I’m told that all the tourists who come to Kenya are filled with the desire to see five particular animals, called The Big Five. Included are Lions, elephants, rhinos, water buffalo and leopards. I’m reminded of the Mongolian Five Snouts (sheep, camels, goats, horses, and cattle) but I digress. I was extremely fortunate in that, while at the Masai Mara, I was able to see all five.
To be honest I’m not sure why water buffalo make the list. They look and act a great deal like domesticated cattle and weren’t particularly rare. I’m told that some parts of the year wildebeests are everywhere, making the water buffalo hard to find. Here are a few of them, and its distinctly possible that among these is the one that pretended to charge our jeep.
The lions, however, are an obvious choice. Not only are they more rare and subtle than water buffalo, they are beautiful and majestic. We were lucky enough to see a pride of lions just hanging out. There were four males in the group, two older ones who might have been brothers (Mufasa and Scar!) and two sons who would probably be kicked out of the pride some point soon.
But more exciting yet, we saw a leopard! This fellow was hanging out on a termite mound near some elephants. It wasn’t really clear why. We got back and mentioned to a couple of the staff that we saw the leopard and they asked to not tell anyone else because some of the guests had been there for a while and not seen one. Our driver asked for the photos of it. It was awesome.
The elephants were less pleased by the presence of the leopard. This one made a threatening motion at the leopard and chased him into the termite mound. Obviously we were pleased about seeing the elephants too, we actually found the leopard there because we saw the elephants from a distance. Elephants are also extremely majestic animals and it was sad to keep hearing stories about them being killed by poachers. Both at the Maasai Mara and at the elephant orphanage, I got the impression that the Kenyans were really attached to the elephants, not in a kind of vague political way, but that normal Kenyans really cared about the fate of their great animals and were angry about poaching.
Here the leopard huddles in the termite mound to avoid the elephant’s wrath.
Another animal that is very important and in danger of poaching is the white rhino. There are two species of rhino, black rhinos and white rhinos. Black rhinos are extremely hostile and aggressive to humans. White rhinos, however, are pretty friendly and probably make easier prey. There were only two white rhinos at the Maasai Mara, the rest of them being in another area that’s better protected. The two left are guarded constantly by Kenyan park rangers. This particular elephant was named Queen Elizabeth and she was slowly grazing in our diction until her handler told us to back away. She got maybe seven feet away.
All in all it was an awesome and very successful trip. (Photos are courtesy of Della Connelly)