Saturday, July 26, 2014


Animal sightings:
(*Only sighting on trip)
*Martial eagle
Lilac-breasted roller bird
Male lion
*White rhinos
Cape buffaloes
Common zebras
*Cattle egrets
Thomson's gazelles
Defassa waterbuck
*Rothschild's giraffes
Helmeted guineafowl 
Olive baboons

Our drive from the Sarova Shaba Game Lodge to Sarova Lion Hill Lodge on Lake Nakuru was one of our longer drives: seven hours of bumpy, dusty dirt roads (and two bathroom stops):
(Photo by E. Tooke)
"Nakuru" means "dust" or "dusty place" in the Maasai language. Very appropriate.
See start and end points on map above. (Map courtesy of J. Duckworth)
As always, there was plenty to see along the way. The photos below show common sights in Kenya: a sign for a school (18 km off the main tourist road), men on motorbikes . . . 
. . . an assortment of animals grazing alongside the road . . .

. . . and a young shepherd carrying a stick, the African equivalent of a staff:

As we climbed in elevation (Lake Nakuru is at over 5,500 feet), we began to notice productive farmland:
About 15 to 17% of Kenya is fertile enough and gets enough rain to be farmed, and 7 to 8% of that is considered first-class farmland. According to Wikipedia, in 2006 75% of Kenyans made their living by farming, and about half of the crops were non-marketed subsistance farming. These fields look like they are corporate rather than individual farmland:
 According to Bob, the expert animal identifier, this may or may not be a martial eagle:
On our long drive we passed a private game reserve that was fenced and inaccessible, but through the windows of our bouncing vehicle we caught our first sight of the mighty white rhinoceros:
Not too long after that we arrived at Lake Nakuru National Park. At its largest, Lake Nakuru can cover 25 square miles. Originally, the lake alone was protected as a bird sanctuary, but then 116 square miles of additional land around the lake were added to create a national park. While over 400 bird species and 50 mammal species are found here, the park is most famous for its flamingo population and its white and black rhinos.

Since all of our fees were paid by our tour company, we were blissfully unaware that the park entrance fee is $90 per non-resident foreign adult, plus an additional vehicle fee.

Our first sighting in the park, not very far from the entrance, was a "Pinch me!" moment: our first lion of the trip! He was in the middle of an afternoon siesta right next to the road and didn't bother to get up off the sofa to greet us:
However, he also wasn't a moving target, so we got a lot of photos. Too bad it was verboten to get out of our Land Cruiser. He looks so cuddly, don't you think? Wouldn't you love to touch that beautiful orange mane and pet that silky, tawny body?  Hmmm. Look closely at that extended foot and you can see a retracted claw between the toes. Cuddly? Maybe not.

Our lodge at Lake Nakuru was inside the park. As its name indicates, the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge is set on a hill. Individual cabins are perched on terraces, and our room happened to be on the top terrace and almost the furthest one from the main lodge, but who can complain about an extra few minutes of walking in a place so wildly exotic?
We stopped at the lodge long enough to unload the luggage vehicle and eat a late lunch, and then we headed out on an afternoon drive.

Because of the 5,500+ foot elevation, the temperatures were cooler than what we'd had for a few days, and the vegetation was much greener:
Photo by M. Lewin
 Not far from our lodge was a dainty lilac-breasted roller, a gaudy bird I never tired of seeing:

Lake Nakuru can be seen in the distance, but in front of the lake are several rhinos. Where? Where?!!
There they are! Like seeing the lion earlier or elephants on days prior, it was a high point to see a rhino doing what rhinos do and have done for thousands of years, unimpeded by man--grazing in its natural habitat:

The armor-like body, heavily muscled neck, and long head topped with dual horns (I've had students with similar hairdo's) give the rhino a prehistoric or sci-fi appearance.
The rhino's horn is highly prized for its medicinal properties in some traditional Asian communities, especially Vietnam, where powder made from the horn can cost as much as gold on the black market. Therefore, rhinos are a prime target for poachers, and poaching has recently been on the rise. According to an April 2014 article in the Huffington Post, 59 rhinos were killed for their horns in Kenya during 2013, almost double the 30 killed in 2012. While there are rhinos in other African countries (especially in South Africa), there are only about 1,000 remaining in Kenya. Lake Nakuru, Kenya's first rhino sanctuary, has about 75 white rhinos, and we saw 7 or 8 of them. Black rhinos are much rarer, and only about 30 or 35 live in this park. We looked hard, but we didn't see any black rhinos, which are not really black (just like the white rhino isn't white), are smaller than white rhinos, and have pointier mouths.

Rhinos can never have a moment's peace. They either have little birds called ox peckers poking around on their backs looking for bugs, or they have cattle egrets underfoot searching for bugs and worms unearthed by heavy rhino feet.
Further down the shoreline, a herd of Cape buffalo was foraging for dinner . . . or perhaps they were waiting for dinner to come to them.
This one was waiting in the bathtub:

Even though the Cape buffalo looks like it could be related to cattle, you'll never see one being milked or pulling a cart. These beasts have never been domesticated. They are much too mean and ornery.

One of the herd elders, identifiable as such by his large, cratered horn base (called a "boss") and torn ears, takes a look at our vehicle to see if his dinner might be on board:
The rhinos and Cape buffalo we saw were passive and cute. (Okay, maybe "cute" is stretching it.) As they are both herbivores, it was hard to picture them being aggressive. However, they are among the most dangerous of the African animals and are both part of the "Big Five," or the five most difficult animals to hunt in Africa (in the days of shooting safaris), which includes the elephant, lion, Cape buffalo, rhino, and leopard. Beginning with the sleeping lion we had seen as we entered the park, we had just seen in relatively quick succession three of the Big Five. As we had seen elephants on previous drives, that left just the leopard to check off our Big Five list. Teaser: The Big Five will figure prominently in a future post. 

And yes indeed, rhinos and Cape buffalo can, like the lion, be deadly, as seen in this short National Geographic video filmed in South Africa, showing a head-to-head (or horn-to-horn) confrontation between a rhino and a buffalo.

The rest of the drive was filled with much more "pastoral" animals. These Defassa waterbuck, with their shaggy coats and white noses, are one of my favorite species of antelope.
Waterbucks, which I think resemble satyrs or some other magical animal, look
like they could have stepped right out of the pages of The Chronicles of Narnia.

As usual, we saw lots of impala, this herd sharing space with the waterbucks:

 There were also plenty of Thomson's gazelles, one of the most ubiquitous antelopes in Kenya:

Zebras were all over the place, as you can see by the varying vegetation in these photos:
A mother with a nursing baby
Lake Nakuru was the only place in the wild where we encountered one of the three types of giraffes we saw on this trip: Rothschild's giraffes.  (Later in the trip we saw more at a special giraffe park in Nairobi.) They are distinguished by their white legs, more ragged and lighter-colored spots than the reticulated giraffes we'd seen earlier, and yellowish-colored lines between the spots rather than white lines.
Mama and baby Rothschild's giraffes
Side-by-side, the differences are easy to see. On the left is a reticulated giraffe that we saw in Buffalo Springs National Reserve, and on the right is a Rothschild's giraffe in Lake Nakuru:
With fewer than 670 Rothschild's giraffes still in the wild, this is one of the most endangered giraffe species. There are, however, about 450 in zoos around the world, and there are several successful breeding programs.
Photo by M. Edwards
Lake Nakuru is famous for its thousands, sometimes millions, of flamingoes that feed on the algae on the shallow lake's surface. The population varies greatly from year to year, and our year (or at least our day) wasn't an especially good one. Still, there were plenty of flamingoes on the lake. Unfortunately, we didn't get very close:
. . . and had to rely on powerful telephoto camera lenses:
Photo by M. Edwards
Photo by M. Edwards
We didn't see all of the other 400 bird species in the park, but we did get some great shots of the helmeted guineafowl. I have seen these birds in zoos, but I didn't realize how bizarre they really are. The scrawny, overly-made up head doesn't match the obese, inflated body barely balancing on two ugly legs:
And what's with the color combination? And that weird hairdo? And the polka dots?
Photo from Wikipedia
This is a bird with too much time, money, and beauty shop-access on its hands . . . er, claws.
In my journal I noted that we never drove more than a minute or two without seeing another animal or a herd of animals. The untouched beauty of the place made us wish we could stay another day.

Well, time to start heading back for dinner.
As we neared the lodge, we were greeted and escorted home by a troop of olive baboons.
They climbed the trees alongside the road to stand sentry:

Some were more attentive than others. I don't think this one is going to get a promotion anytime soon:
They acted as guides on the road, making sure we knew the way:
And they provided on-the-job training for newcomers:

Back at the lodge, the chef was preparing haute cuisine for guests flying in and on a tight schedule:
Bird seed mixture being spread on a branch
It was a beautiful evening in a luxuriant setting where somehow the green seemed greener than green:
Our own dinner was at least as luscious as what had been prepared for the feathered feasters:
Food photos by Bob (of course)

Finally, we enjoyed a bit of African Broadway:
The dancers were very different in appearance from the tall, lean Samburu people
we had visited the day before. These dancers were much stockier and lighter skinned.
. . . before turning in to dream of Cape rhinoffalo and zeraffes and guineamingoes . . . or something like that!

Next: On the road to the Maasai Mara National Reserve


  1. Amazing video of the rhino taking it to the cape buffalo. Reminded me of a mad Mike Tyson - wouldn't want to be in the same ring. Loved the guineafowl and loved how the lodge cultivated and encouraged the bird visitors. We needed to spend more time at Lake Nakuru. Truly a remarkable place.

  2. So much variety: docile animals, hostile animals, beautiful creatures, exotic creatures, fanciful creatures, plain creatures. I like the close-up of the cape buffalo. He looks so tame, but after watching the video, I think I'd avoid him.

  3. You're a funny girl, with some of your descriptions. Must have been wild/cool to have the baboons guide/lead you in to where home was. I love seeing all the birds, the animals. What a day!

  4. This tour starts in Nairobi and end up in Nairobi
    .Lake Nakuru express tour is
    a full day trip to the Great rift Valley escarpment, 160kms from Nairobi. Lunch is taken before an afternoon game
    drive. On return journey there is stop at Lake Naivasha where bird watchers will delight in the fantastic array of
    bird life among the acacia trees