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Africa's Big Five

Eye contact with a lion cub, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeOf course, like anyone taking a safari, I was desperate to see the 'big five' - not that I knew what the 'big five' was; I'd stumbled across this phrase several times during my research. Was it some kind of yeti or mythical creature with five heads? I looked it up and discovered it went back to the days of hunting, when big, strong, men with big guns (and small penises) would roam the savannah for elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino and lion. I understand that these animals were deemed the most dangerous game which is why the cheetah wasn't included. Curiously, the hippo wasn't on the list... too much of a challenge perhaps?

Lion cubs playing, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeBefore the first day was over, we'd seen plenty of grazers: gazelle, impala, topi, wildebeest, zebra etc and two of the big five: elephants and lions. Without wanting to sound corny, I was overwhelmed. I was also aware of the silly look on my face as I watched a pride of lions relaxing in the tall grass. They looked like any normal family: mum, tolerating only so much from her playful cubs, before she'd give them a swipe and resume her siesta; Dad, nowhere to be seen. We later found him far away from the brood, fast asleep in the grass. His responsibilities had, clearly, taken their toll.
The pride occasionally acknowledged our presence with a moment's eye contact - now that was powerful - but considering we were just a few feet away they didn't seem bothered by us at all. Bull Elephant, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlife

A little further on, we came across a herd of elephants; two decimated an entire tree in approximately 10 seconds, while another carefully examined one of the safari jeeps. Inside, all occupants had temporarily stopped breathing, as the tip of an inquisitive trunk groped around for an entry point. I don't think they even took a photo. Our driver Kantim slowly approached a lone bull elephant: "Closer!" I said excitedly, with my camera resting on the roof. I had to get a good shot of this magnificent beast. Elephant eating, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeKantim inched a little closer. "Come on, a bit more!" I said, finger hovering over the shutter release. "I can't," said Kantim, "he's going to charge!" Just at that moment, his ears flared (the bull's, not Kantim's) and he started towards us. Anticipating this, Kantim had already started to move the jeep away; in turn, the elephant lowered his ears. I, seething at my slow reflexes, lowered my camera and found comfort in a close-up of a battered old relic. Buffalo holding Lion hostage, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeIn the distance, several stationary jeeps signified a discovery of some kind. We drove slowly to where they gathered, near the edge of a wood. Peter, an Aussie, sitting in the front seat, yelled: "There's a lion in the tree and it's stalking the buffalo!" A lioness crouched in the nook of a tree about 10ft above two buffaloes.Lion in tree, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlife These huge beasts, with their shiny wigs of stone, seemed unaware of the danger that lurked, silently above them. We waited a while for something to happen. Nobody said a word. The buffaloes appeared restless and agitated, snorting and locking horns with one another. Angry buffalo, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlife Suddenly, one of them looked up at the lion above and smashed its solid head against the tree trunk. The branches trembled and the lion shifted uncomfortably. I began to wonder who was stalking who. Then Kantim told us in a low voice that lions, as a rule, don't climb trees: "Buffalo kill samba no problem. She wait 'til buffalo go," he whispered, delighted at this spectacle. He chuckled and gleefully slapped the side of the jeep. Buffaloes, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeIt seemed an eternity before the frustrated buffaloes finally got bored and moved on. Another eternity passed before the nervous lion even attempted the descent. Lioness, awkwardly scrambling out of tree, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeThis proved a little difficult for her. She tried going down head first, then backwards, then from a different angle. Lion still stuck in tree, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeAfter ten minutes watching this traumatised lion trying to get out of the tree, we were all laughing! Her muscles were bulging and rippling like a primed body builder as she tried this way and that. Finally, she reached terra firma and with a flick of her tail, she recovered her pride and sauntered off into the wood. It was a rare and precious moment, to observe such a reversal in the laws of the savannah.

Despite the bruises (Kantim's ancient jeep was due for re-upholstering back in the 70s) I was thoroughly enjoying myself. What a beautiful country! And what a crazy bunch of maniacs that don't realise the full potential of this gem they live on. The money they could make from tourism would solve most of Africa's problems in one fell swoop. Kenya and the other coastal countries have the advantage of beautiful beaches but the interior has a charm that really touches the soul. It's warped but, clearly, the leaders feel more secure with the population on its knees. From their standpoint, poverty among the masses guarantees they maintain power. No big or new revelation, I know, but it really strikes you when you're there. How can this be the poorest (and yet the richest) continent on earth?
Anyway, I'm not drunk so I've no excuse for putting the world to rights. Read on to meet the fragile cheetah...

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Have you been to Kenya? Is there a wildlife park or lodge that you would recommend? Write a review here about your 'big five' safari holiday and tell others about your experience - good or bad. Perhaps you know of an excellent budget campsite - or a luxury lodge that should be avoided! Otherwise, feel free to post a question. Let's share our Kenya safari wildlife experiences...

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