We’ve only been in the Reserve two hours but with all that we’ve seen it seems unfathomable that we’ve only been here that long, whilst it feels like the time has flown by (like most of our subjects). We move on further and just when you might think the park is home to only avian wildlife we see one of the Big Five, the Cape Buffalo. Of course the numbers before us don’t compare to those we experienced on the Masai Mara, where they were in their hundreds, if not thousands but it’s diverting from all the birds we’ve seen so far. Close by the buffalo are a small herd of Zebra which do actually equal the number we saw whilst on the Masai Plains though we should have seen far more than the 5 that now walking past the minibus.*
Simon, our driver, then casually informs us there’s a lion only meters away from us, straight ahead of the vehicle. We’ve been so engrossed in photographing the large ungulates that we’ve missed this male, lazing under a tree in the host morning sun. He glances up at us, momentarily, as he is woken from his slumber and then realising we’re not worth the energy he closes his eyes and nods off again. He, however, is definitely worth us expending our energy on him as he is one of the oddest looking lions I’ve ever seen. He’s not, unlike many of the other creatures on the reserve, doused himself with the local red dust to try and blend into his environment, it’s his haircut that is so astonishing. He is in no way a young lion and in fact this could be the reason he has a large sideburns, a tuft on the front of his head all of which are an auburn colour, and then finally a dark dark brown tuft on the back – the rest of his head is covered with the same length hair as covers the rest of his body, all of which makes for a very unusual look. It’s a good job he doesn’t have a pair of jeans on, I suspect they would be worn way down low!
We set off again and out of the bush the park Lodge has appeared, and we can now see why the Cape Buffalo and Zebra were here, there’s a large water hole just in front of the Lodge where around one hundred Buffalo are taking advantage of the cooling waters, and mud… mostly the mud. We’re too far to take any photos but are informed that we will be having lunch on the veranda of the main building and should be able to get close enough to the wildlife so as to smell their breath (as long as it’s not the lion, we should be okay).
Our next encounter has us all spellbound and is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The body resembles that of an Impala one of the medium sized gazelle that are everywhere in Africa, and are a two toned sandy colour, with darker hair on the top of their bodies shaped almost like a rug put over the animal covering much lighter fawn coloured hair over the remainder. The Gerenuk, of which there are three before us, has the same colourations however it’s it’s face and neck which set it apart from any of the other gazelles we’ve seen before. The neck is incredibly long and with its slender face it reminds us more of a vicuña, a relative of the llama from high up in the Andes; the name Gerenuk is Somalian for Giraffe-Necked and it’s a good description.. but wrong! These animals are incredibly shy, and make all attempts to keep out of view but Simon is ready for them and maneuvers the van to a couple of spots so we can wait for them to cross our paths, which they obligingly do.
It’s not long until lunch time now, and we have just enough time to photograph some more birdlife, and finally manage to clearly see the weaver birds we’ve only seen in deep cover so far. Unlike their black and gold/yellow cousins, these are fairly drab birds by African standards with only light brown, dark brown and light cream feathers but boy do they wear them well. The birds are White-Browed Sparrow-Weavers and it’s easy to see how they’ve got their high-falutin’ double barrelled name from; in silhouette form, you could easily confuse them with their Sparrow namesakes, and yes, they do indeed have a white brow. These birds, unlike the ones we hadn’t seen previously, were incredibly industrious collecting materials they could use to fabricate their nests. Each dried grass stem was carefully selected, cut to the right length before being taken back to the nest where it was carefully worked into the nest. Amazing, and all that without even a Project Manager, Engineer or Team Lead on hand!
*During the Migration, around 200,000 zebra can be spotted grazing on the Mara.