Safari vacationers are increasingly accustomed to seeing breathtaking sights as professional tour guides take them deep into the heart of the animal kingdom.
But few tourists are lucky enough to witness the captivating nature display captured on camera in the Masai Mara last week – the first nervous seconds of a newly born giraffe’s life.
Standing precariously on thin legs, the baby giraffe was discovered just minutes after birth – shortly afterwards still wrapped in amniotic fluid.
Clearly confused by its change of circumstances, the calf struggled to straighten itself as its mother looked at it with anxious eyes. But soon, it seemed to have mastered the difficult skill of standing, hiding between its mother’s hind legs and observing its surroundings.
The incredible images were captured by award-winning photographer Paul Goldstein, who was guiding a group of safaris for the Exodus travel agency when he stumbled across this post-natal drama.
Despite having worked at Masai Mara for 12 years, and leading about 3,000 game drives in that period, this was the first time he encountered such a scene.
“I am lucky enough to guide here [Masai Mara] a lot,” he explains. “But nothing prepared me for this hour, which brought some customers to tears.”
The Masai Mara is Kenya’s most famous wildlife area, a 1530-square-kilometer expanse of grassland, savannah, and shrubland in the southwestern part of the East African country.
This is a particularly fertile area for wildlife to be spotted. Although viewed as an independent entity, the Masai Mara is also a continuation of a larger area.
Together with the Serengeti National Park, just across the border from neighboring Tanzania, it is part of a large area of about 25,000 square kilometers, where the animals roam relatively undisturbed.
This happened most notably during the Great Migration, a phenomenon that saw thousands of gazelles, zebras, and wildebeest venture north from the Serengeti in search of fresh pasture every July and August, then made the journey back to Tanzania by the end of October.
However, Masai Mara is also home to the full quota of the Big Five, the quintet of beasts – buffalo, rhinoceros, elephant, leopard, and lion – most in demand among tourists.
And especially the presence of the latter is bad news for baby giraffes. Although lions tend to focus on equine prey like zebras, giraffes are also on their food list. And while adult giraffes, with their long limbs and strong kicking ability, can often be the match for an overconfident big cat, young calves and juvenile giraffes are easier to disqualify.
Hyenas are another threat, happy to confront young giraffes with their agility and powerful jaws.
In this context, the first weeks of a giraffe’s life are – unsurprisingly – the most precarious, as it struggles to face the perils that exist in a dangerous environment.
Happy for Paul Goldstein and his group of enthusiasts, this particular baby giraffe has passed its first tests.
Half a week after this unlikely star said hello to the world in her impromptu photoshoot, the group saw it again – still finding its feet, still clearly unsure of itself, and still – wisely – staying as close to her mother as possible. But very much alive.
“The story has a happy ending,” Goldstein continued. “Three days later, the youngster was gamboling happily next to mum adjacent to the swollen Mara River.”