Ol Malo lodge in Kenya

This month I’m showcasing an old favorite safari lodge. Ol Malo is owned and run by Andrew and Chyulu Francombe, good friends of mine who both grew up in Kenya and truly know how to bring their patch of wilderness to life. With unique and exhilarating helicopter tours, horse riding safaris amongst the giraffe and zebras, as well as invigorating hikes and breathtaking views across to Mt Kenya’s 17,000-foot peaks in the distance, Ol Malo is an enduring highlight for any safari. Set amidst the privately managed wildlife ranches of Kenya’s Laikipia Conservancy, Ol Malo has provided many enjoyable and memorable moments on safaris in recent years. 

With two Raven 44 Helicopters based right at the lodge the scenic flights in these fantastic machines is made especially accessible during our stays here. You can see highlights from a recent flight in another blog post – Helicopter safari to Lake Turkana. And here is a selection of images from myself and Ol Malo that I think gives you a pretty good feel for what our time there is like! Enjoy a little bit of a virtual safari from wherever you are in the world…

Helicopter safari to Lake Turkana

One of the highlights of my most recent safari was our day exploring the vast, spectacular landscapes of northern Kenya by helicopter. Setting off early, we flew over the rolling contours of the Mathews mountain range before dropping to palm tree level and gliding down the dry sand river “luggas” that bring this landscape to life. 

An impromptu stop above an ancient riverbed for morning tea provided a chance to walk through this country and admire up close the magnificent desert rose flowers and fossil-rich riverbeds.

The diversity of this great wilderness was magnified as we flew over remote hot springs, the croc-filled rivers of the Suguta Valley, and the dazzle of hot pink flamingos on Lake Logipi. Finally landing on the shores of Lake Turkana, on a volcanic sand beach, we leapt into the welcome waters of the mystic Jade Sea; a 200-mile inland sea so remote it was only first documented for the outside world in 1888. Stretching from the Ethiopian border and filling a mighty wedge of Kenya’s northern Rift Valley, the lake and its storied shores resonate with stark beauty and history. We felt privileged to see so much of this land that for centuries was an inaccessible, unknown place on the map. 

Safari photo diary – Botswana and Zimbabwe, May 2021

A three-week safari odyssey through the highlights of Botswana and Zimbabwe last month immersed us in the fascinating wildlife and stunning scenery of this region. 

Here is a series of images from this epic trip.

Spending an evening with the habituated meerkats of the Kalahari was an up close and personal experience! Watching them socialize, dig for grubs and scorpions, and then retire into their burrows for the night to keep warm was a delightful and memorable wildlife encounter.
Mombo’s legendary leopard lineage showed off the new generation with two playful cubs contesting with their mother for the spoils of their impala food store. Observing them in the crisp morning light, and once again that same evening, rated as one of my top leopard viewings ever.
Everywhere you travel in Africa, the impala make up a healthy part of the herbivore count. Perhaps the most graceful of all the antelopes, even their great agility can’t keep them from the clutches of big cats, wild dogs and sometimes hyena.
These playful hyena cubs we found at their den while staying at Mombo entertained us with their inquisitive nature and determined bouts of rumbling with their siblings. They will take four months or so to molt out of their black natal coats and into their namesake spot patterns which mark them for life.
Flocks of tens of thousands of red-billed quelea fly in a mesmerizing, synchronized flight over woodland around Mombo Camp. Much like a school of fish they shimmer and swerve through shafts of light.
The elevated wooden track into Mombo Camp.
Mombo Camp’s stylish interiors provide the ideal place to rest up after a morning’s game drive.
As we journeyed into the northern reaches of the Okavango Delta, our time in Selinda produced spectacular lion action with a pride of 14 demonstrating these big cats at their most cooperative and competitive as they tore into a wildebeest kill one morning.
Red lechwe moving through the delta.
One of the highlights in the Okavango Delta was seeing this bull elephant effortlessly move through these channels. Confident of being left alone by the big crocs and feisty hippos who call these waters home.
Wild dogs showing their close bonds as they rest up in the Selinda Reserve, Botswana. This endangered carnivore exhibits some of the most interesting behavior and we were able to witness lots of cool interactions in this pack of 12.
Sleepy Simba in Selinda.
A hungry cheetah in Selinda Reserve scanning the grassland one evening.
Victoria Falls in high flood following good rains in the Angolan highlands catchment area several months and 1,500km away. Combined with some fascinating insights about the life of David Livingstone by local history buff Chris Worden, this was an amazing and memorable visit.
Enjoying a buffalo herd’s visit from the pool edge at Linkwasha Camp, Hwange National Park.
Mother and calf white rhino graze in the sanctuary of Malilangwe Reserve, Zimbabwe.
This Nyala bull near Pamushana Lodge was one of the most photogenic species we saw. The stunning, spiral horns and captivating white facial lines made this individual a favorite subject to train our cameras on.
Curious cubs near Pamushana Lodge, Malilangwe Reserve. Waiting for their turn to feast on the buffalo kill the lionesses have made overnight.
The exquisite view from Pamushana Lodge, over the 130,000 acres of wilderness at Malilangwe Reserve.

Report from the Indian Ocean

Ollie reeled in his first sailfish!

Following the big run (UltraMARAthon), we were all ready for our sore feet to be soothed in the sand and sea, so I flew the family to Watamu the next week. We had plenty of time to soak up the Indian Ocean vistas from our sundowner deck and enjoy a few fun activities. A sunset cruise with friends aboard the tradition Swahili “Monangu” dhow offered fun for kids and adults alike. I joined Ollie on the good ship Alleycat for some deep sea fishing one day, and the joy of Ollie’s success pulling in his first 50-pound sailfish was matched only by the exhaustion after the half-hour battle to reel it in. And while the great blue marlin eluded us that day, we also caught a giant trevally, and I am sure we’ll be back for another round soon!

I also had the excitement of taking Ollie for his first scuba dive. It was action packed with green turtles, octopus, and thousands of stunningly colored fish all around. Ollie took to it like, well, a fish to water, and I’m looking forward to our next diving adventure.

Ollie’s first scuba dive in the Indian Ocean.
We predict Ollie will end up working in the ocean one day….
Ollie with his first giant trevally.
The kids spent plenty of time searching the tidal pools for cool creatures.
A well-camouflaged crab.
Tiny starfish.
A speckled moray eel.
It is always fun to try to catch these crabs with their bright red eyes!
Enjoying the warm waters of Watamu.
Jumping off the dhow during a sunset cruise along Mida Creek.

The inaugural UltraMARAthon – 50km through the Mara conservancies

Perhaps once in a lifetime – or possibly once a year – it feels right to push some boundaries. This can be at different levels, whether emotional, spiritual, or physical. For a year like 2020, I chose physical, and went all out to launch and participate in a wild run across 50km of spectacular Mara savannah. Read my account of this “ultra” marathon race across the great plains of the Maasai Mara that benefitted the rangers of the conservancies here in Wilder magazine (www.wilder-mag.com/magazine). It was brutally hot and the final 10km was much more challenging than I expected, but I managed to complete the full 50km…and I am already thinking about how to train better for the next one!

Running up to the finish line!

Learn more about our partner charity, For Rangers, on their website (https://www.forrangers.com/home), and here is a fantastic highlights video from race day:

Sam Taylor and me, enjoying some Kenyan beer after the race. Sam runs For Rangers and was the co-organizer of the UltraMARAthon.

A new film about The Original Ker & Downey Safaris

Enjoy our new short video on the essence of the private guided safari experience in Africa. The Original Ker & Downey Safaris has been in operation for more than 70 years, and I am so proud to be a partner and director of the company that outfits my safaris.

A trip to the southern edge of the Mara

We recently took a break from our northern Mara home and spent a little bit of time down in the Masai Mara National Reserve, right on the border with Tanzania. We were fortunate to take over the Ker & Downey seasonal camp with a few friends for three days, and the location couldn’t have been better. We had wildebeest and zebra crossing the Sand River in and near camp, lions roaring nearby each night, newborn topi babies learning how to run, and spectacular sunsets.

It has certainly been strange for me to not be out on safari with my guests in June, July, and August for the first time in more than 20 years. But I have loved being able to spend so much time with the kids both at home and on a few little family safaris here in Kenya. Hopefully we will be back out there next year. Until then, enjoy a few highlights from the Mara:

Sunrise hot chocolate in camp.
Ollie and two of his buddies were excellent spotters!
This lioness was simply too fat to catch another gnu!
Baboons and impalas at a little stream.
Ollie enjoys exploring the Sand River.
Wildebeest and zebra coming down to drink and cross the Sand River.
Gnus on the move!
Portrait of a young gnu.
Halina watches a crossing from camp.
Halina and her friend, Bella, observing eles.
A special sighting of a very handsome reedbuck.
Karembo, a lovely little female cheetah, at sunset.
Karembo sunset.
A birthday dinner on the river bed with the full moon rising.

African wild dogs in Enonkishu Conservancy!

Since moving to the Mara, we have heard occasional reports of sightings of the rare and endangered African wild dog in the hills above us. Beautifully colored in their mottled coats, small groups from perhaps a single pack are seen every few months as they hunt antelopes on the bushy hillsides to the north and east of the Mara – their remaining hold-out in the region. Since they disappeared from the great plains of the Mara’s grasslands in the early 1990s, due to a rabies outbreak, this pack has eked out an existence on the outskirts of Enonkishu and the other conservancies, away from the higher densities of lions.

So, we were thrilled a few weeks ago when we drove out one rainy afternoon and were treated to some fantastic viewing of three wild dogs who had killed a male impala. And while a hyena had taken a good chunk of the feast by the time we got there, the dogs were excitedly bouncing and twittering around, enjoying other morsels from their meal. We shared this spectacular viewing with Oliver and Halina, who were seeing this species for the first time – and it was the first time Steph had ever seen the Mara wild dogs, in twenty years! This sighting has reinforced our commitment to providing free rabies vaccinations to domestic dogs and cats in our area every year, to prevent the disease from spilling over into the wild dogs again. We’ll be helping the vets again this December! 

Here is a short video clip:

Zebras after dinner

Not every meal at our home in the Mara finishes with the sounds of lions and hyenas scrapping over a kill, but one recent night it certainly did! Just after 8pm, as we were about to do the dishes, the unique, eerie cackling of hyenas and the sharp, aggressive growls of lions drifted into our open kitchen. We knew there was about to be some super carnivore action, so we grabbed the cameras and binoculars and our carnivore-loving family headed out to investigate. On arrival we witnessed the classic head to head combat of lions and hyenas in the dark April drizzle. Of all the up-close wildlife viewings in Africa, it’s an unbeatable experience of pure, primal competition as ferocious hyenas rally their clan members for what they know will be some rough and tumble. Sure enough, several of them are pummeled, clawed, and even bitten by the lions, but they get their own back when they eventually overpower the big cats with a few good butt-bites to see them off. After raging back and forth for close to an hour, with yelps and growls the lions eventually retreat, not wanting to risk serious injury.  

For our kids, ending the day with such a wild and dramatic scene less than a mile from the house is a pretty good consolation after the challenge of school closures and their online classrooms. Being stuck at home for nine onths could be a lot worse! Sound on for these fun videos!

Turn up the volume and enjoy these three videos from the night of war!

Kisaru, the greatest cheetah mum ever

A very rare sight – 7 cheetah under a tree! Kisaru in front of her six cubs.

Good viewings of cheetahs always add enormously to the safari experience. Over the past twelve months, with so much time at our Mara home in Enonkishu, we’ve had the privilege of regular sightings of one female who has defied the odds and raised six cubs through their first year. Typically, cheetah mothers lose many of their young. But Kisaru, fast becoming our local mascot, has become so adept in her hunting of gazelles and impala that she has kept her brood of six alive and well. 

In December, we had the excitement of observing this cheetah family from our rooftop as Kisaru chased some antelope into the nearby bush. Since then she’s made regular appearances nearby, providing wonderful viewings for those of us lucky enough to call this paradise home; I only wish I could be sharing it all with guests who would have been on safari with me over the past couple of months! At least some good friends from Australia enjoyed a visit in February before the pandemic, and got to see our resident cheetah family enjoy a big meal after Kisaru made a swift, successful hunt of an unsuspecting impala.

Kisaru and one of her 1-year-old cubs in Enonkishu in July.
Kisaru and the cubs rested just in front of our house back in January.
One of Kisaru’s cubs. Now almost 14 months old, they are just about fully grown, and Kisaru is about ready to leave them.