Amboseli and the Kenya drought of 2022

Maasai giraffe at a water hole where the body of a dead giraffe lays prone

The road was bumpy and the wind was cool blowing through the sides of the open 4 x 4 vehicle.

I felt a slight mist on my face and saw the evidence of the water droplets on my hiking pants.

And I began to cry.

Tears of gratitude.  Tears of hope.  

Hope that the mist was a symbol of the rains to come.  

Hope that the rains this time would be enough to start and sustain growth of the grass and plants.   Food desperately needed by man and animal.

Many parts of Kenya are in a severe drought.   The worst drought since 2008.   And news media is now saying the worst drought in 40 years.

It's hard to understand because Amboseli has water and you'll see pictures in this post (and probably in social media) of water.  

The swamp areas are fed underground by Mt. Kilimanjaro BUT there has been NO RAIN and NO RAIN = NO FOOD.    

The animals are starving to death.  In this cases drought = starvation.

According to a report released in early November by the Kenya's Ministry of Tourism, 

“The Kenya Wildlife Service Rangers, Community Scouts, and Research Teams counted the deaths of 205 elephants, 512 wildebeests, 381 common zebras, 51 buffalos, 49 Grevy’s zebras, and 12 giraffes in the past nine months”.

Hundreds of thousands of people are also impacted as is their livestock.

The drought is impacting the tourist regions of Samburu, Amboseli and Tsavo.  Of course, it is impacting other regions of Kenya that as a tourist, I am not familiar with.

I was a little nervous to come on safari in Amboseli due to the drought but I also know that tourism brings much needed funds to the locals, so I decided not to change this part of my trip.

I

WAS

NOT

PREPARED . 

I've seen some really hard things while on safari but I was not prepared for the carnage of the severe drought.

WARNING!

Many pictures in this article are very difficult to see...they were excruciatingly hard to take.

I do have some beautiful pictures taken during the same trip later in the article - so please, buckle up and proceed so you can be aware...

because with awareness brings change.

I became numb as we drove from the airstrip on our first game drive.

We started counting carcasses and within minutes we stopped because there were too many.

Every corner we went around there were carcasses.   Sometimes one or two, sometimes we could see 6-8 with one glance.

a picture showing 5 carcasses with animals trying to graze in the background

This image shows 5 animals that died from starvation while some other animals try to get some nutrients out of the remaining grass

They were in different states of decay.   Some had just died.  Too weak to continue, the bodies just laying there with eyes that could no longer see.

a dead zebra laying on the ground

Others had been scavenged completely and others had part of them gone and parts still in tact, eaten by scavengers.

a skinny wildebeest carcass partially eaten
The carcass of a gazelle which had not been touched by scavengers
Another carcass of an animal that starved to death
A carcass of a very skinny animal from starving

This is the time for scavengers.   But even with all the lions, hyenas, jackals, and vultures, they can't keep up with so much death.  There is rotting flesh everywhere.

And with weak animals all around, they preferred to hunt to get fresh meat.

a lioness with a death grip on a wildebeest neck

The wildebeest was too weak to defend itself or stand up and the lioness takes advantage.

We saw animals so weak they struggled to walk.  

We saw animals so thin they looked like a wind would certainly blow them over.

a very thin starving wildebeest

A very thin wildebeest photographed with a long lens thru the windshield as to not startle him

the back of a healthy wildebeest

A healthy wildebeest taken a few days later in the Maasai Mara - an area not effected by the drought.

I wasn't prepared.  

I could never be prepared to see this, smell it, and stand by helplessly watching the animals I love so much suffer.  

For me, it was like my soul had been torn into pieces.

The drought has had the worst effect on the wildebeest.  The live ones were so skinny and weak.   I'm sure the number of wildebeest bodies we saw was in the hundreds.   Next was zebra and then gazelles.   

On top of all those dead bodies, we also saw one  giraffe and 3 elephants including a baby.

Maasai giraffe at a water hole where the body of a dead giraffe lays prone

3 giraffe at a water hole. A dead giraffe lays on the side probably too weak to stand after drinking

Seeing the elephant carcasses was the hardest for me because not only are they my favorite animal but also because the government comes and cuts the tusks off them so the tusks can't be sold on the black market....this leaves a hole in the front of the face - a face that had once belonged to a beautiful and sentient creature.

the carcass of an elephant with his tusks cut off

We saw this elephant just a few hours before he went down and was too weak to stand up.

An eaten carcass of an elephant

(I'm in tears just writing and remembering it.)

The toll on the people is just as bad.   The Masai people live and die with their livestock.   Livestock is their food and their money and they (the livestock and the people) are starving.

They can't grow fresh produce for themselves and they can't feed their cows, sheep, and goats which means no milk for them or their children.   Their entire wealth gone in a matter of a few months.

We went to a Masai village and I watched a beautiful young lady carry a heavy bag followed eagerly by goats and small sheep.    She opened the bag and took out fresh greens that the animals eagerly ate.   I assumed she had purchased the greens but I found out that she walked almost every day to the marsh to cut the greens and carried the heavy bag back to feed the animals.  The marsh is almost gone too.   The plants overgrazed and the water getting low.

The young Masai woman walked through land that had lions, hippos, buffalo, hyena, elephants and snakes.

Risking her own life with every step so she could bring grass to her charges.

Buying grain and feed isn't an option in this remote area.   There is no money and no supply.

Some NGOs (non-profits) and to a small extent the Kenyan government have been helping where they can with food for the people and hay for the wildlife.   Big Life Foundation has set up 2 feeding stations - knowing they can't possibly save them all, they found the routes of the most vulnerable and feed 10 bales of hay at each location every day.

The day we left, the government came into the park to lay hay for the wildlife.

It's an impossible task.   There are too many animals to save them all.  The only thing that can save these people and animals is a good and proper sustained rainfall.

Enough rain over an extended period of time so the grasses and marshes can regrow and so the trees can regenerate.

I realize droughts are a common part of nature.  As are floods and fires and so many other things.   But I have to wonder, why are they coming so much more frequently and severely...or do I have to wonder?

Have you ever been to a city with an air quality warning?   The air pollution causing difficulty to breath?   How can we even question if our pollution is hurting our planet?

It makes me wonder how I could live a better life with less impact on the planet?   Can I do more/better?   I know I can.

Can you imagine if every person just did one little thing to help the planet (plant a tree, recycle, buy products with less waste, buy used instead of new, etc) the impact we could have on our planet in a good way?

Will these changes save the weak animals I just saw?  No.  They won't.  But maybe, if we all change just a little bit, the next drought or flood won't come so soon or be as severe.   And being a better steward of the Earth certainly won't hurt anyone or any animals or plants or trees or rivers or oceans.

Please comment below if you have ideas of a  small change that would have a good impact on the planet.

The pictures of the carcasses in this article were taken on the last day as we drove around our camp and then to the airstrip.   I had decided I needed to write this article and that I needed to show the carcasses so I took the pictures of the dead and of the weak. 

These carcasses pictures were all within a 10-15 minute drive from our camp.  I did not post them all.  I couldn't photograph them all.  The very essence of my soul was torn and I had to stop photographing them.


If you are thinking of visiting Kenya and any of the parks mentioned above, I say please go.  

Don't let this article dissuade you.   There are many beautiful things to see in Amboseli and all over Kenya.

There are healthy populations of elephant and beautiful sunrises and sunsets and lions and hyenas and cheetahs and so much more..

If you do come to Kenya, maybe you could bring a few extra dollars and buy some handmade goods from the locals.


A few of the beautiful and fun images I took in Amboseli that will hopefully lighten your heart.   

sunrise with a silhouette of a giraffe and wildebeest

Image taken by my guide Junior with my iPhone

photo of an elephant with big tusks - his name is Craig
Flamingo with a reflection
A baby hyena
A lioness at sunrise
A lion cub

If you would like to help with the current situation, Big Life Foundation is accepting donations for hay and water for the wildlife,  the people, and the livestock in and around the greater Amboseli ecosystem.   


Another great organization that is helping is Amboseli Trust for Elephants.  
From their Facebook page:

"Some (organizations) are already focusing on feeding wildlife & livestock which helps save some lives but there are many more issues that require action. We are therefore putting our resources into working with our partners on:⁠

1) Primary school nutrition as well as feeding elderly community members ⁠

2) Borehole restoration from elephant damage, and construction of elephant proofing, as well as wildlife troughs.⁠

3) Livestock nutrition and health support - one of the biggest challenges right now are heavy parasite loads in both livestock and wildlife. This initiative will support livelihoods, and protect wildlife health by efforts to manage parasite burden.⁠

⁠As many of you know our work is entirely reliant on donations. If you wish to make a donation please visit our website" https://www.elephanttrust.org/donation-online/


And one last little note.    Most of my posts are about happy and cute and fun things... so if you are interested in wildlife and are new here -- please subscribe below to my newsletter which is sent out periodically through the year.


The right place at the right time…rescuing 2 herders from a charging lioness

Her beautiful amber eyes changed from soft and alert to cold and piercing.

They looked like they could burn holes into a 10 foot wide concrete wall.

The air changed too.   You could feel it on your skin and in your gut.

It's one thing to know the lioness was a fierce predator.  But, it's so easy to forget when you watch them relaxing and walking gracefully, playing with their cubs.   It's so easy to forget even with the evidence of a dead buffalo right behind her.

It's another thing to see her become that fierce predator.  The shift happened in a millisecond.  In her eyes, her posture, the air, her voice.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was on safari in Ol Pejeta Conservancy.   A fabulous conservancy and rhino sanctuary.   I was traveling with my friend Michelle who had never been on an African safari and my sister Lynne who has been on safari a handful of times.  We were guided by James Mwenda of Jemu Expeditions.

The morning started out by photographing giraffe and then  hyenas (fierce predators in their own right - but they are so cute and fluffy and funny - it's hard to remember the other side of their nature).

2 Reticulated giraffe peek around a tree
a young hyena walking

One of the other guides told us that he saw a male lion and a recent kill.  We hadn't seen a male lion yet on this trip, so we decided to go try to find him.

The topography in Ol Pejeta has so much variety.   From huge open grasslands (because of the drought, the grasslands were super short and brown), to scrubby bushes, and large forests of acacia and other types of trees.   Their are swamps and other types too.   The variety supports a number of different species and it's a fabulous place to start a safari.  

Ol Pejeta Conservancy is well known because they are the sanctuary for the last 2 northern white rhino in the world and they only place in Kenya to see chimpanzees - a sanctuary for chimps that were rescued from the pet trade (they don't live in Kenya in the wild).

We drove awhile and found ourselves on a narrow dirt road surrounded on both sides by thick brush and bushes.

Michelle shouted stop stop stop.    

There was a lion cub very close to the road just on the outside of the bushes.

Through the very thick brush, we counted 3 cubs, mama lioness,  and the  buffalo kill was seen hidden inside the brush.   

Two of the cubs were deep in the bushes and mama was behind some branches.   Just one brave cub was out in the open.

a lion cub in the grass looks at us

The bushes were not far from the road - probably about 10'.

We were photographing from the windows to get under the branches but mom was so hard to see so Lynne stood up to see if she could see mama's face clearer.

I then also stood up.    The mama lioness watched us.  

Lions in tourist wildlife areas are usually very relaxed around cars.  They will often use them to lie in the shade on hot days, walk next to them, and sometimes even spray them to mark their territory.

This lioness wasn't as relaxed as others I've been around but she was comfortable.

Her deep amber eyes soft but alert.

James also wanted a different vantage point to see if he could see the male in the thick underbrush.   

He opened the roof over the driver's area and stood up.

The change in the mama lions eyes was dramatic...the change in the atmosphere was also dramatic.    

Have you ever seen soft eyes go cold and hard?   Perhaps a horror movie of a killer animal?   or perhaps in a person?  

The tingling up and down your spine, the hair on the back of your neck stands up.   All your senses get magnified.   If you haven't ever seen it, you'd recognize it instantaneously as I did.

Her soft but watchful eyes changed to daggers.   The energy in the air changed from cautious to high alert and maybe even anger.  

Everything melted away in my vision except her and her eyes.   The sounds were magnified in my ears as I listened to any sound that would indicate a tiny shift in her weight.    

It is hard to define but it could be felt on every inch of my skin and in my gut.

She was really close and could close the distance to our vehicle in one stride.    

Her amber eyes became so large and piercing they demanded all the attention in our bodies.

She started to sound a warning growl.    James sat down slowly as did my sister and I.

intense eyes on the mama lioness behind the branches

She stopped growling as soon as we sat down, but her eyes didn't soften.   We slowly drove away - no sudden movements around a lioness that was in protector mode.

We drove a few minutes trying to find the male.    

We circled and came back and then James found him under branches covered in various shades of green leaves.   He was probably about 50 yards away from mom and cubs.

When he was lying flat, you couldn't see him at all.   If he moved an ear or sat up, you could just see the outlines of his head.

We decided to have our breakfast boxes in the car watching him, hoping he'd get up or move position so we could actually see him.    

As we dug into our breakfast, Michelle saw 2 people walking on the road getting closer to where the mama lion and the cubs were hiding.

The rangers and anti-poaching teams are always on foot at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.   And we later learned that the herders also often walked from the cattle herds to the office.   

The herders have some training but not the type of training that the rangers and anti-poaching teams have....at the time we thought the men were experienced rangers.

James signaled them that there was a lion in the underbrush.   They had not seen her as she was very well camouflaged by the bushes.

As soon as they saw her, she saw them and the vocal message she sent them was undeniable -- GET AWAY FROM ME AND MY CUBS.   The throaty sound was eerie and unnerving!

Lynne and Michelle were scared and you could hear "oh my God, Oh my God" echoing thru the car.

James kept a very watchful eye.

I was certain the men would be ok.   I didn't think with their training they would be in real danger.   I don't know if that was my intuition, my gut, or just denial - my mind not wanting to consider the potential of a horrific and tragic outcome.

I could hear myself saying staying impossibly calm - "They'll be ok.  It's ok" as if my words could manifest a safe outcome.

The men quickly changed direction and cut into the underbrush on the other side of the road.

Any movement on our part could have triggered the lioness or the men so James stayed put ready, hyper vigilant and very calm and composed.

We lost sight of the men through the bushes and everything seemed to be fine.  Until...

We heard the bushes rustle (it's truly amazing how loud things sound when you are on high alert) and she was out charging towards where we last saw them with what appeared to be blood lust in her eyes.  

I can't even explain the sounds coming from her - alerting the entire pride probably hidden in the nearby bushes of the perceived threat to her cubs.

The sound so guttural and biological I'm sure all our bodies reacted the same way - with the knowledge of extreme and eminent danger.

In that same fraction of a second, James had the car racing towards the lioness.

He expertly turned the vehicle over the large dirt curb and placed the vehicle between her and the two men.     

The movement was so fast and sharp, our breakfasts went flying through the cabin of the car.   

We were grabbing things and moving them around in the car as fast as possible so the men could get into the vehicle and into safety.

Mama lion was PISSED.   You could see it in her eyes and her stance and you could feel it in the air.   

I was silently praying that she would not redirect that anger towards us and charge the car.    

She stood her ground.

Once the men were safely in the car, James quickly and efficiently backed the car down the road to give the angry lioness space to calm down as well as the rest of us to gather ourselves.

After a few moments of silence the rush of voices started as often happens in high tension scenarios.    

The men had never been charged by a lion before.   We found out that they were herders.    

They had been watching a herd of buffalo on the other side of the road and didn't see the lioness due to the heavy underbrush until we pointed her out from the car.  (Buffalo are very dangerous as well and for them, that was the threat.)

We showed them where the male lion was.   The cubs were now with the male.  Mama at some point during the ordeal must have commanded them to go hide with him.

James explained that the growling she had done when she saw the men alerted the rest of the pride including the male.   

James was quite certain the lioness would not have hurt the men but that since the male was on high alert, he may have especially if the herders continued on their path and "bumped" into him.

The rangers and anti-poaching team are trained extensively on how to handle being around dangerous and aggressive animals.   However, every day they put their lives on the line and any day, they can be killed by the animals they protect or by poachers.

We were also told that the lioness was well known to be very aggressive and has sent many experienced rangers up the thorny acacia trees.

Do you believe in fate?   That things happen for a reason?   I usually don't...but the night before, it was raining, so James put the glass windows back in the vehicle.   Usually the sides of the car were just open with no windows and just very large openings.    

Had the windows been off the car, the lioness could have easily jumped into the vehicle and taken her aggression out on us.   Had the windows been removed, all of us would have had a much different and much scarier experience.

The vehicle with the windows taken out

Photo courtesy of @Michelle Osterhus

We decided on the spur of the moment to have a boxed breakfast that day and we luckily spotted the male under the trees once when he sat up and decided to eat breakfast there-- otherwise we would NOT have been there.

breakfast all over the car which James cleaned up beautifully once we were in a safe area

Breakfast all over the car. James cleaned it beautifully once we were in a safe area

After cleaning the vehicle, we had to go back through the road to get out.   The mama lion and male lion were much calmer but we just drove through to give them space.

The information was quickly passed through the tourist vehicles so that the drivers would stay away from the area to give the lions a rest.

mama lioness a bit calmer after some time
One of the male lions

The rangers, anti-poaching teams, herders, and staff risk their lives EVERY SINGLE DAY to help ensure the safety of the wildlife, the wild places, and the clueless visitors stay safe.   

Something I will never ever forget again.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy is about a 4.5 hour drive North from Nairobi.   They work with the locals and use the land as a wildlife sanctuary as well as a working cattle farm.  It is a beautiful example of how humans and wildlife can live peacefully side by side (with a few scary moments here and there.)

There has never been a "successful" lion attack on humans in the conservancy.   Many charges and many men up in trees, but no one has ever been injured by a lion.


James Mwenda, founder of Jemu Expeditions was a ranger in Ol Pejeta for 3 years and then became the caretaker for Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino in the world.   He also cared for Najin and Fatu, the last female Northern White Rhinos.  

 He is the bushman that is very concerned about our world and environment.   You can find his podcast on Spotify called Conservation Couch where he and 3 others discuss the world and what we can do to respect it. 

He now organizes and leads safaris through Kenya and other areas of East Africa for conservation minded guests.


This and other stories will be available in my book

Safari Tales

Coming mid-2023


Rwanda – An intro to the wildlife and nature lover’s paradise

a picture of the layers of hills in the mist

Rwanda is referred to as the land with 1000 hills.  Unfortunately, I only saw a small part of the country on the road from Kigali to the Volcanos National Park, but what I saw has me itching to experience more.

picture of the world map with a pin to show the location of Rwanda

The pin on the worlld map shows where Rwanda is located.  
It is a is a small country in East Africa (see bottom left).
Kigali is almost in the center of the country (circled in red on the bottom right picture) and Volcanoes National Park is on the Northern country boundary (also circled in the map on the bottom right).   The mountain range spreads through Rwanda, Uganda, and The Democratic Republic of Congo.

Map of Africa with Rwanda highlighted
A map of Rwanda with the city of Kigali and Volcanoes National Park highlighted

The sights that drew me in also make me want to learn landscape photography because everywhere you looked, it had hundreds if not thousands of green hues and the textures abounded from the different farm produce and foliage.  The farm terraces meandering up the hills were mesmerizing. 

We didn’t stop for photos, so a few iPhone clicks out the window of a moving land rover was all I could manage.  Even had we stopped for photographs, I knew my skills would never have done the beauty justice.

a picture of the green hills of Rwanda
kids hanging onto a truck to get up the hill



The hills were steep in some places, so the kids (and young adults) would use trucks to help pull them up.   The man in orange on his bike is holding onto the truck (it's hard to see in this picture).

The trip to Rwanda was to trek and photograph mountain gorillas.  I’ve done it before and remember with vivid clarity how much the experience moved me and I was excited to do it again.

a mama gorilla keeping an eye on her baby

It is impossible to describe what it is like to be on the ground with nothing between you and the gorilla except lush vegetation.  The feeling that encompasses you when you get a sneak peek into their lives can move you to tears.  

The experience stays with you long after the 1 hour time limit expires.  In fact, my first 2 gorilla treks were about 35 years ago in Zaire and I still remember the names of the 2 silverbacks I “met”.  (Naninja and Moshamooka for the record).  But that’s a story for another day.

close up portrait of a mountain gorilla

Rwanda is a country with a tumultuous and violent past.   A visit to the genocide museum is really a must see for all visitors and I strongly believe every world leader should learn the history of what happened in this country.  Many books have been written and there is no way to do it justice in this short article, so I won’t write the details here but you can search Rwanda genocide to read about this incredibly tragic past.   

entrance to the Kigali Genocide museum

As a visitor, you would never guess the violent past.  Many will talk of their own personal experience if asked but the country is incredibly peaceful and clean and very safe for tourists and citizens alike with an incredibly low crime rate.  I felt incredibly comfortable as a tourist in Rwanda.

The people were amazingly kind and friendly.  Music and dancing is a love for them.

Another fabulous stop is the Diane Fossey Research Center.   The center was very informative with pictures, videos, and information posters all about the mountain gorillas and the work being done to save them.

A picture of the thank you sign at the gorilla research center
Picture of me standing next to the height measuring stick of a gorilla

Visiting Rwanda, even now, during Covid, was quite easy.    They asked for a vaccine card (but at the time a vaccine was not mandatory) and a negative PCR test.   Upon arrival in Kigali, we had to get another test which cost an additional $50.   As the entrance requirements are constantly changing all over the world – be sure to check to see the current requirements to leave yourself enough time if quarantines are mandated.

The biggest tourist draw to Rwanda is the mountain gorillas.   But Rwanda also has many beautiful wildlife parks that I have yet to visit.   I plan on extending my next trip here so I can visit some of the other areas of Rwanda.  I have heard great things about the other parks and if you visit the other parks, you can get a discount on your mountain gorilla permit (which at the time I visited in October 2021, the fee was $1500).  Again, be sure to look at the current requirements and rates as these things tend to change rapidly.

I highly recommend a visit to Rwanda.  If you are a nature lover, it must go on your bucket list.  Like all tourist destinations around the world, Rwanda was hurt by the pandemic and are now welcoming tourists with open arms.   Go as soon as you can!!


SAFARI TIPS

  • Rwanda is normally an add-on destination to a safari in Kenya or Tanzania

  • Rwanda is trying to promote it's other parks to be a destination on it's own - I haven't visited the other locations so I don't have an opinion but talk to an African Safari Specialist is you are considering that as an option!

  • You can also see mountain gorillas in Uganda but my understanding is the trekking is much more difficult (it is less money).   I plan on visiting Uganda in the next few years.

  • You can also see mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo - personally, I would not go there at this time for safety reasons

  • Gorilla trekking is not usually a first-time safari goers trip but it can be and I highly recommend seeing the gorillas!

  • Be sure to work with an AFRICAN SPECIALIST with experience in both countries so they can give you the correct advice for your specific desires



Visit my Youtube channel for the hotel review of the Kigali Serena Hotel 

The lodge review for Mountain View Lodge is coming soon!

The articles about my mountain gorilla experiences are coming soon!

A glance into the life of a 6-month old LEOPARD cub

Leopards:   Elusive, powerful, somewhat scary.    One of the original BIG FIVE.   A safari goers dream sighting. 

There is something about a leopards amber eyes, the way he moves, the silkiness of his coat, the length of his whiskers, the pattern of his fur, the strength and athleticism that just draws people in and I am no exception.

The leopard - up close and personal

Look how he balances on that little branch! Athleticism

With the leopard usually being the most difficult to see of the big five (and even more challenging to spend time with), imagine the absolute thrill of seeing a leopard cub!

I've been one of the lucky ones to catch many glimpses of leopard cubs.

young leopard cubs

But this is the tale of one sighting of an approximate 6 month old leopard cub from Sabi Sabi, South Africa,  that gave us a peak into about 45 minutes of her day and her mom, known as Ntsumis, the hero.

I was on a group photographic workshop run by Wild-Eye.   Our vehicle got the call that there was a leopard sighting and we were in the general vicinity of the sighting trying to find the leopard mom and cub.

Then from nowhere, we heard an ANGRY elephant bellow.   It's an eerie sound that somehow touches you all the way to your bones.   We could FEEL it as well as hear it.

Elephants are one of my favorite animals.   I could sit in a herd for days on end and never get bored with watching and listening to them.  Their social structure is fascinating.  The sound the elephants make - even quiet walking and the sound of the grass being torn from the earth - keep me mesmerized.  Everything about them fascinates me.

However, angry elephants are DANGEROUS elephants.   The power behind them is enough to break trees and flip trucks.  They can kill lions and throw buffalo into the air.

We drove around the corner and saw one elephant eating in the thick brush.  We drove a bit further and we saw another elephant even deeper in the brush, at the moment, neither appeared angry.

Elephant deep in the brush

.... and then we saw HER.   A small 6 month old leopard cub.   She skitted from the open grassy area back into the thick bush where the second elephant was eating.  

There was a ruckus from the bush and a tree started shaking...

Where is she?  WHERE IS SHE?

A glimpse of leopard spots thru the branches

Leaves shaking further up the tree

AND THE ELEPHANT

She had definitely caught his attention again

His trunk up high in the air poking into the branches of the tree trying to find her

And further up, branches rustling and moving...she's climbing further up

A glimpse of the spot pattern

The elephant getting angrier

A loud crunching sound and the tree stats to bed over from the weight of the elephant pushing it over

Adrenaline and fear in the car for the cub's life...

Looking for escape routes for her - as if somehow we could telepathically help her escape

Then from nowhere -mom came  

Straight up the tree 

Larger spots through the tree branches

More shaking... more pushing...

Then, the elephant backed of

I would have LOVED to have heard the conversation between the leopard mama and the elephant

What did she do?

A leopard is no threat to an elephant

We had no visual of what transpired in the thicket except that the elephant stopped trying to knock the tree down

The mama leopard after the elephant left the area

And then mama and baby walked briskly out of the thicket

Phew... a relief that could be felt in the air

Can you imagine how scary that must have been for the leopard cub?

A huge elephant trunk pushing through those branches at her - smelling and snorting

Her normally secure footing in the tree being shaken by the elephant determined to knock the tree over

Confident by her mom's side again, we followed the pair thru the thickets of South Africa.  It was getting dark and we didn't know if mom was going to go hunting or taking her to a new hiding place.

Walking through tall grass and thickets

Mama and baby off to their next adventure

Leopards, although incredibly powerful are constantly in danger.  The cubs more so, but even adults can be killed by lions, buffalo, a pack of hyena, and even a troop of baboons can kill and adult leopard.  

Cubs can be easily killed by the above and also by male leopards.   They also don't have the experience that an adult has to evade a pursuer.

It was getting very dark and even though the reserve allows spot lighting nocturnal animals, since she was so young, she could not be lit with artificial light.  

It appeared that mama had hidden her to go hunting and we were gathering ourselves to leave also.

When all of a sudden, the title girl was back on the road, out of her hiding spot - and a distance behind her, we saw 2 hyenas approaching.

Hyenas will often follow other predators in hopes of stealing an easy meal.  They would not hesitate for an instant to kill the young cub.

Even though hyenas killing a leopard cub is the natural way of life in the bush, it is something that no one in my vehicle wanted to witness.   Some things in nature are so much harder to witness than others.

We held our breath - and you can hear in the video below..

the concern and relief when the cub scampered up a tall tree to safety. (Video courtesy of Gerry van de Walt of Wild-Eye.)

We had to back up the vehicle to allow nature to do what she was going to do and waited with bated breath - all we could see was the silhouette of the tree with the cub head and tail sticking out of the V in the tree.

We could also barely see the hyena and with a huge sense of relief, we saw them lose interest and leave the area.

We could continue our journey with the knowledge that the little cub had survived at least for one more night.

I don't know if this was an average 45 minutes for the cub, or if it was one of her more extreme hours... it makes me wonder - how much goes on in the wild that no one ever sees?   How remarkable is it that any cubs survive to adulthood?

I follow the Sabi social channels and have not seen an update...but the awesome Ranger Graeme from Sabi Sabi  read the story and messaged me with an update.   The cub is doing well and is growing like crazy!!!!

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts about this little leopard cub and a brief look into her life!   

Did you like this safari tale?   

Lipstick – My tribute to this majestic lion, Masai Mara Kenya

My love affair with Kenya started 26 years ago.   Oh, I could tell you it’s because of the people – so kind, welcoming, and generous of spirit…or because of the amazing animals and wildlife areas.   But truly, it’s always been because of the way being in Kenya makes me feel.    From the first moment I placed my foot on the ground, I truly felt a sense of home, of acceptance, of belonging.

My emotions in Kenya run the gamut from awe and wonder to anguish and heartbreak.  Mother Nature is truly at her finest in Kenya and nature shows all of her sides.

After a 23 year absence, my love for Kenya was rekindled in August 2015 – and once again, my heart was set on fire.  During that trip, I “met” some of my favorite big cats.  My curiosity and desire to know more about them, has had me return time and again to Kenya.

This is my story of “Lipstick”.   I didn’t know his name the first time I saw him, but the first day I got to spend time with him is etched in my memory forever.

August 26, 2015

On our mad dash back to the lodge because it was late and getting very dark –  we spotted them – the BIG BOYS!    The ones I have been dying to see.    2 big black-maned lions!    We couldn’t stay – it was late and getting really dark….so a quick snap and then lots of prayers to the universe that we would get to see them again.

The Magnificent Lion, Lipstick, from the Masai Mara, Kenya. My first sighting of the big black mane lions of the Mara
August 28, 2015

The morning came quickly as it always did – crisp and cold, so unexpected when you are in Africa.   I was beyond excited for the day – because today, I get to be with one of my favorite guides, Edwin alone!   Everyone else in my photography group chose to visit a village – which left me alone on safari.

Edwin asked me what I wanted to see.  The guides really can’t control what nature shows us, but they DO have this uncanny 6th sense of finding situations and animals.

So, I told him – I wanted the big black-maned boys!   Like the ones we had seen 2 days before.  So off we went in the dark of the morning, headlights on, to search for these magnificent lions.

About 15 minutes out of camp, Edwin stopped the car and pointed.   I have no idea how he saw anything – the migration was late this year and the honey-colored grass was tall – probably over 5′ in some areas AND it was still really dark!  I figured he saw rocks – but we decided to get closer to see what we could see.

And there they were – 2 of the most beautiful lions I had ever seen.   They had these magnificent black manes and were HUGE!   There were also lionesses and cubs a little ways off finishing their meal from the night before.

Lipstick with his lady friend. Pre-dawn in August 2015. My first chance to spend time with the beautiful black-maned lions.

Edwin and I stayed with the pride for over 2 hours.   I didn’t see much of Lipstick that day, as he chose to stay in the tall grass with his “lady friend”, but my love for him and his brother, Blackie, their “girls” and cubs started that day.    I spent the 2+ hours watching and photographing the moms and the cubs, and Blackie came out of the grass for a little while too.

Blackie and Lipstick’s pride in the Masai Mara, Kenya. Mom with an older male cub. Notice his little mane tufts.
Lipstick and Blackie’s pride. I stayed with them for over 2 hours and watched the interaction between the lionesses and the cubs as well as the cubs playing together. Three cubs of different ages.
Lipstick and Blackie’s pride. A mother and her cub.
Blackie, Lipstick’s brother, interacting with one of the pride cubs.
January 10, 2016

My next encounter with Lipstick and his brother and pride was 5 months later.   My safari vehicle got a notice that there was a pride of lions on an eland kill.   The pride had successfully taken an eland sometime the day or night before.   This is a very difficult feat and demonstrated the strength and teamwork that the pride was able to maintain.   When we arrived, most of the eland was eaten.   The females and cubs, chubby from their meal were off a ways sleeping off their food coma (well, the mamas were trying – but the cubs kept using them as jungle gyms).   Blackie had just walked off and Lipstick was still feasting on dinner.   Lipstick’s tummy was protruding and round like a watermelon – but he was determined to have more.   We stayed with them for the remainder of the afternoon.

Lipstick with his super round belly continues to feast on the eland kill.

 

HE thinks that this is yummy!

 

Beautiful Lipstick in the grasslands.

 

A display of fleming – where the lion uses all his senses to “smell” the air.

 

Lipstick, such a beautiful specimen of a lion.
January 12, 2016

My group was lucky enough to see him, his brother, the cubs and mamas again a few days later.   We stayed with them most of the afternoon and mostly hung out with the mamas and cubs.   There were several ages of cubs, including one pretty tiny cub.   We thought he must have just recently been introduced to the pride because he was so little – the mom even tried to carry him a few times when he fell behind.

Regal Lipstick
Lipstick, one of the Kings
The females and cubs go off in search for shade.
Mom checking on the littlest member of the pride.
On a mission

 

The little one nuzzling with mom.

January 14, 2016

Mother nature showed her tragic side today.   It is always difficult for me to watch an animal die…but nature makes it so one animal has to die so others can survive…and whenever I see an animal being killed, I comfort myself with that thought.   Today, it was different.   Today, I had to bear witness to the baby cub from 2 days ago being killed – not for food – so there was no comfort here.    This is a very traumatic story and one for another day.

Blackie and Lipstick and the rest of the pride were not far.   But even as powerful as the two of them were, there was nothing they could (or would) do to save the little one.

After witnessing the destruction of a life so young, we went over to the Big Boys and the cubs.   The cubs didn’t seem to understand what had transpired, the other lionesses did.   Not sure if Lipstick and Blackie did or if they just “didn’t care”.   The cubs were trying Lipstick’s patience but it was nice to see them playful after witnessing such a traumatic event.    Even with Lipstick being grumpy, the
cubs still played around him anyway.

Lipstick tolerating one of the cubs.
Not too happy Lipstick being gentle with one of the cubs.
Good thing he knows how to be gentle.
July 17, 2017

I got to see my beloved Blackie and Lipstick again in July 2017.   He was with a lady friend on another honeymoon.   I only saw him on 2 occasions on that trip.  To my untrained eye, he looked to be in his prime and still extremely strong.

Looking healthy.
Beautiful Lipstick in the golden light.
Lipstick and his “lady friend”.
Creating the next set of cubs.
Wherever she goes, he will follow.
Ouch, a little blood.
Surveying his “kingdom”.
Taking a rest.
Sitting nicely for his portrait.

 

January 2018

I knew they were getting up in age and there are several young and strong coalitions in the area, so my goal on this trip was to spend as much time as possible with my beloved black maned boys.   Unfortunately, due to unexpected rains and river flooding, I was only able to see Lipstick and Blackie twice.

Lipstick starting to show his age.
Lipstick and part of his pride resting in the shade.
He looks tired here.
And he sleeps.

As I left the Mara, I had a feeling I may not see them again.    Through different facebook groups and Instagram, I am able to keep up with my beloved cats between trips.

It was with great sadness that on the morning of May 18, I saw the devastating picture of Lipstick – once a beautiful majestic huge powerful lion, reduced to skin and bones and no longer of this world.

A friend of mine gently reminded me instead of grief, I could rejoice in all the moments I got to experience his magnificence.   So, here is his tribute and some of my images of this incredibly beautiful and powerful lion.   A lion that made my journeys to the Mara that much more special and unforgettable.   May you rest in peace beautiful boy in whatever plain you belong to now.