Kenya & Tanzania

From the Masai Mara to the Serengeti: stories from my two weeks camping across East Africa’s most amazing natural wonders

For the sake of conversation, I’ve been telling people “I’m back”, but the truth is you never really return from a trip like this.

Still, I want to share some stories & photos from the journey, and tell you about the incredible animals I saw…but first, we need to brush up on your Swahili.

While everyone speaks English in Kenya, the same rule applies as back home: you have to make an effort to make an impression. I had done my best to assemble a grab-bag of common phrases before the trip.

Jambo (with an emphasis on the first syllable) means how are you?, but it really means hello.

Shannon and I deployed our first jambos on the evening of September 14th, nearly 24 hours after departing downtown Toronto. It was the furthest either of us had ever been from home.

It was on that first evening that we learned another word, and another feeling, that we’d encounter often over the subsequent weeks: karibu.

It means welcome.

First Days

Nairobi is a city of contrasts.

Poverty is a common undercurrent, but it’s not self-pitying and certainly doesn’t define the place. People are industrious, ambitious, and dignified.

On our second day in the country, we decided to walk from our Airbnb to the nearest shopping centre to stock up on supplies and look for a local SIM card.

We had read that Nairobi is not a city meant for walking, and this proved to be true. Not because of any concern about petty theft—we were in a nice part of town and kept our wits about us—but between the lack of sidewalks, poor signage, and general disregard for pedestrian safety, we quickly learned that we needed to stick to vehicles.

Pedestrians cross the street in Nairobi the way wildebeest cross rivers in the Serengeti: cautiously, and in large groups, to avoid being killed (by cars or by crocodiles, respectively).

The best way to get around turned out to be…Uber! In one of many displays of unexpected modernity, Kenya has a strong Uber presence in its capital, and we took full advantage.

In the two days before we met up with our group and hit the road, we had already changed our understanding of what a so-called “third-world” country looks like in modern times.

Much to the chagrin of friends and family back home, we opted to skip the local SIM and stay off the grid as we left the city.

It felt somehow important to be fully present, and we could all use a bit of a tech cleanse now and then. Even me, Mr. Technology, brought only my iPhone, Kindle, and camera gear.

Sometimes the barriers between wealth and poverty are stark: a view from our window shows a hotel pool and local market separated by a wall both literal and figurative.

Lake Nakuru

Our first day on the road, we headed west out of Nairobi toward the beautiful Lake Nakuru, one of the Rift Valley soda lakes. These ancient lakes are among the largest and oldest in the world, and Nakuru has been a National Park since 1961.

The Rift Valley floor, visible here beyond the Kikuyu Escarpment Forest.

The drive was long, and we were passing the time by placing bets on which animals we’d see first. I believe my guess was baboon, but our first encounter was in fact with zebras.

Plains Zebra
(Equus quagga)
Common, charming, and instantly recognizable, the plains zebra is one of the most distinctive examples of African wildlife. They have an interesting response to danger, and an even more interesting response to photographers.
When confronted by a predator, they'll often stare at it. Tens of zebras, patiently staring, waiting for their adversary to make a move, like kung fu masters. You'd expect them to run, but zebras are surprisingly powerful, with a strong bite and a formidable kick that can kill a hyena and seriously injure a lion.
When confronted by photographers, zebras will more often than not turn around to reveal their butts. Whether this is out of shyness or a special pride in their rumps I do not know, but for every successful photo of a zebra face, you can expect five of its butt.
Zebras live in small herds, called harems, where an adult male stallion keeps watch over his mares and their offspring. Young males may also form wandering boys clubs where the eldest will lead. These young males will practise fighting and eventually wander off to start their own harems as adults.
During the migration season, harems and male groups can come together to form huge herds, hundreds strong, as they cross the plains in search of food.

Our game drive day in Nakuru was a stormy one. No rain fell, but the gathering clouds were ominous and impressive, offering a dramatic look at the wet landscape.

Hundreds of species of birds inhabit the region’s skies, but notably absent among them were the famous flamingoes.

Only a few years ago, millions of the pink weirdos crowded the marshy shores of the lake, feeding on algae and providing a spectacle for nature enthusiasts who came from far and wide to watch their goofy dance.

But the enchroachment of civilization has polluted the water, and drought has desiccated the algal blooms that these birds feed on. After 2013, a massive fluctuation in the lake’s water level caused the entire flamingo population to leave, spreading to Lake Bogoria and other nearby areas in search of food.

It would have been nice to see them, but our disappointment faded as another of Kenya’s most impressive species made an appearance.

Rothschild's Giraffe and Masai Giraffe
(Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi, Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi)
Unmistakable and unmissable, the giraffe is a gentle giant.
We encountered two subspecies: the common, Masai giraffe, and the endangered Rothschild's giraffe, with a population of fewer than 2,000 individuals remaining in the wild.
Lake Nakuru is one of the few places where Rothschild's giraffe can be sighted fairly easily, and we learned to distinguish them by their "white socks" and larger, more smoothly shaped spots.
Giraffes are partial to the leaves of the acacia tree, a common bit of foliage that defends itself with fearsome thorns. These do not bother the giraffe though, as its prehensile, rubbery tongue is remarkably quick to heal, so any areas pierced by the spikes close up without harming the animal.
In Nairobi, at a sanctuary dedicated to breeding and rehabilitating giraffes, we had the remarkable privilege of hand-feeding these wonderful creatures. My favourite individual, named Ed, was already approaching his adult height of 6m; I had to be on the second floor of a specially constructed gazebo to feed him, and even still he towered over me.
Gazing into Ed's gigantic, deep black eyes is an experience I won't soon forget.

On our way out of Lake Nakuru, we stopped at a small village to get a better understanding of local life. Here, nestled atop a dry hill, agriculture was nearly impossible. Maize, beans, and other staples barely survived, so the locals had come up with alternate means of sustaining themselves: crafts.

One group of local women had taken to creating jewelry out of paper beads, a process that involves rolling coloured paper into tight shapes and dipping it in a sealant to protect it against moisture.

The result is beautiful unique necklaces, bracelets, and other items that they ship to stores all over the country.

A second group made elaborate stuffed animals, scarves, and other clothing items out of sheep’s wool. As I discovered when I was offered the chance to try it, spinning wool into yarn is a lot trickier than it looks!

Lake Naivasha

Another of the Rift Valley lakes, and one of the few freshwater ones, Naivasha is another hotbed for wildlife, but it’s also home to Kenya’s third most important global export: flowers.

Believe it or not, horticulture (cultivating roses in particular) makes a large contribution to the country’s economy, bested only by tea and coffee exports. Around Lake Naivasha, gigantic greenhouse complexes stretch across many acres, and within them you’ll find all manner of flowers and decorative plants that will make their way to stores in Europe and the Americas.

Behind one such complex, steps from the lake, was our campsite.

Kenya features some unique road hazards.

Naivasha comes from a Maasai word that means rough water, which wasn’t a comforting thought as we climbed into a pair of thin boats to venture out onto the lake in search of its most dangerous inhabitant: the hippopotamus.

The stormy weather had followed us from Nakuru, and the lake lived up to its name. Clutching our camera gear, we plowed through the surf toward a less populated inlet. The rough waves dredged up bits of floating plant debris, and before long we spotted tiny ears, tiny eyes, and grumpy snouts poking up among the flotsam. We had found the hippos.

Then the engine died.

East African Hippopotamus
(Hippopotamus amphibius kiboko)
Here are some important things you should know about the hippopotamus:
They can weigh more than 2,000kg, can run at speeds of 30km/h on land, can hold their breath for 5 minutes underwater, they have foot-long canine teeth that never stop growing, and the bite force of a female has been measured at over 8,000 newtons. The males are too aggressive to measure.
Hippos are responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other large animal. Oh, and contrary to popular opinion, they are not strictly herbivores; hippos have been observed eating various species of antelope, and even each other.
Here are some unimportant things you probably don't need to know about the hippopotamus but may want to anyway:
In 1910, during the meat crisis in the United States, the man who served as inspiration for Indiana Jones (plus his rival, a notorious con man and spy) proposed a unique solution. The idea, which later became a formal bill endorsed by Theodore Roosevelt, was to authorize the transport and release of wild hippopotamuses into Louisiana's bayous.
There, it was argued, they would serve as an alternative source of meat for humans, while also conveniently solving the problem of invasive water hyacinths choking the ecosystem thanks to the hippo's voracious appetite. A New York Times editorial praised the flavour of this "lake bacon", and it was only by the tiniest measure that this bill did not pass.
The full story is one of the most remarkable historical curios you'll ever encounter—and it is absolutely true.
Another unimportant fact about hippopotamuses: owing to their poor eyesight, when they emerge from the water to graze, they spin their tails like a tiny helicopter and then poo through the turbine to spread a scent trail they can follow back to the water.
Now you know.
Despite the danger, it can be particularly difficult to take hippos seriously when they do silly things like roll onto their backs in the water.

After a few minutes of anxious drifting, during which time we alternated between bailing water out of the boat and watching our guide attempt to clean and restart the clogged engine, we were able to resume our tour.

The hippos had been calm, watching us and snuffling uneasily but thankfully not charging or opening their giant Pac-Man mouths at us in a threat display.

On our way to the hippos, we were able to watch some local fishermen at work.

The next morning, having had enough of the water, we turned our attention inland.

Hell’s Gate

Just south of Lake Naivasha, Hell’s Gate National Park is home to some spectacular rock formations, several of which served as the inspiration for key sequences from the Lion King.

Scenes from the original Tomb Raider were also filmed here, and we went hiking through the very gorge that I recognized from the film.

The gorge’s narrowing walls led us to a natural hot spring, and soon after we climbed out to watch the sun set over the landscape.

The park is also home to baboons, a rare species of vulture, and—most importantly—the rock hyrax. I have a soft spot for these fuzzy little aliens, partly because one of them kissed me, and partly because their closest living relative is somehow the elephant, a baffling fact in light of their small stature.

Rock Hyrax
(Procavia capensis)
Found throughout Central and South Africa, the gregarious rock hyrax is a small, social herbivore that resembles a rodent but is in fact one of only four species of mammal in the order Hyracoidea.
Their closest living relatives are elephants and manatees, with which they share some characteristics like flat toenails and tusk-like incisors.
Found in groups approaching 100 members, these adorable fuzzballs are surprisingly fearless, which explains how I was able to approach one (patiently) and receive a friendly kiss on the hand before it resumed foraging for food in front of me. Later, I even managed to pet one that I found basking in the sun.
Rock hyraxes clamber up cliff faces and make their homes in caves, but they're also found up in trees and lounging around near human habitation like cheerful pets.

Loita Hills

The following day, we continued south into the heart of Maasai territory.

We set up camp just outside one of their villages, and enjoyed an amazing welcome of song and dance.

The Maasai are a fascinating people, warm and kind. By the time evening fell, we’d settled in front of a campfire to hear their elder recount the oral history of the tribe.

We learned about their polygamous lifestyle, about the role of the warriors, and about their relationship with modern culture. Some traditions have stood the test of time, while others—like female circumcision, I was relieved to hear—have not. The elder (named Steve) paired his traditional red-checkered robe with Nike running shoes and a smartphone. He wanted to know how many Facebook friends we have.

Life is strange.

Masai Mara

Safari means journey in Swahili, but the word as we know it conjures images of a truck bouncing over the dusty roads of a wildlife sanctuary, with eager photographers leaning out of it.

In that sense, it wasn’t until we reached the legendary Masai Mara that our safari truly began.

Though tiny compared to the mighty Serengeti across the border to the south, the Masai Mara is nevertheless a legendary game reserve and the stopping point for wildebeest, zebras, and other animals during the yearly Great Migration.

In late September, when we were there, the animals were enjoying the plentiful food in the Mara and preparing to journey back southward, counterclockwise through the Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Crater area in Tanzania.

Never far behind, lions enjoy their role at the top of the food chain, cleaning away stragglers and raising their own young. For many visitors, they are the main event—the most important of the Big Five. For me, they were less exciting, an impression that was only solidified after a handful of encounters with the lazy, sleepy cats.

That being said, one particular close encounter toward the end of our trip offered an opportunity to stare an adult lion in the face, with only a few metres and a lowered window separating the two of us.

While they don’t seem that imposing while snoring upside-down in the savannah, all it takes is a moment’s close-up gaze to convince you of their might.

African Lion
(Panthera leo melanochaita)
Needing no introduction, the lion is the best known of the large cats, second only to the tiger in body size.
Lions are the only cat species where there's a visible difference between males and females; the magnificent mane distinguishes males, though females sometimes have small ones too.
Young lions are born with dark spots to help them stay hidden from predators. These spots fade as they grow, settling into the more familiar burnt orange colouration.
Lionesses do most of the hunting. They'll tackle wildebeest, zebras, antelope, gazelles, warthogs, and giraffes. Larger prides may try to take on buffalos, elephants, rhinos, and hippos, but the risks are great and their chances of success diminish.
Because they prefer to scavenge when they can, lions compete with hyenas for food, and in fact it's often the hyenas that kill the prey, and the lions that try to steal it from them.

Since big cats are a big deal, I should also mention that we were fortunate enough to encounter the less common pair: the leopard and the cheetah. In fact, we came across three separate leopards over the course of the trip, though none offered great angles for photos.

African Leopard
(Panthera pardus pardus)
The second feline member of the Big Five, the leopard is a shy, powerful hunter.
While populations are considered vulnerable, the reason they're so infrequently encountered on safari has more to do with their habit of hiding in trees during the day time. The fact that they're solitary, territorial creatures also makes them harder to spot, since there's almost always just one in a given area.
Often confused with the cheetah, the leopard has larger spots, a stockier build, much shorter legs, and is missing the distinct tear streaks present on the cheetah's face. Similarly, the leopard is a different species from the jaguar, a larger and more powerful cat native to the Americas.
Leopards typically hunt at night, capturing prey and dragging larger kills as quickly as they can back up into their tree. This tactic is an attempt to minimize the risk of theft by other predators, particularly lions and hyenas, many of whom have been known to harass and even kill the leopard in pursuit of its food.
I got the impression that this leopard didn’t think highly of me.
East African Cheetah
(Acinonyx jubatus raineyi)
Cheetahs are famously recognized as the fastest land mammals, able to reach a speed of up to 100km/h while sprinting.
The cheetah is tall, slender, and less massive than other big cats like the leopard, tiger, and lion. Cheetahs are also uniquely gregarious. Known as coalitions, groups of cheetahs can exist in various gender configurations and tend to stay together for life.
Not only is the cheetah the only large cat capable of purring, it's also the only one that can be fully tamed. Tame cheetahs were common pets for Egyptian royalty during the New Kingdom (16th-11th century BC).

Lake Victoria

Before long, we were back on the dusty road, heading out of the Masai Mara and onward to our next destinations.

As Africa’s largest lake by area, and the second largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Victoria is more of an inland sea than anything else. Its waters extend across three countries: Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, and for us it was the first stop after crossing the border from Kenya into Tanzania.

Our campsite, outside the town of Musoma, turned out to be an excellent bird spotting point. Infested by sand flies, the beach attracted hundreds of weaver birds, some egret, hornbills, and various raptors looking to snag a meal.


Among the most well-known African natural wonders, the Serengeti is a gigantic region encompassing 30,000 square kilometres of plains, forests, mountains, and other ecosystems.

It is home to hundreds of thousands of animals, and thanks to the joint efforts of Kenya and Tanzania, over 80% of its area exists as a protected space.

We entered through the west gate, a narrow corridor extending from the southern tip of Lake Victoria and broadening out as you head east into the park. The area looks similar to landscapes we’d seen elsewhere, but it’s largely inhospitable thanks to the high concentration of tsetse flies.

These large flies are an ecological disaster, causing devastating disease in livestock and delivering the terrifying sleeping sickness in humans via a painful bite.

Our first few hours bumping along the horrible road from the western gate were spent keeping a watchful eye out for the biting flies and swatting them whenever they made their way into the truck.

The nuisance was worth it though, as we soon emerged into the unaffected eastern stretches of the park, and the Serengeti revealed its riches.

Our camp in the bush provided unfettered access to the local wildlife, which became all too clear when we arrived on the first evening to find a family of elephants wandering around.

While we had encountered them before, it was always from a distance.

African Bush Elephant
(Loxodonta africana)
Regal, impossibly massive, the elephant is the largest land mammal and my favourite of the Big Five.
Males stand over 3m tall at the shoulder and can weigh more than 6 tonnes, with rare individuals growing even larger.
Elephants are renowned for their remarkable intelligence and memory, as well as their complex matriarchal society. They are among the only animals known to use tools, and they are among even fewer species able to recognize themselves in a mirror.
While the full extent of their cognitive and emotional intelligence is under study, it's hard to deny the striking degree of personality and grace they exhibit.
They're also ninjas.
You may not expect this of an animal the size of a small building, but elephants are surprisingly stealthy and can disappear into a thicket with barely a whisper of rustling foliage.

On a smaller scale, we welcomed visiting mongoose, baboons, vervet monkeys, agama lizards, stick insects, and other critters throughout the day.

After dark, we had to stay in our tents. No washroom visits allowed.

The hyenas that surrounded the camp at night posed a very real threat, and their creepy giggles and whoops were an effective reminder to wait until morning.

To be honest, I find them kind of cute, but not cute enough to risk meeting one head on. They tend to eat their prey alive—and they start from the testicles—so I was perfectly content to admire them from afar.

Spotted Hyena
(Crocuta crocuta)
While lions are often considered the most successful hunters, it’s really the hyenas that steal the show as far as plains predators are concerned.
Featuring the largest group sizes and most complex social structures of any species in the order Carnivora, spotted hyenas are a formidable adversary. Contrary to popular belief, the spotted hyena (unlike its striped and brown cousin) is primarily a hunter, not a scavenger.
They are incredibly flexible in their feeding, adapting to any circumstance and making the best of it. They're relentless hunters, pursuing their chosen prey over several kilometres if necessary, at speeds of 60km/h.
With jaws more powerful than those of the leopard or brown bear, spotted hyenas can pulverize bone and their digestive system can break down skin and animal waste to a degree that puts other predators to shame.
Even more impressive is their cooperative intelligence; one study showed that spotted hyena pairs outperformed chimpanzees in a challenge that required the pair to work together to obtain food—and they did so without prior training.

We had two full days of game drives in the Serengeti, one in the morning and one in the evening. Each time, we encountered different combinations of animals, sometimes unexpectedly.

The first hyena above, for instance, appeared as if by magic. We were looking at some buffalo on the opposite side of the truck when it materialized behind us, silent as the grave. It stood there watching for who knows how long until one of us turned around and saw it.

Never a dull moment on the plains.

Speaking of scavengers, no story about the animals of the Serengeti would be complete without mention of the vultures.

Lappet-Faced Vulture
(Torgos tracheliotos)
This Old World species is among the largest of vultures, with a wingspan exceeding 2.5m in some individuals. Strutting around near a kill, it looks like a broad-shouldered dinosaur.
As the most powerful of African vultures, the Lappet-faced vulture will often dominate a kill site, scaring away smaller species until it's had its fill. This works out well for both parties though, as the smaller birds can't pierce the toughest hides of large kills like the Lappet-faced vulture can.
They've even been known to hunt small animals, mostly by plummeting down onto them from trees like a meteoric terror.
Rather than circle aimlessly in the sky, we watched these cunning opportunists hang out in trees near the big cats and hyenas, waiting for a meal to become available.

And where there are vultures, there are marabou storks. Oh, the marabou stork…

Marabou Stork
(Leptoptilos crumenifer)
I want you to imagine for a moment the elegant, beautiful stork that you’re familiar with. So sweet a bird that we dream of it bringing newborn babies to our homes, wrapped in white blankets.
Now imagine the gigantic undead version of that bird and you have the marabou stork.
Standing up to 1.5m tall and weighing almost 10kg, the marabou stork has a terrifying wingspan of over 3m. Protruding from its bald head is a sharp bill, 30cm in length, that it uses to rend flesh from carcasses or spear small prey.
But wait, there's more! These giant birds will shamelessly eat faeces, garbage...even shoes and pieces of metal from human settlements.
The obvious reason they hang out with vultures is so they can snag pieces of food that the vultures' curved beaks are able to more effectively remove from a carcass. 
The less obvious, more appalling reason is this: vultures aren't so good at portion control, so they tend to overeat and throw see where this is going...the marabou stork, unconcerned with the opinions of others, will happily eat that too.
So. In case you were wondering where peak grossness exists, it's here. In this bird.
Literally a shit-eating grin on this guy.

I don’t know about you, but I need a bit of a palette cleanser after that one. No one said all these animals were cute and charming.

Thankfully, the next one is.

Hidden away in the small forested areas of the Serengeti, and across much of east Africa, lives the smallest member of the antelope family, the dik-dik. They’re quite common, but can be tough to spot and even tougher to get a photo of, which is why I was thrilled that we encountered enough of them that I was able to get some shots.

(Madoqua gunther/kirkii)
Standing only about 30cm tall, the dik-dik is a set of four species of small antelope (not the smallest, incidentally, but close).
Dik-dik are monogamous, and mate for life. Not only that, but it's said that the metabolism of a mating pair will synchronize to the point where their little hearts beat in unison because there is still joy in the universe.
They also mark their territory with tears, and their bodies are so good at conserving water that they produce the driest poops of any ungulate.
If you're looking at their little snouts and thinking they look like little elephant trunks, it's because the two species are related. All the best species are related to the elephant, I think you'll agree.

On our second night camping in the Serengeti, we were visited by an unexpected luxury: beer.

After dark, as we huddled around the campfire and recounted our animal encounters of the day, the rumbling of an engine became apparent in the distance.

Within minutes, pale headlights bathed the campsite and a small, square truck had pulled up. “Portable bar”, explained our guide, and so it was that we enjoyed some local refreshments far from civilization (I’m partial to Tusker).

Unfortunately, too much beer makes the whole stay-in-your-tent-or-you’ll-die thing tricky. If ever there was a good way to enforce drinking in moderation, it’s hyenas.

Ngorongoro Crater

Much too soon, we bid farewell to the vast Serengeti and continued east into the Ngorongoro Conservation area. We were heading for the Ngorongoro Crater itself, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the other end of the Great Migration path.

The Serengeti’s east gate proved much more hospitable, with no tsetse flies and a great visitor’s centre with a bustling population of rock hyraxes.

Beyond that was a desolate wasteland of sand and rock, sparse vegetation, and constant blowing dust that sometimes spun itself into tall twisters. One such storm nearly smashed into the truck, which made for a dramatic moment as we shielded our faces against the blowing grit.

As the hours wore on, we gradually began to climb, winding our way through twisting roads, further and further into the mountains. The crater itself is so massive that you don’t even realize it’s a crater until you’ve reached the top and can peer in.

It’s the largest intact and unfilled volcanic caldera in the world, in fact, with a diametre of 260 square kilometres. It’s difficult to imagine the scale of the original volcano, which erupted around 3 million years ago in a mighty blast that collapsed the original mountain entirely.

After setting up camp on the crater rim (we shared the plateau with a family of zebras), we bundled up against the cold and got an early night in preparation for an early start.

By 4:30am the next morning, we were already up and about again, preparing a picnic lunch, having breakfast, and packing our gear for a descent to the crater floor. We descended the 610m depth just as the sun was poking through the clouds.

You wouldn’t think so looking at it from above, but the crater floor is teeming with wildlife, including warthogs, impala, secretary birds, jackals, elephants, hippo, wildebeest, and the reliably goofy ostrich.

Also plentiful was the most commonly encountered member of the Big Five, the Cape Buffalo.

Cape Buffalo
(Syncerus caffer)
Like hippos, cape buffalo are an unexpected danger to humans. They're cantankerous, intelligent, and vindictive.
Older males in particular are dangerous as they tend to leave the larger herds and hang out on their own. Buffalo are known to pre-emptively attack predators, killing lions and even circling back to attack human hunters who've been unsuccessful.
Large individuals are capable of fighting off an entire hunting pack of lions. 

By this point in the trip, I knew we were extremely fortunate. Not only had we seen the rare leopard three times, we’d also encountered healthy populations of lions and cheetahs, not to mention tens of elephants and giraffes, and hundreds of the more common species.

But our luck peaked in the crater as we encountered the rarest species of all: the critically endangered black rhinoceros.

We had seen the more common white rhinoceros near Lake Nakuru, where we managed to get close enough for a decent photo.

But to see its elusive black cousin was a real treat. Other visitors had spent days exploring the crater looking for one without any success, and we just happened to stumble upon it.

While it was from a great distance and didn’t yield a particularly good photo, It was satisfying to be able to say that we had not only seen the Big Five—twice over—but that we managed the rarest variant of the rhino too.

Black Rhinoceros
(Diceros bicornis)
The black rhino is sometimes known as the hook-lipped rhino thanks to the beak-like shape of its upper lip. This is also the easiest way to distinguish it from the white rhino, which has a broad, flat mouth.
Unlike its more common white cousin, the black rhino is solitary, unpredictable, and aggressive, occasionally to the point of absurdity.
They've been observed attacking trees, perhaps perceiving them as a creature encroaching upon their territory. This aggression has negative consequences on their population, as the black rhino has the largest mortality rate among all mammals for combat-related injuries. Nearly half of all males and 30% of females will die from fighting others of their kind.
The black rhino remains a prime target for poachers too, and populations are declining throughout their range.

Homeward Bound

Back in Nairobi, we had a few extra days to recover and reflect before boarding our plane back to Toronto.

Despite being on the road for more than two weeks, we had barely scratched the dusty surface of East Africa. A trip like this won’t suddenly make one an expert on local culture and customs, but it will break down important preconceived notions and reset one’s expectations.

Despite struggling with poverty, both Kenya and Tanzania have made incredible efforts to safeguard their natural wonders against the encroachment of civilization, the darker side of humanity, and the effects of climate change. And not all of it is motivated by tourism—these people genuinely love and respect their animals. Dogs were well fed, even when their owners weren’t, and there’s a massive effort to bring starving cattle from drought-wracked Tanzania into Kenya so they can eat.

Everything you need to know about people, you can learn from how they treat animals.

Hakuna Matata

This isn’t some dangerous place that you shouldn’t visit. It’s different, and different can be scary, but it can also be exhilarating and important.

If you’ve read this far and have always dreamed of going on a trip like this, my advice is: go. Make it happen. Take it from two people who’ve wanted to do this their entire lives and finally managed…there’s nothing more satisfying.

Sure, you’ll terrify your loved ones, frustrate your coworkers, and injure your wallet, but…hakuna matata (it really does mean no worries)!

Witness the world’s wonders while we still have them.