi, the Grey-capped Social Weaver?


      Age, impaired vision, poor memory, and far too long away from Kenya may have resulted in a misidentification.


      As ever, your images set a high bar. Thank you for posting them.


                  Tom K.

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Yes it is @Tom KellieOr at least that is what I was trying to recall. Thank you.

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That is the best dik-dik photo I have ever seen @pault!


Thanks for this excellent trip report.

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a boring report from @pault? never ever.


Already enjoying the TR immensely, and the images are showing very well, not too large, not too small.

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The next morning we had to leave already. We’d been presented with the option to leave as usual with our bags, have a drive on the concession and then head to the Loisaba airstrip, where our Loisaba guide would be waiting. Since that is exactly what we wanted to do, no other options were discussed.


The morning drive was quiet, very quiet. We explored a part of the conservancy that we hadn’t spent a lot of time in before, beginning with where the leopard and lion had been the previous evening. In the light, the tortoise was confirmed as dead, and even bigger than we had expected. The lion had left the bush. The male leopard was back in bed somewhere, waiting for Giza to do his hunting for him, although she had wisely headed off somewhere else away from the prying Australians and the bully who liked to steal her dinner. It was feared she was taking one of her wanders into neighbouring properties but that seemed not to be the case as she did reappear after we left.

There were two male kudus nicely lined up but the one with hugely impressive horns wouldn’t stop eating and in the end I gave up and told Simon we could move on.


However, we may as well have stayed as the elephants we saw were not doing anything more than eating and a nesting eagle wouldn’t even show its face to confirm ID as a tawny. Since it was so quiet we headed over the bridge (bye, agama) and then off the conservancy a little earlier than planned to spend more time on the space between here and Loisaba. We saw the property owner’s fairly spectacular house up on a kopje. For film buffs, I was reminded of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and found myself making an ‘explosion sound’ mouth – very quietly in case Simon became alarmed. I stopped this when I thought how very much I didn’t want this particular house to explode and who would clear up all the broken glass that would inevitably be strewn over the ground below the kopje. What if Giza cut her foot?


Returning to earth, we saw a mixed group of male tommies and Grant’s gazelles. I had a really nice photograph lined up with a Grant’s towering over three young tommies, but every time the Grant’s put it’s head down the tommies brought theirs up, and vice-versa, in some impressive but frustrating coordination. I’d use two photos and combine them but it would take a lot of effort and likely not be worth it since the haze was still there and worsened for photography purposes by heat.


We also saw a significant number of zebras, both Grevy’s and the plains versions and a breeding herd of elephants, only one of which came out of the bushes.


Zebra dust-bathing



And perhaps our (unbelievably) only waterbuck of the trip. One thing about having only the limited area of a conservancy to explore is that the range of habitats may not match that in the much larger area of a national park or reserve.




We arrived at the airstrip in good time, but of course the Loisaba people were already there and we entered a quite different world immediately after saying a warm goodbye to Simon – too soon! It had been much too short a visit to properly judge LWC and we didn’t exactly arrive in the best frame of mind. If Simon is the least known and mentioned of the guides then the standard of guiding is very high and we enjoyed tracking the wildlife and finding it ourself, even if it didn’t always bring immediate reward. It was never our intention to stay such a short time – I thought 3 nights was already pretty short for a wild and wooly sort of conservancy like this. In my experience, it’s better to feel more at home in such places, which we just didn’t have time to do. The wild dogs showed up the next day and that would have certainly tilted the game viewing into ‘excellent’ territory, but three leopards and three lions isn’t bad for 4 drives, especially as the last one was restricted to an area we probably wouldn’t have explored without the need to travel to Loisaba. We were able to do exactly what we wanted – other than sharing one drive with Molly, who was up for anything anyway, we had Simon to ourselves. True, the camp wasn’t full and the River Camp lot all travelled in one vehicle, but it seemed like the flexibility offered was something you could generally expect to be able to take advantage of, providing you were a bit flexible yourself on days they were full.


Next, the wholly other and rather surprising (to me) world of Loisaba. A little slice of heaven with enough twists and dark secrets to propel a fantasy adventure story.


I could just be making that up, like the desperate blurb for a movie that didn't come out at all like the studio expected. 


Edited by pault
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Despite having almost no recent information about Loisaba we had booked two nights at Loisaba Star Beds. I could argue that it is very accessible from LWC and it had been on my radar for a long time. However, I think the most important factor was that we needed at least 6 nights at Elewana camps to get a good discount. Our agent talked me down from 9, which I thought was quite right as Elewana style is probably generally not ours, despite being very fond of Elsa’s Kopje. Soon we’d know.


As Simon left, were taken into the Loisaba building at the airstrip for some exotic juice, cold towels and a bathroom visit, as well as a walk around the Loisaba exhibition there. Definitely moving into another dimension from LWC, but I appreciate maps and a potted history of camp, albeit not usually in a purpose-made building that felt like it was awaiting a government or UN delegation, or at least a plane full of donors. Our exhibition guide was quite impressed that we knew about the fire in 2013 (we were at Elsa’s Kopje at the time and some of their guests were evacuated there) and the rhino reintroduction program.


Our exhibition guide was also our driver to transfer us from the airstrip to the lodge (hard to call it a camp when there is no canvas). We saw oryx, a jackal and Grevy’s zebra among the usual giraffes and elephants but it was midday so we didn’t see much and, with the sun now out anything we did see was far from photogenic.


Grevy's zebra using a scratching post




I was a bit stunned by the number of cacti (prickly pear, an invasive one) and the big mounds where diggers were digging it up and burying it. Apparently, they plan to eradicate about 80% of it and clearly they are just getting started. There were also a lot of rangers about, perhaps in anticipation of the arrival of the rhinos.


The conservancy is really quite beautiful, seeming to consist mostly of rolling hills and being much more open than LWC. This wasn’t unexpected as you don’t need recent information to know that an area is beautiful. With good quantities of wildlife (and ignoring the occasional digger) this would be heavenly.

Standard Loisaba scene – actually a view from our balcony.




The whole staff on duty (all 6 of them) came out to greet us to Loisaba Star Beds. Potentially a bit awkward, but no confusion about who was who here as everybody introduced themselves right then and there.... and they wore uniforms. Easy to guess that the guy in the Samburu shuka and thousands of coloured beads isn’t a retired doctor from Houston. If you still weren’t sure, you could try to serve yourself something and the staff would appear in front of you before you got close, while the doctor from Houston would be totally unmoved.


Anyway, they are a seriously good little team at the star beds. The ‘manager’ pretends to be merely the barman rather than a traditional camp manager and everybody takes care of their own area of responsibility (although they double up here as there are only four rooms and so a small staff). It runs like clockwork and so probably tends to the inflexible but because we had such a short stay that was just fine and not noticeable.


Guiding is a completely separate operational arm and run out of the Loisaba Tented Camp (or the main camp as most seemed to call it). Having the guide come from off site isn’t ideal, since you don’t really have the chance to discuss activities but I am sure the ‘barman’ could have got in touch if we had wanted to suggest anything. In any case, we would be sharing here and since the people we were sharing with were at the main camp it was almost certainly best to leave it to the guide for such a short visit.


I will be calling our guide in Loisaba ‘Bob’, not because I have forgotten his name but because I seriously doubt there are any Kenyan guides called ‘Bob’ and I don’t want to identify him. He was fine – knowledgeable, professional and focused on finding wildlife. He was also clearly biased towards us over our vehicle mates, which I thought was a bit unfair while obviously not being too annoyed. In his defence, our vehicle mates weren’t keen on early starts (hmmm) and we let him pick us up first (despite him setting off from main camp) meaning we had to drive 20 minutes to main camp before we could start each drive - so we deserved the love, as does he.


Oh, the reason I don’t want to identify him is just so I can tell a story. It’s not a classic story at all, but informative enough to be worth the Bob thing.


At lunchtime we started talking to another solo guest, who reminded us so much of a younger Bibi (my Mum, if you are new to this) that we invited her to have meals with us, if she wanted and made an appointment for 8 that evening. Through her we found out that you can book Loisaba full board only and bring your own vehicle and guide – or even self-drive as we saw one other group doing later. This was not wholly a surprise as I knew there was a campsite here, but I hadn’t realized you could use the accommodations too.


First drive we were out at 4.30 (sedate) although we saw a hornbill and what our waiter thought was a honey buzzard (unlikely I thought) while having a pre-drive coffee. The location, on the high ground overlooking a valley, is probably fantastic for catching birds of prey in flight but unfortunately no more would come close during our short stay. The tented camp would be still better for this, I suspect as it is even higher above the surrounding area.


Tawny eagle? But to be fair to the waiter, all we could actually see in the sunlight was a silhouette - this is heavily processed.




We kind of expected a predator-lite couple of days and I was happy to have some decent light, if still a bit bright for now. We spent time with some giraffes (always a great photo op for those using phones for their photography needs) and with a pair of jackals, who were not up for entertaining us.


A bit too close for a photo of the giraffe for my tastes, so a photo of the oxpeckers - actually the lower oxpecker has caught something, but you may have to imagine that at this magnification.




Jackals doing not much




Contrary to the predator-lite expectation, we then drove to (note I don’t say ‘found’ – there was no reading the ‘signs of the bush’ this time) a pride of lions, who were doing what lions do when they are full. However, they were out in the open more than the ones at LWC and were going nowhere so I took advantage of the chance to learn more about how the animal eye autofocus system worked on my camera for lions. This was my first chance to try it on lions, leopards, cheetahs and so on, even though I have had it on my Sony camera for nearly four years! The main question to be answered was how much to rely on it for action, and up to what distances, and how much more traditional methods and the tracking function might do better.


Getting up, apparently trying to focus on the annoying flies. 




Tracking very nicely at slower speeds and closer distances. You’d have a very hard time taking 50 shots in a few seconds in perfect focus like this any other way and while it’s valid to ask why you might need 50 shots of this, it was (geek alert) a kind of fun experiment.




There was little action but of course it was still very, very nice to see our first pride of lions since 2018.


Necessity becomes the mother of invention when you are close enough for a phone pic.






We left the lions after only 10 minutes, with the explanation that we would let someone else in (five vehicle maximum) and come back later when they might be a little more active. While this was a satisfactory decision (albeit distressing to our companions on their first safari) it wasn’t wholly true, as we would learn the next day, when everybody was distressed.


After driving sedately for about 50 minutes, seeing what we expected (nice, but nothing memorable - in fact if you guessed you would probably get at least 3 of 5 correct) and getting the Loisaba story from Bob (not uninteresting but is this the time?) we were suddenly asked if we wanted to see a leopard - although it was quite a way from here and we’d have to drive a bit less sedately and it might interrupt the sundowner plans. Fortunately (for their safety) our vehicle mates thought this was a good idea too. Actually, I have to wonder what kind of clientele they have that Bob thought it necessary to ask in that ‘very understandable if you don’t want’ tone. If there is one thing you want and even expect to see at Loisaba it is handsome leopards (Giza even visits sometimes but I've blown the opportunity to build suspense on that by telling you she hadn't gone on a long wander).


At this point we discovered that sedate driver Bob had the skillset to be less sedate too and arrived in 10 minutes. Initially it looked as if the 5 vehicle limit would be an issue for us and we would have to wait a little, but the leopard saw us coming (or something like that) and decided to come to greet us, effectively opening the door to becoming part of a new 5 vehicle group on the opposite side of the road. Bob ran through the door immediately and we waited for the leopard to come to us.




Animal eye autofocus works a treat on leopards walking too. Once it picked up the eye out in the open there were no worries about a few obstructions.




He kept on moving at a walk and a trot, meaning we were able to stay with him as long as we were in the first five to the new position each time (and we generally were because there were only 7-8 vehicles and only a couple of other guides focused on moving far ahead each time rather than trying to facto in smartphone needs. I suspect that it was a bit unsavoury from the outside and the rangers were getting a bit itchy, but nobody cut off the leopard or crowded him that I saw (although to my shame, rather than policing the situation, counting vehicles and tutting, I was behind the camera most of the time, only looking up to see where there was a break in the fairly thick bush to plan the next burst).


Unfortunately, because he was keeping his head so low and coming generally downhill towards us, to avoid the majority of the long, long grass stalks I had to get a bit higher in the vehicle than I would have liked sometimes.




Forced to zoom out to 200mm, but at least that meant less grass in the way.




As it was getting dark rapidly I had to change camera to have a faster lens. I was really wishing I had put on the 70-200/2.8 as the leopard appeared to be very purposeful and intent on feeding, rather than just moving to another location.


Stopping for a moment and scanning the bush - a handsome boy. No wonder Giza comes-a-visiting.




Then, without warning (not expecting a “hey, watch this mate” warning from the leopard, but there might have been a warning from Bob or my wife as a higher shutter speed would be needed) there was a cry of ‘dik dik’ from my wife and ‘he’s hunting’ from Bob and I just had to move my camera as fast as I could, hoping the tracking would hold things in focus and cursing that I hadn’t changed the image stabilization mode (mentally cursing and all this at the speed of your life flashing before your eyes, and just as randomly – I might as easily have thought ‘I hope this knocks a few ticks off’ or ‘that shade of orange would be nice in the bathroom’ for all the control I had over what I was thinking as I bit my lip, tried to follow the leopard and held down the shutter as if it were the only thing keeping me from the jaws of an angry bear).


In the end there was no time to change the settings but a couple came out sort of okay.




The hunt was over in what seemed like an instant but might have been 10 seconds. The last 30 shots of out of focus cactus and parts of the vehicle are not helpful in determining this. The dik dik escaped by a very small margin and everybody breathed again. Since it was nearly dark and the leopard had sat down we decided to go for a (very) quick sundowner where we could see the other vehicles (to judge whether another hunt might be on) but it was essentially a resignation as we had no spotlight and chasing a leopard around by headlight was not something the rangers (or I for that matter) would look kindly on.


We took the main camp couple back first in the dark and arrived at the Star Beds so late the ‘barman’ had already messaged to check we were safe. We were also late for our dinner date – she was having her pre-dinner drink as we arrived but we promised to be as quick as possible. I have to say we were as fast as promised, so fast we probably failed to spot a visitor. I did note that our bed was out on the balcony, which was a pleasant surprise as it had been cloudy and windy and that usually meant rain was coming – clearly the staff didn’t think so, and they certainly know better.


Indeed they were right and although few stars were visible at dinner and only about a quarter of the sky was clear when we went to be, when I woke up briefly at 1a.m. the only cloud was the milky way and every star was clear and bright through the green mosquito net. I briefly considered getting up, but then realized I didn’t need to and could enjoy this with a still warm hot water bottle. Sedate safari isn’t too bad, I thought.


Our bed, inside – obviously taken when I went for a walk the next day, rather than at 1 am.




Edited by pault
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~ @pault:


The colors and clarity of the images is inspiring.


Very nice.


The presence of large cacti in leopard images gives one pause.


Your mention of the invasive cacti removal program is encouraging.


I had no idea that they were present and spreading.


The leopard in undergrowth shot with the eye in focus brings to memory similar such situations in safaris past.


Again, thank you for the images and commentary.


      Tom K.

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eye-tracking function came in very useful - the leopard was sharp despite how hard those grasses tried to snuff out your photos and test your skills. wow a leopard hunt is brilliant (even with the blurred shots) - that is one thing i've yet to see. 



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15 hours ago, pault said:

Forced to zoom out to 200mm

You poor thing  :-)


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Loving the report and great info - Giza can go off a gander all the way to Loisaba ? 

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5 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

You poor thing  :-)


Right. A tendency to forget there is more to this than getting photographs when at my worst. But I did just stop to enjoy the leopard walking right by when 200mm got too long. :D And at various other points.

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2 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

Loving the report and great info - Giza can go off a gander all the way to Loisaba ? 

Yes I think she does. She looks very pretty among the cacti - I’ve seen a couple of photos. I believe there is at least one more black leopard in Laikipia, but I think Giza is the one that is totally unbothered by vehicles as she’s had them near her at LWC since she was a youngster, so probably the subject of most photographs out there. No expert in this though. Hope somebody will see and correct this if I am wrong.

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I want to speed this up a little (just a little) as we’ve only been in the bush three nights. Not sure I will succeed.


I forgot to mention that there was a small herd of elephants around near the leopard the evening before and we stopped to watch them for a couple of minutes on the way to have our brief sundowner. I love how everyone is protecting the baby.





I also forgot to mention that a genet had visited us at dinner the night before – not for human food but for the tasty insects attracted by the lights.


Day four would have a bit of a cactus theme. After driving to the main camp to pick up our companions, stopping for a bold kudu browsing near the camp, we headed back to see what the lions of the previous evening were up to. They were a bit more lively but it was already 7 a.m. and things had a bit of an after the event feel.




At least the lions were on their feet this time and appeared to be showing some communal interest in zebras.




As you can see they were still in a cactus patch. You would think this wouldn’t be first choice as a resting place but while we may not like the invasive cactus, the animals seem to get on with it.


The light was a bit of a sickly yellow that morning with cloud hiding the sun. Nice colour contrast available for black and white conversion though as the light really saturated the oranges and yellows.




The pride male – most of the others present were youngsters and, rather than looking at the zebras, the lions may have been looking for the pride females to feed them. When the pride females showed up shortly after it was very much a case of ‘you first’, ‘no after you’ with the zebras and then ‘let’s sleep on it’.




Other highlights from the morning as, contrary to the normal expectation, the light improved as the clouds got thinner.


Reticulated giraffe (phone distance again)





Elephants feeding on the cactus fruit/flowers, which they seem to really like and pick so delicately.




And a very young elephant apparently losing trunk control in the middle of what looked like it might have been an attempted warning to us. As the ears started to flap, the trunk went rogue. We were pretty close to the elephants again and my wife was unconcerned.









Otherwise, we saw lots of impalas, zebras (mostly plains but also a few Grevy’s) and some more elephants and giraffes but spent quite a lot of time just driving around (I’d guess from the terrain we were hoping for a leopard but it was more in hope than expectation) and trying to get ‘cellphone close’ to a group of bull elephants because our companions wanted a shot. I don’t begrudge them that and it was a pleasant morning and definitely on the sedate side until Bob got slightly lost following the bull elephants – not really lost but into an area way off-road where the way in was complicated and the way back to the road even more complicated due to rocks, gullies, bushes and (of course) cacti. It was at this point that a question that was building was answered – yes the thorns can puncture tyres although generally with slow punctures rather than anything of urgent concern.


We must have taken breakfast out with us but I remember nothing about it at all. I try, but the only evidence I have is a 35 minute break in the time stamps on photos. More food was the last thing on our minds though – food at Loisaba Star Beds is excellent and much too frequent and plentiful.


We returned to the Star Beds at around 11, where protocol was wake up call at 5.30 with coffee, out at 6.30, back at 11, lunch at 1, afternoon tea from 3.30 or so, out at 4.15 or 4.30, back at 7, dinner at 8, and repeat. Just in case you wanted to know. Elephant Pepper was similar but because we had a private vehicle there we usually came back later and coffee was not served in the tent – presumably because it would still be dark and there were quite a lot of animals in camp – but I never asked as it was what is was, not a big deal and we had bigger issues by then (nothing to do with the camp!).


In the afternoon we had new vehicle mates, who were staying at Star Beds. Yeh! No more time wasted driving to and from main camp. Nice folks too. We also only stopped for four different animals and this was a good thing. Two were giraffes and elephants. just browsing.





Giraffe with head in the clouds (yes, it is corny but cute-corny I think).




The first of the four sightings was straight out of the gate (there are gates with a lowish electric fence at the Loisaba accommodations): four cheetahs – mother with three well-grown cubs. Clearly Bob had passed them on the way to pick us up. Although the light was still a bit brutal – the sun had his hat on now and the stars were going to be amazing tonight – we happily spent 90 minutes with them, waiting to see what they would do. The cubs were certainly hungry so for sure the mother had to hunt.

In 90 minutes all three cubs refused to look in the same direction once! Note they are not on a termite mound but a mound created by burying the cacti - the theme continued.




Unable to get three looking the same way, I had to make do with pairs.





Most of the first 80 minutes were spent just waiting for the mother to make a move – she was scanning but not seeing anything worth her effort. Eventually, she got up and went over to the cubs to tell them it was time to move.


Note the buried cacti mound backdrop











As they got up and walked off down a track, away from us, things quickly got a bit weird. I was aware we were pushing it with the 5-vehicle limit and expected to have rotated out at least once by now - but we’d spent most of the time without any pressure because they were just lying there and other vehicles had come, taken photo and gone. There had been no pressure on them and I wasn’t aware of there ever being more than 5 vehicles around. Now, Bob was reluctant to follow the cheetahs and was saying we should give others a turn. I was happy to do that but not so happy to just leave them, which was clearly the implication here. Couldn’t we observe from a distance for a while? They were not going to hunt imminently but it wasn’t their bedtime yet and there were a lot of impala around. And they were on the move, with light just about to get really sweet.


It rapidly became clear this wasn’t really an option so I said “if we really must but you better find me something really nice to shoot at sunset” all sulky like - I didn’t slump down, fold my arms and avert my eyes though. I sulked for all of 8 minutes, at which point we came over the brow of a hill and I saw a leopard sitting on a rock as the sun sank over the horizon.


Bob had stopped to talk animatedly to another guide so I asked him to turn off the engine so I could get a quick shot before we tried to get into position for a better one. Note vehicle in phone distance position. This may have relevance to the story coming up.




But the conversation went on, to the extent that I felt I had to ask Bob if we could drive a little closer before the sun went down over the horizon, which was imminent as there was a rise in the land. I was sort of okay where we were, but not everybody in the vehicle had 600mm available to them. Then I noticed that he was shaking… and he said to me cryptically, as if I had followed the previous conversation in Swahili “10 minutes… they want us to move on after 10 minutes”. Anyway, we got to the rock almost in time to catch the last rays of sun but had to wait above the leopard for somebody else to move on, when we finally got in the best position given the lay of the land. I hope our vehicle mates were quick with their cameras as the light was fading rapidly.




We agreed to move away after about 2 minutes in the best position (10 minutes in total) as Bob was clearly pretty upset and I wanted to find out why (to my concern our vehicle mates were very trusting in my judgement). I was actually concerned for him and (leopard shots in the bag) my own upset seemed secondary for the time being. After a nice chat with a drink it appears that what happened was that he got into trouble from the rangers at some point and there is (apparently, don’t take it as a fact unchallenged) a guideline in place that beyond the 5 vehicle limit, guides are also expected to persuade their guests to move on from a predator sighting after 10 minutes so that others don’t have to wait too long. He found this an impossible rule to enforce, while also pleasing the guests and I guess today was the day he found out they were actually getting serious about it and he was ‘on report’ or something. I don’t know that though. I agreed with him that it was incredible and totally impractical from my point of view. I wouldn’t bother visiting under these circumstances. What next? All game drives to proceed only in a clockwise direction? I can understand it, sort of, but nearly all the guides and vehicles in the conservancy are from three small camps/lodges and they ought to be able to sort something out to avoid crowding predators without pissing off the guests and guides like this. The rule is like something you might think about implementing (and then probably drop as impractical) in really over-crowded places, which Loisaba is certainly not. If we’d all left the cheetahs after 10 minutes and not returned there would have been nobody there long, long before they moved on. I suspect part of the problem is that they are not spending enough time out and so are not finding their own animals or heading way out deep into the conservancy. Do they have a top secret research lab out there somewhere? If the small part of the concession we visited in our very short stay has cheetahs, lions and leopards, there are likely other locations with the same. I also cannot grasp why the rangers and guides are not working together on this. It was a surprise to realise that they weren’t really all on the same team.


I don’t pretend to fully understand – my goal at that moment was to talk Bob down and then change the subject to something nice rather than to get into a long discussion.

That was done and, after a drive spent almost exclusively with cheetahs and leopards, everyone returned to Star Beds smiling. This was significantly better than I ever expected from Loisaba and I wouldn’t be lodging any complaints, even though Bob actually encouraged me to do so.


That night we had dinner with ‘younger Bibi’ again and it turned out to be her birthday so all the staff came out to sing. Since we all had dinner outside on a kopje that night and the stars were out and the mood was festive, we drank too much wine, then took the remains of a bottle back to our banda. A genet ran across our path on the way, which must surely bode well for the rest of the trip, starting tomorrow in Mara North.


Half an hour later, when I turned around from watching the stars to go to the bathroom, I saw the genet again – in our room and leaping up the wall to try to catch something – presumably a juicy moth or an even juicier lizard. When it caught us watching it ran out under the door, just as it probably entered and left every night when the lights were on.


No photos of the genet I am afraid. Was too enchanted (and tipsy) to bother with a camera.

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It is not my choice there are so few birds in the Loisaba section of the report. Or kudu, zebras, eland or impala. We just didn't stop much for these and there wasn't anything we hadn't already seen. Plus, I don't think we were looking for them and were not in the best locations. No vulturine guineafowl, no warthogs, no eagles, no ostriches, almost no birds at all. On reflection it is almost eerie! 

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