Paparazzi and the Leopardby kenya on Jul. 02, 2012, under Life
June 25, 2012
By Fred Roberts, St. Gregory Dean of Students
For the last three days we were in Samburu Game Reserve, roughly three hours north of Batian’s View. Samburu was established in the late 1960s, along a stretch of the Ewaso Nigro River, rich with wildlife and vegetation. The river is the largest catchment for all the smaller rivers running from the north off of Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare Mountains, and is the lifeblood of the pastoral cultural groups living in the area. While one could argue that the abundance of wildlife and diversity is not what is found in the more famous parks such as the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara, Samburu is just as pretty and has a tenth of the visitors. The peace and quite of Samburu is well worth the effort in reaching this remote destination.
After entering the park we drove another hour, but going much more slowly as we stopped to watch giraffe, zebra, and many other plains animals. Since it was the early afternoon and the hottest part of the day, most of the animals were taking an afternoon siesta. Upon reaching camp we unloaded the gear and began setting up the tents. The baboons and smaller vervet monkeys took great interest in our arrival, and we quickly found out that some of the monkeys have become quite bold in finding a ‘free lunch.’ Below is Hanfei’s account of what happened soon after our arrival:
“When we reached our camp everyone was excited by the beauty of the place and wanted to look around. There was so much greenery surrounding us, and a small beach along the river right next to camp.
“After everything was set up, we were hanging out and having lunch. At this moment, danger appears. Vicky was a bit away from the group and quietly eating her sandwich. All of a sudden a baboon ran down from a tree and tried to grab her food right out of her hand! The baboon was too short to reach the food, but became tangled in her scarf instead. Several of us ran to Vicky to save her. Mr. Roberts shouted at the baboon loudly and ran towards Vicky, yelling like mad. Wisely Vicky gave her food up to the baboon, so that her brief but scary ‘food war’ with the baboon ended as quickly as it began.
“But the war is never over, because they always seemed ready to make another dash at some food at any time, so we always had to be on the lookout. Only a few of the male baboons were brave enough to try and take our food, with most of them content to eat the acacia pods in the trees overhead and watch us from a distance. It was also interesting to watch them, and see them interact in their natural environment. By the late afternoon we were ready to embark on our first official game drive, and everyone was ready to go.”
For the next two days we took afternoon and early morning game drives. Samburu is home to 13 different elephant herds, and I think we saw all of them. One was a herd of roughly 50 elephant, including two small ones that looked to be less than a year old. At first we thought they were twins, but by the way they kept close to two different females it was clear this was not the case. They did, however, play together as if they were siblings. All of the elephants in the herd seemed to keep an eye on these young ones. We also saw large crocodiles basking on the banks of the river and more plains animals coming to the river to drink.
While the elephant and plains animals were plentiful and easy to spot, high on our list of animals to see were lion and leopard. This trip to Samburu was exceptional in that we saw both, and as for the leopard we were privileged to enjoy two sightings. On the morning of our second day we followed three lions, two females and a younger male as they walked through the grass on their way to the river. At the river they drank their fill and seemed intent to cross. The Ewaso Nigro River is fairly shallow and the trio had no problem reaching a sand bank close to the opposite side. There they closely watched the deeper water next to the shore, only 15 meters away. The younger male went first, splashing his way through and having to do a short ‘dog paddle’ before reaching the bank. The two others followed soon after. They left the water and shook themselves as would a dog, and sauntered off into the bush. Less than a minute later a large crocodile exposed its snout and eyes in the very same spot. Had the lions known the croc was there? Did the croc know that to take down a lion might be too much to handle? Or was the reptile just a moment too slow in its attack? Whatever the case, it was a wonderful sighting for us.
Our first leopard sighting was on the afternoon of the first day. The animal was perched in an acacia tree, and the closest we could get was 100 meters. In all my time in Kenya, seeing a leopard, at whatever distance, is a rare treat. The cameras were clicking away, but this leopard seemed to like its privacy and it was hard to get a very good photo. On the afternoon of our second day, however, as we were headed back to camp there was a gathering of vans near a large tree in which a leopard seemed to be holding court. The predator was lounging on the large limbs with its tail whisking back and forth. We were only 50 meters away, and with our zoom lenses the cameras were clicking away. I felt like we were the paparazzi, closing in on a famous celebraty, and I think the leopard felt likewise. After 15 minutes of photos, or simply watching the leopard through the binoculars, the sun began to set and it was time to go. And for the leopard it was time for darkness and another night of hunting.
We returned to Batian’s View late this afternoon, with a hot shower on everyone’s mind. While in Samburu we hadn’t noticed the dust that left a fine patina on our clothing, but now we did! And if our clothing was a shade darker, that must mean we all were covered with the stuff. While we can wash away the dirt and dust of Samburu, nothing can ever remove the wonderful memories we now all have of visiting such an amazing place with close friends.