Urban Safari


Sacred ibis take flight

Sacred ibis take flight

…Coming to Kenya with the BBC’s natural history unit you’d be forgiven for assuming that I was here to spend a few weeks on safari.  For sure, the BBC’s cameramen and women have had a long and fruitful relationship with Kenya’s amazing wildlife over the years, resulting in some of the most sensational wildlife sequences ever seen on TV, a particular favourite of mine being the awesome spectacle of thousands of wildebeest crossing the Mara river during their yearly migration filmed for Planet Earth.

Not withstanding this age old tradition, we have indeed come here in part to film Kenya’s wildlife, we just aren’t staying in a stilted safari lodge nor whizzing around the plains in an open top four wheel drive.  We’re in Mombasa, and for the last 3 days I’ve been wading through mountains of rubbish in this city’s sprawling waste dump.

On our first morning at the dump we arrived at dawn and I spent the first few minutes clambering over the twilight debris looking for a suitable high vantage point from which to shoot a panorama with the first light from the rising sun.   Atop the largest pile I could see I came across this quiet scene.   I shot a few frames and then climbed down.


I don’t know anything about this boy… what his name is, or how old he is. I don’t know if he has a family.  The clicking of my camera didn’t wake him.  Sitting here now writing this at a desk in my hotel room I wish I could tell you something about this young soul other than the fact that he is one of quite a number of youngsters who live and work at the dump, days spent sifting through Mombasa’s refuse looking for food and things to sell to middle men for recycling.

Since that first morning here, a steady stream of people have stopped their work to come and talk with us about life on their dump.  Many of them just come to chat, seemingly oblivious to the notion that there is anything that the outside world can do to help them other than continuing with its culture of rampant consumerism.  It’s a cruel irony, but the reality here is that this is their life and work and it provides them with an income that keeps them alive.  There’s no doubt that the majority of people living here would rather be somewhere else; the sad fact however is that their farewell would inevitably herald the arrival of a replacement in no time at all.  Walking around this waste land, I am reminded once more that mother nature is not prejudiced.  Scavenging at a dump is an environmental niche that she invites all species to inhabit, our own included.

Scavenging for food at the dump

Scavenging for food at the dump

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5 Responses to “Urban Safari”

  1. Toni Kamau says:


    I’m a Kenyan filmmaker and I think your photography is stunning! However, I feel that it is a bit one sided and did not capture the true essence of what Kenya is (in the particular locations you visited) -yes there is a lot of poverty here, but there is more to Kenya than poverty and wildlife or trees or lakes. There’s ingenuity, beauty and innovation by both locals and immigrants and it’s time that we started seeing that side much more on international TV screens.

  2. Monica says:


    I am a college advisor in Texas and a student I work with recently went on a trip to Kenya. She came back telling me about this group of people who live in the dump of Mombasa. I have been so touched by a group in El Doret Kenya that is doing something for these children that are growing up there. I have recently begun donating to this groups outreach because they are working there in the village to create a reform of thoughts by keeping these children in their own countries and giving them hope that there is a life outside of this wasteland they are calling home. The group is called Open Arms International. I agree that even our poorest of poor here know nothing like the poor there in Africa. Thank you for your ability to show these lives and their stories. I can tell that through educating others through your talent of photography you truly have the ability to change the lives of others, what a purpose!!!!

  3. tumaren says:

    Your images while sad and thought provoking are stunning and capture beauty amidst so much filth. I look forward to seeing more.
    Cheers, James Christian
    Karisia Walking Safaris

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m an amateur photographer and my biggest interest is taking pictures of wildlife. I have been attracted to Africa and it’s wildlife for about a year now. I have been wanting to photograph urban wildlife and the “Sacred ibis take flight” image has influenced me to look beyond my local urban wildlife and open my mind to new ideas.
    I realize that even the poorest Americans are better off than thousands of other people around the world and these pictures are proof of that. You said in your post “There’s no doubt that the majority of people living here would rather be somewhere else” I still feel like you captured how these people have seemed to have accepted their living conditions and almost seem comfortable with it. I also like how you captured the quietness of the waste dump besides from the sacred ibises.

  5. whatdoesthisbuttondo says:

    I was there with the Royal Navy 21 years ago, Mombasa doesn’t seem to have grown out of poverty…..

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