Lions Among Thorns


This photo documents my first real-life encounter with lions. We were on a Saturday afternoon drive in Southern Kenya when some game rangers flagged us down and asked us if we’d seen the lions. They then headed off into the bush in their truck and we followed – in a Peugeot 304 saloon.

I’d only been in Africa a few days, a camp follower in the Team Leader’s Team (aka Graham’s Outfit). He was there working, as in serious crop protection entomologist, hot on the trail of larger grain borers (LGB), an alien species of wood-boring beetles imported into Africa on American food aid in the 1980s. The pest’s original home is in Mexico where it had grown a taste for maize, a proclivity it brought with it to Africa where it causes havoc in grain stores up and down the continent. The greatest incidence seems to be along the line of rail, doubtless due to beetle escapes from goods wagons hauling grain upcountry from East African ports.

Anyway, the Team Leader had business up in the Taita Hills, interviewing smallholder farmers to gauge how far these nasty dudus had spread. It is beautiful country on the way to Taveta in Tanzania – and the setting for much of William Boyd’s An Ice-Cream War and thus once the front line in the First World War guerrilla conflict between the forces of British East Africa (later Kenya Colony) and German East Africa (Tanganyika). And being rather remote, there was nowhere handy to stay apart from the 5 star Taita Hills Hilton.  Oh dear, the trials and tribulations of exotic travel. The lovely Kenyan manager even forced a suite upon us (well stocked fridge, Air Con, swish bathroom and all).

The hotel also has its own game reserve, formerly a colonial sisal plantation run back to bush. To the south lie the plains of the Serengeti grasslands, to the north the vast expanse of the Tsavo game reserves. It is thus a wildlife gem, and you can stay there too, in an extraordinary stilted creation inspired by the traditional homesteads of the local Taita people, though rather oddly constructed using congealed cement sacks which instead reminded us of sand-bagged gun emplacements and so presumably with an intentional nod to the ‘Ice-Cream War’.


Not a thing of beauty then, but providing magnificent viewing of the wildlife, especially elephants which, in our time, would come in the night to drink at the ornamental pool within the lodge’s basement bar – a whole herd only a few feet away. At dawn you can walk along the raised walkways between the rooms and watch Kilimanjaro make its brief morning appearance, floating high above the horizon like a magic carpet mountain. The next time you’d look it would be gone – poof! Only a clear blue sky.

taita reserve

Taita Hilton - safari vans come and go



Spiky Squares #7

57 thoughts on “Lions Among Thorns

  1. Wonderful, wonderful, Tish!! The hotel looks marvelous (you poor dear, having to put up with all the luxury, taking one for the team) and I can only imagine the views, both animal and land, that you had from the lodge.


  2. “Tanganyika” is a name I haven’t heard in a very long time! You bring back some great memories of my own trip to Tanzania many years ago now … climbing Kili, and going on safari on the Serengeti. I too remember vividly my first encounter with lions. The open topped jeep did not inspire confidence!! I felt like we were a bento box lunch!

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  3. Lovely post Tish. I was thinking along similar lines to Janet, but you’ve also alerted me to a William Boyd book I haven’t read. Thank you.

      1. I’ve liked all the other books of his I’ve read — though I would have to agree that “harrowing” is definitely a word I’d use for them.

    1. Not very stylish safari-wise, Brian, and definitely one felt more than a bit vulnerable when coming on a cape buffalo in a bush in Tsavo East. Was glad then of its speedy reverse capacity! Later we had a more manly Land Rover, though it leaked a lot and was v. noisy. On the other hand, it was ace on flooded, mud-slidey roads.

  4. Wonderful post and trip to this beautiful place with its great creatures, Tish! Lovely pictures too. Brought back so many memories!

  5. What an extraordinary and fabulous experience. I’m so envious, hope though they’ve got on top of the beetles. A great spiky tale and squares 😃

      1. It looks like they’ve established themselves – also in dried cassava in West Africa, as well as in maize in southern and East Africa. When we were in Kenya G. was involved with the intro of a predator beetle, but I don’t think that was too successful. Now there seem to be studies on using some kind of bacterial agent.

      1. I’m sure it’s much as we left it – lacking tarmac the last time we went that way, and very slithery in the rains. But elephant sightings along the branch line railway that crosses the road…

      2. Absolutely. And a particular colour of tarmac. 😉 There weren’t so many patches when we were there, closer to independence. But a few when I went back in 88. Makes me think. Where you there already? We may have crossed path on Kimathi st, or at the new Stanley. 😉

      3. That’s a lovely thought, Brian, but I hadn’t quite arrived then. ’92 to 2000 in Kenya but with ’93 in Zambia. I’ve now remembered you posted a 1960s photo of the Mombasa highway when it was looking v. smart.

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