When I was very young, Africa burst upon my imagination with the debut of the blockbuster movies Hatari! and Born Free which brought the grandeur of the African savannah to us in larger-than-life Technicolor wide-screen, complete with stirring music and often unscripted drama from the animals. Add a good dose of Tarzan books, and I was completely enamoured with the whole adventure of an African safari.
When preparing for my first visit to Africa, my mind was racing with questions. Was the legendary savannah still unspoilt? Would it be as grand as or even greater than what I saw on the screen? Were the numerous TV documentaries reflective of the true situation? Would I actually get to see many wild animals? I soon found out that the answer to each and every question was a resounding Yes. The fabled natural habitats of Kenya remain green, clean and vast – far greater in scope and beauty than anything the silver-screen could convey. And as for wildlife, nothing could have possibly prepared me for what actually happened.
From herbivores like the African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Warthog , Masai and Reticulated Giraffes, Burchell’s Zebra, Scrub Hare, Hippopotamus and White Rhinoceros to carnivores like the Lion, Cheetah, Hyena, Jackal, Wild Dog and Leopard, mammals could be seen at close quarters from the open-sided jeeps that cruise the vast natural habitats of Kenya.
Of the antelope or deer genus alone, we saw large numbers of Impala, Grant’s Gazelle, Thompson’s Gazelle, Topi, Wildebeest and Common Waterbuck, while also managing to spot less common species like the Hartebeest, Bushbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Bohor Reedbuck, the tiny Kirk’s Dik-Dik and the enormous cow-sized Eland. Omnivores like the Banded Mongoose and Baboon helped us notch up a list of about thirty magnificent mammal-species of all shapes and sizes in the four days we were on full safari in different parts of Kenya. The highlight of the trip was an accidental once-in-a-lifetime close encounter with an enormous lion!
Since then, I have travelled across various parts of Africa, and seen some amazing sights. But for the Best Safari Destination in my experience, it has to be Kenya – by far.
All photographs by Andrew Ponnampalam