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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Travel Review: Big cats galore at Selenkay Conservancy

Lions at the Selenkay Conservancy in Amboseli
Lions at the Selenkay Conservancy in Amboseli

The Kilimanjaro’s prominent peak finally juts out over the clouds that have been curtaining Africa’s highest point for the past two days. An inquisitive pride of about nine lion cubs prowl about the bone dry riverbed, making for quite the stunning and indelible vista. Their apparent cautious curiosity is much more than can be said for their parents, Martin - the current king of Selenkay Conservancy - and Nordupae, who we find sprawled about on a dry patch of grass several minutes later. It is their ‘honeymoon’ period, and after watching them for about half an hour, we are all utterly intrigued by their mating rituals. These two will go at it for about 10 seconds, every 30 minutes, for seven consecutive days! You blink twice and it’s over, then with a roar from Martin that sounds like a cross between contentment and fatigue, they both just roll over and fall asleep. Our Maasai guide through the plains of Amboseli is called Richard, an enthusiastic chap armed with an impressive repertoire of information about wildlife, with none of our endless curious questions being left unanswered. He explains that during this period, lions do not even stop to eat!

I have never encountered more lions during a game drive than we did at Selenkay Conservancy in Amboseli Game Reserve, and if you love big cats then this is well worth the visit. According to Richard, the number is currently at about 40. The best part is that we were often the only truck winding across the massive dusty land, except for that one time when a bunch of Chinese journalists with intimidating telephoto lenses showed up and scared all the lions away.

Where to stay: Porini Amboseli Camp

If you truly love wildlife, your choice of accommodation should always be dictated by spots that conserve them without having any negative impact on the ecosystem, and after looking around, we settled on Porini Amboseli Camp which is an intimate collection of ten semi-permanent eco-camps that can host up to 20 guests at a time. It is also one of the pioneers of the community conservation model in Kenya whereby everyone benefits, right from the guests to the locals and the wildlife being protected.

We got there in about 25 minutes by private charter from Wilson Airport and were picked up from the airstrip in a 4x4 offroad truck which I was to share with a lovely couple who were such ardent bird lovers and whose enthusiasm and knowledge I was content to wallow in. We were also paired with our expert guide Richard who showed us to a picnic deck with a raised dining area overlooking one of the waterholes from which we had breakfast while watching zebras, giraffes, guinea fowls and other fellows come to either quench their thirst or bathe.

As with all good eco camps, this cozy spot relies on solar energy, the convenient shower bucket style system and simple yet tasteful tents outfitted for functionality. At the time, there were about ten guest and we all got to dine together which was great given that there is no WiFi or television. By the time you are checking out, you will have shared various delicious meals, played campfire games, swapped life stories and made some truly incredible new friends of various ages.

Game Drive

We also spotted a herd of elephants chomping and trampling on shrubs as they bathed and reveled in the light afternoon dust. When you head out to Amboseli National Park which is a day trip in itself, you are guaranteed to spot plenty of them there. You will see various antelopes like the giraffe necked gazelle, grant’s gazelle and the strikingly similar Thompson’s, as well as the shy dik dik which always seems to be scurrying away in the opposite direction on its scrawny legs. You will chuckle when your guide tells you about the warthog and its short-term memory; it can spot a lion and start running away, then 10 seconds later, forget why it started running in the first place and stop- consequently getting killed. You will also really enjoy going on an escorted walk with the warriors. Seeing animals on two feet gives an entirely different perspective from being on the ground. The giraffes look scary tall, and learning how to identify wildlife from their footprints is exciting.

Must-visit: Maasai Village

One of the great joys of travel is meeting different people, talking to them and seeing a place from their worldview, and a visit to the traditional Maasai village was therefore a welcome experience. Right off the bat, however, expect to be swarmed by flies which are generally attracted to wildlife and are prevalent around the manyattas because of the cow dung, which has various uses in their livelihood such as lighting fires. We were welcomed with jubilant song and dance, and I was content to go around chatting to the villagers in a bid to really just understand what it’s like to walk in a different person’s shoes.

As a travel writer, I am often asked if the Maasai in these villages mind the curiosity into their way of life, constantly getting photographed by tourists and if they benefit at all from these visits. Based on accounts from firsthand conversations, they have come to understand the benefits tourism has on their livelihoods, and they welcome it. Matter of fact, some women kept asking why I had a camera at hand and was not photographing them more. They were altogether too happy to smile into my lens, and boy do they know their good angles! Using Porini Amboseli Camp as a case study; almost everyone on staff is from the local community with some having been handpicked and trained on the job, they get paid whenever visitors go to the manyatta, since the land is being leased from them, they get a cut from the tourists that come in, and there is also a store at the camp from which they sell all their beautiful beaded products. It really is a win-win for everyone.

Location: Selenkay Conservancy, Amboseli

Phone: + 254 722 509 200

Email: [email protected]

Website: www.porini.com

Experience rating: 4.7 stars

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