Micato Musings


Posts Tagged ‘African safari’

Discover Africa on a Walking Safari

  • March 6th 2015

By A. Ziegler

It’s undeniably exciting to ride along in a Land Cruiser with a guide who has just sighted a leopard or a pride of lions, and whose driver has hit the gas in pursuit of the best viewpoint to stop. It’s heart-pumping to feel your driver inching closer, but not too close, to a mother and baby elephant or a herd of angry-looking buffalo. East Africa is nothing if not massive, unpredictable and raw, and open-air safari vehicles are the ultimate front-row seats to one of Mother Nature’s most dramatic shows.

But on a recent Micato Safaris trip to Kenya and Tanzania, I discovered that moving slowly, paying attention to tiny details and even feeling unsure that I really wanted to see animals, brought a whole new excitement to the savanna. Bush walks, also called walking safaris, have been growing in popularity—and for good reason.

Mara Plains MaraPlains167

A Bush Walk, or Walking Safari, at Mara Plains Brings Guests Close to Legendary African Wildlife.

There’s a frisson that comes from being so exposed. Although I walked with guides who are top-of-class in their areas, along with rangers who grew up in those particular corners of the bush and carry large rifles, it was a far different experience from being shielded by several tons of metal (which I’ve always been told animals don’t perceive as a threat or even as vehicle filled with humans). I felt exposed and vulnerable. And exhilarated. It’s exactly the kind of sensation that adventure travellers  of all stripes have in mind when they talk about getting out of their comfort zone—but not too far out of it, and never in a way that puts them at unnecessary risk.

To be clear: A walking safari isn’t exhilarating in an endorphin-infused runner’s-high kind of way. It’s not a fitness activity. While it’s mental change of pace from sitting in a Land Cruiser, I knew it wasn’t going to make up for all the excellent food and drink that I’d been enjoying. One of my walking guide’s first instructions was to move very slowly (the others: stay single-file, speak quietly if at all and be prepared to follow his lead in backing away, dropping to the ground or adopting other defensive postures, should the need arise).

Instead, what quickened my pulse was a heightening of my awareness; a sharpening of all my senses. I could catch the aroma of native plants, feel the sun warming my skin. I was getting a new perspective on the savanna: not the epic landscapes sweeping by as I rode in a high seat but the details of the ground itself. The experience presented me with an opportunity to tune in —to everything—with my two feet on the ground.

Walking Safari-Kenya

Walking Safari at Ol Seki Camp, in the Maasai Mara.

I never thought I could share a naturalist guide’s enthusiasm for droppings and tracks, but I found myself growing increasingly fascinated with nature’s minutiae. I also learned as much, if not more, than I had on any number of game drives, on which everyone’s attention had been (understandably) focused on thousands of stampeding wildebeest or a cheetah stalking her prey.

Just as with the game drives, every game walk is different. At Mahali Mzuri, on a conservancy just outside Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, my excellent Maasai guide, who had grown up on that land and spoke fluent English, educated me about the plant life and medicinal traditions: a shrub fiber used as a tooth cleaner, a leaf used to fend off insect bites, and herb taken to relieve medical conditions. I came away with a deeper understanding of and respect for, the culture.

There was a thrill in a walking safari that was so different than a game drive: the rare sensation of being fully in the present moment. For me, going on foot let me contemplate the landscape up close. Most people go to Africa in search of lions and rhinos (and the zebras and gazelles that were around on my walks), not rodents and insects. The Big Five are indeed magnificent. But a walking safari showed me so much more: that the elephant shrew, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, lion ant, and rhino beetle—the so-called Little Five—are no less fantastic.

 

Cheetah Takes the Prize as Micato Photo Contest Winner

  • February 26th 2015

Every month our past safari travellers submit scores of eye-catching, often breathtaking photos to the Micato Photo Contest.  And every month, our judges have the unenviable task of poring over these very deserving images and selecting only one monthly winner as well as a runner-up.

We’ve long posted these winners to our website — they’re simply too good for us to keep to ourselves! — and going forward we’re also going to share them more regularly with our gentle readers here at the blog.

For December 2014, Micato traveller Lori Simmons was selected as the Grand Prize winner for her stunning cheetah photograph featured below.

We got in touch with Lori and asked her to share the story behind the photograph. Here’s what she told us:

My husband, son and I were on our morning game drive in Lewa Downs, Kenya, with our Micato guide and our two guides from Lewa House.  My husband noticed that all of the impalas near us were looking in one direction, and when I followed their gaze I saw what I thought were two big cats in the distance.  He confirmed through his camera lens that there were two cheetahs in the grass, so we drove to their location to get a better look.  After a few minutes of viewing at very close range, the young male walked over to our open-air vehicle and jumped on the hood.  He remained on the vehicle approximately 15-20 minutes and at one point he looked as if he would climb over the windshield and into the interior, but he did not.  We assumed that he just wanted a better vantage point, but we were very still while he was on the vehicle.  We all shot some wonderful photos and videos and will always remember this experience.  The six of us, “Our Team” as we referred to ourselves, forged a special bond that day.”

Cheetah-Seeks-Vantage-Point

This photo of a cheetah seeking a high vantage point earned Micato traveller Lori Simmons the Grand Prize in the Micato Safaris Photo Contest, December 2014

It certainly sounds like a safari moment to remember!  Thank you to Lori for sharing this story with us.

The Micato photo contest is open to all Micato travellers, recent and not-so-recent. So dig out your old photos and get in touch with us at photos@micato.com to submit your entry.  To see past Grand Prize winners and Honourable Mentions, visit the Micato Photo Contest online. 

 

What to Wear Out There: Safari Packing Tips from the Expert

  • January 16th 2015

by Leslie Woit

A member of the Micato founding family, Joy Phelan-Pinto wears many hats: chief creative officer, style czar, and packing expert, having been to more than 123 countries throughout her career. We recently sat down with Joy to pick her brain about the Three Cs of Safari Style – comfortable, casual, colour sensitive — and other tips for packing like an expert for an African safari.

I’m ready to pack. Where do I begin?

The hardest part is not to over pack. The tendency to over pack stems from thinking you’re going to be changing your clothes more than you are. Often on safari you’re too busy, you’re getting back late from the afternoon drive, or you don’t want — or need! — to change for dinner.

You’ve been known to encourage a policy of “light luggage, light heart, lots of bangles”…

Absolutely! Of course it depends on the camps—for some of the elegant, owner-hosted camps, I’ll usually pack a dress—but dressing for dinner is generally unnecessary. Safari is much more relaxed than many think. My method of “dressing” for dinner is to pile on a few extra bangles and maybe a Maasai beaded necklace.

How’s the weather?

Kenya and Tanzania are the lands of eternal spring but there is more variation in Southern Africa. But since the weather varies little throughout the year, and it’s rarely all that hot, I take one pair of shorts, maybe two, since I know that for the 6am game runs it’s cooler and I’m not putting shorts on. Convertibles can be a great alternative, too. I also pack one or two casual skirts and one dress. The rest are blue jeans and khakis.

About the khaki, will I feel foolish in all beige?

Does it have to be Marlin Perkins in head-to-toe khaki? No! But will you feel like a local in khaki? Yes. All the old safari hands in Africa wear khaki. The walking safari guides will definitely encourage you not to wear bright colours and studies have shown the animals notice bright colours. It is absolutely true that in East Africa lions will shy away when they see red, instinctively fearing you’re a Maasai warrior with a spear.

 

Joy Phelan-Pinto, Micato Safaris

Safari Style. Joy Phelan-Pinto and Dennis Pinto on Safari in Africa.

What do you take in the game drive vehicle?

Juggling a purse and a camera on my lap in a vehicle can be awkward so I always carry a collapsible bag or backpack to hold all of my stuff in one place on the vehicle floor. And I have neck cord for my sunglasses.

What items have you packed that you could have done without?

Too many shoes! The type of shoe is more important the quantity. When you’re sitting in a vehicle for stretches of time, you want something comfortable. If you’re like me, you may be jumping up on the seats to get a better a view of the ellies just off the road in which case you’ll want shoes you can easily slip on and off. For me, clogs are indispensable. And you don’t necessarily need great walking shoes every day, although hard-soled shoes are important. I learned this dancing around a camp fire with a Samburu chief when a one-inch thorn from an acacia tree went right through my sneaker sole into my foot…

Fold or roll?

Not only am I a roll-it person, I’m a stuff sack person. Any small bag would do but I strongly advise against using plastic Ziploc bags since they take 700 years to disintegrate. Stuff sacs are readily available, even on Amazon, and can be used forever. I put everything into colour-coded sacks— socks are blue, underwear is red, etc., making it it simple to find what you’re looking for in a small space. I learned this from travelling with children: three days into a trip they’ve turned the suitcase into a hurricane and I end up forever repacking the whole bag to get it all to fit back in.

What about electronics?

We’ve got that down to science. All the cords and chargers go into one stuff sack – the yellow one, for the power of the sun. The other indispensable item we travel with is a power strip. Outlets are never in a convenient spot in a hotel room and this way you won’t forget a cord hidden somewhere the room, and you only need one adapter plug for the wall.

Ive heard contrasting views on taking donations for school children?

We discourage handing out gifts directly to children, but giving school supplies such as pens and pencils to a school, church or tribal elder to distribute is a lovely gesture. Having a Polaroid camera to share photos with the kids is fun as well.

We’ve found the gift the children most appreciate is the company of our travellers, which is why we build a visit to the Micato-AmericaShare Harambee Community Centre into virtually all of our safaris. The interaction is an amazing experience for the children and our guests.

Whats the last step to your packing?

Once you’ve packed, remove one thing from each pile — then you’ll have space to shop. I do my best shopping in Nairobi: from jewellery to art, there are interesting colours and creations from unique artisans to tribespeople who all go there to sell where they can be closer to the distribution centres. You don’t regret what you did buy, you regret what you didn’t buy!

If you’re still struggling with how to pack or what to pack, call our Safari Experts at 1-800-642-2861.  If you need to flush out your wardrobe and are looking for tried and tested safari clothing and accessories, have a look at the Micato Safaris online safari shop.  

Lala Safari! (Safe travels, in Swahili)

 

 

Going Solo on Safari

  • January 7th 2015

By A. Ziegler

I wake up alone in my luxurious tent, after a cozy night deep in the Kenyan Plains surrounded by the sounds of nature.  I have space to gather my thoughts and dress in peace, before meeting my fellow guests—like-minded nature lovers who had been eager to meet a woman who went on a safari in Kenya by herself—for coffee and pastries as the sun crests the horizon, before we pile into Land Cruisers for the day’s first game drive.

The sense of wonder and anticipation, of never knowing at all what we’ll see, has made us fast friends. That, and being able to relive memories and share the day’s photos with those with whom we’re all sharing this experience.

This is why I’m often mystified that people think of travelling on an African safari as an experience that must necessarily be shared with loved ones: an über-romantic honeymoon, or a multigenerational celebration of a big birthday or anniversary. And those communal experiences and memories can indeed be magical.

Solo Traveller on Safari

One on One Sling-Shot Lessons from a Maasai Warrior

But having enjoyed several safaris on my own, I’d argue that an African adventure is just as compelling for solo travellers. It’s become one of my favourite suggestions when friends ask me where they can go by themselves, whether they want to have a major life-changing discombobulation after a breakup, or just hope to see a new part of the world without waiting for the perfect travel partner to materialize.

One thing I love about safari, both for solo travellers and for larger groups, is that it comes built-in with shared experiences and opportunities to socialize. Safari camps and lodges tend to be small, and the experience is communal. I love sharing Land Cruisers on game drives (though guests can request private vehicles), as well as sundowners and meals.

Safari guests—not to mention safari guides—are generally a lot of fun, as interested in wildlife as I am, and well-travelled and adventurous. How could I feel lonely among a dozen or so guests and camp staff gathered around a long table, trading stories about the game we’d seen and photographed that day, or our past and future travels, and maybe serving ourselves family-style from silver platters of delectable food.

Seasoned safari-goers are used to this setup—many of us consider it part of the experience—and are eager to welcome new people, even if they’ve come in a big group of their own. While I’ve treasured having time to myself to read, think or simply stare quietly at the landscape. I’ve been gratefully taken in by families in camps, and made lifelong friends. Once when I came down with a cold in Tanzania, everyone generously opened their medical kits to help me feel better.

Micato’s scheduled Classic Safaris are set up to encourage that balance of introspection and connection, as they put groups of guests together for action-packed, social itineraries through East Africa, with attentive Safari Directors and some of the best guides on the continent. But each day includes plenty of time to relax in camp, nap or have solo time—this isn’t the constant togetherness of a bus tour or cruise. And Micato trips have guaranteed departures, meaning that even if you sign up as just one, there’s no worry about a trip not meeting a minimum number of guests, or being moved from one departure date to another. You sign up, pay your deposit, buy your plane ticket and travel insurance, and you’re good to go. (And while there is a single supplement on the published rates, Micato will make efforts to pair potential roommates if people ask.)

On the flip side, if a traveller is going solo precisely because he or she craves solitude and space and time to think, or an itinerary that is entirely of his or her own devising, Micato can do that too. A Micato Bespoke Safari is a custom-designed, private experience. It might include steady companionship from a Micato Safari Director—one accompanies every Bespoke trip, offering information and insights on wildlife and Micato’s extensive efforts to do good in this part of the world (and provides the peace of mind that comes with knowing every detail is taken care of)—or if a guest doesn’t want to be social, there’s no pressure to spend more time beyond the game drives together, and no hard feelings if anyone asks to spend the evening with their book or their daydreams instead.

Curious about a solo safari?  Contact Micato’s reservations team (many whom have safaried solo themselves) to discuss logistics, travel plans and pricing.

Liquid Rituals on Safari in Kenya

  • December 11th 2014

by Leslie Woit

Waking to see the sun rise, pausing to watch it drop — ritual is at the heart of our ability to cherish great things in small moments. One place does this better than the rest. We raise our cups to Africa.

Nearly a week into the timeless rhythm of our Kenyan safari, fair to say we were getting a little Pavlovian about the day’s end.

Elegant ellies, stubborn rhino. Loping giraffe and a dazzle of zebra… as another afternoon’s extraordinary bush sightings drew to its end, our driver would begin to strategically loop back towards camp. Then with one more perfect day under our belts, like magic, as the light would wane so our thirsts would rise.

sundowner cocktails on safari in Africa

Sundowners on Safari

Parking the Landrover in pole position – one day near a cool river’s edge, next at the crest of acacia-speckled plain — out come the trestle table, the canvas chairs, perhaps even an impromptu camp fire to really get stuck in. Just as the red ball slowly begins its magic act, we’d clink glass to glass and toast the incredible good fortune that delivered us here.

One day our trusty Micato guide, that wily magician, surprised us when he jammed firmly on the brake. Voila, the ultimate dusky spectacle: we are nearly nose to nose with four lionesses languidly stirring from an afternoon’s snooze. For this spellbinding performance, we sit quiet as mice in Landrover Theatre – while he dips silently into a well-stocked cooler box, swiftly pressing filled glasses into our hands. “To lions. To life.” Sundowner dynamite.

What’ll you have? Traditional sorts plump for a classic G+T, whose tonic water has been a stalwart safari tipple since colonial times. (The quinine is meant to harbour mosquito-repelling qualities; the gin’s to make the medicine go down.)

For some, nothing cuts through the heat of safari day like an icy beer. Africa’s favourite beers even come with evocative names: Lion Lager, Black Label, Serengeti…. In Kenya, Tusker Lager is named for brewery co-founder George Hurst, fatally gored by an elephant in 1923. Cheeky or what.

Locals ask for Dawa. Swahili for “magic potion”, it’s a classic Kenyan cocktail of muddled lime, honey and brown sugar that meets ice and vodka. And soft drinks here are no pushover either: the up-the-nose pleasure sensation that accompanies the first swig of Stoney Tangawizi is a doozie. “Mainlining liquid ginger,” says one devotee.

morning coffee in Kenya

The Arrival of the Coffee in Meru National Park.

Dawn, and time for more elixir. An early yet gentle tap at our tent signals The Arrival of The Coffee. The scent of rich Kenyan brew instantly wafts through the veil that envelops our four-poster bed. They’ve been growing in Kenya since 1893; that famous coffee-grower, Karen Blixen, got her plantation up and running in 1914. And there’s tea too, of course: Kenya cultivates about 50 varieties of tea and over 90 per cent is hand-picked – only the finest top two leaves and the bud. Whatever you favour, its ritual delivery to your bed (or balcony, if you’re less of a morning refusenik than me) accompanies not merely the rising of the sun but the escalating cacophony of birds and beasts that is Africa’s wake up call.

Let’s drink to that.

Our Favourite Sundowners: A Slide Show

  • July 26th 2012

The Swahili word for sunset is magharibi. In Afrikaans, the sun dips behind the hills and the plains turn fiery red and gold at sonsondergang. And in Zulu, the magical time when we have our end of day drinks is known as ukumuka kwelanga.

At Micato , the word for an unbelievable sunset enjoyed with a cocktail in hand is sundowner. No matter what language you use to describe the moment, affection for the experience appears to be universal. It’s usually our guests’ favourite time of day. Ours, too.

Gotcha!

Not so fast, junior.

Well played!

There is an undeniable power and romance in a sunset, wherever you are—it’s a daily piece of artwork, given to us free of charge. In Africa’s untamed wilderness, the impact of a melting, coppery sunset is a hundredfold. Sit on a hilltop above the world, look out at the animals interacting as they have for hundreds of years, feel the warmth of a crackling fire and a glass of whiskey or wine: you’re living a quintessential sundowner.

Loving sundowners as we do, we of course have our favourite spots to indulge in them. Our past travellers will recognize some of the sundowner locations featured in the slideshow above, and maybe relive a moment from their own safari. Our future travellers will see places they simply must visit. Whether arousing passions or relaxing minds, an African sundowner is an experience of a lifetime.

World’s Best Safari Outfitter…Nine Times and Counting!

  • July 12th 2012

The results are in!

For a record ninth time, the readers of Travel + Leisure have named Micato Safaris the #1 World’s Best Safari Outfitter. For the past eight years, our winning title has been Worlds Best Tour Operator and Safari Outfitter but, interestingly, this year Travel + Leisure separated the categories of Tour Operator and Safari Outfitter—perhaps because we monopolized the double title for the past eight years!

Micato offers a singular African experience that’s authentic, luxurious, adventurous, personal, and life-changing. These words have always been synonymous with “safari” in our book, so our new title suits us just fine.

The Micato founders, the Pinto family, were born and raised in Kenya, and from the beginning crafted an experience like no other. Micato Safaris was the first safari outfitter of note to hire local African safari guides—breaking the myth of the “great white hunter” guide and setting the precedent for sustainable safari guiding, and ensuring a future for the bright graduates of African wildlife guide colleges.

Micato was also the first safari outfitter to integrate itself into desperately impoverished “informal settlements”—which Americans refer to as slums—and make a difference by building a community and training centre, sending orphaned  and vulnerable children to school, initiating community outreach and educational programmes, and providing much-needed services such as a fresh-water bore hole and a library. Our non- profit arm Micato-AmericaShare has been serving the community in this way for 25 years.

We were also the first company to travel between camps and game parks via bush flights, saving valuable game-viewing time and offering guests a chance to view the breathtaking sweep of savannah, mountains, rivers and plains (occupied by herds of elephant, buffalo, wildebeest and giraffe) from the sky.

From Micato’s very inception, we were the first and only outfitter to invite all of our travellers home to dine with the founders of Micato Africa, Felix and Jane Pinto, or at the home of their close friends in Cape Town for South African travellers. This was also a first, and is still something unique to Micato.

Our most important and exciting innovation? We are the first and only operator to set up a sustainable program that funds one child’s education for every safari we sell: we call it our One for One Commitment, and it changes lives.

Ground-breaking giving and innovative travel: these features have come to define us over the years. And this year, we’ve revolutionized the safari experience yet again…

Now Micato offers the virtually unprecedented luxury of including all tips during your trip—even to Safari Directors and Driver Guides—a feature rarely offered anywhere in the world. Micato guests can simply relax and leave the tipping to us. It’s that simple.

Through the years, we’ve kept pushing boundaries, and our growing list of “firsts” is no doubt part of the reason why our travellers consistently name us #1 World’s Best. Tour Operator, Safari Outfitter… either way, we’re simply proud to be exceeding our guests’ expectations every day.

The Elusive Leopard Tells All

  • June 28th 2012

Elusive. That’s me. Solitary, secretive, nocturnal… notorious for my stealth: the life of a leopard is much like that of a reluctant member of the royal family. So why am I writing a blog post for Micato Safaris? Well, it’s primarily because I just want to be left alone, and the rest of the Big FiveElephant, Lion, Cape Buffalo and Rhino—would not stop bugging me until I wrote about myself and completed the collection. So to get a little peace and quiet, I agreed to spill my secrets.

They Also Call Me:

In East Africa, where they speak Swahili, I’m known as Chui. The Setswana speakers in Botswana call me Nkwe. In parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe the Zulu people call me Ingwe; in other parts of South Africa and Namibia, people who speak Afrikaans call me Jagluiperd. (Which is sort of a funny mix between jaguar and leopard, isn’t it? We’re actually closely related.) My family members make all sorts of noises when they want my attention, from roars to grunts, but we’re famous for our purrs, which sound like someone sawing.

Best Places to Find Me:

This may impress you: my family has the largest distribution of any wild cat—East, Southern and Central Africa are the places where I thrive most, even in weird habitats where other large cats have long since disappeared. You can find me in such disparate places as Mount Kenya and Kruger National Park, and everywhere in between: I love the savannah and the rainforest equally. However, we haven’t heard from any of the North African family members in a long time, and I’m sad to say that they’re probably extinct.

I even have family members in Asia, though that portion of my family is small and scattered. You can find us in India, Southeast Asia, and China. I even have cousins in Russia who live in temperate forests, which get as cold as -13◦F. They don’t mind a bit—they have the most privacy of all of us. My theory as to why leopards are everywhere? Because we need so much space. Male leopards generally have a home range between 12 and 30 square miles, and there is rarely ever any overlap. I’m a lady, thus I don’t have qualms about making my home territory on a piece of land that overlaps a male’s home—as long as he doesn’t crowd me.

How to Find Me

Despite my family’s favourable numbers we are, as I said, reclusive. And if you want to follow suit, here’s a tip: learn to climb. This ability is something I’m known for. I rest in trees, lick myself clean in trees, drag my food up into trees to eat, jump up to 10 feet to get up onto a tall branch of a tree, and can even climb down trees headfirst. The black rosettes on my fur look a lot like the shadows of leaves, and my gift is to blend right in.

If you really want to see me (and I know for some of you it’s an obsession), stay at a lodge or camp that has a leopard blind. These fine people have learned that I like to do my eating in trees, where I can get away from those pesky other animals, so they hang meat right where I can smell it. You see, there is a limit to my solitude—I suppose I’ll let you see me in exchange for a side of beef.

Most Embarrassing Facts:

Quite honestly, nothing. I’m an all-star athlete—great at hunting, climbing, swimming, and running—and there’s no denying that I’m gorgeous. My lovely silhouette has been used as an emblem for sports teams and coats of arms in Africa, and I’ve been depicted in the art of places where I used to live but haven’t visited in ages, such as Greece, Rome and even England. Some call me proud—the Cape Buffalo even calls me a snob—but really I’m not. I’m just realistic about my talents and looks. And modest.

Favourite Food:

I love the hunt. LOVE it. Thus I’ll eat anything from tiny dung beetles to 2,000 pound eland—whatever allows me to exercise one of my favourite skills: stalking my prey with complete silence, then pouncing at the very last minute. Day-to-day I eat mostly antelopes and monkeys, but I’ve been known to catch rodents, reptiles, birds, fish and even smaller predators, like jackals. I even had an uncle who caught and ate a crocodile. Seriously. Don’t mess with leopards.

Everything Else:

Type: Mammal

Diet: Carnivorous (these brilliant teeth aren’t just flair, you know)

Average life span in the wild: Twenty years

Size: Between four and six feet long, plus the tail, which can be up to four feet long!

Weight: For myself and the rest of the ladies, we’re small: between 50 and 130 pounds. Males are bigger—they can get up to 200 pounds. All told, though, we’re the smallest of the big cats in our genus (Panthera), the other three being tigers, lions and jaguars.

Protection status: We’re classified as “near threatened” which makes me nervous…

Group name: A leap! Because we’re so darn good at jumping up trees, at our prey, and away from poachers.

Girl Enters Kenya Tree House As a Princess, Leaves as a Queen

  • June 8th 2012

On a starry February evening in 1952, Princess Elizabeth ascended into the leafy heights of a 300-year-old ficus tree in Aberdare State Park to attend a state dinner at the Treetops Hotel. The 25-year-old was on safari in Kenya with her husband of five years, Prince Philip.

They had no reason to hurry their meal that evening, overlooking the great expanse of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya beyond. Yet unbeknownst to them, many hundred miles away King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, was breathing his last. He died while they were at dinner, though Elizabeth did not hear the news until after she had descended from the rustling tree.

“For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen—God bless her,” wrote Jim Corbett, resident hunter at Treetops.

We can only imagine that fateful evening when Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II. The thin spicy air of the Aberdare Mountain Range, scented of wild mint and bush sage. The far-off roar of a lion hunting in the night. The soft, mournful sounds of night birds, and the comforting stillness of the million and one stars glowing undiluted from the equatorial sky. The knowledge that her beloved father had died, and that she would return to Britain as Her Majesty.

Sixty years later, Queen Elizabeth II still reigns and the Royal Family continues their jaunts to Kenya—indeed, Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton on safari—and we can only imagine that both the place and the experience remain close to her heart. It’s been a long and fascinating sixty years, and to think, it all started in a tree house in Africa…

Secrets of the Rhinoceros

  • May 30th 2012

Sure, I heard that my fellow “five” were blogging for Micato. The lion, the elephant, and the Cape buffalo all had plenty to say—but like many rhinos, I seldom speak unless spoken to. However, the Cape buffalo pressured me (he is SUCH a bully), but by then I had already made up my mind to deliver Micato’s first ever blog post from a Rhino.

What They Also Call Me

In East Africa, where they speak Swahili, I’m known as Kifaru. In parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe the Zulu people call me Nkombe; in other parts of South Africa and Namibia, people who speak Afrikaans call me Renoster. The Setswana speakers in Botswana call me Tshukudu. I don’t usually answer to any of these names though—like I said, I usually keep to myself.

Best Places to Find Me

It depends on who you’re looking for. Personally, I’m a Black Rhino, and my family and I can be found in Tanzania, parts of Kenya, Namibia, Botswana and parts of South Africa. Although this sounds like an awful big range, there are still very few of us—about four thousand in the wild. You certainly have to look hard to find us, although if you visit a rhino conservancy you have a much higher chance, as those rangers monitor my whereabouts. I don’t like having so much to-do about things—it’s a little embarrassing—but I guess it’s what we have to do to stay alive these days.

My cousin, the White Rhino, has a bigger immediate family—about 17,000—which makes them the most numerous of all the rhinos in the world! They’re mostly in South Africa, though they can also be found in Namibia and Botswana. There is a subspecies of White Rhino called the Northern White Rhino, which is nearly extinct. Some humans have just reintroduced this rhino to the wild, in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy. It seems like they’re doing ok so far—as long as they can keep poachers out.

What You’ll See Me Doing

Eating leaves or wallowing in mud, alone. As a male, I particularly like to keep to myself. The women and babies will sometimes gather together in groups, but only for short periods of time, until the babies are big enough to not get chomped by a croc. Adult rhinos have no natural predators and we don’t do any hunting, so there isn’t much need to gather in big groups. In fact, it’s probably best if we don’t. I’m…well…ok, I’m aggressive. I mean Incredible Hulk-style aggressive, to the degree that sometimes I attack trees or termite mounds for no reason at all. It’s no surprise then that Rhinos have the highest rate of mortal combat for any animal—50% of males and 30% of females die from fighting with each other. “Dysfunctional family” is an understatement for us.

Most Embarrassing Facts

Oh man. Can I tell you a secret? The reason I’m such a loner—and probably why I’m so aggressive too—is that EVERYTHING feels like an embarrassing fact.

First off, I’m an odd-toed ungulate. That means I have a hoof with an odd number of toes on it, like a horse. Secondly, I have a weight problem: I’m the second-largest mammal on the planet. The first-largest animal is the elephant, but she doesn’t need to be embarrassed because she’s nice and smart, which makes up for it. Me, on the other hand, I’ve got a really small brain. Seriously small. And bad eyesight. Also, no front teeth.

Gosh, I don’t even know if I can finish this blog post, I’m so embarrassed now. Oh, I’m almost done? Well, ok then, I guess I can go on.

Favourite Food

Leaves, branches, fruit—all that good stuff. This is why I have a pointy, prehensile lip, the better for stripping branches. The White Rhino, on the other hand, eats grass, and that’s why she has a long, flat lip—the better for clipping. That’s also why she’s called the White Rhino—it’s because English-speaking humans misunderstood her original Dutch name, which was Widj (Widj means wide, as in wide-lipped), and started calling her White Rhino. Which is silly, as anyone can see that her skin is grey just like mine.

Everything Else

Type: Mammal

Diet: Herbivorous

Average life span in the wild: 35-50 years—that’s assuming that I don’t get poached or killed in a fight with one of my brothers.

Size: I’m about five feet tall, and between 11 and 15 feet long. The White Rhino is the same length, but generally taller (around six feet). Like I said, we’re big.

Weight: 1,900 to 4,000 lbs, on average. The White Rhino, if you can believe it, gets even bigger—up to 10,000 pounds! That’s a lot to carry around

Protection status: It’s critical. The categorization differs for the different subspecies, but basically all rhinos need help. The problem is our horns. Certain people insist that they make good medicine—in many parts of Asia they grind rhino horns up and use the powder to reduce fevers and stop convulsions. But honestly, my horn is made of the same stuff as your fingernails and hair (keratin), and you don’t see anybody grinding up fingernail clipping for medicine, do you? NOT a good reason to hunt us, in my opinion.

Group name: A crash, which adequately describes what happens when we hang out—fighting, fighting and more fighting. And you wonder why I’m a loner?