Hello from Mara Plains and Mara Toto on the plains of the central Masai Mara, plains which are currently bathing in the orange morning light and still (really) covered in wildlife. Over the past few months our reports from the Mara have tended to start this way but considering the time of the year and the great migration being around us it was a little more expected. Now however, the main body of the Migration has left the Mara, heading south towards the bottom of their cycle, where in February the females that got pregnant on the way north will calf, flooding the plains with young.
It is possible that when we say the plains in front of the camp are covered in wildlife we could be exaggerating for marketing purposes. As we type out this report with a hundred and eighty degree view out in front of us. From the top level of the railway sleeper deck in the public area we can count- +-120 wildebeest, 60+ zebra, 26 Topi, 42 Thompsons gazelles, 12 Grant’s gazelles and 6 buffalo. The wildebeest are prancing and strutting, scattering the other species in their testosterone filled excitement. Further still this scene in front of us is everywhere, all over the conservancy and on every plain. There are certain times of the year (about every three months) when this happens with the abundance and variety shooting up. Now, just as the migration has left, is one of those times.
The air around us is filled with the sounds of the morning, the resident hyena clan calling on their way back to their den up river, the huge numbers of Zebra braying into the morning, grunts from the ‘gnus’, ox-peckers, cisticolas, Ruppel’s robin-chats, flycatchers, boubou’s, barbets, Klasse’s cuckoo, chin-spot batis’s, red-necked spur fowls, brown parrots, purple grenadiers, starlings, king fishers, a grey capped warbler and somewhere in the background, never to be overlooked, a ring necked dove.
Seeing and hearing this, without leaving the camp is just a small taster for what one can imagine is out there. This time of year, with the majority of the crowds gone, is one of the best times to visit this area. The grass is lush and green after the three or so inches of rain we had through September, this rain, as it did last year has encouraged many of the satellite herds of the great migration to stay in the area, joining forces with the regional Lloita migration and so covering the landscape with more numbers and variety of ungulates that you can see anywhere else in Africa.
With these scatterings of wildlife, the cropped green grass and the time of plenty that comes with it we are happy to report that the elephant herds are once again moving south back into this conservancy, the migratory birds of the rains have begun to arrive (as always starting with the white-throated bee eaters) and the residents have, as always kept us and the visitors to the area fully entertained.
On to the characters of this story and we feel the only place to start would be with our resident leopardess and her cub. The cub is now two months old, mobile, inquisitive and finally able to climb trees. Over the past month this cub’s mother has kept her little one in the lower section of the Kereput stream just half a kilometer from Mara Toto. In the mornings the resident troops of vervet monkeys around the camps alert us to the leopardesses presence as she wanders up or downriver from her nightly stalks. One evening around mid-month was particularly memorable especially for a couple of guests who climbed out of the car in the drop off area, walked onto the bridge and into the camp. The Leopard, who had obviously been asleep under the bridge, decided it was a good time to wake up and wander off, watched by the guide who had just spent hours trying to find her. A few days ago in the morning guests climbed into the car, Daniel the guide started the engine and then switched it off again as the leopardess was just walking into the drop off area right in front of them.
One of the top sightings of the month still on the subject of the conservancy’s leopards would have been when we found three leopards in one tree. It was around dusk, driving along one of the forested river lines north of Mara Plains when a foot was seen hanging out of a warbergia tree. Upon closer inspection of the foot, it was found to belong to ‘yellow’ the conservancies dominant male, then a movement to his right proved to be ‘acacia’ the leopardess from that territory and then another movement behind clued us to the presence of ‘namyak’ acacia’s six month old cub. It is an incredible thing to see a leopard but three together is extra special. Interestingly the interactions between these three especially acacia and yellow was a bit ‘love-hate’. It seemed that acacia and the cub wanted to climb down the tree, but yellow was at the fork blocking their decent. There was a good deal of hissing and spitting as yellow refused to move until eventually acacia succumbed and gave him what he wanted- A little bit of treetop love.
‘Fig’ acacia’s cub from her last litter has spent the good part of the last month along the hammerkop stream and once or twice on the Ntakitaik River. She is in good health and (just like her father yellow) as vain as ever.
On to some of the cheetah of the Olare-Motorogi conservancy and it’s surrounding habitat. At the top of our exciting news on these elegant speedsters is that Nalepo, the mother cheetah who gave birth to six cubs here in the OMC before moving east into Naboisho is now back but with only three out of the original six. It is a hard thing to accept but as we have said before it is nature that some must die so that others may live. Currently, as we write Nalepo and her three little ones are up on the top of the escarpment towards the OMC airstrip where plains grazers are abundant and the gazelles with all their recent young make easy targets for the mother with her trio. News just in is that she made a kill this morning before her meal was disrupted by the arrival of a lone male cheetah who had just made a kill of his own. The two stared each other down for fifteen minutes before they each continued with their respective meals.
Also we are so happy to report to all the Narasha lovers that this ‘cheetress’, still with her two sub-adult cubs, is also back in the conservancy after having spent the first past of September on the Topi plains to our west. She came into the conservancy past Mara Plains about a week and a half ago, she crossed the Kereput stream at Albitzia before heading past Moniko hill where she killed a young topi. From here she made a beeline northwards up the escarpment and into the same area where Nalepo and her cubs are. This is obviously the place to be for cheetah at the moment. Fawn galore. We are happy to report that Narasha’s limp in her back-right leg seems to be getting better. This may be in part due to her youngsters now being capable of helping her hunt.
On to the ‘king-cats’ of the OMC namely the lions.
The best place to start is with the seven young males of the Enkoyeni pride. These seven, (having been pushed south in the past months by both the pride male and the lionesses who are not at all happy with their presence) have started carving out a space for themselves in the central conservancy. Mid-month they were spending time in the area around Albitzia crossing, looking very healthy and well fed. Towards the end of the month they crossed into the Sayalel plain, over Porini hill and back towards the center of the Enkoyeni’s stronghold. It was here; just north of the rocky crossing that the seven killed their first buffalo. It was not just a cow or a calf but a very big and bad tempered bull. It was at first light when one of the cars from Mara Plains followed the pointing muzzles of the buffalo herd and found the bull down, but far from over. The fluffy young male lions were all over it, but none of them seemed to understand how to kill the beast. Finally, it was the smallest of the seven that threw caution to the wind and got hold of the bull’s nose in his mouth. He held on, the natural instinct taking over until finally he had suffocated the bull and it lay still. This coalition of seven and their story will be one to follow over the next year or two. As they go from strength to strength and maybe even loose a few on the way. The lessons they will learn and the power they will flex will have long lasting ramifications on this conservancy and especially on it’s prides.
Also from the Enkoyeni pride but the main body of it, the lionesses and their older cubs have for the most part spent the first two weeks of the month in the area just north of Porini hill. They were often found in the mornings lying up in the thickets of ‘leleshwa’ (Tarchinathus Campheratus) lazy and gorged from their kills from the night before. As the month moved on this group of four females and their young then moved north back into the stronghold of their territory onto the rocky, scrubby hillside above the Olare crossing. This movement north was more than likely caused by the presence of the maasai land owners cattle that had a grazing area opened to them to the south and also because of the dangerous presence of the seven young males nearby. At the month end we were interested to find one of these four females with her two older cubs by herself on the stream north of hammerkop crossing. She had a few bites on her neck and lower back leading us to think she may have been fighting with her pride members or maybe even the young males. Interestingly we still have not seen the second male from this pride. He has been missing for about three months now.
Nguro, the lone lioness originally of the ‘prideless females’ has been found a few times towards the end of September, she is looking very healthy and amazing she is still in the company of ‘Jicho’ the young male with the one eye. (Jicho is the singular for eye in Kiswahili) These two are at the top end of the hammerkop stream line.
Onto the Moniko pride, still in two factions and split within their range. The main body of the pride with one of the pride males and their nine cubs have spent the month in the area between the observation hill and the top end of the Kereput stream. In the last few days of September the large black-maned and better looking of the males was found midst honeymoon with one of his ‘ladies’ amazingly this male, unlike so many others seemed to be quite a ‘Casanova’. After the couple had done their bit the male often proceeded to gently lick his female companion with genuine compassion. Amazing considering that many times copulation of these and other big cats end with vicious snarls and cuffs.
The second half of this pride has over the past weeks become quite scarce, however, as of the walk we did this morning we have found them again, deep in the Eseketa valley. This time we saw one beautiful big male, two lionesses, two 2-month old cubs and a sub-adult. It is possible that this is the beginnings of a new pride in the Olare Motorogi conservancy- Something that does not happen often in the world today to due loss (not gain) of habitat.
Onto some of the highlights of the month,
- The 7 young males and their coming of age test with their first buffalo was definitely a highlight.
- The couple of sightings guests had of serval cats and their hunting techniques was extra special. These beautiful small cats hunt mice, lizards and birds by pin-pointing their position using their huge ears before they bound forward to pin the unfortunate prey down with their front legs.
- Finding two sub-adult caracals out stalking birds was one of the best sightings of the year. Finding a Caracal in this area is next to impossible; they are shy, tawny coloured and very good at hiding. Caracals specialize in hunting birds, they stalk up on them using their large tufted ears to pin-point the birds position, before they run in, the birds take flight and the caracal use there very well developed hind leg muscles to launch themselves into the air sometimes nine feet up looking to snatch the bird out of the air.
- Finding a ‘leap’ of leopards, three in one tree.
- The hugest hail storm we have ever seen in the Mara with some stones almost an inch across.
- The various cheetah hunts, both successful and otherwise. We all know cheetah are fast but even then, watching a cheetah ‘catapult’ into full sprint is awe inspiring.
- Finding the remaining leopard cub belonging to our resident leopardess and watching it grow and get bolder and learn to climb.
- The new life around us with baby animals of all types. Piglets, topis, gazelles etc.
- Watching the marsh pride attacking and taking down a hippo.
- Seeing ‘scarface’ one of the marsh pride males now fully in his prime and looking quite mean with his war wound.
- It’s ostrich mating season, a wonderfully cool time for dances and laughs.
- Finding a family of bat-eared-foxes in the light of mid-day. They are hard to find as it is. To see them in daylight is very rare.
- Hearing lions all night around the camp.
- Having the resident leopard stroll through the drop off right in front of guests.
- Witnessing two male hippos fighting on the plains just by the camp.
Of course with the above everyday here is a highlight, just seeing the sun rise and set over the plains of the masai mara, being surrounded by wildlife of all shapes and sizes, seeing the changes in the landscape around us and the effect this has on the behavior of the animals. Working with great plains is a highlight of all our lives, giving with a company that believes in conservation and habitat protection, not just in it’s marketing but also in practice. Come to the Mara, stay at these camps and enjoy the feeling of knowing ALL the electricity you consume is from the sun, all the hot water you use is heated the same way. All the waste produced is recycled and or treated. It is our hope that this kind of experience will attract environmentally conscious people and it is our hope that maybe, in future, others will choose their destinations with the intention of minimizing impact and consumption and looking to give back to this planet for the greater good of all.
Karibuni Mara Plains na Mara Toto.
The Great Plains team, Masai Mara
Mystery- Richard Pye
A leap of leopards- Lorna B Jardine.
Nalepo and cubs- Shveta Trivedi