The 7-day wildlife, Mara EcoQuest course has started. The cold is biting my cheeks and nose. The wind is slowly waking me up as the sun comes up behind Mount Kileleoni. It is just after six in the morning, and we are trying to find the lion pride. Four big males, five females, and seven cubs have chosen the Lemek conservancy as their home.
Dreaming of a Life in the Bush
I am not an early bird. But when a day in the African bush lies ahead, I do not need an alarm clock. I have been on over 100 game drives in almost 50 different national parks in Southern and Eastern Africa. For all of them, I was behind the wheel of my Landy. Out in the bush, spotting, and tracking. This is my happy place. This is where I belong.
I have long dreamt of becoming a field guide. Not because I want to do this professionally. I want to learn everything I can about wildlife, nature, and conservation. At home, in Germany, I can hardly identify the birds in my backyard. When on safari in Africa I recognize every antelope from afar and I am working on becoming a next-level bird nerd.
Between life and work, work and life, my dream had to wait. Eventually, the one-week EcoQuest in Kenya was the perfect opportunity and wildlife course for me.
What to Expect on an EcoQuest
On our way to the Enonkishu Conservancy from Nairobi, I already get a glimpse of the East African Rift. A valley that has been formed through the tectonic movement of continental plates, creating volcanos, lakes, and an ecosystem that resembles the Garden of Eden.
The Enonkishu Conservancy is the most north-western conservancy in the Mara ecosystem. Neighbouring the Ol Chorro and Lemek conservancy – an area we will get to know very well over the next few days. Mount Kileleoni always watching over us, navigating us home to our tented camp at the Mara Training Center where we will be students of nature.
Over the next seven days, we will go on game drives or bush walks in the mornings and afternoons. We will not be ticking off bucket lists. We are all here to learn about the Mara ecosystem, its wildlife, and how the pastoral Masai communities live in harmony with nature. Philip, our teacher, guide, and ranger takes his time explaining the behaviour of all the animals we observe – the small ones and the big ones. Birds, trees, insects, antelopes, and predators all play an essential role in balancing this ecosystem.
This Topi Baby is the Devil
The bushbabies had been playing on the roof of our camp the whole night. Although it was still dark the full moon lit up the night and I was wide awake. Today I was on duty. On-duty means checking if breakfast is ready for the group. And preparing the safari vehicle for the game drive. Is there enough pressure in the tires? Check. Oil? Check. Break, steering fluid, and coolant? Check. The emergency kit is on board; we are ready to go.
Moments ago, we observed a small group of elephants feeding in the bushes along the river. Just as we drive up a ridge and the savannah opens in front of us, we notice a fast movement. A lioness in full chase of a Topi baby. Not older than four months, by its coat colour. “This baby is going to die,” says Philip. But the lioness cannot keep up.
We are all holding our breaths as we watch the same scene again. The lioness is now hiding in the bushes. From the other side, a big male lion enters the scene. The Topi baby circles back and is walking right into a trap. The lions are closing in, the Topi pronks right past them. Speeds up and escapes yet again. It almost looks like it is enjoying itself making a fool of the lions. “This Topi baby is the devil”, even the experienced Philip cannot believe what we just saw. But this little antelope will live. At least for today.
The Best Day of my Life
Late in the afternoon, we go out again. This time we hope to find the whole lion pride. We scan the savannah and find a big male lion sleeping underneath a bush. Some tourist vehicles are also enjoying the sighting. But they have a tight schedule and are leaving soon. But Philip suggests we wait: “The lion is yawning and licking his paws. That means he will get up soon.”
Now we are the only car. Waiting. Just as Philip has anticipated the big male gets up. Walks around the bush. To greet two lionesses. They also get up and disappear into the bush. “They are getting the cubs now.” One by one the little ones come out of their hiding spot. Seven cubs of different ages playing with each other, cuddling with mom and annoying dad. We are watching them until sunset when we must leave.
On our way back to camp we are all completely flabbergasted. Max, who sits next to me, whispers in awe: “This was the best day of my life.” I gaze into the distance, the vast savannah drifting by. My heart is bursting with gratitude and bliss.
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About the Author:
Stefanie Ruth Heyduck is a freelance writer and consultant. Half of the year she lives in Tanzania and spends every free minute in the bush. She is passionate about wildlife, conservation and photography and shares her sightings on Instagram (www.instagram.com/giraffe13).