New African Safari Books – Spotlighting the Wildlife & Birdlife of Kenya’s Masai Mara

by Sandy Salle on September 5, 2013

masai mara birds

This month is one of the most popular for taking a trip to Kenya. If you or someone you know is going, you will want to know about these two newly released mammal and bird books available for your Kenya safari vacation. 

Last February while in the Masai Mara, Lori Robinson, founder of Africa Inside, had the pleasure of spending an evening with Vicki and Adam Kennedy, the authors of the recently published wildlife and bird books for Kenya’s Masai Mara.

See below for Lori’s interview with Vicki and Adam about their newly released books:

Vicki and Adam Kennedy have been living and working in the African bush for the past several years and are the authors of the newly published guidebooks: Birds of the Masai Mara and Animals of the Masai Mara.

How did two Brits end up living in the Masai Mara, and writing the newest African safari reference books?

vickie and alex

I was brought up watching David Attenborough and became besotted with Africa! Adam was only four when he became fascinated by the images in his uncle’s collection of bird books. So moving to the African Bush was a dream for both of us. After hundreds of applications we were offered camp manager positions in Tanzania in 2008 (later moving to manage camps in the Masai Mara). We haven’t looked back since. 

Is there anything you miss from the ‘normal’ world while living in the African bush?

masai mara wildlife

We miss friends and family but not much else. We love being surrounded by wildlife every day: being late to work because a lion or elephant is relaxing outside the office door; waiting for the dwarf mongoose to join us for breakfast; the sound of hyena as we fall asleep, and the almost deafening dawn chorus of birds mixed with the chortle of hippo as we wake up.

When we met less than a year ago in Kenya, you told me you were working on an African safari book, but now you have released not one, but two Masai Mara guidebooks. How did you decide to do an African Safari book? It seems like a huge undertaking.

The wildlife tour guides working at one of the places we managed claimed to have never seen a certain bird species – a medium sized black bird- which we were seeing every day at camp. Adam realized there were three similar birds – the Slate-coloured Boubou, Northern Black Flycatcher, and Fork-tailed Drongo – the guides were not able to tell them apart, and he promised to make a reference sheet to help them see the differences. He got a little carried away, and the promised sheet turned into a book! Shortly after Princeton University Press took on the bird book they asked if we could produce a mammal guide. So we did, and a series was born.

Drongo_Boubou_Flycatcher copy

How does Birds of the Masai Mara and Animals of the Masai Mara differ from the other popular safari guide books used in the Masai Mara – a bird book published in 2002 and one on mammals from 2007?

Our books are the only photographic guides specific to the Masai Mara. Our “Top Tips” section (from guides who have worked in the area for years) presents information about each species in unique and understandable ways.

There are other guidebooks out there, sometimes the ID section is in with general information about areas and accommodation etc., and therefore not comprehensive, others cover the whole of East Africa, which sounds good, but they’re heavier and can lead to misidentification.africabirds

Image to the right taken by Henry Holdsworth of Wild By Nature Gallery

For example with the mammals book, you might see a jackal in the Mara, flick through your comprehensive EA book and ID it as a Golden Jackal, which are not found in the Masai Mara. What I’m saying is, if you’re on safari in the Mara it is possible to see everything in our book, and learn interesting facts that are not included in other books along the way. For example, Aardvark, it’s name in Swahili means “crying in the daytime,” this is because if you see it in the daytime you shed tears of disbelief and happiness, it is so rare an occasion.

With the birds book, there is nothing like it on the market, at all. It’s a brand new design format. You have a page of 3 birds with the photos stitched seamlessly together, so it looks like they are on the same bush! Other available books are heavy, illustrated rather than photographic and comprehensive. Therefore, you will look at a page of 10 very similar birds and you identify the one you’re looking at by the length of its’ bill!  Unless you have a very keen interest in birds you are unlikely to buy these sorts of texts. The illustrations in some of them are very good, but you are looking at the artist’s interpretation of colour, etc, and what he sees as pink, I might view as peach; this doesn’t come into the equation with a photograph.

New books do not come out that often. The most popular birds book (prior to Adams) was published in 2002 and mammals was published in 2007.

The bird book is ordered by habitat, not families- a completely new format.

Take a look at pages from both safari books here:

http://press.princeton.edu/blog/category/birds-and-natural-history/masaimara/

elephants

Image to the left taken by Henry Holdsworth of Wild By Nature Gallery

I wrote a fun story about being on safari with my birder father -the age-old battle between people looking for the Big 5 vs. Birds. What is your favorite animal, and Adam’s favorite bird?

My favorite animal is the elephant due to the depth of emotion and feeling they have been proven to posses. Adam’s favorite bird is the Grey Crowned Crane (the national bird of Tanzania and Uganda) because of the male’s magnificent courtship dance.

The African safari book companions are available through Amazon, and websites and bookshops all over the world, while the human companions are wrapping up the bird and animal African safari books for Tanzania’s Serengeti region. I am sure those, too, will be added to my ever-growing list of recommended favorite African Books.

loriAbout Lori Robinson

Thirty years of travelling to and living in eleven African countries – from my first trip to southern Africa on assignment as a fashion model, to my recent role as Africa Adventures Specialist in East Africa for the Jane Goodall Institute – has nourished my lifelong passion for the natural world. In 2009 I sold my big house and most of my stuff so I could live more simply. When I’m not traveling in Africa I’m writing about it from my small cabin in the Teton National Forest in Moose, Wyoming. You can find me at AfricaInside.org

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Africa Inside September 5, 2013 at 12:29 pm

So delighted to collaborate with Live the Magic of Africa!

Sandy Salle September 5, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Thanks for contributing this interview to our blog, Lori! We can’t wait to get our very own copies of the books!

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