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Monthly Archives: January 2010

While on safari in Masai Mara, Kenya, we were intrigued by a colony of baboons nesting in a large tree on the banks of the river running through our camp. Each night, one by one, they slowly ambled toward a clearing on the savannah and settled into the equivalent of primate lotus positions to view the setting of the sun.

babyboon

Normally gregarious, boisterous and aggressive, they would remain passive, alone as if in trance until the sun dropped below the horizon and night began to fall. Read More »

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The softness of the Mara is blanketed by the sun bleached skeletons of cows, often punctuated by complete hides covering the bones, tanned by the heat and ignored by vultures. There has been too much food available for them to rip the flesh from the remains of many of these gentle beasts herded to the Mara in search of grass and water during the drought from as far away as Mt. Kenya by their keepers.

dark sky

Along the way they dropped from exhaustion, dehydration and starvation, often walking up the steep escarpment, away from the trickle of the river. When a cow goes down, that is the end, there is no help for them and they die, eyes cast toward the billowing clouds carrying moisture that they could not reach.

Only the great beauty of the Mara savannah, the majesty of the acacia and euphorbia, the drama of the escarpment, and the constant dance of life and death taking place before one’s eyes can erase the signs of death desolation caused by the drought. The Mara is truly a heaven on Earth, the birthplace of humankind, home to the greatest predators on the planet, the most graceful grazers in plentitude, and the place that the mighty Masai and their cattle inhabit with purposeful reserve.

At our camp on the escarpment, high above the plains, almost as high as the clouds that sail over the vast grassy stretches, there was a killing at night a few weeks prior to our stay. Six tents are perched on the edge of the cliff, each hidden from the next with an unobstructed view of the sunrise over the Mara. We are a five minute walk from the dining room and that is where at night, just outside the building, a male lion grabbed a zebra and ate his fill.

drought

We were asked to call for a guard via private cell phone when walking at night, and the Masai guard would walk with us, flashlight and spear in hand. Some had handmade bow and arrow. The Masai grow up guarding their flocks from lions, cheetah, and leopards. They are tough and resolute.

We are wondering how one Masai with a spear can protect us. At night, while lying awake within the tent, one hears the soft growls of the great cats talking to each other while they prowl, the beautifully odd calls of hyena as they organize a hunt, the hilarious bellowing roar of the male hippos back at the pool calling for relief from their shift at guard while the rest of their family munches grass through the fields until morning.

It is widely acknowledged in Africa that the hippo is the most dangerous animal on the continent, killing more people than any other animal if their way back to the pool is blocked. One bite is all it takes. Their huge upper and lower teeth can cut a human in half although they use their delicate lips to forage for and eat grass.

hippo

After a sunrise we took a balloon ride piloted by a colorful American who Michael met on a previous Mara trip.

As silent as a whisper, in between the firing of the hot air into the giant balloon, we glide low over the sand colored grass. Hippos are returning along their established paths to their pools. Giraffe nibble the tree tops in large groups. Herds of elephant stand motionless in the surreal morning light casting shadows seeming created by a cinematographer. Our shadow hangs against the wall of the escarpment, picking up speed as an early wind begins to gather. I can’t believe this is real. Read More »

Our driver slows the SUV, he sees something off in the distance to the right. Soon we are aware that it’s a lioness and we see that she is followed, in single file, by eight more girls, each spaced about ten feet apart. They cross the road before us and continue into a field dotted with hillocks and termite mounds. As they gather into three or four tawny furred groups, they gaze around like chiseled periscopes in their sea of grass. The alpha female remains alone at the front of the pride. Off again to the right we see two adult female warthogs with a baby. Many of her siblings have perished. One of the adults perches atop the road tailings for a better view across the road. “See the lions!” we scream silently, “Run!”

They cross the road, again one adult perching atop the tailing. She seems to notice the alpha lioness, but what about the others? To our horror, she leads the other female and the baby directly into a path through the lions, tails held high, unknowingly headed into danger. In a flash, the lions are in motion. They trap the adults and isolate the baby. She is grabbed instantly, feet wiggling, screaming in the jaws of the great cat. They let the adult warthogs run off. “She’s gone” says the driver. But she is not gone. The lioness holds her clenched firmly in her mouth for minutes as the baby squeals and tries to struggle free. We want it to be over. Read More »