Above: Kitich Forest Camp – Dinner under the stars with a herd of elephants.
Published: The East African Nation media – FEBRUARY 13 2015
It’s the deep-throated growl of the lion that alerts us that he’ around. The sound wafts through the forest night uninterrupted by any other. Seated by the open glade of grass where the river flows, we’re surrounded by silhouettes of the mountain peaks rising 6,000 feet high, visible in the glare of the full moon. Decked in a mesmerizing forest of sky-spiraling trees and endemic cycads that have been here since the time of the dinosaur, l scan the glade beyond for a glimpse of the mighty king of beast. But it’s only his growl that gives him away – and the hidden camera.
“The camera has been stolen by the lions before,” tells Karl Svendsen of Kitich Camp while we enjoy a glass of wine by the campfire overlooking the glade. In the absence of any human noise other than our voices, our ears are cued to the forest sounds.
“The camera is a passive camera,” continues Svendsen who has stared into the eyes of a leopard on the prowl around the exquisite forest camp, both startling each other. With just six tents around the mess, the camp stared life more than three decades ago.
Not many people know of Mathews Range which only came into the public eye from the exploits of the Hungarian count, Samuel Teleki and his assistant Ludwig von Hohnel who in the 1880s set out to search for the mysterious body of water in today’s north Kenya – Victoria had already been ‘discovered’. Enroute to Lake Turkana – the largest permanent desert lake in the world – they chanced upon this long range of mountain and Teleki named it Mathews in honor of Colonel Mathews the British administrator on the isles of Zanzibar for his great help in this expedition. Mathews himself never saw the massif named after him for he died soon after.
Off the beaten track, the mountain even today is little explored. The older generation of Samburu who live on the mountain recall of days when rhinos and elephants were common.
Kitich Camp is at a place where there is no human habitation beyond us and the peaks. Below in the dry plains, the nearest village of Engelai is 15 kilometers away. Surrounded by hot, arid vistas, the high forests of Mathews Range are the only source of water and forage for the wildlife – and people.
In this massive forest that covers 900 square kilometers, the nights are as fascinating as the days. Dinner is a cacophony of the frogs and insects along the crystal clear river flowing along the camp’s edge. It’s River Ngeng flowing from the highest peaks to the plains below. During the day we spend time swimming in the natural pools with blue-glazed dancing jewels flitting over the unpolluted water and barbells coming to nibble on our skin.
“We have used the camera since 2013,” continues the jungle-camp manager. “It’s a passive camera, in other words it only switches on when needed.”
Sitting in the remote forest camp powered by solar energy with modern gadgets like sensory cameras seems a little bizarre. It’s the ethos of the camp to be as eco-friendly as possible. Quirky and arty, it’s built of natural material with local Samburu artifacts beautifully placed like the collection of hand-carved walking sticks used by the wazees (old men). Water is of main concern. Showers are bucket filled from the outside and guests asked to turn off taps while they soap themselves and the toilets – spacious and airy in the ensuite tents – don’t have flushes but are long drop – and don’t stink.
“The cameras are activated by motion,” continues Karl as l dive into my sorbet – it’s fine dining for dinner. Three motion sensors activate the camera which takes three photos over a 10 second period and the shuts down until it senses movement again. Then it starts all over again.
“During the night the camera takes black and white photos using infrared capabilities and colour photos during the day, recording the date and time of the photos for future reference.” That’s important for science.
In the safety of the night, the hyena gaggles, the leopard hunts and the elephants continues with their feeding, breaking off branches and clearing paths that we walk on during the day. In the light of day, l’ve only caught fleeting glimpses of the elephant herd by the edge of the glade and the leopard that left a chunk of bushbuck meat wet with its saliva.
Watching the denizens of the nights on the prowl around us is amazing on the camera.
I’m looking at the melanistic leopard in its black coat and other pictures of elephants, buffalo, waterbuck, bushbuck, lion, mongooses, warthogs, porcupines, genets, monkeys, baboons, spotted hyena, nocturnal birds and pouched rats – which l’ve never seen in real life.
With over 1200 usable photos taken so far, they are a glimpse into the world of animals that are around, but out of sight. “Our nocturnal animals are of the most interest to us. What is moving around, that we cannot see, after the sun goes down,” states Karl. I raise a toast to that. Not so long ago, the forest revealed a new population of the De Brazza monkeys, one of Kenya’s rarest monkeys. That would be something to catch on camera.
Seen around Kitich Camp
To discover more log on to www.kitichcamp.com You can see the pictures of the animals caught unaware on the Kitich Camp blog.