Greetings from Tumaren. Outside the office, as I type, a small herd of Elephants are breaking Acacia branches to get at the tasty bark. They are part of the second largest population of Elephants in Kenya and they are a welcome distraction from the accounts.
Elephants in fact are one of my favorite aspects of life in Laikipia and specifically of the walks I guide. On Tumaren, our conservation area, we often have several herds around and observing these animals is typically the highlight of my walks. Elephants, as most guests already know, are complex and intelligent animals and observing them on safari can be a life affirming pleasure.
It shouldn’t be surprising that I think the best way to Elephant-watch is on foot, but it is. On foot we make our appoach always considering the wind direction. We are silent and slow and the animals are oblivious to our presence. Their behavior then is naturual and unrehearsed (even the tame animals in the game park behave differently when they are concious of a nearby vehicle or human smell).
Another life affirming aspect of walking with Elephants is the understanding of exactly where our species ranks in the wild. The African Elephant is the largest terrestrial species of animal on Earth. When you walk beside them you appreciate that fact. You feel small and it is humbling to realize how humans evolved beside such monstrous gentle giants.
The relationship, of course, has been a rocky one, especially in recent years. But all of our guests pay conservation fees that help safeguard our Eles among all the other fauna and flora and we are hugely thankful for that. Here are a few of our elephant achievements that we are quite proud of:
Elephants Mums are now so comfortable that they regularly give birth on Tumaren. This is now a common occurence but it never happened when we first purchased the property
We have rescued one orphan named Tumaren who was sent to the Sheldrick orphanage and is now part of their orphan herd at Ithumba
We no longer have snares in our area. The last snare we removed was many years ago
Through diligent patrols, our area is now no longer a safe place for poachers to operate in
Each year we guide a 100 mile walk to raise money for Elephant conservation efforts in Kenya
Anyway, all our trumpeting best to you and your family.
Did you know that Sir David Attenborough’s introduction to his series Africa was shot in Laikipia? We are among the very few operators who ever visit this stunning spot and it is a pleasure to know it also appeals to our hero, Sir DA.
One of the difficulties of planning your camera gear for safari is there too much to choose from. The fact that the small airplanes you might board will restrict your weight exacerbates the difficulty in choosing just the right gear.
My advice: Keep it simple. This is what I bring on our safaris.
1. A camera body that can easily:
switch to point metering
increase or decrease the ISO quickly (mine goes up to 6400)
switch to shutter or aperture priority fast
switch to manual focus
take an extra memory card (for god’s sake don’t get in a situation of having to delete images to take new ones)
take an extra battery or two – this is key, really key.
2. A Telephoto Zoom lens:
mine is a Nikon 80mm-400mm F4.5-5.6 It is not the fastest lens in the world but I can crank the ISO up on my camera so easily that I rarely have a problem with shake.
avoid bringing a huge telephoto lens unless you have a particular image in mind or you are a professional with plenty of time (most safari goers are only out for several weeks). 9 times out of 10 your better off with a telephoto zoom that can get you into the action quickly but is also easy to wield. I have seen on many occasions, visitors on safari with a 600mm lens fussing and asking the driver to back away from the animal because the vehicle is too close to the subject. This is crazy – the object of wildlife photography is not to just take the animals pupil but to tell a bit more of the story. With a zoom you can compose an image easily and if there is a high speed chase you can start wide and zoom to find the subject. Try following a cheetah making a kill with a 600mm lens – impossible unless you are very practised and you have an excellent tripod.
3. A Wide-angle Zoom
Good for landscapes, people and telling stories. Choose a zoom that has a good close focus.
3. Get a camerabag that is easy to use. I prefer the lowepro Sport 200 for walking or while I’m guiding in the car and there isn’t much extra room for my own equipment. For Car based trips I use one of the larger Lowe bags.
Something else that I like about this bag is that to its easy to take my camera out of it or to return it with out much fuss.
As a safari guide I go through lots of shoes and so it Is not often that I find a pair that I get excited about. These Scarpa’s Zen Pro Mid GTX on the other hand are worth the excitement. An excellent aspect is that the sides are leather and they do not let in any grass seeds that can cause lots of frustration for people with mesh sided trainers. They also are supportive of my rather flimsy ankle that likes to roll on rocks. Best of all is their ‘approach’ type design that helps in climbing and clamoring over rocks – they would actually be not only excellent for a walking safari with the camels but also for climbing Mt. Kenya. Lanana, would be no problem but these boots could even get you up Batian because of their slim design and their sharp rubber lip at the toes.
I combine these boots with a simple gaiter to keep out seeds. You can also spray your gaiters with bug spray to discourage ticks.