Lake Nakuru

A wonderful time spent at Lake Nukuru. Lake Nakuru is flush with all types of wildlife including Cape buffalo, zebra, impala, water buck, giraffe and black rhino. During our game drive we saw several black rhino again. I am amazed at how many black rhino we have seen during this trip. The lake, an alkaline based lake, is home to thousands of birds including lesser flamingos and spoonbills. Many various types of stork and eagle also inhabit this area. We encountered several different species of large bird during our game drive. The landscape is very different here then the Mara, Amboseli and sweetwaters. Very lush with lots off trees and bushes. A perfect place for leopard yet we still haven’t seen one. The leopard is the last of the big five we have not seen. We did see a hippo off in the distance.

Lake Nakuru is flooded right now and many roads have been washed out. Very different from when I was here last year. Places where we got out and walked around in the park are completely submerged. It has not been a good thing for the park or the flamingos but they are finally starting to come back now. No lion sightings in Lake Nakuru. And no opportunity to get out and walk. The one place where it would have been possible was being inhabited by black rhino and Cape buffalo and they would not welcome us out of the vehicle.

We are traveling through the Rift Valley today on our way to the Masai Mara. The Rift Valley is a beautiful place with mountains and valleys flush with green. As we travel through Kenya we encounter the towns. It’s interesting being emerged into the culture. Fascinating to see how people live. And the people are so welcoming and happy.

I cannot wait to get to the Mara. One of my very favorite places. We are sure to see many lions, hippos and crocodiles there. We may even see a leopard. It’s almost the end of our trip and the Mara is a wonderful way to end amazing trip.

More to come!

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Sweetwaters Tented Camp

What can I say about Sweetwaters? One of my most favorite places in Africa. Sweetwaters is a tented camp in Kenya with an amazing watering hole. Every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner- comes with a view of the animals as they hang at the watering hole. It’s hard to eat a meal when you keep getting up from the table to head out to the watering hole watch a herd of 20 elephants come in (with babies!) to drink from the watering hole. One of the highlights was a giraffe coming to the watering hole at lunch to drink. He or she meandered up and spread their legs to bend down and drink. Then he or she popped up and the legs snapped back together. Then he or she wandered to over to where we were all standing and posed as if to say thank you very much.

The elephants – at the watering hole they get so close! Wow! And they test the barrier which is just a small Hill with a tiny fence. If Africa there really isn’t anything elephant proof. In amboseli they broke right through the main security gate and wandered into our lodge during the night.
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Highlight of our game drive in sweetwaters especially for me personally was seeing a huge pack of more then 25 wild dogs with 15 pups!!! In my travels to Africa it’s been my dream to see wild dogs and I never have. My driver Felix knew this and he took us to where their dens are in hopes of seeing them and when we pulled up he turned around a tapped me. I was sitting down checking an email on my phone when he tapped me. I looked up and when I saw all of the dogs I dropped my phone and my camera went flying. I jumped up and when I turned to see the dog they were all playing and romping around. They were doing a “greeting dance” and it was so awesome. The adult and puppies running around romping and playing and yipping. I was I awe. So incredibly rare to see and here we were. It is the first time I have cried that much seeing any animal in Africa. The tears came and they would not stop,

On our night game drive we saw elephant, back rhino, mongoose, Cape buffalo, giraffe. It is so different to experience Africa on a night game drive. A whole different feeling. And the moon was full so it lit the way for our game drive. We got so close to an elephant. The highlight of our night game drive was the three male lions we encountered. We watched the young lions as they wandered through the plains in search of dinner. At one point one fell behind and the other two started calling out to him. Sitting in the pitch black dark with one light while three Male lions roar is PRICELESS.

But for me the highlight was the African wild dog pack. I must say that goes in my book as a once in a lifetime experience. When we got back to the camp I jumped out of the truck and hugged Felix out driver. Amazing.

We are on our way to lake Nakuru. More to come.

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Aberdares and Mount Kenya

We spent two days at the beautiful the Aberdares Country Club nestled on the slopes of the Kamatongu Hill. The Club has splendid views of the plains below with the Aberdare range of mountains to the West and Mt. Kenya to the East. Originally the private residence of a wealthy English family, the house was called “Steep,” and is situated on 1,300 acres of now electrically-fenced private land. Bushbuck, warthog and impala roam the golf course. We saw a herd of zebra hanging out on the green. We opted to take a horseback ride through the hills of Aberdares with a guide. What a thrill! We followed the zebra onto the plains where we had close encounters via horseback with eland and zebra. While riding the trail back to the club we came upon a Rothschild giraffe munching a tree up ahead. As we rode up we were close enough to touch the giraffe. He stopped, looked up and then wandered off into the bush.

During our time at Aberdares we went to Solio ranch. Solio Ranch one of Kenya’s critical rhino habitats. Several years ago Africa was considered as a land so abundant with rhinos that it was easy to see a dozen or more in one day. Severe poaching, hunting and destruction and loss of habitat have caused the numbers to decrease. The white rhino has now been declared near threatened and the black has been declared critically endangered. The ranch is presently home to around 120 black and white rhino and is a fenced, privately-owned protected area geared toward rhino conservation. The 7,500-acre reserve is internationally recognized as one of the most successful private rhino breeding reserves in Kenya.

During our game drive at Solio we encountered so many rhino we lost count. It was amazing! To see so many rhino in one area really made our group appreciate and respect the rhino conservation efforts of Solio ranch. And we saw baby rhino! Breathtaking!

After a short drive this morning we arrived at Serena Mountain Lodge at Mount Kenya. Not only is there a view of the mountain from our rooms but there is an amazing view of the lodge’s large, floodlight watering hole. The Mountain Lodge, which stands 7,200 feet up on the slopes of snow-capped Mount Kenya and is surrounded by dense rain forest, has the area’s highest record of animal “visits” and sightings. There is a full view of the watering hole from every private balcony so you can sit out on the balcony and take in the sights. As I type this right now Giant Forest Hog and bushbuck are grazing by the watering hole. Just a few minutes ago a spotted hyena came into to check out the scene to see who he might be able to eat for dinner. Earlier today cape buffalo and impala drank from the watering hole. Take a tunnel from the basement to the watering hole look out and get eye level with the animals. We also saw three Genet Cats feeding. I can’t begin to explain what its like to sit out on a balcony overlooking a watering hole for hours watching all of the animals come in and out. Oh and at dinner the lodge animal spotters come around with the list and you can check which animals you want to get woken up to see in the night. When they spot them they go door to door knocking. We have already had two knocks for spotted hyena and forest hogs!

We took a guided nature walk through the jungle. Although we didn’t encounter any animals our wonderful guide explained many different plants throughout the jungle and how they are used.

Our drivers James, Issac and Felix are wonderful and our guide Amos is fabulous. They are so knowledgeable and our group just loves them!

We have seen so much and its only the beginning. Tomorrow we head out to Sweetwaters tented camp. More to come!

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Amboseli Adventure Continues

I cannot even believe this is our last day in Amboseli already. Amboseli really is the home of the elephants. Over the course of the last three days we have seen hundreds of elephants. Elephants crossing the road, elephants in the marsh, baby elephants. It is a saying here that there are two kinds of species of elephants – ones with legs and the legless elephants because the elephants spend so much time submerged in the marsh where you can only see their backs, faces and trunks. Then they come lumbering out of the water and they are half wet, even the babies. And so many hippos – we spotted at least 30 in one area today and they are out of the water so much more here then I have ever seen. The most amazing thing we saw today though was a part of a pride of lions – the lionesses teaching the youngsters how to hunt. We really thought we were close to seeing a lion kill today but the youngsters were just too unsure as of what to do still.

We had heavy rains in the afternoon today. The kind where you sit on the verandah and watch the rain pour down. An afternoon spent socializing with group members while the rain refreshes the plains followed bu a rainbow. We have seen three rainbows just during our time in Amboseli. Where can you say you have seen a rainbow while Mount Kilimanjaro is in the background while elephants, zebra and wildebeest graze?

On our evening game drive we made our way up to the observation hill. After climbing 148 stairs to the top we had a full view of Amboseli, including the vast marshland below and it was breathtaking watching the elephant, hippo and all of the birds from high above Amboseli. From atop observation hill we could hear the hippo grunting from below.

Tomorrow we are off to meet the rest of our group in Nairobi before heading out to Aberdares Country Club for more adventure. Once we are all together there will be 18 in total with our group. More to come!

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AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK / MOUNT KILIMANJARO

The first six members of our Potawatomi Zoo African Safari have made it to Kenya! As part of our travel program the Zoological Society is hosting 18 people in Kenya and the pre-extension part of the safari has begun. Follow me as I blog about our adventures as both the host of our group and a traveler on the trip of a lifetime!

We are on day two in Amboseli National Park and everywhere you look there is a view of Mount Kilimanjaro, whether or not it is covered in clouds. When the clouds roll away the view of this majestic mountain is amazing.

The snow-capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain (19,340 feet), rises above the clouds and dominates every aspect of Amboseli. While in Amboseli our days are spent discovering the park and plentiful wildlife that made East Africa legendary. While the park covers only 150 square miles, its small size and fragile ecosystem supports a wide range of mammals including lion, buffalo, cheetah, giraffe, baboon, gazelle and wildebeest (well over 50 of the larger species) and birds (over 400 species).  Herds of elephants feed on large, feathery acacia trees.

Amboseli is also where Cynthia Moss, the noted American naturalist and author, conducted one of the longest-running studies on elephants. You might even see some of the elephants that Cynthia immortalized in her books and award-winning film Echo of the Elephants. During our game drives we have encountered multiple herds of the infamous Amboseli elephants up close and personal. We even encountered a mother and her baby feeding off a palm like tree and when the baby turned around to face us he let out a call to let us know he was in charge and crossed right in front of us.

Today we saw two cheetah in the distance stalking impala. As we waited they disappeared into the trees, probably to lay low while they continued to spy on their prey. There are many watering holes throughout the park that are fed off of Mount Kilimanjaro, These watering holes are the lifeline for the animals and when we come upon a watering hole we see elephant, hippo (we have seen at least 30 hippo in just two days!), giraffe and cape buffalo wading through the marshy waters.

The park is Maasailand. Despite the harsh conditions, animals and humans have learned to coexist and thrive together. Today we visited a traditional Maasai village where we interacted with the Maasai living in the village. There are several villages throughout the area and the one we visited today was home to 400 people representing four families. The Maasai are polygamists, with the men having several wives, creating large families in the village. They live in very modest, primitive huts made of sticks and cow dung and they are herders living a semi nomadic life. Listening to them talk of their way of life is fascinating. We toured the village, interacted with the families and toured a home of one of the families. We were also treated to a traditional Maasai welcome dance.

Amboseli is an amazing expanse of park with so much to see. Seeing herds of elephants, zebras and wildebeest with Mount Kilimanjaro as the backdrop just takes your breath away.

While in Amboseli we are staying at the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge is located at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. http://www.serenahotels.com/serenaamboseli/. More to come as our journey continues!

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Johannesburg – last leg of my South African Adventure!

After a great two days at Imbali in Kruger National Park we flew back to Johannesburg to spend a day and night in the big city. Once we left the airport we headed to Soweto.

Soweto is the most populous black urban residential area in the country, with Census 2001 putting its population at close to a million. Thanks to its proximity to Johannesburg, the economic hub of the country, it is also the most metropolitan township in the country – setting trends in politics, fashion, music, dance and language. It is the home to the first home of Nelson Mandela, now a museum run by Winnie Mandela. Just down the street is the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Soweto is rich with politics, history and culture. The only place where two noble peace prize winners lived on the same street. Soweto is rich with restaurants, shops and homes.

After leaving Soweto we headed to our hotel, the trendy 54 on Bath for our last night in South Africa. http://www.tsogosunhotels.com/deluxe/54-on-bath/pages/overview.aspx#.Uk9NpD9Crms. The views from the rooftop offer an amazing view of Johannesburg.

On our last day we visited The Apartheid Museum. The museum opened in 2001 and is acknowledged as the pre-eminent museum in the world dealing with 20th century South Africa, at the heart of which is the apartheid story. The Apartheid Museum, the first of its kind, illustrates the rise and fall of apartheid.

Johannesburg is a vibrant city – a great way to spend our last days in South Africa. And the museum was the perfect end to our trip.

After the museum we were whisked away to the airport to catch our flight back to the US! South Africa is a MUST SEE! You can join the Potawatomi Zoological Society as we travel to South Africa in 2014. Look for more information in the near future on this exciting trip!

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Kruger National Park – Imbali Safari Lodge

After spending four great days enjoying everything about Cape Town we were off to Kruger National Park to go on safari! After a short flight from Cape Town to Kruger we arrived at Imbali Safari Lodge just in time for a late afternoon game drive. After a quick freshen up we jumped in the safari vehicle and off we went into Kruger National Park. This is where we will play for the next two days! http://imbali.com/

Kruger National Park is one of the world’s great national parks. It is home to an unparalleled diversity of wildlife and is maintained by one of the world’s most sophisticated management systems. Five rivers cross the park from west to east. Kruger is home to frequent browsers and grazers such as giraffe, kudu, impala, zebra, wildebeest and cape buffalo. elephant and black and white rhino are also common. Predators include lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, jackal and wild dog.

Within the park are private consessions such as Imbali, where the lodge rangers care for hectors of land for the national park. In these concessions the rangers work 18 hour days caring for and patrolling the land for poachers, tracking animals, ensuring guest safety and managing the wildlife. They are also the guides and drivers for the guests at the lodge. Its hard work, but very rewarding and these rangers are true conservationists. They live, breath and love all aspects of conserving the species they care for.

Jon was our ranger at Imbali and he showed us some amazing things during our time there.

Imbali was a beautiful lodge. A small private lodge, each “room” had a deck with a jacuzzi. I can’t even describe what its like to sit on your own private deck and watch the elephant right across the way – mere feet away – foraging in the brush! Whole herds of elephants – babies and all – going back and forth from the watering hole across from the lodge. See my pics below to check out my elephant guests! Those pics – that’s how close they were!

We saw SO much wildlife while in Kruger. Its really amazing! Herds of giraffe, so many African hoofstock, and the elephants. Oh my! But by far the coolest thing Jon showed us was the four male lions hanging around a recent kill of a cape buffalo. We tracked these young brothers guarding their territory several times throughout our stay first visiting them during the day. What gorgeous boys! And how proud they were of what they had accomplished!

Later that night Jon took me and two of my travel companions back out after dark to place a night vision camera by the boys and their dinner. While there we sat and observed them in their natural state at night – And WOW! To sit so close to a male lion in the complete still of the night in the bush in the dark with only the stars is like nothing I can describe. And when he looked up at us my heart stopped. He was a mere couple of feet away and his caramel colored eyes were piercing. Jon tapped my shoulder and said don’t move an inch and I sat perfectly still for what seemed like eternity (and for those who know me really well sitting still is HARD!)

On the way back Jon spotted a gecko (in the dark mind you) and pulled over and let us out of the vehicle while he grabbed up the gecko and brought it to us to observe. Standing in the middle of the bush around midnight in the dark with no lights – totally takes your breath away. At one point I asked Jon who or what was all watching us and he was like you can’t even imagine!!

On our game drive the next afternoon we stopped for a sundowner in the bush. A sundowner is where the lodge sets up appetizers and cocktails in the bush and you stop to relax and have a drink before proceeding on. Well we had two guests near our sundowner – two black rhino – and Jon took us out a foot to get a closer look. They definitely were interested is us – but we were far more fascinated with them! They are critically endangered and the most poached species in Kruger and to stand so close to two black rhino – THAT IS RARE! They moved on – but our guide Jon kept close eyes on them.

At one of the watering holes in Kruger we stopped to watch hippo in the water. Well we are there we discovered a pride of about 12 lions. A patriarch, three females, a couple of youngster males and several cubs!! They were perfectly lined up at the watering hole getting a drink when a nearby cape buffalo caught their attention. Off to find dinner!

In between game drives we hung at the lodge watching the watering hole. Herds of elephants, giraffe, and impala all hanging around. Elephants rule though and while they are at the hole they own the place. Everything else – including predators – must wait.

And on our last night there who visited the pool? One of the male lions! Hanging just below the ledge he wanted a drink from the infinity pool. Nothing like looking over to see who is looking at you. No wonder they walk you to your room at night. Wouldn’t want to run into him hanging out – but it would be pretty cool!

LOVED Kruger! Will definitely go back again and spend more time there. Didn’t get to see my wild dogs….or a leopard this time so I MUST go back right!

Lion imbali Imbali elephant 1 Imbali elephant lion imbali 1

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