Allan Earnshaw’s account on Namiri Plains
“If there’s one place still left in Africa to authentically experience this extraordinary cycle and feel like you are the first person in the world to come across it, then go to Namiri.”
My return to Soit Le Motonyi in June 2014, where Asilia Africa is opening its latest Namiri Plains Camp, was a remarkable experience. For more than a decade in the 1990’s, it was my favourite location in East Africa, especially between December and May, when the famous Great Migration was out on the short grass plains. I hadn’t been back to the area for 15 years when I was asked to help site the new Namiri Plains Camp for Asilia.
Virtually nowhere has stayed the same over time, especially the wild areas of Africa. Increasing human populations the world over, fragmentation of habitat and overcrowding by tourists are factors one has to come to terms with, whether one is visiting the temples of Angkor Wat, the Pantanal in Brazil to see jaguars, or going on safari in Africa.
Tremendous cat viewings
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I found that not only were my fears unfounded, with respect to Namiri Plains, but that the area around it, stretching from Gol Kopjes, down Cub Valley to Sametu Kopjes, and along the Ngare Nanyuki river to Barafu Kopes, was even better than when I first saw the area in 1987. Very little visitor usage, tremendous viewings of all the Cats, Big and Little (including caracals, servals and African wild cat), and still the most unique landscape in all of Africa, the vast treeless, short-grass plains of the Serengeti, studded with the finest of granite outcrops, the kopjes of Gol, Sametu and Barafu. Incidentally, one can do no better than to pick up David Quammen’s article in August 2013’s ‘National Geographic’ magazine – photos by Michael Nichols – entitled “The Short Happy Life of a Serengeti Lion” to be transported straight to Namiri Plains. You can have a look at the article online here >
It has been a very dry year so far, and the big herds of wildebeest and zebra had already moved off the plains when we arrived in camp, but the Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles were there in their thousands, and we counted 21 different cheetah in a week out there. Quite novel for me were the buffaloes, in groups of three or four, but also the occasional big herd, and also elephant coming to drink and bathe in the pools and marshes of the Ngare Nanyuki. When it’s dry they apparently move south, out of the woodlands, to the few water sources on the edge of the plains, and here too we found plenty of other non-migratory species, such as giraffe, warthog, hartebeest, topi and mongoose. And for high-quality predator-viewing, the dry season may even be better than the green season, with Predators and Prey forced to use the precious, scattered water sources on the margins of these otherwise waterless plains.
Dry versus green season
When the rains come to the plains, between December and May, then Namiri turns green, and hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle flood the area, and from the elevation of the magnificent granite kopjes, there is no better vantage to look out over what are truly mind-boggling numbers of animals. Hyenas, jackals and bat-eared fox become more active and more evident, but pride of place still goes to the Big Cats. Having somehow survived the long dry season – some of the lions never leaving their granite fortresses – the green season is the time to cash in and forget the hard times. Zebras foal between December and March by the hundreds and thousands, and then the wildebeest start to calve in late February. By the end of March, up to 400,000 calves have been born, more than any concentration of predators can hope to consume, and so the cycle of life, from dry season to wet season and back, continues to play out in an endlessly on the Serengeti Plains.
If there’s one place still left in Africa to authentically experience this extraordinary cycle and feel like you are the first person in the world to come across it, then go to Namiri.
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