Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya: East African Safari

If you had to choose just one travel experience before you die; one trip of a lifetime; the ultimate bucket-list experience; that choice should, without a doubt, be an African safari.

Chad and I have been lucky enough to have been on safari in Africa twice.  The first time was our honeymoon when we went on safari in South Africa in the private concessions of Kruger National Park.  The second time was this past December when we visited the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.  Having done two, I can tell you that it never gets old.  And, I think that is because the experiences are so different. More on that later.

After spending a couple of days in Nairobi, which I certainly recommend if you want to have a slumber party with giraffes and spend time with baby elephants, we boarded a small, regional propeller plane and headed to the Rift Valley Province.

We landed on the private airstrip of our home for the next three days: &Beyone Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp. Our guide for the next three days was waiting to greet us with a smile, cool towels, refreshing cold drinks, and snacks!

Once we were done munching, we loaded into our safari vehicle and began the short drive through the Maasai Mara to our camp grounds. What we didn’t expect was that our safari would begin right then and there.  As we crossed the Mara, we were greeted by a pride of lions, several elephants, and a large hippo.

On arrival, we got a tour of the camp grounds and were shown to our room.

We would be spending the next few days “glamping” in a luxury tent that overlooked the Mara.

Our meals would be served outdoors, shared with the resident warthogs and monkeys.

And, if you so choose, you could spend your afternoons lounging by the pool while elephants, zebra, giraffe and the occasional lion sauntered by.

But, Chad and I were here for the wildlife viewing, so we chose to spend our days on game drives. We were glad we did, because we got to see SO MANY animals!

Of course, the goal on safari is to see the Big Five: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalo. We saw the Big Five on our first safari, so we were determined to see them again. And, successful we were!

Buffalo and elephants are pretty common on both South African and East African safaris.  Even though there is a lot of elephant poaching going on, you still see a fair amount of elephants. One difference we noticed in Kenya versus our experience in South Africa – due primarily to the much flatter topography of the Maasai Mara plateau – is that we saw a lot more animals and with a lot less effort.

By far, the cats are the most exciting viewing.  We got to see a lot of lions with their baby cubs.  We even saw a lioness on the prowl, but thankfully, we didn’t have to witness a kill. That was due mostly to her terrible hunting skills.  I mean, it was  so bad that  it was almost comical. This female lion was stalking and even gave chase to a pack of warthogs, who are notoriously stupid.  Their stupidity is due to their lack of memory, specifically, short-term memory.  They are so forgetful that in the middle of running away from a predator, they forget why they are running and just stop. It would stand to reason that the lion should have easily been able to catch at least one dumb warthog.  But, no such luck.

We also got to see cheetahs, which was a first! This was probably my most favorite viewing because they were so chill and curious of us. they were also SO stinking cute! Our guide told us that it was not unusual for them to jump right on the hood of the jeep for a closer look.

There are more cheetah in Tanzania than in Kenya, so to see these two, we had to drive to the Tanzanian border.  And, since we came all that way, we sneaked into the Serengeti National Park.

The most difficult and sought after viewings are the rhinos and cheetah. Rhinos are difficult because, tragically, they have almost been hunted into extinction. If you are lucky enough to see a rhino, it will probably be a black rhino.  While black rhinos are still critically endangered, they are more numerous than the white rhino. We were lucky to spot just one black rhino.

The white rhino is more rare. There are two subspecies of white rhinos: the southern white rhinoceros, which are found in South Africa, and the the northern white rhinoceros, which were formally found in East Africa, but which are now functionally extinct. There are only two females left in the whole world, and they are guarded by around the clock security.

Most people miss the Big Five because they never get to see the leopard. Being the fastest land animal on earth, they are so elusive! They are also excellent hiders! While we saw three in South Africa, we only saw one in East Africa.

We spent so much time out on our game drives that we got to have picnic lunches out in Mara surrounded by nature.  We also stopped in the evenings for sundowners and to enjoy the sunset with cocktails and snacks!

Back at the camp in the evenings, members of the Maasai Tribe would come and visit us to perform traditional dances and to sell their handicrafts.

I love cultural immersion, so I asked out guide to take us to the local Maasai village.  The head tribesman took us on a tour of his village and of his personal home, which was a single room mud-hut with no electricity.  We also met the women of the tribe who greeted us with a welcome song, dressed in their beautiful and colorful traditional garb.  The Maasai tribe is well-known for its traditional and colorful handmade beaded jewelry.

We knew we would be visiting the tribe, so we packed with a purpose.  We brought educational supplies, crayons, coloring books, and toys for the village children.  They were so ecstatic to receive even the smallest gifts, and proudly raised their pencils in the air.

And so ended our second African safari adventure.  It was so nice to truly disconnect and be immersed in nature and in wildlife.  The experience really gives you a new perspective and a true appreciation for wildlife and for our environment. I can’t wait to go back to my favorite continent and go on another amazing safari adventure!

Seriously, if you ever get the chance to go on safari. Just go. It is pricey, but it is well-worth the money spent.  It really is an experience of a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

Nairobi, Kenya: A Visit To The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Have you ever wanted a pet elephant? Just imagine if you could spend an evening with your baby elephant, petting it, feeding it a bottle, and tucking it in to bed. If ever you find yourself in Nairobi, you can! You can “adopt” your very own orphaned elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (“DWST”)!

DWST was founded in 1977 and is the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world! To date, they have successfully hand-raised over 150 infant elephants and have reintegrated these orphan elephants back into the wild.

There are many threats to the elephant population in Africa.  But, the biggest of these threats are people.  Elephants face the loss of habitat due to human population pressures and conflict, deforestation and drought, as well as the threat of poaching of the elephant for their ivory tusks. It is for these very reasons that baby elephants become orphaned.

To add to the dangers that elephants face, in November 2017 Trump announced that he would be lifting the ban on importing elephant (and lion) trophies (i.e., heads and body parts) into the U.S., which will likely increase the number of people who will travel to Africa for the sole purpose of hunting elephants. Why anybody would want to kill any creatures, let alone such beautiful and majestic creatures, is beyond my understanding.

Luckily, organizations like DSWT exist to help in education and conservation efforts and to help combat some of the threats that face the elephant. In addition to the Orphans’ Project, DSWT has an anti-poaching project  which uses mobile desnaring units to free elephants caught in a poacher’s trap and patrol popular poaching grounds, an aerial surveillance unit that scans the region for poachers, traps, or injured animals, the saving habitats project, a mobile veterinary project and Sky Vets,  which deploy teams of vets to areas where injured animals are discovered for onsite care and/or transport, and community initiative projects, which educate local communities on the importance of conservation.

Needless to say, we were very eager to visit DSWT!  Everyday, DSWT offers visitors a chance to attend their public feeding from 11:00 a.m. until noon. During this time, the public watches as the baby elephants run in from the bush for their midday mud bath and feeding.  It costs $7 US dollars per person ages 4 and above, and payment must be in cash. Be sure to arrive early as there are A LOT of people who attend the public feeding.

Also, just so you don’t have your dreams crushed, you don’t actually get to do the feeding.  Instead, you stand around a large roped off mud pit, and watch as the babies splash around in the mud and get fed by their handlers from giant bottles.  It is so stinking cute.  Sometimes they run by and shake mud all over you or stop to be pet, so be sure to wear something you don’t mind getting dirty. Also, that mud soaks in deep, and is VERY hard to get out of your clothing, even after washing.

You can foster a baby elephant while you are there or before you come by visiting their foster page online where you can see all the elephants and read about their stories of rescue. By the way, a fostered elephant makes a GREAT gift for the animal lover in your life. It costs $50.00 a year per foster.  Chad and I selected two cuties that we fostered on the spot: Maisha and Luggard.

As a foster parent you can also visit the nursery by appointment at 5:00 p.m. when the elephants return to the stockades for the night. The evening visit is for foster parents only, and it must be booked in advance of your intended visit by contacting DSWT directly. While there are quite a few people who attend, it is A LOT less than the public feeding.  During this visit, you will watch them run in from the bush again, except this time, they run right into their assigned pens.

Somehow they know where they are supposed to go and know that their handlers are waiting to feed them from the giant bottles again.  Some are so talented that they hold their own bottles.  I literally couldn’t contain myself.  It was cuteness overload.

Once they have eaten, it’s time for them to get ready for bed. They lay in their hay beds next to their handlers who sleep right in the pens with them and wait to be covered with their blankets! I mean, c’mon! How can you even resist such cuteness?!?!

Some like to play with toys before bed. While others want to suck on their handlers fingers and cuddle!

As a visitor, you can walk around to all the pens and visit the elephants or just visit your fosters. The handlers are there to answer questions, let you pet your elephant, and take photos for you.

DSWT doesn’t just save elephants.  They help all creatures! On property there is also a giraffe and a blind black rhino.

This really was a unique and special experience, and I HIGHLY recommend it.  In fact, this and our stay at Giraffe Manor were the reasons for our visit to Kenya!

If you can’t make it to Kenya to see the elephants in person, you can still support DSWT by fostering an elephant or donating to their efforts.  When you foster, you get a monthly email about the progress of your foster with photos. You can foster baby elephants , adolescent elephants, adult elephants, giraffes, and rhinos!  It really is a great cause, and, after visiting and following them on social media for a few years, it seems like they run a great program that really supports the precious wildlife for which Africa is so famous. #BeKindToElephants