February News & March mini-migration – Mara Toto camp, Kenya

“When the stars threw down their spears,

And watered heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the lamb make thee?”

William Blake

In the three weeks it has been since our last report when we mentioned the wildlife moving south into this area, the herds have now (with the rains) fully arrived on these lower plains of the conservancy. Driving out of the camp now and following the Ntiakitaik river north brings one into what can only be described as a migration of its own. It is incredible and completely unknown that this kind of wildlife event happens outside of the commonly known ‘Great Migration’ period of June-October. This, and the massive zebra migration that passes through in December, could be called two of the best kept secrets of the Olare-Motorogi conservancy.

March started as we expected it to – hot, sunny and getting hotter by the day. The red oat grass turned shade to the earthy browns and tawny colours from which it gets it’s name, and shed the last of its seeds in preparation for the next step in the cycle being the ‘long rains’. With this as one of Nature’s signs of things to come, the acacia trees all over the region have also been telling the same story as they cover themselves in flowers, and so bees, filling the air with their sweet, almost jasmine-like scent.

It was towards the end of the first week of March when we began seeing the build-up of cloud to the north and hearing the thunder that accompanied it. Then on the 8th we had a brief sprinkle which served to excite the wildlife in the area. The plains wildlife began to chase and ‘pronk’ (bouncing to show their strength and ability); the lion prides became more vocal, as did the guinea fowl who changed their tune to that of the high pitch two-tone whistles that the Maasai say is another of Nature’s signs for the time of plenty to come. After all these warnings, on the night of the 10th March the heavens opened, starting with huge winds (that managed to bend one inch bars on tents 90 degrees), then to fat drops and onto hail.

Now, after this initial burst of life-giving rain, the river past Mara Toto is flowing once again, washing out the ‘nutritious’ water the hippos have been savoring and frolicking about in. The sun is out, the breeze has picked up and all around us in the camp we can hear the huge variety of birds so much more alive and chatty than they were just two days ago. Such is the cycle of Africa.

Outside the camp the evidence is clear that it is not just the birds who have burst into activity. The grass is already looking greener, having had the fine dust coating washed off, and the wildlife on the plains (especially the zebra) are so much louder and more active.

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On the evening of the 10th March, having stopped the car in the heart of the herds, we realized the only way to get this picture of quantity and variety across (as photos just can’t do this justice) was to do a count. Even then imagine this view, outside of the high season without another car around and ALL in a 2 square kilometer area:

350 Zebra scattered around us, calling, scraping and competing

150 Wildebeest adding their monotonous grunts to the orchestra’s sound

60 Eland with a creche of 9 calves

40 Topi

25 Thompson’s gazelle

14 Grant’s gazelle

5 Old bull buffalo (watching the herds move through with obvious disapproval)

A journey of 13 giraffe

2 Bull elephant

70 Impala

A troop of olive baboons

A couple of ground hornbills

A flock of close to 100 Eurasian bee-eaters who may have just arrived in this area following the rains.

(And a partridge in a pear tree!)

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Even for our guides who spend every day appreciating this amazing wildlife in the Mara region this sight was enough to lull them into complete silence. This says something about just how special this event is in our eyes. Words cannot capture it.

News of the big cats of the Olare-Motorogi conservancy… The Moniko pride has, as of a couple of weeks ago, added another 10 fur ball cubs to their numbers. This top pride of the Olare-Motorogi area are currently in the northern end of the Kereput stream making the most of the wildlife moving from the short grass plains to the north into the heart of the conservancy.

The Enkoyeni pride neighbours also have a new litter of cubs and are doing their bit to dent the movement of the herds from the escarpment through the Ntiakitiak river valley.

Never to be outdone, the last couple of nights (since the rain began) here at Mara Toto have been noisy ones thanks to the two ‘double-crossing’ males who have been roaring out their challenges through the night. The night before last it sounded like their calls had been answered with a commotion on the plains to the west of Mara Toto – either these two males were joined by a couple of females or there was a bit of a territorial scrap between them and a couple of interlopers. And last night again either hyenas or lions killed just across the river from camp. The howls and laughs of the hyena, punctuated by the low growls of the lions, are tell-tell signs of events unfolding.

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The resident Mara Toto and Mara Plains leopardess who was found three weeks ago with her one cub has done a very good job in hiding and we feel that she may have moved her little one (if it has survived to date) to another part of her territory, possibly into the lower section of the Kereput stream. We will keep up the game of hide-and-seek with her and hopefully have another glimpse of her tiny cub soon.

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Acacia, the well-known and relaxed female leopard from the north end of the Ntiakitaik, has been proven now to once again be the proud mother of two cubs, aged around 2-3 months old.

And, Yet ANOTHER new leopard on the scene this month was found only last night. On returning from a community visit to the local women’s group at Endoinyo Erinka we were lucky enough to find a young male leopard (with a very signature ‘nick’ on the top of his right ear) on the escarpment above the lower end of the Olkuroto river. Despite his shyness he allowed us time to pass by, turn the vehicle around and roll silently after him as he proceeded to stalk a herd of topi with calves. After half an hour it seemed the outcome was sealed when an impala ram passed not more than 6 feet in front of him. But this was not to happen as he obviously only had eyes for the easier topi calf who had by now been moved on by a wary mother.

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Narasha, one of the Olare-Motorogi regular cheetah, has spent the good part of the last month in Mara North conservancy where she is still doing well. Her two cubs have now reached an age when they should have enough speed and experience to outrun the more dangerous predators in the area.

Malaika, the mother cheetah with the older cub has, for the last few weeks, been in the reserve around the fig tree murrum area and is still exciting visitors with her nonchalant habit of jumping onto tourist vehicles – not a good thing considering the Mara reserve is not a zoo and we are supposed to be ‘passive’ observers.

Back at Mara Plains camp 1km to our north, the rebuild is going well and the new designs look amazing. The tent decks have been positioned; the water and power lines are in; the mess tent deck frame has gone up in the last 24 hours and the new bridge access to the camp is planned and set to be an extra special entry into what is proving to be a camp unlike any other in the Mara.

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Photographic Credits:

Our resident leopardess – Richard Pye

Zebra stallions – Lorna Buchanan-Jardine

Eland herd – Lorna Buchanan-Jardine

Double Crossing male lion – Richard Pye

Leopardess with cub – Richard Pye

New male leopard hunting impala – Richard Pye

White-browed coucal – Lorna Buchanan-Jardine

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