“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams”.
In April Kenya received a huge amount of rain, and in some regions the flooding was overwhelming. But, following the life-giving surge of water, the entire country has been covered in a thick blanket of green, and the Mara too is flourishing. Most evenings the heavens opened and the downpours often continued into the night.
Massive flocks of migratory birds have swooped in to make the most of the mud, and abundance of grass and insects. Lesser-striped swallows are chirping on every perch and are busy painstakingly packing mouthfuls of dirt into masterfully constructed nests. Mara Toto camp is full of these clever creations under the eaves of the tents.
In the second half of April, the Jackson’s widow birds began their incredible annual mating display, cropping circles of grass around neatly trimmed ‘arenas’ on the plains and then simultaneously leaping and dropping above the tall stems, competing for female attention. This makes for a very entertaining sight as half a dozen feathered black creatures pop up and down across the horizon, and fly gracefully around with their long black plumage draping behind them.
The ostriches are still maintaining their massive numbers in one particular flock of over 30 individuals, first seen in February and now again in April, gracefully filing across the conservancy airstrip. Once this month the Enkoyeni pride manage to bring down one of the adults, but it could not have been without a substantial fight.
The skylines are scattered with great herds of elephant, who have moved into the conservancies by the hundreds to feast on the nutritious red oat grass – an annual dietary boost for them in comparison to their typical diet of tougher branches and shrubs. Many of the breeding groups have in tow tiny calves who are fighting to coordinate their trunks and are struggling to see above the waving tops of the grass plains.
Also needing a better view of their surroundings, the troops of Vervet monkeys in our area can be seen pausing as they run to quickly stand on two feet and look around for approaching danger. All prey species are on red alert at this time of year, never able to see what – or who – may be moving in on them.
Slinking through the grass, the cheetah on the conservancy are doing brilliantly, making the most of the cover that is giving them a distinct advantage. Narasha and her two sub-adult cubs (now over a year old) have never looked better, and they have been spending time between Mara Plains and Mara Toto camps. Her almost daily hunts are more often than not successful and their spotted coats are gleaming with health. Her male cub is doing especially well in shadowing his mother as she stalks, and he is set to become a brilliant hunter, learning from one of the best.
The female cheetah, Nosim, with her one male cub is also doing well and was hunting near the murrum towards the end of the month. At eighteen months old, her cub is bigger than his mother, and in the first half of May they have been found separated by some distance. This may be the beginning of the next chapter in the cub’s life when he is forced to find his own path and to start fending for himself. Guests at Mara Toto just watched her mid-May on a long hunt going after a young Thompson’s gazelle right in front of them and without another vehicle in sight. Nosim, then release her catch for cub to chase and finally kill the young Tommy himself. It won’t be long now before he is ready to go solo.
The Moniko and Enkoyeni lion prides have followed their food source – the Lloita migration – far up onto the escarpment where the grass is short and the game is plentiful. The Olare Motorogi rangers have reported the Moniko stronghold to be in the ‘secret valley’ near the conservancy headquarters, while the Enkoyeni base is currently to the northwest beyond the whistling thorn. The two Enkoyeni pride males were last seen at Hammerkop Crossing towards the end of the month, which was around the same time that the two Double Crossing males were found mating with a female opposite Mara Toto. They spent a few days in April resting through the daylight hours in the bushes facing our tents across the river, and calling loudly into the night, making the hairs on the backs of our necks stand on end. They continue to be very vocal and confident, roaring nightly not far from camp.
Guests landing on the private OOC airstrip in May have arrived to a very impressive welcoming committee of massive herds of zebra, topi, eland, Thompson’s and giraffe all grazing on the vast green plain. There is no better place to acclimatize to the Mara pace of life than at a lunch table set up under the ‘waiting room’ acacia, a glass of cold wine in hand, and 360 degree views of unending wilderness and wildlife, and with nobody else around.
A male leopard has been calling his territory through the nights around Mara Toto this month and our guides suspect this is Yellow, though we are yet to see him to confirm this. The shy kicheche female, AKA Houdini, was also spotted on a game drive on the 24th. But the most spectacular show of the month has to be the moment that Olive, the leopardess on the Talek river, took down a young waterbuck only feet away from Mara Toto guests – priceless!
At Mara Plains, all hands are on deck, erecting what is shaping up to be an absolutely stunning and unique camp. Rustic wood floors and decks are laid, made from antique railway sleepers, and the draping cotton canvas is being rigged up as we speak. Soon the fabrics and furnishings will arrive from far off lands and begin to piece together the jigsaw puzzle vision of Dereck and Beverly Joubert. Having filmed all over Africa in some of the wildest locations, and having built some of Botswana’s most elegant bush camps, we are all very excited to see their greatest Kenyan project to date come together, and emerge as the all new Mara Plains, set to open in July.
With best wishes from the Great Plains Mara team.
All photographs by Claire Fauquier
Follow Claire’s photography here: www.seefolkyay.com