‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not’. The Lorax, Dr Seuss
A very warm hello from the Mara and the whole team here on the plains where we are all wrapped up and wearing layers against our winter and what we consider to be cold. In truth despite the cooler weather many would say it never gets wintery up here near the equator. Our lows this month only hit 13 degrees Celsius on the coldest morning (enough to make one turn one’s collar up and tuck ones nose in) and our high was only 30 degrees C. Not too dramatic either way.
At the time of our last report (around full moon) we had just started having some rain after quite a dry spell. Now, two weeks later the moon cycle has now waned into darkness and with this we once again are blessed with liquid life. These storms however made the ones from last month look like afternoon sprinklings. As the mid-day sun heated the plains around the central Mara one could see the haze in the atmosphere, as the Olololo escarpment to the west suddenly seemed so distant. In the afternoons a warm breeze from the southwest then pushed the heavy air northeast onto the slopes of the Bardamat hills where it rose and began condensing into cloud. Then, the breeze shifted and came back from the north-east, pushing the clouds back over the central Mara creating a blanket holding down the remaining heat which then served to build the clouds further until suddenly the sky above us turned dark and moody creating it’s own huge winds which pounded the river line and plains before unleashing rain and even hail until roads were rivers and rivers were floods.
There is always fun to be had when it rains, driving is exciting, river crossings are dramatic but best of all, when the wind and rain stops and the setting sun drops down flooding the open plains with an orange glow which reflects off the millions of grass heads and the water droplets they hold just stopping, and watching, and seeing the land come alive is one of natures gifts to those lucky enough to see.
One may wonder why we always start our reports speaking of the weather; in truth it is the weather cycle that is fully responsible for creating the life and the cycles within it in this ecosystem. As you may know the Great Migration of wildebeest, Zebra and the smaller antelopes is governed by the rain belts as they move up and down eastern Africa’s open plains, these rain belts are caused by the even bigger movement of the wobble of the earth on it’s axis, the winds bringing wet or dry caused by the centrifugal forces of the spinning of our planet and the effects of this on the atmosphere. More importantly even than the migration, as an essential occurrence for this ecosystem, the rain cycles are responsible for new life.
Now, after the recent storms, the winds from the east in the mornings are blowing in with the light from the clear morning sun and all around us and many of the animals are dropping their young or soon to be so. The Topi’s and the Impala seem to have been the first, we have started to see some new little Zebra’s also as well as Thompson’s gazelles and Grant’s gazelles. As one can imagine the birds throughout the area have all also been spurred into extra life as; with the rains come hatchings of beetles and flies and flying ants, frogs and toads burrow out of the ground in a hope of mating and generally the land becomes full of life, all the smaller parts that make up the bottom end of the pyramid of life that then in turn allows for a healthy, high-rising pyramid full of a healthy variety.
Speaking of the food pyramid it is about time we took some steps up and see what is happening in the world of those, who eat those, who eat those who eat the bugs from the paragraph above.
At the top of the ladder would be the many lions that are currently scattered through the area.
The Enkuyeni pride from upriver of Mara Plains spent the good part of the last couple of weeks in the far south of their range around Porini hill, the rocky crossing and the thickets of Tarchynanthas. This pride consisting of the core females and their now 8 cubs (down from 10) is doing very well as the area they are in is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the huge movement of wildlife through the confluences of the rivers to their west and the open plains to their east. Despite reports from Tanzania that the migration has left Kenya it is quite plain to see that, despite many of the western branch of the migration having swung south towards Grumeti there are still hundreds of thousands of animals still up in the central Mara feeding the big cats and managing the landscape. The large pride male from the Enkuyeni pride (we are not sure where his ‘brother’ is) has really had his work cut out for him this month. Not only is he having to deal with the group of young males he sired between a year and two years ago (this group being a serious threat to the prides young and maybe even himself if he can’t move them out), he also has to keep up a powerful display along his southern boundary to ensure the ‘double-crossing males’ stay on their side of the line. Currently the territorial boundary seems to pass right through Mara Plains from east to west as the last weeks have been some of the noisiest we can remember with the pride males from both sides calling their ownership around (and in) the camp throughout the night. For the sake of the Enkuyeni pride and their young we hope that their males return together to help secure their boundaries.
In terms of drama the Moniko pride have still managed to outdo their western neighbors. There are now three different factions in the Moniko pride all of which seem to have problems with the other. This is pretty normal considering all together this pride make up a total of +-36 cats and also with the time of plenty they can afford to split up and occupy different hunting areas and diurnal refuges. The main body of the pride made up of around 6-7 adult females and their cubs making +-16 lions (some females seem to move freely between the two main factions) have spent the last month around the rocky hills central to their range hunting almost every night without fail along the plains below the escarpment. The pride males have seemed a little confused with the split in the females of their pride (most probably caused by the arrival of new cubs two months ago, which may have caused some jealously and insecurity). These two have spent the last weeks moving between the faction in the Eseketa valley (6 females and around 6 cubs) and the main body of the pride mentioned above. Then, similar to their Enkuyeni counterparts these two pride males have also continued their attempts to push the young males (and their young female followers) into the periphery of their range (towards Mara Plains and the Enkuyeni pride). This is turn leading to even more insecurity for the lone Enkuyeni male and his pride who have made their feeling towards this intrusion heard.
As we have said in the past however this is how new prides are born and we feel very fortunate to be in an area where the lion population is still rising and we still have enough habitat and prey species to sustain a larger population. What is the future? Well the Gang of young males from the Enkuyeni pride will have to go somewhere; they will flex their muscles and their numbers and realize their strength. The youngsters from the Moniko pride may suddenly find it worthwhile to enter into the fold of this up-and-coming large coalition as sub-ordinates, maybe they will create a niche for themselves here in the conservancy causing a ripple effect in the resident prides, or more possibly the resident pride males will continue to bully and chase these youngsters in a hope of moving them further afield into the domain of other prides making them other males problems until a time when they can stand and fight and hold their own territory, form a pride and hold a range.
News from the northern most pride in the Olare-Motorogi conservancy is harder to come by due to the shyness of this pride and the terrain they call home. From the few reports we have had and the couple of sightings through the last weeks this pride is doing very well and making the most of the huge herds pouring through the valleys around them and congregating around the salt licks. A couple of morning drives have found them finishing up their kills from the previous night before slinking back into their rocky refuges away from the eyes of people and the heat of the African sun.
Onto some of the other characters around the scene, we are very happy to report that ‘Nalepo’ the cheetress who gave birth to six cubs in the Olare-Motorogi conservancy in July, after having disappeared for two weeks has now been found on Naboisho conservancy to the east still with her six cubs so very well done to her.
We have also had a few other Cheetah around these last couple of weeks, Narasha has spent most of this last month in the Mara Reserve around the fig tree murrum area but in the last days of the month she arrived back in the OMC on the plains east of Moniko hill. An older female has recently been found and followed on some successful hunts in the area around the OMC’s observation hill, according to the cheetah researchers she is ‘Amani’s’ mother.
Also on the scene arriving in the last couple of days is a big and healthy male cheetah who appears to have moved in from the east heading through the OMC in the direction of the Olare river and we also have, for a brief time had the coalition of two males the ‘Olololo boys’ moving in from the west before turning back towards the Mara river.
Onto the Leopards of the OMC who are fast getting names for themselves on the international safari circuit. Acacia the queen of the OMC is healthy as ever as is her cub Namunyak (meaning pleasant) who is now almost six months old and fast becoming a character in her own right. Acacia’s last cub Fig is also doing very well and killing gazelles regularly. Despite now being a full blooded female leopard relying on herself she still has the playfulness of a cub at times especially when she has a kill as she continually practices her cuffs and bites and jumps on the carcasses and even on lone male Hyena’s as we mentioned in our previous report.
Yellow, the central OMC’s dominant male was recently, just after our last report found to be courting a very small leopardess in the tree line around the Sananka crossing. The couple spent the good part of an afternoon hung over a large Albitzia branch together sleeping of their obvious tiredness from their antics. It was nice to see the small female as she is a new leopard on the scene having come into this area from elsewhere looking for a mate.
As some of you know the resident leopardess from around Mara Plains and Toto gave birth about six weeks ago and she managed to keep her cubs hidden until mid-way through the month she hid them in the river line just two hundred meters from Mara Toto. It was here the two little spotty fur balls were first seen before she moved them to another location. As we mentioned in our posts on the Great Plains facebook page we were very sorry to report that at least one of these cubs was believed killed by hyenas near the crossing of the Kereput stream. Since then we have found the shy females tracks around the camps so we know she is around, the question is does she still have her one cub?
Onto the other amazing wildlife of the area, this month, as is normal in the migration many of the elephant have moved northwards into the north end of the conservancy, the valleys of the Mara North Conservancy and the more wooded and hilly areas towards Olkinyei, Siana and Lloita. Here and there we are still been able to watch these huge, peaceful animals as they browse through the bush or graze along the open plains. Now that some of the larger herds have headed south we expect to be seeing more of them heading back into this area and further towards the marshes of Musiara.
Some of the most memorable sightings this month from both Mara Plains and Mara Toto.
- Watching a pair of Egyptian geese display at the top of a sycamore fig tree back lit with the morning sun, their wings outstretched and their heads turned back as they called out their love to one another.
- Following the Moniko pride on their evening hunts in the glow of the red light before sitting in the darkness and hearing the stampede before hitting the lights and watching the females take down their prey.
- Having the resident leopardess hiding out ‘IN’ Mara Toto for the day.
- All the incredible crossings of the Mara river and the huge herds of wildebeest and Zebra spread out across the landscapes as far as the eye can see.
- The amazing vocal exchanges between the resident males around the camps.
- Seeing a Serval cat and it’s kitten.
- The many ‘cat-tricks’ through the month.
- Watching Bat eared foxes search for termites in the fresh soil after the rains.
- Seeing the multiple ‘honeymooning’ lion couples.
- Having the first sighting of two-week old lion cubs.
- Counting (estimating) wildebeest seen in one day at around 300,000
- Seeing the two leopard cubs peering out of their rocky hiding places.
- Walking in to a rocky outcrop to sit watch a family of elephants browse down a river towards us.
- Watching Acacia the leopard and her cub playing together.
- Seeing a Giant Kingfisher from the mess at Mara Toto.
We could say ‘that’s about it’ from the Great Plains camps in the Mara but we all know this is not true. Every single day the drives and walks come back there is another incredible sighting to add to the memories of the guests, their guides and even those who only hear the tales and get to create the images of Africa in their imaginations.
This is why we do what we do, the passion of the staff, their love for wildlife and the excitement of seeing the amazing occurrences from the natural world through the eyes of our guests. It is impossible to explain the happiness one feels as a guide when you see your excitement and passion rub off on a guest. It is not just a bird, or a beetle, or an antelope, it is an integral part of this whole ecosystem with a lifecycle of it’s own and it’s own incredible story of who and what it is, why it is important and how it came to be.
As always, with best wishes,
The Great Plains team, Maasai Mara.