East Africa, Mother Nature’s gift to us, it is natural, connected and beautiful. Here you can free yourself from the modern world, technology, noise and stress and just listen, feel and connect. When we connect with nature we find ourselves, we are part of this land. Look with your heart not just with your eyes and you will see the natural richness’s this world holds. Money, possessions, power or wealth will not bring happiness, only finding yourself will.
Connect with nature for it will re balance your soul. You are happy and connected when you root yourself in nature. Stop; listen to the heart beat of this beautiful land. Be like the Maasai, at one with the land and nature, happy and connected.
Lose yourself in a moment, close your eyes. Feel, smell, touch and taste nature all around you. Hear how your heart beats in rhythm with it. Be at peace and at one with yourself and nature. Kenya is my spiritual home it is where I reconnect and rebalance myself.
Day 1 –
The dawn rises bright over the Lemek Conservancy. As I lay in my bed I listen to the sounds of the wild. Coffee is brought to my beautifully appointed tent and I feel blessed to be back in my home Kenya. I dress in stunning Maasai dress and adorn myself with the brightly coloured beads. I am again Nashipai White Maasai. I leave my tent to the sound of the dawn chorus, the song of the birds surround me from the trees. I breathe in the cool air fragranced with the scent of croton bushes and wild herbs.
Your tribe dictates your vibe, be with people who you connect with in your heart and soul. Root yourself in a culture that you are not necessarily born into but your spirit connects with. Here I am Maasai connected with the heart of this land.
I meet Daniel my wonderful friend and guide by the land cruiser and we count our blessings as we wonder what nature will give us today. As we drive out the sun bursts above the horizon an artistic splash of colours kissing the plains with morning light.
DikDik are grazers and are found around the bushes always in pairs as they pair for love. They have mobile noses like hares to sniff the air, to cool themselves they do not drink a lot instead they naturally have noise bleeds to reduce their body temperature. They are double hoofed and gentle footed as they quickly walk between the bushes. If one of the pair is killed the other will die of grief. We stop and observe their behaviour they are such peaceful animals.
We find one of the Lemek pride Lionesses stalking through the beautiful luscious grass, there has been a lot of rain so the grass is long. She uses this to her advantage to stalk a lone Topi. She walks slowly her head low and back flattened so not be seen, she is in full hunting mode. She is lactating so she wants to hunt for her cubs. The Topi has not initially seen her and she moves slowly. She needs to get close to make the kill. Unfortunately the Topi moves away and she loses her chance.
Wildebeest, Topi, Zebra and Pumba graze on the lush open plains. The Conservancy is really beautiful after the rains; wild flowers have burst vibrantly through the once dry soil. It is rich in game here and the predators have good hunting opportunities.
In the distance we see the rest of the pride, three Lionesses and seven cubs have brought down a Buffalo. The Buffalo is laid out its eyes blank in death with its side ripped open. The Lions are eating the kill. The Lionesses lay next to it tearing at the flesh and crunching on sinewy tissues. The cubs are three months and six months old. They eat straps of smaller flesh which is easier for them to chew. One of the smaller cubs gets inside the carcass which is most amusing seeing him disappearing inside the cavernous body which once housed the Buffalos internal organs. Another cub climbs on top to play king of the castle. A further cub lays by the Buffalos head so he can play with the horns. For the younger cubs which are still sucking so a kill this size is more of a playground that a source of food. One cheeky cub chews off the end of the Buffalos tail and runs off with it to play with it.
All around Jackal and Hyena wander around waiting for the Lions to finish eating or try and steal scraps of food. The Jackals are the most bold and move in closer. At first the Lionesses give chase to the Jackals then the cheeky cubs join in the fun. The cubs crouch down and then leap up at the Jackals approach and give chase. The Jackals bark in frustration as they want to share the kill.
The cubs are loving sitting on top of the carcass like it is a rock; one even falls to sleep on top. Another snuggles up to the head and a use the horns to rest it’s head on. One of the Lionesses is unhappy with how close the Jackal and Hyena are getting to the kill so she uses her strong jaws to pull at the head and drags the Buffalo into an upright sitting position but it is too heavy for her to drag away. One of the cubs that were snuggled up to the kill almost gets squashed.
The Lions are full and content from the kill and begin to relax, the cubs mew at their mothers and want to suckle milk. They rub their heads affectionately against their mothers and the mothers in turn use their raspy tongues to wash the blood from their cub’s faces. One the Lionesses rolls over and three cubs start to suckle and prod her.
As the Lions start to move away from the kill the Jackals the Hyena move in enjoy the rest of the carcass. The morning is growing warm and the kill is starting to smell pungent.
Further away one of the Lionesses has climbed a small Ballanite or Desert Date tree. When the grasses are long they need to climb to scan the plains for prey. She is a large Lioness and the tree is small so she struggles to get a comfortable position. She finds a large branch to drape herself over like a Leopard with her tail dropped down and her limbs dangling either side of the thick branch. She is contented and closes her eyes and relaxes.
It is growing warm so we have a late breakfast under the shade of a Ballanite tree. In front of us we see three male and three female Ostrich, they display their impressive plumage. It is such a privilege spending time in nature. The long almost vibrant iridescent green and yellow grasses sway in the breeze. Stunning Ballantine trees rise up through the sea of grass.
A lone Wildebeest grazes right in the middle of a herd of Impala, it is oblivious of its intrusion into this mating herd. The Lemek Conservancy is surrounded by an impressive range of hills which is the perfect backdrop to this scene. The scene is watched over by Tawny Eagles perched high in the branches of a nearby tree.
Giraffe amble through the plains they walk moving both legs each side at a time. They graze on the tops of the trees and watch with curiosity as we drive by. At an average height of around 5 m (16-18 ft.), the giraffe is the tallest land animal in the world. Characterized by its long legs, long neck, and distinctive spotted pattern, many people first believed the giraffe was a cross between a leopard and a camel, which is reflected in its scientific name,Giraffa camelopardalis. The male giraffe is both taller and heavier than the female. Both sexes have skin-covered knobs, called ossicones, on the top of their heads. Female ossicones are smaller and have a small tuft of fur on top, while male ossicones are bald on the top. These knobs are used to protect the head when male’s fight, which involves swinging their necks at each other in a show of strength, called “necking.”
A large herd of Buffalo graze on the plains; they have several new born calves. The mothers are very protective of them and keep them by their sides.
For me the male Waterbuck is the most impressive and attractive of the antelopes. He has quite a regal bearing, his sheer size, interesting stripes and large horns make him fascinating to observe. Waterbuck are never far from permanent water sources. These large antelopes drink water daily and also prefer the quality grass that grows along river edges and on floodplains. They are stocky built, with short legs. Their colour is greyish brown, with a distinctive collar on the throat. Standing at up to 1.7 metres their coat is rough and shaggy in appearance and there is a ruff on the underside of the neck, only the males have horns.
Female Waterbuck and non-breeding males live in herds of 6 to 12. The breeding males establish territories in areas where there are a rich food supply. Bachelors are kept away from the best feeding areas by the territorial bulls. A territorial bull will tolerate the presence of a younger male who helps with territorial defence. A territorial bull regularly tests the reproductive condition of females by sniffing of their urine and genitals. If a female is on heat the bull courts her by rubbing his face and the base of his horns on her back. He also taps her between her hind legs with a foreleg. If she is receptive the female stands with her tail to one side. There will be up to 10 copulations. A female leaves her herd to give birth and the calf lies hidden in thick cover for about a month. The mother visits a few times a day for suckling. The calf finds itself a new place to hide after each visit. Calves are weaned at six to eight months.
A territorial male Waterbuck advertises his status by standing proud with his head high and showing the white band on his throat and face. If he stands broadside he shows off his size and the thickness of his neck. Lowering his horns and shaking his head is signs of a stronger threat. A territorial bull also displays his status by horning grass and bushes. Serious fighting is fierce and deaths from horn wounds are commonly fatal. Combat involves pushing with locked horns and attempts to gore the opponent in the flank. A bachelor male may be tolerated as he moves through a territory if he behaves submissively by holding his head low. Within the bachelor groups there are dominance hierarchies that are established by pushing contests. Older, larger animals tend to be higher in rank.
Waterbuck lack both speed and endurance so they depend a lot on cover as a refuge from predators. Waterbuck will readily take to water to avoid predators. There is a belief that the meat of older waterbuck takes on an unpleasant odour from the secretions of its sweat glands. This leads to the belief that predators tend to avoid them as prey.
What Waterbucks do with their tails is a good indicator of what mood they are in. Their behinds also help members of their group to follow each other and stay together. The white target ring on the animal’s rump help the herd keep together when it flees predators through dense bush.
On the edge of the Conservancy we come across the most beautiful utopia. The plain is flat and vibrantly green and the grass moist and luscious from the rain last night. Ostrich, Zebra, Wildebeest, Topi, Thompson Gazelle, Pumba and Buffalo graze on the long grasses in perfect harmony. Under a large Ballanite tree two Male Zebras have their heads over each other’s back strengthening their love bond, but also interestingly they both start showing their penises. They are homosexual or simply being competitive?
We stop here for a long leisurely lunch as it is early afternoon and the sun is hot. As we sit and relax we enjoy nature and the peace it affords. The Zebra and Wildebeest graze so close to us as we are relaxed and none threatening. It is such an amazing privilege to be at one with nature, feeling so connected and at peace.
After lunch we drive across the plains and see an old lone Male Buffalo, he seems quite content and relaxed. They move away from the herd when it is their time to die. You often see a few together in solidarity. These males tend to be very unpredictable and dangerous.
A small group of Hartebeest with their stunning heart shaped horns stop and watch as we drive past.
A male and three female Elans are walking together. The male clearly wants to mate. He has one straight horn and one very twisted horn probably from birth. The large hanging skin under his neck is called a dwelop, it is very fatty.
We find the Buffalo kill from this morning it is completely picked clean, there are only bones left. After the Lions had their fill, Jackals and Hyenas scavenged the rest of the meaty flesh. Once sated the Vultures fly in to pick at the bones, nothing is wasted.
The Lemek pride of Lions are full and laying in the grass. They lay on their backs with their legs apart cooling themselves in the early evening breeze. Occasionally they roll over and legs tangle with other legs. A mother gets up, stretches and walks over to a cub and lies on top of it, it quickly moves not to get squashed.
Not far away another stunning Lioness is lounging on the branches of a small Ballanite tree. The branch looks too small to hold her. She is scanning the plains for an opportunity to hunt. She has one leg dangling artfully down. She is a beautiful Lioness and she looks directly at us. After a while she yawns and stands us showing us her impressive muscular frame and then inelegantly jumps down from the tree to stalk through the grass to find prey to hunt.
A Vulture sits high in an architectural twisted gnarly Ballanite tree. The sky behind is a breath taking stormy grey blue with stripes of clouds. It is an incredible colour that is moody and energetic.
Back to the utopia plains we find a handsome lithe adolescent male Cheetah sitting in the long grass. He is assessing the prey around him but now it is sunset it is unlikely he will hunt as Lions are now active and may take his kill. The Cheetah is around 2-3 years old.
The sunset is stunning the reds, yellows, golds and oranges fire through the moody stone grey blue sky, the cloud formation is powerful and bold. It almost does not look real but instead painted by impressionist artist. I am overwhelmed by the power, energy and magnitude. You can feel the magnetic energy in the atmosphere and it makes you feel alive.
At camp we are greeted by the wonderful staff and a gorgeous camp fire, crackling and hot. We sit around it drinking wine and feeling warm against the cool night air.
Dinner is as always in Kenya very flavoursome and delicious and of course plentiful. We enjoy listening to the sounds of the night as we eat. Close by Lions roar on the plains, they are active now and ready to hunt.
I sleep well as the rain has come in and gently drums on the roof of the tent. It is a soothing lullaby.
This is my Africa – One heart, One love, One soul.
Day 2 –
I wake to the gentle sound of rain on the roof, it is so soothing. The room steward brings the morning coffee; it is so aromatic and delicious. I then dress in my beautiful Maasai clothes and feel ready to accept what nature will bring me today.
The morning is very cold and it is raining, the sun rises behind moody clouds but it is still so beautiful. The rain water on the long grasses shine like diamonds as it sways in the breeze. In some places the grass is so green and vibrant. It is topped with purply blue seed pods, it is breathtakingly beautiful. It is like driving through a sea as some reach the top of our doors.
The air is crisp and cold but so heady with the scent of wild herbs, croton bushes and plants. The rainy season is almost at an end so May is the perfect time to enjoy seeing the plains so green and luscious with wild flowers bursting through the grasses. It is such a contrast from the dry migration season. I love this season it is so vibrant and alive with new growth.
The prey including Wildebeest, Zebra, Hartebeest, Thompson Gazelle, Buffalo, Elan and Waterbuck look so happy and healthy grazing on this very nutritious new grass. They herds number in the hundreds, it is wonderful seeing this stunning utopia. All this is surrounded by vast luscious escarpment, abundantly covered in bushes.
Of course in turn the predators have an abundance of prey to eat so the prides of Lions, Cheetahs and Leopards are healthy and thriving. The rains have been so good this year and the migration will take place soon. The Wildebeest will migrate from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara.
We drive through vast herds watching them stretch, run and graze after a cold rainy night. The sun begins to break through the clouds and warm the plains. The feel of the heat on my skin makes me feel alive and so happy. The reason I always go out for full days it because I can fully immerse myself in nature.
We see two of the Lionesses walking through the plains they clearly want to hunt; they are so muscular, strong and dominant. Their powerful shoulders undulating as they walk confidently, they are true alpha females. They stride with purpose to find the best prey to hunt; they have many cubs to feed.
By the bushes we find one of the two alpha males in the pride. He is sat up and even though he is only around six years old he has a very large dark mane and dark fur which makes him look older. He is so majestic, regal, strong and powerful. I am in awe just being in his presence. He is very wet from the rain and his mane is flattened on top. He sits so peacefully confident that is his king of this domain. He gently licks the rain water from his large paws; he is just a big pussy cat. Then to my absolute delight he shakes his large powerful head vigorously, the water sprays in every direction like a cascading water fall. His mane immediately becomes full and proud once more.
The Lion who I cannot help but name Mufasor because of his impressive size, colouring and stature, now stands affording us a privileged view of his mighty muscular frame and size. He starts walking across the plains to find the females. He walks with strength, confidence and purpose as he is hoping the females will hunt for him. He the protector of the pride but the females are the main providers.
Lions are the biggest of the African carnivores. A Lion is tawny to sandy brown in colour its long tail has a distinctive black tuft at the tip. The adult males have manes which vary in colour from tawny to black. The head is large with a heavy muzzle. The pattern of spots at the roots of the whiskers is unique to each individual lion. The male stands up to 1.2 metres and up to 190 kg. The hunting techniques of Lions are more successful in long grass and thick bush. They will try to stalk the prey to within 20 meters using the cover they have available. Lion prides with a rich, reliable food supply can afford to be territorial. When food supply is unpredictable the prides have huge home ranges that are too large to defend. In these cases encounters between lions from different prides are very hostile, but actual fighting is rare. Both lions and lionesses signal their occupation of an area by scent marking with urine and by roaring. Roars can carry for a good 8 km and advertises a lion’s location. It also shows that an area is occupied and allows pride members to keep track of one another. Lions can run at about 60 kilometres per hour, which is too slow to catch antelope in an open chase. Lion attacks are more successful in long grass and thick bush, when the target is alone and when they are able to stalk close, and on very dark nights. Chases longer than 300 meters are rare. Lion usually kills by a strangling throat hold or by clamping its mouth over the muzzle of the prey.
The basic unit of Lions social life is a pride. The classic lion pride consists of 2 to 12 closely related females and their cubs. Lions are the only cats which have close-knit social groups and the only ones that regularly hunt in groups. Usually 1 to 6 adult male lions that are often closely related to each other attend to the females. The lionesses form the stable core of the pride while the males are exchanged every few years. The reason why lions are so sociable range from females bonding together to protect young cubs to ensuring adequate numbers when capturing large and potentially dangerous prey. If a small group of male Lions stay together they are able to drive out the resident males of a pride and will so take over the females. These displaced male lions are not likely to live long since they no longer have the luxury of females available to hunt for them. After a takeover the new males will also kill any lion cubs in the pride.
A Lion and Lioness seen away from the pride are probably mating, which guarantees constant action. A Lioness becomes sexually receptive for two to four days about once every two years. The pride males detect her condition by scent. Lions may mate hundreds of times during the three to four day oestrous of the female. Mating occurs about four times an hour over a period of one to two days and lasts for less than a minute each time. This prodigious frequency probably stems from the high failure rate of matings. Only, about one in three copulations results in cubs. By being difficult to inseminate, females are probably ensuring that they conceive to a healthy male. Male Lions play a critical role in protecting cubs from intruding males. For the Lioness it provides a level of assurance in that the more persistent the male lion is the greater likelihood that the male will stick around until the cubs are grown. Male lions within a pride do not compete for matings. The female may turn her attentions to one of the other pride males as each loses interest in her. This abundance of sexual opportunities keeps male rivalry at low levels within a pride. Savage and sometimes fatal fights can however occur if an intruding male is encountered. After mating you may see both male and female roll on the ground, groom or rub against each other.
The Lion hunting style is classic with a stalk to within 20 meters and a chase that is usually not longer than 200 meters. They prey is pulled down and usually killed with a suffocating bite of the throat. They often hunt in groups. This will depend on the difficulty of the hunt. If it is a large difficult prey they will need to cooperate to bring it down. Cooperative hunting increases their success rate.
A lone Lioness will be successful in the hunt 28% of the time whereby seven Lionesses will be successful 75% of the time. They are extremely aggressive while feeding snarling, pawing and snapping at one another. The pride males dominate the females, and may drive them off the kill. In many prides male Lions do not hunt. The reason for this is that their manes and large size make them more conspicuous and less successful in the hunts than lionesses. The result is that these males live mainly off the efforts of their females. They use their dominant status to take food from the females. This does not however mean that male lions lack in hunting skills. Males have to fend for themselves both before they take over a pride and after they have been displaced from one. Young males may form small bachelor groups that hunt together. Lone males are restricted to smaller, easier prey such as warthogs and porcupines and the young of other species. When you see old, solitary males that are peppered with black spots it is most probably scars from porcupine quills.
We find a lovely Ballanite tree to have breakfast under as the sun is now growing warm and enjoy a delicious breakfast whilst watching the prey graze around us.
A herd of Hartebeest stop and watch as we drive by, their eyes alert and curious. Large herds of Buffalo silently graze on the rich grasses and protect their very young calves. The calves are frisky and like to jump and run, they are adorable to watch.
The Lemek Conservancy really is a Bishaka which means something guaranteed, because it is so rich in beautiful prey. The herds here are thriving and healthy giving the predators much to hunt.
I enjoy just driving past each herd and studying their unique characteristics and watching them interact as a herd. I also love the rich plants and trees, most have also a unique purpose, the Maasai use so many in everyday life from medicines to household items.
The late morning grows so hot so we stop under another Ballanite tree surrounded by prey. They are content as we get out they are not concerned with our presence as we get out and eat our delicious lunch. Pumba walk near us and the males are snorting trying to attract the females to mate. As soon as they see us they run off, they are quite nervous animals; then again they are one of the top kills for the cats.
We drive through long grasses swaying gently in the breeze, the vibrant green grass is topped with red oat seeds that glow red and gold in the sunlight, it is quite stunningly beautiful.
Pumba graze on the juicy grasses their front two legs kneeling so they can reach the shorter grasses. They are ever alert for prey. Zebra and Wildebeest also graze around them. We have seen on several occasions a lone Wildebeest grazing amongst a herd of Zebra or Impala, I assume for safety in numbers.
Three elderly Buffalo graze together. They have moved from the rest of the herd as they are now old and ready to die. They stay together for protection.
As we pass Giraffe they stop grazing and watch us with curiosity. They are silent gentle giants. They are so peaceful as they use their long necks to reach the high leaves on the trees.
This Conservancy is quite the utopia of prey.
We late lunch under the shade of the Ballanite and just connect with nature. It is important to lose yourself in a moment, close your eyes, feel, smell, touch and taste nature all around you. Going out on safari for full days means you can be at one with yourself and nature.
The Lemek Lionesses are one again active even though it is early afternoon. To my delight two have climbed a Ballanite tree and are languishing over the narrow branches. They are scanning the plains for prey to hunt. The grass is long so they need the advantage of height to scan further. They are beautiful strong muscular females so the narrow gnarly branches can barely hold their weight.
It is a well-known fact that all cats whether wild or domestic love to climb trees. However apart from Leopards they are not good at climbing back down! This seems to be particularly true for these Lionesses! One decides to climb down, first she tests some narrow branches gingerly but these break and she very nervously steps back. She then tests another and it holds her weight. However the next branch snaps and she almost falls, she clutches on with her front two legs whilst her back legs swing wildly. She manages to pull herself up and finds a stronger branch to hold her weight. She navigates the rest of the branches and then using her powerful shoulders and sharp claws jumps down forward down the trunk of the tree. When she lands gracefully for a large cat she looks relieved to have made it down safely. This was such a wonderful scene.
Of course this was act one, the second female also needs to get down. She is even higher up in the tree but she assesses the branches before she starts her descent. She carefully traverses the branches testing each one before she puts her full weight on them. A few snap and she steps back but she successfully gets to the lower trunk without too much drama. You can see the concentration and nervousness on her face whilst she was climbing down. She can now grip the bark of the trunk with her sharp claws and climb down forward the trunk of the tree. She lands with a thud and joins her sister.
The other female and seven cubs are lying in the grass basking in the late afternoon sun. The sun reflects off their golden fur, they look so content and happy limbs tangled together as they sleep. Some are lying on their backs legs apart cooling their bodies. Two cubs lay face to face their limbs entwined in a cradle of grass; they look like babes in a wood. Their faces are angelic and peaceful. They will rest until the sun sets and then they will prepare to hunt.
The sky is cloudy and dark stormy grey/blue, such an incredible colour. This makes for a stunning sun set as the vibrant fire ball flashes red yellow purple and orange light through the intriguing cloud formations, it is quite staggering to behold. It is nature’s perfect canvas as she paints with wild abandonment. A large herd of Buffalo are perfectly silhouetted under architectural Ballanite trees on the horizon.
Back at camp we sit by the camp fire watching the crackling flames leap with sparks flying. We feel the warmth on our bodies as we sip red wine and reflect on the wonders that nature provided us with today. We gaze up at the night sky so blue black and perfectly lit with a thousand stars. It reminds me of the phrase; look up at the sky not down at your feet.
Dinner is as always delicious and plentiful, I love African food. We sit and talk about Maasai culture, it is important to learn about the tribes who live with nature every day.
I sleep peacefully listening to the sounds of the wild all around me.
This is my Africa – Mother Nature’s perfect gift.
Day 3 –
I wake to the sound of the room attendant giving me a wakeup call with coffee. I feel so relaxed and happy. I sit in bed drinking the aromatic coffee anticipating the day ahead. Nature really gives here. I dress once again in my beautiful Maasai dress and jewellery and feel part of this wonderful culture. My heart is full of love, what will nature provide me with today?
There is nothing more beautiful than an African sunrise, feel the heat on your face and pray to God for the gift of a new day. Feel the cool air on your skin and thank God for life. For life is a gift, see the beauty in every moment. The sun rises a perfect fireball casting red, orange, yellow and golden light over the plains.
As we drive out of camp a sea of golden grass stretches out before us. The long vibrant green grasses topped with red oats sway in the breeze. It is a breath taking sight, very ethereal and magical. The colours are just so stunning I am mesmerised by the beauty of the dawn morning.
We are driving down to the main reserve today, the prey on the plains stretch in the golden morning light and graze on the moist dewy grasses. They have survived the night where predators are at their most active.
The long grasses and shrubs brush our vehicle and I can smell the heady scent of the herbs. In the distance we see a large herd of Elephants walking over the plains l. Elephants are very social animals, the basic stable social unit among Elephants is a group of closely related adult females with their young of various ages as I can see by this herd. The movements of a family group are directed by the oldest and biggest cow (often referred to as the matriarch). This would typically be a female that have accumulated her necessary experience over 30 to 40 years. This female will make most of the decisions about where and when the herd forages, drinks and rests.
Male Elephants sometimes form small unstable bachelor groups. Two or three younger apprentices known as Askari may accompany an old male. Family groups and males may gather into herds several hundred strong. If their usual food and water supplies dwindle elephants will move long distances to reach more favourable conditions. The members of an Elephant family group take good care of one another. If one of them is sick or injured others will stay with it to defend it. The calves get especially close attention. The adults help them climb steep banks and will protect them from predators.
The Elephants trunk is essentially a modified nose made of muscle. The elephant trunk has evolved over time and can be used for various functions. This trunk alone contains thousands of different muscles. With this tool an elephant can do a variety things from picking up a small maroela fruit or berries to picking up a massive tree trunk. When you look closely at the trunk you will notice hairs on it which makes it sensitive to touch. The trunk is important for social interactions among the herd individuals and used for caressing especially between mother and calf. Other social interactions may include greeting and demonstrations of dominance or submission via various trunk postures.
Tusks are mainly used to dig for specific food items like tree roots and also for defence. In encounters during fights for dominance they can use tusks to stab opponents. Elephant tusks never stop growing. Older elephants will therefore have the biggest tusks which makes them the priority targets of ivory to poachers. The African elephants have extremely large ears that can be likened to the shape of the Africa. Elephants that swing their tales from side to side are trying to keep the flies off their body and this usually means it is happy and relaxed.
Elephants breed throughout the year. Males younger than 25 years old are unable to compete for access to females on heat. From the age of 25 bulls periodically goes into musth as their testosterone levels rise up to six times the usual level. At this time they walk with their head high and they become very aggressive towards other males, which avoid them. Musth bulls will fight to the death over access to female
Younger members of the herd act as nannies to calves but all family members take full responsibility for the protection of the calves. Between 25 and 35 years they mate, in the female oestrus period when conception is unlikely. Males older than 35 years guard and mate with female’s at the most favourable time for fathering a calf.
Mating takes place at about 8 hour intervals. Elephants have a longer pregnancy than any other mammal almost 22 months. Cows usually give birth to one calf every two to four years.
At birth, an elephant calf already weighs some 200 pounds (91 kilograms) and stand about 3 feet (1 meter) tall. They can stand and walk within an hour of birth. The calf begins to nurse within a few minutes, using its mouth, not its trunk. An elephant calf is suckled for at least two years and even after weaning it remains closely bonded to its mother. When a calf attempts to suck from lactating females other than its mother it will be repelled usually with a vigorous slap from the cow trunk. If a calf loses its mother the other females in the group will take care of it.
Young elephants play by splashing and spraying each other with water and mud.
They also wrestle with their trunks and practice fighting in pushing competitions.
They also mock-charge other species such as antelope. It is so enjoyable watching the interactions of the mothers with their calves and calves playing together.
As we drive through the Conservancy I am once again awestruck by the rich utopia of game here. The long rains mean the grasses and shrubs have grown in abundance and the game have plenty to feed on. They are plump and healthy and challenging predators to hunt as they are fit to run fast.
We see a very large herd of Buffalo grazing on the moist dewy grasses. Adult males are black or charcoal grey while the females have slight tinge colour. The hair is short and course. They have large heads and thick necks on their massive bodies with short limbs. The horns grow from the thick bosses on the forehead. An adult can stand around 3 metres in height and weigh up to 625 kg. Buffaloes prefer open and wooded savanna with suitable grass cover. They seek out good grazing in the early morning and late afternoon hours. They need water every day. Buffalo are predominantly grazers but they will browse shrubs and forbs if grass is unavailable.
They prefer leaves to stems because the leaves are more nutritious.
Buffalo bulls detect when a cow is on heat by regular sniffing of her genitals and urine. During the three days that she is on heat a female is gets the attention of bulls that court her by laying their chins on her rump. It takes a buffalo bull at least eight years to fight his way high enough up the dominance hierarchy to secure opportunities to mate. Old males beat off other males by virtue of their greater size and long combat experience.
A female buffalo remains with the herd when she gives birth. The calves are not very fast runners and they sometimes get left behind with their mothers if the herd bolts.
The calf suckles for about 15 months. Social ties remain strong between female calves and their mothers. Male calves disperse into the main herd.
Buffalo herds have home ranges that do not overlap with those of neighbouring herds but are seldom defended as territories. The home ranges of old bulls maybe as little as three to four square kilometres. Herds use known routes. Herds are led between their water and grazing areas by bulls or cows in the upper half of the dominance hierarchy. The pecking order is established when the bulls start with a number of ritualized threats. You can observe the intention to confront is signalled by a head high pose with its nose pointing downwards and its shoulders hunched. If the bull wants to emphasize its size it may stand sideways to its opponent. A submissive buffalo will hold its head low and horizontal so that its horns are back. If the two animals are very close together the submissive bull will put its nose under the belly of its superior. More intense threat displays involve head-tossing, short chases, horn hooking and soil gouging.
The reason early trophy hunters included the African buffalo, as one of the big five is that they were considered to be one of the most dangerous species to hunt. When hunted by humans, buffalo have a reputation for circling back on their pursuers and counter attacking. I have also observed this when Buffalos fight with Lions.
The danger lies with older males who usually live away from the herd. Their “attack is the best defence” strategy can make them very dangerous. Old buffalo males tend to wander solitary or to form small groups of up to about half a dozen and are probably more easily provoked into an attack. The reason for this relates to the fact that they lack the safety in numbers of the bigger herds. Buffalo in herds are placid, although some of the old bulls in the herds tend to be easily angered and prone to charge when disturbed. Large herds are usually very relaxed and unlikely to attack. Occasionally a full-scale fight is necessary. At this time the combatants will charge each other with their heads up and at the last moment lower their heads for a bone-crunching crash. The weaker bull will be pushed sideways and immediately breaks and runs to avoid a horn in the flank.
Lions are their most important predators but spotted hyenas also take them as food.
Lions will wait near water that buffalo must have every day. Female lions do most of the hunting, will decide on an attack tactic depending on the number, size and strength of the buffalo herd they plan to attack. They will sometimes wait near the water for buffalo to approach. The lions will try to break the buffalo’s neck. Obviously the animals on the fringe of a herd are more vigilant than those in the middle. When panicked a whole herd will stampede, to the peril of any predator in its path. A herd is very protective of its members. Distress bleats of calves will bring the entire herd to the rescue. Lions have been observed being chased up trees by buffaloes; I have certainly seen this many times myself.
We carry on down to the reserve observing the herds of Wildebeest, Impala, Zebra and Hartebeest grazing.
The reserve is just so beautiful the grasses are as high as the tops of our vehicle doors. They sway like a soft sea of green, yellows and purples in the gentle breeze. It is the first time I have seen it so high and so green. I am mesmerised by the beauty of the landscape, it looks so fertile, rich and vibrant. The hills and escarpment are covered in dense green bushes. We drive slowly through as the ground is so marshy and wet from all the rains.
We find Lipstick one of the dominant males; he is the brother of Blackie. I have been studying this gorgeous dominant male for many years he has been a successful male of many prides. He is now getting old, around fourteen years old. He still looks regal, majestic and powerful. As we approach he seems usually agitated and aggressive, quite out of character. He sits with him for a while and he seems to calm and I drink in his splendid beauty. After a while he gets up and walks away, we follow at a respectful distance and observe his purposeful strong walk, he seems in good health with no injuries. He disappears into a bush to shelter from the day’s heat.
Footnote: I am sad to report either later that day or the day after Lipsticks died from old age quite peacefully which was the fitting end for such a majestic, dominant King. He will be so sadly missed. This is the circle of life but his sons with their own prides now will carry on his legacy.
We breakfast down by the Mara River; it has been over fifty years since Kenya has experienced such heavy rains. It has been raining for over two months and the lands are marshy and the river banks bursting. As we stand on the edge of the Mara River I feel the power of the strong currents and cascading water as it crashes over rocks. It is dangerous and powerful and has a forceful life of its own. I enjoy feeling the energy; I will probably never see it so alive again. The Hippos and crocodiles living in the water must be challenged by their new environment. This is nature at its rawest, powerful and dangerous but beautiful and mesmerising. We have fun singing and dancing next to this great force of nature.
It is hard to spot animals in the long grasses and the driving is challenging as the ground is so marshy. It is just so beautiful though. It is not surprising our vehicle gets stuck and because this is low season it takes ten hours to get rescued. As night falls over the Mara reserve Elephants graze around us and Lions roar. It is challenging but eventually we get back at 1am.
This is my Africa – a wild raw majestic beauty.
Day 4 –
After our late night we get up later and eat breakfast outside in our camp. The camp is on the Conservancy so we enjoy wonderful views across the plains.
We drive out into the Conservancy and enjoy the beautiful utopia. Maasai villages border this area and they graze their cattle on the edge, it is lovely seeing the unity of man and wild animal living side by side. It is not an easy relationship as there is no border between their territories. There is more of a mutual understanding and tolerance but the fragile balance seems to work.
A large herd of Elephants graze on the edge of a hill where new bushes grow. The Elephants use their feet to kick up the roots then their sensitive trunks to pull up the plants and deliver them into their large mouths. Elephants need to graze on a large quantity of food each day as they are not ruminants and have poor digestive systems; they retain little of the nutrients the plant provides. This means their droppings are a good source of food for many other animals as it contains much of those plant nutrients.
A male Elephant with very large tusks almost reaching the ground gracefully walks past us. He has been coloured as he is at risk from poachers. It is so sad but so necessary as he needs protecting. He is so strikingly handsome and also entertaining. Whilst he kicks up roots with his large flat feet he curls his mighty trunk over his large tusks. It is incredibly beautiful and I love observing his behaviour he is an interesting Elephant. When not threatened or protecting their young Elephants are such gentle giants.
The Lemek Conservancy is home to large herds of Zebra. Zebra prefer open woodland, scrub and grassland and tend to avoid dense vegetation where they can be ambushed by predators. They are very dependent on water and you will seldom see them more than 12 km from it. Zebra have a society that is based on small family groups of harems and bachelor herds. Stallions will fight viciously for control of the females. A dominant stallion controls a herd of up to 6 mares and their foals. The stallions active shepherding of unattached females forms these herds. The stallion heads the hierarchy, herding his harem with head held low and his ears laid back.
Zebras bond by mutual grooming of the head, neck and shoulders by gently nibbling one another. When herd stallions meet they approach to within a few meters of each other they will stand with their heads up and then slowly approach with their heads down and ears cocked. As they meet they will sniff nose-to-nose, rub their cheeks together, sniff each other’s genitals and rub their heads on the partner’s rump.
Male Zebras that do not hold breeding herds join up into bachelor herds. Bachelor males either live alone or with groups of other bachelors until they are old enough to challenge a breeding stallion. Young stallions can take over an established herd by defeating its controlling male. This however will require him to enter into a violent contest of kicking and biting. Stallions are unable to breed until they have gained control of a herd.
There is a strict pecking order among the herd’s mares. This is established by fighting and maintained by threat gestures. The privileges of a being a high-ranking mare is that they get priority of access to dust baths, shade and other limited resources. The most common threat is a quick approach with the head held low, the ears laid back, the teeth bared and the tail lashing.
Zebras have hooves that feature an odd number of toes. Like most ungulates the eyes sits on the sides of its head. This gives them a wide field of view to be on their guard against predators. Ungulate refers to any mammal with hooves. A hoof is an enlarged toenail. These hoofed animals walk on tiptoe.
Lion and spotted hyenas are their most significant predators of Zebra, if attacked the herd will bunch flee together. In groups each individual has a smaller chance of falling prey. The stripe camouflage may also assist during the defence by confusing the predators and causing them to hesitate. The mare with the youngest foal being most likely runs first with the foals running alongside their mothers.
Zebra looking in opposite directions have evolved as a safety mechanism. The main herd stallion may on occasion ward off the attackers with a defensive rear-guard position. From this position it will kick and bite any predator that comes within range.
Zebras are unselective grazers; this is because their efficient digestive system allows them to live on diets of lower nutritional quality. They feed mainly on green grasses but will also eat shrubs, herbs leaves and tree bark. When they feed you will notice that while some animals have their heads down grazing others will be standing up and looking around for predators.
A herd stallion Zebra checks the reproductive condition of his mares by sniffing of their urine. The mares urinate more frequently as they come into heat and the male marks where they urinate. This is probably done as a deterrent to competing suitors.
When a mare is on heat the mare presents to the stallion by standing with her hind legs splayed and her tail lifted to one side. Mating takes only a few seconds and is repeated hourly for two days. A mare with a new-born foal is very aggressive towards her herd companions. A foal is able to run beside its mother within an hour of birth.
A mare is extremely possessive and protective towards her own offspring and will spend a lot of time sniffing and licking it. Each mare recognizes her own foal by smell for the first few days, and then by sight by its stripe pattern. Foals eat grass after only three days but it is 11 months before they are weaned. Until they are about three and a half months old foals eat portions of the adults dung to pick up the bacteria they need to digest their food.
We lunch under the shade of a Ballanite tree as the sun is hot in the sky. We sit and observe these wonderful animals appreciating their interesting herd structure and unique qualities. It is so peaceful and calm just being at one with nature.
A tower of Giraffes grazes on the high branches of the trees. Giraffe’s extreme height allows them to eat leaves and shoots located much higher than other animals can reach. In particular, they seek out acacia trees. Their long tongues are helpful in eating because they help pull leaves from the trees. Spending most of the day eating, a full-grown giraffe consumes over 45 kg (100 lb.) of leaves and twigs a day.
I love the natural beauty of this Conservancy, all the Conservancies around the Mara are very unique and breathe taking. Here it is flat and luscious surrounded by beautiful hills and villages. The preys love the wide open plains on which to graze.
As the sun sets the Lemek pride of Lions with their young cubs emerge from the bushes. They are rested and now very playful. The cubs pounce on each other practicing their hunting skills by pulling down each other and biting each other’s necks. The Lionesses join in with the fun allowing the cubs to pounce on them and play fight with them. The glow of the sun lights up the golden fur of the Lions showing their beauty and majesty. I sit for several hours watching them until the sun sets in an artful vibrant splash of reds, oranges and purples against the dark blue sky. I feel so at peace when I watch Lions.
At camp we sit around the camp fire, the heat warming our faces and bodies as the air grows cool. The African sky is a deep blue black blanket lit with a million bright stars. The moon is full and shines bright above us the occasional cloud moving across it making it look eerily beautiful. I love the peace of the evening, it is the time to reflect on the day and all nature has given us I feel so grateful and privileged. Dinner is as always delicious and plentiful. I fall asleep so peacefully to the sound of the wild.
This is my Africa – a rich bio diversity
Day 5 –
The dawns break bright and clear over the beautiful plains outside of my tent. As I sit drinking coffee I think of all nature has given me this last week. We are heading out into the Lemek Conservancy again today which is a utopia of wild animals. I know nature will be good to us again today.
We breakfast in camp this morning looking across the wide open plains, the camp is beautifully open to the wild, there are no barriers. It is so peaceful and tranquil.
As we drive out into the sun rise and we see the vibrant colours of the sun splashing reds, yellows and oranges across the sky, casting shadows over the plains I think of the saying “face the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”. Here in mother’s nature’s perfect gift to us we can forget our past, our problems and worries and be in the here and now and reconnect with ourselves and nature.
The early dawn light casts a red and gold glow over the dewy vibrant green grasses. The grass shimmers and sparkles like diamonds. Wildebeest, Impala, Zebra and Topi stretch in the early morning cool air.
We find one of the Lemek pride Lionesses in the bushes with two young cubs of around three months old. As it is still cool and early they are playful and active. The Lioness seems tired; she was probably hunting most of the night. The cubs gently play together using their paws to bat each other or jump on top of each other play fighting. One finds of stick and plays with it, chewing the end. They are so young and they are still just suckling.
We drive through large herds of Buffalo; they have some very young calves which they keep close to them. As we stop they stare at us ensuring we are not a threat to their young. They have such angry faces it is quite amusing to study them. Others just sit and relax on the luscious grass ruminating.
A lone Wildebeest is grazing with a herd of Impala, it is always so interesting to watch them, and the prey is so at peace together. Another lone Wildebeest stands amidst a herd of Zebra; it seems quite content in their company. Under the shade of a Ballanite tree Zebra stand with their heads over each other’s backs bonding and protecting each other.
Topi and Hartebeest graze on the moist grass, when they stand together you can see how similar they look. Of course their horns are very different shapes.
A Lioness stalks through the long grasses she clearly wants to hunt as she has cubs. The herds of Zebra, Wildebeest and Topi start snorting a warning call as the predator approaches. They are wary and watch her every move. She is walking confidently, her powerful shoulders undulating as she navigates the uneven plains. She is very visible so she chooses to sit in long cool grasses as the sun is becoming hot and warm in the sky. Very nearby a Maasai herds his cattle but he is unconcerned by her presence, man and wild animals must coexist out here.
Sitting majestically like a king in waiting a young Lion of around three years old languishes by some bushes. His fur is blonde and beautiful and his face as yet unscarred from battle or mating. His mane is beginning to grow but it is still light in colour. He gets up and strides across the plains over to a Ballanite tree. The tall grasses sway around him. He climbs a small Ballanite and positions himself on the narrow branches and scans the plain for potential hunting as he is a lone male and will have to hunt for himself. He decides the morning is growing warm so dangles one leg down and rests his large muscular head on his mighty paws and sleeps.
We stop for lunch on the banks of the Mara River, Hippo noisily honk in the deep waters. The river is fast flowing and rye rapids impressive as they crash over rocks. We feel the heat on our faces and enjoy the gentle fresh breeze. It makes you feel so alive, so relaxed and so connected with nature.
After lunch we look for the rest of the pride, we find them disappearing for shade and to get away from flies under the camouflage of the croton bushes. The croton leaves are natural insect repellents. The cubs have full round bellies and look content, for in the early hours of the morning I heard their call to each other after a kill. The Lions and Lionesses are already deep inside the undergrowth but the older cubs of around six months old walk around looking for the most comfortable place to sleep for the day.
A male Waterbuck strolls into view he has impressive horns and a very strong stature. He has a graceful stature. He looks at us but carries on strolling across the plains.
A tower of around eight Giraffe graze on the high branches of trees, they use their very long tongues to pull down large fronds that no other animals can reach. They are so polite and peaceful.
It is so stunningly beautiful here; the plains are so luscious and green right now after the rains. I love driving through the sea of long vibrant green grasses topped with red oat seeds. The animals are all so well fed as they have abundant food.
We approach a large Ballanite tree and see Vultures have built a nest right on the top branches. Two Vultures sit on top guarding their nest. The reputation is that Vultures are bald, ugly, squabbling and filthy scavengers. They have no sense of smell. The reality is not all vultures are bald. Some are even beautiful, especially in flight. Irrespective of appearance, they play a hugely important role as biological waste controllers.
Two Martial Eagles sit in the shade on the branches of an Acacia tree; they are impressively large birds of prey with distinctive yellow eyes. The martial eagle is a large eagle native to Kenya. It is the only of the genus Polemaetus. A species of the booted eagle sub-family (Aquillinae), it has feathering over its tarsus. One of the largest and most powerful species of booted eagle, it is a fairly opportunistic predator that varies it prey selection between mammals, birds and reptiles. Its hunting technique is unique as it is one of few eagle species known to hunt primarily from a high soar, by stooping on its quarry. An inhabitant of wooded belts of otherwise open savanna, this species has shown a precipitous decline in the last few centuries due to a variety of factors. The martial eagle is one of the most persecuted bird species in the world. Due to its habit of taking livestock and regionally valuable game, local farmers and game wardens frequently seek to eliminate martial eagles, although the effect of eagles on this prey is almost certainly considerably exaggerated. Currently, the martial eagle is classified with the status of Vulnerable to extinction. This would be very tragic as my encounters with them have been seeing them with a kill such as a large Monitor lizard or baby Impala. They are such effective hunters and it is so impressive to see these kills clutched in their large talons.
To my delight we come across two adolescent male Lions of around 2-3 years old. They are clearly brothers as they are almost identical with their light golden colouring, faint rosettes still visible on their stomachs and small blonde manes not yet fully grown, they are such handsome princes. One of the boys has climbed a small Ballanite tree to view the Savannah whilst the other lies at the bottom. It is amusing to see the Lion shifting his weight on the small branches that can barely contain him. His brother keeps looking up at him clearly waiting for him to come down.
After a while the young Lion has finished viewing and wants to descend the tree. He looks around him and you can see the nervousness on his face for Lions like all cats are adept at climbing but are not so good at descending except Leopards. He assesses his route down and decides rather unusually forwards is too risky as the branches are thin and weak so he starts to descend backwards so he can keep a firm grip on the branches. His brother looks up in clear bemusement from the ground watching his brothers awkward descend. The Lion up the tree rather gingerly descends backwards clearly uncomfortably. As he shimmies down the trunk of the tree he miscalculates the last drop and lands awkwardly on his bottom on the ground! He gathers himself and walks over to his brother. They great affectionately by rubbing heads, they always seem so happy to be reunited.
I love how affectionate male Lions are with each other, we sit and watch them grooming each other and bonding. Their deep love and bond is so apparent, they will most likely stay together for life forming a coalition and having their own pride. Male Lions spend more time together than they will with the females.
We find the two Lionesses with the seven cubs at sunset, they have just emerged from the bushes and the females are playing with their cubs. Play is so important it not only teaches the cubs how to stalk, pounce and kill but it is also important bonding time with their mothers and siblings. The warm red golden glow of the sun lights up their stunning fur. I sit for over an hour feeling the heat of the setting sun on my face and watching the playful antics of the gorgeous cubs.
At camp we enjoy the heat of the fire as we relax after our interesting day. I love discussing what we have seen and enjoyed. It is utterly blissful looking up at the night sky and watching the constellations become visible. At dinner we discuss more about Maasai culture and peoples place in the animal kingdom. Again I sleep so peacefully to the sound of the wild.
This is my Africa – nurturing, bonding and loving.
Day 6 –
I awaken to the sound of the dawn chorus, birds sing in the trees around my tent. It is such a sweet song to awaken too and reminds me of the purity and peacefulness of this land and how blessed I am to be here. It is our last morning in the Lemek Conservancy so as I drink my delicious coffee I reflect on the beauty of nature I have seen and experienced here.
We drive out at sunrise, the prey are beautifully silhouetted against the rising sun. The sound of Baboons barking at each other compete with shrill of the birds overhead and Zebra and Wildebeest braying. The air is cool and still, I breathe in the dewy freshness tinged with the scents of wild herbs and plants.
Laying in the golden long grasses topped with morning dew that shine like diamonds a Lion and Lioness sit together, they are clearly a mating pair. They look content as their bellies are full. They would have only just started their five day mating ritual as they will not eat whilst they mate. It is difficult and painful for the Lioness to be impregnated so they will mate every fifteen minutes the first few days then every hour or so until the female feels they have been successful. She decides when they mate and after a while she stands rubs her head with the Lions and crouches in front of him indicating he should mount her. He reluctantly stands stretches and sniffs her detecting she is ready. He mounts her, bites her neck and thrusts for seconds before roaring his ejaculation. He quickly dismounts as she growls and swipes at him with her lethal sharp claws. She then rolls over to aid the flow of the sperm. Duty done he sits away from her. It really is the most unromantic but fierce and energy charged copulations!
We find another Male Lion sitting by some croton bushes he is majestically handsome with his full dark mane. He is surprisingly awake even though the sun has risen; Male Lions are notoriously lazy and sleep up to twenty hours a day. He seems a little agitated he rather amusingly snaps at birds flying overhead. It is staggering watching his large jaws open as if wanting to catch these noisy birds who dare to fly too close and too noisily.
Wildebeest gather in large herds, there is safety in such large numbers. They are watching the Lions, they have so many vulnerable small calves to protect they study the Lions movements with great intensity.
What I love about May in the Mara is the abundance of wild flowers after the rain. The vibrant yellows, purples and reds push up through the long grasses. We stop and my wonderful guides and friends Daniel and Sylvester take a knife and dig up the surprising large root of a delicate purple flower. They call the large white root a Wild carrot, after cleaning off the mud they explain it has high water content. Maasai looking after cattle all day without access to fresh water will dig these up and eat them more for hydration than nourishment.
The morning grows hot so we breakfast under the shade of a Ballanite tree. We watch the rich utopia of prey grazing around us; Topi, Zebra, Wildebeest and Impala are peaceful in our presence. I feel so at one with nature sitting watching these magnificent animals. To truly connect with nature is such a privilege. Nearby Maasai from the local villages graze their herds of cattle and sheep so we ask them for join us for food. I enjoy meeting the locals and learning about how they live with the wildlife. They casually talk about how they saw the Cheetah hunting an Impala near to where they tended there herd, this is life for them.
We say goodbye to the beautiful Lemek Conservancy and head to a traditional Maasai village on the edge of the Conservancy. The village setting is traditional, the houses are small and made from mud, sticks and dung and built in a circle around the central village area where the cattle, sheep and goats are held overnight, the small village is enclosed in a high fence made of wooden posts to protect then village at night from the wildlife. It looks beautifully idyllic but this is a hard way of life.
As we arrive the beautiful Maasai ladies dressed in colourful fabrics adorned with beads come through the opening of the village singing a traditional greeting song. I am dressed in full traditional Maasai attire and they take my hand and ask me to join them in the singing and dancing. They are so welcoming and friendly to me as we dance and sing our way back into the village centre.
I am greeted by two of the men of the village who explain to me about traditional village life and he hands me a walking stick beautifully adorned in Maasai beads for our next dance. The men and women gather together in a row and they start to sing a beautiful melody whilst they dance by bending their knees and their necks in rhythm. The large beaded round neck collars they wear bob up and down with the rhythm of the necks. In turn men step out of the row and start to jump high to demonstrate their strength as a warrior. As a guest I too am encouraged to jump using my stick to help me jump high. It’s fun and exhilarating.
After all the fun of the dancing and singing the men show me how they light a spark by rubbing a long stick onto a flat piece of wood. They use their hands to create the friction and then use dry grass as tinder to light the spark. They then blow on it to encourage the flame and then use more dry grass to light a fire. They women will then come and take some of this fire to light the fires in their homes.
The children then sing for me, they too are traditionally dressed in beautiful colourful Maasai attire. There sweet small voices sing lovely songs for me. They seem to love how I am dressed in traditional attire and come and sit with me. They find it very amusing when I pick up a cute baby goat to cuddle. Goats are their livelihood and are not pets, so they giggle sweetly as they watch me cuddle it and kiss the top of its head.
We go inside one of the houses. It has a small door which you have to bend down to enter so you are bowing as you enter as a sign of respect to the lady of the house. It is small with just one room. In the centre of the room is a small fire area where the cooking is done and everyone eats. Behind the fire are shelves with cooking utensils on. At either end are archways with a double bed in each raise on wooden slats covered in skins. The parents will sleep in one bed and all the children which may be as many as ten in the other. The room is warm with one small window to let the smoke of the fire out and provide ventilation.
It is the women who build these houses; it takes them on average two months to complete the dwelling. Because it is made of mud every time it rains the ladies must go onto the roof and cover it with more mud and dung to keep it waterproof. It is hard work for them. The men of the village take the cattle out to graze from six in the morning to six at night in all conditions. In rainy season it can get very cold. It is a challenging life but this is how Maasai continue to live, making this an incredibly interesting culture.
Maasai rely on the river to provide water to drink, bathe in and wash their clothes in. It is also important for hydrating their cattle. In dry season when the river is low and the land becomes parched and dry they have to travel further to graze their cattle. Maasai used to be very nomadic but they are more settled now in villages.
I say goodbye to the utopia of Lemek and the Maasai village and sadly also to my wonderful friends and guides Daniel and Sylvester and greet Amos my guide and friend who will be with me for several day guiding me around the rocky, green Naboisho Conservancy. We drive through the Maasai settlements on the edge of the Conservancy and onto the stunning rocky hills.
We arrive at our camp which is very rustic and completely open to the wild. It is wonderful camping in the middle of this raw natural wilderness. I can see prey roaming right up to camp. We have a very delicious lunch and then head out into the Conservancy. Amos my friend and guide are fabulous and negotiate the deep marshy waters with great skill. The rains have been heavy in these hills which makes the drive thrilling and exciting.
A journey of Giraffes of around twenty walks past us. They are so graceful, peaceful and quiet. They have such a quiet gentle demeanour. They stop at large Acacia trees and use their long eighteen inch tongues to wrap around fronds of leaves, pull them off and munch on them. They bend their heads back and reach to the highest underside of the branches. The reason the iconic African Acacia have that distinctive umbrella shape is due to Giraffes eating the underside of the lowest branches.
The Conservancy seems to be home to large herds of Elephants at the moment. It is probably because the large rainfall has made it so rich and fertile that the Elephants are enjoying the rich bounty. Elephants have to consume over 200kg of vegetation a day that is why the matriarch will keep them on the move to find more luscious vegetation.
We see a stunning herd of Elan grazing also on the luscious grasses. They are the largest antelope and are impressed very large with a strong bearing. Near them a confident male Waterbuck stops and stares at us. He stands side on so we can admire his impressive large statue and grand horns, he is a majestic antelope.
At sunset we see three Lionesses with cubs playing out on the open Savannah. The cubs are young and playful. They squeak and mew at their mothers for attention. It is such an adorable sound. They tumble over clumps of grass and pounce on each other. The Lionesses gather them in so they can lick and groom them with their raspy tongues. Then they suckle them as they lay on their side. The cub’s faces are a picture of satisfaction and contentment.
The sky is stormy, an electric shade of teal blue and thundery grey, as the sun sets the vibrant reds, oranges, pinks and purples thrusts itself through the stormy colours making an phenomenal painting of an electrically charged dramatic sky. It is powerful, dynamic and energising you can feel the intense energy in the air. As the sun sets the prey are silhouetted against this intense colour and the architectural Ballanite trees look eerie and gothic against such intensity of colour.
We drive back to camp our bodies energised by the weather and such an interesting exciting day. At camp we sit around the burning embers of the fire and look up to the sky which is an intense dynamic black, blue and thundery grey. The stars start to shine through the eerie clouds that streak across the moon. The wonderful staff joins us and the men start singing traditional songs. Their voices are low and intense to match the intensity of the night sky. I love the warmth of the songs and the passion with which the men sing. It is a wonderful evening.
We eat a delicious dinner to the chorus of Lions roaring nearby. They tell other prides this territory is taken and they gather their own pride. In bed I listen to Hyena laughing and owls hooting, the wild has such melodies. I sleep so peacefully.
This is my Africa – cultural, intense and passionate.
Day 7 –
I wake to the sound of Lions roaring, their deep throaty roar can carry for up to 5km but I can tell they are close by. I am awake, alert and excited to find these majestic cats, no doubt they have made a kill in the night and are enjoying the bounty. After drinking my aromatic intense coffee I dress Maasai and join Amos for our adventure into the wild.
Africa is God’s garden. I look around me and see how it is blessed with such beautiful natural riches. As we drive out into the sun rise I feel energised by this life giving source. The sunrise marks in rich vibrant powerful colours the start of a new day but also the promise of new life. It is optimistic, vibrant and life affirming. I love that the animals here are born free and living free. This is a blessed land; we are surrounded by nature at its most wild and free.
We find a stunning female Cheetah called Selenkei (in Maasai it means a single lady) hunting Impala and Thompson Gazelle. She sits by a group of bushes trying to camouflage herself from the prey. She is assessing the risks of either hunt as she does not want to waste her energy on a fruitless hunt. She is a beautiful lithe athletic sprinter but these antelopes are also fast. I admire her stunning beauty, her markings are as individual as finger prints and the black lines running down her eyes to her mouth give her a vulnerable gentle look. Unfortunately both Gazelle move too far away for her to successfully hunt but just studying her intense assessment of the prey is always a privilege.
The cheetah head, body, legs and first two thirds of the tail are covered with black spots. It has a short main from the back of the neck to the shoulders. The head is small and rounded with large eyes and a distinctive tear stripe from the inner corner of each eye to the corner of the lips. The ears are small and round. Cheetah legs are long and the claws are permanently exposed (does not retract as in other cats). Cheetahs are equipped for explosive acceleration to a full-speed of up to 90 kilometres per hour over a short distance.
When you see a cheetah stalking its prey on an African plain you will notice how the body of this African animal is ideally built for speed. The long and slender body of a cheetah consists of small and light frame. Cheetahs prefer open grassland and savanna woodland as their favourite habitat. They typically avoid forest and woodland with thick undergrowth as habitat. They can operate independent from water. Cheetahs use places of elevation such as a termite mound or trees as vantage points to keep a lookout for prey. If cover is available they will use it when stalking.
Males track down a female in heat from the smell of her urine. Their first approaches are aggressively rebuffed. During this period the males spray-mark heavily and fight among themselves for mating rights. They also scratch up small mounds of loose soil and urinate or defecate on top of them. After one to two weeks of such courtship the female becomes receptive and she invites copulation by crouching in front of a male. He mounts her from behind with a neck bite. Mating is not as frequent as in other cats. Gestation period 90-95 days. Litters from one to six cubs are born during anytime of the year. The cubs are very vulnerable to predation and are frequently moved to avoid predators. They also fall prey to spotted hyenas and leopards.
The cubs get their first solid food at about six weeks and are weaned at three months. At four to five months their mother brings them live prey to practice their hunting skills on. At between six or seven months they begin to make their own kills.
For their first three months cubs have a mantle of long, grey hair. It is thought that this makes them look enough like the ill-tempered honey badger (ratel) to dissuade other predators from risking an attack.
To understand how cheetahs catch their prey, firstly notice how the long and slender body of a cheetah consists of small and light frame. The distinctive dark tear stripe from the inner corner of every eye enhances its visual acuity by minimizing the sun’s glare. The tail acts as a rudder for quick turning and balancing. If they work in a team one cheetah will draw the mother’s attack the other will chase the infant. A cheetah hunting its prey will start with a slow stalk. If its prey sees it before it gets within about 100 meter it will give up the stalk because it depends on the element of surprise for success. If it can get within 100 meters it will charge. Their chances of success are better if it can attack from less than 30 m while its prey is still unaware of its presence. They can then be up to full speed while its prey is still getting into its stride.
Cheetahs are successful in about two out of seven hunting attempts. Antelopes can easily outperform cheetahs when it comes to endurance. The most common cause of failure in cheetah hunts is that the prey sees them before they charge. A cheetah hunting its prey trips it with one or both forepaws. When the prey is knocked off balance it gives them a chance to grab it by the throat. It will then suffocate it with a clamping bite to the underside of the neck. Their teeth are too short for the killing bite used by other cats. If there is cover nearby it will drag its kill there to escape the notice of other carnivores and vultures.
Adult females are usually solitary, but their cubs stay with them for up to 18 months.
The males often live in small, stable groups called coalitions. Cheetah coalitions often consist of brothers born in the same litter.
A herd of Elephants come into view they are enjoying the rich leaves and shoots. A tower of Giraffes stands by and watches them walk past in idle curiosity. The prey are happy and healthy as there is such a rich abundance of food.
We breakfast surrounded by beautiful prey grazing peacefully on the plains.
To my delight we find two Lion cubs and one female Lioness cub around eighteen months old. The boys are absolutely gorgeous, light blonde in colour with rosettes on their belly and small Mohican manes. They are absolute twins and so beautiful, I am in awe of such princes. The Lions are very affectionate towards each other but they are clearly running from something, as when they stop moving they keep looking back. Their affection towards each other seems encouraging and comforting like they are reassuring each other. The boys constantly rub their heads together and groom affectionately. We are curious to see the course of their concern and so drive around the area.
By a bore hole, we find two male Lions of around three years old. At first my eyes would not see what I was witnessing but they have attacked the male cub brother of the three we have just seen. One of the large males is sitting next to the dying cub. The other male Lion is sat by the bush and the third hunting is off the other cubs. My heart breaks and tears start flowing as I witness the poor young cub struggling for breath, groaning and trying to sit up. As we approach the older Lion moves off and we sit with the Lion cub as it takes it last breath. I am completely heartbroken. This is a scene I hoped to never witness but here I am seeing the death of a beautiful prince. The older Lions must have come into the cub’s territory as infanticide is so common amongst Lions. We call the Lion project to report the incident. We sit and wait with the cub until they arrive but they can only record the tragedy. I take some time to gather my emotions.
We see a male Buffalo trying to mate with a female; she seems to not be interested in his advances. Close by two male Buffalo lock horns, clearly the females are in heat encouraging the males to compete for mating rights. Some of the females have just given birth and protect their young ones from predators.
Not far away an old Buffalo peacefully grazes within a herd of Elan. The Elan does not seem to mind his presence. Buffalo become aggressive as they get older as their horns start pressing internally making them become mad. It is good to be wary when spotting a lone Buffalo they are very unpredictable. As we drive I pick up the intoxicating scent of the croton bushes, it is such a distinctive smell.
Driving through the long grasses the water sprays up the side of the car as the ground is so marshy and boggy from all the heavy rains. Whistling Acacia and Black back Acacia grow in wild abandonment around us and the small shrubs are enjoyed by the Elephants. Secretary birds stalk through the grass looking for seeds and insects to eat, they are so named due to their white upper body feathers and black lower half feathers that look like a blouse and skirt. The scenery is so stunning here, luscious and green from the rain.
We lunch under the shade of a Ballanite tree with Zebra and Giraffe grazing nearby. They stop their grazing long enough to stare at us completely unconcerned as they are used to people. We do not act or smell like predators so they carry on grazing peacefully. I feel happy out in nature enjoying my time absorbing the natural beauty of their stunning place.
We see vultures circling overhead so we know there is a kill. We see over fifty Vultures resting with their impressive wings outspread on an Acacia tree. Others sit on the ground their wings spread out warming in the sun. They screech, moan and fight over the kill. It is a dead elephant with small tusks it is around ten years old, it probably died of a disease. Hyena get inside the cavernous carcass, they may live inside it for days. Hovering Marabou stalks steal scraps that are lying around. The Lapped face vulture would have opened the thick skin of the carcass, then Ruppel Griffin Vulture next followed by White faced and Hooded Vultures. The Marabou stalk gets the last pickings. The pungent smell of the rotting carcass is quite overpowering especially as the Hyenas tug at the rotting flesh. Vultures hop around on the ground fighting with the Hyena for the choicest parts. The carcass is moving with the quantity of vultures inside the carcass, it is quite disturbing as well as mesmerising. We have to ring the rangers to come and collect the tusks as these will need to be burned otherwise poachers will steal them. As the vultures fly off you can hear the thudding beating of their wings. The carcass is so exposed now we can see the ribs.
Banded mongoose run across the plains in fear of birds of prey swooping down and taking one of them. When they reach their mound they stand up on their back legs and look around for danger before scurrying down their holes. Pumba are quite the same you always see family groups running across the plains in fear of predators before disappearing down their burrows for safety.
Across the water we see Willow the Lioness with her two cubs both male around eighteen months, her female cub was killed by a male nomadic Lion. They are relaxing on the banks of the river probably hoping for prey to come down to it to drink so they can ambush them. Willow is such a good mother; she protects her cubs at all costs. He is also a beautiful Lioness with such regal statue, her cubs are absolutely gorgeous.
Vervet monkey, mother and baby are taking it in turns to groom each other. The look of contentment and love on their faces is so endearing. Monkeys are also great mothers they are fiercely protective and loving. The great care she is showing her baby touches my heart. She looks up at me with her big brown eyes and shields her baby away, it is absolutely lovely.
A large Hippo is walking across the bank, his enormous frame cumbersome on dry land. He then dives into the river creating a huge tidal wave, it is most amusing! The rest of the Hippos in the pod are grunting and laughing in the water. The stench from the Hippo pool is very pungent.
Sometimes it feels like all the animals are larger than life here, Elephants, Buffalos, Giraffes and Lions to name but a few. So sometimes it is lovely to focus on the smaller less thought about wildlife. Egyptian geese with very cute fluffy chicks waddle down to the water’s edge. They are an adorable family group.
As we drive by another Hippo pod in the river I am taken by surprise by an impressive architectural Fig trees growing out of the side of the river. It is stunningly beautiful and so incongruous with the setting.
As we drive back to camp the sun is setting behind thick dark blue and grey thunderous clouds. It is another exciting electrical stormy sky. I love the atmospheric conditions it makes you feel alive. The colours are vibrant and striking; the sky is awash with dark blues, greys, purples and reds.
The rain thunders down and the lightning cracks as we eat dinner but we can still here the roar of the Lions close by. The storm will not stop the Lions hunting tonight. The tent is warm and there is something very cosy about hearing the rhythmic drumming of rain on canvas when you are warm and dry. I sleep peacefully to the sounds of the night.
This is my Africa – nature at its rawest, life giving, and life taking.
Day 8 –
The dawn breaks clear and beautiful in front of my tent, as I stand on my deck I see the vast expanse of the Naboisho Conservancy. The sun rise is spreading gold and red light over the dewy plains. As the sunlight hits the water it sparkles like a million diamonds. I close my eyes and hear the roar of the Lions as they return from their nightly hunt, their deep roar carries far and wide. Birds sing their dawn chorus up in trees, it is a sweet melody. I breathe in the fresh clean air and feel so alive and connected.
We find the two adolescent Lions with their sister; I wanted to locate them to make sure they had not been attacked by the three adult male Lions yesterday who killed their brother. They look more settled today and I watch the two gorgeous young male Lions groom each other affectionately. I love the love and affection between male Lions; they are so tender and gentle. Occasionally their sister joins them for some affection too; they rub heads with her in a beautiful reassuring bonding gesture.
I can sit and watch Lions for hours; I like to capture their majestic beauty, unique characteristics and family bonding behaviour on camera as well as in word, so we breakfast with them. They are so young, so vulnerable, and so flawless. They have yet to fight so their faces have the perfection of the young, no scars, no weariness of age. Their eyes are bright, golden and clear, a certain innocence as they gaze up at me. Their noses are still all pink and fleshy with sweet flecks of dirt. Most of all I love their light golden fur with the faint sprinkling of rosettes on their belly. They have a difficult road to travel to adulthood full of many challenges and dangers as yesterday proved but I will come back in a couple of months to check on their progress.
Large herds of Elephants roam these wide rocky plains. There large mountainous bulk ambles steadily over the uneven surfaces kicking up roots with their large feet as they march. You can see the route they have taken from the broken branches of small Acacia trees. Elephants tend to walk through vegetation rather than around it causing quite a scene of devastation. They occasionally trumpet to each other communicating the route they are taking.
In contrast the journey of Giraffes are quiet and graceful. These long limbed elegant animals are discreet and gentle on the environment. They affectionately rub necks and silently communicate their movements. Their beautiful brown long lashed eyes gazing curiously at us as they use their long tongues to tear off fronds of juicy leaves.
Hyenas during the warmth of the day are mainly found ungainly lopping around the plains looking for carcasses to scavenge or they are sitting in small pools of water cooling off from the heat. Sometimes when we pass them sitting in the pools they are too hot to even bother to move, they look up at us with disinterested glares, their course spotted brown fur wet with mud and moisture.
The hyena will scavenge and hunt when given the opportunity. They are accomplished hunters and they get up to 75 per cent of their food from their own kills. They are also renowned and highly effective scavengers. Carrion is detected by smell from as far as 4 kilometres downwind. They find carcasses by scent and by the noises made by other predators. They also keep a look out for vultures. If they are harassed at a kill by superior numbers of other predators they may cut their losses by tearing a piece off the carcass and running away with it.
On a one-to-one basis hyenas can displace any predator except a lion from a kill. Lionesses and cubs will give way if they are outnumbered four to one. Usually lions cannot be displaced from a carcass by a hyena if an adult male is present. However if they are heavily outnumbered, even lions give away their food to them.
Hyenas are less skilled at stalking than cats and instead rely on their speed and stamina to run down their prey. They can sprint at 60 km/h and keep up a speed of 40 to 50 km/h over 5 km. They kill their prey by biting chunks out of it and targeting major blood vessels as it runs. The victim dies from shock and loss of blood as it is torn apart and pulled down. Most healthy, adult antelope can escape from a single hyena but working together as a team dramatically increases their hunting success.
If two of them hunt wildebeest calves they are five times as successful as one operating alone. One of the team will distract the mother while the other grabs the calf. A group of three can target wildebeest and if they operate in groups of four they can tackle eland and gemsbok. Where clans are large and there is competition from other predators, they gorge themselves as fast as possible. One of them can eat 15 kg of meat at a sitting. They are very noisy when they feed and often chase each other around at meals. They do not however fight over food like lions do.
Hyenas are very territorial. They mark their area by anal gland pasting especially near the borders of their territory. They also mark areas by defecating in large middens and by pawing the ground to deposit smelly secretions from glands on their feet. Most pasting near the den is done by males and young, low-ranking females. Females are the clan warriors and tend to take the initiative in these clashes against rival groups. Groups will patrol territory boundaries and scent-mark systematically. Encounters between different clans may result in violent battles. The battles usually involve all members of the two clans, in which the losers are savaged and killed.
Unusually among mammals, females are larger than males and dominate them. Cubs dominate males and once they have been admitted to the clan, immigrant males also outrank resident males. Dominant animals are usually bigger than subordinates. Cubs inherit the rank of the mother. Only the highest-ranking immigrant male actually mates. The privileges of being high-ranking females are priority access to food and to resting sites near the den entrance. They also rear more cubs than low rankers.
Hyenas most distinctive call is a long rising whoop rising in pitch towards the end.
The calls are very loud and can carry for more than 5 km. These are long-range signals to inform clan members of each other’s locations. Fast whoops are used to attract members to carcasses and to recruit them for confrontations against Lions.
Hyenas are social creatures and they live in clans of up to 80 animals. The stable core of a clan consists of a dominant female and successive generations of her daughters and their offspring. Clans also contain resident males and immigrant males. The immigrants will only be accepted to membership after weeks of cautious approaches and subordination during which they bear the brunt of the clan aggression. Female cubs inherit their mother’s rank and will fight furiously for this rank. It is common behaviour in a pair of twins for one to kill her sister. The cubs are born in litters of one to four in dens that may be converted aardvark holes or caves. They are born with eyes wide open and teeth well developed. Cubs are suckled until they are old enough to go along on foraging trips at about 14 months. The cubs live on milk alone for six to nine month. After this they begin to visit kills and take solid food. They are weaned at 10 to 14 months.
The female Hyena has assumed some male attributes, which lead to some confusion in differentiating the sexes. The most puzzling feature is that females as well males, seem to have male genitals. A female spotted hyena has an erectile pseudo penis and false scrotum filled with fat, which is as large as a male penis.
Females average about 10 kilogram more in weight than their male counterparts.
They have high levels of male hormones known as androgens, which might explain their dominating aggressiveness and large size. They display a complex greeting ceremony, which clan members use to reinforce social bonds. They recognize each other by sight and stand head to tail alongside each other while carefully inspecting the erect genitals of the partner.
Hyenas most distinctive call is a long rising whoop rising in pitch towards the end.
These are long-range signals to inform clan members of each other’s locations. They have quite a rich repertoire of vocal signals. Cubs whine when they beg for food or milk. When chased off a kill they giggle. If surprised or frightened they will give a series of short, quiet grunts. Grunts and growls signal an imminent attack. Fast whoops are used to attract members to carcasses and to recruit them for confrontations against lions. They are certainly an interesting animal to photograph and study.
We lunch in camp looking over the vast open plains from the side of a hill. The vast savannah is stretched out in front of us. The rains have enriched the luscious vegetation. It is so peaceful here, I feel relaxed and happy.
After lunch we drive over the rocky terrain and through flooded river banks that course up in tidal waves up the side of the vehicle splashing us with muddy water. The heavy rain has flooded the land but it has brought such beautiful abundant new life. The prey is thriving and growing in number everywhere you see large herds with numerous new babies.
We drive past herds of Elan and Hart best grazing peacefully on the moist luscious nutritious grasses, they raise their thick stocky necks to peer at us as we slide and plough through the marshy tracks. It is exhilarating how the vehicle dramatically slides; it is more like rally driving in these conditions.
A lone male Water buck, tall, handsome and graceful stands side on to us displaying his awesome stature as we pass. You cannot help admiring his supreme strength and bearing. A large herd of Buffalo graze nearby their faces as always looking bad tempered and irritable as if disturbed by our presence. Some sit casually on the ground ruminating as large clumps of grass dangle inelegantly out of their mouths. Otherwise silently graze on the nutritious grasses not needing to move as there is abundance here.
We drive through a small ravine, the water is not very high but the mud underneath the water is very thick and sticky………we get very stuck! Poor Amos uses all his great skill to manoeuvre the vehicle but it tilts precariously on its side, we are not going anywhere! We get out of the vehicle and wade quickly to the bank our feet caked in sticky mud and wait for a short time for another vehicle to come. With the aid of a tow rope the vehicle is towed free. This is quite a common occurrence it is impossible to tell what the conditions are like under the water, but oh what fun!
The sun is now setting and the three Lionesses with seven cubs come out of the bushes to play. They are well rested and enjoy their games of pouncing and chasing each other. The little cubs mew and squeak as they chew and bite each other. Their mothers keep a close eye on their antics. The golden light of the sunset lights up the beautiful golden red fur of the Lions, it is a magical scene.
We drive back to camp as the light fades and emerges into the blue black of the night. The stars begin to tinkle against the dark moody sky. Dinner in camp is under the stars listening to the roar of the Lions as they gather together for their nightly hunt. Bats fly around us overhead, nature beautifully drawing in around us. It has been a blessed day.
I sleep well to the sound of the night, the animals my nightly orchestra of various pitched sounds.
This is my Africa – unique, thought provoking and real.
Day 9 –
I wake to the sound of Lions roaring and calling outside of my tent. It is dry this morning and the only sound of water is the nearby river flowing. The Lionesses would have hunted in the early hours so they call the whole pride to eat. I drink my delicious aromatic coffee and get dressed quickly to find them.
We drive out as the sun is rising, the vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of the sunrise set alight the vibrant green grasses topped with red oats. The dewy water droplets shine like diamonds on the tips of the grasses. The long grass sways in the cool morning breeze.
Waterbuck, Elan, Hartebeest, Impala and Zebra stretch as the sun starts to warm their bodies. Elephants stomp through the green luscious bushes pulling off with their long trucks vast fronds of leaves. They munch as they walk as they have to consume 200kg per day to maintain their vast bulk.
In the middle of a vast green plain we see the most beautiful sight, the famous Notch male Lion’s three boys who are now nine years old. The three boys formed a successful coalition and came from the main Mara reserve to take over a pride here in Naboisho about three years ago. Their whole pride is here, three stunning Lionesses, four cubs of around six months old and three cubs of around three months old. The three Lions are majestic and powerful with completely black noses and very dark full manes. They are very impressive males.
The Lionesses have made a kill of a large female Elan. Two of the Lions have eaten their fill and lie with huge rotund bellies. They breathe quickly as they are so full. The other male Lion has his paws on the large carcass to hold it steady as he tears, chews and crunches. The Lionesses and cubs eat with him as they are the last to eat after the males. Cats do not like to share so there are many warning growls.
The small cubs mainly pick at small scraps of meat as they are suckling still whereas the larger cubs try and copy their father by chewing and tearing off scraps of meat. The cubs mainly like to play with the kill, stealing clumps of hair and kicking them around. One cheeky cub steals a shin bone and tries to run off with it in its mouth but it is too heavy and the other cubs chase after it to play. They leap on him and wrestle the bone from him.
The Lion uses his sharp teeth and strong jaw to pick up the carcass and try and drag it away from the rest of the pride, the males are very selfish. He drops it as it is heavy and the rest carrying on eating it very wary of his warning growls.
A small cub stumbles over to one of the large male Lions as he doses and bats him on the nose playfully. The Lion growls at him as he is sleepy. The cub then tries to climb his father’s mane in a cute Lion King way but the Lion bats him away.
The Lionesses bow to the Lion, he is temperamental and aggressive around the kill. One Lioness manages to pull off a large leg and runs off with it calling her cubs to follow to share it.
It is so wonderful seeing the whole pride together, the Elan is now stripped bare of skin and flesh and you can see the skull, large impressive curly horns and rib cage. Jackals run around nearby stealing scraps of flesh. The Lions do not eat the dirty intestines they are coiled on the ground ready for the scavengers to eat.
The cubs are full so they start to play their favourite game of practicing hunting each other. They crouch low and pounce on the each other’s back biting their necks and rear ends simulating a hunt. It is good practice for when they do so when they are older.
A Lioness strides over to the Lion who is now eating alone and rubs her head on his, surprisingly he allows her to eat. They eat together side by side wonderfully peacefully. There is little left so they crunch the bones getting to the tasty marrow.
The other two Lions start strolling towards the bushes as the sun is growing hot. Both are limping, an injury they may have sustained during the hunt. They walk slowly their bellies almost reaching the ground they are so sated. They will sleep until evening now in the shade of the bushes, the leaves from the croton bushes protecting them from the annoying flies.
The Lion and Lioness pick up large sections of the kill to take to the bushes to eat later. They cannot leave the kill as vultures are now flying in with their large impressive wings out stretched. The vultures will pick clean the rest of the carcass. They screech and squabble over left over ribs and pieces of flesh. They swallow large sections of slimy intestines and fight over flesh. Jackals and Hyena run around sniffing the grass finding small scraps left over. The Lions have eaten most of the kill and walk confidently over to the bushes with what they can carry.
The cubs eagerly follow the Lions and Lionesses into the bushes as it time for them all to sleep for the day. The Lioness grunts for them all. I feel so privileged to have spent so many hours’ watches this impressive scene of pride life. It is nature at its rawest and natural.
We breakfast back in camp looking over the watering hole. Thompson Gazelle and Impala come to drink and also lick the salty earth replenishing their natural body salts. Weaver birds flit in and out of their carefully constructed nests, their bright yellow bodies shining gold in the mid-morning sun. It is so peaceful and idyllic. Rock Hyrax which looks like large Guinea pigs sun bathes on the deck whilst Gamma Lizard scuttles around.
Back out on the rocky plains Slender Mongoose burned red in colour scurry nervous of birds of prey snatching them, they disappear into their burrows. We drive through rivers, the water splashing up the sides of the doors of the vehicle. It is quite the ride in these flood conditions but exhilarating and exciting.
Herds of Grand Gazelle, Impala and Thompson Gazelle look healthy and plump as they graze on the luscious fertile grasses. The sun is warm after the heavy rain so Zebra bond by putting their heads on each other’s backs. Waterbuck stand proudly their horns strong and powerful.
We drive past a forest of Yellow back Acacia their wide architectural branches spreading wide and glistening vibrantly yellow and green in the late morning sun. Cheeky Vervet monkeys swing high in the branches.
Lunch back at camp is delicious and we enjoy the views across the plains. Cheeky rock hyrax sit on the deck area they quite confident and social able. I love their cheeky faces; they are just large Guinea pigs. Gamma Lizards scurry across the deck; the males are a vibrant shade of blue, pink and green to attract the females, whereas the females are dull beige.
The afternoon is warm and sunny and we enjoy driving over the rocky terrain enjoying the beautiful landscape. I love this time of year before the dry season and the migration. It is so green and luscious with beautiful flowers. The grasses are so long they sway gently in the breeze; it is so calming and peaceful.
Late afternoon we find the Queen of Lionesses, Willow with her two male adolescent cubs eating a Pumba in the bushes. She is such a great mother; she has protected her cubs for nearly two years from the male Lions who took over her pride that would have killed them. She and her cubs happily tear at the flesh of the Pumba and eat the favoured meaty flesh. The skin is tough but no real challenge for their sharp canines. They crunch on the bones and enjoy the feast. The young male Lion cubs are just such stunning golden princes; they will be gorgeous adult male Lions in a couple of years and will form a coalition and have their own pride.
We find the three females with the four cubs at sunset. The cubs are mewing at their mothers as they are young and want attention. The females are coming out of the bushes and they are grunting for the cubs to follow them. The Lionesses stride confidently, their powerful shoulders undulating as they walk. The small cubs amble along behind them sometimes tripping over clumps of grass, rocks or sticks. The cubs are awake now so very playful, they pounce on their mothers tails or try to catch their mother’s feet like it is prey. They frolic and pounce on each other practicing their hunting skills. The find sticks or bones to kick around or chew on to sharpen their small sharp teeth. The mothers encourage the play and gently at the cubs with their large paws.
When the cubs start to grow tired the Lionesses such their large paws to pull them into them and they start to wash them with their long raspy tongues. I adore the picture of contentment of the Lionesses and cub’s faces; it is such a beautiful bonding experience. The lionesses then roll over so the cubs can suckle. I love hearing the purring contented sound of the cubs as they prod their mother’s bellies to encourage the flow of milk.
The day has been beautifully dry and clear with few clouds in the sky so the sunset is magnificent. The whole sky is streaked with oranges, reds, yellows and purples. The vibrant fiery sky lights up the red gold of the Lions fur, it is just stunning. The Lions are sat in front of a beautiful Ballanite tree which is now silhouetted against the sunset; it is a perfect sunset scene. I sit with a glass of red wine in our Land cruiser and enjoy the warmth of the sun on my face. I drink in the most blissful scene, my eyes draw in the vibrant colours and I feel so peaceful and happy.
We dine under the stars at camp, the sky is a deep blue black covered in a million twinkling lights. It is a perfect evening, the soft warn breeze caresses my face as I enjoy my delicious dinner and listening to the sounds of the night.
I sleep well as my spirit is at peace; it was such a beautiful end to the day.
This is my Africa – harmonious, blissful and peaceful.
Day 10 –
I once again wake to the sound of the Lions roaring in the early morning, I love the sound of their deep throaty roar. I stand on my deck trying to see them as their roar can carry far, but I know they are close. I shower on the open deck enjoy the early morning breeze.
The whole pride is down by the river, the three males, females and cubs. Their kill is in the bushes protected from scavengers. They need to drink large quantities of water after such a meaty salty meal. The males are magnificent in the morning golden light; their manes a deep burnished red gold. Their bellies are rotund and full as they stride confidently like the kings they are down to the water. They bend their large powerful head and shoulders down to reach the cool water and lap up large quantities with their raspy barbed tongues. You can hear them gulping down the water, everything a male Lion does is with such strength. The stride back up the banks and rub heads affectionately in a beautiful bonding ritual.
The lionesses are taking care of the cubs; they are also very sated from the large meal. The cubs are still playing though so chase after their mothers. Some of the older cubs go over to a bent tree and start to climb clumsily the trunk, they do not reach very far as it is too steep. They instead reach up and use the bark of the tree to sharpen their claws.
The lions jump over the small ravine to reach the side with good bushes so they can sleep for the day. It is now growing warm, the sun radiates in the azure blue sky. We follow them as the whole pride slowly walk together to find a large dense croton bushes to use as shelter from the sun and flies for the day. They are sleepy and full and will probably not wake now until sunrise. As they disappear into the bushes it is amazing how quickly they are camouflaged by the thick foliage.
We breakfast back at camp after our beautiful start to the day, nature gave us so much. I love spending so much time with Lions studying pride behaviour, even after thirteen years of safaris I learn and see so much new behaviour on each trip.
Back at the Elephant carcass from two days ago that was being eaten by Hyena and vultures, we can see now it is just bones. The ribs rise from the dirt like an abandoned temple, scattered around are the abandoned picked clean bones. It is fascinating seeing a carcass after just two days, it looks like it could be months old, there really is nothing left. The sun has even begun to bleach the bones, in no time they will be dust on the ground completing the circle of life.
Not far away Elephants march through the lush plains tearing up roots to feed on; the female matriarch leads the group. Some of the older Elephants have impressive large tusks which they use to rest their long trunks on. One has such long tusks he literally curls his trunk around one. Elephants have larger front legs as they have to support their enormous and heavy heads, trunks and tusks. It is fascinating watching lift their large almost round feet, they hit the earth with an almighty thud; the weight behind each step is considerable.
Beautiful Grey crowned cranes with their yellow feathered crown plumage on their heads like a sun stalk through the grasses feeding on seeds and insects. The grey crowned crane is about 1 m and has a wingspan of 2 m. Its body plumage is mainly grey. The wings are predominantly white, but contain feathers with a range of colours, with a distinctive black patch at the very top. The head has a crown of stiff golden feathers. The sides of the face are white, and there is a bright red inflatable throat pouch. The bill is relatively short and grey and the legs are black. They have long legs for wading through the grasses. The feet are large, yet slender, adapted for balance rather than defence or grasping. The sexes are similar, although males tend to be slightly larger. Young birds are greyer than adults, with a feathered buff face. The grey crowned crane has a breeding display involving dancing, bowing, and jumping. It has a booming call which involves inflation of the red gular sac. It also makes a honking sound quite different from the trumpeting of other crane species. Both sexes dance, and immature birds join the adults. Dancing is an integral part of courtship, but also may be done at any time of the year.
White storks gather in large numbers, it is beautiful watching them swooping down onto the plains. Its plumage is mainly white, with black on its wings. Adults have long red legs and long pointed red beaks, and measure on average 100–115 cm from beak tip to end of tail, with a 155–215 cm wingspan. When migrating between Europe and Africa, it avoids crossing the Mediterranean Sea and detours via the Levant in the east or the Strait of Gibraltar in the west, because the air thermals on which it depends for soaring do not form over water. A carnivore, the white stork eats a wide range of animal prey, including insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and small birds. It takes most of its food from the ground, among low vegetation, and from shallow water. It is a monogamous breeder, but does not pair for life. Both members of the pair build a large stick nest, which may be used for several years. Each year the female can lay one clutch of usually four eggs, which hatch asynchronously 33–34 days after being laid. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and both feed the young. The young leave the nest 58–64 days after hatching, and continue to be fed by the parents for a further 7–20 days.
It is a morning of interesting birds for we see three Secretary birds doing their distinctive long legged stalking walk through the long grasses. The secretary bird is instantly recognizable as a very large bird with an eagle-like body on crane-like legs which increases the bird’s height to as much as 1.3 m. This bird has an eagle-like head with a hooked bill, but has rounded wings making it both taller and longer than any other species of raptor since these features are not as long in any other living raptor. The neck is not especially long, and can only be lowered down to the inter-tarsal joint, so birds reaching down to the ground or drinking must stoop to do so. From a distance or in flight it resembles a crane more than a bird of prey. The tail has two elongated central feathers that extend beyond the feet during flight, as well as long flat plumage creating a posterior crest. Secretary bird flight feathers and thighs are black, while most of the coverts are grey with some being white. Sexes look similar to one another as the species exhibits very little sexual dimorphism, although the male has longer head plumes and tail feathers. Adults have a featherless red face as opposed to the yellow facial skin of the young.
The plains have many large herds of Buffalo which are led on their daily journey by the female matriarch. With the rich plentiful luscious grasses they do not need to roam far. They number in their hundreds with dozens of new calves. This is good news for the Lions as a Buffalo can feed a pride for many days.
It is time to leave the beautiful Naboisho Conservancy and head down towards the Mara plains. It is flatter and still very green down her with even higher grasses. I say good bye to my lovely friend and guide Amos and thank him for a wonderful safari.
As I enter Zebra camp I am first struck by the beautiful natural wood fencing at the entrance like a Maasai village, this is to protect what is behind from grazing animals. As I walk through I am met with a stunning view, in front of camp is the most beautiful garden filled with luscious exotic and natural plants. It is a riot of vibrant colours with intoxicating scents. I am greeted by Franz and Ezra my wonderful hosts. I instantly feel at home which is so wonderful. I am offered a lovely cold refreshing drink and am shown to my stunning tent with far stretching unrestricted views of the Mara. I am in absolute heaven this camp is so beautiful.
We dine outside surrounded by beautiful plants in a gorgeous dining area; the attention to detail is stunning. I love how both the inside and outside guest areas use lovely natural materials and vibrant colours in keeping with the Maasai culture. Alfred the lovely owner of this camp is Kenyan and really has created a beautiful, warm, welcoming African home here for his guests.
The food is absolutely delicious, they have a very talented chef who has served me up not just tasty food but it is artfully presented. I sit back and enjoy this gastronomic delight whilst looking out across the beautiful plains.
After a late lunch my guide and I head out on our first game drive. Down on the Mara plains it is very warm and the very tall grasses sway in the breeze. It is breathtakingly beautiful I feel happy to be in one of my favourite places. It is very unusual though to see it so quiet, I am so used to the activity of breeding season in spring or the migration in the summer it is lovely to just drive around and enjoy the peacefulness.
We find a beautiful female Cheetah stalking through the long grasses. Her stunning long lithe athletic frame moves forward with such grace. Her markings are like finger prints making it easier to distinguish her from other females. She is clearly intent on hunting. We follow her at a distance studying her facial expression, gaze and thinking. There is not much to hunt her so she will have to travel a distance to find antelope to hunt.
The day has been so warm clear and hot the sun starts is descent in a flame of vibrant glory. The colours streak colours across the sky like an impressionists painting. This is nature’s art, huge brush strokes of reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and purples over a dark azure canvass. The light burns across the plains lighting up the greens, reds and golds of the swaying grasses. The trees and grazing animals become dark silhouettes against this stunning colourful backdrop. I sit drinking my wine appreciating the sunset in all its glory whilst reflecting on this glorious day.
We arrive back at camp to see the final glow of the setting sun. The fire area is stunning, it is set in the round with a large burning fire in the middle, and it is a beautiful design. My lovely friend Franz brings me a glass of red wine and such delicious “bitings” to enjoy with it whilst I bask in the heat of the setting sun and the glow of the fire. I feel so relaxed and happy. I chat to the lovely owner of this camp Alfred; he is a qualified guide but has now created the prefect camp.
Dinner is so delicious and plentiful; I love the attention to detail in the presentation. It is the perfect end to a beautiful day. In bed in my gorgeous tent which really has everything I could possibly need I thank nature for all it has given me.
This is my Africa – warm, welcoming and beautiful.
Day 11 –
I feel so rested after a after such a wonderful day yesterday. I love this camp it really feels like home. Franz kindly brings my coffee and biscuits to my tent and I sit in bed breathing it its rich aroma thinking about what nature will give me today.
The sun rises vibrant and fiery over the Olare Roku plains. The reds yellows oranges and golds of the sunrise lights up the vibrant green grasses topped with golden red oat seeds. The sky is clear azure blue and the dew glistens like diamonds on the tops of each grass blade.
We drive out into the open plains the air is still crisp and cool so I breathe it in enjoying the heady aromas of the wild herbs and bushes. We find the Topi pride of Lions, this is Blackie and the late Lipsticks’ pride, and they number around fifteen. They are lying in the long grasses, but they seem quite lethargic. The problem with this time of year they are waiting for the great migration to come to the reserve as there is too view herds of resident prey to hunt. They look underfed so they reserve their energy for hunting. I see two beautiful one year old adolescent male Lions in the pride. I love their pale golden fur and small Mohican manes, one them is curled up with a younger sibling. At this age the young males are incredibly affectionate with their younger siblings. He seems to be protecting and reassuring it. It is a harsh time for Lions on the main reserve at the moment.
We breakfast under the shade of a Balanite tree with Hartebeest and Elephants grazing around us on the plains. It is late morning so it is warming up, I love the feel of the morning sun of my face it makes me feel so alive and energised. The chief has packed us such a delicious breakfast. We sit and enjoy the stunning scenery.
Hartebeest are mainly found in medium and tall grasslands, including savannas. They are more tolerant of high grass and woods than other archetypical plains antelopes. The hartebeest is a large, fawn-coloured antelope that, at first glance, seems strangely put together and less elegant than other antelopes. However, being one of the most recent and highly evolved ungulates, it is far from clumsy. In fact, it is one of the fastest antelopes and most enduring runners. These qualities gave rise to its name, which means “tough ox.” Its sedentary lifestyle seems to inhibit the mixing of populations and gene flow, and as a result, there are several subspecies of hartebeest. The hartebeest feeds almost entirely on grass but is not very selective and quite tolerant of poor-quality food. It has suffered from the expansion of cattle rising, as hartebeest and cattle compete for the same food. The social organization of the hartebeest is somewhat different than that of other antelopes. Adult females do not form permanent associations with other adults. Instead, they are often accompanied by up to four generations of their young. Female offspring remain close to their mothers up to the time they give birth to calves of their own. Even male offspring may remain with their mothers for as long as three years, an unusually long bonding period. As groups of females move in and out of male territories, the males sometimes chase away the older offspring. Their mothers become defensive and protect them from the males. Although bachelor herds of young males are also formed, they are less structured than those of some antelopes, and age classes are not as conspicuous.
The rivers here are still so full and deep, as we reach the Mara river we see a large Hippo pod, the Hippos are diving in and out of the water. Some are sun bathing on the sandy banks, their pink and grey bodies rotund like rocks. Next to them Crocodiles also sun bathes with their large jaws open, they are cold blooded reptiles so they need the heat of the sun. Hippos honk and fight in the rivet, they always seem so active. I love watching them yawn; their cavernous mouths open so wide revealing large rows of teeth.
Herds of Grant’s gazelle graze near the banks of the Mara River. Grant’s gazelles resemble Thomson’s gazelles but are noticeably larger and easily distinguished by the broad white patch on the rump that extends upward onto the back. The white patch on the Thomson’s gazelle stops at the tail. Some varieties of Grant’s have a black stripe on each side of the body like the Thomson’s. In others, the stripe is very light or absent. A black stripe runs down the thigh. The Grant’s gazelle’s lyre-shaped horns are stout at the base, clearly ringed and measuring 18 to 32 inches long. On the females, black skin surrounds the teats with white hair on the udder. This probably helps the young recognize the source of milk. When a fawn is older and moving about with its mother, the dark stripe on the white background may serve as a beacon for it to follow. Grant’s gazelles live in standard territorial, male-led herds. In more closed habitats, the herds tend to be smaller and more sexually segregated. Male gazelles have developed several ritualized postures to determine dominance. Younger males will fight, but as they grow older, the ritualized displays often take the place of fights. If neither combatant is intimidated, they may confront one another and clash horns trying to throw the other off-balance.
We drive through the long luscious grassy plains, shining green, golden and red in the bright morning light. The grasses reaching the top of the vehicle doors, it is a pleasurable experience, it make you really feel at one with nature. The shrub Taconetus confretous gives off a very strong intoxicating scent as it brushes past our vehicle. The leaves are often put on the beds in Maasai houses under the cow skin. I noticed the scent when I went into Maasai houses; it is very beautiful mixed with the scent of the wood burned on the fire.
A Dung beetle rolls a large ball of elephant dung on the path in front of us. Dung beetles are beetles that feed partly or exclusively on faeces (dung). A dung beetle can bury dung 250 times heavier than itself in one night. Many dung beetles, known as rollers, roll dung into round balls, which are used as a food source or breeding chambers. Others, known as tunnelers, bury the dung wherever they find it. A third group, the dwellers, neither roll nor burrow: they simply live in manure.
The day is growing hot and we see Pumba wallowing in shallow pools of muddy rain water. The warthog (or known as Pumba affectionately in Swahili and the Lion King film!) is a tough, sturdy animal. Males weigh 20 to 50 pounds more than females, but both are distinguished by disproportionately large heads and “warts”—thick protective pads that appear on both sides of the head. The warthog’s large tusks are unusual: the two upper tusks emerge from the sides of the snout to form a semicircle; the lower tusks, at the base of the uppers, are worn to a sharp-cutting edge. Sparse bristles cover the warthog’s body, and longer bristles form a mane from the top of the head down the spine to the middle of the back. The long tail ends with a tuft of bristles. The warthog characteristically carries its tail upright when it runs, the tuft waving like a tiny flag or affectionately known as safari express. Warthogs take feeding seriously. They have developed an interesting practice of kneeling on their calloused, hairy, padded knees to eat short grass. The warthog will also use its snout and tusks to dig for bulbs, tubers, and roots during the dry season. During the wet season, they may eat earthworms and other small invertebrates. Although they can excavate, warthogs normally use holes dug by other animals, like aardvarks. They sleep and rest in holes. The shelter holes provide is important for warthog thermoregulation—having neither fur nor fat, the warthog lacks both protection from the sun and insulation from cold. Sometimes, warthogs will fill the holes with grass for warmth. Warthogs live in family groups composed of a female and her young. Sometimes, two families, often of related females, will join together. Males normally live alone, only joining these groups to mate. Before giving birth to a new litter, the female warthog will chase away the litter she has been raising and goes into isolation. These abandoned juveniles may join up with another solitary female for a short time before they go out on their own. The female suckles the new litter, and each piglet has its own teat, suckling exclusively from it. Even if a piglet dies, the others do not suckle from the available teat. As such, litter sizes are usually confined to four young because females only have four teats.
We see a lone Hyena running across the plains in the tall grass; he is carrying something large in his mouth. His lopping gait is very distinctive along with his spotted beige fur. At first we think it is a buffalo leg he is carrying but no to our surprise it is the shin of an Elephant leg. It is heavy and two other Hyenas chase him for it. When they catch up they fight and scream and make the distinctive laughing sound. They tug at each end to win the prize. The victor runs off with it and we decide to find the rest of the carcass.
In the shade of some croton bushes we see the remains of the elephant carcass; the elephant would have been around eighteen years old. Hyenas use their impressively large powerful jaws to tear into the thick skin of the elephant whilst Vultures dance all over the carcass and pick at pieces of flesh from the exposed ribs. The Hyenas screech and laugh and growl at each other competing for the best pieces of flesh. Periodically the Hyena chase off the Vultures scattering them. Hyenas never fully close their jaws due to their large teeth; they also never chew, just tear off and swallow. The smell is quite pungent in the heat of the day.
We lunch right on the banks of the Mara River with Hippos and Crocodile swimming just in front of us. It is so hot today we find some bushes and spread a rug under it and eat our delicious lunch whilst watching the amusing antics of the Hippos.
Hippos are the third-largest living land mammals, after elephants and white rhinos. A hippo’s foot has four webbed toes that splay out to distribute weight evenly and, therefore, adequately support it on land. The greyish body has very thick skin that is virtually hairless. The hippo has neither sweat nor sebaceous glands, relying on water or mud to keep cool. It does, however, secrete a viscous red fluid, which protects the animal’s skin against the sun and is possibly a healing agent. The hippo’s flat, paddle-like tail is used to spread excrement, which marks territory borders and indicates the status of an individual.
Hippos leave the water at night to graze for four to five hours, covering up to 5 miles of territory. They will eat about 80 pounds of food during this time. The hippo’s modest appetite is due to its sedentary life, which does not require high outputs of energy.
Hippos have a flexible social system. They are usually found in mixed groups of about 15 individuals held by a territorial bull, but in periods of drought, large numbers are forced to congregate near limited pools of water. This overcrowding disrupts the hierarchical system, resulting in even higher levels of aggression, with the oldest and strongest males asserting dominance. Old scars and fresh, deep wounds are signs of daily fights.
If you sit for long enough you will witness some every interesting antics with Hippos. Even though they are classed as sedentary, I love watching the baby Hippos climb up onto their mother’s backs and ride on them even when they disappear under the water. They are always jostling each other and mock fighting.
After lunch we find a lone Water Buffalo, they are aptly named, for they spend most of their time in water. Their hooves are extra wide and prevent them from sinking into mud at the bottom of ponds, swamps and rivers. The African buffalo is never far from water. This one is atypical it is completely submerged in a mud pool from head to toe; we do not notice it at first. It does see us though and as we stop it stands completely caked in black sticky mud, its makes the perfect photo especially as it looks so grumpy!
You can tell it is a hot afternoon as all the animals are lethargic and hiding in the long grasses to escape the heat. We find a Hyena cooing in shallow pool of water; its brown spotty fur is also caked in mud. Instead of getting up to avoid us it just stays in the water it is too hot to move!
As the sun begins to set the air starts to cool and I love driving around feeling the breeze on my face. I stand up in the vehicle holding the roll bars just enjoying the scenery as we drive along. We stop and have sundowner drinks watching the setting sun. There is nothing more beautiful than an African sunset especially when the sky is so clear. You see the intensity of the suns sphere, the defined edges of the fireball, the oranges, golds and reds just shimmering with the heat radiating across it. As the sun sets those fiery beams flash out from either side, bright, dazzling and artistic. Nature’s painting across the sky is breathtakingly beautiful.
Back at camp we sit around the beautiful camp fire and watch the final setting of the sun as it spreads its light across the horizon. As the last flickering embers descend below the horizon it gives way to the inky blue black sky and a stunning bright moon. The stars can be fully seen tonight as it is so clear. As I sip my wine I look up at the sky and see the bright constellations and shooting stars, it is so magical and ethereal.
We dine under the stars enjoying the cooling evening with a Maasai blanket wrapped around our shoulders. It is so quiet with the occasional Hyena bark or Lion roar. The crickets sing their nightly tune, it is idyllic. The food is just so delicious and perfectly presented; we are served such a mouth-watering feast.
My lovely Askari walk me back to my chat and we talk about my lovely day. In my tent I sink into the comfortable bed and sleep peacefully after such another lovely day. The heat both energises and exhausts me; it certainly makes me sleep well. I fall to sleep to the lullaby of the wild all around me.
This is my Africa – soul touching and peaceful.
Day 12 –
I wake so happy and relaxed, the dawn is rising over the plains outside my tent and the vista is just so spectacular. My lovely friend Franz brings me coffee and I feel energised and excited about what nature will give me today. We drive out at dawn, the sun is beginning to rise and it is spreading its beautiful golden glow over the plains.
The Enkoyani pride which numbers thirteen in total has the two dominant males which are Orbanoti (young and energetic) and Oloorpapit (hairy). We see two of the four Lionesses sat in the grass looking for prey to hunt. They scan the horizon looking for an opportunity but there is little to hunt so the prides on the reserve are very hungry. Lionesses are such great hunters but they are being really challenged in this difficult season.
The sun is bright and high in the sky now setting alight the long grasses of the plains; they sparkle like fields of gold. The sky is a cloudless azure blue. Topi graze on the moist dewy grasses and stretch themselves as the hot life giving sun warms their backs.
The morning sunlight shines on a grey rocky bank, the light picks out the shining quartz in the rocks. A troupe of Baboons basks in the warmth of the sun. Baboons are very interesting primates to watch as they are just like us. Some sit cuddling up whilst others groom each other a look of pure contentment on their faces. The large dominant males watch for potential predators their eyes alert. The cheeky young babies, tiny, skinny and gangly hop over the rocks often losing their balance and falling over. Older babies play a little too vigorously with younger siblings and get reprimanded by their mothers as the young babies shriek. The young babies have such cheeky faces. It is an idyllic scene of primate life.
Three very young baby Baboons find a piece of paper and squabble and fight over it, they scramble over the rocks in a cute game of chase. Mothers try and catch their babies to groom and suckle them but they want to play. Three young find a pool of fresh water and bend forward to lick up the refreshing liquid. The mothers start collecting their babies to put them on their backs to carry them to the grass land to forage. One baby falls off and starts screaming so a dominant male rushes ups and picks it roughly up by its legs but then he sets it down and starts gently grooming it to calm it down, it is most endearing. The Baboon head off to the dewy grassy plains to forage for the day, they have very good eyesight and will pick seeds and berries to eat.
Not far away we see three large male Baboons running through the tall grasses; one has a new born Impala dangling lifelessly from its mouth. They would have grabbed it from the mother the moment
It was born and vulnerable. The poor female Impala stands helplessly in the distance hoping to get her baby back. The Baboon stops and starts to tear into the soft flesh, meat is a rare delicacy for a Baboon. The other two male Baboons sit watching waiting for a chance to steal some of the meat.
A single Wildebeest grazes with a herd of Topi. Topi have amazing eyesight and will often see predators approaching first. As we drive past we see a tiny Chameleon sitting on the tracks it round beady eyes looking for insects to eat.
We eat our delicious breakfast under the shade of a Ballanite tree with Topi and Giraffes grazing around us, it is so peaceful being at one with nature. There is very little prey on the Mara reserve even though the grasses are high as it awaits the big migration of Zebra and Wildebeest from the Serengeti in July. The big cats have so little to hunt so they have to work harder for a kill.
What are abundant are large resident herds of Buffalo which are led by a dominant matriarch. They graze on the luscious rich grasses. Elephants are also in abundance as there are plenty of new leaves, grasses and shoots to eat. We see a bachelor herd of Impala they are very fit and strong they have such an abundance of rich grasses.
We lunch down by the Mara River. Under the shade of large croton bushes we set out a blanket and picnic on the ground. In front of us a large pod of Hippos honk and grunt in the river. Some of the dominant males are extremely large as at night they come out of the water and feed on the nutritious grasses, they can weigh up to 1,500kg. They are very active and some of the males fight in the water. We see them diving under the water, they have stay under for up to 5 minutes. Others yawn opening their wide jaws fully back showing off their huge rows of teeth. A large crocodiles lay of the bank perfectly still warming its cold body.
By the river a tower of fourteen Giraffe stand watching vultures on a kill. Giraffes are such silent graceful animals. They stand neck to neck occasionally rubbing necks in affection. A male leaps to try and mate with a female but is unsuccessful. It is enjoyable watching their faces watching the vultures with fascination.
The vultures are enjoying the remains of a Buffalo kill. The body is stripped bare of any flesh or meat, just the rib cage is visible. The head however is intact and is resting backward the horns resting upside down and the eyes and mouth pointing to the sky. The eyes are blank the sockets are bare as the eyeballs have been pecked out. The teeth are bared in a death grimace; it is macabre but fascinating to see. I love the rawness of the scene, it is so stark but truthful. It is like the opening scene to a horror movie, it shows, death and decay and the scavengers feeding on it, which we know if a moral tale of greed and corruption. But here Vultures are good they are the cleaners of the Mara, they clean up the dead to prevent the decay and disease, this is why they are one of my favourite animals to study, and they can be so easily misunderstood because of their harsh appearance.
It is now late afternoon and it is growing cooler after the intense heat of the day. We are driving around the Rekero area. The dense trees are so lush and green here. My heart almost stops for up in the trees we see a kill which means a Leopard. The stunningly beautiful daughter of Baharti, Bella II has killed an Impala and is eating the carcass up the tree. She has dragged the kill up the tree and artfully and carefully positioned it over a branch. The carcass hangs lifelessly the eyes blank in death; blood slowly trickles down the branches onto the ground. Where she has opened up the kill internal organs splay out and dangles like ghoulish decorations.
Bella II is a stunning young Leopard her markings are spectacular, I love how her golden green eyes are constantly looking around wary of scavengers and threats from other cats. Her large canines tear into the flesh whilst she uses her large paws to hold the kill still. She needs to be careful not to allow the carcass to fall as Hyenas, Jackals and Baboons would have smelt the fresh blood by now and they will pick the pieces of dropped flesh from the ground. It is fascinating how Leopards can drag a kill larger and heavier than themselves up a tree. When you sit and really study Leopards you will be first struck by their absolute beauty, their famous soft coat spotted with stunning rosettes and their mesmerising intense green gold eyes. Then you will be amazed by the strength and muscular frame, they are so powerful and strong.
Believe it or not but Leopards are the most common large cats in Africa, so it is ironic that it is also the cat that is the most difficult to spot when you are in the African bush. This is due to the fact that they are rather shying, secretive and mainly nocturnal. In game reserves such as the Mara they have grown completely accustomed to vehicles but do not expect them too simply stroll across the road however. Leopards are very agile climbers and pound for pound, the strongest climber of the large cats. To spot them you will usually need a pair of binoculars and scan the tree tops on the horizon. As you look for them in trees, you may notice them often draped along thick tree limbs in an effort to escape the midday heat. You may also be lucky enough to see them feasting on a kill they dragged aloft into a tree. They do this to keep their prize safe from scavengers such as hyenas.
Leopards are very solitary animals, they defend territories against other leopards of the same sex but the territories of males overlap those of females. They do seem to tolerate a certain level of overlap with their neighbours. Rivals appear to avoid each other in some sort of “time-sharing system”. They advertise occupation of a territory by marking it with urine and faeces. They also leave claw marks on the bark of trees and use vocal signals to mark their territory. These cats have astonishing powers of navigation and homing. This capacity that has hampered attempts to relocate them away from human settlement when they become stock raiders.
They have a distinctive contact call that sounds remarkably like a wood saw. This call allows territorial neighbours to keep away from each other, and males and females to find each other. These animals growl when aggressive and spit and snarl when they feel threatened. The have a diverse range of animals they eat however prefer medium-sized antelope like impalas. It is well known they eat more predators than do other carnivores, particularly jackals. The usual hunting technique is classically feline. When it sights a potential target it stalks forward with head low and legs bent making clever use of cover. Leopards will stalk a target over distances of a few hundred meters, or wait in ambush if the target moves towards it. Once it is within a range of about 10 meters, this cat dashes forward and uses the sharp, hooked claws of each forepaw to kill their prey. The killing bite is directed at the nape of the neck or at the throat. Small prey such as mice, rats and small birds are simply swatted to death with a single swipe of a paw.
The guts of large prey are pulled out and discarded before it begins consuming its meals. It uses its incisor teeth to pluck birds and furry mammals such as rabbits. Where there are many scavengers around the prey is carried up into a tree and wedged among the branches. Their strength is demonstrated by their ability to carry carcasses weighing more than 50 kg up vertical tree trunks. They readily eat rotten meat and will feed on a stored carcass for up to four days. They scavenge if they get the chance and can steal kills from cheetahs, lone hyenas and any of the smaller carnivores.
A female Leopard on heat attracts males by the smell of her urine. The male and female may stay together for several days, even sharing kills, and they mate repeatedly over a few days. Cubs are born in heavy cover or in caves. They first accompany their mothers on hunts at four months and usually make their first kills at five months.
Bella II eats her kill until she is satisfied as this will last her maybe up to three days. She sits on the branch and starts grooming herself using her long raspy tongue to lick the blood from her paws and then she uses her paws to wash the blood from her face. She is so beautiful and graceful as she sites elegantly on the thick branch. Her stunning eyes gaze around her ever watchful or scavengers and threats. She sits up and starts her decent from the tree, unlike Lions she is skilled at navigating the sheer vertical drop; she uses her sharp claws to sink into the bark of the tree as she climbs forward down. Just a few feet from the bottom of the trunk she leaps down and lands gently, silently and gracefully on all four feet. She looks around and walks into the bushes to relax.
It is now dark the sun has set on this beautiful scene. We drive back very late to camp, tired but energised after such an interesting, thought provoking day, nature certainly provided us with such an amazing privilege.
At camp my wonderful friend Franz brings me a lovely glass of wine and delicious bitings from the chief as I sit under the stars in front of the blazing camp fire talking to Alfred about my day. It really is a wonderful camp Zebra plains, every evening I feel like I am coming back to home from home.
It is my last night and I will miss the Mara and this camp so much. The wonderful team has laid out the most beautiful table under the stars with flowers and foliage; it is such a beautiful send off for my last night. The moon lights up the plains in front of me and I can see silhouetted animals. The night is clear and bright; the blue black sky is covered in a thousand stars. The meal presented to me is so delicious and I enjoy sitting out in the open listening to the sound of the night.
My wonderful Askari walk me back to my tent and my bed is covered in petals, it is just so beautiful. I feel so happy but also sad to be leaving. I sleep so peacefully listening to the sound of the wild.
This is my Africa – wild, beautiful and peaceful.
Day 13 –
I wake bright and early as I want to spend as much time as I can out on the plains on my last morning. I thank my wonderful friend Franz for my coffee and I dress quickly. We drive out into the beautiful open plains, the sun is just rising and it is casting its red and gold glow across the open savannah. The grass dances and flows in the cool early morning breeze, a stunning simmer of gold, green and red. I feel the warmth on my face and I look up into the sky and watch the spread of colour, the artful splashes against the clear azure blue sky. The grass is still moist with droplets of dew shining like diamonds as they delicately cling to the top of each grass blade.
We can see one of the two Fig Tree male Lions walking down a track. He is a handsome, majestic imposing male; his full reddish golden is breath taking as it gently ruffles in the breeze. I sit and watch his confident walk, the way his shoulders powerfully undulate as he walks over the rough terrain and his large paws thud down. He is looking around for his brother; his gaze watchful as there are Hyena and Jackal around, there clearly is a kill. We follow him at a distance observing his behaviour and mannerisms. He occasionally gives out a low roar to find his brother; it resonates and is very deep and throaty.
He stops and drinks from a puddle of fresh rain water. His large muscular shoulders bend forward and his majestic powerful face is reflected in the water. His long pink raspy tongue laps up the refreshing water, you can audibly hear his deep gulps as he satisfies his thirst. His dark golden eyes look up around him taking in the territory.
Through the long grass he confidently strides. He detects scent by pulling his lips back, mouth open and teeth bared. His dark golden mane is wind swept; he is the perfect picture of strength and majesty. His golden eyes catch the sun as he scans the plains looking for his brother. The mane is black, dark red and gold, large and impressive.
He heads for a group of croton bushes for in the middle his brother is eating an Elan kill. He is holding the kill steady as he tears at the meaty flesh with his large canine teeth. We can hear him chewing, biting, tearing and crunching, blood covers his mussel. He looks very content and his large round belly testifies to a good feast. These huge powerful males have clearly made this kill themselves in the small hours. The brother enters the bushes to enjoy the kill, they rub heads and the other brother gets up to leave so he can stand guard and chase off the Hyena who want to take the kill. It has been known for male Lions to kill Hyena if they get too close.
They are such impressive male Lions and in this time of little food it is very important they hunt for themselves. They need to stay strong and healthy to defend their territory.
The Lion pushes his way put out of the thick bushes, he shakes his impressive mane which is covered in leaves and joins his brother. They sit in the now hot sun protecting their kill which they will finish eating later. They are content and fed; it is the survival of the fittest.
We drive to the Kaboso area it is so green and luscious with plentiful game. In the distance we see a large Impala up tree, it is draped over a branch, and this can only mean one thing, a Leopard kill. To my joy not long after a baby Leopard of around 8 months stealthily walks through the undergrowth and starts to climb the tree, its small paws with sharp claws digs into the trunk as it nimbly climbs the vertical trunk. It positions itself on the branch, feet and tail dangling, the Impala kill is bigger than it but it uses its small paws to keep it steady, big watchful eyes look around as it does so.
The young cubs face becomes covered in blood as it licks and chews on the carcass. The cub sticks out its long pink raspy tongue and licks its face; its then licks its paws and wipes it over its face. The suns dappled light reflects through branches and leafs, it lights up the rich golden brown and black spots and intense round but innocent green eyes of the Leopard. The Impala balances precariously over the branch, the internal organs red, bloody and dripping down. The Impala’s head limply hanging down over the edge of the branch, eyes blank in death.
A second Leopard cub appears from the undergrowth and climbs the trunk of the tree. It walks along the branch just below the kill and starts chewing the internal organs whilst looking up at the body. The kill starts to fall and the body swings precariously down just hanging by the back end. The cub looks down at it but it is too small to pull it back up. He grabs a leg and starts chewing, the kill is bloody and raw, flesh stripped from the bone. The cub keeps trying to grad for the carcass as it swings and tears off small pieces of flesh.
If nature was not giving us so much right now, the adolescent male cub of around two years old climbs up the tree and rescues the carcass by using its strong jaws to pull it back over a branch. He flips the kill over and you can see the entire belly ripped open, the rib cage exposed and bloody. He puts his head right inside the carcass to access the tender warm moist flesh inside. He is vigilant and keeps staring around looking for potential threats.
The mother Leopard Lorian finally comes out of the bushes to eat the kill. She is the Queen and a stunningly beautiful female. She is confident but ever watchful over her cubs. She climbs the tree and grabs the kill with her large powerful jaws and teeth and pulls it towards her. Her stunning green eyes catch the sun as she protects her family. She is a successful mother and huntress. We observe her steadying the carcass and tearing off chunks of fresh bloodied meat. When she is satisfied she stands on the branch so we see her in her full beautiful glory. She is observing the herds of prey in front of her, always looking for the opportunity to hunt again. We spend several hours with these four stunning Leopards observing their behaviour, especially the close family bond.
Back at camp we enjoy a final lunch delicious meal outside gazing over the stunningly beautiful Mara plains. It is always so hard leaving my home. I thank my wonderful hosts Alfred, Ezra, Franz and the team; I will miss this camp and my friends so much. But it is never goodbye but until next time.
As I take my flight I enjoy a heavenly view from the sky of the Mara River twisting like a green and blue snake through the luscious Mara plains. Herds of Elephants, Buffalo and Zebra roam the plains below me. Africa, mother natures’ gift to us, natural, connected and beautiful. The wildlife here is born free and living free as it should be. This really is a blessed land; I feel so at peace after spending two weeks being surrounded by nature at its most wild and free.
This is my Africa, my spiritual home, my peace, my connection with nature.