Book of The Month: Theodore Roosevelt’s African Game Trails

It was a wild sight; the ring of spearmen, intent, silent, bent on blood, and in the centre, the great man-killing beast, his thunderous wrath growing ever more dangerous.

At last the tense ring was complete, and the spearmen rose and closed in. The lion looked quickly from side to side, saw where the line was thinnest, and charged at his topmost speed.

The crowded moment began.

With shields held steady, and quivering spears poised, the men in front braced themselves for the rush and the shock; and from either hand the warriors sprang forward to take their foe in flank. Bounding ahead of his fellows; the leader reached throwing distance, the long spear flickered and plunged; as the lion felt the wound he half turned, and then flung himself on the man in front. – African Game Trails 

In April 1909, Theodore Roosevelt landed in Mombasa from New York with his son Kermit. Roosevelt, at the head of a safari including 250 porters and guides, trekked across British East Africa (Kenya), into the Belgian Congo (DRC) and back to the Nile ending in Khartoum (Sudan).

The former President and his son were on a year- long Smithsonian-sponsored scientific expedition in East Africa to collect specimens. This massive safari was actually billed as a conservation mission. Unfortunately for the animals, “collected” in those days was an euphemism for shot and killed.

Introducing the term “safari” in the first chapter, Roosevelt awakened the American public to the wonders of East Africa through his vivid descriptions of his exploits and created the foundation of today’s safari tourism (It inspired American writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway to undertake his own Kenya safari 25 years later).

Part of the Smithsonian’s motivation for co-sponsoring the expedition was to obtain specimens for the new United States National Museum building under construction on the National Mall—the building would later be renamed the National Museum of Natural History.

The expedition was recorded as monthly instalments for eager Americans back home, and was later published as African Game Trails in 1910.  It became the top selling book in the United States and was chosen book of the year by the New York Times.

With over 160 animal species in the final tally, they “collected” more than 5,000 lion, rhinoceros, elephant, giraffe, hyena, zebra, warthog, and other mammal remains from East Africa. Combined with the 18,000 specimens of plants, birds, and cultural objects from local tribes and communities, expedition acquisitions were enormous.

Between the two of them, Theodore and Kermit “collected” 512 beasts including 17 lion, 11 elephant and 20 rhinoceros. The remaining animals were no doubt happy to see them leave.

Kenya was once a prime destination for sport hunters and at one time, trophy hunters were sensationalized. This was until 1977 when big game hunting was banned in light of declining wildlife populations and in the prospect that these would then improve.

Even though it’s just not socially acceptable to be a big game hunter anymore, Roosevelt, however repeatedly refers to Africans as “savages” in his book, reflecting the racial attitudes during that time, even among Harvard-educated aristocrats such as Theodore himself.

Although the book might give an alternate view of how we related with wildlife in the past, many travelers have enjoyed the excitement of discovering Kenya’s incredibly diverse population of wildlife.

With the April rains subsiding, wildlife congregate near water sources, providing the best opportunities to view concentrations of various game.

Throughout Kenya, this is the season of plenty for the area’s top predators – lions, leopards, and cheetahs – who take advantage of the drawing power of limited water.

While the locations of Roosevelt’s travels might have changed significantly over the course of time, there remains places where wildlife flourishes within the same habitats he enjoyed, and you can experience the Kenya that Roosevelt grew to love.

*Note – Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to COVID-19 protocols, security, entry and exit requirements, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate.

Regardless of your destination, check with us for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.

Samburu might not enjoy the fame of other Kenyan parks, but that’s just the way we like it. This stunning arid landscape of Kenya’s soulful north is given life by the Ewaso Ngiro River, its palm- fringed banks as beautiful as any waterways in inland Kenya. Wildlife, too, is drawn to the river and its hinterland, the rugged terrain swarming with elephants, lions and leopards, but also some signature northern species, among them the blue- legged Somali ostrich and the endangered Grevy’s zebra.

In the shadow of Mt. Kenya, this plateau hosts a network of conservancies and private wildlife reserves – it is both beautiful and one of the most exciting stories in African conservation. At the forefront of efforts to save endangered species such as lions, African wild dogs, Grevy’s zebras and black rhinos, the plateau’s ranches offer an enticing combination of high-end lodge accommodation, big horizons and charismatic megafauna. Best of all, this is a more intimate experience than your average national park, with scarcely another vehicle in sight.

Another of Kenya’s world-class parks, this park is dominated by one of the Rift Valley’s most beautiful lakes. The waters are lined on one side by an abrupt escarpment and the shoreline is at times given colour and texture by massed birdlife (that may or may not include flamingos). But Lake Nakuru is also a wildlife haven for land-borne mammals, home as it is to tree-climbing lions, leopards, the highly endangered Rothschild’s giraffes, zebras, buffaloes, various primate species and some of Kenya’s most easily spotted rhinos.

Its rolling savannah studded with at-top acacia trees, the Maasai Mara, which encompasses both the Maasai Mara National Reserve and the private conservancies that surround it, is an iconic East African landscape that’s home to some of the highest concentrations of wildlife on the planet. It’s fantastic at any time but from July to October, the Mara’s plains are flooded with hundreds of thousands of wildebeest on their great migration, along with herds of zebras, elephants and giraffes. Trailing this walking buffet are prides of lions, lurking leopards, solitary cheetahs and packs of hyenas. If you only visit one place in Kenya, make it the Mara.

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