It’s the last full day of our trip. We decided to make the most of it with an early morning game drive before breakfast, when many animals are the most active. Our early wake up was rewarded when we came upon a pride of three female lions and their cubs resting in the shade. We kept a respectful distance and they kept theirs; the way they slowly blinked their eyes seemed to suggest that they were more interested in sleeping than in us.
After breakfast, we visited Mara Intrepids Camp and Mara Explorer, sister tented camps along the Talek River. Mara Intrepids is a more family-oriented camp, open to children 4 years old and above when accompanied by a parent, and offering organized activities for kids with its Adventurers program. An electric fence surrounds the property to keep large game out.
Explorer is an unfenced camp with a wilder feel. Each tent includes a secluded outdoor bath so guests can watch the river while they clean up from the day’s activities. The camp also has no fence, so wildlife sometimes wander through its grounds. While these animals rarely pose a threat, guards are on duty at all times to prevent problems.
We then visited Governor’s Camp, an unfenced tented camp with views of the Mara River. From the dining area and bar, visitors can often watch the resident hippos swim in the river or munch on the grass. Each tent has a large bath with shower, and most have views either of the river or the savannah.
We left Masai Mara National Reserve for Mara North Conservancy. Unlike the reserves, which are managed by local governments and the Kenya Wildlife Service, the conservancy is privately owned land set aside for conservation purposes. The land is owned by local Masai who decided that their land was better served by providing homes and passageways for wild animals than being used as year-round pasture for their herds. They receive income from the land in three ways: safari fees paid to them by visitors to the land, rent paid by lodges located on the land, and an additional occupancy fee paid by the lodges when rooms (or tents, as the case may be) are filled.
Once in the conservancy, we continued on to Serian Mara Camp, our lodgings for the night. Set above the Mara River, the six-tent camp offers luxury in a natural setting. The furnishings evoke the safaris of a bygone era, with the rich colors of eastern caprets on hardwood flooring and swathes of cotton setting off the colonial-style furnishings and pale canvas walls. Each tent has its own full bathroom with a rain shower and a hand-carved stone bath with river view, as well as a large private veranda.
Across the river is Ngare Serian, an even more luxurious camp with only four tented suites.
We enjoyed watching hippos (as well as a genet and a tiny African hedgehog) before a relaxed dinner with managers Rosin and Adrian and conservancy shareholder Charles, one of the Masai tribal members who set aside his land for the conservancy. Charles asked us if we had any big animals in the United States and was thoroughly unimpressed when we told him we had wolves.
He laughed as if we had just told a very funny joke. After all, wolves aren’t even as big as lions, much less giraffes, rhinos, hippos or elephants.
The best we could come up with for a large North American land mammal was the grizzly bear, which we described as something like a hyena, but the size of a cape buffalo. He thought that was a bit better, but still nothing to write home about.
We also talked about changes he’s seen in Masai Mara and the the Masai culture over his lifetime. Charles has two wives, 16 children (the youngest of whom are in secondary school), and more grandchildren and great-grandchildren than he can count. He told us that while polygamy is permitted in Masai culture, it’s not required, and he has encouraged his children to have smaller families so that they can provide for their families more easily and educate their children. (Primary school attendance in Kenya is compulsory and ostensibly free, but families still must pay school fees for textbooks, uniforms and other supplies. Families who want to send their kids to secondary school must pay tuition.) He says all of his kids have decided against polgamous marriage for themselves, but he does not see this as a threat to the Masai culture. Rather, it’s a shift in cultural practices that takes into account new realities and opportunities.