Wildlife Safari in Maasai Mara, Kenya

A newborn hyena pup and its mother. Photo by Alison Travis.

A rare sighting of two pregnant black rhinos, an aunt and her niece. Photo by Alison Travis.

A female spotted hyena lay curled up a few feet away from the opening of an underground den. A male had his head just poked out from the hole, eyeing our jeep cautiously. We were transfixed on the tiny, wet black pup crawling out from beneath its mother. It looked much like a baby bear or newborn puppy. We were told it would develop spots in the coming months--although it already had a full set of teeth. Our guide, Timothy, estimated that it was hours-old and we held our breaths as it let out the tiniest squeak.

In July 2017, I had the chance to go on a bucket-list safari in Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve. I was heart-warmed at the quantity of animals I was able to see. Timothy told us how rare it was to have a sighting of two black rhinos, and how special it was that they were both pregnant females. Black rhinos are critically endangered. In the 1990s, their population fell to below 3000 individuals. It has now risen to around 5000, although poaching is still rampant.

I was also surprised by the variety of species there were. Unlike most people's experiences with these animals at zoos, there were herds of animals in huge numbers, all mixed together in the wild. Families of giraffes side-stepped mongooses and warthogs. We carefully drove by zebras, waterbucks, and Thomson's gazelle grazing together.

Co-existence wasn't limited to the herbivores. I'll never forget seeing a huge assortment of animals standing stock-still about 100 feet from a pride of sleeping lions. Using safety in numbers, the entire group had their heads turned and eyes were fixed on the big cats. They were patiently waiting for the predators to vacate so they could gain access to the river beyond.

My last surprise was the decades of expertise that safari guides like Timothy had, not just in facts and statistics about each species, but about individual animals known by face and name! His deep love of these wild creatures was infectious. In three days, I doubled my knowledge of these animals and tripled my respect for them. It was an unparalleled opportunity to see beautiful, intimidating wildlife in their natural habitat. This trip filled me with renewed hope for conservation efforts such as Joel Sartore's Photo Ark project. I bought his beautiful book for my classroom to try and give my students that same sense of wonder and reverence. I know that is the first step toward bringing them into the mission of saving disappearing species. 

Source: World Wildlife Foundation

Waterbucks are known to sneak into resorts to drink pool water, an example of human impact on wildlife even in this reserve. Photo by Alison Travis.

We waited over an hour for a lioness and her three cubs to awaken at dusk. Photo by Alison Travis.