I’ve just returned this past week from an overland safari to northern Kenya. It was inspirational, as well as sobering. The amount of wildlife we saw was fantastic, but also troubling as we know that many of these large mammals (e.g. cheetah, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, etc) are endangered and probably won’t outlast the century.
One of the many wildlife denizens of Meru National Park – the Blackbacked Jackal on the hunt.
Meru National Park in Kenya is about an eight hour hard drive north of Nairobi. It’s at the end of a roller coaster ribbon of tarmac that dribbles out into a ragged length of potholes at the entrance to this magnificent park. Needless to say, not a lot of people drive there – they tend to fly in. Home to the Born Free legend it’s breathtaking in its vastness, which unrolls northward into wild savannahal plains.
After a 17 month hiatus (how time flies!), I’m back blogging. In the last post, I had relocated back to Nairobi and then I went silent. During that time, I found work with a medical aid agency, which took me around the region to some interesting places. Now, I’m finished with that contract and am enjoying the lotus-eating life of indefinite holiday (thanks working wife!). So, here is a photo of one of my favorite places in the world: Lamu. A Swahili island off the sultry, tropical coast of Kenya where one goes to shed one’s cares and to slip into an alternate universe where life is warm and friendly and 5 degrees off-center.
For me, dusk is the period of reflection on the day’s activities. It’s transiency reminds me that as important as we think of ourselves, now, nature is in it for the long run.
Sometimes wandering the hills in Africa can seem like a hot, dusty and tiring proposition. But shift the perspective away from yourself and you may see something different. This photograph of myself was made at Les Collines de Niassam, Sine Saloum, Senegal.
I first met Lupita when she was fresh out of high school in Kenya some years ago. At that time, I was asked to do some fashion shots for my friend, Ann McGreath, who owns the Kenyan fashion house, KikoRomeo. We were scouting for models and I remember meeting Lupita who, at first, seemed a bit quiet and shy.
Well, that sure changed when our production team began traveling around Kenya shooting scenes in Tsavo West National Park and Mombasa. Over the days, she opened up and spread her wings. She revealed herself to be intelligent, vivacious and a natural in front of the lens. I was watching the first glimmer of early stardom that she would attain with her Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination for “12 Years A Slave”. Good luck to her!
I met Peter Beard some years ago in Kenya when he was gracious enough to autograph some of his iconic photo books that I brought to him. We were at his “Hog Ranch” among the giraffes, wart hogs, a hyperactive mongoose and one supermodel. Here’s a nice little video of him, his art and his views.
It was late 1994 and I was in Rwanda, which was still reeling from the genocide that struck the country earlier in the year. The Parc National des Volcans was virtually untouristed, but still intact. This is the home of some 400 mountain gorillas out of 700 – 800 left in the world. It was also the base and research center for the primate researcher, Dian Fossey who studied these creatures and where she was murdered.
Along with two journalists, a guide and a guard, we trudged through wet bush and bamboo forests on muddy paths, until we found a group of feeding gorillas. It was one of the most wondrous sights I have ever encountered. I recall the uncanny feeling of connection with these forest dwellers when they looked at you. Their eyes seemed almost human, which indeed they almost are.
An alpha male silverback decided to show who’s boss and put up an aggressive display of chest pounding and finally a mock charge. The guide warned us NOT TO RUN, but to take a submissive position. This is easier said than done when several hundred pounds of animal brawn comes flying at you, but I managed to sit tight after snapping this shaky photo a moment before the charge.
I’m not what you would call an avid wildlife photographer; although, I have spent many pleasant hours while on safaris watching animals in their element. I prefer to view them with my two feet on the ground with a camera in hand and not cooped up in a vehicle. However, there was this one time I saw the wisdom of being on four wheels and in a solid metal body when uncomfortably close to wild animals.
I was staying a few days in a private cottage in Tsavo West National Park in Kenya. It was ideally situated on the side of a hill overlooking a wildlife drinking hole. On this morning, a herd of buffalo were also being watched by several lions in excellent viewing position around my cabin. These were relations of the famous “man eaters of Tsavo” and full of interest in feeding that early morning. I decided it was best to retreat from the terrace into the front room. No sooner done, then this visitor showed up. He seemed more curious than threatening, but I saw that we were standing only 10 feet from each other with only a glass window separating us.
I managed to snap this blurry photo before the cat did a double take and disappeared around the corner; presumably, his curiosity satisfied.
There are mountains in the Samburu district of northern Kenya called the Mathews Range where you can walk in old growth forests sheltering leopards, elephants, antelopes and a fantastic variety of birds. This living belt of greenery is now threatened by global warming. While there, we came across some scientists who were studying the ecology of this area. They told us that the forest was drying out due to the severity and frequency of droughts. It was dying.
The Samburu communities are affected, as well, as it decreases forage and water for their livestock. When sustained climatic changes become the new normal, then cultures are threatened. People like our guide, here, abandon their ancestral homes for the poverty of the towns.
Soon after it opened, I had the great fortune to stay at Kenya‘s first community based eco-lodge, Il Ngwesi, located in the thorn tree country of Laikipia district. James ole Kinyaga, naturalist and one of the pioneers of the lodge, was our gracious Maasai host. Here, he poses with the skull of a Cape Buffalo, which populates the bush around the camp.