Lizards, in the Mara, tend to be looked over for the most part. Often too small to be really noticed by most explorers, they can only really be seen by paying attention to the smaller natural world. Often, this is easier said than done, these small reptiles are very good at hiding and scurry away at the slightest hint of danger. You’ll often catch blurry glimpses of them if you happen to wander the trails around the preserve. A brief flash, a noise in the brush, and then they’re gone, leaving you wondering what exactly that was.

Still, during my time in Kenya, I’ve been privileged to see multiple lizards up close. During my first week at camp, I heard a scuffling noise from the upper reaches of my tent. Surprised, I looked up and saw a small brown lizard clambering down the tent wall. He paused when he saw me, his head twisting to give me an almost quizzical look. We stared at each other for a moment before he darted downwards and fled out of my tent, disappearing as quickly as he came. I was a bit startled by his sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance but was glad I managed to get a good look at one of these little lizards. I’m still not exactly sure how he got in but lizards are small and resourceful. It’s likely he squeezed his way in through an open flap, looking for a place to hunker down and sleep.

I’ve kept my eyes out for lizards since that encounter, desperate to catch glimpses of them. I’ve always had a fondness for reptiles, liking them more than mammals. This probably originated from my love of dinosaurs as a young child and was further hammered in when I went to work for the herpetology department at the American Museum of Natural History. So, I’ve always held a special fondness for them and consider them to be my favorite animals.

I’ve been lucky to catch occasional glimpses of the lizards in camp since my first up close encounter. One such surprise encounter happened in the bathroom. Flicking on the lights, I jumped back in surprise. Clinging to the opposite wall was a lizard, this one even smaller than the others I had seen. He cocked his head at me and I tried not to move, hoping not to frighten him off. But I must have done something to startle him as he suddenly turned tail and fled upwards, crawling over the ridge separating the shower from the opposite bathroom. I didn’t pursue him, merely chuckling at seeing a lizard in the bathroom.

Most encounters have been equally fleeting. I’ll catch the occasional glimpse of something darting through the grass or briefly sight something crawling up a tree, disappearing into the upper branches. But it really makes me pay attention to my surroundings in the hopes of seeing one of the little lizards. In doing so, I’ve noticed things I wouldn’t have otherwise. Boulders covered with dry lichen, resting by themselves in the more barren sections of camp. Groups of ants pulling apart dead insects in stalks of grass. Strange plants growing in the shade of tents. And occasionally, the rustle of the brush confirming a lizard had just fled from my roaming eyes.

There’s a whole world beyond the one you can see at first glance. Look closer and you too, may find your own little lizard, hidden in the smaller but just as fascinating world of nature right beneath your feet.

Written by: Jake McDaniel