“Everyone remembers their first ‘ellie’ sighting on safari.”
Simon Penfold, my Scenic Air Safaris host, was right. Through the window of our 10-seater plane, I watched a herd of elephants saunter across the Masai Mara plains with slack-jawed astonishment as we made our way to the landing strip.
It was an unforgettable beginning to my first trip with Scenic Air Safaris, a company that whisks away passengers on a private plane across Kenya, and delivers them to luxury safari camps with scenic overlooks and exquisite food and drink. But the company ethos spans well beyond pampering its guests. The driving force behind the trip is simple: Educate privileged and influential safari-goers to the plight of wildlife highlighted throughout the trip. To achieve this, trained guides, conservationists, and scientists take guests on game drives to highlight an endangered animal each day. Here are a few of the top experiences I had on the trip:
Lion cubs play together in Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya.
Photograph by Jeff Heimsath
Lions of the Masai Mara
When we landed in the Mara we were greeted by our Maasai guide, Dominic Matay, and David Mascall, a Nigel Thornberry-esque conservationist. As Dominic employed his eagle eye and out-of-this-world tracking skills to spot wildlife, David regaled us with stunning facts on the animals we encountered, namely lions. The Masai Mara is famous for its abundance of big cats, wildlife, and an ecosystem that boasts the highest density of lions in Africa, according to research published in Conservation Biology. It doesn’t take long to find a pride lounging in the shade or gnawing on the remains of a recent kill. Over the course of just a couple days, we counted more than 30 lions.
Low Level Flying
The most unique experience offered by Scenic Air is the transportation to each new location. Flying is a time-efficient way to get to the remote lodges where we stayed, and were like mini safaris in and of themselves. For example, the captain would casually drop to 30 feet above the ground to fly along a river while pointing out landmarks and animals from the window.
Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in the Sarara
The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the only wildlife orphanage in Africa that is owned by the local people. Opened just a few years ago, the goal of the sanctuary is to reintroduce elephants and other orphaned animals into the wild. We arrived at the sanctuary just in time to witness the day’s first bottle feeding. Impatient baby elephants burst through the gate and ran to their respective caretakers to guzzle down formula from an elephant-sized baby bottle.
A family of elephants rests in the shade in Samburu National Reserve.
Photograph by Jeff Heimsath
Elephants of Samburu
Perhaps the most intense experience of the trip happened when a massive bull elephant stared me down from a few feet away. He was deciding if it was worth his time to destroy the truck I was in or continue on with his business of trying to mate with a young female nearby. We were in Samburu National Park spending the day with the Save the Elephants organization. Save the Elephants is a research and advocacy organization working to eradicate poaching and improve elephant-human relationships. Our guide for the day spent countless hours monitoring and watching the elephant group he took us to. His familiarity with the elephants allowed us to safely get close to the animals and predict what each elephant in the group would do.
Experience it Yourself
A luxury air safari is something a lucky few people get to experience, but an African safari is not exclusively reserved for the well-to-do. There are a variety of price points offered by travel advisors like Safari Professionals. “An African Safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most travelers, and no two travelers are alike,” says Kili Mcgowan, the co-owner and managing director of Next Adventure, Inc., a member of Safari Professionals. “A trusted, knowledgeable African travel specialist is a must for anyone who wants to ensure that his or her valuable vacation time and investment will be well spent and will result in unforgettable memories.” Whether you choose a luxury experience or something a bit less opulent, there is a life-changing travel experience for everyone.