Fur still damp and matted from his birth moments earlier, the disorientated youngster wobbles forward, driven by instinct to gain strength through his mother’s milk. She’s standing just a few steps away, exhausted from having carried her cargo for almost nine months through the grassy plains and stumpy whistling thorn acacias of the Naboisho Conservancy. Predators such as lions, cheetahs and leopards roam this reserve in the Greater Mara, near the border with Tanzania in southwestern Kenya.
But now’s no time for rest. Lured by the scent of this vulnerable new life, a pack of black-backed jackals slink from the shadows of the long grass, forcing the new family to shift gear with surprising speed. The mother’s head swings quickly to face them, her tawny ears thrust forward like a pair of satellite dishes, and then both her and her young son are off — galloping towards the rest of their herd a few miles away in the distance, lost in a cloud of ochre dust. Thanks to those lanky legs, honed over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, even a young wildebeest can survive out here on the plains from day one.
Dramas like this unfold daily across the Mara ecosystem — which encompasses the government-run reserve famous for hosting the Great Migration, when millions of animals arrive from Tanzania in search of fresh pasture, as well as some surrounding community-owned land. But many of these dramas take place without anyone ever knowing. Unless you have a skilled guide to point them out to you, that is. With me is Raphael Lesisa, a local Maasai guide, who’d spotted the heavily pregnant wildebeest minutes before she gave birth in front of us. He grew up in this area and has a well-honed talent for reading the landscape and the animals that reside here.
As we drive off in search of more wildlife, the wheels of our vehicle bumping down the dirt road, Raphael fills me in on some of the local traditions. Pastoralists, he says, will never graze their cattle in an area where wildebeest have given birth, due to their belief that the embryonic sac releases toxins into the soil. Raphael adds that he’s eagerly awaiting the return of the migratory storks, which haven’t arrived yet due to a lack of rain. Kenya is experiencing its worst drought for 40 years, amid its sixth consecutive failed rainy season.
I ask how he learned to read the bush so well. “It’s easy for us Maasai,” he says, shrugging from behind the wheel, adding that he grew up thinking tourists were mad for visiting the Mara and paying money to watch the animals he sees every day for free. “Since we were children, we’ve always been taught how to read the animals and how to look after them. I quickly learned the best way to escape a buffalo — you have to
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Pelicans preen and glide. Jacana birds, precise as ballerinas, point their improbably elongated toes. Pied kingfishers flit in and out of their lakeside nest holes, saddle-billed storks patrol the grassy banks and skimmers speed across the silver-blue water, scooping up beakfuls mid-flight. Everywhere I look, there are birds in abundance. The safari boat is the perfect platform from which to watch: open-sided, smooth and near-silent.
Holland America Line has seen record-breaking Black Friday bookings for the second year in a row in the United States. The cruise line saw a reported 20% more Black Friday bookings than last year and 23% higher for the period from Black Friday through to Cyber Monday.
How to Travel Better is a new monthly column with Condé Nast Traveler’s sustainability editor Juliet Kinsman. In this series, Juliet introduces us to the sustainability heroes she meets, signposts the experiences that are enhancing our world, and shares the little and big ways we can all travel better.
Tanzania is a fantastic family-friendly destination in waiting. Whether you’re here on safari to see the country’s astonishing portfolio of animals or looking to laze by a beach along the country’s Indian Ocean shore, Tanzania does family travel particularly well.
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