On the run in Simba country
n’s nce e affe cantering across our path. I powered on, trying to keep a steady pace and ignore the fact that I now had my back to one of Africa’s big five. Thankfully, it had no interest in me and it wasn’t long before I crossed the finish line.
After a rubdown and a welcome beer, I was keen to see all the hard work that Tusk had been doing in the region – where the £5.5million raised from the marathon since the inaugural run in 1990 goes to community and conservation projects.
Lewa is known for its thriving population of more than 80 rhinos. Over the next two days I took several game drives from Lewa Safari Camp, encountering dozens of them. Despite their bulk, they’re generally passive creatures and were quite happy to let us come close and watch them nuzzling the ground. I also witnessed a herd of 20 elephants marching across the savannah in a perfect line. A few tiny babies were lolloping under their mother’s feet, barely able to hold their trunks up properly yet. Grebes gathered at a spring, part of a sustainable water network for the people and animals of Lewa, made possible from marathon funds. Colobus monkeys swung from tree to tree, hippos splashed and wallowed in the shallows of the rivers and rare Grévy’s zebras trotted gracefully across the plains. A Above, eagles and buzzards soared. E Everything was green after weeks o of welcome rain and the air was fragran fragrant with the aroma of wild flowers. It wa was the Africa of my dreams, and aft after just a couple of days I’d seen three of the big five. But wha what I really wanted, above al all, was to see lions. Ever s since I was a young boy I I’ve had a fasci fascination with the big cats cats. The first time I cam came to Kenya was as a very lucky 12-year-old in 1994. I It was the perfect age for a first safari; I was old enoug enough, adventurous enough and patient enough to enjoy it pro properly and when we got to see a family of lion cubs play-figh play-fighting I was transfixed. When I grew up I discovered that Lev means lion in the Slavic languages; ever since, I’ve felt the need to fight their corner. The plight of elephants and the ivory trade gets increasing global air time – rightly so – but lions are often forgotten. A century ago, 200,000 of them roamed Africa’s plains; now there are just 25,000 left in the wild. That’s fewer lions than there are rhinos.
I didn’t find what I was looking for at Lewa Safari Camp, so hoped that I’d have more luck in Ol Lentille conservancy, a community-owned reserve north-west of Lewa. Here I met a Maasai tribesman named Boni, who would be my guide and raconteur for my stay. Traditionally Maasai have killed lions as a rite of passage, and in recent times have been responsible for much slaughter as human-wildlife conflict escalates due to rising birth rates and overpopulation in tribal villages. “When a lion eats a cow from a Maasai herd,” said Boni, as we walked through the bush, “it’s understandable that the tribe wants revenge, but often it’s taken to the extreme. Livestock carcasses get poisoned and entire prides are wiped out.
“We need to educate people to realise that the wildlife is our business. If we go around killing them, then no
Levison’s trip ended in a close encounter with two lionesses and a cub, above. Right: the Safaricom marathon
Making friends with t te the Maasai aasa