As the chilly, early morning mist cleared, we sat in silence, patiently waiting and watching. The drone of insects heralded dawn’s awakening as we kept an eye on the paths and tunnels made through the reeds and rushes by the Sitatunga. A rustle in the reeds and a faint calling sneeze alerted us that they were on the move. Excited that our patience had eventually paid off, all binoculars were trained on the very shy antelope that are so difficult to observe.
Most people think that the Wildebeest Migration only takes place between June and October, but it is a year-round occurrence. There are various but equally exciting events that occur at different times of the year. The river crossings usually coincide with safari high season so consequently, there is a perception that it is the only time of the year that the wildebeest migrate or can be seen.
Every year, around 1.5 million wildebeest are joined by thousands of Thompsons gazelle, zebra, eland, and other ungulates (hoofed animals) in what has been called the “greatest show on earth”, The Great Wildebeest Migration.
The Great Wildebeest Migration in the plains of East Africa is one of the most spectacular displays of wildlife behavior and nowhere is there a terrestrial movement of animals as immense as the wildebeest migration. As one of UNESCO’s Wonders of the World, it is one of the most sought-after experiences for wildlife and nature enthusiasts.
Ecotourism is becoming an increasingly growing trend and should be rightfully so. After all, certain aspects of tourism are a large contributor to environmental degradation. Beyond that, tourism can also be a cruel industry where its profit falls into the hands of the few and not necessarily the local community. Such was the problem of Kenya…that is, until the dawn of sustainable travel and ecotourism – By Richards Cole
February is an unbelievable time to travel to East Africa, and this time of year Kenya experiences the lowest levels of precipitation in the Masai Mara but the birdlife is in abundance and it also happens to be lion season!
When travelling through East Africa it is never a guarantee that it will not rain, as the famous tropical storms of Kenya could hit at any moment, however in the earlier months of the year the rainfall is substantially less than the later months, this means that the game viewing is fantastic and you won’t be bumbling around in a waterproof poncho for half of the day.
Good weather also means beach weather and the coastline of Kenya sure does boast some incredible spots. Kenya is renowned for its national parks and wildlife, but also the 1,420 kilometres of Kenyan coastline, it is home to some of the most beautiful destinations, beaches and Marine National Parks in Africa. Most of Kenya’s finest beaches are found just north and south of Mombasa in the southeast of the country. Here are some of the amazing spots you wouldn’t want to miss out on, especially in the summer weather:
- Diani Beach
- Lamu Island
- Malindi Bay
It’s not only the coastline that is bustling with life in the warmer months, the bush in February is rich with birdlife and their sounds and songs bring the wilderness to life, there is a variety of intra-African and Palearctic migrants in the beginning of the year so, if you’re a keen birder this will be paradise. with over 1,100 recorded species it is definitely one of the top birding destinations. Here are some of the star birds that should be on any birders list:
- White-bellied Go-away Bird
- Amani Sunbird
- Rüppell’s Vulture
- Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater
- Grey Crowned Crane
- Ross’s Turaco
- D’Arnaud’s Barbet
- Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill
- Superb Starling
- White-headed Buffalo-Weaver
From January to March the lions are out in full force, hence this time of year is called lion season. As the plains game such as wildebeest and zebra drop their young the Masai Mara becomes dotted with new-born calves, which means only one thing – predators.
Lions are not the only predators that will be out in full force, there have been some amazing sightings of leopard, hyena and cheetah in the Masai Mara, as well as around EcoTraining’s camp at Mara Training Centre.
The predator game viewing is particularly fantastic in the Masai Mara year-round, another great time to travel to see some of these big cats in action is during the Great Migration, which falls in the dryer winter months in East Africa from around June to October.
The adventures in Kenya are endless, you could be ticking some amazing birds off your life list, relaxing on the beach or have some mind-blowing sightings in the Masai Mara – what are you waiting for?
Here are some of the courses coming up this year:
If you want to learn more about Kenya maybe try your hand at our EcoTraining East Africa Inspired Quiz.
It sometimes seems that the trio of hyaenas from Disney’s famous movie the Lion King is a representation of the species as a whole. There can be nothing further from the truth, as hyenas are not cowardly, skulking scavengers that they are made out to be.
Found in most wilderness regions of sub-Saharan Africa, the spotted hyena plays a very important role in many African eco-systems.
Much like other animals that have stripes or spots, the pattern on each animal is unique, allowing for easy identification.
These large animals can be found is a vast variety of habitats and have even been found at altitudes as high as 4,100m!
Although they have their cubs in a den, they do like to lie in shaded hollows, culverts and even pools of water during the heat of the day. If you have ever had the privilege to travel to Tanzania or Kenya, you will see hyenas wallowing midday like a hippo in muddy pools of water.
Most people believe that hyena scavenges the majority of their food, but this is not necessarily the truth. They kill up to 95% of their food, with the remaining percentage being scavenged or stolen. Hyenas have excellent hearing and can hear the sound of predators on a kill from up to 10 km away. They will eat almost anything on offer, including fish, pythons and tortoises if nothing else is available. The amount of scavenging versus the amount of hunting a hyena does is all dependent on the population dynamics of other large predators in the region.
Hyenas exert a far greater bite pressure than any other land predator on the continent, they can crush bones that other carnivores cannot eat.
The main rivalry for hyenas are lions. And in many areas, where lions do exist, hyenas are regarded as the dominant apex predator. In the Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania, hyenas and lions are in a constant battle with each other, in what can only be described as a gladiator’s arena of life and death where often, due to numbers and cunning, hyenas are the victor.
Living in clans as they do, they can be observed to be extremely social. And considering that these clans can exceed 50 in number, it is no easy task. The clans are matriarchal, as the females are larger than their male counterparts and can outweigh them by as much as 30%.
Hyenas communicate via a range of vocalizations varying from whoops and grunts to almost demented human-like laughter. Hence they are often referred to as ‘Laughing Hyenas’. Each call has a specific use and is therefore easily distinguished and interpreted by the rest of the clan. Sitting and listening to a pack of hyenas as they call to each other in the dead of night, is a cacophony that will not be easily forgotten.
When cubs are born at the den site, they get to interact with each other and thus build up a clan hierarchy. The female offspring of the dominant matriarch is known as a Princess and will be afforded special privileges by the rest of the clan.
Built like they are running uphill; they can attain speeds of up to 60 kph, however, more importantly, they maintain that speed for long period of time, enabling them to tier their prey out before catching it and ripping it to shreds.
Female hyenas have a pseudo-penis, making the animals difficult to sex when young, though as adults’, females are easily noticeable due to their size and weight difference to the males. Clans are territorial and will defend their areas aggressively. They mark their areas with dung and a pungent paste secreted from their anal glands.
Hyenas are one of the most intelligent animals on the African continent and arguably the most intelligent predator bar the African Wild Dog.
So, the next time you are on a Safari and encounter these amazing creators, take the time to watch them and learn more about their complex and interesting behaviours.
If you want to know more about EcoTraining, have a look at our website and some of the courses we offer.
Watch and listen to the incredible sounds below in an EcoTraining TV video.
Just in case you forget why this country became a top-class tourist destination in the first place, we want to remind you of all the positive aspects Kenya has to offer and we want to encourage you to add Kenya back to your ultimate travel bucket list.
It happens once a year, why not make it an educational lifetime experience?
An interview with EcoTraining instructor Andreas Fox