My first safari

On World Animal Day, our Editor in Chief shares memorable moments of her first encounter with Kenya’s wildlife.

October 4, 2019

We’re at Lewa Safari Camp at the foot of Mount Kenya. This lodge in central Kenya belongs to one of the country's oldest families, the Craig / Douglas. For a wee bit of royal gossip, Lewa is one of the favorite vacation spots of the royal family. And to top it off, this is the very place where Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton. But most importantly, like the other 15 major sanctuaries in East Africa, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is widely-respected for reinvesting its profits in conservation, fight against poaching and community projects.

The unexpected savannah

First of all, you must get up early when you’re on a safari. The day begins before dawn when the animals are most active. The safari drives among the herds of wildlife provide so many valuable lessons in ecology, biology, economy, globalization, industrialization and the environment! But there are also unforgettable life stories.

It’s not every morning that we witness the capture of a baby gazelle by a pair of jackals while the mother screams in distress as she watches the attackers tear into their prey. That morning, our Maasai hosts had prepared for us a fabulous lunch in the middle of the savannah, but no one could swallow a single bite.

Safari without guns

“Game drives” is the term used to refer to these wildlife explorations into the savanna where the wildlife hide. The possibility of encountering these majestic creatures increases tenfold at dawn and dusk, and the animals most sought-after by tourists are known as the Big Five: the lion, the cheetah, the elephant, the buffalo and the rhinoceros. These majestic animals are prized for their rarity and impressive appearance, and they’re all part of the wildlife service’s protection program. Lions alone are fragile kings, considering that in the last 50 years their population in Africa has declined by 95%.

Above all, it’s amazing to observe the yellow eyes of this king of the jungle lock with ours as our Nikon cameras click away, shot after shot. “Hakuna Matata! It’s no problem,” says the guide. “They’re confusing you with the truck.” It must be said: one is never completely prepared to meet their first lion. It’s a heartfelt moment that hits you hard in the chest.

The head, just the head alone, is so big. And the legs! And the claws! OMG! As I change my lens with trembling hands, I think of these lions I have seen in cartoons and magazines : none have as many scars. He’s there, impassive, his lioness by his side. Right away, lions become my favourite.

It’s after leaving the lions that I encounter elephants. Five meters from us, the family bickering. One is trying to uproot a tree. He pulls on the branches. The sound of torn wood splits the air. The other one paws the ground. My traveling companion fixes on something behind me. I turn around slowly. Two elephants are caressing each other with their trunks. In the background, the sun goes down.

We set out for our breakfast. In my head, it's decided: my favorite animal is now the elephant.

But, when I made that declaration, I hadn’t yet met any giraffes…

When our editor-in-chief travelled to Kenya, climate activist Greta Thunberg was still a little girl, and it was just before the series of attacks claimed by the Somalia Islamists al-Shabab. “Today, I probably wouldn’t go back, but on this World Animal Day, my thoughts are of these wild beasts and their struggle—and ours —for survival.”

Credits: Josée Larivée

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