Elephants

The Road to Amboseli by Steven Kitoto

Amboseli is one of those parks I have visited severally and I absolutely love it. Why you may ask? Mainly because it is the home of elephants, I believe just one of the most beautiful creatures to observe and photograph. The first time I went to Amboseli was 2013, its was such an epic short journey I had to make my way there again. After several solo trips it was time for an OnetouchLive trip to Amboseli, and this one was special because it was gonna be a long one, about 3 nights in the park ... I was really exited for this.

 

Heading to Amboseli head west on Mombasa Road/A109 till you get to Emali, thereafter you take a left onto the C102 all the way to Kimana (roughly 86 kms), just slightly after Kimana town you take a right onto the C103 which shall lead you directly to the gate.

This trip proved quite eventful and the longest 255 km trip I have ever made in my life. On departure, just slightly past Sultan Hamud, Lisa (pictured on the left), burst a pipe and spewed all the engine oil. In such moments is when you realize getting help out there is quite the challenge ... we had to look for a place that sells oil and purchase at the same time we got some road side mechanics who quickly came to the rescue and fixed the pipe, due to pressure it was unstable so they provided a fix for us.

We went on ahead and stopped in Emali to confirm all is well with the car and also check why it was losing power, by this time it was already past 6pm and we hadn't even turned off the main highway (A109).

Luanda at camp

Luanda at camp

From Emali to Kimana the ride was smooth we made good time but just after Kimana, as you turn off to the C103 the road is a marram road that is quite rough. By this time it was already too late to make it to the park gate so we had to call ahead and said we are on our way because our campsite was in the park. On that marram road, Lisa just went off and lost all momentum and couldn't move we we baffled and wondered what to do. only option in the middle of nowhere was to tow the vehicle all the way to the gate which was a really rough road of about 15 kms. We arrived at the campsite around 11pm after a really long treacherous ride but the plan was to get the park mechanic to come look at the car in the morning and we called it a night, to prepare to head out early morning for a game drive.

The morning was magical, the elephants came out to play and we enjoyed the shoot, due to Lisa being down we squeezed 7 people in one car to shoot the morning game drive. 

Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro

After that game drive, we had to call in a mechanic who came to check on Lisa, We eventually had to call for a back up car now that Lisa was unrepairable after the mechanics diagnosis. This meant that Lisa had to be towed back to Kimana to a garage there until further notice. Despite the car trouble, we had to continue shooting and having fun in this awesome park.

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There was this morning we stumbled upon lions (which are a rare sight to behold in Amboseli), these young males casually strolling in the park very playful gave us some nice entertainment.

Out here its a matter of anything for the shot

Out here its a matter of anything for the shot

I hope you enjoyed the blog, feel free to like, comment and share! Amboseli was good to me, join me next time as I tell of my next adventure.

Hands off elephants by Steven Kitoto

One of the largest known elephants was Jumbo, whose name is thought to be derived from the Swahili word for ‘boss’ or ‘chief.’ He is the reason we now use the word ‘jumbo’ to mean ‘huge.’

Ivory-seeking poachers have killed 100,000 African elephants in just three years, according to a new study that provides the first reliable continent-wide estimates of illegal kills. During 2011 alone, roughly one of every twelve African elephants was killed by a poacher.

African elephants are the world's largest land animals. The biggest can be up to 7.5m long, 3.3m high at the shoulder, and 6 tonnes in weight. 

The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?
— David Attenborough

Elephants and humans share a long history throughout our civilization. The expanse of the African habitat and the enormous size and aggressive posture of the African elephant has allowed it to resist captivity. But the Asian elephant has lived alongside humans for over 4,000 years and is imbued with reverence, tradition and spirituality across many cultures. In Thailand, the elephant is a national icon: it has a national holiday designated in its honor and elephants can receive a Royal title from the King.

Yet while elephants have lived alongside humans for so long, there is still much we don’t know about them. With the largest brain of any land animal, they are smart, sentient, social and empathetic, qualities we strive for ourselves. We share so many characteristics with elephants that they may well be more like us than any other animal. But we are risking their future and, in the process, damaging the integral habitat required for biodiversity throughout Asia and Africa.

The trunk is an extension of the upper lip and nose and is used for communication and handling objects, including food. African elephants have two opposing extensions at the end of their trunks, in contrast to the Asian elephant, which only has one. Despite a ban on the international trade in ivory, African elephants are still being poached in large numbers.

Their ivory tusks are the most sought after, but their meat and skin are also traded. Tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year for their tusks. The ivory is often carved into ornaments and jewelry – China is the biggest consumer market for such products.

Meanwhile, as the human population expands, more land is being converted to agriculture. So elephant habitat is shrinking and becoming more fragmented. This means elephants and people come into contact more often, and conflicts occur.

Elephants sometimes raid farmers’ fields and damage their crops – affecting the farmers’ livelihoods – and may even kill people. Elephants are sometimes killed in retaliation. With human populations continuing to grow across their range, habitat loss and degradation will remain major threats to elephants' survival.

This means elephants and people come into contact more often, and conflicts occur. Elephants sometimes raid farmers’ fields and damage their crops – affecting the farmers’ livelihoods – and may even kill people. Elephants are sometimes killed in retaliation. With human populations continuing to grow across their range, habitat loss and degradation will remain major threats to elephants' survival. A good thing is that, Significant elephant populations are now confined to well-protected areas. However, less than 20% of African elephant habitat is under formal protection.

Elephants are running out of space and time. Before we know it they will be gone — unless we collectively stop the senseless poaching and consumer demand for ivory, and allocate protected natural habitat in countries where elephants and other wildlife can thrive now, and in the future.

Because without elephants, just what kind of world would it be?

Without elephants there will be major habitat changes, with negative effects on the many species that depend on the lost habitat.
— Samuel Wasser, University of Washington

lakes, elephants & hills by Steven Kitoto

Hi guys, Hope you are well?  In all my time camping, never have I been to a place that I have had so much fun like the trip I made to Lake Jipe with Mutua aka @truthslinger, Noni (his wife), Steph (@stephkammy) & Whit (@whitnjeri). Brace yourselves this shall be a long one ...

For a couple of weeks we had planned for a trip to get away from the Nairobi hustle and bustle, initial destination being Lake Chala. Check out Mutua's post here. After scrutiny of the route, we realized, Lake Jipe is not too far from Lake Chala and it looked like a cool spot to set camp from the little we could find only about it. Being a place we had never been too, we were bound for an adventure.

Adventure is worthwhile.
— Aesop

The plan was to leave Nairobi at 5am, get ourselves past Machakos before the roads get really busy. It was a really cold morning as we set out and encountered thick fog on our journey there. We of course had to stop and take a few shots ...

To get to Lake Jipe and our campsite in specific, you will have to cross through Tsavo West National Park. The initial route we had seen was to go down till Emali and take the turn off that leads to Oloitoktok, just before getting to Oloitoktok town there is a murram turn off that leads to Tsavo West National Park.

This was just the beginning of our adventurous journey. On arrival at the Chyulu Gate in Tsavo, we were that gate is only for Safari Card holders, they are the only ones who can make payment from there. We were then told we can drive through the park but have to head straight to the Mtito Andei Gate (roughly 30kms) to make our payments then from there the plan was to go to the campsite. On arrival at the Mtito gate, we fueled and set off to Lake Jipe. One of the greatest lessons learn't from this trip has to be that KWS signage is VERY POOR. 

So here we are on this road, admiring the beautiful hills that are within Tsavo on our way to Lake Jipe to pitch camp and relax. We carefully followed the signs written and we had to brace ourselves for a 129km journey from the Mtito Andei gate. We approached a junction that said, 100kms to Lake Jipe ... little did we know that that was where our adventure was just about to begin. As we drove, we quickly got to a point where by the sign posts no longer had any writings on them and we just assumed we continue heading straight. At this point there is very limited to no network coverage, but it didn't quite matter coz we knew we were headed in the right place. The road terrain began to change and we found ourselves rock crawling and driving on paths that had been long forgotten. As we headed on confident that we were on the right track, Muts noticed that the cars brakes were not functioning at all with very slow close to minimal response. We had to stop in the middle of the park and check the issue, again in a place with barely any network signal we were basically on our own. After numerous tries, we get through to the mechanic for some on-the-phone diagnosis and we discover that we had burst one of the brake lines and all the brake fluid had leaked, from there on up it was just careful driving as we tried to get ourselves to the campsite. Wondering as to when these 100kms will come to an end, we kept driving straight ahead, before we knew it we approached what seemed to be the perimeter fence for Tsavo.

Upon reaching the fence it became clear that we were indeed lost, not just by a couple of kms we had overshot by over 100 kms. We had to search for help, by this time the ladies at the back were very anxious to be out of the car and by the campsite. Some rangers had a campsite by the fence and we asked them how we get to Lake Jipe, they told us the only way was to follow the fence all the way to the Maktao Gate (which is the entrance to Tsavo from the Voi side) you can already see how we have traversed the largest national park in Kenya. After driving along the fence, for quite sometime it was approaching dark and we were stopped and asked where we are going and why we are driving past park hours, we had to explain our situation of getting lost and they let us be but they said once we get to the gate we should wait for their boss.

Little did we know that we may have been mistaken to be poachers but of course innocent until proven guilty. When we got to the gate, after driving through really rough terrain with steep drops down river beds ... it was quite a ride seeing as we didn't have working brakes. When we got to the gate, it was like a scene out of a militia movie, KWS guards with rifles hiding behind pillars telling us to switch off our lights before they approached us. After talking with a KWS official at the gate he saw indeed we were lost tourists led astray by the poor signage and he was ready and willing to let us through to head to Lake Jipe because even though it was late to be driving around in the park there was no place for us to sleep around there  and the campsite was only 48kms away. We had to wait there for his boss to come because he said we shouldn't leave that gate until he arrives (I think he still suspected we were poachers.) When the boss came, he got us to introduce ourselves and narrate our story, at this point he gave us two options, to head on towards Jipe or go to Taveta town, sleep in a lodging then head to Jipe in the morning. The ladies were exhausted but Muts & I just had to convince them we can push on the remaining 48kms to Jipe and camp there. The guards called ahead to camp and told them we were en-route, they estimated our arrival in 1 and a half hours if we didn't get there on time, they were going to send a team from there to come look for us. Off we went and the KWS guards escorted us to a turn off which from then onwards it was just straight all the way to camp. We finally got to Jipe at about 10pm and began to search for a spot to pitch our tents while hippos grazing at night surrounded the campsite.

It wasn't until morning that we got to see the beauty that manifested by the lake and I was first to awake and I managed to capture the first elephant that came to the lake ...

The the big fella left, soon after some birds came flying past and then more elephants.

On this day we decided to visit Lake Chala which is about 35kms away from Jipe. Lake Chala, is a crater lake in a caldera on the borders of Tanzania and Kenya on the eastern edge of Mount Kilimanjaro, not far from the town of Moshi and 8 km north of Taveta. This place is a sight to behold ...

Underwater portraits of Muts, Steph & Whit.

@stephkammy cooling by the waters of Lake Chala.

Lake Chala in all its majesty ... A cool place to take a swim by the way. Upon heading back to camp, it was time to prep the dinner and wait for clear skies to shoot. This particular night was quite interesting, at about midnight cameras were set shooting the night sky and it was particularly loud that night. The previous night we did see hippos by the lake and could hear them grazing but this night it was extra loud to a point Muts mentions that the hippo be quite violent and noisy ... little did we know that they were elephants grazing.

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The campsite is very close to the lake, and being open ground the elephants roam freely around there, so while shooting I blacked out on the chair next to the camp fire as Whit & Mut were chatting before I know it Muts is waking me up and telling me to look behind ... a few meters away was an elephant just next to our campsite area I was freaked I literally froze then the elephant released a huge grunt that froze us all for a bit. Never have I been so close to an elephant but that is the beauty about this place, you get so close to wildlife it is amazing. One thing we realized, if indeed you visit Lake Jipe, there is no need to do game drives in Tsavo Park because you are guaranteed that these elephants are going to come to the lake at least twice a day and in some seasons huge herds come take there mud bath and head back to graze.

The following day was the day to head out, there was nothing much but sleeping in and the following morning realizing that we were slightly delayed in our departure mainly because, all this time our brake issue was still not sorted, and we intended to get a mechanic from Taveta but it proved complicated so we decided we shall drive back to Nairobi with no brakes. On the way out of the park, about 6kms from the main gate Whit screams "LION!" Of course we thought it was a joke until we braked and looked back and indeed there was a lioness and a lion by the side of the road. They were resting under a shade from the hot sun but these lions were panting so hard its like they were about to give up on life.

After a few shots and chilling with these lions, we headed out and straight to Nairobi. That sums up this long post of this trip I hope you enjoyed it ...

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