Micato Musings


Jan

12

The Language of African Trees, Part 2

Posted by: Jane Carswell

And why the sin of anthropomorphism isn’t so mortal any more

By Tom Cole

Downstream from here—or is it upstream? I’m still a codex guy in a scrolling world—anyway, in this article I talked about how the sin of anthropomorphism isn’t nearly so mortal anymore, and about the erosion of the anthropocentric idea that of all the estimated 8.7 million species on our little planet, only us humans are capable of thought, emotion, and agency, not to mention empathy, sympathy, and intentional sweetness.

Now: how about plants?

Some of us may remember The Secret Life of Plants, a book from the deep ‘70s that raised a lot of eyebrows, spawned a whole genre of jokes, and inspired Doonesbury’s Zonker Harris’ pep talks to his marijuana plants.

Doonsbury Comic Strip with Zonker Harris

• DOONESBURY © 1974 G. B. Trudeau. Reprinted with permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

The Secret Life’s methodology might not have been up to scientific snuff, and its conclusions were a little—or way—over the top, but it planted a seed that has grown fitfully, but handsomely, and now seems certain that plants do indeed communicate. As Kat McGowan wrote in Wired (December 20, 2013), “The evidence for plant communication is only a few decades old, but in that short time it has leapfrogged from electrifying discovery to decisive debunking to resurrection.”

If you’re at all interested in the idea that plants are more—probably amazingly more—how shall I say…thoughtful than we ever thought, head straight to “The Intelligent Plant,” in the December 23, 2013 New Yorker. In it, Michael Pollan (author of The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, among seven other highly respected books) recounts the absolutely flabbergasting recent research.

To my mind, discovering running water on Mars is a big deal, but the ongoing revelation of the botanical world’s IQ is akin to the discovery of a species of little green surfers on the Red Planet.

Since I’m a Micato and an Africa lover, let’s do a little mind-popping plant observing at the place where man was born.

First, if you’ll pardon a digression that really isn’t: We mourn the passing last year of Peter Matthiessen, a guy I think should have won the Nobel Prize. He suffered a little because of the broadness of his interests. He wrote fictionally and factually on everything from Lake Baikal, to Zen, to the tragedy of Leonard Peltier, to you-name-it. I once spent a weekend at his home near the beach at Sagaponack, out on Long Island. I’m name-dropping, I know, but I want to tell you that rarely, if ever, have I met a guy so bright, humble, and vitally interested. Africa was especially close to Peter’s heart and it lost a valuable friend when he died. He wrote three books about the continent, African Silences, the sometimes overlooked Sand Rivers, and the magnificent The Tree Where Man Was Born.

We’ve often used a quote from that book in Micato publications, a quote I think brilliantly sums up why Africa so often makes visitors almost dizzy with unexpected cheer and a powerful sense of coming home.

The wild creatures I had come to Africa to see are exhilarating in their multitudes and colors, and I imagined for a time that this glimpse of the earth’s morning might account for the anticipation that I felt, the sense of origins, of innocence and mystery, like a marvelous childhood faculty restored. Perhaps it is the consciousness that here in Africa, south of the Sahara, our kind was born. But there was also something else…. the stillness of this ancient continent, the echo of so much that has died away, the imminence of so much as yet unknown. Something has happened here, is happening, will happen—whole landscapes seem alert.

There are bookfulls of ideas and insights in that quote, but let’s concentrate on the last, purposefully anthropomorphic words about entire landscapes being alert. It’s gloriously true of African landscapes and I don’t know if Peter was thinking of how acacia trees communicate with each other, but he certainly captured the constantly happening vibrancy of Africa’s living landscape.

Remembering some wonderful news about acacias, signature trees of African landscapes, I turn to a superbly informative book called Pyramids of Life: Patterns of Life and Death in the Ecosystem by Harvey Croze and John Reader, with a foreword by the great Darwinist Richard Dawkins (who reminds us that “We have Africa in our blood and Africa has our bones. We are all African.”)

I haven’t visited Pyramids of Life in a few years, and I’m thrilled to find that it was a 2004 Christmas present from two of Africa’s most fervent champions Luca Belpietro and Antonella Bonomi, of the influential Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and the creator/operators of the hands-down most wonderful camp I’ve ever experienced, southern Kenya’s Campi ya Kanzi.

In a section called “A tree for all seasons,” Croze and Reader extoll the acacia, “Africa’s universal icon.” And here—you may be thinking: at last!—we get to a now well-documented but amazing acacian trait:

Acacias have been observed to provide an “alarm signal” to neighbouring trees. When antelopes browse on their leaves, they emit ethylene into the air and produce leaf tannin in lethal [my emphasis] quantities. The ethylenes can waft up to 50 metres from the “attacked” individuals. The exposed neighbours appear to be effectively warned of the impending dangers, for in less than ten minutes they step up their own production of leaf tannin…after a few minutes of browsing the herbivore finds his lunch going sour and wanders off to find something better tasting.

 

Giraffe eating acacia leaves in Africa

We don’ t think of it this way, but the peaceful giraffe is a predator, and the unassuming tree is the prey. But it’s becoming clearer that the tree is very aware of these power relationships, and is surprisingly capable of doing some subtle things about them.

We live with only fleeting awareness of a buzzingly communicative, cogitating world, rich with alert landscapes and complex animal and floral societies. Our increasingly deeper appreciation of our fellow creatures is a joyous awakening, a human faculty in restoration. And nowhere is that dawning consciousness more dramatic than in wilderness Africa, one of the few places on the planet where non-human nature is still benignly in charge.

Dec

18

Micato Safaris Photo Contest – Fall 2015

Posted by: Jane Carswell

Our Safari travellers showed their photography talents this fall with another selection of delightful images submitted for our September, October and November Photo Contests.  Each of the following monthly winners has received a credit worth $250 from Micato’s Safari Shop to ensure that they get exactly what they want under their Christmas tree this month.

September 2015
WINNER
Satish Nair

Satish Nair lion with cub, maasai mara (1)

A lioness and cub catch the first rays of morning light on the Maasai Mara.

“I was hoping against hope to get an animal picture in the early light, with a balloon in the background,” says Satish. “Imagine our surprise when we chanced upon this lioness and her cub lounging on a cozy termite mound, with two balloons on the horizon!”

September 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Francois Vincent

Mother and baby rhinoceros

A Mama and Baby Rhino stepping out in Lewa Conservancy, Kenya.

“Our Micato guide spotted the wary mother rhino in the distance,” says Francois. “After awhile, she relaxed, and the baby came out from behind her to see what was happening, allowing us to shoot this photo.”

October 2015
WINNER
Allan Gold

leopard

Mornings on the Serengeti reveal a special kind of African magic.

“Just as we began our safari for the day,” Allan remembers, “we came upon this tranquil, mist-engulfed scene of a newly awakened leopard surveying its realm from high up on it’s nighttime resting place, getting ready to climb down and begin its morning explorations.”

October 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Mary Mass

Pangolin tail, Botswana

Maybe the only pangolin image ever submitted to the contest, Mary captured this shot before her subject slipped away.

Pangolins were high on Mary’s safari wish list, but the reclusive ant-eating mammals lived up to their reputation for elusiveness… until her Micato guide came through on a promise, and Mary got this fine picture.

November 2015
WINNER
Bob Fjeldstad

Bob Fjeldstad 2012-08_Kenya_0388

A juvenile male lion peeks through the leaves in Namibia.

Bob worked hard for this shot, taken in Etosha National Park, but the enchanting result proves that “All things are ready, if our mind be so,” as Shakespeare wrote. Of course, the curious juvenile male lion’s cooperation was crucial to Bob’s success.

November 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Emily Dillow

four elephants in Amboseli natiional park

Elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya by Mary Mass.

Intently on the lookout for lions, Emily “suddenly spotted these elephants. It goes to show that the unexpected photos you capture in Africa can be just as good or better than the ones you plan for!”

 

It is never too late to submit your photos to the Micato Safaris Photo Contest.  Submissions are always accepted, regardless of when you travelled with us!  We look forward to announcing our December winner next month, along with the 2015 Grand Prize Winner who will be eligible for a $3,000 credit towards a future safari, or to use in the Safari Shop.  Let us know in the comments who you think should win the 2015 Grand Prize!

 

Nov

27

Google Goes on Safari

Posted by: Micato

For everyone from the arm-chair voyager to the Africa expert, it’s time to put down your binoculars, warm up your mouse and get your Cardboard out. We give you The Virtual Safari.

By Leslie Woit

No, it’s not another quick route to dinner or a nostalgic skip down the tree-lined memory lane of your childhood. Not only are you and your computer a simple mouse maneouvre from the latest heart-lifting, mesmerizing, and possibly quite addictive variation of that devilishly clever tool of the modern-day explorer – Google Street View. Now the Next Big Deal on the virtual reality block has also come to roost on the plains of Africa — Google Cardboard.

The hot new virtual reality platform developed by Google — a simple fold-out cardboard mount that holds your mobile phone – brings the elegant necks of giraffes and the magnificent manes of the lions crazily close. Raise the DIY box to your eyes et presto: Celery, Ute, and Cinnamon, surround you in full definition, trunks and all.

The manners-minding matriarch of the Spices family and her offspring… these are just a few of the elephants you’ll get to know on your Virtual Safari — shading under the canopy of an acacia elatior tree, splashing at the evening watering hole, trumpeting and tussling and generally enjoying their elephant days, deep in the heart of the African savannah.

Elephants in Samburu

Cinnamon and Celery from the Spice Family on Google Street view. Samburu, Kenya.

In addition to this Google Cardboard experience, for the first time in Kenya, Google’s Street View technology has formed a one-of-a-kind partnership with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (as well as with Save The Elephants and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) to zoom and focus on the fascinating moment-by-moment machinations of elephants in the wild, alongside the antics of their compadres and foes. From the graceful endangered Grevy’s zebra to the threatened rhino both black and the white, we may now observe the gamut of Lewa’s wildlife – and that includes magnificent lions, prolific birdlife, and reticulated giraffes such as Napunyu — as they eat, travel, hunt and play. At home, in the wild, naturally. In short, all the splendours of an African safari are now writ large across your screen — minus, we must say, those unforgettable, unmistakable African smells and sounds, though they’re almost certainly working on that too…

Along with savannah views and watering-hole hangouts, you’re also a click away from a unique view over the elephant migration (not to mention, the route for the annual Lewa Marathon – humans only — that snakes through the same territory). The only Eli-underpass in the country links the forest ecosystem of Mount Kenya with the savannah of Lewa and Samburu plains to the north, opening the traditional migration route that connects some 2000 elephants of Mount Kenya to more than 6500 in the Samburu plains.

Elephants-Lewa-Conservancy

Elephants in Lewa Conservancy captured by Google Street View in Samburu, Kenya.

These heart-lifting Safari Cams are just one innovation among many at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Not only did Lewa pioneer the use of skilled Bloodhound dogs for tracking wildlife poachers, Lewa holds a truly ground-breaking place in African conservation history. Originally a family cattle ranch since 1922, its 62,000 acres of outstanding game viewing in the shadow of Mt Kenya became among the first in Kenya to function as a private conservancy. Created in 1995, the original conservancy has propagated an entire model of successful wildlife and land management: private conservancies now number almost 30 in Kenya, amounting to some eight million acres of protected landscape.

A conservation trend is born and this virtual tour, while never as good as the real thing, shares a little magic with the world.

Guests of Micato Safaris explore Lewa’s protected wilderness from the privileged position offered by the relaxed yet elegant Lewa Safari Camp. Tucked among acres of rich emerald coffee bushes, this unique retreat features large tented bedrooms with vista-rich verandas and en-suite baths, cosy log fires in the great room, a giraffe-patterned pool, relaxing spa treatments and, of course, the opportunity for atmospheric bush breakfasts and al fresco sundowners at the foot of Mt Meru.

Nov

06

The Language of African Trees, Part 1

Posted by: Micato

And why the sin of anthropomorphism isn’t so mortal any more

Part 1

By Tom Cole

Going but not quite gone are the days when one of the biggest scientific sins was anthropomorphism—ascribing human characteristics to animals (or other unemotive, unthinking things, like lamposts). Until recently a doctoral thesis on, say, Mourning Rituals in a Tanzanian Elephant Herd would flunk you right out of the zoology—or any other—university department.

As Carl Safina writes in a magnificent new book I’m going to praise 430 or so words south of here, “Even the most informed, logical inferences about other animal’s motivations, emotions, and awareness could wreck your professional prospects. The mere question could….Suggesting that other animals can feel anything wasn’t just a conversation stopper; it was a career killer.”

I believe the shift away from anthropocentrism—the idea that our chesty species occupies the pinnacle of evolution—got a big, maybe crucial push by Jane Goodall. Her scientifically chaste but big-hearted research in the real—as opposed to laboratory—lives of chimpanzees made it close to impossible to deny them emotions, agency, not to mention more brains, talent, and personality than we ever thought.

three chimpanzees study an object

The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences returned Jane Goodall’s first scientific paper on chimpanzees because she used names, rather than numbers, for her research subjects and called them “he” and “she” rather than “it.”

(I always wondered what one of those sternly anti-anthropomorphic professors thought when he went home to his anything-but-robotic dog, and how all that jumping around and doggy smooches couldn’t possibly mean that the pooch simply didn’t feel glad to see the old fellow.)

In his great book The Tiger, John Vaillant, the kind of writer/thinker who makes other writers wish they’d taken up spot welding instead, writes about how scientists have dismissed the experience of people and peoples who live in close quarters with animals as “arguments from inference—anecdotal and unprovable.” Which, he says, “misses the point: these feelings of trans-species understanding and communication have less to do with animals being humanized, or humans being ‘animalized,’ than with all parties simply being sensitized to nuances of the other’s presence and behavior.”

Of course, pendulums have a way of swinging out of balance. The wisest approach to this question, in my moderately humble opinion, is to break down the human/animal polarity and accept that we are a very interesting species of natural born animals, not some unique brand of sentient beings.

The inherent unknowability of animals and their societies—not to mention the innermost workings of your best human  friend—is worth keeping in mind, too; when I ponder our French Bulldog Mimi, a smart and muscular little Cleopatra, I realize that I’m as close as I’ll ever get to an encounter with an extraterrestrial.

French-bulldog

The author’s French Bulldog, Mimi, “a smart and muscular little Cleopatra…as close as I’ll ever get to an encounter with an extraterrestrial.”

For us Africa lovers and African animal observers, this is all catnip (a psychoactive substance that highlights the fact that cats have psyches). I don’t want to bore you with citations, because I want to get to the African trees that (okay: seem to) think. But three new books might be of interest: Frans de Waal’s forthcoming Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (nice title, Professor!), and two more books with upfront titles, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell, and Dr. Safina’s Beyond Words: What Animals  Think and Feel, a book the level-headed New York Review of Books calls “astonishing…a major milestone in our evolving understanding of our place in nature. It has the potential to change our relationship with the natural world.” (If you’re fascinated by elephants or outright love them, Safina’s first chapter, spent among the elephant families of Amboseli National Park—a place dear to Micato’s heart—will give you great and mind-expanding joy.)

This blog threatens to get out of hand, so I’m going to partition it. In my next entry, I’ll zero in on those talking African trees.

(Click here to continue to The Language of African Trees, Part 2)

 

 

 

Sep

18

July & August Photo Contest Winners Announced

Posted by: Micato

Our call for submissions in the July and August Micato Safaris Photo Contest yielded tremendous results, once again.  Our Micato Safaris judges poured over images of kudus and gazelles, Maasai warriors and grandchildren, as well as the African landscapes of which we are so fond.  The talent of the following four photographers rose to the top this summer:

July 2015
WINNER
Grant Stephens

African leopard decending from tree branches

How rare to catch a leopard at all, but to catch him in action shows real talent!

Grant tells us that while on safari in East Africa with his parents, “We came across dead impala in a tree and we became quite excited when our drivers told us we were close to a Leopard. We anxiously drove around searching different trees for this amazing hunter. We came across this beautiful Leopard and gazed upon it as it stared back at us. Soon the Leopard stood up, hopped onto a lower branch then jumped out of the tree. I had had my camera focused on him the whole time waiting for an opportunity to photograph him. As this magnificent leopard ran away, I looked down at my camera screen and was just ecstatic with the moment that I had captured.”

July  2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Lucie Fjeldstad

Maasai Elder

Lucie’s colourful portrait of a Maasai elder shows the human side of an African safari.

We agree with Lucie when she says that “Kenya is NOT just about the wildlife.  It’s about endless savannahs, sunrises, sunsets and some of the friendliest, most colorful people you will find anywhere in the world.”  She went on to question “Wouldn’t the entire world be better if we all dressed in bright and lively colors?  It couldn’t help but brighten our day, much like meeting this fellow and his family did for us when our guide took us to a Maasai village.  Everyone was so welcoming and friendly!   The costumes, the colors, the jewelry, and even the hairstyles are gorgeous, regardless of whether we are talking about the men or the women or the children!”

August 2015
WINNER
Bob Fjeldstad

Victoria Falls

Spectacular Victoria Falls from a helicopter sightseeing flight.

Bob tells us that “Once you are within 20-25 miles of Victoria Falls you can see the cloud of water vapor rising over 1000 feet in the distance and you begin to understand how that cloud resembles smoke!  Then as you get closer and closer to the Falls you hear the crashing of hundreds of tons of water a mile wide careening over 350 feet to the rocks below sending up clouds of spray and mist high up into the sky.”

He says that “The nickname of “the Smoke that Thunders” seems so apropos!!!  It is impossible to capture the breadth of Victoria Falls in a single picture frame from ground level.  So in the absence of today’s aerial drones, we found a helicopter service that would take us around the Falls.  While the Falls are stunning from ground level, they are unbelievable from above and we took tons of pictures, ” and we wholeheartedly agree!

August 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Simon Shore

Lion cubs

Class Photo on the Savannah?  Not quite!

 

Teenager Simon Shore may just be our youngest Honourable Mention in the history of the Micato Safaris Photo Contest.  He tells us that while he was travelling in East Africa with his parents, “We ran into these beautiful cubs just as the sun was setting.  We followed them from the tall grasses to this deserted ant hill and watched them enjoy the cool evening and locate the perfect kill.”  Simon feels that “This photo captures the powerful bond of this beautiful cat family.”

Is next month’s winner or honourable mention sitting on your hard drive?  Regardless of when you travelled on Safari with us, your photos are eligible.  You just may be the winner of next month’s $250 credit in our online Safari Shop.  For details on how to enter, and to view photos from our past winners, be sure to visit the Micato Photo Contest on our website.

Sep

11

An African Safari’s Most Wonderful Gifts

Posted by: Micato

By Jack & Rikki Swenson

Beginning our recent safari with a visit to Samburu Game Reserve in Kenya, we were celebrating many milestones. This was to be our tenth annual Lindblad Expeditions/Micato Safaris East Africa Photo Safari that we would be leading with many of our favorite driver guides, and also our wonderful Micato Safari Director, Tonnie Kaguathi.

With us were a mix of guests, some of whom had previously been on safari, and others for whom it was their first time exploring this magical continent. Among our guests was one of our favorite traveling companions, Satish Nair, who had previously joined us on many trips including a spectacular Micato Safari in 2009. We were all extremely excited to be in Africa and venturing out on safari together.

After our planes landed in Samburu, we headed towards our camp on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River. During this short drive we were amazed to encounter herds of elephants drinking at the river, reticulated giraffe, many antelope, the rare local Grevy’s zebra (which in previous years we had searched hard to find), and lions, too. It was quite a grand welcome and introduction for those who were on their first safari.

We enjoyed a similarly successful afternoon game drive that same day, had a lovely dinner, and retired for the night to the myriad curious sounds of the African bush. The following day was Satish’s birthday, and we lamented that we hadn’t brought a gift or even a card for him. I thought, “That’s okay, I’m sure we’ll have a special sighting of something today, and we’ll tell him that was our gift intended for him.”

Sure enough, only perhaps twenty minutes into our morning game drive as our vehicles were ambling through the lushly wooded riparian zone by the river, we spotted a pride of lions basking in the morning sun just a short distance upriver. Our vehicles soon reached the lions, and we had splendid views of two lionesses and their five cubs of varying ages in the crisp morning light. Soon the dominant male of the area arrived and we watched as they greeted, and then the females and cubs wandered along the river edges. I said to Satish in the adjacent vehicle, “Hey, I got you lions for your birthday!” He flashed a huge smile, and his eyes sparkled with delight.

Lioness in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

Lioness (Panthera leo) surveying her surroundings from a fallen tree in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. Photo By Jack Swenson

During the afternoon game drive, I was riding with Satish and his cousin, Sai. After watching groups of oryx, impala, Grant’s gazelles, and many more Grevy’s zebras, we eventually a found a female cheetah with her two nearly grown cubs resting in the shade of a bush. It was nearly sunset and time to be heading back towards camp. En route, our driver, Patrick, took a short detour to an area where there had been a report of a female leopard. As we eased towards the bushes where this young female leopard was resting, she emerged out into the open. She turned and began walking in our direction. Soon she was looking directly at us, and stalking towards us. I crouched down and shot a couple of photos from directly out the side window. Then, in a flash, she darted straight underneath our vehicle. What?! We’ve been on many safaris and have never had a leopard run under our safari vehicle. But, then again, this was Satish’s birthday and he’d come back to Africa in search of more memorable safari experiences.

female leopard Samburu Game Reserve

A female leopard (Panthera pardus) approaching, Samburu Game Reserve, Kenya, Africa. Photo by Jack Swenson

At the end of the day, there was a cake and singing for Satish. We then told him that we couldn’t decide whether to get him lions, cheetahs, or a leopard for his birthday, so we got him all three. We all laughed with delight, knowing that this was simply the magic of being on safari in Africa.

 

Satish, the birthday boy, captured a stunning image of three cheetahs on the next morning in Samburu.  That photo was later chosen as the winner in the Micato Safaris May photo contest. You can see Satish’s photo and read the story surrounding it here.

Micato Safaris will again host Rikki & Jack Swenson on their 11th Annual Lindblad/Micato Photo Safari in 2016.  To learn more, or secure one of the few remaining spaces, contact Melissa Hordych at Micato Safaris on 1-800-Micato-1 or by email at inquiries@Micato.com. 

Aug

13

The Original DIY

Posted by: Micato

by Leslie Woit

The world’s oldest technology has been recently discovered in Kenya. Don’t just read about it: become the Ultimate Citizen Archaeologist on a private site tour of the world’s most important archeological dig.

Dr Louise Leakey, Dr Maeve Leakey with Dennis Pinto and Family

The Pinto Family examining some of the artifacts at Turkana Basin Institute with Drs Maeve and Louise Leakey.

 

Finally, the answer to man’s oldest question.

Where did I leave that hammer?

The world’s oldest tools have been discovered in the midst of the region known as the Cradle of Civilization, by the arid shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya. The rudimentary worked rocks — man’s first invention and a vital link in our evolution – have proven to be some 700,000 years older than previously thought.

Within a layer of sediment dating to 3.3 million years in a dry riverbed and adjacent hill, the discovery was made by Dr Sonia Harmand, research associate professor at Stony Brook University in New York, and Dr Jason Lewis, co-leader of the project. Their discovery changes the timeline of early human technology, signaling what is being called a new beginning to the known archaeological record.

The area known as Lomekwi 3 is an archeological gold mine: From this same site, in 1999 a team of fossil hunters working with Meave and Louise Leakey unearthed a 3.5-million-year-old skull believed to belong to a new branch of early human named Kenyanthropus platyops. Our ancestors Kenyanthropus — or possibly australopithecines — were making these stone tools as early as 3.3 million years ago.

Until now, the earliest known stone tools were known as Oldowan, named for the first examples discovered more than 80 years ago by celebrated paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, about 600 miles from the Lake Turkana, Kenya site. The “latest” tools have earned their own moniker, Lomekwian, for the archaeological site Lomekwi 3.

At Lake Turkana today, the Leakey Family legacy lives on. The Leakey Family established and built the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI), where the field research stations form part of a continuous presence of intensive fieldwork, data collection and specimen study by many scientists. Meave and Louise Leakey’s (daughter and granddaughter of Louis and Mary) continue to run their own research expeditions from these field centres, making new and important discoveries with their team.

“This vast region,” according to Louise Leakey, “is undoubtedly the best field laboratory for studying our past.”

In the spirit of continuing discoveries, Louise Leakey will soon launch a platform that will allow citizen scientists participate in the search. It is called fossilfinder.org.  And a further peak into the laboratories at Turkana Basin Institute can be found at Louise’s site, AfricanFossils.org.

And of course, nothing beats getting up close and personal with a visit to the archeological site that’s rocking the world.

“Micato’s unique connection with Louise Leakey allows for us to plan an excursion to the Turkana Basin area that is unlike any other,” explains Liz Wheeler, CEO of Micato Safaris in East Africa. “On the Northern Frontier Expedition, Micato guests see the dig sites and spend time with the knowledgeable team there, learning about human history in the place where it all began.”

“How many people have the chance to live the life of a modern-day Indiana Jones in the most exciting setting possible?”

Learn more about visiting the site of the Leakey Excavations at Turkana Basin on Micato’s Northern Frontiers Expeditions or contact our team of Safari Experts at 1-800-642-2861.

 

 

 

Jul

19

Micato Safaris Photo Contest: May & June Winners

Posted by: Jane Carswell

We received many wonderful photographs for the May and June Micato Photo Contest, giving our judges the challenge of selecting a mere four shots total for our winners and honourable mentions.

Here now the winners, who not only gave us their stunning images, but also shared a few words about what these special moments on safari meant to them.

Enjoy!

May 2015
WINNER
Satish Nair

three cheetahs by Satish Nair

Three cheetahs on the hunt by Satish Nair

 

Satish recalls the memorable moment when he and his group encountered these three cheetahs on the Micato Safaris/Lindblad Expeditions Photo Safari earlier in 2015:

“We were out at first light at Samburu, and came upon this cheetah trio emerging from the bushes.  The sun was just peeking over the hills, burning what remained of the overnight fog, and bathing the entire landscape in golden light.  Our Micato driver expertly maneuvered the vehicle so we could get backlit shots as the cheetahs marched forth with laser-like focus, having caught wind of an impala herd several hundred yards away.   We stayed with the cheetah for well over a half hour, as they stalked the herd, in and out of the bushes.  In the end, however, their efforts came to naught when a sentinel grant’s gazelle sounded the alarm, and the herd scattered.”

 

May 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
William Merrick

Lion cub on rocks, East Africa

Lone Sibling, lion cub by William Merrick

William’s story behind this photo shows how we can really get to know certain animal families while travelling on safari:

“We were just getting ready to hit the tents when this cub was spotted.  At the time, this appeared to be the only lion.  The next day we returned thinking we might see mom as well.  No mom, but two siblings to make three.  After about 15 minutes, a lion’s roar was heard and it was mom coming back to get her kids.  A fresh breakfast was about a mile away.  We followed them and that’s when we found the kill, on the other side of a small stream.  This then offered additional shots of the lions jumping across the creek or the cubs swimming across.  In all, we spent several hours following the family from their evening bed under the tree trunk to breakfast the following day.”

June 2015
WINNER
Anna Drake

Elephant in East Africa by Anna Drake

Elephant in Tarangire National Park by Anna Drake

Anna remembers this moment from her first day on safari in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania:

“We had come upon a herd of about 40 elephants and it was an amazing sight! I never thought I would see so many elephants in one place like that. There were so many all around us and I wanted to get some close-up shots of individual elephants. I saw this one who I caught just as it was chewing a mouthful of grasses and it seemed to be looking right at me! The elephant appeared unfazed by our presence and continued eating its lunch before it moved on across the road to join the rest of the herd. It was so special to be so close to such a magnificent creature and to watch it living its life in the wild!”

June 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Maribeth Venezia

Giraffe in East Africa by Maribeth Venezia

The Peek-A-Boo Giraffe by Maribeth Venezia

This is Maribeth’s second Honourable Mention with a giraffe photo. We’re beginning to wonder if the giraffe is Maribeth’s totem!  About this photo, she recalls:

“This was our last afternoon game drive in Samburu National Preserve. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a giraffe, or did I? I certainly did a double-take. I asked the driver and guide to stop the vehicle and if possible to back up a little bit. There it was, a beautiful giraffe, playing “peek-a-boo” behind a bush. It looked like the he was wearing the bush for clothing. The giraffe stared at us, never moving away from his camouflage outfit. We all got a good chuckle!”

It is never too late to enter the Micato Safaris Photo Contest. Photos are eligible as long as they were taken on safari with Micato. Each monthly winner receives a $250 credit for Micato’s Safari Shop and at the end of the year we award a $3000 Micato Safaris credit to put towards a safari or to use in the safari shop.

Jun

26

The Greatest India Book?

Posted by: Micato

by Tom Cole

Cover Image-Rudyard Kipling's Kim

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim

It’s probably a little myopically unfair to call Rudyard Kipling’s Kim the greatest book about India. Unfair because it’s 114 years old and because its language and ostensible politics sometimes pinch the modern ear. Myopic because, after all, it’s a book about India by an non-Indian, and a guy with a reputation as a strident imperialist to boot.

For many years it was almost vanishingly rare to hear a good word about Kipling in polite literary or political circles. In the past couple of decades, though, his reputation has seen a major uptick. For one thing, you can’t read Kipling without marveling at his wonderful energy and focus and his command of expression. He was a masterful, fabulously engaging writer (and in 1907 the first English-language Nobel laureate). Henry James, not given to idle praise, once said that: “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known.”

As for Kipling’s politics: he was indeed sometimes uncomfortably bellicose, and it’s (a little too easy) to see him as what we would today call, in our guillotine fashion, racist. But a close look at his 1897 poem Recessional shows him to have been surprisingly skeptical of the British Empire’s pretensions. And after his son was killed in World War I his fascination with war and soldiery took a dark turn. Further complicating things was the inescapable fact that Kipling knew and loved India and its people deeply and well—he was born there, in Bombay, in 1865, and in his formative years was a wide-eyed lad who “thought and dreamed” in the local vernacular.

Kim tells the story of the far-flung adventures of the eponymous youth, who at book’s beginning is a resourceful street urchin in Lahore (now in Pakistan, then part of British India). Though he’s thought to be a “native,” Kim is the orphaned son of an Irish mother and father who died in poverty. I won’t outline the fascinating plot, especially since Wikipedia has done such a good job: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_(novel).

If you’re interested in India, Kim will provide you with a what the Oxford Companion to English Literature calls “a vivid picture of India, its teeming populations, religions, and superstitions, and the life of the bazaars and the road.” The India that Kipling presents in Kim is still very evident in the India of today. The lad’s travels along the Grand Trunk Road are unforgettably vibrant, and his encounters with Tibetan lamas (one of whom is a major figure in the book) and bazaar merchants, and English soldiers and Russian spies, are masterfully and accurately drawn. If you love or have a hearty affection for India and you haven’t read Kim, I envy you, because you’ve got a grand treat in store. Kipling was perhaps—no, surely—the Raj’s greatest chronicler, and on my recent Micato trip to India, I felt his presence often. His first collection of short stories, Plain Tales from the Hills is indispensable reading; and while we were looking—successfully— for tigers in Ranthambore National Park, I re-lived my experience of the thunderously marvelous Jungle Books.

(If you’re wondering about those Russian spies: Kim becomes embroiled in what was known as the Great Game, a long rivalry for dominance in Central Asia between the expansionist Russian Empire and the British, who were convinced the Russians were intent on swooping down from the north to pluck the Jewel in the Crown from them. Another of Kim’s great characters is Col. Creighton, a brainy English spy in the Himalayan uplands where the Great Game was played in earnest. Creighton is based on a real-life adventurer/soldier/spy/mystic named Francis Younghusband, the epitome of the Edwardian hero figure, the kind of fellow who would stop the music by striding in his ragged field uniform into a Viceregal ball in the hill station of Simla, walk up to the Viceroy and say, “Sir! I bring news from the frontier!”)

 

Looking for some other great reads on India?  Check out Tom’s other blog article on the subject: 4 Great Books about India.

Jun

09

Kings of the Jungle, But Is the Monarchy at Risk?

Posted by: Micato

By Leslie Woit

Fast, ferocious and famously noble. Who would imagine that lions are among the most vulnerable creatures on the planet?

Ewaso Lion Project-Nanai

Nanai the lioness is one of many lions at risk in Northeast Kenya. Photo submitted by the Ewaso Lions.

According to a small yet important grassroots conservation project called Ewaso Lions, at the current rate of loss, unless something is done, Kenya’s lions could be threatened in the near future.

“We definitely need parks, but most areas are too small for lions and they get into trouble when they move beyond them,” explains Shivani Bhalla, founder of Ewaso Lions. “Working with lions on community-run land is important for their conservation.”

The problem for lions is twofold: habitat loss combined with human confrontation – though rather than poaching, which so severely threatens other animals, lions are primarily threatened over livestock depredation. The northern Kenyan people are primarily pastoralists who raise sheep, goats and cows. In community areas, lions often kill livestock.

“This causes great resentment amongst the local people,” explains Bhalla. “And often people come and retaliate by killing lions.” In order to protect their livestock, pastoralists may retaliate by shooting, spearing or poisoning lions.

Under the leadership of Shivani Bhalla, PhD candidate at the University of Oxford and a National Geographic Explorer, Ewaso Lions focuses on research and education. This includes GPS tracking, camera traps and lion monitoring. “We monitor 40 lions in the region, each lion has been individually identified and we monitor them on a daily basis.”

The human factor is a vital component of the programme’s success, including lion scouts who work in community areas. “They’re out every day patrolling the region collecting information on predators, livestock and ungulates to really see what are the factors that affect the lion population in this area. Is it other predators, is it people, is it changes in prey?”

Ewaso Lion Project-Lion Collaring

Shivani Bhalla and her team collaring a lion named Lguret. Photo submitted by Ewaso Lions

Ewaso also uses “ambassadors” drawn from the local community. The Warrior Watch programme engages the local Samburu warriors, known as Morans.

“We realize the Morans had been previously neglected when it came to wildlife conservation decision-making, so we’ve engaged 18 warriors in four different conservancies.” Warriors collect information on predators and talk to communities about predator locations, so they can take their livestock away from those locations to avoid potential predator conflict. “They really have become wildlife ambassadors within their communities.”

To Learn More About Ewaso Lions

Ewaso Lions is the first project to conduct a formal research study on the lion population in Samburu, Kenya. Ewaso Lions’ community outreach and education programmes engage local people in conservation, provide training, find creative solutions to human-wildlife conflict and give back to the community.

A visit with the Ewaso Lions team can be arranged on your Micato Bespoke Safari or on select departures of the Hemingway Wing Safari in 2015.  To inquire about a visit, contact a Safari Specialist at Micato Safaris at 1-800-MICATO-1 or by email