“The Big Five” on the last safari

Hello and Jambo everyone! Hope everyone’s weekends have started off well. Today was my final time to go on safari at the Masai Mara National Game Preserve. We had yet another awesome drive, and it was a little sad as we were exiting the gate knowing I would not be back (at least not probably for a good long while). William was once again an excellent game driver. Just to give everyone a little context, all the other safari vehicles have radios so they can communicate with each other and tell everyone where the animals are. Which is kind of a strange concept as I feel like this would never happen in America—-they’re basically helping the competition. But I guess since no game drive is ever the same and there’s never a guarantee of what you’re going to see, they all know the better the safaris are for everyone, the more the tourism industry thrives. The more tourism, the better everyone’s paychecks. So while helping the competition seems odd to me, I’m glad they do it. Anyway, radios. They all have radios, but currently our vehicle does not. William has to rely on his own vision most of the time, and then when he can stop another guide, he gets information from them. With limited resources for communication, he’s been excellent. He says he hopes to have a radio sometime by the end of the year.

We also had a couple of the Siana Springs Tented Camp employees along with us today, Christie and Nicolas. Neither one of them had been on a game drive before, so William asked if they could come along. I said absolutely, the more the merrier! Another kind of strange thing that they live/work this close to the preserve but have never been. Guess it’s like New Yorkers with the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building. I can see where a lot of people living here can’t afford it, but for the camp workers having access to the free safari with the WHDO, I’m surprised more of them haven’t gone. It was fun to have some other people with us today, and to see Kenyans get just as excited about the animals as me.

We get to the preserve about 8:00 a.m., and shortly after entering, William sees a giraffe. “Ah, it is going to be a good day. First thing we see is giraffe.” William flags down another guide and I guess asks where is a good spot to go. This guide says something in Swahili, and William obviously gets very excited. He then starts driving like a bat out of hell. Now, up until this point, he has been an extremely cautious driver. Clearly he is excited about something. In the middle of the rush he practically yells at me “TURN ON THE CAMERA!” Haha, ok William, it’s already on, please just don’t kill us with your driving. We come around this curve and he almost rear ends another vehicle. At this point, I have a pretty good idea of what we’re flying down the road to see………..rhino. The ever elusive rhino was out today! Granted, he went into the brush very quickly after we got there, and he was a ways away, but I was able to see it. I didn’t get very good photos due to the distance, and the extremely tall grass, but I was able to see it finally! This officially completed what the locals refer to as “The Big Five”: Rhino, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Leopard. Those are the ones everyone gets excited about apparently.

After the rhino, we started driving around just seeing what we could see. We encountered a fairly large herd of elephant (it was actually two separate herds that came together), and Christie really enjoyed seeing them. I sat in the back today with the top of the vehicle up, but still didn’t get excellent photos as they were mostly walking beside us and never really stopped to get any kind of front angle shot. After the elephants, we passed MANY small clusters of Thompson’s gazelles. We also spotted some giraffe, including several adolescent ones. We then spot a safari van and what looks like a Ford Escape near a small area of brush. Generally cars near brush mean lions. Sure enough, we pull up there, and there are two male lions asleep. Well, about 15 seconds after we pull in, William quickly backs up. He explains that the Ford is actually a park ranger, and while the other vehicle had a permit to be off road, we did not, so we had to get back to the road or get fined. Made me so nervous as I don’t want him to get fined.

So we start driving again, and William said “let’s drive a bit then come back to the lion”. He wanted to wait until the ranger left so we could get close. We see a couple of white van “vultures” a little bit ahead of us, so he jets over to them. They are all kind of on one side of a ravine with a small creek. I can’t see anything at this point, but William works his magic and gets us to a new position—–down in the creek bed is the leopard! There’s one safari vehicle on the opposite side of the ravine that probably has the best view, so William again high tails it to heaven trying to find a crossing point to get to the other side. Well, he gets to the other side, and guess what……we’re offroad and the same ranger back at the lion pulls up to us but didn’t roll the window down or get out. Well, since I cannot speak Swahili, I let William handle the situation and just stayed focused on the leopard. After about 10 minutes, William decides time to leave. I asked if we got fined and he said “No, not yet”. The ranger continued to follow us for a little while, so William stopped and said “Ok, I’m going to act like I’m inspecting the vehicle, maybe they’ll go away”. Well of course as soon as he gets out of the vehicle, the ranger pulls up beside him and gets out. Words are exchanged, but nothing else, and everything looks amicable. William gets back in the car—-“I know him! And the guys in the car! We are ok. Let’s go see the lion.” Apparently knowing the game rangers can come in handy when you are taking people off road to see big cats. He apparently told the ranger we were going to off road at the lion, and the ranger gave him the ok.

So, we go back over to the lion and watch them for a bit. One of them did eventually get up, but like most of the animals when you’re trying to get their face, they turn the opposite direction. It went back underneath a bush and lay down, so it was time to move on. We started driving again, and drove through lots of small clusters of the hoofed game-Thompson’s gazelles, Graham’s gazelles, Topi, Zebra, and impala. We again see some white vans ahead, so we catch up to them. There’s a cheetah out in the open, and the other guides say it’s been acting like it was hunting! With all the hoofed game around, I was really hoping to watch this cheetah run and catch something. We hung out for probably 30 minutes, but the cheetah would just walk about 10 yards then sit for 10 minutes. William said “Ok, looks like it might be awhile before it actually gets to the herds” which made sense as they were actually quite a ways off and we knew the cheetah wasn’t going to waste energy it needed to actually make a kill. So we moved on.

We went to a small river where there were hippo. Christie said it was her first time to see a hippo! So that was pretty neat. There weren’t nearly as many people in this area as there were on my first safari, so we were actually able to hang out and watch them a bit. The river looked and smelled disgusting, but the hippo seemed to enjoy it. We get back in the truck and drive along the river a bit, finally spotting a crocodile. After the crocodile, we were just following the river again, and then just happened to luck into a large group of lion sleeping in the shade along the river bank! It was the most numerous group of them I’ve seen thus far, so that was really cool! After that, we decided to break for lunch.

Lunch was the same thing I’ve had every safari: chicken, fruit (apple, watermelon, orange), chips, boiled egg, cheese/cucumber sandwich (What? A sandwich!), and a piece of the carrot cake. Turns out, Nicolas is the one that puts the lunches together! So I thanked him for feeding me well on all my safaris. After we ate lunch, William spotted a couple of vans, so we went off in that direction. What do we find? The cheetah with an incredibly fresh kill of a Thompson’s gazelle. We probably missed the kill by no more than 5 minutes with how little had been consumed and how heavy the cheetah was breathing. Some people may not be excited about watching a cheetah consume a gazelle, but honestly, I thought it was pretty darn awesome, and was just sad we missed getting to see it in action. That would have been amazing! It chowed down pretty quickly, and by about 15 mins after we got there, it was apparent that the other vans had been radioed, as they started descending. We decided to go ahead and leave before we got boxed in.

At this point, we’re pretty much finished for the day, so we’re just driving back to the gate and seeing what we see. And we didn’t see a whole lot. Until William slams on the breaks and says “Hyena!” He had somehow managed to spot this hyena head poking out of a drainage canal underneath the road. I have no idea how he saw it, but he backed up, and drove down to where we could actually see it! This was cool too as I hadn’t seen any hyena since the first safari, and even then I didn’t get a good look at it. This time we watched it until it decided to lay down in the water and grass. Onward we go to the gate! We saw more of the hoofed game on our way out, and saw a water buck, which I had not seen yet. Basically another member of the antelope family. So, we exited the preserve, and again, it was a bit sad, but overall, I am incredibly blessed to have had such good safari experiences.

We get back to the clinic around 3:00, and I go to do laundry. At about 4:30, I watch the heavens open up and rain on my freshly clean laundry. Oh well, I’ll just say they got an extra rinse today. Then I watched the baboons and monkeys for a short while as they ran off pretty quickly after I got outside. I’m doing dinner here at the apartment tonight and tomorrow to try to finish what little food I have left before I leave next week. The rest of the evening will likely be spent reading and working some puzzles. I haven’t quite ironed out plans for tomorrow, but I’m going to see if I can go to church with Grace. If not, then I suppose I’ll just hang around the clinic and try to relax before what I anticipate to be a busy Monday.

One last note: As William went back to Julius’ last night to get the speakers loaded up, he saw a lion, not 50 yards from where Julius lives. Crazy! He took video and it’s just nuts how close these things are to people and the clinic! Well, last round of safari photos can be found below. Once I get home, I’ll have to go through all of them, and I’m sure there will be a photo album on Facebook so you can see some of the ones that didn’t make the blog cut. Hope you all enjoy! Asante sana, and tuonane kesho!

Here’s a little bit better shot of an eland. Again, they’re huge.
Quite the herd of elephant
Hi friend! I swear this is a different photo from last week even though it looks very similar.
This ones is titled: “Those Darn Kids”
OPEN WIDE!!!!
Just some impala hanging out
We actually got to see the leopard up close!
A little bit impeded, but still cool to see!
Just know that this is a rhino. Finally.
These guys are about as frustrating as the baboon. If you even get close, they turn and run giving you a photo of their backside. So I had to get the best photo I could from a ways away.
This is a female topi. The females are lighter in color than the males
Sleeping. Once again.
This one got up to stretch….and promptly turned his back
Our “secret stash” of lions!
This is the water buck. No they’re not in season.
Got this guy on our way out—-good end to the safari trip!
We found you, hyena, despite you trying to hide!
On the move, looking for food
Eyeing some Thompson’s gazelle in the distance

Just a warning: The next three photos show the cheetah with it’s kill of a Thompson’s gazelle. There’s really not that much blood, but you will see a dead gazelle…..with a cheetah eating on it.

Success. For the cheetah, no so much for the gazelle.
Cheetah has to eat. They’re really the only cat fast enough to catch the small, quick Thompson’s gazelle.
Getting loaded up on protein to replenish all the energy it just lost chasing the gazelle.
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