I peel myself out of bed as the sun peeps up over the horizon. The dogs are stirring and the mere mention of a walk puts them into a frenzy.
We head out – the dogs’ noses close to the ground following all of the exciting scents to be found on the Kapiti Plains in Kenya.
I am on full alert as, at this moment, we are but three -two dogs and me! – amongst vast herds of wildlife. My eyes are scanning for warthogs. Notoriously they are very brave and defend their babies against any threats. They could be fatal to my dogs if they decided to chase them. At this time of year they all have strings of youngsters, tails standing erect like antennae as they run through the long grass. A tempting target for any dog!
We walk through large herds of wildebeest with their tan babies on spindly legs snugged up close to their mothers. They watch us without concern. It is still cool and the adults are playful, chasing each other around the thorn bushes with their ungainly strides. Watching them, I wonder with admiration how they manage to endure their long annual migration, considered to be one of the seven wonders of the natural world, between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Having given birth on the calcium rich plains of the southern Serengeti, they travel thousands of miles following the rains in search of grazing. The wildebeest calves can run within minutes of birth and undertake this journey without wavering. They brave the attendant predators and the crushing jaws of crocodiles as they cross the Mara River into the Maasai Mara, my home in Kenya. But this is another story….
Today I am on foot amongst smaller herds but equally entrancing.
I see movement. I stop. A large herd of kongoni, or hartebeest, silhouetted against the sun, cross in front of me, kicking up their heels with joy at the beginning of this wonderful day. Their babies bounce stiff-legged to get a better view over the long grass. The mock turf wars are amusing to watch. As one large male was rubbing his head in the dirt to stake out his territory, another male came up behind and prodded him in the “rear end”, causing him to jump in fright and causing me to collapse in silent laughter!
I pause to look around and find that we are being watched by a herd of majestic giraffe – so well camouflaged they had escaped my attention. They peer over the bushes with their long-lashed eyes and slowly walk towards us – their curiosity piqued by the dogs. We all silently observe each other and move on. The dogs intuitively know that the consequences of harassing giraffe could be serious – one kick from their front legs and it would be all over.
In the middle distance, I catch sight of three ostriches – two males and a female – fanning their wings back and forth – perhaps to cool off or perhaps to show off! Inevitably the competition is on! The males start running around each other in circles with the circles becoming smaller and smaller. To his dismay and embarrassment, the circles became so tight that one fell over in the dust! He scrambled back to his feet, looking around to see who had witnessed his demise! He “lost the girl” to his competitor!
The magic is not yet over- streaking Thomson’s gazelles careen past, dodging and feinting enough to confuse predators – and the dogs who stayed obediently to heel! I find hyena scat but the animal, thankfully, remains hidden. Dogs and hyenas would be a bad mix – and would not end well for the dogs!
As I think that I have experienced a lifetime of pleasure on this morning walk, I come across a den of bat-eared foxes enjoying the morning rays of the sun. The dogs were restrained and we all looked at each other with unspoken understanding. All is well with the world on this beautiful morning. I thought to myself that this is the magic of the Kenya that I love. As a child I always wanted to be St. Francis of Assisi in order to be able to be with animals that would have no fear of me (and would not want to eat me!). And this is about as close as it comes!
In conclusion, I am honoured and grateful to be a National Geographic Big Cats Initiative Grantee. Their support, and that of so many others, enables me to protect the amazing wildlife that I love so much in Kenya’s Maasai Mara in order that future generations may also have the same privilege of being amongst the wildlife.