Kenya 2020

We booked our first multi-day guided tour ever, titled In The Shadow of Giants, managed by Capture Africa Tours, and focussing on the orphan elephant sanctuary and reintegration sites run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The tour was effectively eleven days long, plus time before and afterwards in Nairobi. We took more than six thousand photographs and videos; below is a curated sample. We used a Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 (5472x3648, 20MP) and FZ300 (4000x3000, 12MP), both bought for this trip, as well as our iPhone8s (4032x3024, 12MP). Individual photos have more detailed captions and navigation options. Some captions include contextual links to videos; there's also a list of all videos at the bottom of this page.
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2020-01-23, 08:00: Nairobi National Park

We arrived a day before the tour was to start (just in case something went wrong in transit), so we booked a half-day safari in Nairobi National Park, 117 square kilometres within the city itself. Unfortunately, we only managed about an hour in the park, as recent rains had made many roads impassable, and larger vehicles than ours got stuck or turned back. Still, we did see some wildlife, and got a few good photos. Here are some not superceded by ones taken later.
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2020-01-23, 09:00: Nairobi Safari Walk

When we ran out of places we could reach in the park, our driver suggested the nearby Nairobi Safari Walk, run by the Kenya Wildlife Service on park land. The animals (many of whom cannot survive in the wild for various reasons) have large enclosures to roam in, while visitors walk on pathways or elevated walkways. So it's like a zoo, but with more animal space, less people space, and less signage. Here we saw a number of animals we would not later see in the wild.
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2020-01-24, 10:00: Giraffe Centre, Nairobi

The two of us met our two driver/guides (one of whom had picked us up at the airport on arrival) and the other six members of our tour (one other couple, two women travelling together, and two unaccompanied women) for our first tour day in Nairobi. We started at the Giraffe Centre, which is trying to re-establish the endangered Rothschild's Giraffe by releasing breeding pairs raised in captivity. Their facility, close to Nairobi National Park, is a popular tourist destination.
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2020-01-24, 11:00: Sheldrick Nairobi Nursery, Public Visit

For a small fee, one can participate in the daily public visit to the Sheldrick nursery carved out of Nairobi National Park, where the smallest orphan elephants are raised before moving to a reintegration unit. They range in age from a few months up to four years.
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2020-01-24, 15:00: Sheldrick Nairobi Nursery, Private Visit

We didn't know what to expect from the private visit. It was held at the same place as the public visit, but only our group was there, and there were no ropes. The elephants came in, were fed, and then grazed and wandered around, while we walked among them, and talked to the keepers, for an hour. It was magical.
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2020-01-24, 17:00: Sheldrick Nairobi Nursery, Foster Visit

The daily foster visit is open to those who have sponsored an animal ($50/yr). It's not as crowded as the public visit, but not as hands-on as the private one. Visitors line up along a road that the elephants return on, and after the elephants go into their enclosures in the stockade for another bottle and some greens, visitors can interact with them through the bars. But before seeing the elephants again, we saw a couple of other animals who live at the nursery.
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2020-01-25, 08:00: To Ithumba Hill Camp

We left Nairobi in the morning and headed southwest on the A109, the highway to Mombasa. Our destination was Ithumba Hill Camp, in Tsavo East National Park. Outside Nairobi, the road dropped to one lane in either direction, and was thick with freight traffic.
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2020-01-25, 17:00: Ithumba Hill sunset feeding

The purpose of Ithumba Hill is to reintegrate the orphan elephants into the wild. There are no fences around the unit, which is open to the much larger park (nearly 14,000 sq km). The elephants range in age from four to seven years. They spend much of the day foraging nearby, returning for bottle feedings (those not weaned) and to sleep overnight in protected enclosures. Eventually, they make the decision to leave.
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2020-01-26: Ithumba Hill, morning

We got up early for the 6am feeding, but overnight rains had made the road impassable, and we had to turn back. It was pretty discouraging, and we wondered if the whole trip would be washed out. Fortunately, that proved not to be the case, though consequences from the exceptionally wet weather continued to challenge our guides.
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2020-01-26: Ithumba Hill sunset feeding

After lunch at the camp, and time in the afternoon to relax, we returned to the stockades by a different route that avoided the morning blockage.
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2020-01-27, morning: To Galdessa Camp

The drive from Ithumba Hill to Galdessa Camp would normally take 1.5-2 hours through Tsavo East, but because of the rains, our guides chose to take a more circuitous route on more paved roads, which meant a travel time of about 5 hours. But on the way to and from the paved roads, we did see some wildlife.
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2020-01-27, 17:00, Voi stockade

Sheldrick's first reintegration camp is close to the town of Voi but about an hour's drive from Galdessa Camp. Due to the vagaries of rescue and reintegration, Voi had fewer than fifteen elephants when we visited, while Ithumba Hill was over capacity with more than thirty.
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2020-01-28, morning: Tsavo East game drive

The distance between Galdessa and Voi made it infeasible to visit the early morning feeding. Instead, after breakfast, we headed out on a roundabout drive to the late-morning feeding and mudbath, with the intention of spotting game along the way. On these drives, and the ones in Amboseli, our guides were on the radio to each other, and stopped to talk to guides in oncoming vehicles, many of whom they knew from previous trips.
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2020-01-28, 11:00: Voi feeding and mudbath

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2020-01-28, afternoon: Galdessa Camp

The road delays cut into our downtime at Galdessa Camp and limited our options. The guides offered us a short late afternoon tour in the vicinity of the camp, and those of us that accepted could fit into a single vehicle with both of them.
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2020-01-29, morning: leaving Galdessa

After breakfast, we left Galdessa Camp and drove back to the highway (our last game drive in Tsavo East) and on to Umani Springs Lodge, in the Kibwezi Forest.
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2020-01-29, 11:00: Umani Springs late-morning feeding

Umani Springs, the third reintegration camp, specializes in difficult cases, including animals whose injuries or disabilities may make reintegration impossible. It was a short walk from the lodge, but we were escorted by rangers trained to deal with wild animals.
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2020-01-29, 5:00: Umani Springs late-afternoon feeding

The late-afternoon feeding was at the stockade, again a short walk away.
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2020-01-30, 06:00: Umani Springs early-morning feeding

We finally made it to an early-morning feeding, driving the short distance because it was so dark. Photography was really not possible until there was sufficient light, by which time the elephants had been fed and were out for the day. They were induced to stick around a bit by the pellets we were given to feed them.
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2020-01-30, 11:00: Umani Springs late-morning feeding

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2020-01-30, 5:00: Umani Springs late-afternoon feeding

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2020-01-31, morning: to Amboseli

We reluctantly left Umani Springs, our last Sheldrick property, and headed into Amboseli National Park, where we would stay at the larger and more conventional Ol Tukai Lodge.
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2020-01-31: Amboseli afternoon game drive

Our schedule at Amboseli was: early-morning game drive (sometimes before breakfast, sometimes after), lunch and down time, late-afternoon game drive, dinner (usually our group met in the bar for a drink first). The class structure reasserted itself: our guides ate in the main dining room, but at a separate table in the corner with the other guides. We protested, but they pointed out that the tables couldn't really seat ten.
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2020-02-01: Amboseli early-morning game drive

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2020-02-01, Amboseli afternoon game drive

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2020-02-02: Amboseli early-morning game drive

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2020-02-02: Amboseli late-afternoon game drive

I told our guides I wouldn't be disappointed if we didn't see any big cats, but I knew others in our group would be. They tried hard to find some on this last drive, but it was just too wet. What we did get was some nice birds and some great landscapes.
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Videos (also linked in captions)

Created by Photogallery 3.02 17 Feb 2020