Writers in the Storm

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April 16, 2011

From the Safari Journal of Fae Rowen – Part 3

This blog is part of a series. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2

The Game Drive

Everyone goes on safari for the animals.  And they are fantastic.  I saw more animals than I ever imagined.  Animals I didn’t know existed. 

Did you know there are three different kinds of giraffes?  The only way to tell their gender is by the knobs on their head?  You can’t miss the male baboons.  Beautiful turquoise-blue family jewels. 

Also, there are black rhinos and white rhinos, but you can’t tell by the color of their hide.  You have to look at the mouth.  Yep, I got close enough to do that.  Keep that motor running!

In Kenya, our game drives started at 7 a.m.   We arrived back at camp around 1:30 to grab a quick buffet lunch then were out on the Masai Mara until 7 p.m. when the gates to the camp were locked.  

We had a lot more time than most folks get on a game drive because I was traveling with five professional photographers.  They were motivated.  Extremely motivated.  So much so that by the time we got to Tanzania we left at 6 a.m. (hence my pre-dawn walk with my Masai warrior) with a box breakfast and stayed out until 7 p.m., stopping for a boxed lunch at an area that was safe—read “no tall grasses for animals to stalk us.”

One morning we set out before sunrise and happened upon three cheetahs walking across the savannah.  Our driver was good.  He knew the “bachelor males” were hunting for breakfast, so we followed them.  This was the only time we saw the predator vs. prey hunt.  A jackal followed the cheetahs, knowing it would get lucky if the cheetahs hunted well. 

Zebra and wildebeast, known as gnu to the Africans, travel together.  The zebra can smell predators and the wildebeast can smell water.  After a feint chase, one cheetah insinuated itself into the wildebeast herd.  The zebras had already moved to the perimeter of the herd.  After awhile the wildebeast ignored the lone cheetah in the midst of the herd.  Bad idea.

Lions sleep twenty-two hours a day, so I have a lot of pictures of sleeping lions.  And when they sleep, nothing will make them move.  It must be nice to be at the top of the food chain. 

We came upon lions asleep in the road and had to drive around them. (See below.)

I did get pictures of moving lions.  In fact, I saw a mother elephant chase off three lions that were too close to her baby.  I don’t think the lions were hunting—it was mating season.  And it was birthing season. 

We found an area that appeared to be a kind of lion nursery where five lionesses rested while they nursed eight cubs.  Did you know that a lioness will nurse any hungry cub, even if it is not her own?  Yep, the two males were sleeping away from the action.

Warthogs.  What amazing animals.  So many tusks on the top and bottom jaws and out from the snout.  When they run they put their tails up and prance in a line.  Our driver would laugh and say, “There goes the African express!”

I practically kissed my driver when, on the second day, he delivered up a restroom that had a Western toilet.  After that, I never had to use a “squatter” again.  Thank goodness.  I include this information for those of you who might be intimidated by the lack of facilities in the wild.  Just let your driver know your needs.

Our Kenyan driver, Big John, loved to drive our Land Cruiser forty miles an hour to get us to see something one of the other drivers radioed about.  The roof of the vehicle popped up and had railings around the outside, so I would hang on for dear life and bend my knees like I was skiing when the tires slipped on rocks as we went through streams or bounced along across burrowed holes on the plain. 

One day, during a particularly exciting stream fording (John actually said to hold on!) I started singing the Indiana Jones theme song.  The three other people in the truck took up the song. 

John had never seen the movie, so we told him about it.  When he understood how much we enjoyed the bumps and tilts, we had even more fun the following days.  We started calling him Indiana John.  A copy of Harrison Ford fighting snakes is winging its way to Kenya as you read this. 

The first and last animal I saw in Africa was a dikdik.  Most people never see one, but just before sunset I spotted the little creature on the way into our first camp. They are the smallest gazelle-- about the size of my twelve-pound Siamese cat. 

The dikdik mates for life.  When its mate dies, it stops eating and dies soon thereafter.  The romantic in me loved the dikdik at first sight.  Unfortunately, it’s rare to see a mated pair.  Two dikdiks live alone on miles of plain.  But every morning I told my carmates that I was going to look for a herd of dikdiks.  At least it made us laugh during those ungodly early hours of the morning.

But on our last day, I saw three—a mated pair and their baby.  My rare herd of dikdiks! 

Next week:  More animal tales—and tails!

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