The Lumix Diaries: Leaving Kenya

Posted Feb. 7th, 2015 by Daniel J. Cox

One of the saddest things about leaving Kenya is knowing how it affects our guides and other tourist related workers that depend on visitors. I’ve been coming to this spectacular country for over 20 years and I’ve used the same guides, same camps, same hotels, always because the people are so incredibly professional. This time, Tanya and I have been on safari for over a month, hosting two separate groups which has helped employee dozens and dozens of people. When we leave, most of these folks will be laid off for over four months.

The kitchen crew pose for pictures at the Mara Intrepids Lodge. Kenya

The kitchen crew pose for pictures at the Mara Intrepids Lodge. Kenya. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F.2.8, Off camera FL360 held to the right, ISO 1600

It’s hard to believe that individuals who are so good at what they do don’t have enough tourists coming to keep them employed throughout the year. My heart bleeds for them. This year, it’s due to the false Ebola scare. Five years ago, it was due to some minor political unrest that CNN ran as if the government had faced a coup. Through thick and thin I’ve come to Kenya, even though our state department warns against it, and I’ve never had any issues. Maybe someday that will change but until it does, I plan to come back as often as possible. These people need the rest of the world to see and appreciate the wonders of this unequaled landscape and the animals that live here. Kenya is still my favorite and unrivaled destination to see the wonders of Africa but it’s changing fast.

A lady walks the new highway built within the last four years outside of Isiolo, a small town that is scheduled to become a gambling town somewhat like Las Vega. Lumix LX100

A lady walks the new highway built within the last four years outside of Isiolo, a small town that is scheduled to become a gambling town somewhat like Las Vegas. Lumix LX100

Each year I see more of what the western world calls progress. Nairobi’s road system is finally catching up to modern standards from a solid two years of road construction that was undertaken in mass. Newly laid tarmac, black as the stinky waters of the Mara’s Olarorok River, wind their way through the leading economic center of Africa, pouring out onto the plains of the surrounding countryside as new highways of commerce. One of the biggest projects in all of Africa is the new port being built in Lamu on the eastern coast. Kenya’s Vision 2030 lays the framework for additional prosperity with an overhaul of the city of Isiolo, which is just down the road from Samburu National Reserve. Samburu’s elephants, leopards, lions, and other wildlife will be competing with Isiolo’s new destiny as a gambling resort.

Flying over the suburbs of Nairobi you can see one of the newly paved highways. Lumix LX100, ISO 320

Flying over the suburbs of Nairobi you can see one of the newly paved highways. Lumix LX100, ISO 320

Kenya is booming and with the thunderclap, land is being devoured similar to what the US experienced in the late 1800’s. Our guides talk of places where suburbs have been built in the middle of what was once wide open spaces, giraffes and other animals wandering along the roads, many of them with nowhere to go, countless being struck by traffic.

Lions like this beautiful male that walked by one of our Land Cruisers are being killed by poison. Lumix GH4, Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8, ISO 1000

Lions like this beautiful male that walked by one of our Land Cruisers are being killed by poison. Lumix GH4, Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8, ISO 1000

Lions, leopards, hyenas, and vultures in Kenya are even more in peril. Throughout the country all are being poisoned by an insecticide known as carbofuran. Originally it was a chemical used to destroy bugs on the ground. But… it’s also ingested by plants which eventually kill insects that feed on the plants sap or foliage. It is so powerful and toxic that it has been banned in Europe. In the United States, it cannot be used in granular form, and the US Environmental Protection Agency is seeking a total ban. But in Kenya, carbofuran can be bought across the counter without restriction.

According to world-famous naturalist Dr Richard Leakey, it is being bought not by farmers wanting to control bugs and insects, but mainly by herdsmen who use it to kill lions, leopards, and other predators.

While in the Mara we all witnessed herds and herds of cattle inside and outside the reserve. They aren’t supposed to be there but authorities obviously look the other way. Our guides suggest that many of the rangers are locals who have a personal interest in allowing cattle to graze on the restricted reserve. So personal, in fact, that most the guards are judge and jury, not to mention culprit.

Two young boys herd their cattle through the grasslands of the Masai Mara Game Reserve. Kenya. Lumix GH4, Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 with 1.4 Teleconverter. ISO 400

Two young boys herd their cattle through the grasslands of the Masai Mara National Reserve. Kenya. Lumix GH4, Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 with 1.4 Teleconverter. ISO 400

Adding to this pressure is the fact that much of the land local cattleman used to graze on is being bought up as private conservation reserves. One in particular, Mahali Muzuri, is owned by Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic. From what I’ve been told these now private reserves used to be land that was available to the Massai for grazing their cattle. No longer and thus many Massai are bringing their cattle into the Masai Mara National Reserve to feed their stock.

It’s a horribly complicated circle of old traditions colliding with the modern world. Progress, most people call it, and if you want to read a more detailed, fabulous report, check out this article titled; The Masai Mara: ‘It will not be long before it’s gone’. Come join us on our next Kenya Photo Adventure in January, 2016 to see the Mara before it’s too late.

With this post I’m off to Buenos Aires for the start of our photo tour in Patagonia. I will be adding more posts to the Kenya Lumix Diaries over the next couple of weeks. I apologize about this disjointed approach, but I was just not able to keep up with all I would like to write while in Kenya. 

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There are 5 comments on this post…
  1. DeanOn Feb. 12th, 2015

    Once again your “humanity” comes through loud and clear. (No need to apply “unsharp mask” to your words.) Your huge heart and “tack sharp” insight make you a world-class photographer, and your relentless advocacy for what’s good in the world goes a long way to preserving this amazing planet for future generations. Keep up the fight, my brother.

  2. Frank FlavinOn Feb. 10th, 2015

    We were in the Masai Mara about two years ago as the guests of a writer friend who was living in Nairobi. She has since moved to South Africa because of political unrest after six years in Kenya.
    While I was there the cattle program was working quite well and seemed stable.
    This news of carbofuran is unbelievable. Before this was poaching. Hence the cattle program.
    When I was there the heads of cattle were limited by how many where in the households.
    It would seem the only route would be pressure by the UN as most folks there work for the UN.
    Please keep me appraised.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 12th, 2015

      Frank, Kenya is growing so fast and with growth comes the related issues. Wished we could figure out how to eliminate the bad from the good.

  3. Judy PrestonOn Feb. 10th, 2015

    Having just returned from this amazing trip, this conversation is so dear to my heart. I was touched not only by the amazing spectical of the wild beasts but also by the open, generous and welcoming people of Kenya. All of my travels leave me changed, but this trip was especially touching. I’ve been blessed by this experience, and hope my grandchildren will have the opportunity to be changed by it as well.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 10th, 2015

      Thanks Judy. I was great to have you along.

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