One of the most humbling and memorable experiences of my life was in the summer of 2015 when I was last in Kenya. I was lucky enough to spend time with the Born Free Foundation, a charity that I’ve supported for a long time, and take part in their Lion Census in Meru National Park, the remote wilderness in central Kenya which was the setting for the events in Joy Adamson’s book “Born Free”. We were there to establish a baseline number for the population of lions in the Park, to begin a study into the lion population in Kenya as a whole. Was it rising, or falling?
Will Travers of Born Free gives the details in this Youtube clip, filmed when I was there;
I’m in it, something which took me aback – but for me it’s a memory of one of the few things Ive done in life that’s actually been worthwhile!
The most incredible part of a memorable trip was sitting atop the Land Rovers when we were doing the Callback Protocol- playing the call of a dying wildebeeste to draw in lions to take part in the supposed kill- and we would then count the lions.
In the dark of the African night. to the backdrop of eerie calls of a dying wildebeeste, a wave of sweet, musky warm smell swept past the Land Rovers,and we realised the lions had come. Great, tawny hunting cats, padding between and around the Defenders and the Range Rover as they looked for their hoped-for meal. They knew we were there, one or two looked up at us, but they weren’t bothered. I’d been amongst lions before, but never like this – never close enough to reach down and touch them.
(Night vision photo – bit blurry, sorry)
They were everything you’d hope for – majestic, intelligent, inquisitive and beautiful. Equally, whenever I’m amongst lions I am reminded of my childhood in rural Yorkshire and our smallholding where we had over a dozen feral cats living in the barns and stables and I would spend hours watching them and playing with them – the behaviour of lions is exactly that of domestic cats, just fifty times bigger. All the playfulness, charm, humour, curiosity and intelligence shines through.
At any rate. I’m heading back to Meru in July as a followup to the 2015 trip. The Census established that there are 55-60 lions in the whole of Meru Park, an alarmingly small number. In July I’ll touch base with the guys there, and get out into the bush again to see what’s been happening – then next year, having got baseline data, we will repeat the census to see how the population has changed.
I feel so much at home in the Kenyan bush, a strange feeling that I only really get there, or in the Sahara, or in the mountains of Scotland. It’s an environment that’s very much under threat from a hugely-expanding human population – every time I go there I see it shrink still further. George and Joy Adamson, were they alive today, would be saddened by how their beloved Kenya has been stripped and ruined compared to how it was even in the 1980s.
Other than that…… heading back to Morocco with old friend Stu Pickering for a few week. Stu’s not seen the desert so we will have a run out that way. Elsa the Defender is at Black Paw in York, being stretched to a 130; she will be off the road until Christmas, so I’ll take Tusker the Discovery 2. After Morocco and Kenya I’m going to spend a while in Sri Lanka, exploring there with friends in the local Land Rover club – so a busy few months ahead!
Born Free always welcomes your support and donations – http://www.bornfree.org.uk