Google Goes on Safari

By Leslie Woit November 27, 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.

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.

elephant herd captured on Google street view
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 Samburu on street view
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.

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