Contrary to common expectation, there were no rampaging wild animals through the campsite to cause havoc or mayhem during the night. We had all slept, after a fashion! It takes a while to get used to lying on the ground with only thin soft foam mattress. But that’s camping in the wild.
We were all up early at 05.45, well before day break for a quick cup of tea or coffee, some cereal and a banana before heading off on our first game drive of the day.
Not far from the campsite we came across a troupe of baboons waking to the new day – their hair a halo in the early morning light. They were on fallen tree branches just a couple of feet off the track. We spent some five or so minutes watching their antics before moving on.
A very short distance further along the track we stopped quickly as a leopard crossed the track. There is no forward vision from the truck so nobody other than the two in the cabin saw the big cat. The driver did stop though. The monkeys in the surrounding trees were putting up a loud song and dance emitting their alarm calls. We waited. And, sure enough, we spotted some movement in the bushes and a fleeting glimpse of the cat. Then nothing for awhile, but then, a better look at the magnificent beast as it slowly walked away, this time completely disappearing into the undergrowth. What a treat, particularly for those on board who were on their first trip to Africa. It took until my fourth trip to the continent to see a leopard and Ingwe said he would do 20-30 drives between spottings!
On our four hour circumnavigation of the lake we saw waterbuck, antelope, buffalo, giraffe, black and white rhino, jackal, hippo at a distance, and colobos monkeys, and they were a first for me.
Colobus, with their distinct black and white colouring and long bushy tipped tail do stand out clearly in the trees …but only once they have moved so you can spot them. Those lovely long tails were almost their undoing. They were once highly prized by tribespeople as ‘fly whisks’! And their pelts were highly prized too as part of traditional costumes, as well as for rugs and mats.
Buffalo are not animals to be messed about with! They weigh-in at anywhere between 500 and 800 kgs and are reputed to have a temper that should not be aroused. When males ‘face-off’ in the rutting season, they interlock those massive horns and push each other in a trial of strength to find out just who is boss. The record length for a set of horns is more than 1.5m.
Buffalo graze in the early morning, in the late afternoon and at night, so these were more interested in food than us. After feeding, they love to wallow in mud and there’s plenty by the lake for that. In the heat of the day, they sensibly lie in long grass or under trees to chew their cud.
The white bird beside several of the cows are cattle egrets. They get an easy feed by picking up insects disturbed by the movement of the buffaloes. Another bird that’s often seen travelling with buffalo is the oxpecker or tick bird. They feed on ticks and biting flies and help to clean up wounds. The buffalo put up with their presence even when these little birds try to get a feed inside the buffalo’s ear.
Another big animal grazing in the early morning was this rhinoceros. Both black and white (or wide) Rhinoceros are endangered because of the market for just one part of their body – their horns. When poachers kill a rhino, they take the horns and run – or fly off in helicopters. It’s a lucrative business with rhino horn deemed to have almost supernatural powers in medicine in Asia and the far East – and horn being carved into the handles for daggers in places like Yemen where such daggers have been prized symbols of manhood. Armed guards monitor most of the rhinoceros ranges, at least in parks and reserves such as this one at Lake Nakuru.
Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world today with males growing up to 5.5m (that’s 18ft) . That’s fairly common knowledge. But what is less widely known is that the giraffe’s improbably long neck has only seven neck vertebrae – the same as we humans have! And those necks can come in for a tough time when male giraffe’s try to establish dominance in the herd by ‘necking’ . Now, this is not to be confused with another human connotation of the word ‘necking’. This is a ritualised form of fighting in which the opposing giraffes fight standing side by side and swing their long necks at each other’s bodies, often entwining necks. That only happens when there’s a lady giraffe involved, of course. At other times that neck is used to reach up for the tenderest shoots and they can be 5 – 6 ms off the ground.
The giraffes we saw at Lake Nakuru were Rothschild’s Giraffes. They are paler, and have a less jagged pattern on their coats than the common Masai Giraffe and they usually have no patterning on their lower legs. There is a third type of giraffe, the Reticulated Giraffe, that’s found in northern Kenya. It has a deep reddish coat with irregular brick- like patterns seemingly ‘drawn’ onto them with narrow white lines.
The beautiful Thomson’s Gazelle is the most water dependent of the African antelopes and so can usually be found in places like this by a lake or good water source. Antelopes like these are the easy, fast food option, the ‘Macdonalds’ of the wildlife world in Africa. They are the prey of a whole lot of predators including lions. leopards, cheetahs, hunting dogs, crocodiles. The young may be taken by baboons, jackals, eagles and even python snakes.
It is a hard world out there in the wild. It’s not easy to think of beautiful animals like this Impala and the gentle gazelles as possible dinner for so many different types of predators. But it’s a fact of life in the wild.
The black-backed Jackal, with its fox-like face and silvery black back, is the commonest of the three species of Jackal in East Africa. Although Jackal’s do kill smaller animals and the young of larger ones, they are very much opportunistic omnivores. Like hyenas, they are great carrion scavengers, but they also feed on birds, reptiles, insects, fruits, eggs and berries.
Apart from all of these animals, there were many birds sighted including pelican, marabou and yellow-billed storks, spoonbills, a buzzard, hamerkop and ostrich. It was a very satisfying drive.
The name Hamerkop comes from an Africaans word meaning ‘hammer head’ – an apt description. It looks a bit like a stork or a heron but it is not related to either of those. Many Africans are superstitious about this bird believing that, if harmed in any way, it will bring bad luck. And that’s probably been a bit of good luck for the Hamerkop. That way, it doesn’t end up on someone’s BBQ or in a hot pot!
Ostrich, on the other hand, are farmed in Africa for their meat, their eggs and their feathers. But these two birds are safe in the National Park at Lake Nakuru. The male is the one with black feathers. He usually sits on the eggs at night. The female has feathers more the colour of dried grass to act as camouflage when it’s her turn to sit on the eggs in the day time. Although more than one female is likely to mate with the male and lay eggs in HIS nest, the ‘senior’ female helps with the hatching process.
This magnificent eagle, resting in an African Acacia, may be a Steppe Eagle.
The view across the grasslands to the cliffs beyond the lake. The photo includes a couple of African Acacias that seem to be ‘blooming’ with white birds.
Thanks to my good Panasonic DMC-TZ 20 camera with its decent tele lens, I could see that the birds adorning the Acacia tree were the very gregarious, long legged, Yellow-billed Storks. These birds are easy to identify with their white bodies finished off with black wings and tails and their bare red faces sporting long yellow bills.
And down by the lake again there were yet more storks, the Marabou sharing the waters edge with some Pelicans and Gulls. These Marabou should put their name in the ring for the prize of ugliest bird. Vultures could give them a run for their money, but these birds push ‘ugly’ to the limit!
Here’s a Marabou up close – with a face only a mother could love. And it doesn’t even have the rather grotesque pendulous throat sac sported by some adults! And another thing that is really quite off-putting about Marabous: that white colour on their legs is actually, dare I say it, ‘pooh’. Yes, to help keep themselves cool when it is hot, they defecate down their legs. Cool, eh?
Marabou Storks might be ugly, but they do perform an important function in the wild by cleaning up carrion and waste in the environment. However, marabous have increasingly become dependent on human garbage and these huge birds can be found around African rubbish dumps.
Now let us turn our minds from ugly storks to some of the finer things in life – flowering plants. Even on a long day out on safari drives, there is usually some opportunity to look for flowers.
There comes a time when legs must be stretched – a time when ladies disappear off to the left and men to the right! And that gave me the perfect opportunity to hunt around for a flowering plant or two. I’m not sure what these are called but here they are.
And there you have it – a day out on safari at Lake Nakuru National Park. If you have never had the opportunity to do such a safari drive, I hope you have enjoyed the experience with me. And if you have, I hope this has brought back many happy memories of being with wildlife. D