Mr Nomad and I are avid supporters of our local community and in order to show such support, we visited our all time favourite, Ol Pejeta Conservancy. This conservancy is literally on our door step, only around 15 minutes drive away and its abundance of wild life over 90,000 acres of vast rolling plains never ceases to amaze us. So we treated ourselves to a game drive in order to celebrate a Kenyan Christmas, and we took another ride around the place following the Christmas celebrations.
Our pre-Christmas safari was carried out on a beautiful day where the sun was beating down on us and the beams of light shone over the endless rolling savannah plains as if to light up a magical path way to this wondrous place of legends. We were greeted by various ungulates including zebra, impala, Grants gazelle, Thompsons gazelle, warthogs, Jacksons hartebeest and eland.
These timid and nervous creatures littered the landscape and were plentiful. At every turn of the head, there is an animal to observe, there is an epic landscape to take in and it is staggeringly beautiful in a rugged and wild way, in the shadow of the ever pervading Mount Kenya. There were hundreds of lumbering buffalo, pottering along everywhere, staring at us as we slowly trundled along.
We were lucky enough to glimpse many giraffe, striding awkwardly but somehow majestically along the grasslands. We witnessed the odd elephant peppering the landscape and it must be said that given that the elephant is the world’s largest land mammal, they have an uncanny ability to be able to hide in the dense African bush.
We took a steady drive up through and came across many black backed jackals who flitted in front of the car. They look so much like a domestic dog, including our very own Princess Zuri, but are nowhere near as confident and instantly took flight at the rumbling of the car’s engine. We stumbled across a couple of spotted hyena, lolling around in a ditch very close to the road and unlike the nervous jackals, these hyena could not have cared less at our presence and rolled around, not deeming it necessary to run away, cheekily staring at us as if to dare us to get just a little closer. We did not oblige them! Whilst some hyena look cute, albeit a little battle weary, they are certainly not cuddly and are deadly predators demanding our ultimate respect. We admired their prowess from a safe distance, safely ensconced in the car before going on our way and leaving them to relax in the sun.
Following a refreshing lunch break, we were contacted by a friend who indicated that a large black maned male lion had been spotted so we set off back out into the conservancy with an excited trepidation, in search of this magnificent if not elusive creature. It was searingly hot and we did not hold out much hope of seeing the king of the jungle, believing that he may have sought shade but to our delight, we stumbled across the most incredible male lion with the most glorious black mane.
He was extremely hot and bothered, being harrassed by the flies and after wandering right out in front of us, trudging along the road for only a matter of a couple of metres, he slunk into the bush and parked himself in the shady coolness. We were utterly spell bound by his majesty and observed him for quite some time as he relaxed and attempted to cool himself. We couldn’t believe our luck and this sighting was a first for me at Ol Pejeta.
We proceeded on and gave the lion his peace. We were ecstatic with this day’s epic safari and reveled in the animals that had been spotted which also included numerous rhino, always a very welcome sight. It seems that during the world wide lockdown and the distinct lack of tourists, the animals have embraced the lack of disturbance from human visitors and there has been a baby boom with many black and white rhino’s being born during 2020. This is fabulous news, to know that Ol Pejeta as a world renowned rhino sanctuary is successful in the conservation and preservation of such animals. It was also a delight to learn that there have been no poaching incidents since 2017. This again, is a clear success in the face of the adversity presented by the challenges of a world wide pandemic where a global lock down decimated the income of this park, affecting local people’s employment prospects and increasing the extreme poverty which blights the country.
The Northern White Rhino Rescue Programme also faltered when following the initial extraction of embryos from the last two surviving female northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu, the lock down came and prevented travel. When travel resumed in August 2020, the Biorescue team jumped back in but the oocytes that had been harvested from Najin and Fatu derived from ovarian follicles failed to become viable and it seems that unfortunately, this was because they were 8 months old having been unable to travel to the Italian laboratory.
The Biorescue team is an international project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, led by Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany along side Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic and it is hoped that the rescue programme will be resurrected to save the species and correct the mistakes made by humans. Regardless of the effects of Covid-19, there is still endless work going on to conserve and preserve the wild life at Ol Pejeta including the tire less work done by the anti-poaching rangers who largely work behind the scenes.
The post-Christmas safari was just as wonderful and as if to mark the end of a torrid year and offer a glimmer of hope that 2021 would be an improvement, we were welcomed by an unbelievably clear view of Mount Kenya with numerous animals silhouetted in the horizon. The landscape was littered with giraffe, rhino, impala, zebra, gazelle, warthog all of whom were miraculously in the shadows of the imposing mountain and we were rendered speechless within minutes of entering Ol Pejeta for the second time in a matter of days. It was incredible and we almost turned around for home in the belief that we had witnessed an enchanting sight that could not be beaten.
However, we continued on and took in the sights including more rhino than we had seen previously. We made our way down to the marsh which always seems to be covered in creatures owing to its lush vegetation and whilst we were watching in an amused fashion, an impala licking a natural salt lick, its tongue flicking quickly as if offended by the saltiness, an enormous herd of elephants burst through the bush and wandered past us in the car. We had no choice but to simply turn off the engine and take in this awe inspiring moment.
The elephants kept coming and this stream of creatures seemed endless but we were fascinated. In addition to the baby boom with rhino, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of baby elephants which was a lovely sight to see. The presence of all the babies makes the mothers more unpredictable so we sat in silence, barely breathing whilst we watched their journey to the marsh. We couldn’t believe this epic sight, and seemingly neither could a giant Martial eagle resting in a nearby tree, but after gathering ourselves, we proceeded on once more in our quest to spot more of the wild animals that reside in this wonderful conservancy. We even managed to glimpse a hippo in the river but I wasn’t quick enough to take a snap shot of it, as it bounded away splashing leaving enormous waves in its wake.
We figured we had used up all of our luck when it came to big cats when we saw the male lion only days before but we couldn’t quite believe it when we stumbled upon three lionesses lolling in the sun. They were so close to the road, Mr Nomad almost drove over one of them but these beautiful cats could not have cared less, and they were certainly not going to move just for us.
We came to a halt and sucked up this sighting, observing their stunning looks. We watched as one wandered down to the dam to take a drink, and watched them mooching around to find the best bush to rest under. We moved on and decided to see if we could spot the hyena we had seen previously.
We didn’t hold out much hope but much to our surprise, we managed to find a hyena den bursting and alive with hyena, including very small cubs. When they are small, the hyena are incredibly cute but as they grow up, one can appreciate how they come to have such a fearsome reputation with their war like ragged features, scars etched into their worn faces and ears torn as if to prove their battle weariness along side their scruffy coats. We were delighted to see them in their natural habitat, undisturbed and unperturbed by our presence.
We could not believe quite how many animals we had had the privilege of sharing our time with and as usual Ol Pejeta Conservancy had not failed us. It was a perfect celebration of Christmas, a celebration of life, and a celebration of all that epitomises Kenya and we were ever grateful that such a magnificent wilderness bursting with life was so close by.