The Thompson Gazelle scatter frantically in all directions as the small plane lands on the airstrip in the middle of the Maasai Mara. The dirt runway has sprouted grasses which have attracted prey. After three weeks of unseasonal constant heavy rain, the wide open plains are covered in a rich emerald green blanket of moist grasses. The Mara River snakes through the plains, its banks almost bursting with water, the current is strong and the torrid water is brown with dredged up mud from the once almost dry riverbed. As the plane doors open the scent of Croton, Camphor and Lippia Javanica excites your senses, it is a heady mix along with the fresh soil and grass. A lone Hippo meanders into view enticed out of the water by the promise of fresh grass, its wet pink cumbersome body glistening in the sunlight. The air is warm; it gently strokes your skin as the breeze rustles through the long swaying grass. The plains are a Billashaka, Kori Bustard, Warthog and Impala casually graze together, content with this unexpected bounty of food. The sky above is blue streaked with thin white clouds; it casts a soft glow over the savannah. The African air is thick with promise, how have the animals of these mighty plains dealt with the unseasonal weather, what new births, conflicts and challenges has it brought?
Due to the heavy rains, new rivers have been forged and the tracks are heavily rutted making driving exciting and interesting. The cats have faced great challenges the last few weeks trying to hunt in the drenched earth. In the last few days the rains have eased and the sun have started to dry the vast flood waters. The Leopards start to descend from the trees from where they sought shelter from the sodden earth and the Lions emerge from the bushes which has become their sanctuary from the driving rains. The sun brings life and energy, a renewed burst of activity. One of the most famous, stunningly beautiful and graceful female Leopards Bahati blinks her bright green eyes in the sunlight as she emerges from the bushes. She is in hunting mode; she scans the plains for an ambush opportunity. She may be small but she is a powerhouse of muscle and strength. A herd of mating Impala are grazing by the bushes; the dominant male jealously guards his females. They have picked up the scent of the Leopard but cannot see her so continue to graze; some even sit down in the grass. Bahati moves closer to assess the hunting opportunity then sits under the shade of a bush, it is so hot, she will wait for it to be cooler to hunt them or wait until they graze closer. A troupe of Baboons barks a warning call that a predator is close.
Baharti’s adult daughter Bela II shares her territory and has had better luck with a hunt, she is gracefully laid across the branch of an Olive tree with a half-eaten young Impala carefully slung over the branch next to her. She is a large muscular female with large round green eyes; even though her belly is rotund from devouring her kill she still watches the Impala grazing on the plains, cats never pass up a hunting opportunity. Her bronze body is beautifully covered with black rosettes, the colour gleams in the sun. She stands up confidently on the branch and yawns, affording us a wonderful view of her sharp canines. She cat stretches and lithely ascends the trunk of the tree to reach her kill. She drags it across the branch and starts pulling at the fur, tufts of it fly through the air landing softly on the grass below. With the fur removed she chews on the tender flesh and crunches through the bone. The kill is nearly eaten so when she has had her fill she walks to the end of the branch in full sunlight, she can be seen in her full splendour. She gracefully descends the trunk of the tree and picks up a fallen leg bone and takes it into the bushes to chew on. In the distance a lone bull Elephant plods slowly across the grass, as its heavy feet land, water splashes up around it. It enjoys the moist grasses and new shoots.
The herd of Impala has moved across the plains to near Bela II but another cat has her eye on them too. A lone Lioness, golden and powerful in the red afternoon sunlight crouches in the long green grasses. Her bronze eyes are sharp and focused; she is clearly hungry as Impalas are very fast and quite a challenge for her. She is nothing but patient, she watches the herd from a distance, her head low and muscular shoulders hunched. She is deciding her hunting tactic; she must carefully choose which Impala she will target. We watch her stealthily, slowly and patiently move, soundlessly through the grass. She is low; the Impala do not detect her until she is almost upon them. She breaks into a sprint but the Impalas are fast and dodge and weave to avoid her grasp. Lions are built for power not endurance so within seconds she is out run and out manoeuvred. She looks disappointed but not surprised, it was quite the challenge. Fortunately she has not seen the Leopard but Bella II soundlessly and elusively watches her from the protection of the bushes nearby.
The sun begins to set on a surprising afternoon; the cats are becoming very active after three weeks of challenging hunting conditions. The land cruiser ploughs through the deep ridged tracks full of water. The water cascades up around the vehicle, as Hyaenas and Jackal run across the plains looking for food to scavenge and hunting opportunities. The Marsh area is true to its name and is a veritable feast of moist marsh grasses. New shoots push up through the thick clay soil; the prey will become strong from the new food and will be a challenge to hunt for the predators. The sky turns from blue to purple to red as the sun sets low over the escarpment. The Maasai Mara is one of the last strongholds for animals to thrive and life free. It is not without challenges but nature finds a way.
The pre-dawn sky is striped with beautiful brush strokes of dark vibrant colours, oranges, yellows and reds are punctuated with thin lines of dark grey clouds. The Balanite trees are perfectly silhouetted against the sky line. A herd of Impala stretch their cold muscles as the air becomes warm. Birds start up their dawn chorus, a rich cacophony of lyrical tones. Baboons screech as they make their way down from their nests in the tree tops, whilst Hyaenas below them whoop and gallop with their distinctive gait. The plains are waking up; the sun beams penetrate the earth, warming everything it touches. It will be a glorious day, the air is full of electricity and anticipation, who knows what nature, will give us today.
The tracks are still thick with mud and water from the rains and the rivers torrid as the water thunders over the grey jutting rocks. Crossing the rivers is treaterous as it is hard to see how deep the water is and what lies beneath. Once safely across we find the beautiful female Cheetah Selenkei (meaning girl) with her cub, sadly she lost her other cub a week ago to predators. The cub is around five months old now and still has the fluffy ruff of hair down its head and back. It is confident, boisterous and playful, without its sibling it must make do with its mother to play with. She is a good mother and plays chase with her cub to teach it good hunting skills. They both are quite watchful after the loss of its sibling; she does not want to lose another cub. When the cub sees a threat it gives a small squeaky cry and its mother comes running. She is very protective and stays close to her cub. Selenkei is also in hunting mood and scans the plains with her beautiful amber eyes looking for hunting opportunities. A nearby Ballanite tree provides the perfect viewing platform so she climbs the tree. She stands in the bow of the tree looking across the plains. Her cub does not want to be separated from her so eagerly climbs the tree after her, sitting just below her on a branch. Cheetahs are not as good climbers as Leopards but as she is lithe she can balance well. What she did not anticipate was the bark being loose so with every step it flakes off making her lose her grip. Selenkei nearly falls on her cub just below her but fortunately manages to jump over it. The cub looks alarmed as it watches its mother jump. The cub now needs to get down itself and looks uncertain, fortunately it is quite brave and takes a large leap down to the ground and runs after its mother.
They both rest on the dewy grass as the sun warms their bodies. The cub starts washing its mother, it sits behind her and puts its paws on her back and chews and licks her ears. Washing time turns into play time and the cub starts playing with its mother’s feet and tail. It leaps over her like she is a climbing frame and chews and bats her feet, ears and tail. She sits patiently letting it have its fun. All the time her eyes watchful for hunting opportunities and threats. The cub grows tired and beautifully rests its small head on her back; it is an idyllic scene of bonding. The cub will stay with her until it is around two years old. She will teach it vital hunting and survival skills, Cheetahs are great hunters but there are so many threats to their existence including other predators that compete for the same food. The Cheetahs are surrounded by small Acacia bushes that give off an unusual aroma quite reminiscent of feline urine which is quite pungent.
The rivers are full to bursting making crossing an adventure and a challenge but when the large male Leopard Old Boy is spotted there is no choice. He is walking through the Kaboso area clearly in hunting mood, he is quite ugly beautiful. His bronze coat covered in black rosettes gleams in the bright midday sun but he has a hanging dewlap and only one good eye. Years of fighting and mating is written all over his face like a map of his life. He walks confidently through the bushes and suddenly a scrub hare shoots out nearly caught by him. He follows but stops still as he sees a Warthog family out in the clearing. He crouches low, his shoulders hunched up as she stalks the prey. They have not seen him, the family are busy grazing. He crouches lower moving stealthily through the long grasses, the Warthog are still over fifty foot away so too far to ambush. He carries on but the wind is against him and the Warthog pick up his scent and start to run, he runs a short distance towards them but he knows they will outrun him. He stops and decides to roll in the dirt to clear his beautiful fur of ticks; it is most endearing to watch him writhe about. He heads back to the bushes as the heat is intense.
A large herd of Elephants led by the Matriarch march across the plains enjoying this great bounty of new grasses. The plains as far as the eye can see are an undulating sea of long grasses. The midday sun lights the tips of the red oat grasses, as they sway the golds, greens and reds give the impression the plains are an ocean with the Ballanite trees adrift in their vastness. On top of one of the Ballanite trees two Vultures are perched looking eagerly for carcasses to clean. There is a pungent stench in the air so it may be that Lions have made a kill earlier in the day.
Walking gingerly through the swaying grasses we see the heads of two very young sub adult Lion cubs. They are walking shoulder to shoulder a look of uncertainty on their faces. A few hundred yards away two more very young sub adult cubs are cuddled up under the shade of a tree. Neither pair should be alone as they are only around six to eight months old and need the protection of the pride. It soon becomes clear what has happened, a large herd of Buffalo can be seen in the distance. When they came across the pride they would have tried to attack them dispersing the pride in all directions. The feud between Buffalo and Lions is as old as time, Lion kill Buffalo so Buffalo try and kill Lions. The poor young cubs would have been separated from the Lionesses during the dispute. The cubs look forlorn and try and take refuge under our vehicle, fortunately there does not seem to be any threats such as Hyaenas, Leopard or Buffalo close by so the cubs are safe.
Within several hundred yards we find the Lionesses and the rest of the pride relaxing under an Olive tree, it is hot and they are panting heavily after their exertion. No doubt the Lionesses will rest a while in the shade before looking for their four lost cubs. The Lionesses have a throaty roar which can carry for miles so the cubs will be able to locate them. There are so many threats to the big cats in the wild but at least with Lions they have the strength and bond of the pride to protect themselves. For Lions are the very image of majesty and the very image of Africa itself. Their strength lies in the power of the pride, their tight knit bond. The Lionesses are fiercely protective of their cubs and will protect them with their lives.
The Kaboso area is a Billashaka, it is teaming with Impala, Warthog, Thompson Gazelle and even Banded Mongoose and Egyptian Geese who are attracted to the bursting banks of the river. Out on the plains the Warthog are usually quite skittish and nervous as they are a favourite prey of all of the predators. So it is most amusing to come across two Warthogs enjoying some afternoon delight, completely oblivious to its surroundings. The male has just been bathing in the watering hole and has a glistening bottom half of his body. It is could be said he is quite the gentleman bathing first before copulating with the female. She seems less keen and tries to walk away as he mounts her. They are in quite a vulnerable position but nature takes over and they stop for nothing to mate.
The Marsh pride is laid out on the open plains at sunset, four Lionesses and five cubs. Some lay on their backs legs outstretched exposing white bellies covered in yellow hipposcide flies. Others cuddle up to each other, limbs tangled with limbs. Lions are very gregarious; they enjoy the warmth and comfort of each other’s bodies. The young sub adult males particularly bond as they will soon leave the pride to form their own coalition. When a lion lies down in long grass they can completely disappear, their golden bodies camouflaged by the golden green grasses. Lions are diurnal, they mainly hunt at night so enjoy sleeping in the heat of the sun, but if the opportunity arises they will hunt during the day. Predation, they will hunt pretty much any prey but prefer Gazelle, Wildebeest, Buffalo and Warthog. Of course if the pride is large enough they will hunt Elephant, Giraffe and Hippo. Lions are quite opportunistic and will also scavenge taking prey from Cheetah or Leopard. One occasion the pride has pulled drowned carcasses from the river, Lions have great digestion. As the air cools you can smell the scent of moist soil. The Lionesses begin to yawn as the golden sun sets turning to red, it is time to gather the pride to hunt.
The clouds have gathered overnight and are now dispersing creating long thin strips of gunmetal grey wisps through which the deep vibrant reds, oranges and yellows of the sun’s rays push through. The effect is breath-taking, a perfect artistic painting. The air is warm and heavily scented with herbs from the foliage. Birds screech overhead as they call to each other as they emerge from their nests. The plains start awakening from the cool night. A herd of over thirty Elephants are grazing contentedly on the moist long grasses; the sun highlights the red oat tipped grasses. The Elephants impressive size and presence is perfectly silhouetted against the emerging sun rise. One female Elephant with long ivory tusks grazes near us; she is beautifully backlit against the deep warm colours of the sun, a stunning contrast of grey against the warm colours. She uses the sensitive tip of her long trunk to pull up roots and deposit them in her mouth, her white teeth gleam in the light. As the sun’s rays pushes through the clouds it creates an ethereal glow, shooting white beams. One of the young Elephants is still tired and lays on the grass, two of the adult Elephants stand directly over it, guarding it very protectively, there could be predators in the long grass, hidden by the shadows.
As the golden grasses topped with dew like diamonds sway, Widow birds burst into flight out of the grass, their long tails following like streamers behind them. On the edge of the Ballanite Trees Cinnamon chested bee eaters sit twittering enjoying the warmth of the new day. The sun shines on their stunning vibrant green plumage. Below them large herds of Zebra, Buffalo and Giraffe enjoy the dewy moist grasses; the rain has brought an abundance of food for the prey. The dawn of a new day, brings new life, hope and energy. The prey who have survived the night from predator attacks, leap and frolic, warming up their muscles. Topi gallop like stallions showing off their strength, agility and skill to other males and to impress the females. Whilst other Topi stand on termite mounds like sentries looking for threats.
DikDik emerge from the bushes, they are the smallest antelope and mate for life. They have endearing small faces with large doe eyes. They are skittish as they have so many predators hunting them. Their small cloven hooves tap on the grass ready to take flight back into the bushes. The Marsh Lionesses lay nearby in the long grasses, the sun had now fully risen and the early golden red light highlights their blonde fur. They are contented from having made a successful kill in the night, now they are warming their bodies after the night’s cool air. They are stretched out, rotund white bellies resplendent. They occasionally yawn, stretch and walk over to a sibling to nuzzle then rather amusingly lay heavily on top causing their sibling to gently growl and move. Limbs are thrown over limbs, heads resting on backs and bodies pressed together for warmth; they will now sleep the day away to recharge for the next nightly hunt.
High stepping through the long grasses two male Ostriches with impressive black and white plumage show they are ready to mate as their featherless thighs and legs are bright pink. There are four females with them, their plumage is dull beige for camouflage, and they have no need for striking plumage as they are pursued by the strutting males. Close to them we see one of the Enkoyanai sub adult male Lions hunting Thompson Gazelle, he is around three years old and will soon be ejected from the pride so he does not mate with his mother and sisters when he comes to sexual maturity. He is fully grown but only has a small mohican mane, his rich golden eyes eagerly watch the herd but he is too exposed out in the open and the Gazelle are quick. He is practicing hunting for himself. A whooping, laughter clan of Hyaenas run around him hoping he will hunt giving them something to scavenge. Hyaenas will often follow the Lions as will the four Jackals excitedly running in and out of the bushes, they too want him to hunt. A Fish Eagle with its distinctive black and white plumage flies overhead observing the scene; its dark piercing eyes are however more interested in finding fish to catch in the bursting rivers.
Under the shade of an umbrella shaped Ballanite tree perfectly sculpted by Giraffes lay Doa (meaning spot) and five Lionesses from the Ridge Pride. He is one of the six dominant males (the six pack) who protect and mate with this pride. The tree gives perfect shade from the midday sun, the pride are resting after a long night of unfulfilling hunting. They need to hunt but first they need to recharge their energy. Doa is sat up surveying his domain; he has an impressive golden mane which has become black with age over his shoulders. His handsome, strong regal face is set with deep bronze eyes that are sharp and observant; his territory is always under threat from other male coalitions or nomadic males. He gives a deep mighty sigh, contented there are no threats for now. A Lioness gets up and walks over to him brushing her face against his in reverence and then lies down next to him. He sighs his deep mighty sigh and then heavily lies down next to her. Before them is a very large herd of hundreds of Buffalo, it will be interesting to see if the hunters become the hunted or will the powerful six Lions take charge and hunt.
And then it happened…
The hunter becomes the hunted, the Buffalos catch the scent of the Lions in the air and stop dead, their eyes focus on them sitting under the Ballanite tree. The Buffalos snort, they are short tempered and they hate Lions. They dig at the ground with their hooves and bellow, the Lions sit up, it is the survival of the fittest. The Buffalo count in their hundreds and the Lions just six, the odds are stacked against them so the Lions jump to their feet and the Buffalo give chase. The Buffalos snort and bellow as they chase the Lions, Doa’s mane is swept back by the wind as he runs for his life. The Lionesses follow swiftly behind him, panic on their faces. Dust is kicked up from the earth as hooves beat down, a flock of Cattle Egrets are startled and fly up, their bright white feathers in stark contrast to the Buffalos black hides. The Egrets flock to the top of the Ballanite tree, it looks like snow has fallen, it is so covered in white now. The birds watch from the safety of the roost. The Lions continue to run until the Buffalo slow down. Doa stops and turns to check on his Lionesses, he butts heads with each one reassuring them. The Lions turn to look at the Buffalo and they stop unsure of what the Lions will do. They stare malevolently at each other, a stand-off. But just as the Lions relax the Buffalo snort and give chase again.
The early afternoon sun is beating down hard, the Buffalos and Lions pant heavily, it is too hot to run in this heat. It is the heat that stops the fight, it is an uneasy truce. The Lions walks off and slump on the grass breathing heavily and the Buffalo herd move off in the opposite direction. Three of the Lionesses detect a small pool of water and walk over to it to quench their raging thirst. They hunker down, broad muscular shoulders baring their weight as they lean forward to lap up litres of water with their long pink barbed tongues. Their deep bronze eyes are still wary and alert. They walk back over to Doa for reassurance and protection. One female nuzzles him affectionately and he reciprocates, it is a tender moment. The moment does not last though as he opens his large jaws and tries to gnaw her head, she is annoyed and bites his face then his leg. It is quite some love bite between two powerful alphas.
There is only one Queen and that is the beautiful Leopard Kaboso. She is small and muscular, beautiful and confident, graceful and a successful mother. She is not at all elusive; she defends her territory with the regal power of a true queen. She strolls right past us completely nonchalant and heads into the bushes. It is late afternoon and hunting time. Suddenly there is a high pitched squeal of terror, she catches a young Warthog. The bushes rustle as she swiftly strangles the unfortunate unsuspecting pig. As boldly as a lion she picks up her kill and strides in front of us with the lifeless body of the Warthog dangling from her mouth. She is taking the food to her cub which is now around five months old.
The late afternoon brings a downpour of rain, it is brief but enough for the sky to produce the most stunning rainbow. It arcs over the plains disappearing over the horizon. The colours are strong and vivid and absolutely breath-taking. It is the perfect end to an incredible day, nature has really given. As the sunsets over the escarpment the moon appears in the sky a perfect sphere lighting the plains. The stars are bright and the constellations perfectly visible. The sounds of the wild are all around, from Lions roaring garnering the pride to hunt to Hyaenas whooping looking to follow the prides. The night belongs to the wild.
The Elephants spend the night trumpeting in the forest, in the pre-dawn they are deep in the undergrowth pulling down great branches of dew covered leaves and chewing them noisily. As we pass they look at us suspiciously but let us pass as they are too engrossed with the rich bounty. Their ivory tusks glint in the pale moonlight. The Matriarch raises her trunk just to let us know our presence is tolerated but she is guarding her young. Elephants are the farmers of the plains, they only have one stomach so seeds pass undigested through their stomach and are fertilised when excreted. The Elephants large grey bodies push through the trees clearing a path for them. Out on the plains the sun rises a rich dark palette of vibrant reds, oranges and yellows pushing through dark teal thin clouds. The air is still and cool, the prey are stretching and waking in the long oat tipped grasses. As the sun rises the grasses sway, the rich dark greens, purples and reds lit fiery and bright. Each blade of grass is tipped with dew; it is a field of glistening diamonds.
The red burnished fur of the beautiful Hartebeest with heart shaped horns is backlit by the sun creating a golden red halo around them. They gallop and frolic to both warm up their muscles and show the predators they are strong and fast. A large herd of over thirty Elephants march across the plains, the young safely ensconced between the adults. They walk in a straight line in military precision, perfectly silhouetted against the deep burnished orange sky. Jackal with their soft beige and black coats run around looking for small animals to hunt, they are the cutest small dogs with their long snouts and large ears. A herd of Thompson Gazelle watch them closely, protecting their young against attack. Topi also have young with them; they gallop with their young close beside them. Tawny Eagles sit high in the Ballanite trees their round eyes observing the scene whilst looking for lizards and rodents to swoop down and devour. The DikDik are wary of the Eagles so stay close to the edge of the bushes.
Dawn has arisen bright and clear, the light is perfectly golden and dapples through the lush green fig trees in the Kaboso area. The trees overhang the Laga, the water provides a cool haven. The branches of the Fig tree are very thick, twisted and gnarly, a stunning architectural masterpiece. The light reflects off of the rich brown, grey and green bark. Languishing over one of the thickest horizontal branches Queen Kaboso and her cub lay happily enjoying the early morning warmth. They have the Warthog kill from last night safely tucked away next to them. Kaboso is relaxed her stunning green eyes watchful as a rogue Hyaenas in wandering through the plains. The cub still has vibrant blue eyes like sapphires, it is curious and excitable, the morning heat is making it frisky. The cub walks over to his mother and starts washing her but she is sleepy and relaxed so it makes a large leap over her to where the kill is. The kill is not just food to the cub but also a toy. The cub starts attacking it as if it was still alive; it practices its hunting skills. Inexplicably the Warthog is headless; the soft head bones would have been crunched on last night. Kaboso gets up and walks down the branch she wants to chase the Hyaenas away. The cub takes the opportunity to drag the kill along the branch eat some of it. He can see his mother is on the ground so carries the carcass which is bigger than him down the branch to her.
Kaboso is satisfied her cub is safe and takes the kill back up the tree swiftly followed by her cub. The cub loves her thick long tail which is designed to wrap around herself as she sleeps. He starts stalking her tail, he pounces on it batting it and chewing it, Kaboso turns around and gently snarls at him. He carries on regardless, he is enjoying this game. They start to chase each other up and down the thick horizontal branch of the fig tree. The sun becomes hot and branch is in full sunlight so Kaboso decides they need shade. She picks up the rest of the Warthog carcass and makes an almighty leap from the tree branch which hangs over the Laga to the other side of the water where it is shaded and cooler. The cub looks briefly perplexed standing on the edge of the branch watching his mother on the other side. He is a brave, confident boy so takes a mightily leap himself and lands perfectly on the soft dewy grass of the bank next to his mother. He is now exhilarated and excited and leaps on his mother. She is feeling playful too in the shade and enjoys play fighting with her brave boy. The bushes rustle as they leap and frolic enjoying this wonderful bonding time.
They have worked up an appetite so ascend the fig tree again, to our surprise, quite camouflaged laying over the furthest reaches of the branch is an untouched Thompson Gazelle kill, its eyes blank in death. The legs of the Gazelle are flung either side of the branch, it is perfectly balanced. The cub eagerly bounces along the branch to the kill and starts licking it but it is still full from eating the Warthog. Leopards are opportunistic ambush hunters so after killing the Warthog last night she had the opportunity to kill the Gazelle and store it up her favourite tree for eating later. She is a successful hunter and after such harsh hunting conditions over the last three weeks with the torrential rains it is very much feast and famine times. Kaboso and her cub seek the cool grasses in the shade of the Laga. There is a Hyaenas sniffing around so Kaboso takes her cub into the thicket until it is gone. They emerge and relax in the grasses. Two grey and white Kestrels fly down not seeing the Leopards, one quickly flies frantically up into the safety of the tree but the other is not so quick, as it flies up Kaboso jumps and catches it in her large paws. She holds it down until it stops fluttering and grunts for her cub, the cub joyfully runs over and immediately takes the bird from his mother and runs off to play with it. You can hear the tearing of feathers from flesh as the cub plays with the lifeless bird. He then proudly brings it back to his mother quite dissected.
The River pride Lionesses are incongruously laying by the track in full sun even though it is the middle of the day. They are thickly covered in yellow hippoboscid flies because there is standing water under the tree. They look tired; they may have been hunting in the day. The Lionesses are incredibly affectionate towards each other they are laid very close together. Two roll into each other their faces touching; they gently lick each other and fall back to sleep. Three lay like spoons in a draw with legs thrown over backs. Their deep bronze eyes glint in the sun as they curiously blink up at us. They sigh deeply and fall back to sleep.
Kaboso even though she has both a Warthog and Thompson Gazelle kill to feed on decides to eat the Kestrel she killed earlier. Feathers are hanging out of her mouth and she tries to spit them out. She decides this is just the starter to wet her appetite and she jumps up the trunk of the fig tree to access the kills. She is being watched by her cub that is in awe of her skill. He does not want to be left behind so quickly jumps up behind her, even though he is just a few months old he is already powerful and agile, he ascends the vertical tree trunk with ease. Kaboso walks along the thick branch to check on her kill. She sniffs the carcass and looks around for threats. She decides it is still too hot to eat and walks back down the branch to check on her cub.
The Marsh pride Lionesses and sub adult cubs are hunkering down as the rain and hail stones beat heavily down. They look quite forlorn but thankful their fur is waterproof. Several cuddle up together for warmth and shelter as they are right in the middle of the open plains. The rain starts to ease off; the Lions gingerly open their eyes to see if they can start to move without getting too wet. They majestically shake their manes, water cascades around them. They lick the water off of each other gently and affectionately, their faces are a picture of happiness at the display of added affection the rain has brought. Three of the sub adult males are using this time to bond; they sit very close together almost in a circle, one licking the other, licking the other. Hyaenas are checking them out; they laugh manically hoping the Lions will now hunt so they can scavenge from the carcass. The Lionesses are annoyed at their presence and look to chase them away. They are however distracted as across the plain two of their sisters are digging out a Warthog burrow. Elephants behind them are trumpeting in the trees calling to each other.
Two Lionesses, Yaya’s daughters, are digging out a Warthog burrow with a large herd of Topi snorting a warning call behind them. Three Hyaenas run close behind them curious to see if they make a kill. One Lioness digs ineffectively whilst the other sits behind her getting covered amusingly in soil. One goes into the burrow but is afraid of the Warthogs tusks, so she keeps backing out quickly. Then four Buffalo appear snorting angrily and hoofing the ground, they charge the Lionesses who make a quick retreat up the hill. The Hyaenas run in the opposite direction as they have seen a vulnerable baby Topi, they snatch it and start eating it alive. Like a farcical comedy the Buffalo actually chase the Lionesses over the hill right to where the Hyaenas are eating. The Lionesses see the opportunity immediately and chase the Hyaenas away from the kill. The dominant Lioness snatches the kill and starts devouring it. The other Lioness does not get any, cats never share. Even though there are over thirty Hyaenas but only two Lionesses, the Hyaenas are individually will not confront a Lioness as just one bite or one swipe of the paw could end their life. Hyaenas are not organised or coordinated like Lions, they are too selfish so they do not band together to confront them. Instead they run around the Lionesses, whooping, crying and maniacally laughing and a whole host of other sounds they are known for but their gnashing of teeth is ignored by the hungry Lionesses, they guard their food. The sun sets on this extraordinary turn of events, the gun metal grey sky absorbs the hot spherical sun as it sets over the escarpment.
The sunrise is absolutely stunning, the clouds swirl wispy through the deep vibrant colours of the sunrise, the backdrop it a deep sapphire blue. As the sun makes it ascent the colours fade to soft pastels. Down by the Mara we find the Enkoyanai pride with a dead Hippo. You can see by the position of the Hippo it died coming out of water, its legs are collapsed underneath it. The body is quite mesmerising. The large grey and pink body is a criss cross of scratches, some old from previous battles with other Hippos and some new raw red with blood from the Lions climbing all over it trying to figure out how to eat it, the skin is tough. Not surprisingly the head has been eaten first exposing a perfectly intact skull. It is fascinating seeing an intact body with a perfectly exposed skull with rows of teeth. The body covered in old and new scratches all pink and grey and red with blood looks like a map of the world. It is quite beautiful if you forget it is a dead Hippo, it is could be a work of art.
One of the sub adult male Lions is gnawing at its face, it is concentrating hard tearing off small pieces of flesh attached to the skull. One of the cubs intrigued by the size of this mighty feast jumps on top of the Hippo. It walks the length of the body licking the blood occasionally, tasting the fresh flesh. Another cub is eating the anus pulling out soft tissue; the rest of the skin is hard and difficult to penetrate. It is not for the faint hearted watching long sinewy strands being tugged out like chewing gum but the cub is quite content and happy. The Hippo is resting mainly on the banks but the rear end over hangs the edge of the river. A crocodile stealthily swims towards the carcass, unheard and undetected. It stops near the cub and reaches up and starts eating the Hippos penis from the water. It is so silent the cub does not realise it is there. It is a unique sight to see Lion and Crocodile eating together.
On the rocks above river some of the cubs are rather sweetly lined up sitting on the rocks looking down at the Hippo. They are quite young and will find this meal a bit of a challenge. Older cubs have followed their mother down and are now drinking next to Lioness. The heat of the late morning has made the cubs playful so they use their mother as hunting practice, pouncing on her. Vultures fly down to inspect he carcass but they get more than they bargained for. An older cub sees them and gives chase and the Vultures fly up startled. The cub enjoys this game of chasing the raptors. A clan of Hyaenas can also smell blood and an opportunity but with the pride jealously guarding the Hippo they do not stand much chance. A Lioness gives chase, she does not want the, near her cubs, they are a threat to them. More of the pride now have woken and are down by the Hippo trying to rip into its hard flesh; there is much growling and fighting as many eat together. The food may be plentiful but their instinct is to protect their food for themselves.
Three of the Enkoyanai Lionesses and five cubs of around2-3 months old are walking across the plains to join the rest of the pride at the feast. The cubs are squeaking at their mothers, they seem impatient. The family group are being followed by a Hyaenas, it senses an opportunity to kill a young cub. The ferocity of the Lionesses is not to be underestimated, the alpha female turns and chases off the Hyaena, she will kill it if she catches it. Satisfied that it has been warned she joins the other females and shepherds the boisterous cubs. Even though they are young they are fierce and feisty. They want to play hunting with their mothers; they chase their tails and bite their legs as they walk. He cubs are tiny but already display unique personalities, they dominant cubs walk in front of their mothers, already displaying independence and strength. After a while they alight on some bushes and the Lionesses encourage the cubs inside to sleep in the shade our PT of the heat of the midday sun.
Secretary birds high step through the long grasses looking for insects to feed off of. Their black and white bodies a beautiful contrast to the grasses. They have a beautiful crown of feathers of their heads like quills, they are large leggy birds. Zebras meander past they grazing on the rich moist grasses, their black and white bodies to a perfect contrast. It is thought their stripes actually confuse predators as from a distance through the heat haze the stripes do tend to move and merge. The black and white attracting and reflecting off the heat keeping their bodies at a balanced temperature so they can graze in the heat of the day. Elephants emerge from the bushes where they have been pulling down branches to eat; they are now looking for water to quench their thirst. Buffalos also herd together the heat not disturbing them but he Oxpeckers are, the flick their tails and ears when their constant pecking gets too annoying.
The large pride of Lions is taking their turn coming down to the river to eat the Hippo kill. The cubs are most amusing they seem to be scared of the current and their reflection in the water. They glance down they jump back in fright. A. crocodile is lying on the bank really still, it’s mouth open. A cub sat near it does not see it until it almost stumbles on it. It startles the poor cub which leaps back and yelps. A Lioness called a Nashipai brings two cubs down from the bushes to introduce to the pride, the other Lionesses and cubs sniff them gingerly and on recognising the scent affectionately greets them. Lioness however guards the cubs at the Hippo kill from sub adult cubs as they are too boisterous with the younger cubs. The older cubs use the Hippo as a climbing frame; they now have full rotund bellies so it is time for play. A cub climbs on top of the Hippo and uses the back of the Hippo to scratch its nails. Others gnaw on the softer tissue of the hippo feet and trying to penetrate flesh. All the Lions have muddy dirty blood covered mussels. They will eat this carcass for several days even when it becomes rancid and pungent.
Kaboso the beautiful female Leopard and her and cub are back up the tree eating the rest of the Thompson Gazelle kill. As they severe the flesh some body parts drop to the ground. A rather fortunate Hyaena risks the wrath by standing under the tree and retrieving the fallen morsels. The cub follows Kaboso further up the tree with the kill to store it safely away for eating later. They then both jump over to the other side of the bank to play together. She is such an attentive mother. She leaps and frolics with her cub, never seeming to tire of its playful antics. Once the cub becomes tired they climb a smaller tree to sleep until nightfall.
A rather stunning Snake eagle is perched on a branch of a Ballanite tree. It’s long sharp claws are curled around for balance as it’s sharp beady eyes survey the plains for hunting opportunities. Shaggy haired female Water Buck walk past, they are startling beautiful but very shy. They tend to stay in small groups near water. However it is not long before the wind picks up and the air smells of rain. The air is charged with electricity and the thunder starts to rumble, the rain comes down in large droplets, the ground in drenched in minutes, the tracks become rivers. The clouds are gunmetal grey and heavy with water, the colours of the sun setting behind them are dark purples, blues and reds. The sky turns a deep midnight blue but the heavy clouds mask the stars, it is still so stunningly beautiful.
The sky is a vast expanse of burnished orange with gunmetal grey clouds forming unique shapes against the vibrant backdrop. A herd of Eland can be heard before they are seen the air in their knees clicking. They are the large antelope and are perfectly silhouetted against the bright sunrise, their dewlap, large frame and straight twisted horns make them easy to identify. Two Secretary birds with their crown of feathers on their heads fly over a tower of Giraffes quietly grazing on the underside of the Ballanite trees; they watch us through long eye lashed eyes. Running about their long legs Jackals seek out small prey to hunt, they are such nimble, active dogs. As it is still dark, a lone Bat eared Fox runs around its den looking for insects and termites to feed on, they are nocturnal, small, shy mammals. The plains are quiet apart from the distant roar of Lions returning from their nightly hunt. The air is cool, fresh and invigorating, it is heavily scented with croton, wild sage and other herbs, it is intoxicating. There is a saying, stand with your face to the sun and your shadows will fall behind you. With your feet firmly placed on African soil, your whole being connects with nature and yourself. This is Africa, the beating heart of the world, the cradle of mankind.
The Enkoyanai pride of Lions is feeding on the Hippo carcass down on the river bank. The air is still cool as the sun rises so sixteen of the pride is active; the bright rays of the sun beautifully light their golden fur. The five small cubs we saw with the two Lionesses yesterday have been introduced to the pride and are enjoying frolicking with their older siblings; the Lionesses keep a watchful eye on them as the older cubs can be too boisterous. Incongruously the skull of the Hippo now has been removed and taken up onto the rocky outcrop, a cub is joyfully playing with it and gnawing on the bones, the rows of white teeth and large curved incisors are still attached to the jaw. Three other cubs are sat nearby on the rocky outcrop with their large paws adorably hanging over the edge. They look like angels with dirty faces. Their faces are completely covered in mud and blood from gorging on the carcass. Two cubs have their claws dug into the carcass, hanging on as they try to chew and pull off chunks of flesh. When they finish eating they waddle away their bellies bloated and rotund, they try and climb the rocks to access the bushes for shade but they are so full they fall down and have to take a less steep route. At the top they play fight with each other practicing their hunting skills. Large clumps of grass make good sitting prey for them to jump on top to mock kill.
A Lioness sits high on a rock roaring very loudly, it is a call to cubs. The cubs already with the pride respond with plaintive squeaks but it is clearly other cubs she is calling. The very young cub runs about the river edge intrigued and enthralled with his new experience. They squeak and mew adorably. For cubs so young they are already brave, inquisitive and independent. Still the Lionesses keep a watchful eye on them. A Lioness tries to jump up the rocks but she too has a rotund turgid belly and slips down, she makes an almighty effort to jump again. She roars for her cubs and they come running out of the bushes mewing and squeaking, absolutely happy to see her, they rub mussels in a greeting bond.
The Lionesses bring the young cubs down to enjoy the carcass. The large sub adult male with his gorgeous golden blonde is already gnawing the neck of the Hippo, the meat is tough and further toughened because it is now sun dried. One of the three month old cubs bravely runs ahead of its siblings and stands next to the large sub adult, he growls at the intruder, male Lions do not share especially when they have the taste of blood in their mouths, blood lust takes over. The Lioness quickly comes over with the other very small cubs of two months old and older cubs of around four months old and stands between them and the sub adult male. No doubt she is the sub adult male’s mother so she asserts her authority over him. The cubs gingerly approach the carcass and start licking the meat. The sub adult male is not impressed so jumps over the carcass and eats from the other side. The carcass is surrounded by the pride, devouring its great bulk. The Hippo carcass will feed them for days even when it becomes rancid in the heat, Lions have strong constitutions.
One of the cubs becomes tired so climbs the great blood and scratch covered grey and pink frame of the Hippo. It stands like king of the land on it. It then decides this is great place to sleep so lays out flat, legs splayed either side it’s chin pushed forward, it looks most contented. The pride carries on eating around it. The very young cubs eat next to the Lioness for protection. Hooded Vultures and White Back Vultures detect the sign of a kill and start circling overhead, their impressive wing span allowing them to soar on the vortex. The very young cubs are alarmed and frightened by them and run for cover up the rocks and into the bushes. When the vultures land in the nearby trees the cubs relax and come out again. One of the two month old cubs and one of the four month old cubs start bonding, they frantically rub their heads and bodies together, and they have such a look of contentment and affection on their faces. The bond of this pride is strong, that is why they are so successful. There are four ages of cubs with the pride, they have had consistent male Lions mating and protecting them for over three years now. The power of the pride lies in this consistency to prevent infanticide.
Of course that does not mean the pride does not fight between themselves for feeding rights. Also the very young cubs don’t tolerate any abuse from their older siblings, when they get mauled they will swipe back, they are very feisty. As they continue to eat the Hippo, two large male Hippos appear up stream they are fighting for territory. They open their large mouths to bite each other. The water cascades around them as they fiercely throw their mighty bulk around the water. They create small tidal waves such is the force of their fight. They are oblivious to the Lions on the bank just a hundred feet away. The lions stop eating and watch the commotion in the water but clearly they are used to the bad tempered fighting Hippo. On the ridge of the bank Hyaenas start to gather, they want to eat the carcass too but the Lions will chase them off if they get too close or even kill them in a fit of rage at the intrusion. More vultures fly overhead, the cubs look up in awe and fascination.
A lone Hippo emerges from the bushes on the ridge and looks at the Lions. It then sees them eating the Hippo and heads back out into the plains to graze. The young cubs have awoken again and start climbing the Hippo carcass, the flesh is too thick for them to eat but it does make a great climbing frame and a delicious place to rest. They enjoy licking the bloody skin; their cute faces are very muddy and bloody now. They take turns to lick each other clean before getting very dirty again. The Lioness who was calling for cubs earlier in the morning now sets off across the plains clearly looking for them.
The afternoon is hot and humid; in the Talek area the red oat topped grasses are long and sway in the breeze. The bright sun reflects off of the tips, the plains glisten red and gold, an endless sea. The grasses reach to the top of the doors of the vehicle, as the breeze blows through it creates a gentle whistling sound. All is peaceful, a large herd of Topi graze, their deep red bronze coats fiery in the afternoon light. Suddenly two Topi give chase they are in dispute; they stop and lock horns, their heads clashing in a heated dual. The rest of the herd are distracted by the commotion in the peaceful afternoon. This is dangerous, very dangerous for prey, for who knows what is lurking ready to pounce. Topi are known for being sharp with excellent eyesight. Other prey grazes with them for their ability to give the first alarm call.
Not today, the Topi have let their guard slip, a fatal mistake. The famous five Cheetah brothers, the Tano Bora are stealthily stalking through the grass, their shoulders are hunched low, back flattened and ears flat. As a coalition they are organised, fast and powerful, they identify the fighting Topi are easy prey. In striking range they run at top speed and launch themselves on one of the fighting Topi, the strength of their combined weight bringing it down. It’s eyes are wild in alarm and terror, it kicks and fights for its life. It is no match for the Cheetah though. One of the Cheetah clamps its strong jaws over the Topi’s windpipe to throttle it whilst the others try and subdue it. It takes several minutes for the Topi to die, it fights kicking to the very end. Some of the Cheetah release it and sit up panting, they want to regain their energy before eating, and the others start ripping open the kill. Cheetahs eat peacefully and amicably together, there is plenty for all of them, this is a large meal.
The Fig Tree Pride are enjoying the afternoon sun, two of the Lionesses are sat out on the grass occasionally opening their eyes looking for hunting opportunities. Two sub adult males are crammed together under a small croton bush whilst a younger sibling is laid legs akimbo on the grass next to them. It is very hot so they will sleep until it cools or prey comes close. They are down by the Talek River; several beautiful fig trees have grown over the water, their gnarly trunks and thick branches creating a beautiful utopia. It is cool under their canopy so a small herd of Elephants decide to cross the deep waters. The river has strong currents due to the heavy rain but the bulk of the Elephants allow them to cross without fear of being swept away. The only concern is they have a small baby of around a year old, it has to use its trunk to hold onto its mothers tail, it just about breaths above the water. When they safely cross the Elephant behind the baby uses it trunk to push it up the steep bank. A Crocodile swims up river against the current but Elephants are too big a prey for it. On the banks of river a tower of Giraffe quietly watch them, whilst pair of DikDik hurry into the bushes out of their way.
On the plains three mating pairs of Ostrich graze on the long grasses. The males’ legs are bright pink showing the blood flow to the lower half of his body priming him for mating. A Veroux Eagle Owl sits high in the Ballanite tree surveying the plains for small animals to hunt. Across the plain the five Cheetahs are gorging on the Topi kill, they have completely disembowelled it and one of the Cheetahs is trying to open the stomach which is lying separately from the body. The other four are laid on the ground heads together, shoulder to shoulder eating the carcass, the head and horns of the Topi look incongruous to the eaten body. The Cheetahs usually so lithe and streamlined have now extremely large turgid bellies. Their faces are covered in blood; their amber eyes bright and sharp as they keep a watchful eye out for scavengers or predators that could try and take their kill. The sun sets over the plains lighting up the golden red grasses and highlighting the stunning golden and black fur of the Cheetahs. They are resplendent in the afternoon light.
In Keekorok the grasses are very long, they sway in the breeze the rich red of the oat tipped grasses looking like burnished gold. As the sun rises the sky is a perfect huge of burnt orange and the bright light reflects white light off of the dew tipped grass. The effect is stunning, plains of refracted light swaying with an ethereal glow. Wild mint grows on the plains and fills the air with the most intoxicating heady scent. The Black Rock Pride are laying out in the dawn sun warming their strawberry blonde bodies, three dominant pride males, five sub adult males, eight Lionesses and nine cubs of two ages. The cubs are active and run through the grasses leaping on each other; the grass is so long it is perfect ambush practice for them. One of the Lionesses has a deep cut above her eye from fighting with a Warthog, she sits apart from the others as she wants to heal, however her cubs want to suckle and keep disturbing her, she growls at them and gets up to walk away but the cubs eagerly follow her. She lies down again and they try to suckle but she snarls and gently bites them in warning to leave her alone. Fortunately her sister also has cubs and is lactating and so feeds the cubs for her. Lionesses give birth around the same time so they can feed each other’s cubs. This is most useful to form strong bonds but also when some of the Lionesses go hunting leaving the cubs with just one Lioness.
The Lionesses are good mothers and sit peacefully whilst the cubs run around them, jumping over them and attacking their tails and ears. The cubs even though they are just three and four months old are very confident, they start to walk off through the long grasses so one of the Lionesses automatically gets up and follows them so they do not get into trouble. The cubs are quite a handful for the Lionesses whilst they are young. The cubs are quite demanding they squeak and meow at their mothers for attention, they want to play. As the Lionesses walk along the track to avoid the wet grass the cubs leap on them practicing their hunting skills, one cub grabs his mother’s bottom and tries to bite it, she turns around and snarls at it but she is very patient. The cubs are curious, active and feisty, they are not afraid of the vehicles but just stare curiously at us. We are not their prey, just a source of curiosity.
All of a sudden there is a commotion, the Lionesses come across one of the large sub adult males in the grass, the sub adults can be very rough with the young cubs and can accidentally kill them. The Lionesses are fiercely protective of their cubs and start roaring and snarling angrily at the sub adult. The sub adult is alarmed and snarls back. The fighting wakes up the three dominant males Longo, Orikini and Benna who leap to their feet thinking another male is attacking their pride. They run towards the commotion and starts roaring baring their sharp canines, the Lions have impressive black manes to enhance the impression of their physical power. Even the one male with just one eye is still a force of nature and very handsome. They are large, muscular and majestic, the three running and roaring together is very impressive. However when the males discover it is just the sub adult the Lionesses are roaring at they slow down and sit near the pride in the dewy grass. They have made their presence known and now watch over their pride.
The cubs are excited that the males are sat near them and bravely go over to try and play with them; unfortunately the males are tired and growl at the cubs. The Lionesses also go to greet the males, rubbing faces together in reverence and gratitude for protecting the pride, especially their cubs. The males’ purpose is to mate and protect, it is clear with this pride they have been very successful at both. This male coalition has been with this pride for four years hence the impressive size of the pride. All three of the Lions have heavily scarred faces from fighting other males who try to take over the pride but also from mating with the Lionesses, which is always furious and aggressive. Satisfied the pride is safe; the males return to the rock to relax, they will not get any rest with the enthusiastic cubs running around them. One cheeky cub tries to grab his father’s rump as he walks away; the Lions merely snarls a warming. The male with the one eye climbs the black rock and is perfectly lit by the sun from behind as he stands majestically at the top surveying the domain he rules. He is the heart of Africa, the very image of majesty, strength and power. He is the king of the plains, when he roars his deep throaty voice is announcing, “Whose land is this anyway? It is mine! It is mine!”
The plains with its vibrant fresh green grasses, red oat grasses and white feathery topped spear grasses is absolutely stunning to drive through. It is a Billashaka, the prey is healthy and strong, the new grasses provide valuable nutrients. It does of course present challenges for the predators that cannot see over the high grass. However this does not present a challenge for Leopards, down by Sand River a stunning female Leopard is languishing on a thick branch of a fig tree, her legs splayed either side and her stunning face resting on her large paws. Her beautiful green eyes scan the plain for any movement. She is an ambush hunter so she will prefer to hunt prey that graze near the tree. Above her Arrowmac Babbla birds are noisily chattering in the high branches. She is set against a perfect backdrop of the sand river, green and yellow endless plains, towering escarpment and pastel blue sky streaked with soft white clouds. The heavens open and it begins to rain so she deftly jumps up the tree to higher branches to hunker down against the downpour, her coat is beautifully water proof.
It is an afternoon of Leopards, Lorian and her male cub of seven months old are walking through the Laga in Hammerkop. The sun is beating down hard and the Leopards pant, they are heading to the cool waters to drink and enjoy the shade. Lorian remains in the bushes but her cub is active and confident so decides to sit out in the long damp grass to cool off. It still has sapphire eyes which are bright and alert. Behind him is a beautiful Olive Tree and in the bough is a half-eaten Grant Gazelle, killed and dragged up there by Lorian. Once he has cooled down the cub swiftly and easily uses its sharp claws to ascend the trunk of the tree. He navigates the thin branches and starts dragging the kill over to him. Unfortunately the horns get stuck in the bough of the tree and he tugs and tugs but cannot release it as the kill is larger than him. So instead he has to awkwardly hang himself over the branch and eat the kill where it is. There is not much left apart from the neck and skull so when he finishes eating the neck he pushes his head into the neck opening and start eating inside the skull.
The kill hangs precariously from the branches almost tumbling to the ground. The Leopard cub descends the trunk easily then sits in the cool long grasses, he then go back up the tree and walks to the end of a branch to look over the Laga to where Lorian is sitting. He descends again and sits at the base of the tree satisfied he knows where his mother is. From a distance their distinctive gait is easily recognisable; Hyaenas have smelt the kill and are heading to the tree. The cub detects them and slowly walks through the grass, body low to avoid detection. The Hyaenas would kill the cub if they found him. As the Hyaenas approach the tree the cub is at a safe distance but Lorian has come out of the bushes and is carefully watching them. If they try and attack her cub she will kill them. Fortunately the Hyaenas can see the kill up the tree in inaccessible so wander off. The cub joins his mother, they are safe.
As the sun starts setting we find the beautiful Cheetah Nora, her pale golden fur is lit by the bright red sun rays. She is paler than other Cheetahs so fairly easy to recognise. Her lithe body is perfectly poised; she is sat up surveying the plains for hunting opportunities. She looks across the plains with her round amber eyes, they are alert and sharp. She starts walking through the long grass, she has a long stride, she is athlete and lean and the pads of her paws like ridged like tyres for grip and speed. She had not hunted today and needs to catch prey. Soon the Lions will active so she must find something to hunt soon. If by sunset she has not made a kill she will find a bush to rest under. The sun sets low over the escarpment, the clouds are dark, moody and thunderous, the sky turns a deep burnished orange, red and purple. The air is charged with electricity as the wind picks up. The late afternoon gives way to night, the moon lights the plains with a blue glow and the constellations burn bright, the stars in the African sky are so bright.
The air is cool and heavily scented with wild mint, the prey stretch and start prancing to warm up theirs cold muscles. A mating herd of Impala graze on the dewy grasses; they are silhouetted against the burnished orange sky. As the sun rises the sky turns a beautiful blue dotted with pink clouds lit by the sun. DikDik scurry between the bushes, watchful for predators. As the sun rises the grasses sway catching the light on their tips. The plains are a stunning mix of red oat tipped grass, star burst grass and spear grass. The red oat tipped reflects the red of the sun’s rays whereas the star burst is vibrant green, the spear grass catches the white light, the effect is breath-taking.
Maridadi (meaning handsome) one of the two dominant Fig Tree male Lions is walking with a Lioness over the plains. His mane is a dark burnished bronze around his face then ombré black over his shoulders and back. He is the very picture of dominance, majesty and power. However when it comes to mating it is the beautiful Queen that dominants. The Lioness has deep gold fur; she has dark bronze eyes and powerful shoulders which is essential when she hunts. She is the dominant pride female and leads Maridadi across the plains until she decides she is ready to mate with him. He walks closely behind her, reverent, respecting her dominance. He occasionally sniffs her to ensure she is in oestrus and receptive to him. She does not seem in any hurry to mate, it is a painful process for both of them. The Lion has a barbed penis which stimulates her ovulation. The Lioness gets distracted she sees a lone Impala heading to the bushes. She stalks it and chasing it into the bushes, quickly followed by Maridadi but the Impala is too quick for her.
The rest of the Fig Tree pride is resting by a group of croton bushes, their heavy scent filling the air; the leaves are a good insect repellent. Two of the Lionesses are sat out on the cool moist grasses; one has a small cub cuddled up against her. As the sun warms the cub starts to become playful, it gets up and heads to the bushes where the other cubs are, as it approaches one of its sibling jumps put and ambushes it, they tussle and play fight. The other cubs join them in play whilst the Lionesses fondly watch them. The sub adults are sat by the bushes, one of the males has a handsome blonde mohican mane, he watches his younger siblings but is tired after their nocturnal activities. One of the Lionesses spot two Thompson Gazelle fighting, they are distracted so she may get the opportunity to ambush them. She stalks low through the grasses but a herd of Topi across the plain has seen her and start a snorting warning call. The Thompson Gazelle immediately stop fighting and look around in fear; they cannot see her but start to run. The Lioness sits up giving up on her stalk, they are too far away to chase.
Nora the beautiful blonde Cheetah is sat on a termite mound surveying the plains; she has still not hunted and looks very hungry. The long grasses present a challenge for her. As she stalks through she encounters a scrub hare but it leaps up in surprise and she misses it. She wants to cross the river as there are better hunting opportunities on the other side but she fears the current and crocodiles. She walks along the steep bank of the river trying to gage a safe crossing point but she cannot find one. A tower of Giraffe watch her from the other side, they are silent but curious. A lone Hartebeest grazes by some bushes but it is too large a prey for her on her own, she lacks the weight and power. Still the Hartebeest is alert as it watches her pass, it snorts a warning call. After she has passed it starts prancing like a show horse, it is happy it is safe. A herd of Elephants match across the plains in front of Nora; they ignore her she is not a threat. She heads into a group of bushes to rest for a while before recommencing her hunt.
Cheetahs seem to be thriving in the reserve. The beautiful female Cheetah Rosetta gave birth to six cubs in the black rock area of Keekorok but sadly lost three to scavengers in the first few months. However her remaining three are now sixteen months old and are healthy, the will stay with their mother until they are around two years old. Females head off alone but the males stay together. The four are looking to hunt, a herd of Impala are grazing nearby but as the grass is long the Cheetahs cannot be detected. One of the cubs stealthily crawls through the grass to the left and the other three try and head off the herd to the right. It should be a successful tactic but the cubs are young and fairly inexperienced. The cub heading left runs before the others and the herd scatters confusing the Cheetahs. They chase several but fail to make a kill; they sit in the grass looking frustrated. They head to a croton bush and rest after their exertions. The close their eyes to rest and a family of Warthog run past undetected.
A flock of five Ground Hornbills rather interestingly walk within feet of the resting Cheetah. They are large birds with stunning black plumage and red heads. One of the birds has two lizards in its beak, it looks very proud to have caught these. It does make you wonder how it caught two, presumably the lizards were mating and he took the opportunity to grab them! Suddenly the Cheetah detect them and jump up, the Hornbills are startled and fly up into the air. The Cheetah have bigger prey they want to hunt so do not chase the birds. The three cubs decide it is time to hunt and head out into the plains, Rosetta watches them. The cubs have just woken so decide first it is time to play, they practice their hunting skills on each other. Then there is a roar! Rosetta is alert and follows her cubs encouraging them to follow her, they will not hunt will Lions around.
Kaka (meaning brother) is the brother of Maridadi the other dominant male; he too is with a Lioness mating. They are mating close to Rosetta and her cubs. If they had managed to make a kill the Lions would have stolen it. For now Kaka is tired but he must obey his Lioness, they are in the throes of three to five days of continual mating. She gets up stretches and yawns, she bends her front legs low and lifts her back end, Kaka takes this opportunity to sniff her back end to endure she is in oestrus. She crouches low and he mounts her from behind and bites her head, she looks nonchalant. Seconds of thrusting and the copulation is over. They growl at each and sit apart, this is no honeymoon, the mating is based on mutual respect and ensuring the survival and continuation of the pride. The sky behind them turns a very dark teal and thunderous grey, thunder roars and lightning bolts crack across the sky. It is sunset but a heavy storm is rolling in, the sky is breathtakingly moody and dark. The animals will take cover; they are used to the ever changing African skies. The Lions roar adding to the exciting, thunderous atmosphere, the wild belongs to them.
Maridadi and his Lioness sit on the dewy open plains as the sun rises behind them. The long grasses sway in the cool morning air, the sun catches the reds, golds and ambers of the rich red oat, spear and sun burst grasses. Maridadi’s mane is dark burnished bronze tapering down to black over his broad muscular shoulders. The Lioness is a rich warm gold; the sun catches her bronze eyes as she surveys the plains around them. The prey are silhouetted against the blanket of orange sky, they start leaping and prancing to prove their fitness and speed to the predators. The Lioness yawns and stretches, her broad muscular shoulders bent low forward as she raises her slim hips. Maridadi draws in her scent and flehmen, drawing her scent to the back of his mouth to ensure she is in oestrus. The Topi, Impala and Thompson Gazelle snort a warning call that the predators are active but they do not need to be concerned the Lions have reproduction on their mind. The Lioness lies down in front of Maridadi and he mounts her swiftly biting the top of her head, she looks very unamused and bored, she snarls at him. He snarls back, it is passion and pain for both of them. It is over in seconds and she rolls over onto her back with her legs akimbo to aid the flow of sperm. They continue mating all morning every few minutes until the sun grows too hot.
The plains are teaming with prey, a herd of Elephants meander past; they keep their young between the adults for safety. Lorian is not a threat to them but she crouches low as they pass. She has hunting on her mind but she is distracted, her young male cub is restless and wants to play. He is tearing about around her leaping and jumping on everything that moves and everything that does not move including clumps of grass and fallen branches. When he tires of this game he decides his mother is target practice. He leaps over her as she sits under a bush; he then grabs her head and starts chewing her ears. She growls and bats him away but he is half her size now and tackles her to the ground, he is already confident, muscular and strong. They tumble and wrestle in the long grass, biting each other’s necks, legs and rumps. She then grabs him in a strangle hold and starts washing him. He calms and has a look of absolute rapture, happiness and contentment on his face. He loves his mother’s attention and care. He starts to wash her face too, they are so gentle and affectionate, and it is the ultimate form of bonding for cats. After his bath it is time for more play!
Lorian gets up and starts walking slowly through the long grass, she wants to hunt but her cub wants to hunt her. He speedily runs around, a fireball of energy, he crouches in the grass and pounces on her as she passes. She gives him chase which delights him; it is not all serious for the Leopard. She comes to another large croton bush and sits underneath much to be cub’s dismay, he wants to go and have fun. He starts leaping up into the bush pulling down branches, he discovers this is a fun game and it really annoys his mother. He knows if he pesters her enough she will get up. She does her best to relax whilst above her the cub is leaping into the leaves and pulling down half of the bush on top of her! She holds out for a while then gives in, she slowly and reluctantly gets up and walks towards the Laga, the cub is elated and runs beside her, he looks eager and happy. The Laga is one of her favourite hunting grounds as it has long grass from where she can ambush prey from, trees to store her kills and waters to quench her thirst after eating her salty meal.
It is a morning of big cat action. One of Rosetta’s female cubs is alone and plaintively crying for her mother, even though she is almost fully grown she is not yet ready to fend for herself. It is thought that Kaka and his Lioness chased them last night separating Rosetta from her three sub adult cubs. The poor girl is distraught but determined to find her mother. She walks through the plains, her amber eyes wide and uncertain but also watchful and focused. She sniffs each tree and bush for territory markings and adds her own by spraying it with urine. She hopes her mother will pick up her scent or she hers. Her plaintive cries are high pitched like a small yelp; the sound will carry for miles. After several hours finally Rosetta picks up her daughters scent and comes to reunite her with her siblings. They bond by enthusiastically rubbing their heads together and chirping. Cheetahs also purr very loudly, their contentment and happiness is overwhelming.
After weeks of rain and poor hunting opportunities the cats are starting to become very active. Hunting for big cats is fraught with danger with low odds of a successful hunt. That is why the cats are notoriously worse scavengers than Hyenas, who actually hunt a lot for themselves. Of course there are times that nature just provides a free bounty. A female Elephant gave birth in the last few days and has been left behind by her herd as she was sick. As she died the very young calf too young to keep up with the herd laid down beside her dead mother. It was not long before the Topi pride come across her body and start engorging themselves on the soft flesh of her trunk and head and killed the small baby. The skin on the Elephants body is hardened leather so difficult for them to penetrate but the trunk is easier. The wind carries the scent of blood through the air and soon Hyaenas, Jackals and Vultures descend on the kill. It is just the Topi pride Lionesses eating the kill so the Hyaenas feel brave to eat the rump of the Elephant away from the Lionesses, they would not dare to do that if the dominant male Lions were present. Once they have had their fill the Lionesses retreat to the long grass to cool off as the early afternoon sun is hot.
The Hyaenas become brave and complacent and move round to the eaten head of the Elephant and start to chew on the flesh. One of the Lionesses growls and chases the Hyaenas sending them and the Vultures flying and panicking in all directions, it is chaos. The Lioness does not want the mangy scavengers eating her part so she leaps on one of the Hyaenas and bites down hard on it. The Hyaena yelps painfully and tries to bite the Lioness back but she has it pinned down with her large paws and heavy muscular frame. The Hyaena panics fearing death for its insolence and struggles wildly, the Lioness bites it again then let’s it go. The Hyaenas run off in panic and fright, the Lioness has served her warning to them. She stares at their retracting backs wanting to be sure they know to stay away. She then re-joins one of her sisters; they rub heads together in mutual affection and bond. She lies down next to her, they stay close to their food, this will feed the pride for many days even when it becomes rancid.
The rest of the pride is sensibly laid out in the shade of a group of croton bushes. One of the pride males is with two sub adult males, six Lionesses and several small cubs. On closer inspection they are actually eating the small dead baby Elephant, it’s small lifeless body is completely covered by the Lions, there is barely anything left of it. This is nature, raw and brutal, but one animal’s death is another animal’s survival. With Lion numbers rapidly decreasing and now on the endangered list, it makes the scene more palatable but no less slightly heart-breaking. The Lions faces are covered in blood and their stomachs engorged and turgid. They pant heavily in the hot afternoon sun.
Then the roar of thunder and crack of lightening heralds late afternoon rains. The rains falls in heavy blobs, it is driving fast, slanting sideways. A large herd of Impala huddle together for warmth and comfort. The plains in this unseasonable weather are incredibly beautiful, the rich greens in contrast to a few months ago when the earth was dry, cracked and scorched by the sun. Whilst this time of bounty is good for the prey, their renewed vigour and strength and the long grasses become a challenge for the predators and their fight for survival. This eco system is finely balanced, predator and prey relying on each other for survival. The Maasai Mara is one of the last Great Plains where you can see great herds of Elephants, Giraffes Wildebeest, Buffalo and Gazelles roaming the plains whilst being surveyed by successful prides of Lions, Cheetah coalitions and not so elusive Leopards. This is the true wild, it may be harsh and challenging but it also heart-warming, breath-taking and awe inspiring. The stories of these amazing animals will also fascinate and enthral.