Tag Archives: wildlife

Mountain gorilla eating a tree in Rwanda

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A mountain gorilla is eating a tree in Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda. © Edward Taylor

This is the mountain gorilla eating lunch in its natural habitat in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. The gorilla is part of a family of about a dozen other gorillas of which there are only about 900-1000 known to remain in the wild. To find the family, we spent several hours trekking through the dense jungle thicket guided by park rangers. At the time the permit cost $500 which gets you the guided trek and a maximum of 1 hour in close proximity to the gorilla family (apparently it now costs $950). Although we were not allowed to get closer than 3m, at one point, a gorilla looked at me and came closer… and then ambled past me on the path, just a couple of feet from me. I was scared shitless. Although still considered critically endangered, the Government of Rwanda has done a good job protecting these gorillas and conserving their habitat using the funds from the permit program and the population is slowly increasing again. This photo was taken by Edward Taylor, one of the members of our trekking group.

Day safari at Nairobi National Park, Kenya

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Giraffe crossing the safari trail in front of our van

We just got back from a day safari (a morning and an afternoon game drive) to Nairobi National Park and are absolutely thrilled about our experience. It blew all our expectations out of the water. We went hoping to see a lion and came away having seen almost an entire pride (8 cubs and 3 adult females but no males) at a single site – park officials later told us that pride has a total of 11 cubs. We also saw a wide array of other wildlife: serval cat, giraffes, rhinos (black & white), ostrich, impala, guinea fowl and other birds, turtle, a dead black mamba, hippopotamus, cape buffalo, water buffalo, warthog, and hart beast. We were particularly pleased about the rhinos and the serval cat. We even saw a dung beetle at work – pretty cool!

Total cost for the day for both of us was US$200, which got us park entry, our own 4×4 safari van with an open top roof (basically a converted matatu-style van) and a driver/guide and two game drives. We capped off our day with a visit to the Nairobi Animal Orphanage – a zoo located right after the park entrance (note: there is a separate fee for this attraction). If you have kids, a visit to the orphanage before or after your safari would give them a chance to get up close to the animals they are seeing.

Park officials were professional and well-organised, and there are three restaurant facilities available, including a gift shop. The park land itself was very clean, good signage/directions throughout, and a well-maintained network of roads.

Quick tips:

– If you hire a taxi driver to take you on the safari, it will be cheaper but you will probably lose out on the conversations and valuable insight shared between guides about where all the animals are.

– In the wet season, the grasses are long and can obscure the view from a small car, such as a sedan. Roads can be wet and there were a few paths where a 4×4 was necessary. So we suggest you hire a 4×4 with an open roof top. This will allow you to stick your head out and scan the landscape for animals instead of craning your neck out a window. Remember that half the fun of a safari is just looking for the animals!

-We are told the best times to see lions are in the early morning and the late afternoon when the temperature is much cooler and they are likely to be walking around, hunting. But on our trip, we saw the lions at about 10:30am/11:00am.

– Park entry fees (currently US$40 each for adult tourists) are valid for only one entry to the park. But if you park your car just inside the entrance, you can go for lunch for an hour and then continue your game drive in the afternoon. Your guide may tell you parking is not allowed. But the park warden said we were welcome to go ahead and do that. Definitely try to do two game drives if you have time – this is great if you missed things in the morning and want to try again in the afternoon. You’re also sure to get more great photos ops the second time around!

Having been on two amazing weekend safaris before (Masai Mara, Kenya and Liwonde National Park, Malawi), I had kept my expectations low for this day safari but I can say this is a definite must if you have time in Nairobi. This was a fantastic experience and well worth the money and much more affordable than doing a weekend trip to a more far-flung safari destination that requires plane, hotel, etc.

This review is also published on Trip Advisor.

Taking flight

Yesterday afternoon we visited an Adelie penguin colony on Anvers Island, not far from the United States Antarctic Program’s Palmer Station – one of three American research bases in the region. Near the penguin colony there was this Chilean Skua that was scouting for penguin eggs. I saw it perched atop this rock and started taking snaps. Kim Heacox, the National Geographic photographer that has been coaching me, suggested I try to get a shot of the bird against the blue sky. We also anticipated that the bird would at some point see a hunting opportunity and fly away – giving us a chance to catch it spreading its wings and taking flight.

The Weddell Seal

This is a Weddell Seal, one of the largest mammal species found in the Antarctic region. To get this shot I lay down on the snow on my stomach, set up my camera, took a few test shots and settled in for about 30 minutes, waiting for the perfect snap. The waiting period is the best of all as you have time to observe and become acquainted with the animal you are photographing. Intimacy with nature! This seal is a female – we can tell because her mammary glands are two black lines about 1/4 of the way along her boddy starting from her flippers. These animals can weigh up to 600kg. The best part is that National Geographic photographer Kim Heacox was nearby, coaching me on how to set up the camera for the shot… an unforgettable moment. :)

The Weddell Seal on Pleneau Island in Antarctica