Micato Musings

Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

Google Goes on Safari

  • November 27th 2015

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 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.

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. 


Kenya Creates a New National Park: Setting Aside Even More Land for Wildlife

  • December 8th 2011

Christmas has come early for Kenya’s wildlife. This year, the towering giraffes, lumbering elephants, leaping gazelles and sauntering big cats have been given the greatest gift that Kenya’s government could give them—its protection.

Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki affirmed the country’s commitment to conservation this past November, when he designated a 17,100 acre piece of land as Laikipia National Park. Top priority for this park? Opening relevant corridors to wildlife migration—a key piece of the conservation puzzle for grazing animals like wildebeest and Cape buffalo, as well as the predators that stalk them as they migrate.

This new park is a sparkling addition to Kenya’s already quite brilliant crown of national parks, from Amboseli and the Maasai Mara in the south to Mt Kenya and Samburu in the north. These parks are known for their magnificent and abundant game. Of course, wildlife has no borders—animals can be found roaming freely throughout Kenya. The downside of this is that sometimes migrating herds find themselves on the highways and byways of the populated portions of the country or worse: in the crosshairs of a poacher.

The need for proper migrating pathways is so pressing that the government even constructed an underpass just for migrating elephants, which opened almost exactly a year ago. The biggest land mammal in the world, a herd of migrating elephants presents a daunting challenge to city planners. The government hatched this conservation scheme, and the results were astounding: the elephants compliantly used the tunnel, and both villages and elephants were saved.

With the dedication of Laikipia National Park, Kenya is again asserting the country’s commitment to this one goal: that its people and wildlife coexist safely and harmoniously.

“The government is convinced and committed to wildlife conservation in the natural habitat,” asserted the President, assuring the press that Kenya has more than adequate land to protect its wildlife as well as house and feed its people.

Laikipia National Park is ideally situated between two of our favourite private reserves in Laikipia Plateau—Loisaba and Lewa Downs—and thus can act as a bridge of safe crossing for migrating animals. It’s also a stunning new destination for anyone staying at either adjacent private reserve. The land is breath-takingly beautiful, dotted with a mix of acacia and prickly-pear cactus and capped with a massive sky. The plateau is also at quite a high elevation, with views of Mt. Kenya, so the evenings in Laikipia are crisp and cool and the big sky is thick with stars. This is a magnificent place, and the government’s commitment to keeping it that way is truly admirable.

When Do You Let a Lioness Use Your Camera?

  • June 23rd 2011

Micato makes it possible for our guests to see Africa by helicopter, balloon or plane. Or by safari vehicle, mountain bike, elephant, camel, horse, or train. But what about from inside a lion’s mouth, you say? Well, that’s a luxury game drive we haven’t quite perfected yet.

But if you’re now curious about what a safari from the point of view of a lion’s mouth might be like, watch this three-minute video below, or here.

This bizarre but pleasurable video was brought to our attention by our friends at Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve, where gifted photographer Roger de la Harpe was shooting photos for his book about African lions. We don’t want to completely spoil the video, but let’s just say a patrolling lioness chanced upon a video camera Roger set up to capture raw footage and found it rather savory.

On a more serious note, de la Harpe is doing more than assembling a jaw-dropping picture book. His Lion Project aims to raise awareness about the dwindling African lion population as well as raise funds to help with lion conservation. Likewise, Tswalu itself is largely a conservation area for the Kalahari’s species and savannahs.

Along those same lines, Micato partners with several organizations working to protect the creatures, habitats, and cultures of the places where we run luxury safaris, and we bring our guests to see these efforts whenever we can. To Roger de la Harpe, Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve, as well as our partners committed to conservation, we would like to say a heartfelt “Asante Sana!”

As for the answer to that age-old riddle, when do you let a lioness use your camera? Whenever she wants, of course.