Nakuru’s forest dwellers

The Nakuru area lies within the inner graben of the central Kenya rift valley. Lake Nakuru’s graben lies between LionHill Volcano and the Mau Escarpment, the west wall of the Rift Valley, the base of which lies within the south-west corner of the area. Lake Nakuru is a shallow pan which never fills to a depth of more than a few feet but the level does fluctuate. Nakuru is characterised by its graben, the shallow alkaline lake which attracts many flamingoes and a huge fever tree forest.

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir

The Rhino Sanctuary in Lake Nakuru National Park was the first Rhino sanctuary in Kenya and is currently home to the largest number of black rhinos in the country. Currently the rhino sanctuary in Lake Nakuru National Park boasts 150 rhinos with 80% being white rhinos and 20% being black rhinos. The rhino sanctuary was established in 1984 when the first two rhinos were introduced to the lake Nakuru National Park. This national park was chosen as the first Rhino sanctuary as it was already a bird sanctuary and it had the needed land for the rhinos. The lake area provides the water the rhinos need every day and the vegetation in the park is also suitable for both the white and black rhinos.

The Fever trees in this forest are huge. The fever tree is the only tree species on earth whose bark performs the photosynthesis process instead of its leaves. Fever trees grow incredibly fast – they can reach a height of over 25m and grow in height approximately 1.5m annually. The Rift Valley forms the eastern distribution limit of the Defassa Waterbuck, which occur in grassland and open forest and scrub.

A DeFassa waterbuck female and her calf foraging in thick grass in the forest understory. The species is a grazer and always found where there is water nearby. It is classified by IUCN as Near Threatened, with a total population of about 95 000.

According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the latest taxonomy study reveals that there are four distinct species; the Masai, Northern, Reticulated and Southern Giraffe. The Rothschild’s Giraffe is one subspecies of the Northern Giraffe. All four giraffe species and their subspecies live in geographically distinct areas throughout Africa.

The Rothschild’s Giraffe is the tallest of the four distinct species and five subspecies. It has a distinct colouring and coat patterning. Each giraffe has a different pattern just like humans have distinct fingerprints. This species of giraffe is paler, and has orange-brown patches which are less jagged in shape. This giraffe has no markings on its lower legs and under belly, which are predominately creamy white. The Rothschild’s Giraffe stands in stark contrast to the dark greens and yellows of the fever tree forest. The next image gives a sense of how tall the trees are in the fever tree forest south of Lake Nakuru. Today, fewer than 3 000 Rothschild’s giraffes are left in Africa, with about 800 in Kenya.

“I feel a great regard for trees; they represent age and beauty and the miracles of life and growth.” – Louise Dickinson Rich

The Rothschild’s Giraffe is the only giraffe species to be born with five ossicones. Two of these are the larger and more obvious ones at the top of the head, which are common to all giraffes. The third ossicone can often be seen in the center of the giraffe’s forehead, and the other two are behind each ear. This species of giraffe is also taller than many other populations, measuring up to 5.88 metres or 19.3 feet tall. Males are larger than females and feed on different parts of the trees. Rothschild’s Giraffe feed on leaves, flowers, seedpods, and fruits in areas where the savanna floor is salty or full of minerals.

There are small open patches in the forest which provide room for grazers such as this male impala.

“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” ~Hilaire Belloc

Fever tree forests vary in density throughout the southern section of the park with some areas which are less dense allowing the sunlight to reach the ground. Fever trees are indigenous to southern and eastern Africa. Their preferred habitat is warm and humid conditions with access to plenty of water.

I absolutely love the feeling of driving slowly through the forest. It is cool and quiet but for bird calls. It is dense, and there is a bluish hue among the trees in the early morning and these areas are just bursting with life.

“Consider a tree for a moment. As beautiful as trees are to look at, we don’t see what goes on underground – as they grow roots. Trees must develop deep roots in order to grow strong and produce their beauty. But we don’t see the roots. We just see and enjoy the beauty. In much the same way, what goes on inside of us is like the roots of a tree.” – Joyce Meyer

The Eastern Black and White Colobus monkey is the most arboreal of all African monkeys. The only other place I have seen them has been along the Grumeti river in the western corridor of the Serengeti. They have beautiful black fur which contrasts with the long white mantle, whiskers, bushy tail, and beard around their black face. These monkeys are territorial and live in groups of as many as fifteen individuals.

“The wandering photographer sees the same show that everyone else sees. He, however, stops to watch it.” ~ Edouard Boubat

The name “Colobus” is derived from the Greek word for “mutilated,” because unlike other monkeys, Colobus monkeys do not have thumbs. There are two types of Colobus monkeys, the Angolan and the Eastern Black and White species. These Colobus monkeys are herbivores, eating leaves, fruit, flowers lichen and bark and have a ruminant-like digestive system.

Our sighting of this elusive very shy leopardess was down purely to good guiding from Mike Laubscher. We were driving on the road along the LionHill side of the lake. Mike heard Vervet monkeys’ alarm calling and they were persistent suggesting that the threat was still close to them. We found another side road closer to the Vervet monkeys and that gave us an opportunity to see which way the Vervets were looking. Mike scoured the fever trees with his binoculars in the direction the Vervets were looking and after about a quarter of an hour he spotted this leopardess lying on the large yellow bough of a huge fever tree. The leopardess was lying in deep shade so was very difficult to see her initially.

Leopards are notoriously secretive in this forest environment and given the colour of their coats against the fever tree branches it can be extremely difficult to see one. Once we had a fix on her she continued lying on the bough for another few minutes before deciding to descend the tree to get out of view from all concerned.

We found a pair of Bushbuck foraging in the thick verdant understory. They were very shy and as soon as they saw us on the road, which cut through the forest, they bolted for deeper cover. The Bushbuck’s diet consists mainly of leaves, herbs, twigs and flowers of different plant types and as a browser it seldom consumes grass. The Bushbuck is the only non-territorial and solitary African antelope.

Fever tree haves a very shallow root system so you will see many fallen tree trunks in the forest. This is an alluring feature for photographers because there is always the possibility of a raptor or a leopard or lion on the fallen tree trunk.

“If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.” ~ Alan Watts

We got out of the vehicle and had a cup of coffee near this large fallen Fever tree trunk. It was absolutely beautiful. The understory is not easy to walk through and there are plenty of stinging nettles, which we soon discovered.

I was fortunate enough to spend ten days travelling around the Amboseli and Lake Nakuru National Parks with Mike Laubscher, a guide from Wild Eye. A big thank you to Mike for a fun and productive trip showing us around two fascinating and very different national parks in Kenya. A big thank you also to guide Jimmy who drove us around Amboseli and who has the most incredible eyesight and ability to predict the animal’s movement which enabled us to get into good photographic positions. Also to Sammy for driving us up to Lake Nakuru from Nairobi and back which was quite an exercise in its own right and for showing us around Lake Nakuru National Park and giving us some memorable sightings of rare mammals and birds. The guides from Wild Eye made a wonderful team without which we not have seen and experienced nearly as much as we did – thank you!

“I know not how I may seem to others, but to myself I am but a small child wandering upon the vast shores of knowledge, every now and then finding a small bright pebble to content myself with” ~ Plato

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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