Meeting rangers and looking for lions

Ready to take on the day

On Thursday the 18th of January, after having breakfast at the station we headed to the same hotel, Taita Hills Safari Resort & Spa, where we had joined the company staff party the previous Saturday. There we met with a group of rangers from Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, inside which the hotel is located, and LUMO Community Wildlife Conservancy, which we had also already visited previously.

The meeting commenced with a round of introductions and Petri donating a copy of the poster about the land cover changes in THWS. Then Enrico gave a short presentation on his work on the utilization of citizen science and social media data in conservation. After that, we began the exercise of the day. Us students split into three groups (Big 5, mammals excl. Big 5, and birds) and took turns asking the rangers to locate the areas within the reserves where it is most likely to find these groups of animals. The rangers marked their answers on a map with grid cells.

For the second part of the exercise, one of the students co-leading the exercise, Tuomas, presented his findings from going through social media data in regards to species richness hot spots in THWS and LUMO. The groups then presented this second set of maps to the rangers and allowed them to compare the findings to their previous answers to see whether they agreed with the data. There was overlap with the rangers’ answers and the data gathered by Tuomas. Interacting with the rangers was a unique opportunity and hearing all their impressive knowledge was insightful.

Listening intently

After a successful conservation exercise with the rangers, we had a buffet lunch at the hotel. We were spoiled for choice among all the delicious food options, including dessert, and there was surely not one person that left the buffet with room for any more food. Following the lunch, it was time to head back into the sanctuary for another game drive. We heard there had been sightings of lions and giraffes inside the sanctuary so the general mood in the bus was full of excitement.

Who could say no to dessert?
Eager as a weaver for the safari

On the way to Lion’s Rock, we saw some animals that we had already seen like elephants, kongoni and baboons. We took our time circling around the rock but there was no sign of lions anywhere. A guide from a passing vehicle told us the lions had been seen in the area the same morning but they appeared to have moved elsewhere already. Feeling slightly defeated, our mood was soon lifted once again when we spotted three giraffes. It was something everyone had been looking forward to. We sat in the bus and observed these tall and elegant creatures as they munched on some leaves.

A kongoni (Alcelaphus buselaphus) posing in front of a nice scenic view of Taita Hills
Finally! A Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi) on the horizon

During the drive we also saw some large birds of prey, including the lappet-faced vulture, Africa’s largest such bird, and a magnificent tawny eagle from only a few meters away. Additionally, as we were just about to exit the sanctuary, a black-necked spitting cobra crossed the road right in front of our vehicle. In the end, while we didn’t manage to find the lions this time, it was still another very educational and fulfilling day full of adventures in Taita.

Tawny eagle (Aquila rapax)
Slithering away