A Lion’s Roar … and much more

by Kate on July 16, 2010

Title: Kampala to Nakuru (Kenya)

Dates: 22nd to 28th June GPS:

Distance: 334km Total Distance: 18,140km

Roads: Cooler, afternoon thunderstorms in Kenyan highlands; warmer on the savannah

Weather: Busy highway; altitude 2000m – 2800m

1a. A balanced diet!Rather than staying in busy Kampala, we found a great place to spend a couple of nights in Entebbe at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, beside Lake Victoria and near the airport. The centre has an important role in rescuing animals from smugglers and those at risk of being poached. The animals appear perfectly happy in their spacious, leafy habitats. It’s incredible to be awoken by a lion’s roar in the morning. Animals are rehabilitated and then usually moved on to other sanctuaries such as the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, featured in the previous blog. The money we spent there goes into helping maintain the centre. Before heading off we did a half day trip out to Ngamba Island on Lake Victoria to visit the Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The sanctuary was set up in 1998 to care for chimps after being confiscated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority from poachers and traders. Every year in Africa, approximately 5000 chimps are killed by poachers for the bush-meat trade. As a product of this illegal practice, dozens of infant chimps are taken alive from the forest, bound for the pet trade throughout the world.

1a Ranger explains about smugglingAfter a pleasant 45 minute boat ride, we arrived at the island and were greeted by our ranger/guide. All 44 chimps on the island are cared for physically and emotionally; helping them overcome their traumas and reintegrating them with other chimps. Some may one day return to the wild, but most are there for the long stay – they will never make it back. The chimps are fed four times a day on a variety of fruit and vegetables. They receive medical care, security and social companionship – some struggle with the latter due to their prior mistreatment. Our main entertainment for the morning was, however the 11am feeding time. Chimps appeared out of the forest ready to be thrown all sorts of fruit. The ranger knew them all by name and could tell us about each personality. It was interesting to watch their behaviour; some were happy with their fair share, others raced around gathering as much as they could eat and carry, others were hoarders, stockpiling their stash in a quiet place and guarding it. All too soon, feeding time was over and we were back on the boat heading for Entebbe to then drive back to the point where I had stopped cycling a few days before.

1g. Taking refuge from the rain and hailNot much cycling again in this section; just two and a half days from near the Uganda/Kenya border to Nakuru. It would have been inappropriate to travel through Kenya and not see any of the wildlife. I kept the cycle route simple – straight down, or should I say up the main road through Eldoret to Nakuru and Nairobi. There was an awful lot of climbing over the next day and a half to reach 2800m before dropping down towards Nakuru (1800m). Thunderstorms bubbled up in the afternoon. They were very localised. The first afternoon I had to cycle straight through the storm epicentre. As the freezing cold rain turned into hail I took refuge in shelter of a tiny church. Schoolgirls from next door braved the downpour to join me. They could speak perfect English and were intrigued with my cameras.

2a. Kenana knittersJohn arranged for us to stay at Kembu Campsite on Kenana Farm, about 30km out of Nakuru. The 900-acre farm and campsite is owned by the Nightingales, an old white Kenyan family. They employ over 200 people and really do give a lot back to the local community. All the staff with whom we dealt seemed happy and obviously earned well. Also on the farm Paddy Nightingale has set up Kenana Knitters. This is a brilliant initiative which all started roughly twenty years ago from a discussion two people had under a tree and a good idea. Kenana Knitters became a business entity twelve years ago. Since then Paddy has gradually built it up and now has 300 knitters on her books.

2b. Dying the wool, Kenana KnittersWomen from the local community elect to sign up to earn extra income for the family. Once their quality is up to standard they nominate to produce as much or as little as they can guarantee to complete on time. Knitting is a very practical craft that they can mostly do at home around all their usual chores and family commitments. Paddy and her small management team have developed international markets. They are careful to only take on orders which they know they can fulfil at the right quality and on time. The wool is sourced from local markets – Kenya is the first African country where I have seen sheep bred for their wool. (Everywhere else sheep look much more like goats, or they are the Damara sheep in Namibia which don’t require shearing) The wool is spun and dyed with natural dyes made from dahlias, red cabbage and native trees. Everything must be organic (except the acrylic filler for toys which is a compromise, allowing them to be washed more easily).

The knitting workshop has become a centre of the community; a place where women receive social support, medical services and develop camaraderie with other women out of their usual hardworking home environment. Paddy said the women earn a little more than their husbands! She has provided a facility for women to save small amounts of money so there is something in the kitty if a child is sick, or extra is needed to pay the school fees. Usually their husbands would demand that they hand over all their earnings which would then be used up rather than saved. There is a health clinic and free HIV/AIDS testing service which is discrete for the women to use as well as free counselling and support.

Paddy was asked if she could set up a similar project in Darfur by some Americans – in three months! She had to say no because while she could set it up, and it would ‘look good; ticking all the right boxes’ it would not be sustainable. Maintaining Kenana Knitters requires continual support, finding new markets and understanding the women’s needs and culture. Three months is not enough time to establish the skills or find appropriate managers to continue the trade. Being born and bred in Kenya herself makes a huge difference.

We used Kembu as a base while we were in central Kenya. From there we drove for seven hours to the Maasi Mara National Park. It isn’t that far but the scenic shortcut through the highlands was very rough. Once we dropped down from the high altitude to Narok, the vegetation changed dramatically, from lush fertile, ‘grow anything’ pastures to dry, spiky sclerophyllous acacia scrubland. We stayed at the Riverside Campsite near the Talek Gate entrance which was run by a couple of Maasi fellows. It was basic, but perfectly adequate. They kept watch around the clock; keeping dangerous animals away at night and the baboons away from our gear during the day.

6c. With our guide, Amos spotting gameWe employed one of the Maasi, Amos as our guide for the day. This proved to be a very worthwhile investment. Amos was very knowledgeable, spoke good English and worked hard all day to find out where the animals were. All the guides communicate using text messages to let each other know where the main animals are. It was rather a novelty having a traditionally dressed Maasi next to me in the back seat of the LandRover – I just had to be careful not to sit on his knife which was strapped to his side. We were incredibly lucky to see so much in one day.

We had popped into the park for a couple of hours the previous evening and had seen a leopard’s kill hanging in a tree, but no leopard. First thing the next morning we decided to revisit the site in the hope it might still be there. It was! The leopard was having the young wildebeest for breakfast. We watched for about half an hour. What strength and balance it must have to haul such a large animal up a tree. (Unfortunately I didn’t get a decent photo, so you’ll have to imagine this as if it was straight out of a National Geographic documentary!)

5a. Wilderbeest on the moveThe famous wildebeest migration had started early this year. Millions of wildebeests migrate annually from the Serengeti Plains (which back on to the Maasi Mara) to the Maasi Mara in search of rich pastures. The migration was not yet in full swing, but the western plains of the Maasi Mara were still densely populated with tens of thousands of wildebeest.

6b. Amos and Zdenek at workAmos directed us to a high viewpoint where we could look over the lines of wildebeest moving across the plains and the meandering Mara River. Zebras also move with the wildebeest – they make good partners because wildebeest have poor eyesight and it is safety in numbers for the zebra. There were many other herbivores too – elephants, topi, impala, Thompson’s gazelles, giraffes… John made porridge for breakfast at our vantage point while Amos planned our next move. On the far side of the Mara river he could see a few cars gathering – what were they watching?

9a. Cheetahs, the animals I most wanted to seeWe crossed over the river to the far western edge of the park to find a family of cheetahs resting under a cotton tree – wow – the cheetah was the animal I most wanted to see and there were two adults and two teenage cubs about 15 metres away. Cheetahs are very sensitive animals and so it was great to see a warden there directing the traffic, ensuring people remained a respectful distance. He would allow one vehicle at a time to get a good look for five minutes then move on. We’d already seen many vehicles doing the wrong thing – driving through a herd of zebras, driving off the tracks, putting unnecessary pressure on the wildlife. A few of the Kenyans I spoke to say the Maasi Mara is under threat because of overuse. People pressure is destroying the animals. There are big problems in the Serengeti too. The Tanzanian government has just given the go ahead for the track which bisects the park to be bituminised. This will mean heavy traffic disturbing the animals’ sanctuary, even destroying the wildebeest migration.

7b. Hippo in Mara RiverBack at the Mara Bridge we stopped for lunch. There a ranger gave us a free guided walk along the riverbank. He was carrying a gun just in case something went wrong. The river was heavily populated with hippos and crocodiles. He took us to one of the main wildebeest crossings. Being early in the season, there weren’t any running at the time, but a few dead beests were washed up on the rocks and beaches. We moved on in search of lions, heading west. On the way we saw elephants, buffalo, hyenas, giraffes and more herbivores.

11c.Finally Amos made a spot beside a dry creek. There were two pairs of lions – and about 15 vehicles lined up! Amos knew the lions were brothers and that both pairs were courting. This time there were no wardens to control the traffic, but the lions just ignored the chaos completely. We watched and waited patiently. Slowly the vehicles disappeared, roaring off to their lodges for the evening. In the end, there were just two vehicles. We watched one pair from just five metres. I couldn’t believe our luck. In one day we’d seen a leopard, four cheetahs, four lions and an impressive array of animals. Amos had done a great job and so there was plenty to talk about around the campfire that evening with our Maasi friends.

12a. Our Maasi friends who took care of our camp

The drive back to Kembu took all of the next day. From there we set off to Nairobi for the next project visit and to try to sort out our Ethiopian visas.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Austin Leeming July 16, 2010 at 10:29 am

Dear Aunty Kate,

We love the animals. I love lions, all locked up in the grass, so you’re safe. I t looks windy and sunny. Sometimes when it is sunny it is cold still. I love monkeys, zebras and lions and crocodiles and tigers. I like the colours of the special clothes, my favourite colour is red. And blue and yellow and green. I would like to see you aunty Kate, now.

Bye Aunty Kate
Love from Austin, Eamon, Daddy and Mum.

Kate July 17, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Hi Austin (And Megan, Tony and Eammon),

I’m glad you like the pictures. The animals were beautiful in the wild. I particularly liked the cheetahs. I have seen many more interesting people since then. I am looking forward to seeing you soon. I will finish the expedition in about 5 weeks time. I was sick yesterday but am feeling much better today.

Lots of love,


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