Wednesday, July 9, 2014


It is a challenge to write about a long safari because in some respects, every day is alike. On most days we had breakfast followed by a morning safari drive. We were back for lunch, and then had another safari drive in the afternoon, returning for dinner and bed. Honestly, before the trip when I envisioned day after day of driving around looking for animals, I was worried that it would get boring. In addition, I tend to get motion sickness, and the thought of bumping along on dirt roads for a couple of weeks didn't sound like my dream vacation.

However, I did not find this to be the case. The big surprise was that every drive was a new adventure, every day had its unique moments and sightings, and I never got bored. As for the motion sickness, I had come prepared with scopolamine patches (the kind worn behind the ear that are often used by people on cruises), and they were generally pretty good at preventing any problems.

I have decided that the best way to write about this experience is to begin by giving an overview of the location of a drive, and then list the animals we saw on that drive. That way if someone is looking for a post about a particular animal, it will be easy to scan the list at the beginning. Also, a list will show the variety of animals we saw every day, which is what made this trip so amazing. I will follow the list with photos of some of the animals and a little commentary.

Here we go!

After the long drive from the Kenya Mountain Lodge to the Sarova Shaba Lodge, we had lunch and a short rest, and then we headed out on our first real safari in the Buffalo Springs National Reserve, 51 square miles on the southern side of the Ewaso Nyiro river (the river that runs through the lodge property).  The other side of the river is the Samburu National Reserve. Buffalo Springs was a great place to begin.

Those marked with an * are unique to this particular area of Kenya
Termites (or at least their homes)
*Beisa oryxes
*Reticulated giraffes
Common zebras and *Grevy's zebras
Black-backed jackal
Grant's gazelles
Nile monitor
Vervet monkeys
Superb starlings
White great heron
Red billed hornbill
Yellow billed hornbill

At an altitude of about 3,000 to 4,000 feet and less than 100 miles north of the equator, the Buffalo Springs Reserve is hot and dry. Flat-topped acacia trees spread their thorny branches threateningly across the arid landscape. 

 Ominous storm clouds moved in overhead . . .
  . . . but were unwilling to dampen the land before moving on.
 Water is at a premium here:
There is plenty of dirt, so it's a great place for castle building if you happen to be a termite
This termite's sand castle was not far from our lodge and was surrounded by goats.
Another termite mound later in the drive
One of the animals we saw only on this drive was the gerenuk, an African antelope with impossibly long, spindly legs, a giraffe-ish neck, and huge ears protruding almost horizontally from a delicate head:
They graze on the prickly acacia bushes, typically standing gracefully on their hind legs:
Photo by EDT

Another animal we saw only in this reserve was the East African or beisa oryx. They have distinct facial and body markings:
. . . and parallel horns found on both males and females:
 The horns can grow as long as four feet:
We saw the first of many herds of Grant's gazelles, the larger of the two species of gazelles in East Africa:
Our first truly exciting encounter was our first of many giraffes. (A group of giraffes is called a "tower.") There are three types of giraffes in East Africa--reticulated, Rothchild's, and Masai--and Buffalo Springs was the only place where we saw reticulated giraffes:
There are at least seven giraffes in this photo. Can you see all of them?
While so ungainly because of their lanky, super-stretched legs and necks, they have a particular grace that is unmatched by any other animal I've seen. Their walk is just slightly above slow-motion, and they have a knack for walking in rhythm with each other with their necks in parallel lines.
Seeing giraffes--and we saw a lot on this trip--was a thrill we never tired of. I'll be posting many more giraffe pictures!
Reticulated giraffes (also known as the Somali giraffe) and the Rothschild giraffes are the subspecies most common in zoos. According to Wikipedia, there are about 5,000 reticulated giraffes left in the wild and about 450 in zoos. The reticulated giraffe is distinguished by its crazy-quilt patterned skin made up of large, polygonal, often reddish spots divided by thin white lines:
They can grow as tall as 18 feet and can weigh as much as 2,600 pounds. The photo below of a giraffe walking among an oryx herd gives you an idea of their majestic size.

Their height comes in handy for grazing in acacia trees, but how do they escape the trees' thorns?
Some acacia trees have longer thorns than others. This is a short-thorn version.
 Ah . . . that feels so good! Looks like the horns do have their uses:
We saw lots and lots of zebras in Africa, but we saw the subspecies of Grevy's zebras only in Buffalo Springs:

The most obvious difference between a Grevy's zebra and the common zebra is the Grevy's white belly. The Grevy also has a lighter nose and much thinner stripes:
Grevy's zebra, with its white belly and thin stripes
Common zebra. Note its black nose and wider stripes that circle underneath the belly.
Found only in Kenya and Ethiopia, there are only about 3,000 Grevy's zebras left (down from 15,000 in the 1970s). We would see hundreds, maybe even thousands of common zebras like the ones above and below, but no more Grevy's.

The black-backed jackal is quite a bit smaller than a coyote, but they are supposed to be very vicious. I like the very distinct mohawk stripe of silver-laced black fur on their backs:
(Photo by JKM)
The most beautiful African antelope, in my opinion, is the male impala. Its lyre-like horns and three-toned body are elegant and its bearing is majestic. The males act as if they are the upper class, at least among antelope species.
Impalas have very distinctive black lines that run from their rumps down their legs and tails:
So . . . did you notice anything wrong with the impala in the picture above?  Here he is again:
The fact that he's missing a horn is almost hidden in profile, but it's a lot more noticeable from other angles:
I'll end with a few of the birds we saw, including the great white heron:
The red billed hornbill:
A yellow billed hornbill:
 And my favorite, the superb starling with its truly superb iridescent feathers:

 About four hours after we first set out, the sun approached the horizon . . .
 . . . and the light began to fade:
On our way back to the lodge we saw a troop of baboons alongside the road. Like us, they were headed for home.
That's a lot of animals for a day's drive, isn't it? We expected to have to hunt for the animals, but animals were everywhere. The numbers and variety were stunning.
Sunset over Buffalo Springs National Reserve
It had been a magnificent day, and there were many more to come.


  1. Now you're to the good stuff. The oryx and giraffes on that first day were just stunning. Just a thrill for me. I also loved the hornbills which were mostly seen just there, as well as the gerenuks. In many respects Buffalo Springs was my favorite of the parks, because of the uniqueness of the animals and how desolate it was - yet so full of wildlife.

  2. As I looked at the first few pictures, my thought were about how stark, barren, and colorless this part of Africa is. No wonder they've been blessed by such unique and beautiful animals and a people with a love of colorful dress.

    Looking forward to more!

  3. The gerenuk could be mistaken for an ET when it's standing on its rear legs facing you. What an amazing adventure!

  4. I vote for the gerenuk, and before I had read this I didn't even know it existed. Beautiful landscape, esp. with your photos in the waning sun.