Day 1 –
Flying over the Maasai Mara plains I marvel at the rich utopia below me, after three months of rains the trees, bushes and grass are luscious green. The Mara river snakes through the plains still full and fast flowing. As we fly lower, herds of Elephants, Zebra and Impala graze on the rich plains. The great migration of herds of Wildebeest has started from the Serengeti plains to the Maasai Mara, the herds follow the rains in search of fresh grasses to graze on. The Wildebeest face possible death as hundreds of hooves thunder down the banks of the river to cross over. They could fall and be crushed and trampled to death as they reach the banks. They then have the challenge of crossing the river. The Mara river has a strong current that can sweep them away, their hooves could slip on the slippery rocks below the surface and of course large hungry crocodiles swim silently below the waters to pull them under. This is the annual fight for survival, nature at its rawest and most dramatic. Once of the other side the Wildebeest will face hungry prices of Lions, Cheetah and Leopard who have faced near starvation in the rainy season. It is thrilling seeing the hunt. The Maasai Mara is an exciting place to be during this period.
We land on the plains and meet our lovely guide Tony from Malaika (Swahili for Angel) camp. We start our safari straight away as there is so much wildlife activity with the migration. We drive past great herds of Wildebeest, nestled within them is Zebra who benefit from the safety in numbers. Two Zebra are stood together in opposite directions their head rested on each other’s backs affectionately, a Wildebeest stands next to them looking like he would like to share the affection too.
Down by the Mara river great herds of Wildebeest over five thousand in number stand on the banks wanting to cross, on the other side further herds who have already crossed honk in encouragement. It is quite a wonderful sound hearing thousands honking and braying at a time. We look down into the river and see a pod of Hippos laughing and splashing the river is still quite deep but who knows if crocodiles lurk beneath the surface.
We drive through the still long grasses, they sway beautifully in the breeze, a sea of yellows, greens, purples and reds. The landscape is just so stunning this time of year, the wide-open plains are a myriad of textures and colours. The rain has brought new growth of wild flowers, bushes and trees. The escarpment rises high above the plains shimmering green with bushes and trees, the perfect back drop to this blessed serenity.
I breathe in the fresh scent of wild mint and croton bushes; their fragrance is so intoxicating and so Africa. It evokes memories of so many incredibly experiences here over the years. Each safari is so unique and different. I come back to write about how each season brings changes and how the prides of Lions have developed, what cubs have been born to the big cats and how the environment and interactions have altered.
We stop for lunch on the banks of the Mara river, it is so relaxing listening to the rhythmic flow of the current over the rocks. Hippos honk and splash noisily in the river, as they defecate they swish their tails from side to side to distribute the pungent odourise mess. They are such aggressive, unclean, dangerous animals but sometimes when you stop and watch them you can see their calmer affectionate side especially when they interact with their young. Camp has packed us such a delicious lunch, we sit and enjoy the view as we eat. It is beautiful being at one with nature.
We are blessed on this first game drive as we find three of the four musketeer male Lions, Hunter, Sikio and Morani. It is early afternoon and they are very sleepy. Cats can sleep up to twenty hours a day and as they are nocturnal they sleep most of the day and early evening. With the big cats especially Lions you have to be very patient or you will just be observing sleeping cats. However if you know cats you will know they do not stay in one position for long. It is worth the wait though when Hunter stretches his large muscular frame, yawns flashing his large sharp canines and pink raspy tongue and gets up. His golden amber eyes are sharp and focused as he takes in the plains around him before turning around and finding another comfortable sleeping position. Before he once again sleeps he looks up at me with curiosity and I am happy to be in this moment.
A tower of Maasai Giraffes graze on tall Ballanite trees nearby. They use their very long tough tongues to pull down fronds of leaves and deposit them in their mouths to masticate. They are so quiet and graceful, I love the feeling of peace and serenity when I am near them. Their long legs elegantly walk between the trees, they stop and reach their graceful necks up to graze. The Balanite trees get their distinctive umbrella shape from the Giraffes eating the underside leaves.
Dusk is drawing in; the sun is setting low in the sky and light is a dappled glow. In the distance we see a large tall barren tree, hung between the v-shaped bow is the distinctive shape of a kill. As we draw closer, we can see it is an adult female Impala, her lifeless body hangs limply down, her eyes stare blankly to the ground in death. There are distinctive puncture wounds to the neck otherwise she is perfectly intact so clearly a Leopard has recently killed it and dragged its dead weight body up the tree. The Leopard must be in a nearby bush resting after its hunt, so we wait and wait, for patience is a virtue.
We are rewarded with the stunning sight of the female Leopard Siri walking towards us, her sleek black and gold rosette spotted body feline graceful and shining in the glow of the setting sun. She is shy and cautious as she walks past us, her stunning green eyes surveys the surrounding area for threats such as Lions and Hyena. She is a vision of beauty, as she starts her descend soundlessly and effortlessly up the vertical trunk of the tree to her kill. As she reaches the V-shape of the tree, she steadies herself and clamps her mighty jaws around the neck of the Impala and drags it further up the tree. Several times the kill looks like it is going to fall to the ground but Siri uses her sharp claws to fix her to the bark of the tree as she positions the kill so she can eat it. Siri licks the rump of the Impala to tenderise it before ripping into the tough flesh to the bloody tender meat underneath. Her face soon becomes covered in blood as she feasts on her impressive kill, it should feed her for several days. When she is sated she rubs her face on the rough vertical bark, clearly enjoying the feel the rough sensation, it is also possible she is using the exfoliation to wash her face. The sun is setting low and it is so beautiful watching the red, gold and orange glow of the sun rays lighting up her stunning fur. She seems relaxed and content and I am elated to see her on my first day back.
As we drive to camp I feel so happy and at one with nature. The Maasai Mara is a very unique special place, here you can truly feel connected to nature, the wildlife and the environment. The sun is setting low as we drive, the sky is a Monet painting of reds, yellows, oranges, blues and pinks splashed with wanton abandonment. Nature is the best artist, such vivid colours of pure light that blend perfectly into each other. The sun blazes like a fire ball, its final warmth on my skin as I watch it set. The colours darken taking on moody shades of deep grey, burnt oranges, dark reds and vibrant blues. The clouds form incredible formations, dark and moody. The Ballanite trees and Wildebeest are perfectly silhouetted against the sky line, it is a wonderfully perfect picture.
At camp we are greeted by the wonderful team, they make me feel so welcome and at home. Malaika camp is on the Mara river, perfectly open and at one with nature. The whole camp is natural and just perfect. We have drinks around the open camp fire and reflect on our incredible first day and what nature gave us. After a lovely dinner under the stars I retire to bed and listen to the harmonious sounds of nature all around me. I sleep so peacefully.
This is my Africa – connected and at one with nature.
Day 2 –
The dawn breaks as I sit in bed drinking my aromatic coffee and listening to the roar of Lions calling after a night of hunting. I feel elated after my incredible day yesterday. It is such a blessing being in this beautiful natural environment. The excitement of what nature will bring me today entices me out of bed. I dress in my beautiful Maasai dress and jewellery and meet Tony for our full day out on the wide open plains of the Maasai Mara Reserve.
It is very cool in the pre-dawn and we bundle up in Maasai blankets against the chill. As I breathe in the fresh clean air scented with wild herbs, I feel so alive and awake. The sweet adrenaline rush fills me with such eager anticipation.
Golden plains of the savannah lay open before us, the grass sways in the cool gentle breeze, the sun is rising and it sets the grass alight with vibrant tones of greens, golds and reds, it is so stunningly beautiful. The herds of Wildebeest stretch as the sun begins to rise warming themselves in its glow. They are thankful they survived the night of Lions hunting. They are perfectly silhouetted against the sun as it rises a round golden ball against a perfectly clear sky. It casts soft colours across the sky. This time of the morning is so still and quiet, birds fly across the sky calling as Baboons shriek to each other. This is the wild, the call of nature, beautiful, raw and soul touching.
We are in search of the Lions we could hear calling when we were in camp. It is not long before we find the magnificent regal Scar face, one of the oldest, loved and well known male Lions of the Maasai Mara. He is part of the musketeers but is often found away from the other three males. Today he has a purpose for that for even though he is growing old we find him mating with a female. The Lioness decides when they should mate and she is teasing him by rubbing up against him and rolling on the ground in front of him. She then crouches down in front of him her rear end in the air so he can detect she is ready to mate.
Scarface is limping he seems to have a wound from fighting or hunting but he walks after the female, he has an important role to undertake to ensure his prides survival. He is such a strong successful male, he will one day leave a great legacy of strong cubs to carry on his genes. He is so strikingly handsome with his strong muscular body and full impressive black and gold mane. His face is a battlefield of scars from successfully taking over prides from other males and of course mating with feisty females. His name of course comes from the deep scar running across his right eye, a legacy from an old battle.
The mating pair are perfectly lit by the golden red light of the sun, it sends such a warm glow over their fur, it is very beautiful and striking. They find long grass and the Lioness crouches in front of Scarface indicating to him she is ready to mate. He mounts her and bites her neck, they both start growling and snarling as he thrusts, it is a short, aggressive copulation over in seconds. As he dismounts she turns and swipes at him with her sharp lethal claws and he narrowly escapes more wounds. She rolls over onto her back to aid the flow, they will mate every fifteen minutes the first day of mating then it will slow over the next three or four days. They will get very little rest and no food whilst they mate and will become quite weak. These are such beautiful regal Lions, we stay watching them for a long time as the light is so perfect.
The Lions are mating near a very large herd of Wildebeest who want to cross the river. They stand braying and hoking to each other communicating their intentions. It is so impressive seeing such immense herds at migration time. They keep their young in the centre of the herd away from predators but the task is not an easy one. Many of the Wildebeest are sick or limping after their migration from the Serengeti, these will be easy prey for the predators. It is easy to view Wildebeest as such one large herd but when you take time to look at their individual faces they have such character. They are quite brave animals and will fiercely protect each other and their young.
The Ronkai pride of Lions are laying in the grass basking in the early morning light after a night of hunting. They look content, full and sated, many still have blood of their mussels from feasting on their kill. There are several beautiful adolescent male Lions in this pride, they have gorgeous mohican manes. These males will form their own coalition one day and have their own pride. It is quite sad as one of the young cubs has a nasty deep cut on its face, this could have been from the hunt or more liking fighting with a sibling over the kill. When Lions are feeding it is very much survival of the fittest, each Lion for itself, they have only just come out of a time of almost famine. They need to kill whilst the large herds of Wildebeest are here and regain their strength. It is wonderful seeing this pride so strong and healthy again.
We cross the Talek river, the water is receding after the rains and the grey rocks are starting to be exposed above the burbling water. The sun which is now fully risen shines like diamonds on the water’s surface. A gaggle of Egyptian Geese stand on the rocks, it is a beautiful family group, the cute fluffy chicks huddle into their parents.
Across the river the successful Reikero pride are eating a Wildebeest kill. You can hear the snarling and tearing of flesh as the Lions compete over the remains of the carcass. Bodies jostle and walk over each other to pick at bones and the marrow. Younger cubs run off with bones to play with and then chew. It is lovely watching the young having fun after such a great feast. This pride used to have the dominant male Lions Lipstick and Blackie looking after them but since Lipstick’s death and Blackie’s disappearance the musketeer males have taken over.
Across the plains the Paradise pride rest in the long grasses. One of the Lionesses is very distinctive as she just has one ear. It is not apparent how this came about, it could be from birth or through fighting when she was younger. Most Lions bear scars from battles right from being young cubs. As soon as any animal is born it is under threat from many enemies.
It has been such an incredible morning so we breakfast by the Mara River. It is a stunning morning and the setting is idyllic. Hippo wallow in the cool waters whilst others stand on the banks basking in the sun their pink bodies cumbersome on dry land. A large crocodile is laying by a fallen sun-bleached tree on the banks of the river. It is almost camouflaged as they are both grey and still. Breakfast is as always delicious and we sit on a blanket enjoying the heat on our faces after the coolness of the morning. It is lovely discussing our exciting morning.
After breakfast we come across a female Cheetah, she is pregnant and is looking to hunt. We follow her at a respectful distance as she walks gracefully through the long grasses undetected by the prey around. Her beautiful lithe body is perfectly camouflaged, her spotted coat is gold and black and blends perfectly within the golden grasses. It is a privilege to study her feline movements, watch her assessing the plains and plaining her hunting strategy. She is beautiful and clearly needs to hunt, we spend several hours following her and observing her personality and habits. This is how to fully appreciate wildlife, it is more than about seeing but really understanding the animal’s behaviour.
We see several Hyena running with their tails up. We follow them in case they have detected a kill but their intentions are not clear. They can smell blood from afar and are incredibly scavengers keeping the plains clean of rotting carcasses. However they are amazing hunters in their own right. They have an ugly beauty; their coats can often be mistaken for that of a leopard from a distance because of their markings. Their distinctive loping gait however always gives them away as well as their infectious laugh.
A stunning blue Kingfisher swoops down from a branch to try and catch a fish from a watering hole. The bright sun reflects off of its stunning colours. There are many beautiful colourful birds on the Mara.
Large herds of Hartebeest, Eland and Impala graze together, they know there is safety in numbers. It is a utopia of wildlife this time of year after the rains. The grass is long and luscious, there is new shoots on the bushes and wild flowers burst through the rich fertile soil. It is also a time of plenty for the prey as well as the predators. They prey is strong which makes catching them quite challenging for the predators as they can run very fast.
We lunch back down by the Mara river, I love the peace and tranquillity here being surrounded by animals. As usual the Hippos are fighting in the river, their colossal bodies launch at each other, their mouths wide showing rows of lethal teeth. We stretch out on our Maasai blankets and enjoy a rest after our interesting morning.
A stunning male Cheetah is relaxing on a termite mound, he surveys the plains around him looking to hunt but there is not any game to hunt here so he moves stealthily through the grass to find the herds. He is strong and powerful, as he walks his powerful muscular shoulders undulate, he is built for speed and endurance and no doubt will successfully hunt and kill later.
Through Talek river we see the Egyptian geese feeding off of vertebrae and water life. They are an interesting contrast to the impressive big cats and animals we tend to focus on. I enjoy stopping and watching the simplicity of the scene.
Two Tawny Eagle sit in a tree under the shade of its canopy. Their beady sharp eyes are focused on movements in the grass as they want to hunt, mice, rats and rabbits. Their strong sharp talons grip the branch bracing themselves for flight. They are impressive large raptors.
Large herds of Buffalo also graze on the fresh grasses, they number in the hundreds. They gaze at us as we pass, they have such a malevolent angry stare. They matriarch decides on the direction the herd will take. They also keep their young in the middle of the group to protect them from predators. The whole herd will protect the young and will fiercely fight as a herd if one is attacked. It is most impressive watching Lions and Buffalos fighting.
We find a rather sad Wildebeest sat on the plains with a broken leg. Their legs are rather spindly so when the herd run it is easy for them to break their legs when one gets caught in a hole or dip. It is late afternoon and the predators will start to wake, this Wildebeest will shortly be an easy kill.
Against the backdrop of a perfect azure blue sky three Vultures sit on the top of a stunning architectural Ballanite tree. They scan the plains for carcasses to scavenge on. Vultures are very ugly beautiful, their almost bold heads are quite distracting from their stunning feathers on their bodies. They have an impressive wing span and when they fly you can truly appreciate the beauty of their plumage.
The sun starts to set casting its golden light across the plains. This time of evening is simply magical on the plains. As far as the eye can see the whole plains is lit up in a golden glow. A Long crested Eagle sits on top of a tree scanning for rats, mice and rabbits. You can see the glow of the sun reflecting in its eyes, they are so striking.
We find the Ronkai pride of Lions, we watch a young Lioness pull the bloody remains of the Wildebeest carcass out of a croton bush and start to eat it. She possessively puts a paw on it and gnaws on the deep red bloody ribs. An adult Lioness comes out of the bushes and basks in the sunlight, rolling over happily.
A young male Lion around a year old sits beautifully in the long golden grass with the golden light of the sunset lighting him up, his face is so pretty and serene. He yawns showing his impressive canines and curling his raspy pink tongue.
Six Lionesses sit together it is a vision of beauty in the sunlight. They look up into the sky as birds fly overhead, their golden eyes aglow. They greet each other by rubbing heads and frolic in the long grasses rolling over batting each other with their large paws. Females are very loyal and will stay together for life, mothers, daughters, aunties and cousins.
They groom licking their large paws with their raspy tongues and rub them over their faces. They yawn exposing their large canines, they will prepare for the nightly hunt.
As we drive back to camp we see a male Leopard running, Impala make warning call so he dashes into the bushes. This Leopard is often spotted by our camp, the males tend to be more elusive than the females and quite shy. The male Leopards are significantly larger than the females, with a powerful muscular frame, bullish neck and a wide face. They are impressive but not often seen.
Just as we reach camp and it is growing very dark we see the handsome Scar face sat alone on the plains, he is majestically regal with his dark black and gold mane. He is snapping at flies which is bemusing to us but clearly annoying to him. So he looks so stunning in the setting sun, his dark mane is lit up like fire, reds, blacks, deep golds and burnished bronze. This light really captures this divine beauty and why he is the most loved Lion here.
At camp I sit by the fire talking to the Maasai, the flames from the fire leap and crackle in the cool night air. We hear Lions roaring as we eat our dinner and throughout the night.
This is my Africa – wild, beautiful, raw and soul touching.
Day 3 -
I wake before dawn to hear Lions roaring right next to camp. Their distinctive deep throaty roar is low and carries far. They are calling to each other so they can locate one another and also warn other prides that this is their territory. My room steward brings me some delicious aromatic coffee and as I sit in bed drinking it I contemplate what nature will give me today.
We drive out before sunrise at and the air is cold and crisp but fragranced with the scent of wild mint and croton bushes. We bundle up in Maasai blankets against the cold and fresh air awakens my senses. The herds of Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala and Topi stretch their cold tired muscles thankful that they have survived the night against Lion attack. Some start leaping preparing the walk they have ahead to the Mara River.
The sun starts to rise casting a red, orange and golden glow across the plains. The grass is still long on some of the plains where the Wildebeest has not yet reached and is sways gently in the breeze. The grass is a rich array of purples, reds, yellows and greens that sparkle in the light as each blade is moist with dew. The dew topped grass sparkles like diamonds as it catches the light. It is very peaceful this precious time before sunrise.
There is nothing like an African sunrise over the stunning Maasai Mara, it makes you feel so connected to nature. As I lift my face to the life giving sun I feel so vital and alive, you can see how ancient cultures worshipped it because when you stop and watch it you can feel the power radiating. I love the saying, look at the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.
We drive to where we saw the Wildebeest with the broken leg last night to see what its fate was in the night. We see Hyenas lopping through the long grass and fear it may have been ripped apart alive by them. As we approach we see that Scarface was the first to it and probably only killed it within the last couple of hours. He would have most probably strangled the Wildebeests neck with his large jaws. He has eaten the back legs and part of the hind quarter. As we approach he growls and clamps his impressive teeth around the neck of the kill and starts to drag the kill towards the bushes.
Scarface finished mating with the Lioness yesterday and now he needs food. It is good to see he is no longer limping. The Wildebeest is still a dead weight as the carcass drags along the ground between Scarface’s legs, it makes it difficult for him to walk but he is determined to hide his meal away from the scavengers. He will eat the kill alone in the bush, ripping apart the rest of the flesh.
We drive through the vast open plains teaming with the herds of Wildebeest and Zebra, it is just so impressive to see them. They grunt and honk communicating with each other. Within these large herds are smaller family groups and they take care and protect each other, a loss of one to a predator causes anxiety within the group. The mixed herds of Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala, Topi and Thompson Gazelle means they can unite against one common enemy and utilise each other’s skills such as the Topi’s impeccable eyesight.
It is exciting and exhilarating driving over the rouge terrain and through rocky ravines. As we pass Buffalo they look up in annoyance they are bad tempered beasts who always seem to be perturbed at our presence. Pumba scurry in all directions as we pass they have so many predators they are always very nervous. This is in contrast to the Giraffes who are silent and still and watch with curiosity our movements.
We approach the Ronkai area and see two of the Lionesses, they look agitated. It soon becomes apparent why. For out of the bushes Hunter and Morani (Swahili for Warrior) walk confidently. These magnificent males of the Musketeers have only just taken over this pride and the females are fighting their control. One of females seems feisty and sassy and approaches Morani and starts flirting with him by rolling over in front of him. As soon as he approaches her she jumps up and runs off. He gives chase but he is built for power not speed and she outruns him. This flirtation happens another couple of times until he grows tired and bored of her feistiness. The other Lioness is more subservient and lays down in front of him, however the other female comes back and rebukes her, and the Lion starts scolding both Lionesses for their insubordination. The Lionesses run off to escape his wrath. Hunter has retired to the coolness of the bushes where we suspect there is a kill for him to feast on.
As the scene settles we leave and drive through the large herds of thousands of Wildebeest and Zebra, they part like a wave as we drive through it. We stop and are surrounded by them soaking up the atmosphere of herd life. It is actually quite a relaxing sound listening to their braying and honking. The more dominant animals looking at us curiously. It is a sea of bodies looking for the fresh grasses and following their herd instinct to migrate, they rely on the safety in numbers. The truth is over 6 million Wildebeest migrate but over a hundred thousand will die from being hunted, drowned in the river or exhaustion and injury.
We stop for breakfast on the plains basking in the heat of the morning sun. Zebra graze very close to up and stare at us not feeling threatened at all. We enjoy our delicious food whilst taking in this amazing vista. It is so wonderful feeling at one with nature, being connected to the earth and the wildlife around us.
After breakfast we drive back to the Rekero area to look for Lions. We find a mating pair sleeping in the long grasses, they seem tired and in need of rest, so we continue down near the river. A Lionesses goes into the bushes to escape the growing heat of the day probably along with the rest of the pride after their long night hunting.
As we drive down the Double Cross ravine, we hear the five Cheetah coalition have been seen so we drive over to that area. We find them curled up peacefully together under the shade of a Ballanite tree. They are lithe and graceful and entangled up together, limbs languishing over the bodies of others. They look so serene and content.
This afternoon is the perfect example of how to safari – be patient. We sit for four and a half hours with these beautiful cats with just a brief stop for lunch. The night before they walked over 12km so they seem to be quite tired. Occasionally they stretch and yawn and roll over and re-position. When they feel stiff they get up cat stretch and lay back down next to another. It is heart-warming seeing them resting their heads on each other’s backs. They may not be blood related but they act like brothers.
Finally at nearly 6pm the Cheetahs after a long day of sleeping which is most unusual, they start to rouse. Two of the males start affectionately licking each other’s heads, grooming thoroughly and looking very contented. This is a wonderful bonding experience. The others start standing and stretching their limbs warming up in the glow of the setting sun after sleeping in the cool shade of the tree.
The Cheetahs walk over to the tree and start scent marking it by squirting urine up against it, the others sniff it to see that the territory has been marked. The tree is also good to use to sharpen their claws before they hunt. They start their journey across the plains scanning the horizon for prey to hunt. As a coalition of five they can hunt larger game such as adult Wildebeest and Zebra. We follow them at a distance watching the sun gleaming on their golden bodies. As the sun sets we leave them to their hunt and return to camp.
At camp we relax with red wine by the fire. The sky is inky black and clear and the stars shine brightly against the black canvas. It is so still and serene with the sound of the wild all around us we decide to eat dinner outside just where we are. We reminisce on our wonderful day.
I sleep peacefully to the sound of the wild all around me, the familiar sound of Lions roaring and owls hooting.
This is my Africa – serenity, beauty and peace.
Day 4 –
It is quiet as I wake this morning, the Lions must have travelled to further plains to hunt in the night. As I sit in bed drinking my coffee I reveal in the peace and serenity of pre-dawn. I feel a frisson of anticipation as I dress in my beautiful Maasai attire at what nature will bring me today.
The sun is rising as we drive out onto the plains, it is cold and crisp as we bundle up against the chill. The sun spreads its golden red glow over the grasses setting each blade on fire. As the breeze rustles through the grass it is a living sea of reds, oranges, purples and vibrant greens. It is beautiful watching this living flaming art work.
We see five young male Lions around 3-4 years old from the Enkuyanai pride. They are very powerful, strong, muscular boys but their manes have yet to fully grow and they are still very blonde. In around two years’ time they will be fully grown and will be contenders to the crown challenging the Musketeer Lions whose prides are the Marsh, Topi, Paradise, Ronkai and Rekero. One of these beautiful males is sat on top of a mound he is absolutely stunning with the glow of the golden sunrise lighting up is golden fur and blonde mane. His impressive muscular face is resting on his large powerful paws, he looks up at me with bright golden-brown eyes. He looks so gentle and peaceful in his rest. Another of the brothers strolls through the long red oat tipped grasses, his stunning fur blending with the dry golden grasses, it is very picturesque and idyllic. It is growing warm and he is looking for shade. He finds croton bushes and scent marks them marking his territory. He turns around and sniffs the leaves to ensure he has left his mark, as his raises his impressive head I am in awe of his powerful profile. He enters to bush to sleep for the day.
A male Lion is following a Lioness, he walks directly behind her as she will dictate when and where they will mate. They will leave the pride to have some privacy during this time. She will excrete urine so he can pick up the scent that she is ready to mate and is in oestrus. He will follow her lead in this mating ritual, it is important to both of them that they produce cubs to strengthen the pride.
We decide to breakfast in the vehicle as we are watching a pregnant Cheetah hunting. She clearly looks hungry and wants to hunt. There is plenty of prey in this area and she crouches low in the grass to decide on whether she will hunt the herd of Impala or herd of Thompson Gazelle. She seems indecisive, maybe she is too hungry to make a good decision. She starts to prowl through the long grasses and chases the herd of Impala, they are quick and she misses. She will try again later when they have forgotten about her presence.
A Leopard tree architecturally beautiful over 100 years old, stands tall on the open plains. The twisted gnarly trunk is made up of vibrant browns, greens and oranges from seeping sap. Not far from here two Lionesses are hunting Pumba. They crouch low in the grass, their ears flat to streamline their bodies. They give chase but they are built for power not endurance and the Pumba quickly outrun them. They look disappointed but walk off to see what other prey they can hunt, only around 25% of their hunting will be successful.
Down by the Mara river large crocodiles sunbathe on the banks. Their scally armoured cased bodies look like fallen logs on the golden sand. It is fascinating looking at these stunning reptiles that their specie has survived millions of years. Incongruously Egyptian Geese sit near them, their beautiful white and beige plumage soft and delicate next to the hard detail of the crocodile.
A matriarch Elephant is being very playful with her calf. The little calf runs around flapping its ears and waving its trunk in excitement and the mother affectionately taps it with her long trunk. The rest of the herd graze around them very protective of this young infant. At this age the calf is still very vulnerable to predator attack.
Nearby a Fish Eagle with its dark brown body, white chest and head and yellow featherless face sits on a mound looks for rodents. Its wing span is around 2 metres and is very impressive as it opens its wings wide and flies up into the air to hover above the plains. Its hooked shape beak is ideal for a carnivorous lifestyle.
Two Tawny Eagles sit in a nearby tree, I nearly miss them as their dark tawny feathers are perfectly camouflaged against the bark of the tree. Like most large eagles they have sharp penetrating eyes and a sharp hooked beak. They move their heads left to right scanning the plains for rodents to hunt.
It is an afternoon of large birds. A Secretary bird with full plumage walks amongst Wildebeest and Elephants on the plains. It is an interesting bird with black feathered legs and lower body and white feathered back, chest and head. It has a featherless red face and its head is topped with a crown of black feathers. It is a stunning rapture nearly a metre tall with a long neck which is uses to pick between the grasses.
We have a very late lunch by the river with Hippo splashing and honking in the water. As we lay out our blanket and food Hildebrandt’s Starling with their golden chests and royal blue iridescent plumage fly down from the nearby tree and settle on the ground next to us. They are clever birds and learnt to be friendly to people in exchange for bread. They sing so sweetly it is hard not to engage with such sweet birds. The afternoon is still so hot and we relax and enjoy the wildlife and scenery around us.
Up on the paradise plains we find a beautiful Lioness sitting on a mound surveying the plains for prey. She is young and very captivating, there is a quiet serenity about her. As she gazes her golden eyes are lit by the sun and her fur looks like spun gold. She rests her head on her paws to rest a while, no doubt she will re-join her pride later for the nightly hunt.
The afternoon starts to cool and we find a male Cheetah with a Thompson Gazelle, its looks like he has only just made the kill. He tears into the flesh gorging quickly, blood dripping from his mouth onto the ground. He must eat quickly as once the carcass is open the smell of fresh blood will attract scavengers. The Thompson Gazelle lays on the dirt, its eyes blank in death, horns pointing to the sky. Cheetahs are the most successful and efficient of all the big cats, but also the most prone to other cats and scavengers stealing their kill due to their smaller size.
The sun begins to set on this beautiful scene of raw nature. The sun a blazing round fire ball takes it descend through the sky, it shoots beams of dark oranges, reds, yellows and purples across the sky. Vibrant artistic brushstrokes against the dark blue sky, natures perfect painting. Balanite trees are perfectly silhouetted against the skyline, dark outlines of a classic African image.
Lions roar close to camp as we sit around the fire having dinner. The sky is a blue/black covered with a billion bright stars, it is easy to pick out the constellations. The flames of the fire leap and dance and warm our bodies, the evenings are quite chilly. I feel so relaxed as I sip my red wine and reminisce on the day. I leap so peacefully with the sounds of the wild all around my tent.
This is my Africa – born free, living free.
Day 5 –
The morning air is cool as I leave my tent before dawn, my wonderful Askari escort me to my vehicle where I meet my lovely guide Tony. The camp is open to the wild so Hippo, Hyena, Leopard could easily be close to my tent. This thought excites me every morning, I love that sense of risk and anticipation. Of course I am perfectly safe my Askari are Maasai warriors with spears who are there to protect me.
Thousands of Wildebeest are running in the cool morning air, hooves thundering on the hard ground, silhouetted as the sun rises behind them. It is like a scene from a wildlife documentary, the perfect migration. This is real, right in front of me and a privilege to observe first hand. The sun rises in a glow of pastel colours all blended in fine brush strokes against the sky. Pinks, purples, yellows and oranges merge together as the sun begins to rise over the escarpment.
There is a strong scent of croton bushes as the herds of Wildebeest thunder past them brushing the leaves, they run fast as there may be predators in the bushes. There is electricity in the air, a sense of urgency and primal desire to make their journey. The migration is part of the Wildebeests natural instinct, it is their survival. They run through plains of dry golden grass beautifully lit by the golden red sunrise. It is a beautiful sight to behold.
By the river the thousands of Wildebeest gather wanting to cross the fast-flowing river. They honk and bray communicating with each other their intentions. Within the herd are small family groups, a male with have several females and calves, they need to communicate with each other to ensure a safe passage. Also the male Wildebeest is warning other males these females are his.
In the river Wildebeest carcasses lay bloated from previous crossings, either trampled to death or their legs have broken and they have died. Vultures and Marabou stalks gather on the banks awaiting the carnage. Others stand on the dead bloated Wildebeests in the water picking at the cold lifeless bodies. The migration brings exciting electrifying scenes of Wildebeest thundering down the banks of the river crossing in their thousands, bodies fighting to swim and get to the other side safely. Heroism as calves battle the currents, slippery rocks and the snapping jaws of crocodiles. But also sadness as animals get swept away by the fast current, drown or are pulled under by crocodiles. Watching the migration and the crossing of the Mara river by hundreds of thousands of Wildebeest and Zebra is quite simply heart pounding breath-taking.
The Wildebeest do cross in front of me, I am stood at a distance on the sand banks of the Mara river, it is fast furious and frantic as each wants to cross as quick as possible to safety. Not one wants to be eaten by crocodiles or drown and be swept down river. The noise is deafening as the hooves thunder down the banks. The water is not too deep so most can run over the grey slippery stones under the water, hooves slip and they have to regain their balance. The calves have to swim against the current but they are strong. This time they all make it across, the crocodile all look well fed from an earlier crossing so this herd are very lucky.
Next to the Wildebeest crossing Hippos wallow in the water watching the action unfold whilst Vultures fly in on impressive outstretched wings and land on slippery wet grey rocks to view the carnage. Marabou stalks with their bold heads, long sharp beaks and piercing eyes watch with hunger.
We drive through further impressive herds whom are grazing on the short grasses. It is impossible to predict when the herds will cross, they can graze by the river all day and decide the conditions are not right. The do not cross at night as this would be too dangerous. That is why if you want to witness the natural phenomena of the Wildebeest crossing the Mara rivers you must be very patient and be prepared to sit in the heat all day, but is it is worth the wait.
Dozens of Vultures are flying overhead looking for carcasses to feast on, they have such an impressive wingspan and are very graceful in flight, hovering on the wind. It is good to study Vultures as they are more than scavengers that clean the savannah of rotting carcasses. They are ugly beautiful birds with beautiful coloured feathers and unique characteristics. To observe them sitting on the plains their wings fully stretched out is absolutely stunning. No kill scene is complete them these magnificent macabre birds hoping about, squalling and fighting with each other.
We eat a very late brief breakfast in the vehicle as we hear a Leopard has been seen, even though we are out in the vehicle thirteen hours a day it is not easy some days to spot to eat especially at migration time when the predators and prey are most active. You have to be prepared to be vigilant and look for the flick of a tail up a tree or a twitch of an ear in long grasses. We look for the Leopard but it has disappeared into the bushes.
We find Maridadi (Swahili for beautiful) one of the Fig Tree males with a Lioness mating. He really does deserve his name, he is a stunningly handsome male with a full dark bronze and blonde mane. The Queen, the Lioness is sitting next to him. After a while she yawns, stretches and rises, it is time to mate. He observes it is time for him to fulfil his function and he to yawns, rises and follows her. She chooses the track to mate on, she rubs up against him indication her willingness to mate and crouches in front of him, he positions himself behind her, bites her neck, trusts for a few seconds and done. During the brief copulation both Lions snarl and growl at each other. When he is done she turns to him and swipes her sharps claws at him, rolls over and walks away. After they mate he follows her into a bush to sleep.
It is growing hot so we lunch by the Talek River, it is very beautiful and serene here. The Talek and Mara Rivers are the life source of the plains and home to dozens of varieties of animals. We sit and eat our delicious lunch on our blankets and watch the Hippos in the river, honking and splashing. A small baby tries to hitch a ride of her mother’s colossal back, the mother is wary of crocodiles sat on the banks of the rivers, they are known to kill and eat baby Hippo.
A stunning, lithe, athletic Cheetah with a cub is in hunting mode. The young cub enthusiastically trots along behind her, it is a beautiful scene. It is a precarious business for a female Cheetah raising a cub. Unlike the Lionesses she has no support system she has to tend to it herself and also hunt. The survival rate is low as Cheetah cubs have many threats from scavengers and other big cats. The cub is very playful in the early afternoon warmth of the sun, it runs through the grasses mock hunting using mum as her prey. It leaps up and grabs hold of mum’s rump trying to pull her down unsuccessfully, but hum is very indulgent and chases the cub around. Whilst the lions sleep there is time for play and serious hunting.
You should not have favourites but the Kaboso female Leopard just captivates me. She is small but powerfully muscular, confident and incredibly strikingly beautiful. We find her just before sunset, she is out hunting, completely unfazed by our presence. She is self-assured and a successful hunter who has raised many cubs to adulthood. She initially sits serenely and beautifully by the bushes surveying the plains, she stunning green eyes sharp and focused. There is nothing close to hunt so she walks out into the open and strides over the short grasses keeping focused on any small movement. She very kindly walks straight towards us quite nonchalantly, she stops, squats and urinates, all the time looking right at me, quite bold and unperturbed. It really makes me admire this sassy confident female even more.
We follow her for a couple of hours, observing her behaviour and enjoying watching her movements, it really is a privilege being in the presence of such a powerful wild cat. She makes several hunting attempts, she crouches her shoulders low as she stealthy walks through the grass but the prey are alert. As the sun sets low she disappears into the bushes.
We drive back to camp under a midnight blue starry sky. The air is cool, and I feel happy and relaxed after an incredibly day. Lions are roaring close by calling to pride to gather for the nightly hunt. As I eat my dinner by the fire I breathe in the fresh cool air and relax, it is important to lose yourself here and fully absorb yourself in the environment.
This is my Africa – nature wild and free.
Day 6 -
I wake to the sound of Lions roaring quite close to camp. They seem to like this area as large herds of Wildebeest are grazing near to the river. The Lions can gather in the bushes and ambush the Wildebeest or wait for them to cross, distracted, then take their opportunity to hunt. It is pre-dawn and I bundle up against the morning chill.
The large herds of Wildebeest provide great hunting opportunities for all the predators. Hyenas are known as scavengers, but they are actually very efficient hunters, they have large jaws with sharp teeth and are very cunning. We find a pack Hyena with their own Wildebeest kill, they are devouring the carcass quite quickly. Between them they laugh and moan and fight with each other for the feeding rights. All around them Vultures are hopping around waiting for them to finish so they can pick flesh from the carcass.
The stunning Koboso female Leopard in resting by the bushes by Talek River. This is one of her favourite places to hunt as she can hide in them and as the prey come down to drink, she can ambush them. We watch her scanning the plains around the river very intently but at present the herds are far off but as the day grows warmer, they will come, and she will be ready. She is still rearing two cubs although they are becoming quite independent now, her adolescent son run into the bushes next to her. Like most male Leopards he is quite shy.
Not far from here we see Zebra walking in a watering hole beautifully surrounded by trees and bushes, it is quite tranquil. They have come to cool their bodies as they walk in up to their knees before bending their head to drink the refreshing water. They are too large and challenging for the Leopard to hunt. The Zebra seem quite relaxed, they clearly do not detect any threats.
We have breakfast during a Balanite tree as it is already growing hot. We are surrounded by large herds of Wildebeest and Zebra all wanting to cross the river. We listen to them braying and honking, communicating to their family members within the herd. It is a privilege being so close to them. They are very much aware of the dangers around them, Zebra stand with their heads resting on another’s back so one can look one way and the other another, it is also a lovely bonding experience.
The heat is driving a Lion with Lioness into the bushes by a watering hole, it is cool, and they can also escape the constant torment of flies. They snap at them impatiently and flick their tails. The watering hole is also a good place for them to wait for the prey to come and drink so they can hunt them. In the meantime, they lie down and pant heavily in the heat trying to regulate their body temperature.
Yaya one of the famous Marsh Lionesses in the Marsh area is sleeping under a bush. She has recently given birth, but she has hidden her cubs. It is a tense time for the Lioness as her new born cubs are at threat from Hyena and Buffalo. She would have hidden them most likely in the dense undergrowth. The lionesses try and give birth around the same time so they can share the duties of protecting the cubs whilst the other Lionesses hunt. The Lionesses also breast feed each other’s cubs. They have a strong female bond as they need to ensure the strength of the pride by successfully rearing the next generation.
We decide to lunch at camp as it is situated by the Talek River. It is a beautiful setting with Hippo honking and splashing in the river. Some are laid out on the river bank, large pink and grey masses. They always look so cumbersome on dry land, but they need to graze and also dry wounds from fighting in the water. Further down the bank large crocodile sun bathe open mouthed like fallen logs. They are cold blooded reptiles and need the heat of the sun.
In late afternoon we find a large male Impala laying in the long grasses recently killed, eyes blank in death horns pointing to the sky. It is almost perfect like it was sleeping apart from the twisted angle of its head. The grass is long here but the sharp twisted horns gave away its location. The mystery now is why is it left unattended and who successfully killed such a large prey.
After driving around and around we finally spot Luluka a stunningly beautiful female Leopard sleeping on the sandy banks of the ravine. Due to the long grasses it is no doubt this was a very opportunistic kill as this is a large prey for a small Leopard. The Impala would have been grazing and she would have stealthy walked through the grass and ambushed it clamping her strong jaws around its throat and suffocating it, the Impala would have put up an impressive struggle, kicking and bucking. We wait and watch her sleep as we know with it being a fresh kill, she will return to it momentarily after she has regained her strength.
We wait for less time than anticipated, Luluka gets up and walks up the bank of the ravine and licks the kill with her barbed tongue, first to soften, second to break the skin and the third to draw blood. She tears into the juicy soft rump, I can hear sound of her teeth on flesh, muscle and sinew. Blood drips from her mouth to the ground as she buries her face into the tissue. She is aware once the carcass is open scavengers and other predators will smell it and try and take it from her so she must eat fast. She looks up at us with her beautiful blue green round eyes, we are no threat, so she carries on eating. She really is a perfect combination of beauty and strength.
Once she is sated, she tries to drag the carcass close to the ravine to hide it, but it is far too heavy for her to do so. She has eaten much of the rump, but it is a large Impala with a dead weight. Once discovering the impossibility of moving it she surprises us by becoming quite frisky. She starts to play with it rolling around next to it and playing with its tail.
She tires, yawns and sits up. She stretches her powerful muscles and walks over to a large termite mound. She climbs the six-foot termite mound and sits down on top to survey the area. Fortunately for her there are no scavengers in the area as yet so she can afford to relax before possibly eating again. The sun is now setting and the stunning reds and golds of the sunset lights up her fur. She is a picture of contentment and beauty. She is a confident Leopard and is rather unusually known for travelling long distances rather than keeping to a smaller territory. She is at this point incredibly close to us and because of the height of the termite mound also eye level. Neither on her or my part is there any threat or fear, just perfect serenity in the last warm glow of the sunset.
As we drive back to camp the vivid round fireball sun sits perfectly viewed through two bowed trees, it is the perfect frame for this vibrant light show.
We have dinner by the river tonight, there is a fire lit and the stars are our only light and the roar of Lions our music. It is a peaceful idyllic setting; the warmth of the fire takes away the chill of the night. After we have eaten the wonderful team in camp who are mainly Maasai join us and perform traditional songs and dances. The deep rich sounds of men’s voices are at one with the environment, it is so wonderful to listen to and watch. The light of the fire picks up the beautiful colours of the Maasai’s shukas and jewellery, the jingle of the beads combining perfectly with the songs.
This is my Africa – man at one with nature.
Day 7 –
Heading out pre-dawn it just spectacular, it is cold but fresh, the air is fragranced with the scent of croton bushes and wild mint. We bundle up in Maasai blankets and hot water bottles and enjoy the stillness of the morning. Birds fly overhead silhouetted against the dark sky whilst others sing the dawn chorus up in the trees. This is musically layered with the screech of Baboons chasing each other and Hyenas laughing as they lop through the grass. The sun starts to rise the life-giving fiery flames spread across the horizon shooting out beams of red, orange and yellow. The colour is vibrant against the dark sky. The sky is awash with artistic vibrant paint strokes, natures perfect canvass.
The sun kisses and lights up with gold everything its touches like Midas. The long grasses look like fields of spun gold, the dew on each blade of grass shine like diamonds. The beige fur of the Impala grazing on this grass look like burnished bronze in this glorious morning light. Here you find such poetry and perfect serenity, I am overcome with a sense of peace.
The great herds of Zebra and Wildebeest stretch their cold muscles and start to trot around, the young babies can be quite frisky this time of morning and frolic and leap in the grasses. It will be interesting to see with all the Lion roaring last night how many of the herd was lost in the hunting activity.
It is the function of the Vultures to keep the savannah clean of carcasses, a rotting carcass can bring disease and the smell is quite pungent. We see Ruppel Griffin, Lapped Face and African White back Vultures on sitting on top of a small Gardenia Tree with the azure blue sky behind them with small fluffy white clouds. They will be scanning the plains for carcasses.
It looks like this pride of Lions near camp hunted in the very early hours of the morning as they are already going to sleep inside of the bushes. A Lioness washes herself on the edge of the bush, her face is covered in blood and she licks her large paws and wipes it on her face to wash it off. She looks well fed and content, she is very beautiful, so we sit and watch this peaceful scene.
We breakfast by the river; the water is very shallow as there has not been any rain for nearly three months. The Hippos are wallowing in the shallows trying to keep their skin moist and protected against the sun. One of the mothers has a small baby which tries to climb onto her back, but it keeps slipping off. They are quite amusing to watch. As we sit and enjoy our breakfast a Cinnamon Chested Bee-eater fly down and rests on the tip of a branch, it has the most vibrant green iridescent feathers. As it preens and washes its feathers the sun catches the colours, it is stunning. Not to be outdone Long tailed Ruppel Starling fly down from the trees and also sit on the branches of the bush and start singing waiting for us to give it bread crumbs from breakfast. It is common but friendly bird with striking iridescent midnight blue feathers.
The Bilashaka which means indisputably a good area for animals is found in the Marsh area. It is indeed a rich utopia of wildlife. We see one of the Marsh pride Lioness stalking through the long grass hunting Zebras. She crouches down and stalks a lone male, she walks stealthily and strikes by pouncing on his rear end, but the Zebra kicks his hind legs and she misses. She is disappointed but looks around and sees some Pumba to hunt.
It is worth spending many hours in this area observing the rich diversity of animals here. It is also a stunning oasis as the Marsh area is always wet, so the grasses are a deep vibrant green and many species of trees thrive in the moist environment. It is a popular are for Elephants and Buffalo as they often drink and bathe in the Marsh waters. The Marsh pride of Lions here are very famous and have been well documents and filmed over the last few decades. The pride divided a couple of years ago due to poisoning by Maasai which was incredibly tragic of some of the most loved Lions. The human wildlife conflict here is still an issue. The pride is fortunately finally recovering in numbers.
The sun beats down hot so we find shade under a tree and relax for a while and eat our lunch. It is the perfect place to stop as we are surrounded by wildlife grazing.
The Topi pride of Lions, three males of around 3-4 years old and two females which used to be part of the Marsh pride are laying in the shade of some trees. The males have very pale blonde fur and light ginger mohican manes which are not yet fully grown, they are already very large and muscular. The males tend to sit together and the females apart. The males will soon leave the pride to stop them mating with the females and form their own coalition so this bonding time is very important as they will most likely stay together for life and govern their own pride. This is a stunning age for Lions, both the males and females still have pale fur, pink noses and very little scarring on their faces, they are incredibly beautiful. As they roll over in their sleep you can still see the rosettes on their belly faintly which indicates their youth.
One of the Topi male Lions stretches, yawns, stands and walks over to a tree. He is scenting where the female urinated, his teeth bared and lips back to draw the scent to the back of his mouth, this is called Flehmen. The Flehmen response takes place when one lion, of either sex, sniffs and smells the urine of another. Chemicals and hormones contained in the urine elicit the Flehmen response. Male lions can also test the female’s reproductive status by approaching their rear ends closely, and sniffing. One of the Lionesses also wakes and stands and the young male walks off after her, she stretches in front of him with her bottom in the air for him to smell and follow her.
The sun sets of this stunning scene of adolescent Lions, the sun bathes their fur in golden light, it is the perfect time to photograph the cats, they really look so beautiful in all their majestic glory. As the sun goes down the air cools the Lions start becoming active.
It is wonderful driving back to camp in the glow and heat of the sunset, we stop by a lone Balanite tree and watch the sun slowly making its descent, as the sun reaches the horizon the colours are at their most vibrant painted wide. The tree is perfectly silhouetted black against the streaks of orange, red, purple, pink and yellow. Thin wisps of cloud float in front of the sun creating beautiful patterns on its surface. As the sun disappears beyond the horizon for me this is when the real magic happens, the colours deepen against the darkening sky becoming moody. The bright moon is clear against the midnight blue sky and the stars become visible and sparkling.
The camp fire crackles invitingly, the orange and red flames dance and crackle in the cold air. I sit close, tired but happy after my wonderful day. I sit back with a glass of wine and look up at the sky mesmerised by the depth and breath and the sheer beauty. The constellations can be easily seen on a clear night like this. I breath in the heady scented air and give thanks to nature for providing again.
This is my Africa – a Bilashaka, constantly giving.
Day 8 -
Each morning is a blessing and a sight to behold, I am not a morning person but what motivates me to rise before dawn is the mesmerising sun rises. This morning is cloudy, there are thin wisps floating across the dark sky, dark and moody. As the sun rises the blast of red, orange, gold and purples blend with the clouds creating the most spectacular abstract painting. The sky is crossed with dark grey clouds and vibrant light all set over the silhouetted hills of the escarpment it is truly stunning. As we drive over the Talek river the trees and stones are reflected in the water as the sun rises high.
Herds of Wildebeest and Zebra journey in a long line down to the river, the light is still low, so they are dark against the bright light behind them. They walk slowly but determinedly they know where they need to go to find fresh grasses. In the still of the early morning the sound of their braying and honking carries far.
One of the Musketeer male Lions Hunter is walking behind one of the Topi pride Lionesses, they are clearly looking to mate. These males have only recently taken over this pride, so the Lionesses are in oestrus and receptive to mate. It will be her decision when and where to mate. They will be apart from the rest of the pride for several days until she is content, she has been impregnated. They head into some bushes to rest for a while.
As we drive past a herd of Wildebeest, we notice a Hyena must have bitten a chunk from the side of one of them. They have a high pain threshold as the Wildebeest is grazing as normal with a gapping bloody gap in its side. You do observe this a lot on the plains, I have seen Zebra with deep Lion bite marks on its rump and Lions with quite deep hunting or fighting wounds. Evolution has made them quick healers.
We see another of the Musketeer male Lions Morani walking through the long grass looking for the rest of the pride, the morning is growing warm and so he needs shade. He has eaten well his belly is rotund and sways like a large barrel beneath him. He pants heavily to try and regulate his temperature. Sikio his brother is still with the Wildebeest kill that has fed these boys, it is almost eaten, and his face is covered in blood, he has a look of contentment and satisfaction on his face. He uses his sharp canines to extract the rest of the flesh from the bones, long sinewy flesh pulls like chewing gum in long white strands. Sikio when sated walks towards some bushes and licks his large paws and washes his face of the blood.
We breakfast by Olarorork river with Hippos wallowing in the shallow waters. We discuss are fantastic morning, there is no doubt the male Lions are the kings here, there is no better start to the day for me than observing their behaviour. Their mane signals sexual maturity and health status; lionesses are therefore attracted to denser and darker manes. Lions are symbols of strength and courage and have been celebrated throughout history for these characteristics. They are also common symbols for royalty and stateliness, hence the phrase ‘king of the jungle’. Ancient Egyptians venerated lions as their war deities due to their strength, power and fierceness.
As we drive through the plains, we startle a Bush Hare sat by a bush, it leaps out, but they sit really still hoping we cannot detect it. It is quite beautiful with its long-pointed ears and pretty round eyes; these unique features enable it to quickly hear and see predators approaching. DikDik who are also hiding in the bushes have these same characteristics for the same purpose. They are the smallest and cutest of the antelopes and keep themselves camouflaged in the undergrowth. They mate for life so will die after a loss of its mate.
We find the female Cheetah sat in the bushes with a baby Impala kill she has managed to eat most of it with her cub. After they satisfy themselves the cub becomes playful and starts leaping around mum and playing with her paws. She gets up and chases around with it. They both then lay and lick the kills blood from their mussel. It is wonderful observing this bonding time between mother and cub.
Driving across to the Talek river we can see that the Koboso Leopard has once against adopted her favourite position of sitting in a bush by the crossing waiting for prey to cross so she can ambush them. A large herd of Wildebeest come close to the water and she strikes pulling down a large Wildebeest, her powerful jaws are clamped around its neck strangling it whilst it kicks. Its life force drains away, and the body falls limp. The Leopard pants whilst still holding the Wildebeest in its jaws, it looks around to ensure there are no Lions or Hyenas around to steal its kill. Once she has regained her breath she starts dragging the kill down the bank away from the open plain. It is very heavy, it weighs more than her so she has to stop and catch her breath every few steps. She drags it under a Yellow Acacia Tree and starts licking the rump to tenderise the skin. As it breaks she uses her teeth to rip into the tough flesh and chew the bloody meat.
When she is sated she gets up and walks down to the water to drink after her salty meal. She leans her muscular shoulders forward and uses her strong raspy tongue to lap up large quantities to satisfy her thirst. She looks up her beautiful green eyes glinting in the sun. She walks confidently her strong body undulating as she navigates the rocky edges of the ravine. She needs to fetch her two young cubs to take them to the kill as it is still too heavy to drag. She leaves the kill hidden as she disappears into bushes. We see her again further down the ravine, a Hippo is sunbathing on the edge, so she sensibly changes her direction forcing her to gingerly cross the water over grey smooth rocks, she is not fond of getting wet. She places her large paws carefully on each rock to navigate across. She looks up and grunts a call to her cubs so they will respond. She carries on her journey to locate them and bring them back with her to the kill so they can feed to.
An unfortunate turn of events occurs as a troupe of Baboons cross the river and start to graze. There are about twenty and are enemies with Leopards. There are two very large male a Baboons in the troupe and they see one of the Leopard cubs and start chasing it, the situation is dangerous and tense. The Baboons nearly catch the cub but it is able to escape. The mother will take the two smaller cubs and older male cub deep into the forest. The Baboons are grazers and move as they feed so fortunately they move off after an hour. They do pass by the tree the Leopard has hidden the kill but do not see it. This is unusual as Baboons have great eyesight and are omnivores.
We find the older male Leopard cub sitting by the bushes after the Baboons have moved off, he is surveying the river area for threats. He is a little prince, stunningly handsome with innocent big round green eyes. He looks cautiously around. After a short while we see the mother Leopard walking up from the ravine between the trees, she would have hidden the younger cubs and will be patrolling the area. There are always threats, a lone Hyena lops around near the kill smelling the blood but runs off as it sees our vehicle.
The female Kaboso Leopard goes back to the kill, she walks again over the rocks in the shallow ravine and as she stoops to drink you can see her beautiful reflection in the water. As she continues to walk through ravine to kill, she looks for threats. She gracefully leaps up the bank, her powerful muscles flexing. She checks the kill has not been taken by scavengers and then walks back to older male cub. As she reaches him, they rub their heads together in greeting and they start to groom each other. Even though he will soon leave her and find his independence in his own territory he loves her attention. Cats love language is physical touch, rubbing and licking are an important part of the bonding process. They can spend a long time grooming each other, it is a beautiful unrushed process, I love the look of contentment on their faces. The cub is still very playful, so he becomes frisky and tries to play with his mum, but she is tired from the hunt and growls at him. He is unperturbed and lovingly keeps rubbing up against her. She is a patient affectionate mother.
Once she is rested both Leopards walk back to kill, he stays close to her. It is wonderful seeing the leopards walking side by side, mother and son, he is almost as large as her but when he is fully grown, he will be much bigger. They leap over the rocks and stop to drink from the water, their shoulders and heads bent together, beautifully reflected in the water. When they reach the kill, they sit next to each other and tear into the flesh and eat their fill.
The late afternoon light of dusk is stunning, we see one of Musketeer male Lions sleeping by a croton bush his mane aglow in the sunset. The king at sunset, he rests his large muscular face on his paws he is a picture of peace and serenity. This is one of my favourite times of the day with Lions because this is perfect light to photograph and really appreciate the majestic beauty of the Lions. It is also the peacefulness, it is the end of the day the perfect close like the red curtains on a theoretical production.
The final descent of the sun, the round red, orange and yellow fireball is perfectly enjoyed in front of a Ballanite tree, the stunning colours in contrast to the architectural silhouette of the classic African savannah tree. There are thick stripes of clouds that break the colours with deep moody grey contours, it is beyond breath-taking. My Maasai friend stands in front of this perfect image and is silhouetted, it is the perfect imagery of Maasai culture connected to the land, nature and wildlife.
We dine by the fire under the canopy of a million stars, the moon and stars are our only light. The call of the wild is all around us, it is the most beautiful sound. I feel so relaxed and at peace as I watch the flames from the camp fire jump and lick the air. This is my last evening in camp, my second home, everyone here is so friendly and always make my stay so warm and welcoming. I sleep so peacefully to the sound of the wild.
This is my Africa – unbreakable bonds of love.
Day 9 –
I wake to the sound of Lions roaring in the distance it is the perfect way to start the day. As I sit in bed drinking my aromatic Kenyan coffee, I think back to all the wonderful experiences I have had over the last week. The Maasai Mara is the is a rich utopia of flora and fauna, it never fails to deliver the most incredibly experiences. No two safaris are the same, each time you come you will have unique encounters and an even greater appreciation of the wildlife and environment, only here can you truly connect with nature. To understand wildlife you have to patient, clear you mind and see not just with your eyes, but feel and connect with them.
I hug each member of this wonderful team in camp and thank them for taking great care of me but not say goodbye as I will be back very soon. We drive out into the wide-open plains, the air is cool and fresh, and we are immediately immersed in nature, connected to the animals and environment. It is pre-dawn and the sky is still dark and moody. A tower of Giraffes graze on the underside leaves if the Balanite trees giving it its distinctive umbrella shape, both are beautifully silhouetted against the sky.
Across the Talek River we see three stunning Lionesses quite young around two years old. They are stunningly pretty like the three graces. Their coats are pale blonde and are perfectly lit by the glow of the sun rise. These young princesses are a joy to observe, they are sat together grooming and rubbing heads, they will most likely stay in the pride for life and will throughout their lives, hunt and birth with each other, forming a tight bond of female support. An older Lioness walks towards them through the grass, the grass glows red and gold reflecting the light of the sun rise almost camouflaging her stunning golden red fur.
The rest of the Rekero pride are lying in the long grasses sleeping, they would have hunted in the night, they all look content and sated. Lions are the only cats that sociably live together in a family group, their bond is always fascinating to observe, especially when they sleep. They lay limbs tangled together, heads rest on backs and bums, they sigh deeply in contentment and the secure protection of the pride.
As we drive past a group of bushes, we see a pair of DikDik looking at us with their ever-watchful big round eyes. When frightened, they run in a zig-zag pattern at speeds up to 26mph and whistle through their noses, producing a sound similar to “dik-dik.” They mate for life from the age of usually about four years. They kick their offspring out of the territory when they reach adult size at seven months old, which usually coincides with the females next pregnancy. Mothers run off female offspring, and fathers run off sons. In a pair, the slightly larger dik-dik is the female. Or you could just look for small ribbed horns, which are only found on males.
We breakfast by the river it is already hot, so we lay at our blankets and enjoy watching the flow of the river and viewing the wildlife who come down to drink. We discuss the experiences we have enjoyed and how each season changes the environment and how this affects the wildlife’s behaviour, especially hunting techniques.
Beautiful herd of Eland graze on the plains. The common Eland is the second largest antelope in the world, being slightly smaller on average than the giant eland. They weigh between 450 to 900 kg and are up to 1.8 metres tall at the shoulder. It uses loud barks, visual and postural movements to communicate and warn others of danger. Both sexes have horns with a steady spiral ridge. Males use their horns during rutting season to wrestle and butt heads with rivals, while females use their horns to protect their young from predators. Common Elands which we observe in the Mara will often associate with herds of zebras, they graze together very peacefully.
Herds of Zebra and Wildebeest also graze together, Zebra prove to be very alert when it comes to detecting predators and will honk its warning call to the all the herds. Zebras are several species of African equids united by their distinctive black-and-white striped coats. Their stripes come in different patterns, unique to each individual. They are generally social animals. It was previously believed that Zebras were white animals with black stripes, since some zebras have white underbellies. Embryological evidence, however, shows that the animal’s background colour is black, and the white stripes and bellies are additions. Zebra are part of the Equidae family along with horse and donkeys, the Swahili name for Zebras is Punda Milia which literally means stripy donkey.
Baboons can have quite a reputation for being quite aggressive, which of course when defending itself or exerting authority within its troupe is true however I find them very interesting to observe and very peaceful. I sit and watch a small group in some small bush eating leaves, they very meticulously tear about the leaf and chew it.
We finally find the five male Cheetah coalition sitting under a bush in the Hammerkop area of the Mara. It is late morning, so it is very hot, and they are panting heavily to regulate their body temperature. Their bodies are off the ground for more than half their running time when hunting prey. After catching prey, a Cheetah pants intensely, and its body temperature can reach as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Cheetahs hunt in daylight in early morning and late afternoon to avoid competition with Lions, hyenas, and other large predators. The spectacle of a Cheetah running at full speed is art; the anatomy and physique facilitating its speed and agility is genetic engineering at its best. The cheetah can accelerate from 0 – 60 mph in 3 seconds, making it the fastest land animal on the planet. I have been fortunate to witness this many time. This coalition of male Cheetah are very unusual, it is usual for brothers to stay together but most of this coalition are not genetically linked, but it is thought they have come together so they can hunt larger prey such as Wildebeest and Zebra. They are stunningly beautiful athletic lithe cats.
Very close by we see another Cheetah male walking, he will have to be vigilant as if he encounters the other males, they will fight with him and possibly kill or badly injure him. Large cats do not tolerate other cats hunting in their territory as they compete for food. It is survival of the fittest and the battle will often end in serious injury or death. Fortunately, this male changes direction and avoids any conflict.
We briefly lunch under a Balanite tree and then return just thirty minutes later to the five Cheetah coalition. To our surprise they have encountered yet another male Cheetah, the atmosphere is intense. The unfortunate intruder is cowering down in subservience with the five Cheetahs surrounding it. The intruder knows it is in danger and it must not be confrontational as it cannot survive an attack from five others. The intruder squeals almost like a cub seeking approval, it is possible it wants to join these other males. The other Cheetahs bare their teeth at him and growl, they are assessing his strength. It is very dramatic, and tense and I worry for the intruder. The five Cheetahs are not in agreement several fight and quarrel amongst themselves and one tires of the confrontation and walks off. As we know like people animals have very different personalities and within this coalition of five male Cheetahs there will be a dominant male. It does not take long to see who that is, he is the one acting most aggressively with the intruder.
After a tense hour they allow the intruder to leave without bloodshed, he has shown sufficient reverence and has been non-threatening. This situation could have had a very different ending.
This was a dramatic end to another incredible safari. I love the quote by Hunter S. Thompson “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention to not arrive safely in a pretty and well-preserved body; but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a ride!” That is how I safari, I totally immerse myself in the environment, become one with nature, sit peacefully for hours just watching and observing animals’ behaviour and absorbing the beauty of the plains. I leave camp at 5.30am and arrive back around 7.30pm sometimes not always stopping for breakfast or lunch. To lose yourself is to find yourself and here is where my heart and soul stays. Some days are dramatic, heart wrenching, difficult to watch, then beautiful, heart warming and life defining. Africa really is not just a place it is a feeling, I may not have been born here but it runs through my veins. No wonder it is known as the cradle of mankind. Here in the Maasai Mara you are privileged to spend time with some of the worlds most endangered animals, do not dream of coming here, come and experience the real wild, never put off to tomorrow the wonders you can experience today.
This is my Africa – natures beating heart.