de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2008). Encounter With a Predator. Living. January-February 2008. Pages 46-47. Volume 03, Issue 03. ISSN 1800-0746.
Leopard safari in Nakuru National Park in Kenya.
A line of aptly named Yellow-bark Accacias bordered one edge of the African savanna, which was rolling down a slightly inclined hill to the waters of Lake Nakuru. A Rothchild’s Giraffe walked in a measured manner across the line of trees. A warthog sow and her young looked up in alarm because the safari van had pulled up next to her family. A pair of drably coloured Anteater Chats was perched on a boulder. Nakuru is probably one of the most rewarding national parks in Africa. But this is often overlooked perhaps because it is so close to the sizeable town of Nakuru and lacks the sense of arrival which Samburu or the Masai Mara has. It is contained within a matrix of fenced farmland and township. This combined with the ease with which large animals can be seen contributes to a feeling of a large safari park. Something like Woburn Safari Park in England on an African scale. Nakuru is the easiest place in Kenya in which to see the endangered White Rhinos. They are too easy to see and again it contributes to a safari park atmosphere.
But Nakuru is wild, truly wild. The bountiful game on the savanna, have a host of predators to contend with. One had crossed the path as we arrived. A hyeana bounded across the road. As we drove past, I wondered why it looked different to the usual Spotted Hyanea. It looked more like a Striped Hyeana. Our driver confirmed that it was. I was not happy. Anyone who had been with me for a week by now should know that I was interest in mammals. Striped Hyeanas are nocturnal and not easy to see. We had almost driven past a predator I had never seen before. For some curious reason, I had always found it hard to find a local guide in Kenya who is on par with the dozen or more expert naturalist guides found in Sri Lanka.
The Striped Hyeana was a good omen. But I did not expect to see the Spotted One, I had searched for on my first visit, when I was an undergraduate at Imperial College. I had hired a car and driver from Nakuru and driven around in the belt of yellow-bark accacia to find a leopard. It would be my first African Leopard. It was not to be. After several game drives I had failed to find one. On subsequent visits, including this time, I had found Samburu a better bet.
The other van with the rest of the group from the Sri Lanka Natural History Society had pulled over to watch a group of three White Rhinos. They are not named for their skin colour although they are paler than the Black Rhino. The word ‘white’ is a corruption of a Dutch word ‘weit’ word meaning wide. We had barely pulled over when to our surprise a leopard came onto the road and walked towards us. It continued straight past us passing inches away from the van and continued along the road. We followed with me advising Sammy to keep a fair distance behind us. It worked for at least a kilometer. The leopard was a young female but seemed to be independent. She frequently passed to ‘scent mark’ the bushes by spraying urine onto the foliage. Leopards deliberately spray upwards to the under-side of leaves. This increases the longevity of the scent which is exposed to sun and rain.
Another two vehicles joined us and the inevitable happened. They wanted to get closer for a better picture. The leopard melted away into the wooded thicket. The other vehicles moved away and we waited. The forest fell eerily silent as the shadows lengthened but there was no sign of the predator returning to the road. The rest of our group in the next vehicle had another exciting encounter with an adult leopard stalking on the plains. We too had more excitement. A stretch of treacherous black mud had threatened to skid our vehicle into a ditch and keep us for the night. I had seen enough to convince me that Nakuru is under-rated. The Lesser Flamingos, dominate visits to Nakuru. There are at times around two million of them in the Rift Valley lakes of Naivaisha, Nakuru and Elemeintata. The pink clouds of flamingos could wait till tomorrow. Today was the day of the African predators.
Recommended Books
Scott, J. & A. (1997). Reprinted 2003. Jonathan Scott’s Safari Guide to East African Animals. Revised and updated by Angela Scott. Kensta, Nairobi. 192 pages. Soft Cover.
Stuart, C. & T. (2001). Second Edition. A Photographic Guide to the Mammals of Southern, Central and East Africa. Struik Publishers,Cape Town. 144 pages. ISBN 978-1-86872-621-9.
Zimmerman, D.A., Turner, A.A. & Pearson, D.J. (1999). Reprinted 2005. Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Helm Field Guides. Christopher Helm, an imprint of A&C Black Publishers Ltd, London. 576 pages. ISBN 0-7136-7550-0

Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne is a corporate personality who is also a writer and photographer who popularizes wildlife. E-mail him at gehan@jetwing.lk to subscribe to his wildlife e-newsletter.