19 July 2024

Within feet of a lazy lioness in Kenya
Roaring success!
Following the footsteps of romantic royal pair Will and Kate, Glenys Roberts bags all the big cats on safari in Kenya.
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7am, we came across a huge lioness lying stretched across our path, licking paws red from an early kill. She was so confident she barely lifted her head as our Land Rover came within two feet of her. We turned off the track and bumped down to a waterhole where five lion cubs of varying sizes – their bellies visibly full of zebra – sported themselves lazily, while a young aunt was hotly pursued by an ardent male. Watching was a wary herd of zebra, standing stock still as if in shock at the violent loss of one of their companions.

As I packed my bags in London 48 hours earlier, I was apprehensive. What with all the preparations, inoculations, malaria pills and the veritable chemist shop I had brought in case of stomach upsets, cuts, bites, and sunburn, plus the 15kg baggage allowance on the single- engined Safari Link planes – it crossed my mind you could enjoy Africa just as well these days by watching David Attenborough. I was wrong. Nothing can compare with the experience of the wide open spaces inhabited by these magnificent animals, or the insight into their differing characters: patient elephants, disdainful big cats and foul-tempered hippos.
Sundowners on the Savannah
Amboseli National Park: an elephant in the shadow of Mount Kilamanjaro
Our guide met us in a Land Rover with open sides for easy viewing, and even before we reached camp we had encountered a herd of 20 elephants, including one tiny week-old calf. They walked to and fro across the dried salt lake, from the swamp to the trees, even, I fancy, displaying a little vanity as they turned to face the camera. The landscape was compelling and even spiritually prehistoric. Bleached broken trees killed by drought, and whitened bones of zebra and wildebeest might have been painted by Salvador Dali.

By the time we checked into our luxury lodge, Tortilis, and were shown to our tents, I was hooked. As tea was served on my verandah, a troupe of monkeys jumped out of the acacia trees and stole my sugar bowl. The next day was my birthday, and we were up with the sun. We had already seen several lion families, and some giraffe framed against the vast skies, when we rounded the corner to a deliciously incongruous sight.
The camp staff had set up an open-air kitchen and a beautifully-decked table groaning with a full English breakfast. The British visitor feels immediately at home in Kenya, where in 1952 the Queen learned she was ascending to the throne.

And these plains are said to be where the human race originated. We had wonderful mealtimes discussing conservation with John and Clare, who run Tortilis.
It is easy to see how the future of the animals is closely linked with that of the nomadic Masai people, dressed in their red plaid shukas. A lion had taken three Masai goats, and the warriors had prepared for a lion hunt which, according to their eye-for-an-eye justice, was the only solution.
My daughter, her husband and I had flown from Nairobi to Amboseli National Park under the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro, immediately getting the taste of things as our plane landed, scattering a herd of zebra grazing the airstrip.
This time the hotel paid compensation, and the warriors, who have become sophisticated businessmen, disarmed. These were big questions to mull over as we lounged by the swimming pool for the afternoon. Joel our guide appeared for a sundown drive. This time, he turned the Land Rover up to the top of a rugged little hillock where the staff had arranged three deck chairs.
With Kilimanjaro behind us and a bottle of Moet to drink, the celebration was perfect.

The next day, we took off for the Masai Mara, with countryside so green you could imagine yourself in Surrey. Many visitors who can stay only a short time come to the Mara because the wildlife is so abundant you have every chance of seeing the big five – lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, buffalo – and much else.
"Many visitors come to the Mara because the wildlife is so abundant you have every chance of seeing the big five – lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, buffalo – and much else."
"Nothing can compare with the experience of the wide open spaces."
A comfortable nights sleep awaits at Tortilis
The verandah at Tortilis that looks out over Kenya's wonderful, wild landscape
Masai in their traditional dress
This time, our camp was more rustic with the bush coming right up to our tents. It is a unique feeling to bid goodnight to the askari who accompanies you to your room with torch and spear – just in case – and then zip yourself in and lie in darkness, listening to the screaming of baboons and the breathing of a leopard.

One day we were sitting at lunch when a black snake 7ft long slithered through the embers of the camp fire before disappearing into the long grass. Our hosts pronounced it a black-necked spitting cobra – deadly poisonous if it bites you and reason to send immediately for the flying doctor from Nairobi, an hour away. By now we had seen everything but the cheetah - when on the way to the airstrip, Stanley our guide took a call telling him there was a sighting. Putting his foot down he drove to a little copse.
He handed me his binoculars - and in the bushes was a magnificent cheetah with three cubs. The perfect ending. We’d seen everything we had come for – and, despite my fears, had not encountered a single hostile insect.

Original article published in Apr 2011. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
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