When we first arrived in Kenya, we wasted no time in visiting the local Conservancy, Ol Pejeta which is a mere 15 minute drive away from where we live in Laikipia County. We have since been back there on numerous occasions and every time we go, it remains unpredictably exciting. The wild life is in such an abundance that we never cease to be amazed at what creatures roam freely on our door step, although there is never any guarantee as to what animals will be around. Animals are notoriously unreliable to work with so we have spent many hours at Ol Pejeta driving around and around, attempting to track certain creatures in the vain hope of spotting something other than the plentiful zebra, impala, gazelle and warthogs. It is hugely rewarding to come across animals undisturbed in their natural habitat and we have come to realise that sometimes, the largest animals are often the most adept at hiding. That said, on one of our recent visits to Ol Pejeta with some close friends, we had a truly magical time and we were treated to awe inspiring animal behaviour.
We saw so many elephants that we lost count! It felt like that with every turn in our trusty vehicle, there was an elephant, or even a herd of elephants. It is such a blessing to be amongst such mighty creatures. We saw many rhinoceros too. Whilst both rhino and elephant are heavily poached, the anti poaching squads at Ol Pejeta have been successful of late in protecting the animals and it has been reported that no rhino were poached from Ol Pejeta during 2018. A great result although it is still immensely saddening that such huge efforts have to be made to ensure the survival of such animals.
We paid a visit to Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary within Ol Pejeta and we were treated to an appearance by a chimp called Poco. In 1993, Ol Pejeta opened Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary within the conservancy which is a refuge for chimpanzees rescued from the black market. It is the only place in Kenya where chimpanzees can be seen. All of the chimps within this sanctuary have been rescued from dire situations and some have suffered abuse and neglect. The chimp that made an appearance for us, Poco, spent the first nine years of his life in a cage in Burundi which offered so little space he could only stand up on two legs, a position which is unnatural for a chimpanzee. He arrived at Ol Pejeta in 1995 and is a firm favourite with his human carers as he loves to show off, and plays up to an audience by standing up and walking along with a swagger. Poco took a particular shine to Mr Nomad and they walked along the fence line of the sanctuary together, like best buddies.
On many occasions at Ol Pejeta, we have been distinctly unsuccessful in seeing any of the big cats that reside there but on this occasion, we stumbled across five lions creeping through the long grass on the plains. We saw four females and a male lion and we had not realised it at first, but they were out hunting for their dinner. It was dusk and as the light fell, they worked methodically in a team to lure a warthog to its ultimate end. They were very obliging towards us and were lying in the long grass so close to the road that if I had had the courage to lean out of the car window far enough, I might have been able to touch a lion! They were truly impressive and not at all bothered by the presence of the vehicles that had stopped to watch them do what such predators do best. Their hunting techniques were awe inspiring… no wonder they have such a fearsome reputation and I for one did not wish to venture outside the safety of the car. We were all utterly dumbstruck by the team work displayed by the lions and whilst there was a pang of sadness for the warthog, we were able to witness nature at its best, and of course, its cruellest.
Following on from this spectacle, our game drive the following day was just as magical. We came across a spotted hyena’s den and saw a heavily pregnant female spotted hyena along side two juvenile spotted hyena’s playing with a recent kill.
The two cubs were dragging along the carcass of a baby buffalo and whilst this may seem somewhat gruesome, it was amazing to see these animals behaving entirely naturally. We were willing the female to go into labour in the hope of seeing a birth but she did not oblige us, despite panting heavily and looking as if she would pop!
As we drove on, we saw a huge bird come in to land, a Tawny Eagle, and what a beauty he was! We can only presume he was patiently waiting for any scraps from the deceased baby buffalo.
On the very same day, we came across a second spotted hyena den in a different area within the conservancy and we bore witness to a clan of female spotted hyenas and their cubs! Spotted hyena are the second largest carnivore behind lions and they are very effective hunters. They are mistaken for scavengers but in fact, they often hunt for themselves in their clan.
Whilst the cubs looked very cute and cuddly, the adult spotted hyenas are deadly and their powerful bite exerts pressure of 80kgf/cm2 which is 40% more than a leopard, and outmatches a brown bear in its bone crushing ability! The female spotted hyenas fussed around their babies and fed them and this was mesmerising – how such an aggressive and deadly animal can be so tender and caring to its young! Their behaviour was fascinating. They are matriarchal and the females are much bigger than the males and in fact, females dominate the males.
The females also have a ‘pseudo penis’ which is actually a clitoris shaped like a penis and hangs down. This pseudo penis is capable of erection but this tends to be a submissive sign, not a sign of dominance. The spotted hyena is the only mammalian like species to lack an external vaginal opening and the pseudo penis is where the females will urinate from, copulate and give birth. Their behaviour is intriguing and to see the spotted hyena’s so relaxed in our presence was a real privilege. We spent so much time watching them in silence, enthralled by their behaviour, that we almost missed the rhino that had stealthily crept up behind us in the car, just mooching around!
What magical days! We still have to pinch ourselves that this is real. We really are living the dream and we only hope that these animals continue to be allowed to thrive in their natural habitat so that they will be around for generations to come.