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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Safari Animals

Below is an incomplete list of animals, in no particular order, seen during our 3 day safari in Kenya and documented in photos - incomplete because there were surely animals that we saw that we didn't even know we saw.. Some of them can be seen here, although not all of them were particularly good photos so you'll have to live with just a description. If you're really interested in the pictures of the ones not posted either email me or visit 

Many thanks to the 'National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife' and my colleague Dirk for helping identify the animals in the photos.

Impala: You can see where Chevy got the inspiration with these slick and graceful beasts that usually travel in groups. Also, apparently they taste bad so lions don't like to eat them.

Zebra: You know you're on safari when seeing a zebra becomes routine and not even worth stopping for a picture after a while.

Elephant: We saw lots of these and doing so never got old. Majestic and oddly graceful, their personalities were readily apparent. They usually travel in families and are colored based on the color of the water - i.e. clear water means the local elephants will be grey, muddy water they're brown. Probably one of the best moments of the entire safari was in Tsavo East where we witnessed an entire family of elephants (including babies) playing and cooling off in a mud hole after a rain.

Wildebeest: These poor guys definitely got the short end of the stick with regards to looks.

Baboon: 'Please do not feed the baboons' signs were all over the game lodges, apparently because these naked-bottomed mammals are not shy and will definitely be a nuisance if given the opportunity. They can also be dangerous thanks to sharp teeth.

Egyptian Goose: Not sure what they were doing in Kenya, but these white and red feathered birds enjoyed being close to water.

Water buffalo: Cheers to Sally, proud sponsor of her very own water buffalo through Heifer International. We saw many male and female water buffalos, but by far the most interesting time was in Tsavo East when an entire herd crossed the road in front of our van.

Sacred ibis: Tall bird with black head and tail.

Lion: Michael told us that lions mate every 15 minutes for 7 days straight. Perhaps they were tired when we saw them (or more likely the male was pretty old), but we did watch a male and female sleeping in the shade of a shrub a mere 50 ft from us in Amboseli. We caught sight of another female one of these elusive creatures in Tsavo East, just returning from a bath.

Buzzard: Easily confused with an eagle (they actually look very similar), these guys had lots of work to do in Amboseli because, due to the drought plaguing Kenya at the time, carcasses abounded.

Grey crowned crane: Caught one of these feeding next to a herd of elephants and water buffalo.

Ostrich: Awkward and feather-filled, just as you learned in elementary school.

Yellow-billed egret: Saw him hanging out with his friends the sacred ibises.

Hippopotamus: We saw some half-submerged in the semi-swamps of Amboseli, but the most unique sighting was at Mzima Springs in Tsavo West where we saw the outline of a huge hippo underwater via a submerged viewing platform that felt like something straight out of the Dharma Initiative.

Black-backed jackal: Sorry buddy, Lauren says there's nothing special about you.

Hyena: Brutish looking with long necks, we unfortunately didn't hear them laugh but did mistake a sleeping one for a lion once... not sure how that happened.

Secretary bird: Mangy looking with a funny hairdo.

Warthog: Hanging out near the elephants, these guys put on a big show for us by stopping to poop.

Thomson's gazelle: Strikingly similar to the impala and no less graceful.

Greater kudus: Stopped to pose for us but unfortunately didn't come out too clear in the photos thanks to the lack of auto-focus compatibility between my camera base and monster lens. I guess it's just an excuse to get a new camera!

Giraffe: Definitely striking, these regal animals were "probably my favorites" according to Lauren. Unlike Zebras, every giraffe sighting warranted a stop, some photos and more than a couple oos and ahs.

Water buck: Antelope family, nothing too special really. We saw quite a few of them and the females have beards whereas the men don't.

Red-headed agama: Lauren had a blast trying to watch the male mate the female but, according to Lauren, he could just never close the deal. Oh, and this all took place over lunch at the Serena Kilanguni Lodge in Tsavo West. These little showoffs (they do pushups when in the presence of a female) also made an appearance at the Voi Lodge in Tsavo East.

Dik-dik: Mini deer of sorts, these guys were very close to winning the 'cutest animal of the safari' award.

Rock hyrax: One of Voi Lodge's bars in the Hyrax Bar; and for good reason. We saw this friendly little guy hanging out on the wall right outside the entrance to the bar after lunch but decided against petting him for fear of rabies.

Hartebeest: Not as ugly as its wilde' cousin, this guy is easily confused with a water buck.

Crocodile: Mizima Springs in Tsavo West provided us the opportunity to see two of these deadly guys. One was a baby resting on a log by a creek and the other was, much to the surprised of our Kalashnikov-wielding guide through Mzima, an adolescent waiting on a crocodile viewing platform for the next unsuspecting tourist (luckily not us).

Spectacled weaver: Little yellow birds that build their nests on far-flung branches to protect their young from snakes.

Reichenow's weaver: The cousins of the spectacled weaver, also yellow and small, joined us for dinner at the Kilanguni Lodge in Tsavo West.

Greater blue-eared starling: Also viewed from our primo table at the lodge in Tsavo West.

Leopard: Veteran safari-ers, of whom we saw many - including the guides, always talk about seeing the elusive 'big cats.' Often people won't consider the safari a success unless they get to see a lion, leopard or cheetah. If they're very hardcore they'll be disappointed if they don't see them all. Lauren and I carried none of these yearnings, and by the third day we had seen many animals (including lions) and experienced the beauty and grandeur of three of Kenya's great national parks. On a 3-day safari - considered rushed by most although I'm not sure how many days in a row I can stand looking at animals - it was unlikely we'd see the other 2 big cats (we had seen a lion); so it was a huge surprise when I spotted a leopard resting in the shade of two trees. STOP! I told Michaels who had, for the first time all safari missed an animal. What is that?

"That, my friend, is a leopard!" He immediately got on the short wave radio to inform other guides of the spotting. I very much like this practice of sharing despite being with competing companies; everyone wants everyone else to have a wonderful safari. Unfortunately for the others, our leopard only stuck around for a couple of minutes and, before anyone else could see her, she vanished into the depths of Tsavo East. According to Michael, who ate dinner with the other guides and continuously monitored the radio, we were the only people in Kenya that day to see a Leopard!

"You got a picture, right Erol?" Michael said trying hard to mask his excitement.

Yes, sir. Indeed I did.

African wild dog: If Michael was giddy over seeing the notoriously reclusive leopard, he was terrified when we came upon a pack of African wild dogs playing and bathing in a shallow mud pool. Apparently these deceptively cute, and also difficult to see in the wild, animals would attack and eat anything, from lions to the tires of vans like ours. Luckily this bunch didn't seem to care we were there and after a few photos we went on our merry way.

Helmeted guineafowl: Caught trying to hide in the brush but they were no match for Michael!

Marabou stork: Captured on film at the semi-arid entrance to Tsavo East, this guy looked like every cartoon vulture I've ever seen. Apparently he was a stork though.

Black-headed heron: This one's for you Baba!

Bushbuck: This male decided to pose for us nicely, not concerned one bit about the noise of the van.

Kori bustard: Despite the unfortunate name, this bird had some very interesting spots just on the bottom front side of its wings.

Savanna monitor lizard: This mini-crocodile-looking lizard definitely wins the award for best animal walk, which was a cross between a waddle and a saunter, all the while moving his money-maker from side to side.

Ground hornbill: Dirk let out a gasp when he saw this picture. Apparently his girlfriend had spent 3 years bird watching and had only last month seen one of these birds in the wild. I told him not to tell her we saw it and didn't even know what we were looking at... it might upset her.

Oxpecker: A crucial part of the ecological system, this bird eats ticks off the skin of large animals like buffalos.

Cattle egret: Small but thin white bird caught hanging out with a hippo.

41 one animals in all, which is undoubtedly less than what we actually saw but all that was easily identified on film.