The Great Plains of the Maasai Mara stretch further than the eye can see, a shimmering heat haze gives the land an air of mystery. The dust of the arid dry land is kicked up by mighty giants, Elephants march across the plains searching for new shoots and water, Buffalos in their hundreds led by the matriarch look for fresh grasses. Towering Giraffe watch with long lashed eyes, silently but thoughtfully surveying the actions of others. Great herds of Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala, Topi and Thompson Gazelle cover the savannah breathing life into the plains. Hippos grunt and honk loudly in the torrid Mara River, the very life source of this beautiful land, the cradle of mankind. The calmness is punctuated by the sound of Hyenas laughing, their distinctive lopping gait hurrying through the grass. Majestic Lions roar to gather their pride, the low throaty deep sound carries for miles, it is the beating heart of the land. Leopards lay on thick branches, their tail hanging down in a distinctive pose, are watchful, elusive, breath-taking. Whilst Cheetahs, lithe and athletic race over the plains, their elongated bodies sinewy and beautiful, a flash of speed as they chase Gazelle who leap and dart in front of them. This is the Maasai Mara, home of the worlds most endangered, beautiful, fascinating and captivating animals in the world.
Day 1 -
I am back in my spiritual home the magnificent Maasai Mara, I am full of anticipation of how this story will unfold. I am greeted by my wonderful friend and guide Moses, he is a silver guide and will provide me with the best knowledge of these incredible animals. He is Maasai and a land owner and fully understands the beating heart of the land for he is very much part of it. I am staying in House in the Wild which is in the Olchirro Oirowua Conservancy, I have not had a safari here yet and am keen to see the landscape as each conservancy that surrounds the main Maasai Mara Reserve is unique.
I am not disappointed it is incredibly beautiful here, the landscape is green and luscious as it is surrounded by a towering escarpment of hills that feed it with rain water. This is rich bio diversity, the plains are covered in bushes and forests. It is breath-taking, my eyes feed on rich beauty.
It is not long before we see a herd of Zebras, they are all staring in one direction very intently, and they give away the position of a big cat. The prey will often not run but stand in solidarity and keep a close watch on its movements. A lovely female Cheetah is sitting next to a group of bushes with an Impala kill, its prone body lifeless and bloody. The Cheetahs mussel is covered in blood as she eats the tender flesh. She looks up warily as she is conscious the smell of fresh blood will attract scavengers and potentially Lions who would steal her food. The Cheetah has torn open the abdomen of the Impala spilling its internal organs on the ground, but also sadly lying next to it is its unborn foetus. The foetus is still inside the womb, it is a morbid sight. The Cheetah has eaten her fill her belly is very rotund. Once sated she walks away from the remains of the carcass.
Vultures circle overhead as she finishes, they swarm in and finish what little is left of the kill. Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures, White backed Vultures, Lappet faced Vultures and Marabou stalk squabble over the carcass, they pick up pieces of flesh and sinew from the grass.
Then they are startled a group of large Pumbas who come in to feed off of the bones, it is known as Oesteophagia. Osteophagy is the practice in which animals, usually herbivores, consume bones. Most vegetation around the world lacks sufficient amounts of phosphate. The vultures scatter in all directions. The Pumba or Warthog, dark grey with a dirty blonde tuft of long hair and long curved tusks gorge on the remains. They rip open the cast aside womb and the unborn Impala foetus falls out. The Pumba is excited and uses its front trotters to hold the tiny body down and tear at the flesh. The Pumba fight over it as it quite the meal, it is rare for Pumba to get such a meal. Their little piglets sleep in the shade as the sun in hot.
We find the female Cheetah under a bush panting, she does not have enough sweat glands so she to keep panting to cool down, this is a strange evolutionary trait. This is a problem for all cats. She is a new female to this area, Cheetahs have no territory so they travel far. Her bright round amber eyes are observant and alert, they never really relax as they have too many threats such as Lions or Hyenas, who would kill them. Her small head, lithe body and long balanced tails are well designed for their speed. They are the only cats without retractable claws which are perfect for the speed in which they run, there long tail acts as a rudder when chasing the fast Gazelles.
It is so beautiful in this conservancy it is luscious green with plenty of trees, the most common being the Olive, Euclear Divinorum and Warburgia (African Tree Heart from Uganda, it is ever green). There are Balanite Trees dotted over the plains interspersed with the fragrant croton bushes and wild garlic.
Seven female Waterbuck languish by the bushes, they have long blonde hair under their necks. Lions do not tend to hunt them as they excrete a scent into their meat so their meat is distasteful if they become stressed as they are chased, it is an interesting evolutionary characteristic.
We find a male Wildebeest which has been kicked out of the herd for fighting. It grazes nearby them but it will be vulnerable to predators. Within a large herd of Wildebeest you find small social groups, each male will have a small harem of females. All the braying you hear within the herd is the males communicating to each other to leave their females alone. Moses sang us a lovely Maasai song from his childhood that boys sing to lone Wildebeest asking why they are alone, Maasai folklore is very beautiful but can also be quite frank.
A lovely herd of female Eland graze by the bushes, they all have a different number of stripes across its back to reflect light. They have a Dewlap hanging under their chin which stores spare fat. Their hoof ligaments audibly click, in the males it shows dominance. Eland can jump over three metres high, to avoid predators. As these females are all pregnant the male would have gone off to graze.
A sounder of Warthogs or Pumba run off with their tails up so the small piglets can follow the tails with coarse hair on the end. Behind them a baby Giraffe pokes its head up to gaze at us with long eye lashed innocent eyes, it is silent and curious. Its mother stands protectively behind grazing but keeping a watchful eye.
We stop and observe a large troupe of Baboons, there are many males but only one dominant male who will mate with the receptive females whose bottoms become bright red with oestrogen. Young babies ride on their mothers backs as she bends to forage in the grass. Within the grass we can see Hyena droppings which are bright white as there is a lot of calcium in their diet as when they scavenge they break down the bones into small pieces to eat.
In the distance we see Ruppell’s Griffin Vultures which are the highest fliers around 11,000 feet bouncing around the plains, this can only mean one thing, a carcass has been found. A Zebra lays prone, its head stretched out its eyeball less sockets blank and teeth bared all flesh removed. It clearly died of natural causes. The flesh is loose and macabrely moving as the vultures move within the empty carcass, the ribs are sticking out from the flesh. The Vultures screech and moan at each as they compete for the last pieces of flesh. It is unusual to see a carcass with all its flesh intact and almost undisturbed bones. The Vultures go inside the ribs and the body ghoulishly undulates from the movement of the vultures inside.
Lunch is under the shade of Balanite Tree with Giraffe sitting on the ground near us, they look at us curiously but are not perturbed by our presence. A mother stands with her baby and nuzzles her head. We are now in the Lemek Conservancy and the scenery is breath-taking, we are surrounded by rolling hills and lush trees. We set out our lunch and enjoy the views and discuss Maasai culture.
A Wildebeest runs with the Topi. The Topi have several babies so they vigilantly look around for predators. Two Jackals come into view, an adult and an adolescent, they hide in a bush assessing their chances of hunting one of the Topi babies, they may be known as scavengers but they are also good hunters.
The tell-tale sign of Vultures hovering in the sky and Hyena lopping and laughing across the plains is unmistakable. Lying prone and desiccated on the ground is a dead Giraffe. The skin without blood and water pumping to it is dark and lifeless. Hyena and Vultures devour the body, the torso is wide open, the ribs jut out brown and dry. The Giraffe was killed two days ago, it was necking with another male Giraffe for dominance and the powerful intense slapping of their necks together broke the vertebrae of the Giraffe, when it slumped on the ground a male Lion was in the vicinity, it was an opportunist kill for the Lion. The Lions gathered and ripped open the body and eat the fleshy sumptuous flesh of the rump. The scavengers are now enjoying feasting, the Hyenas snap with their large jaws at the Vultures when they get to close, they jump in the air to try and grab them. The Lions will still be near to probably eat more later. The Hyenas are enjoying being the dominant scavengers on this carcass, their jaws are thick with red blood and one has blood smeared across its cheek. The Jackals retreat they cannot get close enough to the carcass to feed so they seek shade by our vehicle. One poor Jackal in the scuffle around the carcass was pooped on by a vulture, bird faeces coats its ear. It is a fascinating macabre scene of raw nature, the circle of life.
We drive around and eventually find the Lemek pride sleeping in the shade, there are eleven in total, five Lionesses and six cubs of varying ages. The pride had a change in dominant males a year ago, now Dere (blonde) and Barikoi (brown) take care of this pride. So it is a strong pride of thirteen. The late afternoon golden light casts its glow on their strawberry blonde fur. They are well fed from the Giraffe carcass and pant contentedly. Limbs are tangled with limbs as they change position and roll into each other. An adolescent male with his small mohican mane gets up and walks around then decides it is still too warm even though it is nearly sunset so he lays back down again. Another adolescent male gets up and nuzzles one of his sisters, they are very affectionate with each other.
The drive back to camp is under the bright blaze of sunset, the sun casts it vibrant red, orange and yellow flames of light across the savannah, lighting up everything it touches with a fiery glow. The sky is awash with magnificent vibrant colours, beautiful artistic strokes of colours blending into each other. It is natures stunning nightly painting. Sunset for me is about reflection, thinking of the beauty the day has brought and how nature has provided.
House in the wild is a beautiful tented camp, I sit with Moses drinking a glass of wine in front of the fire and discuss our amazing first day. My friend Godfrey joins us, he is the host in camp and we enjoy the camaraderie of people passionate about wildlife and nature. Dinner is a sumptuous affair, African food is just so delicious and plentiful. In my tent I take a luxurious bath and retain the peace and serenity of the day. I sleep well listening to the sounds of the wild all around me.
This is my Africa – unpredictable but harmonious.
Day 2 –
The Sunrise over the river outside of my tent is quite breath-taking. The golden red light beams over the hills kissing each tree, bush and blade of grass with its radiant glow. The river gently flows and the water glistens like diamonds reflecting the light. It is a perfect morning, the scene is so tranquil and natural it makes you feel connected to the earth, nature and this peaceful environment. I feel blessed to be waking it mother natures blessed country.
As I walk to the land cruiser to meet my wonderful guide and friend Moses to start our exciting exhilarating safari two habituated Pumba graze on the grass right next to me. The look up at me curious but quite relaxed and content. It is a privilege to be so close to these ugly beautiful animals that have such amusing characters. No wonder Disney made them such a focal character in the Lion King film.
It is calm, peaceful and idyllic in the cool herb scented morning breeze. The feeling of calm serenity washes over me as I watch Waterbuck, Impala, Wildebeest and Zebra graze on the moist dewy grasses. This is a Bilashaka, paradise for the prey at the foot of Kileleoni hills. They stretch and frolic to wake their cold muscles, grateful they survived the night from predators.
Secretary birds walking through the grass pick at seeds. They are tall and beautiful with their long legs, black plump bodies, white chests and a crown of plumage on their heads. They walk like the Maasai dancing, their heads bobbing forward. Maasai mothers teaching their young babies to dance will sing a song about the secretary birds to show them how to move in this rhythmic way.
Steppe Eagle and three Jackals are fighting over the remains of a kill or possibly a placenta as a small herd of Wildebeest graze with many new born calves. One of the mothers is starting to give birth.
We see a male Jackal running with half of a young Thompson Gazelle in its strong jaws, it would have made the kill itself and eaten half already. It runs through the short grasses to its three pups. When he reaches them the three pups excitedly greets him and crouches submissively in front of him so he can regurgitate food for them. Once they have all tasted the meat each pup starts to feed on the kill. They are excited and playful with it and run around with it in turn in their mouths as they will take it back to their den.
A lone Boscia Angustifolia stands on the plains, it is also known as a Shepherd tree because Maasai herdsmen will rest underneath its shade. Interestingly they can also brew the leaves of the tree in hot water as it tastes like coffee which is a great substitute when out alone herding cattle. They pick the leaves and crush them and leave them steeping in the hot water.
The African Greenheart tree or Elephant Pepper Tree has small branches which the Maasai use as toothbrushes the bark is very peppery and bitter and kills the bacteria in the mouth. An interesting fact is Kenyan water has natural fluoride and when the British first came here they discovered this hence why in England we add this in our toothpaste. The Maasai still use holistic medicine which means they have better immunities than the western world, a lesson for us.
We find the splintered group of the Lemek pride, two Lionesses with three cubs, two males and a female. The cubs are around two and a half years old, the males are already nearly fully grown and have small mohican manes, in around six months’ time the males will be kicked out by the mothers to fend for themselves and eventually start their own pride in another territory, this stops inter breeding. The Lioness cub will stay with her mother and the mothers will breed again probably will the new males in the Lemek pride. If the Lionesses give birth the female cub will help raise and babysit the new cubs whilst the adult Lionesses hunt. The young males have the start of the black markings behind their ears, these are used in hunting to indicate to the rest of the pride the positions they need to get into for a hunt. The slightest twitch of an ear communicates a wealth of meaning. The Lions communicate through throaty roars and growls but when hunting they need to be silent so the black spots behind the ears and on the tufty ends of their tails are non-verbal communication.
The young male Lions have the most stunning golden eyes, they have full bellies from their nightly hunt and are sleepy but they sit up alert as they can hear Hyena laughing and they are interested in the noise. They start to wash, their raspy barbed tongues lick blood from their food stuck to their coarse golden fur. They rise stretching their muscular bodies and head to the bushes for shade as the early morning is now growing warm. Even though they are large now their spots on their legs and bellies give away their cub status. The sun lights the grass, it looks like spun gold perfectly camouflaging the Lions.
We breakfast by a small Gardenia Tree, the wood is hard and strong, its trunk is twisted and gnarly. It is quite squat topped with small dense leaves. The vista is stunning the grasses are dry and golden and gleam bright in the yellow sunlight. Topi graze quite contently near us, it is total bliss. The mountains form a stunning backdrop, vibrant shades of green with deep shadows.
Dere one of the Lemek male Lions with the blonde mane is sleeping very soundly under a tree, our approach and presence does not even rouse him. He is around six years old and will sleep around sixteen to twenty hours a day conserving his energy for hunting. His glorious golden mane glints brightly in the sun, the back of his mane is growing dark with age, he is a majestic Lion.
We wait for nearly an hour whilst he does not bat an eye so we move off. Then a lone Buffalo comes out of the bushes and heads for the Balanite tree Dere is sleeping under. Dere sees him and crouches his head low, the Buffalo has not seen him. Dere has a choice, fight or flight. If he fights an angry lone Buffalo he will lose so he reluctantly gets up and walks off to a faraway Gardenia tree to find shade. The Buffalo reaches the Balanite tree and sniffs the ground where the Lion was laying and looks angry, they are mortal enemies. The Buffalo is satisfied the Lion has gone and relaxes under the tree.
A lone Hippo sleeps under the shade of a bush, at first he looks like a large smooth grey rock but on closer inspection we see his distinctive outline. It is in the hottest part of the day so he must be injured to be out of the water. The sun will dry his wound otherwise the fish in the river will irritate it.
We stop to stretch by a Balanite tree it is very hot now. There is a small African Greenheart growing next to it so we cut off a small shoot and chew it to clean our teeth. It has a very strong peppery taste, the end is shaped with a knife to clean between the teeth then all the outside green is striped to clean the tongue. It may be very strong and hot in flavour but my mouth does feel so clean and fresh, nature really does provide.
I ask about the Maasai Children’s games because they do not have toys. I am quite amused by the response. The first is very sweet, the children love to chase Dragonflies as they pretend they are helicopters. Of course climbing trees is a very big priority as it is fun, daring and also a show of strength and courage. Typically little boys enjoy throwing fresh cow dung at each other to show how well they can throw and aim, I can imagine this has mixed responses from the children. The one that most amuses me is them riding cows before they are thrown off! Not surprisingly the most popular game is football. They cannot afford to buy a football so they make them out of whatever they can find. All the boys’ games are quite rough so it is no wonder you see Maasai men with impressive patchworks of scars on their arms and legs.
Troupes of Baboons are sat in the shade of a Balanite tree, as we draw closer we see one with a Thompson Gazelle baby kill. From the size it looks like it was newly born which is a prime time for a Baboon to sweep in and grab the baby whilst it is still unsteady on its feet and the mother is too weak to defend it. The Baboon does not share its kill with the rest of the troupe it is savouring this rather fortuitous bounty, Baboons love meat but it is rare for them to obtain it.
Driving over the beautiful savannah we see three Giraffes sat down ruminating, it is a perfect family portrait with the baby in the middle of the trio. They are perfectly relaxed as we approach sensing no danger. Their large mouth chew round and round the leaves in their mouths. All around them is doted tall Balanite trees perfectly topiaried by the Giraffe, they are nature’s gardeners clipping the underside of the branches with their long tongues until the tree takes on the distinctive umbrella shape.
Three Pumba are bent down licking the soil for the salt, this is called Geophagia. It is important in this heat they replenish their body salts. They then follow the Zebra down to the river to drink. The Zebras bend their necks to lap up the refreshing waters whilst the Pumba kneel their front legs down to reach.
We lunch with the Hippos down by the river, they noisily honk and dive under the water to cool themselves. They are argumentative animals and are constantly exposing their large mouths with rows of dangerous teeth, biting each other, they can sustain nasty injuries. We lay our blanket down and enjoy the stunning view of the river with the early afternoon bouncing off of the rippling water. It is so peaceful, tranquil and relaxing. We reflect on our wonderful interesting morning, I am so grateful to Moses for sharing his incredible knowledge and amusing stories of Maasai life.
A Jackal runs around the bottom of a Ballanite tree to forage for the sweet dates that have fallen from the tree. The dates are ripe this time of year and are falling to the ground. Moses picks one up for me, the outside is green and wrinkly and smells quite pungent. Once the flesh has been peeled off the inside is sticky and the date has a mixed bitter sweet taste.
We find the two female Lionesses with the adolescent cubs they are basking in the late afternoon sunlight. The two male Lions are lying on their backs with their legs in the air cooling their rotund bellies. Their heads are back and they look contented. Suddenly they hear something and get up and walk towards their mother and greet her by affectionately rubbing their head with hers. They are incredibly demonstrative and she starts to growl as they are being overly affectionate and she wants to sleep. The adolescent female cub is lying next to her and continues to sleep. The late afternoon light sets their fur aglow, radiant and warming. Our vehicle casts a deep shadow and Lions come and sit close to us to enjoy the shade. It is always so exhilarating being within feet of Lions, looking into their dark golden eyes and seeing just contentment and peace. It is a privilege I will never take for granted.
One of the large adolescent males comes over to this mother and even though he is bigger than her now and almost ready to leave her he lays down next to her and she entangles her paws with his and starts grooming him like he was a tiny young cub. The Lionesses are such incredible mothers, the bond with their cubs is fierce, loyal and incredibly loving. Watching her watch her boy is incredibly heart-warming.
There is no sunset more beautiful than that over the African plains. The sky is a perfect azure blue and cloudless so as the sun sets the beams flash directly across the sky shooting vibrant, reds, oranges, yellows and purples in blended strokes of vivid colour. The sun is a perfect round fireball as it makes its descend into the horizon. Architectural Balanite Trees are perfectly silhouetted against the skyline.
Back in camp I relax in front of the fire and talk to Moses more about Maasai culture, the human animal conflict. These tribes have been living here for hundreds and years and have to coexist with the wildlife, education is the key to a better understanding of the importance of the wildlife to the Maasai Mara. We continue talking over a delicious dinner. The camp is so friendly and incredibly beautifully designed, the tents and guest relaxation areas blend so well with the environment. After a relaxing bath I sleep peacefully after another remarkable day.
This is my Africa – a rich bio diversity.
Day 3 –
I wake startled there is a loud screeching sound on top of my tent. A Tree Hyrax is communicating rather loudly to the rest of the group, it is shrill like it being attacked but apparently it is just communicating its dominancy. Fortunately Geoffrey comes to my tent shortly after with my aromatic coffee and I relax a while in bed enjoying the soothing aroma.
The sun starts to rise outside of my tent, the deep red and gold lights the hills and they are reflected beautifully on the waters on the river. The view over the river takes my breath away. It is so serene, peaceful and stunningly natural. It is nature at its most spectacular, the perfect artist canvass of vibrant light, deep shadows and stunning reflections. I am always captivated by the beauty of the cradle of mankind. Here I find myself, reconnect with nature and fill my eyes as well as my heart and soul.
We bundle up in Maasai blankets against the cool morning breeze, I fill my lungs with the beautiful freshness, it is a stunning morning. The sun is rising above the hills and its light is reflecting off the dry golden yellow grasses that sway in the breeze, it is like driving through fields of spun gold, I feel the heat on my face and I feel so alive and blessed to be here.
A pair of Jackals are enjoying a fresh kill, they have hunted a baby DikDik, they tear at the soft flesh and upon seeing us pick it up in their jaws and carry off the limp lifeless body. The head and legs dangling down garishly from its mouth, fresh blood dripping on the ground.
Not far away it looks like a large pack of Hyenas have had a successful night hunting too. They are lopping around eating the final remains of a Wildebeest carcass, nothing will go to waste as they will even crunch the bones in their powerful jaws. One Hyena picks up the skull, it is mainly eaten but we can see the distinctive short curved horns of the Wildebeest. The Hyena is pleased with his prize and carries it off so it can gnaw on the bones.
The Lemek pride are sat in a grassy everglade, the sun dappling through the branches. They look contented and well fed, they clearly had a successful night hunting too. They are relaxing and contemplating where they will rest and sleep for the day. The young cubs use the banks curve to rest their front paws on rather cutely, they peer over at us their large golden eyes catch the golden rays of the sun. One of the Lionesses gets up and starts walking and the rest of the pride follow her as they will remain together.
We breakfast under a Gardenia tree, its trunk it is gnarly and twisted and foliage dense and dark green. We are surrounded by hundreds of Wildebeest, this is one of the resident herds who do not migrate. It is growing hot and they are clustered in small numbers under individual trees. In order to gain a tree for our breakfast we had to disturb some, they looked most outraged but they join others under nearby trees. We stand and eat our breakfast as it is lovely just wandering around enjoying the stunning vista, it is quite breath-taking the rolling hills, golden grasses and forests of evergreen trees. The Balanite trees stand tall and proud in an ocean of grasses.
We see a group of Jackals making a den under the shade of a fallen Gardenia tree, it would have been broken by an Elephant but it continues to grow bent along the ground. The small pups look at us through the foliage their pretty soulful brown eyes inquisitive. Some Hyena comes into sight so they decide to run off to better safety and shelter.
Out on the open plains a large journey of Giraffes graze on the tops of the Gardenia trees. One of the females has given birth this morning, she has a small baby nuzzled next to her, we can still see the umbilical cord hanging. She affectionately cranes her neck down to lick the top of its head. The baby is already steady on its feet and starts to suckle from its mother. Hyena hang around they most likely smelt the blood from the birth, it is a dangerous time for the baby as it gains its strength.
A large male Giraffe joins the tower of Giraffes and starts using its Jacobson gland to smell the urine of the females to see if they are in oestrus and receptive to mate. He will try all the females until he finds one that is receptive. A female is already pregnant and walks away from him and splays its front legs to lean down to eat grass. They have to be careful doing this as blood rushes to their head so they cannot sustain this position for long.
The afternoon is growing hot but there is a cool breeze, we lunch in a beautiful everglade. We set out our chairs and discuss our wonderful morning and all the fascinating sights we have seen. The lunch is as usual absolutely delicious so it makes me quite sleepy. I lay out a blanket and have a sleep, when I wake up a small herd of Zebra are standing nearby staring at me, they are quite relaxed but curious and bemused by my presence. I sit up and look at them and they seem quite content I am no threat, it makes so happy being at one with nature.
We find the Lemek pride sleeping peacefully under the shade of Gardenia bushes. It is still so hot and close even though it is late afternoon. Some are lying on their backs in various positions, I love the way they lay on their backs with their legs spread and white bellies exposed. They yawn and stretch and find more comfortable positions.
Across the plains we see a beautiful lithe female Cheetah stretched out on a termite mound. She is elegant and graceful, her amber eyes are alert looking for hunting opportunities, she flicks her long tail with its white tipped end. She graces us with her agility by flexing her long legs so we can lick herself. She yawns exposing sharp canines and rolls over to face us. She is keen to hunt so gets up and scans the plains, she starts to jog by the bushes wanting to reach open terrain where the prey are. We follow her at a respectful distance carefully observing her actions and decision making techniques. It is near sunset so the air is cooling, she will want to hunt before dark when the Lions will awake.
She sees three Impala but as the grass is short they see her movement and are alert to the threat. They face her from a hundred yards away and she sits down by a termite mound as she has missed a hunting opportunity. This is nature, wild and free so you must always expect the unexpected. Only fifty yards behind the Impala the Lemek pride of Lions are waking and sit up this startles the Impala and they panic forgetting where the Cheetah is and run frantically towards her but away from the Lions. I am not sure who is more astonished the Cheetah or us. She quickly gets up and misses the first two Impala but the third she tackles and nearly misses but then manages to fix her strong jaws around its neck and pull it down. The large female Impala struggles as she is being suffocated but soon the light disappears from her eyes and her legs stop kicking. We drive over to the Cheetah, she keeps her jaws around the Impalas neck until she is totally sure it is dead.
She is exhausted but exhilarated and sits up to look around for threats as she is aware the Lions are not too far away. She then crouches down behind the Impala and starts to quickly rip open the rump. She licks it to tenderise the coarse flesh then uses her sharp canines to break the flesh. Her mussel soon becomes covered in blood as she gorges quickly on the meaty flesh. She knows she does not have long as the sun has now set and it is growing dark.
We drive back to camp under the thick dark blanket of night with a million stars lighting our way. The rush of adrenaline combats our tiredness after such a thrilling end to the day. At camp we sit in front of the fire and drink red wine savouring the gift nature gave us.
After a delicious dinner over which we discuss the amazing turn of events I take a lovely bath overlooking the river. It is heavenly to be so at peace just lying in the water listening to the gently lapping of the river. I sleep so well listening to the sounds of the wild all around me.
This is my Africa, dramatic, unpredictable and exhilarating.
Day 4 –
I wake to the sound of Lions roaring in the distance, I love the low throaty sound, they are gathering the pride after a long night of hunting. I sit and drink my coffee in bed and think on what nature will give me today. As I dress I look out into the river as the sun is rising over the hills and marvel at the perfect reflection over the water, it is incredibly tranquil.
The morning is very cool and cloudy but it does not distract from the breath-taking beauty of the scenery. Large jagged grey rocks jut from the side of the hills, these are softened by the dense green bushes that over the rugged outcrops. At the base of the hills are doted small mud Maasai houses, the Maasai are up early to tend to their cows and go about their everyday life.
We see four Bat Eared Foxes running across the plains they are very nocturnal and shy. No doubt they are hurrying back to their den to sleep. Herds of Wildebeest, Zebra and Topi graze peacefully, this area is very rich in prey. Giraffe peek their heads over the top of nearby bushes enjoying the morning dew on the luscious green leaves.
Four Elephants are strolling over the plains, two females and two young bulls. The youngsters stay close to their mothers for protection. The Elephants use their large flat feet to kick up small Acacia bushes, when loosened they use the ends of their trunks like fingertips to pull them up and deposit them in there large mouths to chew. The Elephants have been wallowing in water recently to cool off their bodies as you can see a tide mark on their legs.
The female Cheetah is sat out in the open, it does not look like she eat much of the Impala kill last night, it was growing very dark when we left her so no doubt she was disturbed by the Lions nearby who would have taken the kill. Her stomach is not full so she is in full hunting mode. She sits up her beautiful lithe body alert, her dark amber eyes scan the plains for potential prey. There is a herd of Topi nearby but they see her and start snorting their alarm call. She walks away from them to find other opportunities to hunt. She heads into a small forest and climbs a tree with ease and grace to give her a good vantage point to see smaller prey on the ground, there is nothing so she jumps down. Out the other side she walks up a termite mound and sits and rests and assesses her next move.
We breakfast under the shade of a Shepherd tree the morning is growing warm. We eat our delicious breakfast and watch herds of Wildebeest and Zebra graze around us. In the distance over a hundred Wildebeest are watching single file down to the river to drink.
The female Cheetah is still resting on the termite mound there is no prey for her to hunt in the vicinity she will need to walk again to find prey. Cheetah rest and sleep very little as they hunt mainly in the day whilst the other predators sleep. She gets up, stretches, looks around and decides on a course of action. She will not give up until she hunts.
Dere one of the Lemek male Lions is following one of the Lionesses, they clearly want to mate. The Lioness is walking quite determinedly, the Lion looks tired but he follows closely behind her. Suddenly he starts to jog, she must have signalled him with a flick of her ear as she stops crouches on the ground so he can mount her. They copulate quickly with much growling and snarling, he bites her neck and she growls back. The end of the Lions penis is barbed so it is not a pleasant experience for either of them. When it is done she turns round and swipes at him, he quickly jumps back to avoid being scratched, they end of the mate is always dramatic. She rolls over, gets up and walks away and once again he dutifully follows her.
It seems like the Lioness is not sure Dere is the right male to have cubs with so she is maybe looking for his brother to mate with to. Dere will not want this so he stays with her closely. They stop several times to mate but she seems determined to walk to another area.
We lunch in camp with the resident two Pumba grazing on the moist watered grasses around camp. It is a stunning setting next to the river so we relax as while as it has been an eventful few days. The camp is surrounded by tall trees adding to the tranquillity.
Late afternoon having rested we drive back out, on route we see a dead East African Garter Snake it is very small like an adder. Above us a Snake Eagle is circling is has probably already seen the free food so we leave it where it is and carry on our drive through the clearing.
We reach the Olchorro Oirowua area and to our absolute astonishment we find a female Leopard walking out into the open. It transpires she has within the last hour or so from the looks of the carcass, killed a baby Zebra. Before lunch we drove past the herd of Zebra grazing near the bushes so it must have had an opportunistic kill. Leopards are ambush hunters, muscular built for a quick clean kill. Leopards generally need the prey to be within twenty metres for them to strike.
The Zebra carcass has blood on its face so she must have pulled it down by its mussel before clamping her powerful jaws around its neck to choke it. The Leopard is licking the underside of the soft white belly and tearing into the skin. She pulls at long white sinew to release the tender meat underneath. Her face is covered in blood as she pushes her head between the Zebras back legs to chew and gorge. She then stands near the head of the Zebra to assess whether there are scavengers or other predators around.
The Leopard has three cubs of around three months old but the Zebra carcass is too heavy for her to drag to the bushes. She gets up walks off a short way and sits and starts using her long raspy tongue to lick the blood from her face, it is beautiful seeing her lick her large paws and rub them over her face. She then walks off to the bushes to hopefully retrieve her cubs to bring them to the kill.
When she reaches the bushes she sits just inside as on her left and right herders bring cows onto the plains to graze. The herders live with wildlife so are unperturbed when we tell them we are watching a Leopard. It is a fragile balance the human wildlife conflict. A herd of Impala walk very close to the bushes where she is resting but it is a mating herd and the large male brings up the rear of the group so she does not strike as she will fear getting hurt by his large antlers.
The Leopard gets up and starts walking into the dense bushes, we assume she is going to retrieve her cubs now. We drive slowly next to the tree line to try to follow her but she walks down a ravine and up the other side into dense vegetation, we lose sight of her and it is growing dark.
Back at camp we discuss in front of the fire with a glass of red wine our incredible day. There are two resident domestic cats in camp and they amuse us with their antics, they want to be adored. As always dinner is delicious and it is wonderful discussing the wildlife. After a relaxing bath I fall to sleep to the sound of the river gently lapping outside my tent.
This is my Africa – dramatic, colourful and never predictable.
Day 5 -
It is my last morning in camp so I treat myself to a lie in. Out on the balcony of my tent I enjoy watching the early morning sun sparkling onto the river below. Around me birds sing in the trees and fly across the perfect azure sky. I head to breakfast by the river it is a stunning setting. We talk about our incredible five days together on safari, we have been blessed with the best Lion, Cheetah and Leopard action. The conservancy has also been the most stunning backdrop for their stories to unfold. Moses has been a wonderful, informative, interesting and friendly, I have had the most incredible time. As we eat and chat, the resident Pumba graze around us, it is loving seeing ones that do not run away.
On our drive to Talek centre we see a Rhino grazing out on the plains, it has wondered out of the Rhino sanctuary nearby. Two of the staff are nearby keeping an eye on it. The Rhinos at the sanctuary are free to roam but they are so endangered and are at threat from poachers, they have rangers and staff protecting them. It is incredible watching this prehistoric giant peacefully grazing. They have survived millions of years of evolution but now their biggest threat is man, it is incredibly sad.
We meet Philip my friend and guide from Malaika camp and I say goodbye to my good friend Moses, it has been such a pleasure. I greet Philip and we head off on our part of our safari, who knows what nature will provide us with.
The Enuyenai pride of Lions are in a ravine with a Hippo kill. The Lions would have ambushed the Hippo whilst it was crossing the shallow water. Most of the pride are sated and lay out on the grassy bank but one Lioness is eating the blubbery carcass. Her face in covered in mud as the Hippo is lying in the muddy water. She looks up at us her face is quite comical splattered with mud and blood.
This is a great place to stop for lunch, we get out of the vehicle and spread our blanket on the bank of the river and relax under the warmth of the sun. I am often asked if I ever feel fear being so close to predators. The simple answer is no, I am not their prey. As long as I don’t approach them, threaten them or come between a mother and cub I am perfectly safe. I respect all wildlife and agree that humans should never interfere in wildlife unless they are the course. Philip and I catch up talking about the last two months of activity on the Mars since my last visit. It is amazing how in such a short space of time things can change.
I am very happy to see the stunning female Cheetah Amani with her three cubs. The cubs in just two months have grown so quickly. They follow Imani as she is hunting an Impala, unfortunately the cubs are too eager and the Impala sees them. When a cat is teaching her cubs to hunt they can impede the process but that is all part of the learning process. As quick as lightning Amani spots a scrub hare and pounces on it. She throttles the unsuspecting hare and carries it to her cubs, the body dangling lifelessly from her jaws. She quickly tears into the tender skin, she does not want to attract Hyena, her and cubs enjoy feasting on this small snack.
The Cheetah cubs are very playful chasing and jumping on mum, this is all part of learning to hunt. She is a patient mother and enjoys chasing the cubs around, it is beautiful watching the interaction. Unfortunately the smell of blood from the Hare has attracted a hungry Hyena. The Hyena confronts Amani and she stands her ground, the Hyena is stronger than her but a mother faced with protecting her cubs is ferocious. Fortunately the cubs are quite large now and join their mum in defending themselves, they are very brave. The Hyena assesses quickly it can’t win so runs off through the grasses. It was a tense interaction.
The Topi Lionesses are lying in the grass, they are the true queens of the Mara. They are incredibly beautiful and form such a close bond with the other females in the pride. It is not surprising as the males use their strength to try and dominate them and steal their kills. The females are far more relaxed when the males are not present.
We drive to the Kaboso area, this is a stunning part of the reserve, there always seems to be an abundance of prey here. The young Kaboso female cub of around 8-9 months is stalking through the undergrowth, even though she is still living near her mother she is old enough to hunt for herself. She is still small and incredibly beautiful with large round green eyes. We watch her surveying the plains for opportunities to hunt. Leopards are ambush hunters so need to get close to their kill before they use their strength of overpower the prey. It is fascinating watching her thought process and hunting technique.
The sun begins to set on this first incredible day in the Maasai Mara Reserve. Lions, Cheetah and Leopard in our first afternoon, nature really provides here. The plains are bathed in red golden light as we drive to camp. At camp I am greeted by the wonderful team here, it really feels like home now. I sit in front of the fire with a glass of wine and look up at the inky sky covered in a million stars, the fire crackles in front of me, I love the way it sparks in the cold air. I sit and have my dinner here, it is so peaceful being outside open to the wild. All around me I can see Hyenas and Lions, it is strangely comforting, I will sleep well tonight.
This is my Africa – nature in harmony.
Day 6 -
I wake as the room steward brings me my pre sunrise coffee, it is rich and aromatic and warms my body and wakes my senses. As I sit drinking it I contemplate what nature will give me today. The mornings are so cold so I dress quickly and head out into the cool darkness with my wonderful Askari protecting me. I greet Philip and bundle up in Maasai blankets as we drive out into the wide open plains.
A herd of Elephants are perfectly silhouetted in the stunning red, yellow and orange sunrise. The sun rises a perfect sphere of fiery light over the horizon. It is the dawn of a new day a hope of what is to come, I breath in the heady intoxicating scent of croton bushes and wild mint, I feel so alive, so connected to this environment. The prey around me are stretching and leaping around ready for the start of a new day.
Two of the Marsh females, three young cubs of around two months old and two older cubs of around four months are out in the open on the plains. The older cubs are playing roughly with the younger cubs so the Lioness growls at them to warn them to be good. Another Lioness comes down into the ravine where the cubs are and gently plays with them, she is so protective and gentle with them. When they grow tired she washes the younger cubs, her long raspy tongue gently grooming their golden fur, she then allows them to suckle. It is a beautiful scene of mother and child bonding.
A female Cheetah lithe and athletic strides across the plains, she is in hunting mode. Cheetahs can walk miles overnight to new territories to hunt. She is scanning the horizon for the herds. She uses termite mounds and fallen logs to stand one to give her a height advantage to see further. We follow at a distance her pattern to try and assess what she will do, but as we all know cats are unpredictable. There is nothing as yet to hunt so she rests for a while under a tree.
Two of the male Lions of the Topi and Marsh pride (five coalition) are resting by a tree. The Lionesses have made a Wildebeest kill but one of the male Lions has decided to take possession. The other male is sat in the grass, a Lioness comes up to him and rubs her head against his in a form of subservience, the males rule by brute force and fear. The Male gets up and is flehmen, a mammalian behaviour used my cats in which the animal inhales with the mouth open and upper lip curled to facilitate exposure of the vomeronasal organ to a scent or pheromone.
Another Lioness gets too close to the male Lion with the kill and he starts to viciously fight with her, the females and other male come to her defence. He is unnecessary vicious and cruel, he is known by the guides to be a greedy selfish male. The attack on the Lioness was unnecessary and extreme.
Not far away a third male Lion is mating with a Lioness from the pride. They have only in the last couple of months taken over this pride so they need to impregnate the females to ensure the cubs are theirs and carry on their dynasty. They have only just started mating so they copulate every fifteen or so minutes. When she is ready to mate she crouches in front of him and he mounts her from behind, they both growl and snarl, it is not a pleasant experience for either of them. In seconds it is over and she swipes at him with your talons, then rolls over to aid the flow.
Back with the two Lions we see the Lioness he attacked dragging her back legs along the ground, he must have broken her spine, she will die. All because she got too close to his kill. It is beyond heart breaking watching her struggle to the long grasses. These five males took over from Lipstick and Blackie and the bonds do not seem to be there. Even the Lionesses are now shunning her, they know she will die, she is no use to them now. This is nature at its rawest and harshest, it is hard to watch.
The male Lion lays on top of the Wildebeest kill even though he is very full, his rotund belly is positively bulging. He is possessive of his prize and will not share it. Whenever any of the Lionesses get close he growls, snarls and lashes out. One brave Lioness starts eating next to him, he snarls but she crouches down and holds her ground. The Lions body is positively covering the entire carcass, his large paws holding it down. Other Lionesses try and eat too, one grabs a leg of the Wildebeest and runs off with it. This must be the dominant male as the other male is keeping his distance and not going near the carcass, he is staying close by the Lionesses. He is blonder with a shorter mane than the other male.
The large dominant male Lion has a thick impressive dark mane which seems to reflect the darkness of his nature, he is the most selfish male Lion I have ever seen. He decides he really doesn’t want to share so drags the carcass to the bushes where the other male is sat, as soon as the dominant male approaches the younger male moves out of the way.
Three adolescent male Lions recently kicked out of the Ol DikDik pride are sat together, they are old enough now to fend for themselves and hunt. They are around three years old and are quite handsome with their small blonde manes. They are enjoying the shade of a tree.
The young female Kaboso Leopard is walking by the river, her large green eyes are alert, she seems to want to hunt. She is still under the protection of her mother but she is becoming quite independent. She approaches a large tree and easily half jumps and climbs the trunk. She jumps with smooth agility from branch to branch and traverses until she reaches the end of a thick branch and settles herself down to view the ravine.
We have a late breakfast under the shade of a tree, it is late morning and it is still fairly cool as it is breezy. We discuss are incredible morning with all the highs and lows, the drama here never ceases to amaze me. We have got word the Kenya Wildlife Trust has been notified of the Lionesses injuries, so hopefully they will be able to save her. Lions are very important in the Mara, they are becoming increasingly endangered. We enjoy the incredible views around us, Topi and Zebra graze on the short dry grasses, it has not rained here in several months and the rivers are almost dry.
The young Kaboso female Leopard is still up the tree, cats have great patience, she can sit there all day watching the prey, finding the right time to strike. As much as it is exciting watching a Leopard hunt just watching her reactions to the environment is very interesting. In my photography I love to capture the emotion on a cats face, it is the uniqueness of a movement, a thought a small movement that can convey so much.
A Sandal Billed Stork has a large fish in its mouth, it sits smacking the fire against the branch to subdue it so it can eat it.
We lunch at camp today, it is by the Talek River, completely open to the wild, it is a beautiful setting to view how the animals react to human occupancy of their land. The prey seem completely unconcerned, in fact many seem to find the human proximity comforting as predators rarely come near the camps.
After lunch we find two Lionesses from the Ronkai pride, they are sitting on a large termite mound. They are large dominant Lionesses, they have cubs hiding in the bushes. Within the pride there is a hierarchy amongst the females, mainly based on age but also hunting skill. When out hunting together the Lionesses will follow the dominant huntresses.
A large herd of Elands walk past us, we can here the distinctive clicking of their joints. They are peaceful as they graze on the short dry grasses, rain is desperately needed. Nearby three male Giraffe stand together, they are rubbing necks being quite affectionate, they are silent and curious animals.
A very large herd of Buffalo part as we drive over the plains, there are hundreds of them staring at us with their classic angry bad tempered expressions. The mothers guard their calves and keep a close eye on our movements.
We find part of the Hammerkop pride, a Lioness with several young cubs. She is most likely babysitting whilst the other Lionesses go off to hunt, it is late afternoon. The young cubs play around her, grabbing at her tail and ears, chewing and gnawing and practicing their hunting skills. She is indulgent with them and gently bats them with her mighty paws.
Luluka the beautiful female Leopard is walking across the plains. She finds a large termite mound and climbs on top for great views across the plains. The afternoon is turning cool and she could be in hunting mood. She is a stunning Leopard with large green eyes, she is quite confident and is not perturbed by our presence. She gets down and surveys the terrain and carries on walking. She clearly feels there is no prey to hunt. She walks into a ravine and decides to rest. She lays on her back her legs spread to cool her body. Flies are bothering her so she sits up and starts washing using her large soft paws to clean her face.
The sun sets on another glorious day, the cats have been both captivating and heart breaking today. You have to be prepared for both sides of nature. It is a harsh cruel land, it gives and it takes away. It is survival of the fittest and with the savannah being so dry it tends to make this situation more heightened. The heat and intensity of the setting sun is stunning, I love the deep vibrant colours as they flash across the sky, the sun a life giving fireball disappears below the horizon.
It has been an emotionally exhausting day so I eat my dinner outside by the fire watching the flames lick the cool air, they crackle and burst. The sky is a blanket of blue black with a million stars, it is so calming and peaceful. Ending the day by the fire fills you will a calm serenity and gives you chance to reflect on the day. I fall into a deep sleep in my tent with the sound of the wild as my lullaby.
This is my Africa – raw, wild but always beautiful.
Day 7 -
We drive out before sunset the air is cool and refreshing as we bundle up with Maasai blankets and hot water bottles. The sun rise is breath-taking, there are thick stripes of cloud dark and moody so as the sun raises the dark vibrant reds, oranges and golds shoot through them giving an artistic masterpiece.
The prey are stretching and yawning in the growing morning light, perfectly silhouetted against the stunning sun rise. They start to trot and frolic to warm up their cold muscles in case of predator attack. The sun is lighting up the short golden grasses, it is a sea of pure gold. As we drive towards the Fig Tree area we go through dry river banks in desperate need of rain.
Seven of the Fig Tree pride are out on the open plains, they are all adolescent cubs of around twelve to eighteen months old. They are extremely playful as the sun starts to heat their bodies. They are perfectly camouflaged, their golden fur against the golden grasses. The soft golden light of the sunrise, reflects beautifully over this idyllic scene.
Three adolescent Lionesses are playing in a very small bush, as they jump on it it swings back and they attack it. Every game always has hunting undertones to hone their skills. One cub finds a large stick and starts to run around with it, it is quite the prize and they all now want to play with it. They start chasing each other, leaping in the air and on each other backs in a game of tag depending on whoever has the stick. One of the larger cubs gets in and rolls over and over it with chewing it and kicking it in the air with her back paws. They are incredibly gently but also quite fierce with each other. This play does not only hone their hunting skills as a pride but strengthens their bond.
We drive past a large herd of Hartebeest, Topi and Impala grazing together in the glittering morning light. The Hartebeest are quite beautiful with their pale golden fur and heart shaped horns. There are several baby Hartebeest in the herd and they are very frisky, they frolic and leap at top speed around the group, happy and honing their escape tactic. Nearby is a very large herd of resident Wildebeest form a line they are walking to find water.
Hammerkop and Yellow billed Stork fish in a shallow ravine. Their beady eyes are sharp and focused as they look for movement in the water. When a fish swims past they deftly plunge their long bills into the water and hold it wiggling in their bill.
Three of the Fig Tree Lionesses are relaxing on the banks of the river, they are quite relaxed and content until along comes a herd of Buffalo. The Lionesses do not want to fight so they beat a hasty retreat. The Buffalo can smell the Lionesses and start to snort, it is a tense situation but is diffuses by the Lionesses running off they know they cannot win this fight. They find a more safe area of the bank, the Talek River is incredibly dry now, the grey rocks which should be hidden by water are exposed like sleeping giants.
Just as we thought the Lionesses are safe the Buffalos sniff them out and start chasing them again. One of the Buffalo chases a Lioness down the banks of the river but she escapes as she is more agile to navigate the steep slopes. There are four Lionesses and if they get the opportunity they will hunt and kill one of the Buffalo. On the Mara, Lions and Buffalo are such mortal enemies because Lions kill so many of their calves. You always know when you see Lion and Buffalo in the same vicinity there is going to be tension and action. The Lions will chase the Buffalo then the Buffalo will turn and give chase back. The situation on the river bank is quite tense with the Buffalo snorting as the Lionesses walk through the bushes stalking them.
Back with the cubs they have decided to head to a nearby bush for shade as the morning is growing warm. They will probably sleep until the Lionesses call them. There is a large herd of Wildebeest heading towards the water where the Lionesses are but for now they stop and graze. When the herd eventually go down to the water no doubt the Lionesses will hunt them.
We breakfast by the river it is very hot now and we set out a blanket to enjoy the view. It is so relaxing being at one with nature. Not far from us we see a Secretary bird swooping over the grass, it soon becomes apparent that is trying to hunt a small scrub hare. It flies just a metre above the grass but the Hare is too quick and darts in different directions then shoots down a hole.
We drive through herd scented bushes. The wild mint is incredibly strong, I rub it between my fingers and enjoy the fragrance. The Croton bushes have a lovely heady scent, the Maasai use the trunk to build the foundation of their houses as it is a natural insect repellent and also very importantly impervious to termites. Maasai ladies use branches to sweep their houses as it keeps mosquitoes and flies out of the house. It is also burnt on the fire to fragrance the houses.
Near camp we see Vultures circling, there must be a carcass. As we approach we see large drops of blood on the dry ground and then a dead Zebra prone on the ground, most of its back end eaten. The Vultures jump excitedly all over the carcass pecking and tearing at the flesh. The carcass looks fresh it does not smell rotten yet. A Hyena stands nearby he has already eaten his fill.
Lunch in camp is very relaxing, a family group of Pumba graze near us. It is incredibly hot today so I sleep in camp for a couple of hours before heading out for our next adventure.
At the Ntipilikuani area we find four of the five Cheetah coalition, they have very full bellies and blood covered faces, they have clearly just made a kill. They are panting heavily in unison as it is very hot and it is the inky way they can keep themselves cool. Vultures sit in a tree above them but we cannot see the remains of the kill which suggests it was a small and they eat every morsel. The fifth Cheetah has not been with them for a couple of days, he may be away mating with a female, there have been a number of lone female Cheetahs in the area.
Driving through the Hammerkop area we see a large male Leopard lounging on a thick branch of a Wabogia tree. He is laying with all his limbs and thick tail dangling down looking down into the thick undergrowth. There are Thompson Gazelle walking through the bushes and he will assess whether to hunt. He is a beautiful large male strong and muscular. He gets up and walks along the branch, he is confident and steady as he takes a better position on the end of the branch to view the prey. He then places his large head on his impressive paws and sleeps a while.
To our surprise within a couple of hundred feet a large male Lion from the Hammerkop pride strolls out of nearby bushes and sits heavily down on a large mound. He is majestic and absolutely magnificent, it is windy now and his long dark golden mane ruffles around his muscular head. He really does command attention with his regal presence. He looks over to the tree where the male Leopard is sat still on the branch, we are not sure he has seen him but it certainly looks like the Leopard has seen the Lion so he will remain up the tree until the Lion walks off.
Two Buffalo come out of the bushes and start grazing, the Lion sees them and is no match for them and walks off into the long grasses. Most fights between Lions and Buffalo are quite deadly so the Lion must choose carefully if it is worth the fight. It is unlikely a lone male Lion would be able to bring a Buffalo down so he walks away and lives for another day.
As we drive back to camp we see a Lioness crouched down in a ravine watching dozens of Wildebeest passing above her across the plains. As they pass she leaps and gives chase but she does not get up enough speed to catch one. She stops and actually looks well fed so clearly she was just trying her luck. We follow her as she has cubs in the bushes. She sits down by a clump of bushes as Buffalo start grazing in sight of her, if they see her they will chase her.
The sun sets on another stunning day, the Balanite trees are silhouetted against the skyline, this is a perfect African sunset. The sun a fiery sphere descends towards the horizon behind the architectural trees, the red and gold spin strokes splash across the sky in master strokes blending colours in ethereal beauty.
After dinner by the fire I sleep to the sound of Lions roaring and Hyenas laughing close by, it is the sound of home for me now.
This is my Africa – mesmerising, captivating and breath-taking.
Day 8 -
I wake to the sound of Lions roaring in the distance, it is a beautiful sound to wake up to. As I drink my coffee is bed I think on all the incredible experiences I have witnessed. The Maasai Mara is the real wild, sometimes the scenes are beautiful and heart-warming but other times it is raw and very real. No two days are the same, you need to expect the unexpected and be prepared to come out of your comfort zone.
My Askari Julius and Daniel wait for me outside my tent to escort me to my vehicle, the camp is open to the wild and as it is before sunrise it is dark any animal could be grazing. Whilst they wait they sing traditional Maasai songs which make me very happy, it is a lovely way to start the day.
The sun is starting to rise, the deep red, gold and orange light shoots through dark grey clouds, stunningly stripped and breath-taking. The prey is silhouetted against this deep dark vibrant sky. This is such a peaceful time of morning, the perfect time to connect with yourself and nature.
We find two of the Topi Lionesses walking across the plains, these are older females and look well fed. Down by the main crossing we find another lone Lioness she is also returning from a night of hunting and will re-join her pride. The golden red light of the sunrise bathes their coats making them shine like burnished bronze, they are beautiful queens, so regal, powerful and elegant.
Out on the open plains the male Lion Bobarnoti of the Enkuynai pride is sitting panting heavily and contented, his face is covered in blood. He is a large male, powerfully built with a full dark mane. He has eaten his fill of a large Buffalo kill behind him and being a great male allows the Lionesses to now eat their fill. The two Lionesses Naibor and Narisho are enjoying tearing at the flesh of the Buffalo kill, its face has been torn off its flesh exposing its skull and teeth. The Lionesses have cleverly pulled back the tough flesh from the carcass to expose the meat underneath, the skin is folded in layers. All around dozens of Hyena, Jackal and Vultures hover around waiting for their change to eat but with the large male Lion sitting nearby they will not confront the two Lionesses.
Bobarnoti starts the process of cleaning the Buffalo blood from his face. He exudes a peaceful gentleness as he lifts his large paws, licks them then slowly wipes them across his face. It is beautiful watching such a mighty male being so gentle. He watches over the Lionesses whilst they eat, his presence is important. After a while as it is growing hot he gets up and walks for shade.
The Lion leaving alerts the scavengers, the Lionesses have just about finished eating, the growl as they crunch and tear the flesh as they are aware of the scavengers. The Hyenas are moaning and laughing, they are literally salivating at the thought of tearing into the carcass. They start to cautiously approaching the kill but the Lionesses chase them off. After a while the Lionesses seem to grow tired of all the commotion, noise and threat around them and walk off to join the male Lion in finding shade.
It is now a free for the entire Hyena descends noisily on the Buffalo carcass, there are several clans of Hyena here so they angrily chase each other away. The Hyena also chase off the Jackal and Vultures, they want to have their fill of the kill first. Vultures swoop in to try and pick up small morsels and small Jackals have to be quick to grab small bites. A cheeky Hyena grabs a leg and runs off with it, it is quickly followed by two other Hyenas in hot pursuit. The whole scene is dramatic, charged and exciting, as well as being incredibly noisy and frantic.
Literally just a few hundred yards away the rest of the Enkuynai pride is eating a Pumba kill. It is a small kill so the females and cubs are eating with their faces pressed close together to be able to get their share. There is much growling and wiping of claws as everyone wants their share. Faces are blooded with the kill, sinew is pulled from the body and bones are crunched. There will be nothing left of this small kill for the scavengers.
One of the young Lionesses takes the remnants of Pumba carcass and crunches the bones, she is quite stunningly beautiful as the early morning golden light captures the strawberry blonde of her fur. Two vultures hop around nearby trying to find scraps of meat and blood in the grass. We hear warning calls from birds in the trees behind the Lioness, we drive round to investigate, two Lion cubs are walking down the bank of the river to drink after their salty meaty meal. The problem is this is a shallow Hippo pool, the water is white and frothy, absolutely full of Hippo excrement, the smell is pungent. The large Hippo turn to observe the cubs and I have to say I feel quite nauseous watching the cubs drinking from this filthy water.
Back of the Buffalo kill a large herd of Buffalo walk past it chasing off the Hyena. The Hyena grabs parts of the kill and run off with it. Several Hyenas are in the watering pool, refreshing themselves after their big meal. Two Hyena stand in the shallow water with perfect reflections. Another joins them and wallows in the cool water as the morning is growing hot.
Breakfast is by the Talek River with Hippo wallowing in the now shallow water. We set out our blanket and fill our plates with delicious food. By the time we stop for breakfast we would have been on safari for 4-5 depending on how exciting the morning is as this is when the big cats are most active. Stopping also gives Philip and I chance to stretch and relax and discuss interesting topics, this morning we discuss the human/animal conflict.
It is breeding season for Topi so within the large herds we see dozens of babies (Toto is Swahili for baby). The Topi’s coat is a rich reddish brown colour but the babies are pale beige so they are camouflaged against the soil. Topi have many predators including all the big cats, Hyena and Jackal. They are incredible eyesight but the totos are still vulnerable from the hunters. A Topi’s favourite look out position in on top of a termite mound, it is a common sighting seeing them on century duty. It is not surprising that most Antelopes and Gazelles as well as Zebra like to graze with them as they are usually the first to make an alarm call.
I confess I am the big cat lady, birds beyond being beautiful do not hold the greatest interest for me, but I do love the raptors. Birds of prey, or raptors, include species of bird that primarily hunt and feed on vertebrates that are large relative to the hunter. The term raptor is derived from the Latin word rapere, meaning to seize or take by force. Martial Eagle with its piercing yellow eyes and long sharp gallons are one of the most impressive hunters. Whenever I am lucky to see one, guaranteed it has a kill, this is no exception. The Martial Eagle has a monitor lizard clutched in its long talons, it uses it long sharp beak to break into the scaly skin.
We dive through a large herd of hundreds of Buffalos. The African buffalo is not an ancestor of domestic cattle and is only distantly related to other larger bovines. Owing to its unpredictable nature, which makes it highly dangerous to humans, the African buffalo has never been domesticated, unlike its Asian counterpart, the water buffalo. Other than humans, African Cape buffaloes have few predators aside from lions and large crocodiles, and are capable of defending themselves. Whenever we stop to observe them they stare at us with their angry expression.
A Hippo is out of the water walking around grazing, it is probably trying to heal fighting wounds. After the Elephant and Rhino it is the third largest land mammal. The common hippopotamus is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal. The name comes from the Ancient Greek for “river horse”.
We have lunch in camp, it is a beautiful setting. When I go to my tent for a short sleep as the day is incredibly hot and exhausting I see Pumba grazing right outside, they seem quite relaxed.
We start our afternoon by driving to the Lookout area, on route we find the Musiara female Cheetah sat on a large termite mound with shade from a small bush. She is probably the most stunningly beautiful Cheetah I have ever seen. Unlike most Cheetah that are dark gold, she is pale blonde making her amber eyes even more striking. She stretches out her long lithe body in an elegant pose. She closes her eyes and sleeps a few minutes then when she wakes she makes a chirping noise like a domestic cat as if she is communicating with another cat. I can only assume she was dreaming. I am quite mesmerised by her sheer elegance and beauty.
Three of the Lionesses from the Ronkai pride lay on the banks of a ravine they look like they have just eaten, their bellies are rotund and full. They pant heavily as it is still warm in the early afternoon. All three Lionesses have cubs, their teats are swollen but they would have hidden them when they hunted earlier. We drive around to try and spot them but they would have been well hidden.
The Musiara female Cheetah has woken and is tracking a herd of Thompson Gazelle, unfortunately the grass is short with no cover and they have spotted her. She walks towards them looking for a young one to hunt, then she changes direction and walks away. She then doubles back, it looks like she is trying to lure them into a false sense of security. She plays this game for a while then gives up, they are too alert. It is lovely seeing her lithe sinewy body striding across the plains.
As we drive past thicket a shy young male Leopard darts out at top speed. He is beautiful but a blur of rosettes. I have stopped considering Leopards to be elusive as we do manage to see at least one a day but this boy is very shy and heads back into the bushes, he does not want to be seen.
The Musiara female Cheetah is still trying to hunt the Thompson Gazelle but it is sunset now. She sits on a termite mound as the sun sets behind her casting a stunning glow of red, orange and golden light around her, she is perfectly back lit. She really is picture perfect sat up on the mound in the sunset, it is a breath-taking end to perfect time with her.
Back at camp I warm myself by the fire and think of all I have experienced today, there are no two days the same when you are out in the wild with the animals. It is raw, real, breath-taking, heart pounding and quite simple stunning. There is nothing like it, the feeling of freedom and connection to nature is beyond compare. As with the stillness of the African sky at night, you can see the constellations perfectly here because there is no cloud, no light pollution, it is pure. The evening peace is enhanced by the sound of Hyenas and Lions actively calling in the night air. As always I sleep peacefully.
This is my Africa – stunning, raw and very real.
Day 9 –
We drive out into a stunning sunrise this morning, there is low level cloud so the sun rises behind it, the pastel reds, pinks, oranges and yellow are painted in artistic brushstrokes through the pale grey clouds, the colours merge beautifully. A tower of around twenty Giraffe graze on the bushes and Balanite trees near camp, their distinctive shape is perfectly silhouetted against the horizon.
As the sun rises over the escarpment the hills are lit with beautiful golden light, the scenery here is quite breath-taking. The Antelopes and Gazelles stretch their cold bodies and start to leap and frolic in the dawn light. Their red coats looking burnished bronze in the light. It is still very cool but you can start to feel the warmth on your face. It is a peaceful time of the morning, a new dawn, new beginnings, new hope. The possibilities are endless.
We drive up to Lookout area, there are stunning views across the savannah from the top of these hills. With such an abundance of unique and fascinating wildlife it is easy to not stop and appreciate this cradle of mankind, the life source for these animals. We get out of the open topped Land cruiser and stand on the edge of the hill. The vista is breath-taking, the savannah stretches further than the eye can see in front of us. Large escarpments covered in an abundance of bushes and trees surround the lush open plains, Balanite, Gardenia, Sausage and Shepherd trees punctuate the landscape and the Mara and Talek Rivers snake through the earth providing much needed water. For me nothing compares to this untouched, ancient wilderness.
Vast herds of Topi with toto graze peacefully at the bottom of these hills, it is greener here as the hills provide more water than the dry open plains. It is a rich utopia for the prey. Impressive herds of hundreds of Buffalo too enjoy the rich short grasses.
A noble male Waterbuck walks past us, he is a magnificent antelope. He is very large and dark brown, his long spiral horns curve backward then forward. Waterbuck are rather sedentary in nature. A gregarious animal, the waterbuck may form herds consisting of six to 30 individuals. These groups are either nursery herds with females and their offspring or bachelor herds. Males start showing territorial behaviour from the age of five years, but are most dominant from the age of six to nine. The waterbuck cannot tolerate dehydration in hot weather, and thus inhabits areas close to sources of water. Predominantly a grazer, the waterbuck is mostly found on grassland.
It is wonderful to find the Musiara female Cheetah hunting Thompson Gazelle again, she really is a breathtakingly beautiful female. She stalks through the grass her shoulders and ears flattened, she is behaving in a cautious and surreptitious manner, so as not to be seen or heard. She gets close to the herd and starts to run at full speed, her elongated body flying through the grasses, twisting turning, her eyes focused on the prey. Unfortunately she just misses pulling one down it turns at the last moment. Cheetah has the highest hunt success rate of all the cats, around 40-50% compared to only 25% for the Lions.
This of course is due to the Cheetah’s electrifying speed. Large nostrils and an enlarged heart and lungs help the world’s fastest land animal to reach speeds of 114kph (71mph). A long tail helps it to balance as it tears after weaving, zig-zagging prey, and claws that never fully retract help it to maintain traction on the ground. But speed alone is not enough, and an explosive bust of energy is only the endgame to a much longer and more subtle hunting strategy. Cheetahs have evolved to exploit the Mara landscape. They use the termite mounds and fallen logs that litter the plains to scan from distance for nervous, jittery prey. The tall grass provides perfect cover as they edge nearer. Only when the cheetah is close enough to be confident of a kill will it risk expending energy in an exhilarating but draining test of speed. On average, every second chase results in a kill.
What a Bilashaka! This is a Swahili word that means something that is certain. It is used here to describe an area that is always rich in wildlife due to the favourable grazing conditions. Hartebeest, Topi, Impala, Thompson Gazelle, Wildebeest, Pumba and Waterbuck are all grazing together here, it is a perfect oasis.
Clearly the animals are relaxed here as we find Giraffes sitting in the long grass. They are quietly ruminating, they carry on chewing as we stop to observe them, their long lashed big beautiful eyes observe us to, you do wonder what they are thinking they stare quite intently.
The morning is growing hot so we breakfast under a large umbrella shaped Balanite tree courtesy of the Giraffe who eat the leaves on the underside of the branches giving it its distinctive shape. We discuss the animals we have observed this morning and the unique characteristics of each. We also discuss how the Mara changes so dramatically each month depending on the rains. This is why I come back every few weeks, it is fascinating documenting the changes.
There are small natural watering holes dotted throughout the plains. It is good to stop at each and see which animals are drinking, bathing or just sitting next to this vital water. This particular one is a bit of a surprise, but then when doesn’t the wild provide unique scenarios. Pumba and Hyena are wallowing in the shallow pool together, predator and prey. Of course this is a large male Pumba with impressive tusks and a thick bullish neck, even the Hyena with its large mouth and canines knows it is no match for this aggressive pig.
The famous Musketeer boys are sat by croton bushes, these are four impressive male Lions around twelve years old with majestic dark manes, however each male has very distinctive facial characteristics from the other making it easy to distinguish them from each other. Morani sits by the Buffalo kill panting with Vultures swooping around. Scarface is lying under a croton bush. Hunter is lying under a nearby bush with two Lionesses. It is very hot now and male Lions are very sleepy and inactive this time of day usually.
We lunch back in camp as it is incredibly hot and we need to rest after seven hours out on the hot plains, it will reboot us for another four or five hours this afternoon. To really get the most out of a safari it is good to put the hours in, you can travel further across the plains and you will be rewarded with the most spectacular, unique and awe inspiring encounters others will miss out on.
Back with the Musketeer boys they have even in the afternoon heat decided to carry on eating the Buffalo kill. The Lionesses from the pride on smelling the now pungent rotting meat join them but the males chase them off, they do not share well with the Lioness or cubs, they only allow them to eat once they have had their fill, the problem with Lions like most male cats they are quite greedy and will eat until they almost not walk with the weight of their bellies!
We find the beautiful seven Lionesses lying out on the plains, they are looking to hunt. Lions tend to hunt mostly by night or in the early mornings, and for much of the rest of the time are the embodiment of lassitude. However, being opportunists they’ll hunt whenever the chance arises and that could be the middle of the hottest day.
Of some significance here is the fact that they’re not very fast animals, while by contrast, the animals they hunt are some of the fastest on the planet. A wildebeest can achieve a top speed of somewhere around 80 mph and maintain it effortlessly and even a humble wart hog can manage almost 50kph. In fact such is the disparity between predator and prey that many of the faster species don’t even bother to run away at full speed, which must be galling to say the least.
Consequently Lions have developed two main hunting methods. The first is a version of grandmother’s footsteps, in which the lion stalks from cover to cover with a final burst of speed at the end. (If spotted the Lion will sit up and stare nonchalantly into the distance.) The second method is to find a bush close to something your prey needs usually water and climb in and wait. This has the great advantage that the Lion can catch up on sleep whilst technically “out hunting”. I have seen this often when they are hunting Hippo.
Surprisingly, when hunting, Lions don’t seem to take account of wind direction. Researchers argue about this as it’s impossible to judge an animal’s intention (if a Lion walks towards an animal, is it hunting it, or was it just going that way anyway?), but when someone actually recorded wind direction in 100s of hunts that they observed, the Lions hunted upwind (good idea) as often as they hunted down wind (not such a good idea).
There are however two things that help the Lion considerably. First they’re incredibly good at hiding and phenomenally patient. Secondly, the antelopes, while physically fast, are mentally not quite so sprightly and pay perhaps too little attention to learning from their mistakes.
When coming across big cat hunting it is important to adopt their patient attitude and wait with them maybe for hours. Not only is it fascinating to see which hunting technique they will adopt but you will be often rewarded with a great chase scene and if very fortunate the actual kill.
The sun sets the plains of the Mara in a golden glow of shimmering light. The Lionesses fur is burnished bronze and their eyes blaze golden. They are still in hunting mode as the sun sets, they may wait and take advantage of the dark to hunt, as we know cats have perfect night vision. Cats can’t see fine detail or rich colour, but have a superior ability to see in the dark because of the high number of rods in their retina that are sensitive to dim light. As a result, cats can see using roughly one-sixth the amount light that people need.
It is my final night in camp and I enjoy chatting to the superb team around the fire, it really feels like home. I love being outdoors as much as possible even at night when the air cools. The heat from the camp fire keeps me warm and I love the sound of the wild. The Lions are vocal and active tonight as I found out, I can hear them roaring calling the rest of the pride to hunt. I sleep peacefully to this amazing sound.
This is my Africa – a Bilashaka.
Day 10 –
I wake to the sound of Lions roaring, it is pre-dawn and no doubt they are coming back from their nightly hunt. As I sit in bed drinking my delicious aromatic coffee I think over the last two weeks of incredible encounters. This has been a wonderful safari, I have been so privileged to spend time in this beautiful environment with these amazing animals.
We find the Rekero pride, three Lionesses and four cubs, they are lying out next to the Buffalo kill we saw yesterday, it is now entirely eaten and being picked clean by Vultures. The four Musketeer boys have headed off into the bushes as they are lazy and have full bellies. The cubs are quite playful and chase each other around the plains hunting and pouncing on each other. Play is an important part of a cub’s development for hunting and bonding. The Lionesses are good mothers and get up and play with them, it is quite rough play but it is a tough environment to survive in.
The Fig Tree pride also have a Buffalo kill, no wonder there is permanent conflict between Lions and Buffalo! All of the pride, fourteen in number, five females and nine cubs are feasting. It must have been caught in the night as it has been mostly eaten. The carcass is quite macabre now, all around the mouth the flesh has been eaten exposing the teeth and bare gums in a ghoulish grimace. An adolescent male cub starts to eat it, he tries to pull it over but it is too heavy. Cheeky quick Jackal grabs small morsels of meat that lay on the ground.
The cubs are really affectionate with one another. A Lioness is washing one of the cubs; it lies between her paws with a look of pure contentment on its face. The adolescent male finds rather strangle a sole of a shoe and starts playing with it, another cub joins in. The pride males, Maridadi and Kaka will be off sleeping now in some bushes. The Jackal comes up to the carcass but it is chased by a female.
We have our final breakfast together for this trip by the banks of the Mara River. We see Crocodiles lying on rocks in the low river; they are impressively large, still well fed after the great Wildebeest migration last month. They can survive without eating again for up to six months. Yellow billed stork and Sacred Ibis are looking for fish to catch on the sand dunes next to the water. It is the perfect finish to a great safari.
I hug my friend and guide Philip and say see you soon as I will be back in three weeks’ time, I cannot stay too long away from my spiritual home. As the aeroplane flies low over the great Mara Plains I am thankful once again for this wonderful privilege of spending time observing and photographing some of the world’s most unique and endangered animals.
This is my Africa – wild, untamed, unpredictable and breathtakingly beautiful.