Often in camp, I don’t see many of the larger animals that roam the wilds of the Maasai Mara. I’ve only heard the distant laughter of hyenas, seen smashed trees left behind by elephants, and been told by co-workers that leopards or lions are active in the area. But otherwise, I mainly see smaller animals such as insects, lizards, and birds.

There is of course one large, stripped exception. This exception is the common plains zebra, an animal no doubt very familiar to the entire world. Their visits are something of a daily occurrence, small herds of them travel through camp at night or sometimes during the day. One morning on the way back from breakfast, I saw a surreal sight: a lone zebra, just standing in the path and blocking my way. I stopped, slightly startled, and we stared at each other for a moment. Then the zebra suddenly raced off at astounding speed. Several other zebras came fleeing from just around the bend, racing as fast as they could after their leader! I watched in rapt fascination as they stampeded past, kicking up clouds of dust in their wake. They soon thundered downhill, running between the lines of tents before disappearing into the surrounding brush at the lower foothills of camp.

That encounter was one of my closest yet to the zebras in camp but I’ve had several other encounters as well. Often, late at night, after a shower or coming back from dinner, I’ll see them tromping around camp, eating the dry grass that grows here. They’re pretty skittish and tend to move away when they see me but I don’t bother them and move off, letting the zebras have their nightly meals.

The zebra herd moving through camp also leaves evidence of their activities. Often, this takes the form of their droppings. Large piles of zebra dung are deposited all around the campsite, some much too close for comfort. One such pile was left  outside my tent and presently it’s still there, forcing me to be careful as I leave in the morning. Thankfully, I’ve avoided stepping in the smelly stuff so far.

At night, I’ll sometimes hear the zebras moving about outside, their clomping noises echoing in the otherwise still air. Sometimes, they like to scratch themselves on the tent, which gave me quite a fright the first time it happened. Something large pressed itself against the corner of my tent and the whole thing shook a bit as this weird snorting noise echoed outside. I was honestly quite terrified for a few moments before realizing ‘Oh, it’s a zebra!’ The zebra in question didn’t take long to satisfy his itch and soon moved off.

The zebras that pass through don’t stay long, keeping to themselves and fleeing at the first sign of human presence. But they certainly make camp life interesting, being large animals that are a common sight around here. They’re very different from pigeons back home in New York, but are beautiful animals and watching them go about their business is always a personal pleasure for me. I just have to be careful of the poop minefield they leave behind in their wake.

Written by: Jake McDaniel

Featured Image by: Fergus Clark