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The safari was born in Kenya, a land of diverse habitats and abundant wildlife. Richard Trillo explores the rich appeal of its parks and conservancies. Illustrations by Karen Laurence-Rowe
KUDU KINGS’: Three male greater kudu on the Namunyak Conservancy. ABOVE, ‘AMBOSELI MIRAGE’: An elephant herd shimmers on the dry lake bed of Amboseli National Park

August 1981: We hitched a ride to the Masai Mara in the back of a pickup, and camped in our homemade tent by the Mara River. Above us, a billion stars cast an eerie light across a landscape of scurrying shadows, slow-moving megafauna and countless unseen dramas. Nervously cocooned in our sleeping bags, we held our breath (and our noses) as hyena, attracted by the smell of a hippo carcass, whooped from the bushes nearby.

It was peak migration madness time, and that aernoon we’d watched as hundreds of wildebeest struggled across the surging river, frantically jostling up the steep banks.

The million-strong herd was spread on every horizon, among their number 200,000 calves born in the southern Serengeti just six months earlier — easy pickings for the predators that would kill half of them before they turned south again. The migration felt like being witness to a dramatic historical event, controlled by brutal, violent forces. It still does.

That first experience of being on safari in Kenya was addictive. In the decades since, wildlife numbers have been battered as human population pressures take their toll on habitats. Paradoxically, however, the actual wildlife experience gets better with every passing year. In part, this is due to the habituation of wildlife to humans. Following the country’s hunting ban in 1977, elusive species such as leopard are more visible. Even notoriously shy lesser kudus seem more at ease. It’s also the result of the proliferation of private wildlife conservancies over the past 20 years, focused on sustaining the environment and preserving Kenya’s rich diversity of ecosystems.

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About Travel Africa

A wildlife lover's guide to Kenya • How to plan the ideal holiday to Zimbabwe • 10 Reasons to take your kids on safari • In Mandela's footsteps • Great bush dining: how they do it • Uganda, for the love of birds • Surprising Liberia • Southern Namibia • Lake Malawi • Awesome Okavango portfolio • Ethiopia's highlights... and much more!