A Guide to Kenya’s Wildernesses

It’s not so surprising, is it, that diplomats in Kenya spend so much of their time watching animals and birds? I mean, the people often get so difficult to deal with, don’t they?

I’m particularly thinking of the British diplomats, of course. While American ambassadors have been known to rush around the country like bulls in china shops, and German ambassadors find solace in their music, the British are much more likely to be constantly gardening or taking long weekend walks with their ornithological friends in Nature Kenya.

Michael Gore was one of those British diplomats. He was First Secretary in the British High Commission here in Nairobi in the early 1980s. He went on to be Deputy High Commissioner in Malawi, Ambassador to Liberia, High Commissioner in the Bahamas, and Governor of the Cayman Islands.

Wherever he was posted, he took a keen interest in the county’s wildlife. While here, he was on the Committee of the East African Natural History Society, Again, wherever he was, he was active in wildlife and conservation bodies. He is also an excellent wildlife photographer – and he can write.

And that is why I am talking about him now. In 1984 he published a pictorial guide to our national parks and reserves – On Safari in Kenya. And this year it is in our bookshops again, revised and reformatted.

Richly illustrated with Michael Gore’s photographs, it could well have come out as an expensive coffee table book. But I’m glad it hasn’t. Published by Kenway of East African Educational Publishers, it is a slim and handy text – and very reasonably priced at Ksh.1,250.

In his first edition, Michael Gore described Kenya as ‘this beautiful and varied land’. And, after all his travels around the world, he can still say: ‘Kenya remains for me the most exciting country I know – and I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel widely in all seven continents.’

‘This revised edition has the same aims as the original,’ he says, ‘it is intended to be an introduction to the wild places in Kenya, where the animals and birds reign supreme – and I hope it will also remind people of their safaris.’

The only blemish is the out-of-datedness of some of the maps. They are very colourful and stylish, but many of the lodges and camps that have come up in recent years are not indicated. But never mind – this is not at all a guide to accommodation in and around the parks and reserves. If you want that, then you can go to a Rough Guide or a Lonely Planet.

No, Michael Gore’s On Safari in Kenya focuses on the natural character of seven parks (Nairobi, Amboseli, Tsavo, Meru, Aberdare, Mount Kenya, Lake Nakuru) and four reserves (Masai Mara, Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba). He also provides notes on thirty-six other wilderness places where wildlife is protected – places such as the marine parks at the Coast and the little- known reserves in the North, such as Arawale between the Tana and Juba Rivers, and Siliboi on the north-eastern side of Lake Turkana.

Michael Gore tells us about the origins of the main parks; he lists the animals and birds, especially the special ones that we are likely or lucky to see there; and he describes the main scenic features.

But the main pleasure of the book is in the photographs. There is a superb shot of two giraffes coiling their necks around each other; a lone giraffe out-talling the Nairobi towers; and a pair of gerenuks doing some synchronised stretching to reach the upper leaves of a thorn bush.

The bird photography is splendid, too – an African spoonbill mirrored by the water; a pied kingfisher hovering against a grey sky; a hamerkop dangling a bullfrog; a crowned eagle soaring with outstretched wings; and a nightjar displaying its pennants.

Well, Michael Gore’s guide has certainly worked on me – his description of Meru National Park made me pick up the phone to make a weekend booking.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation