Artist and wildlife expert ROBERT FULLER takes us on a thrilling trip to Africa.

OVER the last few years I have begun guiding groups on safaris abroad, using my experience as a wildlife artist and photographer to help them get up close to species the world over.

It’s always a nerve-racking experience leading a group since I feel responsible for the sightings that we may or may not have on the trip.

This was certainly the case on a recent safari to Kenya’s Masai Mara, where I took a small group of just 11 people on what I promised them would be the trip of a lifetime.

But I needn’t have worried, as, of course, we enjoyed the most amazing wildlife even as we flew into the famed savannah.

It’s a 45-minute journey to the plains of the Masai Mara from Kenya’s capital Nairobi and I was pleased that the weather was overcast as we set off, since I knew that this meant a smoother flight.

Just 15 minutes into the journey, the land beneath us suddenly appeared to plunge away down a steep cliff. This was the edge of the rift valley – a trench so deep and huge it is the only geographical feature visible from the moon.

Known as ‘the backbone of Africa’ because from above it resembles a long spine reaching right from the Middle East to Mozambique, this vast trench effectively carves Kenya in two.

As we approached the opposite side of this deep valley, we were flying at eye level with vultures and storks.

Then the Mara came into sight and, just as it did so, as if on cue, the clouds lifted and the sun began to shine brightly over this most famous of African plains.

The Mara River, home to the most awe-inspiring river crossings as more than one and a half million wildebeest plunge across it during their annual migration, snaked its way across the landscape.

Looking down I could also see the Talek River – a smaller tributary off the Mara – where I have often seen leopard in the past.

I have visited Africa 11 times now and each time I get as excited as if it were the first.

The plane banked on the approach to our gravel runway and we got a tantalising glimpse of what our safari had to offer.

A herd of elephants quenching their thirst at a waterhole, plains peppered with wildebeest, zebra and gazelle, and, as we came to land, a herd of giraffe browsing on acacia trees.

The plane touched down and as we got out I finally took a deep breath of the African air. After hours of travelling, it felt great to be back here.

Our guides, who were waiting for us, promptly drove us to our tented camp which had been set up close to the Mara River especially for our group.

It had been a long journey from Yorkshire to Kenya, but after a hearty brunch and a quick unpack of our gear we were all keen to go out on our first game drive.

I particularly wanted to see what this trip would yield. A call on the radio handset carried by one of our guides set me at ease – one of our guides had found a hunting leopard.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was in woodland along the banks of the Talek River. We were just a short distance away and we could hear impala barking out sharp alarm calls.

We waited to see if the leopard would appear in a clearing, but instead we saw a lone female impala looking anxious. Our guide told us that the leopard had killed her calf.

Just at that point a hyena rushed in. It, too, had heard the commotion and was hoping for the chance to snatch the kill. But the leopard was fully prepared for this kind of ambush and had already hauled her kill up a tree, where she was now resting.

What a great start this was to our safari. We waited and, sure enough, as the evening light faded, the leopard came down from the tree and seemingly posed for some photos.

We headed back to camp and discussed our plan for the following morning, knowing that the leopard would still be there with her kill in the morning.

After a night’s rest, we set off before sunrise and were out on the plains as the hyenas filed back to their den after what had undoubtedly been a night of mischief.

All looked peaceful on the plains.

The zebra and gazelle grazed quietly as behind them the sun rose.

It was difficult not to get distracted by all there was to see, but we were on a mission to see a leopard and we pushed on.

Sure enough we found her at the same spot, tucking in to the kill. We stayed to watch, just a few metres away from this magnificent predator.

It proved a wonderful start to what was a very memorable week in the Masai Mara. And just as I had promised: the trip of a lifetime!

  • Robert E Fuller’s next guided trip to the Masai Mara is next August. He will be giving a talk about this and all his Masai Mara safaris at The Robert Fuller Gallery, Thixendale YO17 9LS, on Saturday, January 12. Book online at or phone 01759 368355.