The title of this blog post is pretty appropriate for the following story which is a brief recount of a true series of events that happened while I was in Kenya last Thursday. The day started like any other day; wake up, get ready for work, and leave for work. The difference was that this day would all be done from Kenya, Africa – as I was in country for a conference – IGF 2001 (Website: http://igf.or.ke/ ). My time was pretty much booked for the entire conference with sessions every day that I was slated to attend. On the 29th, when I awoke, I decided to review the schedule and the morning sessions. Given the progress of the previous day I decided the entire day besides one afternoon session was not really something that I would be able to contribute in or benefit from – they were just not in my space. So I tried to figure out what to do. I was already going to go flying the next morning (Flying=rent plane and fly it around the countryside) and I had taken a city tour the day before. The one day safari option was costly. In the end I bit the bullet and decided to spend the 90 Dollars for the package. When calling to book the day package I was; one hour late and they wanted another 100 dollars because the daily group had already left. I would be alone on the tour with the guide – this would turn out to be my advantage. This blog post tells the story of September 29, 2011 and the animal photography hunt that was conducted.
When we got to the preserve it was already hot out and we wasted no time in getting under way. My guide was a short man of a small build. He was very happy to have the assignment of guiding me around because he was low on money and it would help his family. He promised to do the best job possible. I thought – and wrongly, that I had received a rookie guide and the day would be a loss. We headed out and within five minutes we hit a traffic jam. Giraffes and more giraffes were blocking our progress on the path and on the only side we could pass which was on the right. Giraffes are beautiful animals and just fun to watch walk and run. If you get a chance to watch a Giraffe walk or run focus on their legs – amazing. The bumpy on road and off road photography hunt continued and we saw Impalas, Gazelles, and normal antelopes and:
- Rhino in the distance but not up close
- And a couple of planes, like the one I was renting on Friday morning, flying around
Unfortunately, the only lions that we saw were a male and female way off in the distance – and only by binoculars – I could not get a picture – and their position was unreachable. It was getting to be mid-day and the heat would most likely end the search for furry predators. My guide noticed lion tracks and pointed them out. Being an engineer/generally curious person I asked how you track a lion. He said; “well you just follow the tracks and look for other indicators”, simply put of course. He noted that with all the Zebras – and there were a huge number (more than normal even in the migration period) that a lion being around was unlikely. So I figured, based on our previous conversation, that he was excited to make money so I did what anyone would do: I offered 500 Kenyan Shillings (more or less five dollars) if he would show me how to track a lion and 500 Shillings as a bonus if we found one. The incentive worked and we were off. For all pictures including those of the lion tracks, giraffes and other animals please view: http://yonaitis.shutterfly.com/ .
We followed the tracks a bit and then lost them. The guide noticed the proximity to a watering hole and decided to look there to see if we could reacquire the path. We headed that way and the guide spotted what he thought was a dead zebra. We could not tell what it was and only see a bit of a rib cage and I asked if he could drive closer. The guide said he basically had two rules – do not go up to animals and stay on the paths and loosely called roads. He said his company did not offer an armed approach. I asked nicely and he said sure but just for a second. I later found that he could get in trouble for this and it was not actually safe. We got closer about 8-10 feet and found that it was a Giraffe – what is interesting is that this young man from Kenya and I from the USA had the exact same response. We were both saddened as we did not find a zebra like the guard thought but a giraffe. Now a giraffe can kill a lion with a well-placed kick and they are not very vulnerable to lion attack. With this in mind the guide said the animal must have been sleeping. (A couple of days later while waiting for my flight out of Africa I would learn that giraffes were pretty safe from predators but not so much near watering holes.) It is hard to describe the sadness. We went forward and found the watering hole and many more tracks than before and we assumed that the lion was walking around. It should be noted that we thought the lion had killed the giraffe in the AM as it seemed like a pretty fresh carcass, no vultures. What should be interesting here is that I the guide and I were agreeing. I have never done anything like this before. In retrospect – what I asked for and paid for – might have not been so smart.
We moved on and it seemed to get hotter by the minute. We stopped at a lookout overhang – a very high area and the guide snapped a few photos for me. The problem with traveling solo is finding someone to take pictures and it was great to get a picture for a memory today. After this it seemed like we drove for an hour and saw nothing and at this point I thought the day was over. And then I saw it. An odd rectangular shaped piece of wood – I stared and the wood moved – LION! And yes it was a lion; we broke out the binoculars and confirmed it. We drove forward 50 yards and I got a picture. The guide suggested we loop back and then see what the lion was stalking and get a head on picture. I concurred. We drove around and seemed lost. Nothing! Then I saw it, an odd rectangular shaped piece of wood-again-and so did the guide. The problem was that it was still far off. What I learned from earlier was that the guide could be incentivized with a tip and so 500 Shillings and a request that he go close to the lioness so I could get pictures. The Driver agreed.
We drove in at a 20 mile per hour clip when the vehicle stopped short; I had to stabilize myself as I almost hit my head. I said “what” and the driver said nothing. I looked out in front of the truck and I saw them, a small lion pride – three cubs and a lioness. The lioness that we were heading for was still 50 yards or so in the distance. There was a recent kill situation and the lioness we ran into was sitting in front of a dead zebra, the blood from the zebra covered the cub’s faces. We shot some photos and decided to move closer. The cubs were very handsome and had blood on their faces. They were young and still had most of their spots. From what I understand a lion reaches maturity soon after it loses its spots. I asked the driver to drive closer and he objected but did so and claimed that I needed an armed tour – tips work and they should not! As we drove closer the cubs got spooked and ran. The second lioness – that we originally were looking for, was aware that the cubs were scared and started running at the vehicle. I am unsure what I felt – I considered the thrust angles needed by my initial push to prevent the lion from getting into the vehicle. All of this happened within a few seconds.
In the end the cubs stopped running away from the truck and turned toward the lioness, stopping about 10 feet from the safari vehicle. The Lioness stopped and licked their faces and went for lunch thanks to the Zebra. I have NO Doubt IF THE CUBS DID NOT STOP THAT THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN AN INCIDENT and alas it was worth more than 1500 shillings. I shot some more pictures and we left. The guide was very proud and boastful as this was only his third time ever finding Lions in a kill situation. It was inspiring. I takeaway – be safe not stupid and above all do not be a zebra – be a lion!
P.S. It rained the next morning and I could not fly, I missed my spot. But in retrospect and if I had a choice I would change nothing.