As we motored back to the lodge after my last game drive in Kenya's Samburu National Reserve last month, a feeling of disappointment began to overcome me. With no leopard in the bag, I would not get the so-called "Big Five"_the most dangerous animals on the African continent made up of elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions and leopards. Of these, it is the leopard that is the most notoriously difficult to obtain and is the secret to a successful safari.
A leopard in Samburu National Reserve.
My driver/guide Patrick Njoroge was more optimistic and said we still had time. As if the spirits of the wild were listening, a leopard and her two cubs out in the morning sunshine suddenly appeared by the side of the road. I immediately began clicking my Nikon, as they were very close. The action was quick and they then melted into the bush. After the dust settled, a feeling of joy overtook me.
My dream of getting the Big Five had come true once again.
In September 2010, I had a great opportunity to visit Kenya and on the very first day, got a leopard in a tree in the Masai Mara National Reserve that guaranteed the Big Five were in the bag. I managed to get the other four quite easily.
A bull elephant in Tsavo West National Park.
On my next safari in August 2011, a leopard was captured the second day, again in Masai Mara. A mother and her cub were hanging out in a dry stream bed eating an antelope carcass. My driver/guide, the late George Ndungu, managed to get the vehicle really close and I was able to photograph both of them. The elephant, buffalo, lion and finally the rhino were also collected.
On my third trip to southern Kenya in May last year, Patrick and I were out on a game drive when he spotted a leopard kill (wild cat and jackal) in a tree by the side of the road. This was amazing in itself, and I decided to set a camera trap in a hollow log on the ground facing up at the kill.
The next morning, I netted a single photo of the leopard with the jackal in its mouth. This was in Tsavo East National Park and that was a spooky capture!
Getting the Big Five a fourth time in a row last December was for me a complete stroke of luck. Many photographers and nature lovers who visit the continent strive for the complete group but go home feeling empty-handed without the spotted cat. But then again, others bump into the "ghost" easily. It is all about luck and I feel fortunate to have some, I guess.
The term Big Five was coined by colonial hunters in East Africa in the 1850s, referring to the collected trophies of the large dangerous mammals all taken with a gun. Photography was in its infancy and very few photographs of wild animals in their natural habitat were available from the era, other than pictures of downed animals with the trophy hunter and gun bearers by their side.
Buffalo bull in Amboseli National Park.
Going on safari was big business just after the beginning of the 20th century, and usually only the well-off could afford such a journey. It was quite fashionable to visit Africa and bag the Big Five. They then took the trophies home to show them off to other like-minded hunters.
The safari business was thriving and when many famous people like former US president Theodore Roosevelt and later Hollywood stars like Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly and Stewart Granger started going, the business really took off.
But remember, Roosevelt helped establish an additional five US national parks to the list that already included Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, General Grant and Mount Rainier. In addition to doubling the number of national parks, he helped numerous other protected lands get established.
One of the first countries to ban hunting in Africa (in 1977) was Kenya, whose people and government saw the need and meaning of saving wildlife for generations to come, and as a source of national income. Other countries like Tanzania followed suit and now one can go on a photography/viewing safari and see most of the animals that dot the savannah.
Protected areas were quickly designated and the safari business continued, but because many animals have now come back from the brink of extinction, the effort of the government has paid off. Kenya and Tanzania have been commended for taking the first brave steps in protecting the environment and its wildlife for the world to see and cherish.
I am, of course, addicted to Africa, especially Kenya. They say once you get the bug, it's hard to stay away. I am planning another safari with my family some time this year, again with Transworld Safaris in Nairobi. They have proven to be the best company for my needs. Their organisation, planning and staff are superb.
In the event you take a vacation, I recommend a safari to Kenya. The chances are good that you will see many creatures of nature including the Big Five. Reasonably priced trips can be found with a little shopping on the internet. The choices are broad and a once in a lifetime trip is there for the taking. Enjoy!
About the author
- Writer: L. Bruce Kekule