The scent of Croton, Camphor and Lippia Javanica mixed with earth fills the air. Overhead crowned lapwings call out to each other as they fly through the clear African sky. The beat of hooves on dry soil heralds the great herds of Zebra, Wildebeest and Buffalo. The wide open plains stretch over as far as the eye can see; they are a sea of undulating deep green grasses mixed with flowing golden red oat topped hay. Balanite trees perfectly shaped by nature’s gardeners, the Giraffes, rise like architectural masterpieces out of the plains. In the distance the escarpment lays like sleeping green giants protecting the plains below and providing much needed rain water that flows down its steep contours. This is the Masai Mara, the cradle of mankind; it is home to the most elusive, endangered wildlife on the planet.
The Lagas flows with water from the recent rains, the soil around them are rich and covered in newly sprouted grass. The trees have new leaves and hang heavily over the water. Tracks of Hippo can be seen through the bushes, this is their super highway. Giraffe silently walk through, their large round, eye lashed eyes observant and curious as they use their long tongues to pull off fronds of foliage. A herd of Impala approach the bushes cautiously looking for sleeping predators, they can smell their scent. The plains in the Lemek Conservancy are a Billashaka, a place where you can see plenty. The plains are teaming with herds of Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala, Topi, Thompson Gazelle and Buffalo.
In the bushes a troupe of Baboons groom each other, they sit behind each other using their nimble fingers to forage in the fur picking out ticks and salty skin flacks. Sometimes they nip gently with their sharp teeth. The recipient has a look of complete contentment. A young baby hangs onto the underside of its mother, its innocent eyes looking furtively around, its small hands grasping at clumps of thick fur. Others sit apart; they use their impressive eyesight to pick out insects, seeds and berries from the grasses to eat.
Dere one of the Lemek pride dominant males is sat regally by the bushes. The strong wind pushes back his impressive mane, windswept he looks even more majestic and imposing. He is sat by one of his daughters of around eight months old. He is gentle with her as she subserviently approaches him, bowing her head so she may nuzzle him, respecting his authority. Two of the prides Lionesses come out of bushes to sit by Dere, this pride is strong, they have cubs now of three ages. Four of the young cubs are with them, they are around six months old, they are sleepy and curl up together. Dere gets up and stretches his impressive muscles in a typical cat like fashion, arching his back and yawning deeply. He stands tall, his dark golden mane pushed back by the wind, he is a picture of nobility, strength and power. He is the protector of this pride, as he looks around he is guarding his territory and his pride. The young cubs wake, stretch and yawn, it is time to play. For cubs, playing is very important it teaches them valuable life skills. They start chasing each other, leaping on each other’s backs and pulling down as if they are prey. Once on the ground they clamp their mouth around the neck in a fake strangle hold, the way they will when they are older to suffocate prey. One cheeky cub leaps on the back of its sibling sat on the ground and bites her neck as if they were mating, he must have seen his father do it and copies the mating. His sibling looks back at him with a mixture of amusement and disbelief. This is why when the males reach sexual maturity they are expelled from the pride, otherwise they would try mate with their sisters and mothers.
Mating pair of Jackals are sat out on the grass; they are both scavengers and quite effective hunters. They like to be near the prides though to scavenge the remains of kills and the Lemek pride do mainly successfully hunt everyday due to the size of the pride. Jackals are beautiful small dogs with tan and black coats like small Alsatians. In the bushes small DikDik, Kenya’s smallest antelope who also mate for life, dart in and out of the foliage, constantly is looking out for threats. They have large doe eyes; they look like large hates with the same downy reddish beige fur.
Out in the open plains we see seven of the sub adult Lions from the Lemek pride, three males and four females, they are around three years old, they are sat with two of the Lionesses. It is early afternoon and the sun is still strong and hot. A large female Giraffe starts to walk towards them with her calf. They are not sure what is lying out before them so they move closer, they are very silent curious animals. The Lions nonchalantly observe them coming close but they are sated from an earlier kill so they just stare back. The Giraffe calf is somewhat startled when it sees that they have stumbled upon predators, but its mother leads it safely away, the sub adults are sleepy and roll over the grass trying to find comfortable sleeping positions. Legs tangle with siblings legs and heads rest on backs and bums. They are still young and their white bellies still show their rosettes of youth. They stretch and yawn exposing impressive canines, they stick out their long pink tongues barbed for grooming and to open up the body of a kill.
We find Barikoi the other pride male; he is with the other pride Lionesses and six of the sub adult cubs. They eat a kill earlier in the day; they all look healthy and sated. Their territory is in the Billashaka area so they have plenty of opportunities to ambush hunt in the night when the unsuspecting prey cannot easily see them. They lay on their back, they turgid bellies exposed and gleaming soft white in the dusk light. As the sun sets the vibrant harsh red light sets their golden red fur aglow. They indulge in the final heat of the day, rolling over and sighing deeply with contentment. A lone Hyaenas runs close by to them, on seeing them it darts into a bush not wanting to be spotted. The sky has deep cobalt blue grey thunder clouds, the rumble of thunder is heard in the distance as the wind picks up. The sky is thick with electricity and promise of much needed rain. The deep red, orange and purple of the sun set artistically threads itself through the thundery gun metal grey clouds; it is breathtakingly beautiful, nature deep and raw. All around you can hear the sounds of the wild.
The next morning mist rolls over the emerald green grasses of the savannah. As the sun rises over the hills it sets the plains alight with golden light, the red oat tips of the grasses shine like burnished bronze and the dew that hangs on every tip looks like brilliant diamonds. As the mist gathers it creates intriguing shapes in the sky, the tall umbrella shaped Balanite trees are perfectly silhouetted against the deep gun metal clouds. The scene is both eerie and atmospheric; you can feel the electricity in the air. As the mist gathers the moon is highlighted full and round behind the mist, you can even see the contours of the moon’s surface. A lone male Waterbuck walks over the plains, he stops and looks around, he is tall and majestic with his horns curving up to the sky. Great herds of Zebra and Wildebeest graze of the moist luscious grasses, they occasionally look up to survey for threats but the morning is peaceful and calm. The perfect stripes of the Zebra are softened by the mist that surrounds them. The soil is moist from the overnight rain; the air is scented with the clean smell of earth and herbaceous plants. The sun starts its ascent; the herds stretch their cold muscles as the intense heat floods the plains.
The golden light spreads across the plains, the grasses sway in the breeze. Lying out in the golden light is Barikoi one of the pride dominant male Lions with two of the four young cubs around five months old. He is laid prone of the grass soaking up the heat after a night of hunting; his mane is deep bronze around his strong face, graduating into dark black down his muscular shoulders. The young cubs are nestled up against his flanks for warmth, protection and comfort. One of the cubs gets up and walks around to Barikoi’s face and nuzzles him, he gives a gentle snarl to warn the cub he is sleepy and does not want to be disturbed. The young cub looks into the face of his father and sits quietly next to him. The cub is light golden with rosettes on his stomach; his eyes are round and innocent, the colour of dark honey. It is a beautiful moment watching the large male with his tiny cub. The other two cubs sit apart and gently play with each other, they too are quite sleepy. One of the pride Lionesses has sought shade in the Gardenia tree which had thick dark foliage; the other female with the pride gets up stretched her impressive muscles and yawns, her mouth wide, flashing her sharp canines. She walks over to the bush and squeezes between the foliage to join her sister. The four young cubs wake and start to play hunt together, chewing on each other’s tails and ears. As the sun grows stronger they too seek shade with their mothers. Behind them three dark red Topi’s pronk in the tall grasses, parents and a young foul, they are fortunate the Lions now sleep with full sated bellies.
Across the plains two old general Buffalos browse between the bushes, their giant dark black bulk pushing through the foliage, they have scattered the rest of the Lemek pride, the Lions know these old males are very volatile and unpredictable; the conflict between Lions and Buffalo is legendary. Five of the prides sub adults nearly three years old are sitting in front of a group of scented croton bushes, as the wind blows you can smell the sweet scent. There are three males and two females, the males have the start of their mohican manes. They are all sat up and alert as in the near distance a herd of Zebra pass with several young fouls. These sub adults will shortly be expelled from the pride and become nomads so they must learn to hunt for themselves. The golden light of the sun catches their dark honey eyes; they are focused on their prey. One of the sub adult Lionesses gets up and stalks low to the ground, she is focused on the herds, she wants to hunt. She has no cover so she stops on top of a grass covered termite mound and lays low. The sun highlights her golden fur; the texture is course, dark on top and almost white on her stomach. She is clearly going to be a dominant female in future; she has an air of dominance. She sits up; her powerful shoulders that will bring down large prey are hunched forward in attack mode. A herd of Wildebeest walk past her, she has been spotted. She will wait patiently for an opportunity to ambush her unsuspecting prey. The plains are awash with prey, Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala and Topi graze on the fresh grasses that have recently sprouted after the rains.
Barikoi is a protective pride male; he is now lying by the Gardenia tree with the four young cubs. The cubs even though it is late morning are quite playful. One of the male cubs gingerly walks slowly up to his father and starts patting his face. Barikoi opens his mouth to snarl gently at it, it does not deter the cub; it instead puts its little head almost inside Barikoi’s mouth and rubs to scent mark. Barikoi is patient and just lays there as his son rubs his face next to his. The little cub rolls over into the protective face of his father. The other cubs seeing it is safe to approach start climbing Barikoi; he is starting to sleep so he ignores their playful tactic. Another cub sees a root sticking out of the grass and starts playing with it gnawing its sharp edges. He bats it with its paws as it springs back and forth. Barikoi wakes and sits up to the delight of the cubs, they gather around him and rub against his mane. He lays heavily back down and a cub jumps over him and starts playing with his impressive paw, Barikoi bats him away and the cub falls backward. Instead of retreating the cub just gets up and carries on with his game of playing with his father’s paw. Barikoi is used to his cub’s playful behaviour and tries to sleep. He rolls over disturbing the cubs and they retreat into the bush to join the Lionesses out of the heat of the sun. Barikoi sighs a deep heavy relief that he is alone, once again rolls over exposing his white belly and sleeps.
Out on the open plain great herds of Wildebeest and Zebra graze together, the distinctive black and white stripes mingled with the dark beige. They have formed a bond over a common threat, the predators. They alert each other to potential threats. The Zebras have smaller family groups within the herd; the stallion has his harem of females along with the fouls. You can hear them braying to each other, communicating their intentions. The Wildebeest have a distinctive honk, when you have large herds the sound carries far. From a distance we see the heavy thud of large feet, a lone bull Elephant of around forty to fifty years old is almost stampeding with aggressive intent. He has impressive long tusks that almost reach the ground. He is clearly in musk, his temporal gland is dripping, he is a raging dangerous hulk of testosterone. He shakes his head in aggression at the herds; he is making his presence known and warning the other animals not to get in his way. He stops and digs his long tusks into the soil; this is known as Geophagia when they eat soil for its mineral content. When the soil has been loosened he uses the end of his trunk which is as sensitive as fingers to deposit the soil into his mouth or flick it over his back for sun screen. His deep grey body has a line of water half way up where he has been bathing and drinking in the Laga, the soil sticks to his wet skin. A flock of noisy clucking Guinea foul or African chickens as they been dubbed dart around him annoying him further. He once again shakes his head and stomps away he wants to find the female Elephants to mate with.
The sub adult Lions are now laying out in the open on a termite mound, they have been joined by two of the Lionesses. It is warm in the late morning sun; they are watching a herd of Zebra grazing nearby. With the Lioness with them they have a better chance of hunting but they have no cover for an ambush. Common Bulbul twitter in the bushes, it is the only sound until gently rain slowly drums down. The Lions are unperturbed by the light shower, they just sit up and slowly lick the rain water from their dense oily fur. A beautiful Fish Eagle with its black and white plumage rises up out of the grass and takes to the air.
Early afternoon brings heavy thunderous clouds, the cloud formations are a piece of art, each one unique in shape. The sky is deep cobalt blue and battleship grey; some of the clouds turn dark, heavy with rain. The sub adults, three male, three female and the Lionesses have not moved far. They have discovered a Warthog burrow and are furiously digging it out. They form a circle and take turns in using their large impressive paws to enlarge the entrance. There is trepidation as they do not know how many Warthogs are in the burrow and if they will encounter a large male first. The large male Warthogs have sharp dangerous tusks and can easily spear a Lion, killing it. As they dig the Lions occasionally leap back afraid of the scent of the Warthogs but hunger presses them forward. The Lions are healthy but they have not hunted today so the need to find food is paramount. Tempers flare between the Lions as they dig, it is clear the Lionesses and the sub adult females are leading this hunt with the sub adult males often just standing on the side line watching and yawning. Birds sit on top of a Ballanite tree next to the burrow and squawk at the Lions, the males warily look up.
For over an hour the Lions furiously dig, their faces covered in dust and mud. The air is thick with dust and the Lions constantly sneeze which makes the others jump, tensions are high. One of the Lionesses sensibly checks a nearby hole in case it is another exit route for the Warthog, she peers in gingerly. The digging becomes more frantic and in turn the Lions disappear into the hole and then yelp and jump out, clearly they have nearly reached the Warthog. As quick as a bullet a Warthog shoots out of the hole, it surprises the Lions and some give chase. Then another Warthog shoots out with some more of the Lions in hot pursuit. The third Warthog is not so lucky, the remaining Lions are more prepared and the dominant sub adult male pounces on him putting his fully body weight on it to hold it down. The Warthog squeals in terror and frantically squirms under the Lion. Three of the females help him subdue it. The Lioness clamps her mighty jaws around the neck of the Warthog until its legs stop kicking.
Across the plains the other Lioness and some of the sub adults are is pursuit of the two other Warthogs but Lions can only run at high speeds for short distances, their muscular frame is built for strength not endurance. The Warthogs though have stamina and outrun the Lions. The Lions slow their pace and look back to the burrow and can see the others did catch one so they jog back to join them. With the six sub adults and two Lionesses back together they each clamp their jaws on a piece of the Warthog and rip it apart, blood sprays everywhere and sinew flies. The Lions now are in blood lust, their survival instinct kicks it, it is every Lion for itself, survival of the fittest. They snarl and growl at each other, teeth are bared as lips are pulled back. The dominant sub adult male still has the dead Warthog underneath him, he snarls and growls at his pride, as far as he is concerned he does not want to share, the prize is his. The rest of the prides push their mouths underneath to bite portions of the Warthog off and try and dislodge it. The more experienced Lions once they have a portion of the kill take it off and eat alone as they know it is easy to get injured in this blood lust battle.
One of the Lionesses manages to grab the kill from under her son, he is furious, his eyes wild, he attacks her, in his blood lust state he does not care who she is. His attack on her is vicious, he swipes her with his sharp claws and tries to bite her, she drops the kill and re regains possession, she will not risk being injured by him. He drags the kill between his front legs but his siblings once more pounce and take a hold on it. Six of the Lions form a circle with the kill in the middle, they pull apart of the Warthog, legs are torn off and each individual Lion runs off with a part. This now leaves the two dominance sub adult males and the Lioness fighting over the body. They snarl and swipe their claws at each other, this is a very small kill for the pride and each wants the largest portion. The males jump up as they fight for the last scrapes, in the confusion one of the males bites the other males leg thinking it is the kill, he gives a roar of pain and shakes his brother off. So many injuries occur during this eating frenzy. The three settle down face to face to eat the last of the carcass, one of the sub adult males gets his claw caught in the Lionesses leg, she snarls at him and he rips it out, you can see the blood oozing from her wound.
Jackal runs around it the background waiting for scraps of meat. They are confident, cheeky, opportunist scavenger. The Lions chase them off but they just keep coming back. The fighting is over and each Lion now sits apart with its portion of the Warthog, gnawing on sinew and bone. They use their strong canines to access the marrow in the bone, nothing is wasted. The Lions faces are covered in mud and blood, they will sit for hours licking their paws and rubbing them over their faces to get them clean otherwise they will be plagued by yellow hippoboscid flies.
The stormy clouds are the perfect setting for the deep reds, oranges and purples of the sunset. The sky is stripped with deep vibrant colours, the deep red of the sun and the thunderous blues, purples and greys of the clouds. The prey is now silhouetted against this stormy background. They warm their bodies in the last of the sun’s heat then bend their necks to graze. Soon the predators will be waking for their nightly hunt and the prey need to be on full alert. All around the air is thick with the sound of Zebras braying, keeping their family close and Lions roaring, calling the pride to hunt. Survival, raw and carnal.
Zebras and Wildebeest are silhouetted the in pre-dawn golden light. The sky is thick with artistic white cloud formations, the sun beams push through the thin vapour shooting through pastel pinks, reds, yellows and oranges. The grasses gently sway in the cool breeze, the light catches the vibrant green and oat tipped red. The grass is damp with dew and it sparkles in the dappled golden light. Two female Ostriches, long legged with beige plumage stroll through the long grasses with their wings stretched out to warm up. Their large round eyes scan the grasses for seeds and fruits to eat. A pair of Crowned cranes glide down, wings outstretched, soaring on the vortex. As they land three Jackal run past them startlingly them, they chase the Jackal off. Up on the branches of a Ballanite tree two Tawny Eagles survey the scene, their sharp talons gripped around the branch, they are looking for rodents to hunt.
The savannah is teaming with large herds of Buffalo, their dark black bodies thick with mud from wallowing in the Laga waters. They have such an angry malevolent stare; they do not like being disturbed. They are known for their short temper and unpredictability. Several of the males are horning, a ritual of proving who is the most dominant. They bend their heads and lock horns trying to overpower each other. A young calf stares on; he looks very amusing with a single piece of straw hanging out of its mouth. The herd is led by a matriarch, she will decide on where the herd will graze. Nearby a gaggle of Egyptian geese waddle past, their beautiful plumage in stunning contrast to the harsh tones of Buffalo.
A lone Lioness walks down the bank of the Laga carefully avoiding getting wet. She emerges on the other side, her bronzed eyes are sharp and alert, she views the herd of Wildebeest and Zebra before her. She wants to hunt but she needs the cooperation of the pride to bring down such large prey. She walks back to where she came and nuzzles her siblings who are sleeping in the bushes. The dominant sub adult male awakes and yawns, he gets up and walks to the trunk of a tree and stretches up scratching the hard wood sharpening his claws for the hunt. His long body is taut and muscled; he bends his back and wakes his muscles for the hunt ahead. He leaves the coolness of the bushes heads out into the sun down the banks of the Laga. He bends his head and stretches forward his powerful shoulders and laps up the cool waters. He is perfectly reflected in the still waters. He is then one by one joined by the other five sub adults and four Lionesses; they all refresh themselves before they join together.
Once their thirst is sated they jump over the shallow waters and walk up the other side of the Laga. The steep sides provide the perfect place to rest and warm up in the sun; they sit on the edge with their paws overhanging. Two of the males sit together their heads touching affectionately. The females walk side by side rubbing heads, their sisterly bond very apparent. The dominant sub adult male walks over to his mother and tries to nuzzle her; she snarls at him, she has yet to forgive him for his attack on her yesterday when they were eating the Warthog. He sits close to her trying to reaffirm the bond. It will not be long now before he is expelled from the pride. They all watch the herds in the distance; they need to have a strategy for singling out one of the Wildebeest from the hundreds. One of sub adult males and one sub adult female walks back down into the Laga to drink, he sniffs her back end and she sniffs his, they walk into the bushes together and we hear her snarling at him, no doubt he tried to mount her which she would have objected to. They shortly re-join the rest of the pride. All ten pride members decide it is time to hunt, they get up and start walking through the long grasses, the light catches the golden red grasses which camouflage well the golden fur of the Lions. One the sub adult males gets a little overexcited and starts chasing a Giraffe, the Giraffe is startled and gallops off. This alerts the herds to the oncoming threat. Two Zebra start to make an alarm call which alerts the Wildebeest who turn towards the Lions and start to snort in annoyance. The Lions chances of a hunt are greatly diminished. The Lions decide to carry on walking past; there are more herds on the horizon that have yet to see them. All is calm; the Lions casually carry on their way. However…
A ferocious Lioness emerges from a thick Gardenia tree, she is snarling at the sub adults even though she too is part of the same pride. The sub adults are shocked and wary, she is on the attack. They retreat as she advances swiping her claws at them reprimanding them, for behind her six cubs, two of around two months old and four of around three months old emerge from the same tree followed by another Lioness snarling. These two Lionesses have a few months ago split off from the main pride to give birth together and raise the vulnerable cubs before introducing them into the pride. The sub adults are boisterous and heavy handed with cubs which can easily lead to their death hence the Lionesses give birth away from the pride. These two protective mothers will kill to keep their cubs safe, even their older cubs are a threat. The Lionesses advance on the sub adults who make a hasty retreat, they know better than to anger their mothers. The sub adults and the two Lionesses with them retreat to the safety of a termite mound.
The two mothers stand their ground and keep snarling at the intruding sub adults. The very young cubs not understanding the threat from their older siblings start running around, the mothers gently gather them and the cubs find protection stood under their mothers, it is an endearing sight. Whilst the Lionesses snarl the cubs take the opportunity to suckle underneath them unaware of the threat. One of the distracted Lionesses has all six cubs trying to suckle from her even though only two are hers; she grows impatient and tries to step over them. The cubs are now playful and jump around her vying for her attention. Once the two Lionesses are reasonably content the threat is under control they relax a little and sit down. The young cubs see this as the perfect opportunity to use them as a climbing frame, jumping on the Lionesses back and sliding down. She is still alert and wary but is patient with the cubs as they play with her tail and chew on her ears. Lionesses are fiercely protective mothers, this pride is incredibly successful, they now have cubs of five different ages.
The cubs are feeling brave and start venturing out into the open savannah closely watched by their mothers. It is play time for them; they pounce on small shrubs practicing their hunting skills. They crouch in the grass using each other as hunting practice; they leap in the air trying to catch each other. To their delight a brown Hammerkop bird flies in, they try and stalk and pounce on it but it is too quick for them. Every leaf and twigs that gets blown by the breeze is a plaything for them. They learn these survival skills very young, even at two months old their instinct tells them what to do. When they grow tired they run back to their mothers who draw them in with their large paws and groom them. A cub lies contentedly between his mother’s front paws as she washes his head with her long pink raspy tongue. Others join in nuzzling her, vying for her attention. She is patient and incredibly loving, her ferocity is born out of her love of her cubs, she will protect them at all costs. Bathed, milked and content the Lionesses and cubs head back inside the Gardenia tree to sleep.
The sub adults find a nearby Gardenia bush, the three males and one female curl up together, legs entangled. The dominant male wakes up and survey the herds of Wildebeest and Zebra; he gets up, stretches his tired muscles and sits behind a tiny Gardenia bush just a foot high. He rather comically rests his head in the middle of the bush, using it as pillow. The others sigh; roll over with their legs in the air to cool their white bellies, perfect for deflecting heat. They sniff where the others have sat and pull back their lips, looking like they are snarling. This is called a flehmen grimace; they draw the scent to the back of their mouth to detect which Lions scent it is. These sub adults are only several hundred metres from the Lionesses with cubs in the large Gardenia tree, two of the Lionesses have come out of the tree to lay in the warm afternoon sun, the third Lioness sits within the tree with the six small cubs carefully snuggled up around her for warmth and comfort.
Across the plains we find two more of the prides Lionesses, there are twelve in total, with four sub adult cubs of around a year old. They are still wary but are comforted by their mother’s presence. They soon relax and start playing, one finds a stick and carries it around in its mouth, another chases him trying to steal it. They run through the long grass until the cub drops the stick. A sub adult male walks through the long red oat tipped grass and lays down, the grass waves around him, he looks ethereally beautiful with the red of the grass extenuating his red gold fur. The Lemek pride has been ruled by Barikoi and Dere for nearly three years now and the pride is nearly forty strong. This constant rule means the pride has been able to grow and thrive boosting Lion numbers in Africa which has dramatically dropped over the last few decades. Barikoi is laid out in the open grass with three Lionesses, his huntresses. They all look sated and happy; they would have made a kill today. The Lions know their place in the pride and they work together as a team. Lions really are the very image of majesty and the very image of Africa itself. Their strength lies in the power of the pride, and their tight knit bond. The plains that surround them are lush and green after the rains, small white tissue plains have sprouted up through the grasses. Barikoi wakes up and sits up, he is a strong male with a dark mane, as he surveys his domain he is a picture of majesty, the true Lion King.
The sunset is stunning; the thick dark lines of the heavy rain clouds are backed by the deepest dark red of the sun. It is a dramatic picture. The Lions bask in the warmth of the sun, their red gold fur backlit by the burnished rays. The air is thick with the promise of rain. The Zebras and Wildebeest are perfectly silhouetted against the sky. All around the predators are waking; the air is alive with sounds. This is Africa, wild, unpredictable and dramatic.
The breeze is warm as the clouds hang low in the sky; the sun is starting to rise above the escarpment spreading its rays across the horizon, deep reds and oranges. The prey start to pronk, leap and run, they need to wake their cold muscles. Topi are horning, practicing their fighting skills but it makes them vulnerable to predator attack. Three Giraffes walk out into the plains they are intensely staring; they have seen two Lionesses looking to hunt. The Topi stop horning and gaze in the same direction as the Giraffes, they too now are aware of the threat. The two Lionesses were planning an ambush but their cover has been blown. They change direction their stunning golden fur brushing against the red oat tipped grasses almost camouflaging them. The Lionesses head to a large group of leleshwa or camphor bushes. These females are lactating; they are the fierce mothers of the young cubs. As soon as they are close they give a low throaty call, the young cubs respond immediately with their high pitch squeaks of delight. Another Lioness has stayed with them as the two Lionesses went to hunt. The cubs have been moved after the dramatic encounter yesterday to a safer place. The bushes here are thick. The cubs enthusiastically run to their mothers rubbing their heads, strengthening their deep bond. They settle down together, curled up in a beautiful loving family embrace.
The sub adult Lions have found shade deep in a Gardenia tree, the two of the sub adult males have their heads pressed together. The males will soon leave the pride and form their own coalition and seek to have their own pride in another part of the Mara so bonding between the males is very important, they will fight together. These sub adults are enjoying the last few months of the protection of the pride and having their mothers hunting for them. When they become nomads they will have to hunt for themselves until they have their own Lionesses. It is not easy for lone Lions but these males seem strong and confident.
The clanking of a cow bell heralds the arrival of Maasai warriors with their herd. The Maasai live on the edges of the Conservancy in their mud huts surrounded by wooden fences where they bring their cattle into at night. These two men have over thirty cattle which they are grazing, their two boisterous but friendly dogs help them detect if there are predators around. The herd are healthy as there is plenty of grass and water after the rains. The cows are beautiful; they range from black, white, beige and some multi coloured. The human wildlife conflict is still am issue with the tribesmen living on the predators land, the cows are easy prey for Lions and Leopards. Both man and predator have an uneasy existence. The Lemek Conservancy boarders the main Masai Mara reserve, the reserve does not allow grazing to protect the wildlife.
Musiara plains in the main reserve are a large open savannah rich in wildlife. Along the Laga a lone old male Leopard walks along bank, he is probably around eight years old, his testes hang low and his dewlap (fatty deposit under the chin) is droopy and swings back and forth as he walks. He is an impressive male with a face crisscrossed with battle scars from fighting and mating. His eyes are a deep gold and his fur dark brown with golden rosettes. He was recently seen mating with a female; otherwise he lives a solitary peaceful life. The males are very elusive; he affords us with a stare before disappearing into the Laga to find shade.
Two cubs peer up from behind a sun bleached fallen log, their large golden eyes wary and watchful. Their mother has most likely gone hunting. They already know how to detect threats but they are quite playful, they sense their mother is close. She is just across the plains, her pale golden fur gleams in the sunlight as she lies by a croton bush looking for possible prey to hunt. She is an experienced huntress her face too bears the scars of many a battle with prey and predator. The afternoon is hot and she yawns, sticking out her long raspy tongue. She gets up and stretches and flexes her impressive muscles, she is a powerhouse. She returns to her cubs, she will hunt when it is cooler.
The Ridge Pride lay out on a rocky outcrop, three Lionesses and nine cubs are enjoying the heat of the afternoon. Some are laid on their backs, their legs akimbo flashing their bright white bellies in the sunlight. Others are sat up even though it is early afternoon and they should be asleep for something unusual has caught their attention. A lone old bull Buffalo is sat just a few yards from them nonchalantly ruminating, it seems unperturbed to be in the presence of its enemy. The Lionesses are disturbed by this and do not trust it, they keep a close eye on their adversary. The Buffalo looks old and sick, when they depart from their herd it usually means they are ready to die. Fortunately for the Buffalo the Lions are sated from an earlier kill. It gets up and starts slowly, almost deliberately to tease them, walking towards them. The Lionesses are alarmed and give a low growl to their cub’s danger is imminent and to follow them back for the Buffalo could trample the cubs. The Lions edge back as the Buffalo advances but it looks unusually calm; as it reaches them it veers off heading up the hill. The Lionesses do not trust the Buffalo it is an old adversary so they keep a close eye on it. The cubs relax and start playing with sticks and their mother’s tails. The mothers gently bat them away so they settle again on the rocks, little heads rested on paws in a very cute fashion.
Lying nearby under a Shepherds tree blissfully unaware of the drama that unfolded is one of the six dominant males of the pride. He is laid prone in the shade; his belly is turgid from an earlier kill. He rolls over exposing the full roundness of his stomach covered in yellow hippoboscid flies; he uses his paw to scratch as he completes his roll. He sits up almost bewildered and looks around, he finally observes the Buffalo walking behind him but is unconcerned. He is a majestic male with a full golden mane, his deep bronzed eyes observe where his pride is and he gets up to join them. Surprisingly the Lionesses do not get up to greet him, they seem wary of him; it is possible he dominated the kill earlier not leaving them with enough to eat. He settles down with the pride and the cubs gingerly join him, rubbing their heads on his mane. He tentatively sniffs them ensuring they are his, males only accept their offspring. He is clearly satisfied as he allows them to snuggle next to him. It is charming seeing the tiny cubs sitting next to the large powerful head of the male, they are dwarfed by his grandeur. The cubs are confident and cheeky so they use their small paws to bat his face and mouth, he gently growls a warming but they are used to his grumpiness.
The clouds are gun metal grey and heavy with rain; the thunder starts to roar and a streak of lightning cracks through the sky. The air is electrically charged and heavy with anticipation, the dry earth gasps. The thunder clouds open and rain pours down, the Lions have oily water proof fur but nonetheless they are cats and look most indignant at getting wet. The cubs cower together; they press their bodies together for protection and warmth. They dip their heads as water rolls down their little faces, they look most unhappy. The male Lion looks the most unperturbed he has rolled over to sleep; the down pour will not penetrate his thick mane. The shower is short but torrential the Lions are soaked. The cubs start licking the water from each other’s bodies, there raspy tongues removing the excess. They climb on their mothers and start washing them dry too. The male wakes as the rain stops, he sits up, his mane flattened by the rain, observes the pride and majestically and very dramatically shakes his heavy mane. The water sprays everywhere, a full cascade arches over him and the poor cubs next to him, everyone is showered. His mane is once again full, luscious and dry.
Further down from the ridge another of the six pride dominant males is sat with a Lioness clearly wanting to mate. He is possibly one of the most magnificent, regal and handsome males on the plains. He has a very full, luxurious mane, golden bronze around his muscular face running fully down his back finishing dark black. The Lionesses favour such a dark black mane it shows high levels of testosterone and virility. However this Lioness is a little distracted she has managed to steal a baby Impala kill from a Cheetah moments earlier. She sits with the kill between her front paws greedily devouring it. Usually the male would dominate and eat the kill first but as he is looking to mate with her he is being unusually chivalrous. Her face is covered in blood, she tears apart the small snack, nothing will be wasted, she will even crunch the bones. The male sits patiently next to her looking noble and benevolent. The rain thunders down again but the Lioness does not flinch, she is fully immersed in her eating frenzy. The male however is starting to look bored; he wants her to finish eating so he can mate with her. He also does not like the rain and rests his magnificent head on his large paws and looks sorrowful. When the rain stops he lifts his head and majestically shakes his full mane showering a perfect arch of rain water around him. His impressive mane is once again thick and full. He licks the water from his paws and is gratified that the Lioness has finally finished eating. She gets up and walks a short distance away and urinates. The male walks behind her and sniffs her urine to see if she is in oestrus by flehmen. She walks across the plains with him closely following her. She bends down to sit and he enthusiastically tries to mount her, she is not ready to swipes her claws at him in annoyance, he leaps back. The Lion follows the Lioness across the plains, he is keen to mate but she does not seem ready or interested. They encounter another female from the pride and she enthusiastically greets her but rubbing heads and rolling around together. The male looks put out he wants the Lioness to himself to mate. The Lionesses seem keen to bond and start playing together. The Lion seems to demonstrate a high degree of patience for a male so stands next to them patient and waiting. They sit together on the plains, he will have to bide his time.
A short distance away the Cheetah who had its kill stolen by the Lioness sits forlornly wondering whether the Lioness will leave any scraps for it. The Cheetah sits up and stares at where the Lions are seated, she dare not approach them as she could get killed. She looks hungry so she waits patiently even in the rain. When the Lions move off she eagerly runs to where they eat the kill and sniffs the ground but there is nothing left. She is lithe and built for speed, she walks across the open plains to look for another opportunity to hunt, she is the most successful of the cats in hunting. Her beautiful amber eyes eagerly scan the plains, often Topi or Impala hide new born fouls in the long grass, these are her staple.
As the sun sets the Marsh pride lay out on a mound enjoying the last of the sun’s rays. Three Lionesses protectively lay next to five six month old cubs. The suns red beams highlight their golden fur. They look healthy and contented the Marsh area is a Billashaka, very rich in game. In a nearby bush another of the six dominant males sleeps until it is after sunset when he will raise his powerful roar and call his pride for their nightly hunt. As the suns embers fade and are replaced by the midnight blue sky littered with a billion stars, the prey stretch and wait for the nocturnal night games. The moon is the only light they need.
The sky is dark blood red, shot through with dark stripes of low cloud; the only sound is the dawn chorus as birds look to leave their nests. As the sun rises the sky change to a soft orange glow shot through with stripes of blue sky and light grey clouds. The wild Olive trees are silhouetted against the skyline behind a herd of Impala that graze on the moist dewy grasses. A low rumble comes from the Marsh; Chongo (meaning one with a bad eye) alights from the Laga and scans the area looking for the rest of the pride. He is a majestic Male with a full burnished dark bronze mane, ombré to black. He has only one bright golden eye the other is almost closed and black, a scar from fighting. He walks slowly, his powerful muscles ripping as he climbs a mound to get a better view. He stands side on, the rising sun behind him shining orange light on his glowing fur. He wants to gather his pride. Behind him a solitary Hyaenas loops across the marsh chasing a male and female Topi with a young. Hyaenas are excellent hunters although they do tear their prey apart alive. These Topi’s are experienced parents and escape his vicious jaws.
A lone Cheetah, her beautiful dark gold body covered in black spots with the distinctive black tear lines running from eye to nose, sits in a dip camouflaged against the red tipped oat grass. She is viewing the herd of Zebra and Topi hoping to see an opportunity to hunt one of the babies. Her dark amber eyes perfectly ringed with a black lines scans the scene. Unfortunately a lone Hyaena with its distinctive looping gait runs in front of her. The Cheetah will not hunt with Hyaenas around as they are vicious and will steal its kill. The Cheetah eyes the Hyaenas warily and sits and waits patiently for it to move off across the plains.
The sun has fully risen and its golden light spreads across the plains warming the prey, they stretch, frolic and pronk waking their cold muscles. The grasses sway in the gentle breeze; it is a sea of golden red tipped grasses, the perfect playground for the marsh pride. The Lionesses hunted a Wildebeest in the dark pre-dawn hours and they have devoured the carcass. The young cubs now sated play with the discarded tail; they take turns grabbing it from each other in a game of tag. Their golden bodies are perfectly camouflaged against the flowing golden grasses. The black spot on the back of each of their ears are visible over the grass tips. The cubs are quite mischievous this morning and they have located themselves next to the airstrip. The doors of the small toilet block are open and cats are notoriously curious animals so they gingerly go to explore. A sub adult heads in and quickly comes out with a long broom in its mouth! It jogs through the grasses holding the broom up in hot pursuit by its siblings. They jump and try and get it front him but he runs off into the grassy plains. Another cub investigates the toilets, peering into the men’s then the ladies, but there is nothing more to play with.
The Lionesses are basking in the long golden grasses, their bronzed eyes wearily watching the antics of the cubs. Suddenly they sit up for the heavy thud of an Elephant herd lead by the imposing matriarch can be felt. The Elephants large grey wrinkled bodies with ears the shape of Africa blend with the deep beige sand greens of the hills behind them. The Elephants turn and walk across the marsh they enjoy the rich marsh grasses, pulling up great clumps with their trunks. The Elephants are not really a threat to the Lions but when encountered there can be an altercation as Lions do certainly hunt the babies and even occasionally adults. The Lionesses crouch in the grass, they are sated from their earlier kill and do not want any conflict.
The Marsh area is a Billashaka, large herds of Zebra, Wildebeest and Buffalo graze on its moist grasses. The female Cheetah has moved away from the Hyaena and is lying on a mound giving it a perfect view of the prey. Cheetahs never sleep, they gently cat nap but there are too many threats to allow them to fully rest. Her beautiful amber eyes are on constant alert scanning the plains around her. Topi have seen her and snort a warning call to the other prey. The Cheetah will be more interested in the fouls hidden by the Topi, Impala and Thompson Gazelle in the grasses. Once rested she will stalk the plains looking for them.
The Queen is in full hunting mode, Kaboso; the female Leopard who dominates this area is stalking through the bushes. Her green eyes are sharp and alert; she has a young cub so she must hunt. The Lions now sleeping soundly on the plains so she has free reign in her wooded Laga territory. Birds above squawk giving away her location but she is not fazed she is focused searching the bushes for easy kills such as scrub hare. She is small but very beautiful; her dark bronze body gleams in the sunlight, her black rosettes are her identifiers. She is stealth, her paws silently padding through the undergrowth; she is a powerfully muscularly built ambush hunter.
The Mara really is an incredible place to see cats in their natural habitat, completely free, unrestricted and healthy. The morning has just begun but the plains are alive with activity. Last year Amani, meaning peace gave birth to three cubs which were strong and healthy. They are now just about ready to leave her. The two boys and one female are sat together under a group of croton bushes; the sweet smell is a natural insect repellent. They are learning to fend for themselves. Soon the female will leave her brothers to live a solitary existence apart from when she raises cubs. The males will stay together and become successful hunters. For now they are bonded together, they are curled up together, two lick each other’s faces lovingly, it is a beautiful moment. Their eyes are closed as their long raspy tongue gently lick dust from each other, their tongues meet giving the impression they are kissing, it is most endearing. They sit up, their aim is to hunt, their amber eyes scan the plains.
The sub adults of the Enkoyanai pride are nestled together under croton bushes. Three males and two females around three years old lay with their legs rested on the branches, cooling their bellies. One male wakes and sits up and starts chewing the branch, he is feeling playful but his siblings are sleepy. The males have golden mohican manes but still unmarked faces of their youth. Nearby Baboons are foraging in the grasses, they have perfect eyesight and can find the smallest seeds, insects and fruit, they particularly enjoy eating the white tissue flowers that have sprouted up after the rain. Pumba graze with them, they take advantage of the Baboons good eyesight to alert them to predator attacks, the Pumba graze by kneeling down which makes them vulnerable.
The still water of the Laga is covered in a vibrant green film of algae; Zebra tentatively walk down to the water scanning the banks for predators possibly hiding in the bushes waiting to ambush them. They are skittish and vulnerable when they are in the water with their heads bent to drink. The river is home to a female Hippo and her baby, the water is deeper after the rains and they are enjoying being able to fully immerse themselves. On the banks an Egyptian Goose stands looking over the water’s edge a Pumba graze near her, from a certain perspective it looks like they are enjoying a conversation, wildlife can be most amusing.
Back in the Kaboso area a herd of Impala graze through the bushes, considering Leopards are an ambush predator this is risky. For hiding in the bow of a tree Kimondo, Kaboso’s adult daughter is carefully watching the prey with her sharp green eyes. Her attention is however suddenly caught by a scrub hare trying to hide in the grass. Kimondo pounces but the hare narrowly escapes her sharp talons. Kimondo huffs and rests on the track; the Impala have seen her and start snorting an alarm call. Kimondo stealthily crawls on her belly along the track in full hunting mode. There are Impala grazing on the open plain, one has a new born calf, Kimondo spots it and chases at full pelt after the baby. Mother and calf run for their lives over the plains down the banks into Laga, but the calf is not quick enough and Kimondo pounces on her and clamps her powerful jaws around the baby’s neck and strangles it instantly. She carries the lifeless body in her mouth down the bank; you can see blood dripping from the neck. Kimondo takes the body down into the valley and starts eating it. She is clearly concerned about losing the kill so picks it up after eating the kill and jumps up a tree with it and carefully places it over a branch.
It is birthing season for Topi; the plains are littered with new born which is perfect hunting time for the predators. We see two Jackals tearing apart one of the new born, they have a good hunting skill of hanging around the herds waiting for a Topi to give birth, then snatch it. A Cheetah and three cubs cross the plains in the distance looking to hunt also. The Topi are protective of their fouls they stand with the foul underneath them, sheltering them from the afternoon heat. A mother gently nuzzles her foul, she will carefully guard it.
Old boy the male Leopard with the large dewlap and bad right eye is sitting on the banks on the Kaboso area river. He looks perfectly relaxed as he surveys the plains before him. It is late afternoon and he would have just woken from sleeping in the shade, no doubt he will want to hunt. He closes his eyes and rests his large head on his impressive paws, he looks weary, he is quite elderly now. Two Buffalos start grazing behind him and he sits up and snarls at them, they are a disturbance not a threat.
In the Marsh area Chongo is regally sitting up in the middle of the plains in all his majestic glory, he really is a staggeringly handsome male. His mane is backlit by the glowing embers of the setting sun. Even though he has only one eye he commands such respect. He is looking for the Lionesses as it is nearly time to hunt and he is hungry. The Lionesses are sat with the cubs on a mound on the marsh; they are still very sleepy even though the sun is setting behind them. They lay on their backs as the glow of the sun warms their bright white bellies; they are the picture of contentment. The sky is heavy with rain clouds but the deep golden rays of the sun flash brilliant ethereal rays through the dark greys. Sun set gives way to the beautiful Africa night sky, the moon is full and bright and the constellations can be clearly seen, the stars are bright. The night is for the wild, free and untamed.
The cloudless sky it is streaked with orange and yellow light from the rising sun, set to a backdrop of vivid blue. The red oat tipped grasses sway in the morning breeze, when the red light catches the red tips it looks like the plains are on fire. The shorter grasses are thick and vibrant green, the morning dew sticking to each blade making it shine. In the dawn light the Marsh pride, four Lionesses and five cubs are making their way back home after a night of hunting. The golden light highlights the golden blonde of their fur and deep bronze eyes. They are quite energised from their nightly activity; the cubs are frisky and playful. They crouch in the long grass and play hunting and pouncing on each other. They leap in the air, limbs outstretched to startle their siblings. Necks are bitten, ears chewed and tails pulled. Even the Lionesses do not escape their frisky activity, but they are happy to join in. One of the sub adult male cubs is very confident and cheeky, he comes up to the vehicle puts his paws on the door, stares up with big round golden eyes and tries to steal the camera! Having failed that attempt he goes round to the back of the vehicle and plays with some loose rope, he bats it like a kitten and chews the end. He quickly bores of this and comes round to the other side on the vehicle, he plays with the wing mirror and jumps up and presses his face and paw to the window. He is just a curious cat but we start the engine to deter any further naughtiness, after all he is a free roaming wild animal.
The pride has had a kill in the night so the Wildebeest, Zebra and Impala that snort their warning calls are safe this time. That is not to say if the opportunity arose to kill the Lions would certainly take it, they are opportunists. The Lions glance over at a herd of Elephants and give them a wide birth. The pride walk together, bonded, it is a beautiful scene to see such a healthy pride. The Lionesses are leading the cubs back to the marsh area to sleep for the day. Lions are diurnal; they do take the opportunity to hunt in the day if their nightly hunt has been unsuccessful. The cubs are around nine months old, they are developing strong personalities and leadership styles, it is easy to see which males and which females will be dominant leaders in future. For now when the cubs get out of line the Lionesses will bat them hard with her large paw or snarl at them. The cubs know to obey the fierce but loving Lionesses. When they reach the marsh they disappear into the bushes away from the growing heat of the morning.
The plains are green and luscious and alive with great herds even after the migration season. We see three adolescent Cheetahs around two year’s old, older cubs of Selenkei; they are all male and have probably just left their mother. They are unusually shy and skittish, probably because they have been used to the protection of their mother but now they are on their own. Their coats are pale blonde with dark spots; they still look very cub like. They are looking to hunt but they are quite inexperienced, they go to hide in the bushes, they seem nervous of the prey. Two Jackals track their progress as they know the Cheetahs will eventually hunt and there will be a carcass for them to scavenge, they will wait patiently nearby.
In the Rongai area we find the beautiful female Leopard Luluka, she recently lost a cub so she is very active again. She killed a Topi yesterday as it crossed the rocky crossing and she is still eating it as it is a large kill. Today because of the heat of the sun, the carcass is desiccated. She chews on the last remnants of meat left. She looks around her wearingly as on the banks stand four large Hyaenas, Vultures and Marabou Stalks looking to scavenge the carcass. Surprisingly even though the Hyaenas are large with powerful jaws and outnumber her they do not come close, they know she is a ferocious hunter and fighter so not to be reckoned with. She drags the carcass into the shade, even though there is little left but skin and bone she does not want to share. Once sated she gets up, stretches her powerfully built muscular body and walks into the sunlight, her deep bronze fur with black rosettes gleam. She looks up, her green eyes bright and alert. She strolls confidently over the dark grey slippery rocks to bend to drink from the murky brown stagnant water. She glances at the salivating scavengers and decides to let them fight over the remains. She finds a cool spot between the roots of a twisted gnarly olive tree and gracefully licks herself clean with her long pink raspy tongue.
The Hyaenas rapidly run down the banks first and the Vultures and Marabou Stalks soar down. The Hyaenas fight and cackle their crazy laugh as they argue over the remains. The Vultures stand on the side lines trying to pick up sinew, offal and blood from the ground. There is nothing left of the carcass once they rip it apart and run off with their prizes. The scavengers are the cleaners of the savannah, keeping it free from the stench of rotting meat and warding off disease. They may not be the prettiest of animals but they are so important to the survival of the wild.
A herd of stunning hairy tall female Waterbuck are being watched by one of the Rongai pride Lioness. She is sat under a very small croton bush with no shade; she pants heavily trying to regulate her temperature in the late morning searing heat. There are no clouds in the sky and the sun beats down. The herd have seen her but she seems to be enjoying the view. A small herd of Wildebeest come down to the banks of the river, they want to quench their thirst in the heat but they are down wind of the Lioness and can smell the threat. They stop abruptly and turn on their hooves and run down into the plains. A lone Zebra stands in the river, blissfully unaware of the threat.
Further down the banks two more of the Rongai Lionesses sit by a small group of croton bushes, the strong scent of the bushes helps to mask their scent. One is an experienced older Lioness the other is a younger female. They are stalking Topi and Impala that are grazing in the next set of bushes. The Lionesses crouch low their ears flat. They watch and observe, they will wait until the prey turns their back before they start stalking. After a while they see their opportunity and start stalking low to the ground, legs bent, backs flat and ears low. They move stealthily and quickly to the bushes but the Topi see them and they start to snort a warning call, the Impala quickly look up from grazing and stand alert. The Lionesses know not to start to run after the prey as they will be out manoeuvred and outrun. The Lionesses sit up, look around and head back to the croton bushes to sleep, they will try again later when it is cooler.
A mating herd of Impala graze out in the hot beating midday sun; they are led by one dominant male. He is the only male that is allowed to mate with the females, but he is distracted. The dominant male is busy seeing off the nearby bachelor herd, on a daily basis he will be challenged for mating rights. He will only be dominant for a few weeks as another male will beat him as his strength will be weakened after constant mating and fighting.
The great Mara River is low; the rains have not fallen heavily for several months. Hippos wallow in the now shallow murky waters; they defecate where they live so the pods can be smelt before they are seen. The Hippos cluster together which causes regular fights as they are quite bad tempered. You can hear them honking and splashing frantically about. Some are sun bathing on the edge of the bank, their large pink bodies covered in mud for sun screen. When they enter the water they give an almighty splash, in water they are fast and agile, on land they are cumbersome and slow. They are of course Africa’s deadliest predator, when you stand on the banks and they are almost submerged you can see their beady eyes watching you. In the middle of a river is an exceptionally large crocodile, it looks like a fallen log, it is beige and grey in colour. It is a cold blooded animal so it has most of its body out of the water to warm itself in the intense early afternoon sun.
Great herds of Impala graze on the plains; the grass is short as the rain has not been plentiful as yet. This makes hunting a challenge for the predators. Three Cheetah brothers lay out on the plains; they are older males and very experienced hunters. Unfortunately not all chases end in a kill and they have just missed an Impala. They lay on their sides panting from the exertion; they need to lower their body temperature. They are still keen to hunt but they must regain their energy before they try again. They scan the plains with their large round amber eyes, the black tear marks running down from their eyes minimises the glare of the sun. The problem they have is there are no bushes to launch an attack from; all the Impala have seen them. They will need to walk across the plains and stalk another herd to be successful.
In the Kaboso area a solitary Elephant enjoys a wallow in the water whilst Baboons forage in the short grasses; they are enjoying the sweet taste of the white tissue flowers that have sprouted up after the small rains. Two Buffalo look like light grey rocks, they have recently fully submerged themselves in a nearby muddy pool and are completely caked in pale grey mud. A lone Hyaena also enjoys the pleasures of a muddy pool; it is basking in the shallow waters of a puddle, cooling off from the heat of the day. A family of Pumba approach the water to drink; they are wary of the Hyaena but can see it is fully occupied in its bathing.
Then she appears, the Queen, she stands by the forest a picture of stunning beauty in the late afternoon light. Her greens eyes are lit by the sun, she is surveying her domain. She is an alpha female and self-assured, she wants to hunt. She confidently walks to the edge of the plains to see what prey is available but is perturbed by the presence of Hyaenas and Baboons, both could steal her kill. She walks along slowly she is not in hurry, but suddenly something catches her eye, a scrub hare scurries out of a bush. She pursues it and in a swift pounce catches it between her mighty paws. She clamps her mouth around its neck to strangle it, when its legs stop kicking she carries its dangling lifeless body back into the forest. She drops it then gives a series of low chuffs; she is calling her young cub. The tiny cub squeaks back and comes out of its safe hiding space. It is delighted to see its mother and enthusiastically greets her by rubbing itself against her. She indulgently drops the hare and rips it open for the cub and it starts to eat eagerly. Mother and cub bond over the rich meat and blood of the kill. When finished the cub is playful and takes the fur of the hare in its mouth and runs around with it. Carcasses are often toys for cubs. Kaboso lies down indulgently and watches her precious offspring. The cub is grateful to its mother and clambers on her to play. Kaboso is a good mother and plays with the young cub before pinning it between her paws and washing the blood from the kill off of its face.
The sun is now beginning to set and the prey enjoy the last of the heat of the sun and its protection. Soon night will fall and the predators will awake for their nightly hunt. The Marsh Pride is in their favourite marshy area near the airstrip. They are still sleepy after last night’s activities. As the sun sets and the deep red of the sun’s rays lights up the rich strawberry blonde of the Lions fur they begin to wake. The Lionesses yawn, their mouths wide, canines exposed and long pink raspy tongues stuck out. They cat stretch, backs arched, front legs stretched forward and bottoms in the air. The cubs take their cue from their mothers and stretch, they are reluctant to wake but they enjoy rubbing up affectionately against their mothers. It is the most idyllic setting, the bond of true maternal love as the rich red life giving warmth of the sun sets.
The sun rises over the banks of the Mara River, the rich red glow lights the banks highlighting the deep browns, oranges and greens, the gently flowing water shines like natural crystals. Through the trees tall hairy female Waterbuck graze on the dewy grasses, their deep bronze coat is lit up against the silhouetted olive trees. The sun light filters through the glade shooting beams of warm light. The plains are ablaze with light, the prey start to run warming up their muscles, the sunrise brings energy and life to the quiet plains. Birds call over head as they leave their nests.
The Marsh pride has five dominant males; it is a strong coalition so the prides they defend are enjoying a time of prospers as their pride numbers grow. Out on the open plains surrounded by great herds of Wildebeest, Topi and Impala we see Doa walking with one of the Lionesses, they are looking to mate. He is brother to Chongo; he is a strong, powerful male with a very full dark golden mane, ombré down to black around his muscular shoulders. He stops and shakes his head vigorously, his mane is quite staggering as it expels dust and water, it is now stands thick and full, gleaming bronze in the golden morning light. The Lioness walks in front of him, when it comes to mating she decides when and where it will happen. She is in oestrus but will make the male follow her until she feels ready. They stop and stand surveying the plains, the prey snort, they are uncomfortable with predators in their midst. Doa bends down and draws in the scent of a low bush and pulls back his mussel to flehmen, he detects another of his brothers have marked the territory here. He yawns opening his mighty jaws displaying rows of sharp teeth. Coming over the brow of the hill two more of his brothers are making their way back from their nightly hunt. One is dark maned like Doa and Chongo, he is heading back to the marsh area to sleep for the day, he walks slow he is tired, Lions are built for power not endurance. The other male has a much lighter blonde mane so lower levels of testosterone; he has a mark on his right leg which distinguishes him. He spots his brother with the Lioness and stops, he will not walk by them as his brother will see it as a threat and they may fight. He instead sits in the grass and watches from a distance.
The morning is growing hot and the Lions become sleepy; this does not however make the herds of prey relax they are still on alert when the predators are around. The Queen knowing the Lions are now sleeping and emerges from the forest. Kaboso is a skilled hunter and very protective mother. She sees a scrub hare and chases it, in seconds it is dangling lifelessly from her jaws. She grunts and her cub squeaks back. The perfect little Leopard cub emerges from the bushes, it is tiny only two months old and it has bright blue sapphire eyes. She leads the cub back into the bushes where they enjoy the kill together. She lets her cub play kill with the hare, even at this tender age it must learn how to catch food. The cub drags the hare around between its front legs before letting its mother rip it open to eat. Mother and cub enjoy the tender flesh together. After they have eaten she lovingly washes the blood from the cub’s fur. This is of course just a small snack for her and the cub. She encourages the cub to follow her; she is finally ready to introduce the cub to the plains. Kaboso grunts at the cub and it follows her. She is confident as she emerges from the bushes but the small cub is nervous and blinks into the light. It dives under its mothers belly for protection and comfort, the wide open plains is scary for a small cub. She starts to walk but the cub runs back into the bushes, she turns around and grunts at it to follow, she has to teach it to be brave. The cub comes out and follows us, crouched low, nervous of the prey around. Mother and cub walk side by side in her domain.
The two male Lions are now laying in the shade of a Gardenia bush, they are touching back to back, their golden manes intermingled. Below them in the dry river bed an old lone male Buffalo is grazing, he is grey with dried mud. Neither mortal enemy have seen each other. The Buffalo steadily walks its way along munching the grasses quite noisily, this gets the attention of the Lions, they look down, they have seen the annoyance. They sit up holding their ground but watching the unpredictable bad tempered Buffalo carefully. The Buffalo is oblivious to the Lions presence. Suddenly the wind changes and the Buffalo catches the scent of the Lions, it abruptly looks up and sees them. He walks up the bank and confronts them, it is a standoff. The Buffalo stares down the Lions; he is old, bad tempered and unpredictable. The Lions weigh up the odds and decide the fight is not worth the risk of getting horned by the Buffalo so they make a hasty retreat. One heads to a nearby bush to hide whereas the other heads down the furthest bank to where a Lioness sleeps and seeks comfort from her. She however does not welcome being woken and snarls at him. He sniffs her, flehmen and decides she is not receptive to mating. He lies down next to her; she shoots him a look of distain but does not move.
The rest of the ridge pride are under a nearby Gardenia bush, three Lionesses and seven cubs are all piled on top of each other to escape the heat of midday. Occasionally you will hear the odd moan and sigh as they sleep deeply. As they grow hot they get up stretch, yawn, walk over each other and settle down again. The smaller cubs are nestled into their mothers for protection. One older male cub gets up and walks over to his mother and rubs his face on hers, she gently snarls, she is sleepy so he walks away and lays down on top of a much smaller sibling. The poor little cub squeezes out and finds the protection of its mother and starts suckling until it falls asleep again.
A herd of Elephants march across the open plains, kicking up small bushes and pulling them up by their roots. It is hard for bushes to grow with Elephants around as they can be quite destructive. But as they do not process their food well their dung contains seeds which replant in the soil. Plus it is a good source of food for the dung beetle. We see its small black shiny body rolling into a ball some of the dung which it will roll back to its hole to feed on. The march of the Elephants is keenly watched by two male lions, sat near them is two males, brothers from the six male coalition; there is a Lioness nearby which maybe in oestrus. The dominant of the two males gets up and confidently strides over to the Lioness, he is powerfully built which a large dark mane. She initially snarls at him but accepts him sitting with her. He has made claim to the female whilst his brother looks on from a distance, watchful and waiting for any opportunity to usurp him.
The male Lion gets up and sniffs the Lioness and flehmen to see if she is in oestrus, he decides she possibly is and tries to make advances however she is not ready to mate and swipes him with her mighty sharp claws. He settles down next to her frustrated but he knows he has to be patient, she decides when they mate. He falls to sleep as it is hot out on the plains with no cover in the afternoon heat. When he is asleep the Lioness gets up quietly and walks across the plains and sits in the shade of the cool river bank. The other male Lion sees her move and senses his chance to mate with her. He gets up and walks slowly past his brother, once he is happy his brother is asleep he runs towards to the Lioness. He sniffs her and she looks at him with distain as she is unwilling to mate with him but he heavily sits down next to her anyway. He looks around nervously for his brother, if he wakes there will be trouble. The dominant male wakes and immediately looks for his Lioness, he is not happy she has disappeared. He gets up his huge muscular frame and dark mane impressive. He scans the plains for her but cannot see her. He starts to walk looking confused; he cannot see her down the bank. He sniffs the air and follows her scent. Soon he sees her and runs towards her, his brother having been discovered quickly gets up and runs off he does not want a fight. The dominant male takes his rightful place with his queen.
Hyaenas are not considered beautiful or even nice animals, but their rich painted coarse fur is quite lovely with its dark browns, blacks and bronzes. The Hyaenas are sat by their den with their puppies. Hyaenas are good parents; they are efficient hunters in their own right, not just scavengers. They hunt for their clan and then come back to regurgitate the food for their pups. The puppies are playful and enjoy leaping on each other and biting. The parents are indulgent and enjoy chasing the puppies; it is a wonderful scene of Hyaenas family life.
The Marsh pride are in their usual spot at sunset, they enjoy the large mound as the whole pride can sit together and it gives them an advantage point to look across their territory. The Lionesses are laid out enjoying the suns warmth; they lay on their backs their white bellies exposed. The young cubs are waking and start to yawn sticking out their long pink raspy tongues. They are very affectionate with one another and start to groom their siblings. They gave such a look of contentment on their faces; this is important bonding time for them. Quite surprisingly within a hundred metres a lone long legged Serval cat is sat in the ravine, the Lions are a threat to it but it seems focused on hunting. Its beautiful golden eyes are sharp and focused and its large bat like ears flickers to pick up sound. As the light fads it heads into the thicket, camouflaged from the Lions but stealthy to hunt its prey. The sun sets over the plains, the prey are silhouetted against the vibrant reds, oranges and pinks of the sky. The air is thick with anticipation as prey brace themselves as the predators awake and the hunt begins lit by the moon and stars.
The Mara Triangle one of the conservancies around the main reserve has the most stunning landscapes. The plains are covered in long green grasses, the migration did not reach here so it is still high. Rain water flows down from the escarpment so the grasses, bushes and trees grow abundantly, it is rich in plant life. This attracts large herds of Buffalo who graze on the soft moist new grasses. A herd of Eland, Kenya’s largest Antelope slowly make their way over the slopes. Their dewlaps swinging under their chin and knee joints clicking. One of the Eland has a bent horn it makes it look quite comical. They are being watched by three shy Lionesses hiding behind a mound. Their golden eyes shining in the morning light, watchful and calculating their chances of a successful hunt. There is only one pride in the conservancy so they are quite a large pride as they have a large territory and plenty of food. The early morning red light reflects off of the grasses giving it a golden glow, the Lions strawberry blonde fur is perfectly camouflaged. They will wait until the Eland are closer to ambush them.
Sitting on a top of tree with dense foliage a Martial Eagle with bright yellow piercing eyes scans the plains for animals to hunt. These are fierce raptures with curved sharp beaks and long talons, predation, their main prey is small rodents and reptiles but due to their size and strength they can kill baby gazelle and even cubs. They are impressive hunters, as they soar on the vortex they can spot prey up to 5km away. This Eagle is casually watching the large herd of Buffalo; led by the Matriarch they seek the moist fresh grasses of the conservancy. Oxpeckers birds with their bright orange and yellow beaks and startling yellow eyes nimbly hop around the faces and backs of the Buffalo. The birds feed off of the ticks and dead skin cells of the Buffalo keeping it clean, the Buffalo tolerate them for this reason. You often see many of the face of a Buffalo sometimes even going part way up their nostril! This is when the Buffalo will object, it is a little bit too much of an intrusion for them as well as an annoyance.
A lone female Cheetah resplendent in the late morning light has a Topi baby kill clamped until its paws. The Cheetah has a very rotund belly which means it has already eaten and is keeping this opportunist kill for later or she is pregnant, it is not easy to tell. The Cheetah does look relaxed and happy there are no scavengers or other cats around to steal its kill. It blinks its amber eyes in the strong sunlight, the black tear marks under its eyes protecting it from the glare of the sun. Its fur is a pale golden blonde with black spots. It beautifully stretches its long limbs out enjoying the heat of the sun and feeling of being sated. Its paws has ridge marks on the pads like a car tyres to help it grip the ground when it is running at high speed, it is the only cat with non-retractable claws. She will now rest today as she has successfully hunted no doubt moving off to the bushes when it gets too hot for her.
Over by Rhino Ridge we find Scar face, the dominant male Lion of the four brother coalition. He is sat with his brother Hunter; they are deep in the croton bushes which are a natural insect repellent and give them perfect shade from the searing heat of the midday sun. He is an old male now which means he has many battle scars including the loose of his right eye which gives him his name. Most impressively he has the largest, darkest mane of all of the males. It is deep bronze across his head deepening to a dark black across his shoulders and back. He gives a deep mighty sigh as he rolls over onto his back and spreads his legs akimbo to cool his large rotund belly. The pride must have had a kill as they are all sated and very sleepy. With the males being so old now, around fourteen years they will start to be heavily contested by much younger, stronger nomadic males or established coalitions from other prides. At present the four males are strong but they rely upon scar remaining healthy. A lone Giraffe stops and spots the Lions, it just stands there staring at them, they are just curious silent animals.
Within a hundred yards we smell before we see the object of the Lions contentment. A Hippo is lying prone on the banks of the river half eaten, whether the Lions killed it or it died of natural causes we do not know. This carcass will feed the pride for several days even when it is rancid from the heat. Vultures and Marabou Stalk are taking advantage of the Lions sleeping in the bushes; they start to rip open the skin of the carcass which is leathery from being out in the scorching sun. The squawk and screech over the moist pieces of offal and entrails they lay spilt on the ground. This is quite a feast for them and they will eat until the Lions wake to eat again, the Lions will chase them off of the kill. This may happen soon as three of the sub adult Lions are laying by the river.
There are still thousands of Wildebeest and Zebra grazing on the plains, the migration was late this year. The Zebra bray calling to their family members to stay together, the stallions fiercely guard their females and fouls. The Wildebeest honk loudly they too communicate to their herd, they are always on the lookout for danger, they are the prime food source for all of the big cats, their young are also targets for the scavengers. They are right to be skittish and wary as Lions are asleep in a nearby bush. The Lions will rest until sunset and conserve their energy for the hunt later, they will often use the cover of darkness to ambush their prey, Lions are much organised efficient hunters. The hunt is led by the dominant Lioness, just the flick of her white backed ear will indicate to the rest of the Lionesses the positions they need to be in to form a successful hunt.
A large herd of Elephants march across the plains, their mighty feet pounding the earth. They are led by the Matriarch and are seeking water to bathe in and drink. They kick up and pull new roots and deposit them in their mouths, this will provide them with nutrition and well as moisture. The ends of their trunks are as sensitive as fingers as they root around in the soil to find the food they want. They startle a mating pair of Secretary birds, they fly squawking up into the air. Pair of Crowned Crane is not perturbed by the Elephants presence; they just move out of the way and continue high stepping through the grasses looking for seeds to eat. From the depth of the bushes a protective Lioness from the Enkoyanai pride watches the activity in case it becomes a threat. She is nervous as she is sucking four cubs around one month old. They are tiny and meow sweetly at their mother for milk and protection. She gently washes their heads; she will kill to protect them. She will keep the vulnerable cubs away from the pride until they are around four months old, the older cubs can be boisterous with the younger ones and she wants to protect them against harm. It will be a delicate process introducing them to the pride.
Spot one of the Marsh pride Lionesses is sat with one of her daughters and two sons, the sun is beginning to set and they stretch and yawn after their day of sleeping. They are set apart from the rest of the pride, sometimes there are fractions in the pride and they split temporarily. The golden light lights their fur turning it a burnished gold. The lions scan the plains for hunting opportunities, a herd of Impala catch their eye and they set off across the plains. Over on their favourite termite mound the rest of the Marsh pride, four Lionesses, five cubs lay sleeping. The rain starts to pour down and they blink through wet eyelashes, this certainly wakes them up. They have thick oily fur which keeps their coats dry but they do not like the rain. The young cubs decide to start chasing each other to keep warm. They pick up sticks and run around with them in their mouths trying to steal them from each other. They frolic, leap and jump on each other, they practice their hunting skills. A flock of Egrets land but are soon chased by the enthusiastic cubs, they do not want to necessarily eat them but they make great target practice for their hunting skills. As the rain stops they start to settle again and walk over to their mothers so they can be licked dry of the water. Their faces are such a picture of contentment; washing is such important bonding time. The sun sets on this beautiful scene of pride life.
The sky is striped with thin soft clouds and the sun’s ray’s beams through them giving the most artistic Monet watercolour. The colours are vibrant through to pastel as the sun rises. The tall Elephant Pepper trees punctuate the skyline perfectly silhouetted as Impala graze under its shelter. The air is cool and fresh, the scent of croton bushes fills the air. The vast plains are moist and green and gold after the night’s rain, you can smell the freshness of the grass mixed with the earth. As the sun raises the soft glow spreads across the savannah lighting up the red oat tips of the grass, it is ablaze with light and life as the prey stretch their cold muscles and start running through the grasses. Across the sky flocks of birds leave their nests and fly, their call the only sound in the peace of the morning. The escarpment is covered in a deep green of new grasses.
Two of the six pride males are sat in the Ridge area, they are both looking to mate, the more dominant male has captured the attention of a Lioness, whilst the other male sits apart from them looking for an opportunity to mate too. The male gets up and sniffs the female to see if she is receptive to mate but she is sleepy, the air is still cool and the grass damp and cold so she snarls at him. He looks around dejected and sits heavily down next to her. The sun has just risen and his mane is ablaze with golden light, it looks like burnished gold. The male does not sleep his golden eyes are alert as he surveys his domain, this is his female. Finally as the sun warms her golden blonde fur, she yawns, her mouth wide, her sharp white teeth gleaming in the light and her long pink raspy tongue pushed out. She gets up and the male dutifully follows. She crouches down low and he mounts her, in less than ten seconds of neck biting, snarling and thrusting the copulation is over. He has a barbed penis so it is painful for both of them but it stimulates her ovulation. She snarls and swipes her sharp talons at him. He leaps back he knows he is no longer of use to her until he wants to mate again. He sits close guarding her whilst she rolls over aiding the flow of his semen. This is the raw passion and pain of Lion mating.
A pair of Bat Eared Foxes is sitting by their den in the warm morning sun, they are shy nocturnal animals. They have almost malevolent eyes, but they are cute little dogs with large ears which they use to press to the ground or a termite mound to listen for insects. They are scratching vigorously as they will have fleas and insects crawling all over the from their den under the ground. They feed off of insects and live in pairs with their puppies.
Kidonda (meaning a wound that has recently healed) has made a kill, a baby Impala which she has pulled up a tree and hung it over a branch. She is an older daughter of Kaboso, around three years old. She has eaten much of the kill so now looks for shade in the bushes. Like her mother she is a successful hunter, she is beautiful with a rounded belly from her meal. The morning sun is growing hot, she walks along the banks of the river looking around for threats, her round vibrant green eyes are watchful. She has a stunning muscular frame; she can carry kills greater than her own body weight up a tree, her powerful jaws holding it steady. She is tired from her exertions and finds a thick croton bush to rest in. She snaps at flies buzzing around her face, they are attracted to the blood of the kill on her mussel. She licks her paw and wipes it over her face to clean herself. She will rest from the heat of morning and return to get kill later.
Hartebeest with their beautiful pale beige bodies and heart shaped horns graze with Zebra, Thompson Gazelle and Warthog. They have found a small pool of water and are drinking deeply; it is hot in the late morning. The prey is used to the searing heat of the day. The Zebras stripes not only provide a confusing pattern for predators but the white reflects the sun and the black attracts heat which helps them to regulate their temperature. One of the cheeky male Zebra stands five legged; it is an impressive if not amusing sight. The prey graze together for protection against predators, they rely on each other’s strengths.
Bahati (meaning lucky) is one of the most well-known female Leopards in the Mara, she is around eight years old now and is a confident, beautiful female. She has successfully raised generations of cubs and has an eight month old cub hidden in the dense vegetation. The croton bushes are thick and we brush past the sweet heady scent fills the air, this is the scent of the Maasai Mara. Bahati comes out of the bushes, she has detected a threat, there is a sub adult male Lion sitting on the edge of the banks overlooking the river, if he detects her or her cub he will kill them. She stalks through the bushes, she is stealthy, not even a twig breaks under her feet. All of a sudden above her we see her cub high on the branches of an olive tree it is squeaking for her, she gently grunts back and the cub navigates the branches and confidently makes it way down the thick trunk of the tree. The tree is huge but the cub is confident and skilled already. It joins her mother, they greet then to our surprise another cub appears Bahati had twins. Both cubs are extremely healthy but still a little shy and stay close to their mother.
Bahati is teaching them to hunt; even though they are young they need to learn valuable survival skills. She grunts to them to follow and they walk in her steps. She stalks through the thick croton bushes, its heady scent masking her own. A scrub hare sits in the thicket; she pounces and quickly suffocates the hare in her large jaws. She carries it lifelessly dangling from her mouth and crosses the river away from the Lion. There are smooth grey rocks exposed above the water as the river is low. The three Leopards move fast and are quickly across and running up the far bank into the shade of a Euclear tree. It is a small kill and Bahati allows her cubs to rip apart the kill themselves and indulge in the soft flesh. There are a pair of Egyptian Geese in the river below them, they are noisily quacking they do not like predators in their territory. Bahati finishes off the kill holding the fur between her paws; she crunches noisily on the bones. Nothing will be wasted. The cubs sit apart from her washing, they have violet eyes and are very watchful, they are beautifully innocent and content in their mothers care. When she has finished eating she calls to them to follow her, they are nervous and she goes on without them, leaving them under the tree. Across the other side she sits in the shade of some bushes to wash the blood off of her. One of the braver cubs circumnavigates the bushes and tries to join her but she hisses and snarls at it to stay where it is. She gets up, stretches her perfect feline body and takes the cubs into the thick bushes to sleep for the afternoon, they are all sated.
Under the shade of a large Ballanite tree which provides perfect sun protection due to its distinctive umbrella shape, sits six sub adult Lions, all male around three years old with mohican manes. They are part of the Enkuynai pride. They are being closely watched by an adult Giraffe, long legged, long necked, long eye lashed. It stands and stares at the Lions, curious to what they are doing, no doubt the Giraffe wishes to browse the leaves of the tree, hence its umbrella shape. These sub adults when they leave the pride will make a powerful coalition. For now they are still young boys, they are laid together legs resting on backs, heads rested on bums and forelegs resting on branches. They have had a kill today. They are happy and healthy with full round bellies, they are panting heavily to regulate their body temperature. Hours pass, in fact over four and the Giraffe when we return is still stood there ruminating and watching the Lions, which answers the question about the curiosity of Giraffes.
Whether bored, hungry or just weirded out by being watched closely by a Giraffe for four hours, five of the sub adult male cubs decide to walk across the dry plains in the searing heat of the afternoon. Their attention is caught; there is a family of Warthogs grazing in the long, swaying red oat tipped grasses. The Lions are stealthy and downwind of the Warthogs so they have not been detected. The Lions crouch low, there is no Lioness to hunt for them so they must do so themselves. They are also organised, they split up and when they get within fifteen feet, run. They give chase, they dart in and out of the grasses, veer right and left, the older Warthogs are too quick but the two piglets are not. Two of the Lions catch the piglets and carry them off in their mouths. They jog back contentedly into the shorter grass area and deposit them on grassy mounds as they do not like dust on their food. There dark golden bronze eyes shows there excitement, it may be a small snack but they caught it themselves. The other males just have to sit watching their two brothers crunch whole the piglets, the skulls are soft so the Lions crunch them in one bite. When they have finished eating the other males lick the blood from their mussels. The male Lions really do have such a good bond; they are incredibly affectionate with each other.
Rhino Ridge is covered in a thick dense forest, it is perfect Leopard territory. Prey graze on the abundant lush grasses and bushes. All is peaceful, and then suddenly a swish of a long dangling tail indicates there is indeed a Leopard perfectly balanced on top of an Elephant Pepper tree. She is Bella II the daughter of Bahati; she is a beautiful, confident Leopard and a successful hunter. She has killed a young Impala and dragged it up the tree and draped it over a branch. Her stunning green eyes survey her territory; she moves the kill to a thicker branch and starts to devour the tender flesh. Even from a distance you can hear her tearing at flesh and gorging on the meat. She seems uncertain about the safety of the kill and picks it up in her powerful jaws and drags it to the end of the thick branch. We see her looking out over her domain with the Impala, half eaten dangling from her mouth, stood on the edge of the branch. Deftly and confidently she leaps from branch to branch with the kill in her mouth until she traverses the vertical trunk of the tree. She lands softly onto the grass with her kill and drags it into the thick vegetation to eat.
Across the plains the dusk is forming, the light becomes softer but the air is still warm. A herd of Elephants with young calves slowly march over the plains; they are pulling up vegetation with their long trunks. Great herds of Zebra, Buffalo, Impala and Topi enjoy grazing in the cooler air of the afternoon. The clouds grow dark, heavy gunmetal grey with the promise of rains. The wind picks up and the moisture can be smelt in the air. The heavens open and the rain fall hard and heavy. The marsh pride are relaxing on a mound when the rain sets in, the sudden downpour energises them. The young cubs wake and start to play. They start to hunt each other, running down the ravines and jumping out at their siblings. Croton bushes become toys; they use them as climbing frames and break off branches to play with. One cub has gleefully found a lump of wood and is running around with it in its mouth. The cubs are full of life and complete joy; everything is a toy and a plaything. Even their mothers are climbing frames and their ears and tail something to chew and chase. As the rain grows heavy the Lionesses vigorously shake the water off of them creating cascades. The cubs joyfully lick the water from their mother’s fur as do the mothers from their cub’s fur. This is a time for bonding and play before the serious work of the nightly hunt.
The sunset after the rain is staggeringly beautiful, the sky is covered in swirls of pastel pinks, yellows and blues mingled with the soft grey clouds. The wind is still and the air still warm, Impala gently lap at the puddles created by the sudden downpour. There is a peace after the energetic electrifying storm. As the prey settle for the night, the predators awake. This is the circle of life, the perfect balance. The sky grows dark; the pastel shades give way to the deep vibrant reds, purples and blues before the deep dark midnight blue of the magnificent African night sky. The stars light the savannah; all around the sound of the wild fills the air.
A beautiful herd of Waterbuck graze under the shade of the Elephant Pepper trees, the stag is large and muscular with tall curved horns, he is quite majestic when he stands sideways. He is guarding the females and babies in his herd. The perfect burnt orange sky behind them from the rising sun highlights the red tones in their long fur. The Ridge pride is coming back from their nightly hunt, the sun is rising over the hill as the Lionesses and young cubs, all with turgid round bellies walk in a line across the plains. As the sun rises in front of them the bright golden glow highlights their rich red golden fur. They look contented and sated it must have been a large kill to satisfy all of them for not far behind them is two of the dominant males. It is a beautiful scene watching the four Lionesses and eight young cubs walking together. The cubs are playful as the sun warms and energises them, they leap on their mothers, biting their tails and grabbing their necks like they are prey. All around them the prey snort warning calls but the pride ignores them, they are now looking for shade so they can curl up to sleep together, it was a long night.
Close by energised and invigorated by the rising heat, Doa and a Lioness are walking together, they are looking to mate. He follows closely behind her, occasionally sniffing her bottom checking her scent to ensure she is in oestrus. On occasion he tries to bite her tail, he is hot and tired and wants her to stop and mate. She finally finds an acceptable spot and crouches down, Doa quickly mounts her, bites her neck and thrusts for a few seconds. They both snarl at the discomfort but it is over in seconds. She swipes at him then rolls onto her back aiding the flow of sperm. He pants heavily, looks around for threats and then heavily sits down next to her. She ignores him, he has done his duty but he keeps her close. He is keen to mate again and keeps sniffing her but she lays on her side to rest. He sits patiently occasionally licking her, trying to get her attention, she eventually tires of his pestering and gets up and walks away. He follows until she crouches down to once again receive him. They both snarl viciously, their mussels pulled back, canines bare, it is raw and carnal. They have only just started mating so will copulate around every fifteen minutes for several days until they are sure she is impregnated. They will not eat or drink, by the end they will be exhausted, hungry and happy to be apart.
The Hyaenas are active today; the parents bring their puppies out of the den to play in the morning light. They are out in the open plains, a large herd of Impala snort, they have young fouls and they are threatened by the Hyaenas presence. The morning brings out the mothers; Queen Kaboso is in hunting mood and decides her beautiful violet eyed cub should see her in action. The cub is only two months old, its fur is very fluffy and eyes wide, the plains outside the safety of the forest are an alarming place. It follows closely behind its mother, secure in her protection. When she walks too quickly for it it squeaks at her and she turns to encourage it to follow. The cub is hesitant and finds every opportunity to hide in small bushes. When it is out in the open it runs low to the ground or under its mother. It is incredibly beautiful, its fur is dark and soft, the sun highlights the deep browns and reds. Its violet eyes are innocent and curious; it is both excited and overwhelmed by its environment outside the safety of its den. Kaboso is a good mother; she nurtures and encourages her cub to be brave. They disappear into the forest to hunt scrub hare.
The plains are alive with cats; a beautiful Serval cat sits by a small croton bush. They are usually nocturnal but it is late morning and she seems keen to hunt. Servals are small long legged cats, with long faces and large round ears. They look like the Egyptian goddess Biset, they are lithe and regal. She has startling green eyes which brightly look for hunting opportunities. Her large ears flicker, forwards and backwards, they are like antennas, she is listening for the sound of rodents in the undergrowth. She mainly feeds off of rodents, reptiles and birds. She gets up and stretches her long limbs and carefully, stealthily high steps through the grass, her eyes focused, her ears tuned for sound.
Out in the scorching heat of the late morning sun, Doa and the Lioness are still mating; they both desperately look like they need shade. They are sitting together, longingly looking at the herds of Impala and Wildebeest surrounding them. They pant heavily, they are so tired. A lone Topi stands behind them in the distance studying them but they are too hot and tired to respond. Eventually she gets up and Doa reluctantly does too, they mate, it is quick, raw and carnal. They snarl at each other as he bites her neck, she is too tired to even swipe back at him. They both sit heavily on the ground when it is over. They know however the survival of their pride relies on them producing the next generation.
The Marsh pride as usual is still sleeping at sunset, they are sitting on top of a mound enjoying the last of the sun’s rays. The bond between Lions is beautiful to watch, observing their interactions are most rewarding. The cubs stretch and yawn and walk over each other to reach their mothers or sleep with other siblings. They will often just lie on top of each other until one move. The enjoy cuddling up to their mothers, they mutually lick each other which is particularly enjoyable as the rain gently falls on them. A young cub rests its chin on its paws, it is quite adorable, he is viewing the plains around him but relies on his mother to hunt for him. The cubs look up as birds fly overhead squawking, if they see birds land they will often chase them. The golden light of the sun sets on this beautiful scene of Lions living free. Africa is one of the last places that are truly wild, the Lions are living free, the night belongs to them as dusk turns to night and the throaty call of the Lions calling to hunt fills the air.
There is nothing like pre-dawn light, especially in Africa. The sky is cloudless and a blanket of perfect burnished orange light, it is breath-taking. The air is still and cool, it is peaceful and calm. The only movement is the gentle sound of hooves on the short green grasses as the prey graze on the dewy grasses. Beyond, the plains are covered in red oat tipped long grasses; they sway like fields of gold in the orange light, the tips burning bright. The sun lights up the savannah giving life and energy to all it touches. Perfectly backlit with a halo of light a young Serval cat high steps through the high grasses looking to hunt. It is tall and graceful, silent like all cats. It has beautiful golden eyes that are watchful and focused, its large ears flicker, detecting the slightest rustle of movement in the grass. Its fur is burnished bronze with black spots like a Cheetah, it is also lithe with a body built for speed and agility, they can jump several feet in the air catching birds. Notoriously nocturnal these small cats only hunt in these early morning hours and after dark. They are solitary and not often seen. It is incredibly beautiful and a joy to observe in the pre-dawn hours.
Siligi a beautiful female Cheetah has successfully given birth and raised seven cubs for the last six weeks. They are very small and look like honey badgers with their fluffy tuft of hair on the backs of their necks for protection and camouflage. It is rare for a Cheetah to give birth to so many cubs but to successfully raise them is a challenge as there are so many threats plus the burden of feeding seven mouths. Cheetahs often have their kills stolen by Hyaenas, Leopard and Lions. Her progress with them over the next few months will be interesting. The morning has grown warm and she sits in the shade of a croton bush with the seven cubs, they are boisterous and will not let her rest. She snaps at them but they want her attention and to suckle from her. She occasionally bats them away so she can sleep but they are active.
Not far away we find the five Cheetah brothers sleeping in the shade of some croton bushes, they are known as the Tano bora or the fast five. They hunted and killed a Wildebeest yesterday so are still sated. They are made up of brothers and cousins, it is unusual for Cheetahs to form a coalition outside of brothers but these Cheetahs seem to have learned they are stronger together. They can hunt bigger prey and fend off Hyaenas and single Leopards or Lions who would try and steal their kill. They are led by a dominant male, but there are always fights over dominance. They only split apart when they seek out females to mate with but again if there is a female in oestrus nearby they will fight over mating rights. It is a fragile bond between these males; ultimately it is survival of the fittest.
The Hammerkop sub adult male Lions with their gorgeous mohican manes have also decided the midday heat is just too hot. Two of them have chosen the smallest bush to try and find shade under. Even though they are sub adults they are quite large and they squeeze together to escape the heat. One puts his head on the other ones bottom but the additional heat makes him uncomfortable so he rolls over. The males love to bond but sometimes they need space to try and cool off. The croton bush provides a good insect repellent but the yellow hippoboscid are swarming their hot moist bellies. The Lions pant heavily, their mouths slack as they draw in air, it is hard to breath in the intense heat. One sneezes from the dust around and makes the other jump.
Enkoyanai pride Lionesses are sat out on the plains, they are in hunting mode. A lone male Buffalo with a limp is walking by the Laga, it is large, volatile and has deadly horns, the three Lionesses assess their chances of bringing it down. They are hungry so they bide their time as they do not want to waste valuable energy on an unsuccessful kill. The cause of their concern is their eight sub adults around six months old; they are really skinny, their eyes look sorrowful. With so much prey around, the dire situation of the cubs seems unusual. Even though they are hungry they are incredibly affectionate and playful with each other. They wash each other affectionately and one rests his head in the paws of his brother, the brother clamps his mouth around his neck in a mock strangle hold, it is most amusing. Hopefully the Lionesses make a successful kill.
In the Kaboso area a large family of Hyaenas have come out of their den. One of the older puppies is curious and wants to come and check out the car. It is very amusing as he or she is standing five legged. The female clitoris of the Hyaenas can be as long as the male penis so it is not always easy to discern the sex. It is concerning seeing so many Hyaenas here as Queen Kaboso’s cub is still very young and the Hyaenas would kill it. Kaboso is sitting on the banks of the Laga she has her cub hidden in a den. A Hyaenas walks past her but through the bushes they cannot see each other, it is a tense moment. All of a sudden they see each other but instead of running off it sits within eight foot of her. Kaboso snarls at it, then all of a sudden she gets up and ambushes the Hyaena biting it. The Hyaena shrieks and Kaboso runs off having reprimanded the Hyaena for being in her territory.
Meyers Parrots sit high in the treetops, they have beautiful iridescent green plumage, they tweet noisily giving the warning a Leopard is around. Kaboso appears again in the thicket slowly followed by her cub, the reason for her concern over the Hyaena being present; she is a fiercely protective mother and will do anything to protect her cub. The cub squeaks at her and she affectionately chuffs back, the cub rubs itself up against her mother. Kaboso sits and grooms her cub and then encourages it to follow her, the sun is setting and she wants to hide it from predators. The sun sets on this beautiful scene, the rich golden light spreading an ethereal glow.
There is a thick bank of clouds on the horizon, they look like a mountain range, the sun raises behind them the deep red pushes through creating most stunning effect. The suns beam spread light across the plains, the long red oat tipped grasses light up highlighting the deep greens, golds and reds. Honey coloured Hartebeest with their tall heart shaped horns are snorting, their morning graze on the dewy grasses disrupted. A beautiful muscular golden Lioness is stalking through the grass; the sun highlights the rich red tones of her golden fur. Her bronze eyes are alert, she wants to hunt. She climbs a large termite mound and scans the plains over the long grass, the sun is rising creating a halo of light around her. She really is the queen of the savannah; she has such poise and majesty. The Hartebeest are too quick and alert for her to hunt so she carries on her journey through the plains to hunt.
The Rekero area of the Mara river is quite low; the grey water etched rocks that are usually submerged are exposed. The water bubbles between he smooth rocks. Laid out on a large rock in the middle of the shallow waters is a rich red Topi, legs bent as strange angles. During the late hours of yesterday whilst drinking from the river it was ambushed by a male Leopard. It now lays prone, its side ripped out, its tender loin eaten and its organs spread over the rocks. A Hammerkop bird hops over the body pecking at the flesh. The Leopard is hiding in the bush; he is elusive and shy unlike the females.
Cats that are not elusive or shy are the Tano Bora or the Fast Five Cheetah coalition they are walking across the plains in the Hammerkop area, they have just killed and eaten a baby Impala but it will not satisfy five males. This has just wet their appetite for a larger prey. Vultures circle above the blood soaked ground where the entrails and skin of the carcass now lay, the scavengers will finish the it, and nothing will be wasted. The Cheetahs lithely walk over to a croton bush to check its scent for other cats and mark it with their own. These cats are very territorial; even though they roam a large area they will claim all. The bush gives the message a female Cheetah has been here and they all flehmen drawing in her scent. The dominant male exerts his authority and starts fighting with another of the males, there are always power battles in the group, and he is proving he is the alpha. The fight is fast, no one wants to get injured, he just wants to send a message that first mating rights are his. They calm down and sit in the shade of a large group of bushes to wash and rest; they lick their paws and wipe them over their handsome faces.
The Cheetahs spend hours sleeping under the bush, the heat is intense and they want to conserve their energy. By mid-afternoon a herd of Zebra with a foul and Wildebeest wander near the bush to graze, they are completely unaware of the sleeping Cheetah. Fortunately for them a flock of Guinea Foul come out of nearby bushes and see the Cheetahs and start squawking loudly. The Zebra still cannot see the Cheetah but they are alerted to the fact there are predators around. The Guinea Foul run past, their screech high pitch and quite annoying. It wakes the Cheetah and they rise, they peer through the bushes and see the herd nearby but their cover has been blown, they will not hunt prey that are alert, they need the element of surprise. They settle down again and start washing. Two of the brothers are incredibly affectionate towards each other, they lick each other’s faces simultaneously, it gives the impression they are kissing. The bond between these five boys is incredibly strong.
The male Leopard who made the Topi kill in the Rekero river has finally in the late afternoon as the temperature cools made an appearance. He is Golden balls, a large territorial male with a battle worn face. The older males are quite ugly, their faces are covered in scratches from mating and fighting, their ears chewed and eyes often damaged. Their faces and bodies are a map of their life, a life living free in the wild, a battle for survival. He walks slowly down the banks of the river and clamps his string jaws around the Topi and drags it up the banks. The carcass still has a lot of flesh on it so it is heavy to drag. Cats do not like dust or dirt on their food so he drags it into the long grass to feed on its tender flesh. He does not look hungry but he knows that if he does not eat more the scavengers will come in and finish it within hours. As the sun sets it is good to reflect on the life these cats have living free in the wild. It is a constant battle in extreme conditions but they are thriving, this is their land.
Lorian a beautiful female Leopard has a cub around six months old; as he is male he has grown fast and is quite a handful. The sunrise blazes around them lighting their rich bronze fur, they walking and playing together through the tall moist grasses. He is full of energy and bounds and pounces on anything that moves, including his mother! She is feeling quite frisky and playful in the rising heat and runs around with him. He leaps on her almost bringing her down but she is strong and muscular, she easily throws him off and runs off. They are looking to hunt after the Lions have retreated to the bushes to sleep. He will have to stay back when his mother hunts as he is far too enthusiastic and could spoil her ambush. He is hungry and impatient and is encouraging his mother but also distracting her with his playful antics. They reach the edge of the Laga and rest in the bushes; this is the perfect spot to ambush prey as they come back to the water to drink
Across the plains another beautiful female Leopard Luluka is jumping over the river to get to the other side where there are large herds of prey. She walks past a Hyaena in a muddy pool, it gives it such a fright! The Hyaena cowers down but she is not interested in it, she is focused on the herds of Impala she can hunt. She reaches a lone Olive tree and quickly ascends its vertical trunk, she is strong but lithe. She steadily walks along the thick branches and settles down her long legs dangling either side. She rests her beautiful head on her paws and sits patiently for the herd to move closer to the tree. She is camouflaged by the thick leaves, her thick long tail hangs down, often the only tell-tale sign a Leopard is in a tree. Below her the Hyaena has been joined by others in the muddy watering hole, they love to wallow, cooling themselves in the heat of the morning. A family of Warthogs come to the water to drink and are startled by the Hyaenas; they are thirty so gingerly drinks at the far edge.
It is early afternoon and the sun beats down hot and intense, the Marsh pride have been disturbed and are all sat together in the bushes their golden eyes wary and watchful. Once they are certain the threat has gone they start grooming each other, it is provides reassurance to each other as well as strengthening their bond. The cubs sit between their mothers large paws and enjoy their mothers washing them with their long barbed tongues. The cubs in turn wash their mothers tenderly; they have such a look of pure joy and contentment. When the cubs are older the females will stay with the pride and help their mothers raise younger siblings until they are old enough to mate. The bond between the Lionesses is very tight as they raise each other’s young, hunt together and even sometimes fight together when other male Lions intrude. The Lionesses are ferocious females, strong and muscular but very gentle and nurturing. They are the lifeblood of the pride, the core of that tight family bond.
Africa, the cradle of mankind, the beating heart of the world. It is home to the most endangered animals on the planet; here they are born free and living free. They endure hardship, pain and real challenges but also family bonds, new life, joy and happiness. Never two moments with a pride or individual cat is the same, they have such unique personalities. The big cats here are thriving thanks to the hard work of wildlife conservationists to ensure this is one of the last strongholds for wildlife to live as they should. It is impossible to imagine a future without these incredible animals. Each story is unique, breath-taking, thrilling and mesmerising, that is why for years I have followed the same prides and individual cats. As their dramas and stories unfold it is a privilege to document how they adapt to their new situations. There is plenty of heart breaking moments and sorrow but also even more of happiness and joy as the cats here are fighting against the odds. May this always be their home and may we always be honoured to watch their stories.