Micato Musings


Archive for the ‘Kenya’ Category

The Original DIY

  • August 13th 2015

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.

 

 

 

The Ultimate Trunk Show

  • May 8th 2015

By Leslie Woit

Even the smallest elephant is too much for an arm’s length selfie. Yet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry couldn’t resist trying during his recent visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya’s Nairobi National Park.

Former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, also visited another of Kenya’s elephant reserves, highlighting the huge threat the animals face.

As Kerry clearly found, a visit to the celebrated David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is both entertaining and educational, promising the ideal pre-safari primer. Home to dozens of infant elephants, this nursery-with-a-difference lets all visitors experience the magic of feeding time.

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Visits Sheldrick WIldlife Trust

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry takes a selfie on a recent visit to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi. May 3, 2015. Photo by Andrew Harnik/Reuters

 

What you’ll see…

A flush of dust rises in a fine red cloud as the herd gambols toward us. Oltaiyoni and Olsekki chase each other back and forth. Young Mbegu faces up to Kauro, flaying her trunk playfully behind the flaps of his ears. The trumpet section comes alive with a high hoot.

What began as one long, orderly line of elephants quickly dissembles into a rollicking band of wrinkly hooligans. It’s Babar comes alive meets playtime for Elmer. It’s lunchtime for a herd of hungry baby elephants.

Since 1977, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has successfully hand-raised more than 150 infant elephants in their Nairobi centre – most elephants rescued are orphaned by poachers (Every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory). Elephants typically stay in the orphanage around six years before released back into the wild.

elephant feeding at sheldrick trust

Feeding Time at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Photo by Leslie Woit

These magnificent beings are the world’s largest living land animals, their 200 pound birthweight a mere wisp of their eventual 15,000 pound comeliness. Highly social and tactile, not only do they respond to their names but each has its own bunk and human keeper to sleep alongside them in their stable at night. Their human “family” is encouraged to interact with and talk to the babies as they would their own: according the Trust, elephants can read a person’s heart and mind.

Once a day, visitors are welcomed to the orphanage to observe feeding time. This is just one of many meals: the youngest of the herd require bottle feeding no fewer than eight times per day. Micato Bespoke Safari guests often “sponsor” an elephant, a valued deed which earns them the opportunity for a memorable visit with their foster elephant during sponsors-only hours. A private visit of the facility is another treat Micato guests may like to request; the visits led by Dame Daphne Sheldrick and/or her daughter are a particular pleasure. Similarly, guests may choose to pay a visit to the facility in Tsavo, the second phase of transition for the elephants.

For now, the great midday spectacle: bottle feeding a garden full of baby elephants the size of Smart cars. Trunks twine agilely round milk containers while younger ones are hand-fed the finger-length nipples. Either way, leathery babies of varying bulks guzzle down their five-litre allotment in fairly uniform times of around 30 seconds flat.

elephant keeper and elephants at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

An Elephant Keeper at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust teaches a young orphan to mind her manners. Photo by Leslie Woit.

After lunch comes playtime. Kicking soccer balls, chewing on giant toothpicks, languishing under showers of cool earth shovelled onto their hides by the keepers.

The 18-month-old Arruba pauses at my feet, her long trunk swirling searchingly around my legs. Tusks smooth and white, dark lashes supermodel long. Her hide is soft as a giant Shar Pei puppy. For now, all safe and sound.

 

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is on the edge of Nairobi, a short drive from downtown. DSWT baby elephants may be fostered for a minimum of $50 per year. 

 

Help Louise Leakey Build A Fence

  • April 14th 2015

louise2Born and raised in Kenya, Louise Leakey represents the third generation of the world-renowned Leakey palaeoanthropologists. We’re honoured to have her guest-blogging for us, and for such an important cause…

I would like to start by thanking Dennis and Joy Pinto for their longtime support of our team Rhino Rouge in the annual Rhino Charge event, which in turn supports the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust.

Rhino Ark was founded by Ken Khule in 1988, in response to the grave crisis facing Kenya’s Black Rhino population in the Aberdare ecosystem, an important watershed and mountainous National Park.

Rhino Ark’s initial aim was to build an electric fence along several sections of the Aberdare National Park most threatened by encroaching farmland. The initial idea evolved into a much more ambitious task of encircling the entire Aberdare Conservation Area with a game-proof fence.

Today Rhino Ark’s mandate extends to seeking sustainable, long-term solutions to the conservation challenges of several mountain forest ecosystems and biodiversity, all threatened by increasing pressures of a rising population. Their goal is also to engage fence-adjacent communities in conservation.

In the beginning…

During the early days of the trust, Ken Khule, along with his Rally Enthusiast friends Rob Coombes and Brian Haworth, conceived a novel fundraising idea; an off-road motorsport event, which they named the Rhino Charge.

Their original idea involved an off-road race in a 4×4 vehicle to the highest altitude on Mount Kenya; however, this was not permitted by the park authorities at that time. The event was refined over the years into competitions requiring entrants to travel the shortest possible distance in a 4×4 vehicle in 10 hours, across challenging, trackless terrain, visiting a number of predetermined points, usually in a remote part of Kenya.

The Rhino Charge today is world-renowned for its toughness and has gained international acclaim. Limited to 65 entries to minimize impact to the terrain, the organisers have since introduced a preferential entry strategy favouring high value fund-raisers.

car 2
The race…to find a solution

On February 4, 1989, 31 competing vehicles entered the first event, raising the first KES 250,000 for the Rhino Ark. With every subsequent event, this amount has increased and today raises over a million dollars for the Trust each year.

The fence line surrounding the Aberdares was completed in August 2009 and now Rhino Ark has moved on to the important task of fencing Mount Kenya as well as parts of the Mau. These are two enormously important water towers and are highly threatened by the ever-increasing pressure from humans and agriculture along the boundaries, as well as from forest fires set by illegal cultivators deep inside the forests.

The urgency of protecting these resources cannot be underestimated. As the forest boundaries are encroached, wildlife is increasingly vulnerable from poaching and the forest is gradually carved into illegal plantations, rapidly moving the tree line higher up the mountain slope each year.

More than ever, these developments warrant critical support to build protective fences. And the National Parks of the Aberdares, Mount Kenya, and the Mau Eburu Forest depend on the critical support of Rhino Ark to sustain this effort.

It is an honor to be part of a dedicated team competing to raise money for Rhino Ark. Our car will race again in the Rhino Charge event on May 31st 2015. Our all-girls team completes in a no frills, red 1974 short wheel base land cruiser. This tough car is expertly driven by Tanya Carr Hartley, and the rest of us run ahead and alongside finding the way to navigate the course.

The car traverses terrain that I certainly never imagined a vehicle could get across.

car 17

We have winched it up hillsides from trees, lowered it down the steepest of hill sides, roped and swung like a pendulum around hill tops, and crossed rivers, sand valleys and mud.

car4

It is always an adventure and we keep account of our experiences and personally thank all our supporters and send an account of our adventure. We can even be tracked live on the day.

Raising funds for these forest ecosystems in an important part of the solution. I would be grateful if you joined us.

To make a tax-deductible donation to team Rhino Rouge, which supports the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, click here.

team17

Louise Leakey spent much of her childhood in the deserts of northern Kenya, uncovering clues of our past. Educated both in Kenya and in the United Kingdom, she completed her PhD at University College London in 2001. Currently she is a Research Assistant Professor at University of Stony Brook, and a Director of the Turkana Basin Institute. She’s also a National Geographic Explorer in Residence,  a Young Global Leader 2005, a pilot, photographer, sailor, and winemaker.

Micato Safaris Photo Contest: January and February Winners Announced

  • March 23rd 2015

In January and February we received more stunning submissions to the Micato Photo Contest.  Our judges pored over the photos and have selected the following images as Winners and Honourable Mentions.

We asked the winners to tell us about the circumstances surrounding these incredible moments they captured.  We have included some of their responses here, along with the winning photos.

Photo of the Month WINNER, January 2015:  Eric Green

Elephant-Family-Eric-Green

Elephant Family by Eric Green

Eric recalls the moment he took the picture in this story he sent us:

“This photograph was taken in Tarangire Park, Tanzania in August 2013. While out on a game drive, we encountered a herd of elephants slowly approaching the road. The herd consisted of about 20 elephants of all ages. An adult female elephant with 2 youngsters (one juvenile and one calf) crossed the road directly in front of us. The rest of the herd remained on the other side of the road. As another vehicle approached, the adult female and juvenile immediately placed the calf in between them. The adult female then raised her trunk, followed by the juvenile, and finally the calf— the latter two were clearly imitating adult female. It was almost as if they were posing for a group photo!”

Photo of the Month HONOURABLE MENTION, January 2015: Lucie Fjeldstad

Tiger-Canyons-by-Lucie-Fjeldstad

Tiger relaxing at Tiger Canyons, South Africa by Lucie Fjeldstad

Lucie tells us of her passion for tigers in this short story:

“We first heard about John Varty’s Tiger Canyons Project two years ago (2012) right after a trip to Africa and wished we had known about his conservation efforts before we had gone. After seeing the National Geographic documentary “Tiger Man Of Africa” on his work with tigers and his plans to try and preserve wild tigers by moving some to a private reserve in South Africa we wanted to see them for ourselves.

When we travelled to South Africa in late 2014 we found Tiger Canyons to be totally engrossing. John took us around and showed us, up close and personal, his then 20 tigers (a month later the white tiger gave birth to 3 cubs) and 4 cheetahs (and a month later one of the cheetahs gave birth to 5 cubs).  Well, our timing may have been wrong to catch the young cubs but EVERTHING else was a feast for the photographer and a lifetime experience for the tiger lover!  We had a chance to see them sleep, play, eat, roam and even stalk each other in mock attacks.”

Photo of the Month WINNER, February 2015:  Bob Fjeldstad

Lilac-Breasted-Roller

Lilac Breasted Roller by Bob Fjeldstad

Bob says, “This photograph was not planned as I was primarily shooting video with a new Nikon Coolpix camera but when we bounced along on a bumpy track my wife shouted out that we had just passed within twenty feet of Lilac Breasted Roller (LBR) which strangely enough did not fly off.  By the time we stopped we were easily 60 feet away and if you know LBR’s you know how little movement it takes to cause them to fly away.  But this new camera had a built-in lens that went from 24mm-1500mm so I changed the settings from video to still images, braced myself against the back of the seat, told everyone else to stop talking and not move a muscle, sighted in on the LBR, zoomed in as close as I could, held my breath and took the shot.”

Photo of the Month HONOURABLE MENTION, February 2015:  Chad J. Simmons

Photo by Chad Simmons

Mt Kenya by Chad Simmons

 

We asked Chad about spotting Mt. Kenya without the usual cloud cover, he replied: “Locals say he is sleeping. He must be very tired because as many travellers to this region of Kenya can tell you, getting a good photo of Mt. Kenya can be frustrating.  Even when the days dawn clear, the mountain is quickly covered by clouds. But one morning, as we were leaving for our game drive in Lewa Downs, we rounded the side of a hill, I looked through the trees and there it was.  We backed up to catch this image that characteristically was gone a few minutes later. My good luck and nothing more!”

It is never too late to enter the Micato Safaris Photo Contest. Photos are eligible as long as they were taken on a safari, or journey to India, with Micato Safaris.  So set aside some time to look through your photos.  You never know, next month’s winning photo could be sitting on your hard drive and might earn you a $250 credit for Micato’s Safari Shop.

Nairobi: Returning Home

  • July 1st 2014


We New York Pintos are good travellers. We pack fast (and plenty!), seamlessly hauling myriad bags through airports, and have perfected the security dance of removing shoes and laptops in a family-conveyor-belt fashion. We love a good flight, watch a movie (or two, if you’re a Pinto teenager), sleep like babies until touchdown in Heathrow, and repeat the process on the next leg of the journey. (more…)