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Other People’s Lives: Who Cares? Why write an Autobiography?

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Other People’s Lives: Who cares? by Jonathan Scott

 

You have to pick the person you share your story with, they have to earn the right to hear your story – otherwise you tell them your story and they zap you – people don’t understand, they think you are a whack job. Carole Wyman (Angie’s great friend and our son David’s Godmother).

It is one thing to write an autobiography, quite another to figure out why. Isn’t it an indulgence to think that your memoir is of interest to others – the written equivalent of imagining that anyone might really like to see your holiday photos. When does the yawn of indifference begin and end with “Who cares?” Even if you think you have a good reason to write a personal history – to inspire people to follow their dream perhaps – it would be foolish not to dig a little deeper, to try to identify the less obvious reasons for wanting to share the intimate details of your life with strangers. As our friend Carole Wyman noted: “You have to pick the person to share your story with…..otherwise they zap you!” Some people write for the money. Others because they enjoy the discipline of putting pen to paper: remember when writing a letter was an everyday part of life, the joy of sharing news with loved ones or distant friends, of spinning a yarn? And me? Becoming an author, let alone writing an autobiography, never seemed likely for someone who barely scraped ‘O’ Level English and to this day has no sense of grammar. While I could draw like an artist from an early age, writing and spelling came late and then only with a good deal of cajoling from a Godmother who had been a teacher. When I failed the entrance exam to Christ’s Hospital, the famous “bluecoat” school in West Sussex that my father, aunt, sister and godfather had all attended, family and friends rallied round to ensure I did not stumble a second time.

One thing I did know was that England was not for me. As a born chatter box, the famous English reserve left me cold as did the prevailing work ethic of “lean on your shovel and let someone else do the work, mate.” I wanted a life of adventure combined with a window on to wilderness. That meant Africa, preferably careering around in the bush looking for big cats just as I had seen Armand and Michaela Dennis doing On Safari on the telly. Having graduated with a decent degree in Zoology from Queens University in Belfast and spent a year exploring the North American landscape, I signed up for a fourteen week overland journey from London to Johannesburg in 1974. 6,000 miles later and having sold my onward boat ticket from Cape Town to Sydney in Australia, I spent an idyllic few weeks living on a luxury houseboat (the Sitatunga) stationed in the Okavango Delta, a wildlife wonderland known as the jewel of the Kalahari. During my time on the Sitatunga I had the good fortune to meet the author Wilbur Smith who has a deep affinity and love for Africa. Forty years later while writing The Big Cat Man I came across a wonderfully eloquent commentary on his craft in which he quotes the advice of Charles Pick, his first publisher and mentor who became his literary agent:

“”Write only about those things you know well.” Since then I have written only about Africa… He said, “Do not write for your publishers or for your imagined readers. Write only for yourself.” This was something that I had learned for myself. Charles merely confirmed it for me. Now, when I sit down to write the first page of a novel, I never give a thought to who will eventually read it. He said, “Don’t talk about your books with anybody, even me, until they are written.” Until it is written a book is merely smoke on the wind. It can be blown away by a careless word. I write my books while other aspiring authors are talking theirs away. He said, “Dedicate yourself to your calling, but read widely and look at the world around you, travel and live your life to the full, so that you will always have something fresh to write about.” It was advice I have taken very much to heart. I have made it part of my personal philosophy. When it is time to play, I play very hard. I travel and hunt and scuba dive and climb mountains and try to follow the advice of Rudyard Kipling; “Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run.” When it is time to write, I write with all my heart and all my mind.”
I certainly achieved a flying start with my first real book, The Marsh Lions (1982), co-authored with Brian Jackman, who at the time was an award winning wildlife and travel correspondent with the prestigious Sunday Times. The Marsh Lions was based on my meticulous notes covering five years in the company of the Maasai Mara’s big cats that had been my obsession since childhood. It was Brian who tutored me in the rudiments of becoming a scribe: “You need structure: a beginning, middle and end”, he council’d. And it was Brian who helped temper my tendency to want to delve in to the finer details of animal behaviour at the expense of the narrative flow. He questioned whether I was writing for my chums at the Serengeti Research Centre at the expense of the general public, my primary audience. Learning to integrate the science with the narrative was something that took time for me to embrace.

Another person who played a pivotal role in making me believe i could become a writer was Harold Hayes, who for seventeen years wrote for Esquire magazine, ten of them as editor. Hayes had written a natural history classic called The Last Place on Earth. In this, Hayes followed in the wake of Dr Bernhard Grzimek of Serengeti Shall Not Die fame as he cut a brisk pace across East Africa, searching for answers as to how man and beast can survive in a world where humans demand ever more space. He was a masterly storyteller, deftly juggling the different strands and balancing his own personal journey of discovery with details of his day-to-day existence, all the while unravelling the mysteries of science and cajoling sound bites from his human subjects. He made the story of the Serengeti a parable of life on earth, a catalyst encouraging me to try to see the bigger picture – the whole landscape, the one visible to the human eye as well as the landscape within.

I first met Hayes in Nairobi and then on one of his visits to the Maasai Mara while I was working on The Leopard’s Tale (1985). After the success of The Marsh Lions I was determined to author my next book on my own. Hayes was full of encouragement, saying that all I really needed to do was to write as I talked, with emotion as the essential ingredient binding the words together. He knew that I had a unique story unfolding right before my eyes. Listening each evening as we chatted around the campfire, witness to the excitement in my voice as I recounted what I had seen, he assured me that there was no reason to ask someone else to write the book for me. ‘This is your story as much as it is the leopards’. Draw on all your passion and love for your subject – own it.’ And so i did.

While I have grown to love writing natural history narratives about animal characters Angie and I have followed over the years such as the Marsh Pride of lions, the leopards Chui and Half-Tail, along with the cheetahs Kike and Honey and Honey’s adorable cub Toto of Big Cat fame, telling my own story would be to grapple with a very different beast; an attempt to gain greater clarity as to the nature of the person I really was – or thought I was. I had battled with an obsessive fear of dying in the wake of losing my father when I was two years old, bringing a darkness to my otherwise optimistic demeanour that would hold me prisoner for 30 years. Nothing could shake that belief, no matter how many medical tests and consultations I put myself through. Coming to terms with that reality would be far more challenging than anything I might face in the African bush whether a charging elephant or angry leopard. Perhaps my story might help others bedevilled by nervous suffering to seek help.

Writing my story was just the beginning. Finding the right publisher proved to be an elusive creature best left to the professionals. My faithful literary agent Jonathan Pegg dug deep to source the right match after initially encountering a high level of resistance. The majority of the publishers Jonny approached felt the combination of autobiography and inspirational memoir too awkward in the marketplace. The problem it seemed was that the autobiography I wanted to write was a more fulsome account of my life than my celebrity as a wildlife author and presenter of Big Cat Diary merited. People knew me as “the bloke the cheetah crapped on” from my encounter with Kike the car climbing chetah of Big Cat Week 2003; surely my potential audience wanted to hear stories of daring do among large possibly dangerous wild creatures rather than of growing up on a farm in Berkshire along with revelations of whatever skeletons in the cupboard I might reveal. One thing I do know is that at 67 I had reached that time in life when I was eager to give back, to transition from following my personal dream of living with wild creatures to trying to find a fulfilling role as a conservationist and spokesperson for Africa’s wild places, in particular the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. I wanted to acknowledge in a tangible way the gift that Angie and I had been given by being able to spend so many years living and working in the Mara-Serengeti; to try to ensure that this last great wild place might survive the pressures that are currently threatening its very future.

Fortunately, Managing director Adrian Philips and Commissioning Editor Rachel Fielding at Bradt Travel guides believed there was a book here somewhere and ensured there was. The generous support of our sponsors at Canon Europe enabled the team at Bradt (along with our son David who created the Design Concept) to produce a truly elegant and beautiful book.

Roderick Haig-Brown noted in Measure of the Year that “When all is said and done, a writer can have no more serious purpose than this: His duty is to stir echoes in his readers, to touch thought and ideas that might otherwise have remained idle and forgotten to the back of the mind. It is a rare book that changes a life, a poor one that adds nothing to it.” And in Michael Katakis introduction to Sacred Trusts: Essays on Stewardship and Responsibility, he says: “We all have a sacred trust to the future to stir those echoes in ourselves and others and perhaps, most importantly, to inspire” – whether through the written word or tales told around the campfire.

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The Big Cat Man (Bradt) – Pre-order now for 20% Discount on my Autobiography

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How times have changed for The Big Cat Man. Here I am in 1989 photographing my Maasai friends near Mara River Camp after filming AfricaWatch with my buddy Mitsuaki Iwago who did the honors and took the photo nearly 30 years ago.

Still time to pre-order The Big Cat Man (Bradt) for a 20% saving: Check out their offer here:
https://www.facebook.com/bradttravelguides

The Big Cat Man (Bradt Publishers): Order your Copy now and SAVE!!!

Jonathan & Angie-1

Getting very close now to D Day for my Autobiography The Big Cat Man!!!

So how much do you really love The Big Cat Man?? Lets see!!!

Here is your chance to get a great discount on my Autobiography The Big Cat Man due out in early August from our Publishers Bradt who have done an amazing job – as has our son David who came up with the Design Concept for TBCM and Sacred Nature: Life’s Eternal Dance (HPH) that is due out in September – more on that epic in due course.

 

So don’t let me down now!!! The Big Cat Man is 80,000 words written from the heart – no holds barred – and full of my pen and ink illustrations – some published for the first time, plus Angie’s great colour images from Africa and Antarctica. It is quite a tale and full of surprises.

Love this shot taken by Mia Collis of me at the Ivory Burning. Not sure why I have a smile on my face – I had just dropped our precious Canon EF200-400mm lens in the mud! Ouch!!

For more crazy stuff from The Big Cat Man at a knock down price read on:

https://www.facebook.com/bradttravelguides

Warm regards to all

Jonathan and Angie

 

 

David John Scott: Creative Director of Sacred Nature from the Big Cat People

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Our son David who lives and works in San Francisco has done an amazing job Designing our new books Sacred Nature: Life’s Eternal Dance (HPH) and The Big Cat Man: An Autobiography (Bradt) that we very much hope will find a place on your bookshelves in August and September 2016.

David is Creative Director at Eventbrite and he recently shared an article he wrote on the rebranding of Eventbrite. It is a fascinating insight in to the creative process and just what “Branding” involves. Check it out:

Rebranding Eventbrite: Eventbrite Design: An evolutionary process

And then take a look as David’s Website: www.davidjohnscott.com/

Lest We Forget: Elephants or Ivory?

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In July 1989 the world watched in stunned silence as Dr Richard Leakey invited President Moi to set fire to 12 tons of ivory in Nairobi National Park. Images of that historic moment reached all corners of the earth and resulted in a Ban on the Trade in Ivory later that same year. Prices of ivory plummet. You can still see the ashes from that fire, commemorated with a plinth and bronze sculpture of elephants, creatures that share many things in common with us humans: elephants grieve over the death of a baby or member of their family herd – sentient beings whose powers of communication are legend.

They say elephants never forget. We would do well to remember the slaughter that we have brought to bear on the largest of all land mammals. In the 1980s it is estimated that 60,000 elephants were killed each year for their ivory, halving the population. A quarter of a century later we ready ourselves for an event that will dwarf the happenings of 1989, when President Uhuru Kenyatta torches 105 tons of ivory tomorrow at on the 30th April. Once again Nairobi National Park is the venue. Once again we will be there to bear witness, believing that it is “better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

Jonathan Scott on the Wonders of the Great Migration: 60 Minutes Australia

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What an adventure we had with the Australia National Treasure Ray Martin filming for 60 Minutes Australia a few years back. As we gear up for our National Geographic shoot later in the month in the Masai Mara – and then in Serengeti in June it gives a flavour of why we still think of the Mara-Serengeti as the Last Great Place to see Africa’s fabled wild creatures – not least the best place to see big cats.

Take a look. And we hope to visit Australia in 2017 and meet up with Ray Martin to launch our two new books to be published in August 2016: Sacred Nature: Life’s Eternal Dance (NPH) and The Big Cat Man: An Autobiography (Bradt Publishers).

Latest on Court Proceedings on Poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride

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Notch in the good old days tucking in to some zebra steaks!

We have been getting a lot of requests for information on the pending Court Case regarding the charges against two Masai herdsmen accused of poisoning members of the Marsh Pride in early December 2015. Brian Heath of the Mara Conservancy who do such a fine job managing the Mara Triangle says:

“The two were released on a bond of Ksh 2 million each. There will be a mention next week and a hearing later in the month.”

Ksh 2 million is approximately US 20,000 or GBP 12,000 – as Bond per person in this case.

Latest on the Marsh Pride from ace cameraman John Aitchison

This photograph is protected by Copyright. No reproduction may be made without permission of NHPA. Source: NHPA@NHPA.co.uk

Our good friend and ace cameraman John Aitchison who filmed with us on Big Cat Diary and is now filming the Marsh Pride for the BBC’s Dynasties series to be aired in 2018 kindly provided us with an update on the Marsh Pride in the wake of the poisoning of 8 pride members early in December. Charm is the only surviving member of the Three Graces – Joy, Sienna and Charm. Bila Shake was traditionally the much favored breeding site for the Marsh Pride but due to cattle incursions has become a no-go-zone for much of the time in recent years. The Salanga is a branch of Bila Shaka that runs on a tangent towards Topi Plains/Rhino Ridge. The Five Young Lionesses – a breakaway group from the Marsh Pride are now of breeding age and have cubs. If cattle no longer encroach in to the old Marsh Pride territory (Bila Shaka – and seasonally Musiara Marsh of the dry season) it is likely that these young lionesses will be able to inherit their natal pride territory and that the area will once again be attractive lion habitat patrolled by a strong coaliton of pride males. Right now there are no adult male lions staking a claim to this area – the 4 Musketeers abandoned it in mid-2013 after Scarface was shot and wounded. But at some point they will be males competing for territory here. And when that happens there is always a strong likelihood that they will kill any young cubs in the area so that they can mate with the lionesses. Lions do not do Step-Parenting. Here is John’s overview:

“Dave Breed, Sammy Munene, Mark McEwen and I finished the latest filming and left the Mara on the 17th December. Sophie Darlington will be back there in about three weeks, staying at Governor’s as we will throughout the production.

When we left the members of the Marsh Pride on whom we’d been concentrating (Charm’s group and the ‘five ladies’) were all on the slopes of Rhino Ridge (Charms group) or in the area where the Bila Shaka joins the Salanga (all or most of the five ladies). The males Red and Tatu move between them, with Tatu preferring to stay close to Charm. Several of the ladies (five young lionesses of approximately the same age) have new cubs. The one we have been calling Kabibi (Governor’s call her Yaya) had her two a couple of months ago and Berry had two more in December. Tano probably also gave birth but apparently lost her cubs almost immediately. At least one other of these lionesses also seemed to be about to give birth.

Charm’s usual group now comprises herself, her big son Tatu, her younger daughter Alanis (poisoned Alan’s sister), the young lioness we have been calling Yaya (Governor’s call her Kabibi) who is Bibi’s daughter, fostered by deceased Sienna, and Sienna’s three subadult offspring Topknot (male) and his sisters Spot and Little Red.

Charm seems to move her group every month or so. Previously they favoured the area about Manager’s Crossing and pushed some way into Paradise Plains.
The cubs are probably in the worst place in terms of the likelihood of human conflict, as they are so close to the cattle on the edge of the reserve that we heard cow bells all the time while filming them. There are few other options for the mothers though – Bila Shaka offers the best cover in the event of buffalo attack.

So far we have seen none of them in the Marsh.”

John Aitchison’s beautifully written book: The Shark and the Albatross: Travels with a Camera to the Ends of the Earth is Published by Profile Books 

Discovering Topi House: Masai Mara

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There are two Africas and I do not know which I love the best: the green, lush, bright country when the sap is running and the earth is wet; or the dry, brown-gold wastes of the drought, when the sky closes down, hazy and smoke-dimmed, and the sun is copper-colored and distorted. Doris Lessing, Going Home.

Doris Lessing could have been describing the seductive charms of the Masai Mara in Kenya as surely as the Zimbabwe of her childhood.

It is no coincidence that film stars and writers such as Ava Gardner and Ernest Hemingway staked a claim to Kenya’s idyllic combination of animal speckled savannas and white coral beaches. They came in search of romance and adventure, waxing lyrical in their praise of God’s own country with its turquoise blue ocean fringed by the whitest of coral beaches. The first half of the 20th Century was the heyday of the ‘great white hunter’, with Kenya the undisputed home of safari, the emotive Swahili word that speaks of a journey but promises so much more. Professional hunters, all craggy features and brawny arms set off against a well worn khaki bush jacket, were the kind of men you would trust your life with; more than capable of leading you through head-high ‘adrenalin’ grass in pursuit of buffalo or elephant. Many of them were raised on farms, accompanied their fathers and uncles in to the bush when lion or leopard killed the families livestock, served in the military or police before turning their hand to what they knew best: how to transform a way of life in to a business. Weeks under canvas with a stretch of wild country as your companion would be followed by lazy days at the coast beneath cloudless skies, delicate white skin baked to a crisp, riding the ocean waves in the quest of black marlin or sailfish. A ‘real’ safari was considered the perfect antidote to the madness of city living where time is money and finding the right balance between work and family a lot easier to accomplish under equatorial skies.

Safari has lost none of its appeal since Kenya banned trophy hunting and the sale of all wildlife curios in 1977, the same year I came to live in the Masai Mara as a fledgling safari guide and wildlife artist. Now visitors come armed with a camera and telephoto lens rather than a rifle with a telescopic sight, destined for a life changing experience in the place Angie and I consider the finest stretch of game country in Africa; make that the world. To understand just what a special place the Masai Mara is you need to drive here at least once rather than choosing the comfy 45 minute hop by plane. It is a five hour journey (depending on the weather) that will remind you how different the reality of living in a city is from life in the bush; how easy it is to forget the wonder of nature when faced with making your way among four million people surrounded by concrete and skyscrapers in Nairobi. It will open your eyes to the wonder of the Great Rift Valley as you bide your time behind a convoy of trucks ferrying supplies to the interior of the country headed for a broad stretch of savanna that reaches to the far horizon. Past Mt Longonot and Suswa, towering peaks of extinct volcanoes that once belched ash and dust over the plains, fertilizing the soils and nourishing the grasslands. Within the hour you will have seen your first gazelles and zebras, maybe even a stilt-legged giraffe dwarfing red robed Masai herdsmen guiding their bony cattle to water. Climbing back out of the Rift Valley you glimpse one of our favorite stretches of country, an expanse of high plateau and rolling hills dappled with magnificent acacia trees marooned in an ocean of grass. There is a sense of loss too. You can feel the nomadic ways of the Masai slipping away, the land fenced off, traditional thorn bush cattle bomas and dung-plastered houses replaced by permanent tin roofed huts.

Two hours after leaving Nairobi you converge on the dusty town of Narok, the last major supply point for fuel and food before you turn off the tarmac and head deep in to a landscape of maize and wheat. This was once home to large herds of wildebeest and zebras before the Masai landowners leased their land to commercial farmers, transforming Narok County in to the bread basket of Kenya. The Masai are increasingly becoming integrated in to the cash economy as witnessed by the recent InvestNarok Summit, an event that drew investors from all corners of the globe. It featured meat processing, contract farming, potato processing, medical supplies and educational facilities, with businessmen from China, India and Europe eager to broker a deal. Diversifying the county’s economic landscape is to be applauded, not least if it helps to take some of the pressure off of the Masai Mara, source of tens of millions of dollars for the County. The Mara is already a global brand, courtesy of its famed big cats and wildebeest migration. If nurtured wisely it will yield substantial dividends in perpetuity, but only if the oversupply of camps and lodges and illegal encroachment of large herds of cattle inside the reserve at night is taken seriously. This is something that the Governor of Narok, Samuel Ole Tunai, promised to address at the gathering of Masai Mara Stakeholders convened in Nairobi in September 2014. Will 2016 see those promises honored or will the looming specter of National Elections in 2017 prove too much of a distraction? We can only hope for good news from Narok County come the New Year.

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We have been on the road for over four hours now. As we approach Aitong Hill at the gateway to the Mara we pass a beautiful expanse of hill country cloaked with forest before glimpsing the blue knife edge of the Siria Escarpment rising 300 meters above the Mara’s lush pastures. The rains of November and December have transformed the bare earth in to a carpet of green. Suddenly we are among the wild animals; at first a solitary kori bustard, largest of Africa’s flying birds and as plump as a Christmas turkey; then herds of wildebeest and zebras grazing alongside Masai’s cattle and small stock. A few kilometers further south and it’s just wildlife, whistling thorn and a wide expanse of rolling plains.

Our usual base in the Mara is a simple stone cottage at Governor’s Camp overlooking Musiara Marsh, home of the Marsh Lions that Angie and I have followed since I first saw these lions nearly forty years ago. But on this occasion we are looking for somewhere different to celebrate Christmas and the dawning of the New Year. We wanted a retreat for our daughter Alia and her partner Richard and their boisterous son Michael, and a holiday for our son David visiting from America. Just us. Alia and David were brought up on safari, it is in their blood. Given the chance they love nothing better than to pack their bags, load up the safari vehicles and head for a landscape so rich and verdant, so soft and easy on the eye, that it is more Garden of Eden than the rough edged harshness of Kenya’s northern district with its palm fringed rivers, massive rocky outcrops and another kind of beauty.

The place we had chosen is called Topi House, designed and built by pioneering conservationist Ron Beaton and his wife Pauline. Ron is a third generation Kenyan and a man carved from the same rugged mould as the hunters and farmers of old – he has been both – someone with a deep affinity for Masailand, its people and wildlife. His father was the first Game Warden of Nairobi National Park when it it opened in 1948 and his son Gerard is the Operations Manager for Asilia who own a number of top flight camps throughout East and Southern Africa. Asilia also market Topi House, located on a gentle rise overlooking everything we love about the Mara. The mix of open grassy plains and scattered desert dates, rolling hills cloaked in acacia thickets and intermittent watercourses known as luggas bring depth and scale to the land. Standing on the tree studded rise we can see the place where Angie and I were married almost 25 years ago atop the Siria Escarpment that borders the reserve to the west. The escarpment runs all the way south to the great Serengeti National Park in Tanzania where all those wildebeest and zebras are camped on the short grass plains until the end of May. As our Masai hosts prepared the campfire and sundowners we stretched our legs after the long drive, watching as parties of elephants ploughed deep furrows through the lush vegetation, ripping out trunkfuls of grass and stuffing it in to their mouths. Beyond the elephants we scanned the thorn bush country with binoculars in the knowledge that the thickets and luggas are home to the secretive leopard, Africa’s most beautiful and enigmatic big cat.

Topi House has it all; the Visitors Book notes a stay of ten days by Keith Scholey who conceived the idea of Big Cat Diary twenty years ago and went on to produce Disney Nature’s African Cats, so he knows a thing or two about the Mara and Topi House. It combines a sense of home with the elegant decor of a traditional safari lodge; high ceilings provide plenty of air and light, illuminating plastered white walls and varnished cyprus beams. Heavy wood furniture and generous dining table are complimented by comfortable sofas and chairs. A fireplace promised a respite from chilly winter nights with ample space for a large family to roam indoors, matched by a sense of privacy that allows people to come and go without getting under each others feet: there are three ample en suite bedrooms with a hot water bottle tucked beneath the eiderdown long before you retire. These days WiFi is a must rather than an option, allowing visitors to Topi House to keep track of business even when they are meant to be on holiday. The food was freshly prepared and mouthwateringly delicious: full English breakfast plus lashings of fruit and yogurt and gluten free bread for those wanting to be careful with their diet. And for those a touch more reckless? Freshly baked bread, cakes and cookies tactfully hidden from view under a convenient cover at tea time. Fred and Dixon and the team of Masai room stewards and waiters all possessed that wonderful gift of making you feel pampered, captivating young Michael with their warmth and reassuring gentleness: he played ‘house’, planted acacia seeds, discovered dung beetles and weaver birds, and ‘mined’ a mountain of cheese from the kitchen.

When to visit? There really is no low or high season in the Mara. Every month has its highlights, and as we noted each time we filmed Big Cat Diary: “the Mara always delivers”. And it did year after year. For some people all that long grass grown taller than the bonnet of a 4×4 safari wagon in the wake of the rains might provoke the retort “looks wonderful, but even better with 100,000 wildebeest to liven things up.” Yet what is more beautiful than all that red oat grass, star grass, thatch grass and sweet pitted grass. Is there anything more glorious than to see a male lion coming over the rise at dawn or mother cheetah and cubs backlit at dusk cloaked in that same ripening grass? While the dust and mayhem of the great migration is certainly a sight to behold in the dry season, it ushers the Mara’s magnificent elephant herds in to the Triangle where the grass remains longest – or out of the reserve and in to the acacia woodlands. Come the rains, the elephants spread themselves more evenly throughout the Reserve; family units gather up forty to fifty strong – sometimes a hundred or more. With so much grass for the behemoths to feast on this is the ideal time for them to socialise; a chance to see some of the Mara’s legendary breeding bulls with huge ivory and the bulk to match as they test the readiness of the females to mate and greet the little ones.

As we returned to camp late one evening we stopped to watch a family of zebras taking turns to dust bathe on a patch of bare ground amidst the green. Red necked spur fowl and Coqui francolin serenaded the suns rapid descent towards the escarpment, while white-browed coucals bubbled away in the distance hinting at the rain that we had been told to expect. Instead we had dry days and glorious sunsets in the company of bat-eared foxes and secretary birds, big cats and elephants. Back at Topi House we were welcomed with a wet flannel scented with wild sage to wipe away the dust, while overhead three bush babies leapt from branch to branch in the crown of a thorn bush firing the imagination of one small boy for whom safari has quickly become second nature.

For more information on Topi House contact: Judy@asiliaafrica.com