The greatest show on earth, the annual migration. The thundering of hooves announces the arrival of the millions of Wildebeest and Zebra after an arduous safari from the Serengeti plains to the savannah of the Maasai Mara. The pungent intoxicating scent of wild sage fills the air. The hooves kick up great dust clouds as the braying of Zebra and honking of the Wildebeest cut through the once silent plains. The banks of the Mara River groan with the weight of a million animals wanting to cross the torrential water. Then it happens, the great herds descend the banks tearing up the sides as they launch their tired bodies down the steep incline. The air is thick with tension, sweat and adrenaline. Crocodile sit with their mouths wide open on the riverbanks whilst others lurk beneath the surface to snatch unsuspecting prey. The Wildebeest leap like horses, strangely elegant but strong from the banks into the water. They hit the water and swim for their lives; their eyes are wide with determination to reach the other side to the fresh long grasses. This is the very definition of chaos theory; it looks like apparently random states of disorder and irregularity but in fact it is entirely governed by deterministic laws that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. It is within this apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems that you see the underlying patterns of interconnectedness. These Wildebeest forge ahead even though it is dangerous and tiring, they have evolved to bring balance to this fragile eco system. The tension is palatable, the excitement is intoxicating. Even if they reach the other side predators wait to ambush them, even in plain sight. A Lioness, an experienced huntress sits on the banks of the river; she crouches low, her golden eyes sharp and focused. She knows she has to be patient because for a change the prey will come to her. Her bronze fur is camouflaged against the golden sandy earth, her strong muscular shoulders are hunched forward, she is ready to ambush. Tensions grow, the heat intensifies, nature will take its course.
The heat of the midday sun beats down, the prey is more relaxed as the predators are generally lethargic and sleepy during the day, favouring the cooler shade of the bushes. They graze on the rich grasses which are long and nutritious after months of unseasonal rains. They look up periodically looking for signs of movement in the grasses, always watchful in case a predator decides to ambush them. The herds are mixed, each specie bringing its own strength in order to survive these harsh conditions. Herds of Impala, Topi, Zebra and Wildebeest mingle with Warthogs and Baboons. At present however they have nothing to fear as Olbornotti one of the Enkoyanai pride males is mating with one of the Lionesses. They are hot and tired; they lay out away from each other, panting heavily to regulate their temperature. Mating for them is very much about survival of the pride and ensuring their genes are passed down. On day one of mating they would have copulated every fifteen minutes, but it is day two and they already look weary.
The Lioness decides when and where they mate, the Lion takes her lead. She opens her eyes and stretches and yawns wide bearing her yellowing sharp canines and thrusting out her barbed pink tongue. Batting away yellow hippoboscid flies she slowly licks her large paws. One final yawn and she cat stretches, her muscles taut and always ready for action. The Lion sensing her movement reluctantly gets up to. She walks away from him knowing he will follow her which of course he does; he draws in her scent checking she is in oestrus and patiently waits for her to find a spot to mate. Satisfied she crouches low and he mounts her biting the top of her head and neck. He growls deeply baring his teeth, it is a painful experience for both of them as he thrusts for mere seconds. His barbed penis stimulates her ovulation but causes her pain, so she snarls viciously back at him. A Lions face is a crisscross of scares not from fighting but mating. When he is finished he jumps back because he knows she will be angry and will swipe at him with her claws or worse bites his face. His face is a picture of fear as she growls at him, he narrowly misses her claws. She is very feisty and growls at him warning him to stay away whilst she rolls over stimulating the flow. For her it is all about producing cubs. He looks nervous, his mane stands on edge from the adrenaline rush and his eyes are wide with anxiety. He nervously walks away to rest before his next encounter with this dominant fiery female.
With the Lions distracted Olchurro a male Cheetah takes the opportunity to hunt in the long grasses. Cheetahs are the most successful hunters of all of the big cats. He is lithe, athletic and built for speed, his paw pads are like the treads of tyres giving him the ability to run at high speed, weaving in every direction. He comes upon a herd of Impala; they have not detected his stealthily movement through the tall grass. The wind favours him, so they do not even pick up his scent. An Impala bobs its head up, its nose twitches and its peripheral vision scans the grass, but it is too late. Olchurro is close enough to chase, his long muscular body stretches lean as he runs at top speed as his knows the Impalas too are fast. The herd scatter in all directions but he locks his eyes onto just one, he does not allow himself to get distracted. It looks like a choreograph dance between predator and prey, almost equally matched in strength and speed. The Cheetah has the advantage though, he is the fastest land mammal, and he is hungry and focused. He leaps and his claws lock onto the rump of the Impala, it stumbles and loses footing. The Cheetah quickly shifts position and clamps its strong jaws around the windpipe of the Impala suffocating it and subduing it. The Impala eyes are wide with fear as it loses consciousness, its head lolls back and its eyes go blank. The Cheetah pants heavily satisfied its prey is dead.
Olchurro lies on the grass panting heavily, his beautiful golden black spotted fur gleaming in the early afternoon light. He has the most stunning amber eyes kohl edged with a perfect black tear line running down to its mouth to deflect the sun. He needs to cool down before eating but he is conscious of the nearby Lions who could come to steal his kill. He is alone and vulnerable so has to eat quickly. It will not be long too until Hyaena pick up the scent of blood and chase him away. Cheetahs are very vulnerable they cannot defend themselves like the larger cats. He gets up and walks back to the Impala and licks it, the first lick to taste, the second to break the skin and the third to draw blood. The wiry thick hide of the Impala makes it tough to eat. The Cheetah chews open the softer underbelly and gorges on the flesh as blood runs down its mouth; the meat is warm and fresh. He eats quickly tearing off chunks of meat whilst constantly scanning the plains for threats. He often sits up and looks around before hunkering down to eat. He eats until his belly is taut and rotund, he is completely sated. Once finished he does not loiter, he does not want any conflict with any other predator or scavenger.
Hyaenas are renowned and highly effective scavengers but also excellent organised hunters in their own right. Carrion is detected by smell from as far as two and a half miles down wind. They find carcasses by scent and by the noises made by other predators. Spotted Hyaenas hearing is so acute they can pick up noises coming from predators killing prey or feeding. They are fast; they can run for long distances without tiring, especially motivated by the smell of a fresh kill. So, it is not surprising that within fifteen minutes the Impala carcass it’s being torn apart and fought over by a clan of Hyaenas. The clan laughs and cackle over the remains. They fight over morsels of flesh and snap at each other. They can come across as ruthless as the viciously fight. They have strong jaws which have evolved to crunch bones and tear sinew. It is very much survival of the fittest as they run away with leg bones and slabs of flesh. The parents will gulp down mounds of meat to regurgitate for their pups when they head back to their dens. When they have finished there is just patches of blood and offal on the grass.
Overhead a stunning formation of Vultures flies in a perfect circle looking for carcasses. They are the clean-up crew; they keep the eco system in perfect balance by ensuring it is free of rotting diseased carcasses. As the Hyaena leave the Vultures descend, gliding on the vortex. Birds can save energy by flying in formation; the energy is harvested from the wake vortex of the formation leader. These Vultures would have spotted the carcass from up to four miles away. A group of vultures in flight is called a kettle, when they come to rest on the ground they are referred to as a committee and rather appropriately as they feast on a carcass it is known as a wake. They are beautiful raptors, their plumage is stunning, it is their bold heads devoid of normal feathers that give them a sinister look. It is thought however their bold head keeps them clean whilst feeding which is plausible as you watch them thrust their heads in numerous carcasses body cavities to pick flesh off of bones. Their exceptional stomach acid allows them to safely digest the most rotting carcass. It is fascinating watching them cackle and screech at each other, fighting over the last of the remains. When finished they urinate down their legs, the uric acid kills bacteria accumulated from walking through carcasses and also acts as evaporative cooling.
When the Serengeti is near the end of dry season water is available in the Maasai Mara. The migration starts moving south as the new season rains start. Around 1.5 million Wildebeest, Zebra and Gazelle follow their instinct and make the long arduous journey. They arrive at the Mara River around July and August and return back late October. They migrate in a clockwise fashion over 1,800 miles each year. The sound of the herd is very loud as they honk and call to each other. Clusters of around 150 Wildebeest form within the bigger herds; five or six of the most dominant bulls create and guard territories that cows amble through. That is why they are so vocal; it is breeding time. It feels and looks like organised chaos. The energy within the herd as you drive through them is intense. They are very brave, strong animals who have evolved to undertake the most challenging life. They stare at you intently although you don’t detect fear. The Wildebeest herd with Gazelle and Zebra, there is certainly safety in numbers. They keep their young in the middle of the herd away from the attack of predators. After their long journey they rest and graze on the plains, bone weary and tired. It is easy to see just a herd of generic gnu with their long heads, beards and manes and slopping backs. They are actually beautifully unique.
As the afternoon cools and dusk falls the Enkoyanai pride sub adult cubs awaken. This is a successful pride and has cubs of all ages, from a few months to nearly three years old they enjoy playing together; this is important bonding time for them. As they wake, they rub heads together sharing their scent. They are feisty and fiery, even at a young age their personalities are well developed; it is easy to see who the dominant leaders of future prides will be. It is all about rough housing, chewing ears and tails and chasing each other in mock hunts. Even their mothers don’t escape being stalked and ambushed in a mock kill. They leap into the air bringing each other down and wrestle in the grass. Every stick, mound of grass or discarded bone, moving or not becomes a target. They bat each other with their large paws and practice their little roars. Even the very young cubs will take on older siblings in mock battle for territory. It is amusing to see them pretend to try and mate with each other, their instinct for survival is so strong they even practice this young, although they always get a beating for this from their unwitting sibling. The Lionesses look on with mothers’ pride; they would kill to protect them. Not far away the other dominant male of this pride, Lolparpit (meaning hairy) with his extraordinary long luscious full mane lolls in the bushes, he is around thirteen now so old for a Lion and keeps himself apart from his over exuberant cubs. He likes his rest and peace and will sleep up to twenty hours a day. He has a long face and quite sad eyes but is a very successful dominant pride male. Sleeping he looks so gentle and peaceful, but he has a deep roar and killer instinct, he will defend the pride at all costs.
As the sun sets deep red across the escarpment great herds of Topi glow bronze in sunset’s rays. They are the sentries of the plains standing proud on top of termite mounds, watching for threats. They have incredible eyesight and will snort a warning call if they detect predators. They are medium-sized antelopes with a striking reddish-brown to purplish-red coat. Distinct black patches appear on their face, their upper forelegs, and on their hips and thighs. To complete their singular appearance, the topi’s yellowish-tan legs look like they are encased in stockings. They constantly node their heads to dislodge flies from their nostrils. As the sun sets, they huddle together for protection as in the distance they can herd the roar of Lions as they gather the pride for a night of hunting. The prey is on high alert as the predator’s wake, the sounds of the wild fills the air, it is thick with adrenaline. The sky darkens giving the predators the advantage with their night vision, the excitement is palatable. The air is still warm as the wind dies down; the moon will be the preys light tonight.
The dawn chorus heralds a new day and new beginnings. The air is cool, crisp and heavily scented. The birds perch high in the trees their lyrical melody sweet to the ear to entice a mate or call the rest of the flock. Others sing to defend their breeding territory letting others know they are here to roost. As they launch themselves off of the branches their wings are silhouetted against the dawn sky. The long grasses dewy grasses sway underneath them; it is a stunning sea of reds, greens and yellows lit by the rising sun. The savannah becomes alive with light, sun and vitality from the sun. It sets all its touches aglow with fiery light. It is said, stand with your face to the rising sun and your shadows will fall behind you. The dawn of the new day is new beginning, the prey lifts their heads from grazing and let the sun warm their faces, as they stretch their cold muscles, and they start to pronk, prance and gallop with what appears to be utter happiness and joy.
A flock of Ostrich are silhouetted against the sunrise, they stretch out their large feathery wings like an exotic dancer, they flap in a slow wave, graceful and mesmerising. They need to shake the dew off and warm themselves. Their long thin pink legs are in almost comic contrast to their large round bodies, but they are built for speed and power reaching land speeds of up to 43 miles an hour for they are a flightless bird. When running their stunning outstretched wings stabilise and help to manoeuvre them when running zigzag across the plains. They are very protective parents the young chicks with them shelter beneath their parent’s large wingspan. They high step through the moist grasses looking for food, they peck at the ground with powerful sharp bill. They have large round eyes perfect for spotting predators in the far distance. If they feel threatened, they will lay in the grasses flattened to the ground. They are known for their long soft fluffy feathers which insulate them against these cold mornings. There is peacefulness about them as they silently move as a family.
In contrast a large herd of Elephants march through the plains in search of water. The African Elephant, impressive, mammoth, the giants of the savannah. There is no mistaking their colossal size and impressive tusks. Elephants are gregarious, highly sociable animals which live in family groups of related females, their calves and a male. The leader of the family will be an old female, the matriarch. It is lovely watching Elephants greet; they insert the tip of their trunk into the mouth of the other Elephant. They also use sound to communicate; the low throaty rumbling which is most common indicates a greeting. Trumpeting, bellowing and loud screams are very recognisable as aggression, agitation and alarm. Elephants are both nocturnal and diurnal, they mainly sleep standing up, but younger calves will sleep lying down. They often wallow and shower themselves in water, after which they roll in mud and scratch themselves up against trees to remove ticks and clean their skin. The water and mud provide a sun protection layer. In the heat of the sun Elephants will seek sanctuary in the shade of riverine forests. All Elephants secrete a thick, pungent watery substance called temporin from their temporal glands which is located on each side of its face. The cows (female Elephant) secrete this all times of the year and the scent is individual to each Elephant, possibly to help them recognise each other. The bulls (male Elephant) only secrete this at certain times of the year when it is in “musth”, they dribble pungent urine down their legs often turning their penis green. This musth signals high levels of testosterone which in turn makes the bull more aggressive and sexually active. Due to their size, they have no predators, but young or sick Elephants can be killed by Lions.
Of course, it does not mean Lions will not contemplate hunting an Elephant, but the conditions must be right and it must have the support of its pride. One lone male sub adult Lion around three years old is instead dragging a half-eaten Wildebeest through the long grass. It was probably hunted and killed by the Lionesses in its pride and it has stolen the rest to greedily eat alone. The males when it comes to food can be quite selfish and will fight to take the carcass for itself. Once sated the Lionesses no doubt indulged, they cheeky youngster and allowed it a taste of what his future will hold when he becomes a dominant pride male one day. His mohican mane stands proud on his head and has started to grow over his muscular shoulders. He is still young though and is clearly tired as he keeps stopping and rest as the carcass is heavy. His belly is turgid and rotund, he is fully sated but after a very long sleep he will want to feast again on the flesh so will hide his prize in the bushes next to him as he sleeps. From a young age predator must learn to fight to survive and he already had good instincts. As he reaches the bushes, he gives out a rumbling heavy sigh and drags the carcass under the leaves. He falls heavily down, weary and hot; the shade of the croton bush will provide both shade and a good insect repellent. He will sleep for at least twelve to fourteen hours only occasionally getting up to stretch and move into a more comfortable position like all cats.
Luluka the beautiful young female Leopard is heavily pregnant; gestation is only three months as it slows her down whilst hunting. Fortunately, Leopards are successful ambush predators; they wait for their prey to come within around twenty feet before they go in for the kill. She has been successful she has a Wildebeest carcass up the tree and Impala kill in the bush! All cats are opportunistic hunters; they understand feast and famine and will store kills. She knows the more heavily pregnant she becomes the harder it will be to hunt. The morning is growing warm and she is tired, Leopards are often active during the day as that is when Lions sleep and they are the main threat to her kills, they will steal them from her. She is thirsty and is looking for water to sate her, the carcasses are salty. Luluka walks down the track to avoid the still dewy grasses they suddenly stop, rather comically pokes her pink raspy tongue out, squats and has a wee break. She is unperturbed by spectators in vehicles, it is part of life here. She heads down a steep bank to the shallow water in the ravine and drinks thirstily, droplets of water fly around her face as she laps the stagnant water; it is good she has strong constitution.
Hundreds of Wildebeest are crossing Talek River in the Rekero area; it is a small crossing but the beat of their hooves on the dry dusty earth still thunder the sound of their arrival. They honk and bray calling to each other, they want to make sure each are accounted for. As they approach the water they slow, the murky depths can hide the tell-tale swish of a crocodile’s tail as it languishes beneath the water’s surface in wait for vulnerable prey. They cautiously approach the water’s edge, it will only take one brave gnu to cross and the rest of the herd will follow, there is safety in numbers. As they start to swim, they lift their long faces high above the water’s surface, their long spindly legs frantically kicking below the water. The larger adults sprint through the water in a long gallop breaking the surface and trying not to slip on the rocks below. Their movement is graceful like a horse, but their eyes are wild and fearful. When the reach the other side they shake the water off and honk encouragement for their family members to cross. They are fortunate this time there are no predators in the water or across the bank lying in wait to ambush them. When they have all crossed, they graze on the fresh grasses, not entirely relaxed but safe in the knowledge they lost none of the herd this time.
The oldest, most handsome and certainly most beloved male Lion in the Maasai Mara is Scar, the dominant male in a four-male coalition. His brothers, Hunter, Sikio and Morani are across the plains, Scar is often alone now he is older. He has a scar running down his right eye and it is consequently clouded. His mane is a stunning blend of black and deep bronze coarse hair running over his still muscular shoulders and top of his back. When he shakes his head, his mane stands stiffly up displaying his crowning glory to its full magnificence. He is the king of the Mara even though he is very old and walks with a limp. A Lion does not need to tell you he is a Lion he has a regal, dominant, strong presence which emanates from him. Scar has stashed a Wildebeest kill in a small bush. It is very hot, the heat from the sun beats on him as he tries to get a little shade too from the bush. He sighs wearily, the flies are buzzing noisily around him attracted to the rotting flesh and stench of congealing blood. He bats them away with his mighty paw, but they continue to crawl in his eyes and nose. He sneezes noisily which quickly disperses the flies. Even though his belly is rotund still from feeding earlier he decides he cannot sleep so he may as well feed. He slowly gnaws at the flesh, his yellowing canines chewing on the now quite leathery flesh scorched and dried by the intense sun. It is likely with the bounty of the migration he killed the Wildebeest himself; it could have been sick or injured. The old male Lions often become quite resourceful. Scar exudes power, majesty and dominance, being in his presence is a privilege. He has a difficult task ahead now he is old fighting off young rivals, but his brothers are loyal to him and they know his power is still a force to be reckoned with.
His brother Morani is across the plains ensuring the blood line of this powerful coalition continues, making sure their genes is passed to the next generation is very important. He is mating with one of the pride Lionesses. She is one of the matriarch females in the pride, a successful dominant hunter. She will lead the other females when it is time to hunt; a flick of her ear is enough to signal a complex hunting strategy. She is in oestrus and keen to mate, she knows Morani is a strong dominant male, this is important to her as she will want strong cubs. She also knows that bearing his cubs ensures his and his brothers protection of her pride from nomadic males who would kill her offspring. Lionesses are fearsome mothers; they will fight even stronger larger males to protect their cubs. She yawns widely; teeth bared and long pink tongue poking out. She cats stretches and casually licks her leg. It is time, Morani follows her lead, he knows to obey his Lioness. She walks away from him and he dutifully follows. Crouching low to the ground Morani mounds her and growls deeply as he thrusts for seconds. She snarls and bares her teeth the entire time, it is a grimace of duty, she will bear him an heir. He bites her neck, and she snarls back. He ejaculates and quickly leaps back but he is not quick enough this time to avoid her claws swiping his face. It feels like the clash of the titans, the mating of Lions is so adrenaline fuelled, ferocious and confrontational. He warily looks at her as she slumps to the ground, legs akimbo to encourage the flow of the sperm. He sighs heavily, he has done his duty and is no longer required for the next fifteen minutes or so he sits near her and rests his mighty head of his paws and rests, he must be ready for her.
The rest of the Rekero pride are with Wildebeest kill by the stinky crossing, so called named due to the stench of rotten eggs which emanates from natural gases. The stagnant water is rank and pungent, slimy and green from Hippo faeces that lurk in the water rotting away. The stench though is not deterring the Lions from ripping and tearing at the carcass, hungrily devouring the still warm flesh. They circle the kill, each eager to have their pound of flesh. They growl and snarl at each other, swiping with sharp claws if a sibling encroaches. It is a cliche but when it comes to food it really is survival of the fittest. The young male Lions try to exert their authority, but their mothers are still larger and more powerful than them. The Lionesses protect the younger cubs trying to eat as they could get harmed or even killed by older siblings, the rivalry is palatable. The scene is incredible, so much testosterone and raw energy. The Lions growl, snarl, bite and chase each other, a close position to the carcass is coveted. The head of the Wildebeest lolls to the side; eyes blank in death and tongue limply hanging from the mouth. For the very young cubs the carcass is more of a playground, an opportunity to practice their hunting skills, their play with the lifeless tail and jump on the torn skull, all whilst trying to avoid their older siblings. They have to learn no fear at a young age. A lone Hippo leaves the water and casually surveys the carnage, its large pink and grey body awkward and slow out of the water. It is not perturbed by the scene and so casually ambles off to graze on the grass as the sunsets. A large herd of Zebra graze nearby, their black and white stripes in stunning contrast to the deep red sunset lit long grasses swaying around them.
Suddenly the sky darkens, the wind starts to blow, and the scent of rain fills the air. A crack of lightning streaks across the grey thunderous sky. The rain falls heavily, thick and fast flooding the plains in minutes. The Wildebeest bow their heads to the onslaught of the heavily droplets. They huddle together for protection; they look resigned as they turn their backs as sheets of rain lash them. The rains are sudden and brutal and often without warning. Almost as quickly as it started it is over, the setting sun streaks through the battle grey and purple sky. The sky darkens as night falls, the heavy clouds mask the bright constellations, but the moon shines bright between the clouds. It will light the plains for the prey and predator alike. The night belongs to the wild. Hyenas cackle and screech as they follow the Lion prides hoping they will hunt so they can scavenge from them. The Lions roar gathering the pride, the deep throaty sound is the beating heart of the African plains, strong, powerful, deep and mesmerising.
The six Enkoyanai pride subadult male Lions around three years old have already been kicked out by Lolparpit and Olbornotti. They are playful in the warm golden light of the sunrise. The sun lights the red oat topped grasses that sway in the soft warm morning breeze. The young males practice stalking and hunting each other. The bond between the males is beautiful, a real bromance. Two are on a Wildebeest kill but four decide to cross double cross over the grey stones that are exposed in the low river. Once crossed they start stalking a herd of Buffalo with young. They separate as they cross the river and crouch their bodies low as they assess the possibility of hunting. They crouch low in the grass in formation ready to hunt. Their muscular shoulders are hunched forward, and their heads held low and forward. Their manes are light blonde mohicans around their scarless faces. They look healthy, already proficient hunters in their own right. One of the males is clearly the alpha, like the legendary scar he has just one good eye, but he exudes the raw dominance, power and authority. He leads the four brothers in the stealth attack formation. The herd of Buffalo are blissfully unaware of the impending attack. White Egrets casually sit of the backs of the black Buffalos, a perfect contrast in the dawn light.
On approaching Nyoka (meaning snake area) we unusually find a female Cheetah in the bushes looking out across the plains. Cheetahs tend to spend their time out in the open as they have many threats, and they like to have a full view around them. She may have cubs hidden in the thick undergrowth. She seems skittish and shy. She is not keen to be seen so she heads deeper into the undergrowth. A herd of Topi watch her progress, their burnished bodies gleaming in the early morning light. Their hind legs have a darker hue; they comically look like they are wearing jeans hence they are affectionately known as blue jeans. In the Kaboso area a herd of Elephants are casually grazing, they tear off large fronds of leaves from the trees. A large male is peaceful but watchful. However, a matriarch alights from the bushes and trumpets; she has young calves so are protective of her young. The area is still very marshy from months of rain and Waterbuck and Impala enjoy standing knee deep in the water. They graze on the long moist grasses; it is peaceful in the dapping light.
The beautiful Leopard Bahati appears on the banks of the river near double cross, she is a confident, powerful female. She is looking fervently down the banks as this is also the territory of the Rekero pride of Lions. Big cats are competition for each other so will kill each other to eliminate the threat. Bahati has a young cub of just three weeks old in the den in the rocks across the river and has left it so she can hunt. She is anxious now to return to her cub and remove it from the threat of Lions. The river is wide, but the water is low, large grey rocks jut out creating a perfect platform for a crossing point. Bahati assesses the risk and the most strategic route and descends the bank of the river, the sand and grass are loose, but she navigates the steep incline. Down on the rocks her green sharp eyes assess the flow of the river and she starts leaping from rock to rock. She is muscular and powerful, but she jumps with grace and agility. The river flows between the shiny grey rocks as she leaps over them keen not to get wet. On the bank on the other side, she starts grunting her call to her cub letting it know she is not far. She is still very wary and looks into the bushes for possible threats.
Bahati does not walk straight to her cub but a circuitous route. As she approaches, she gently calls and the tiny three-week-old cub gingerly comes out of the den in the rocks. It squeaks it’s greeting to its mother and she bends down and licks it. The bond between mother and cub is heart-warming. The cub suckles for a while before Bahati decides their location is not safe and so she takes the cub by the scruff of its neck and carries it in her mouth. The cub dangles from her mouth, its blue eyes trusting knowing it is safe and its mother would kill to protect it. Bahati walks through the bushes and takes her precious load to a more secure hiding place. Not far we see one of the Lions and Lionesses of the Rekero pride asleep under a bush; Bahati is now however safely far enough away from them.
Across the plains in the Rongai area the streamlined, athletic Cheetah Nashipai is crossing the plains with her two three-month-old cubs. The cubs are playful and run eagerly around her wanting to play. She is a good mother and joins in the game of hunting and chasing. The cubs back still have the ridge of downy fur that keeps them camouflaged. The downy long fur is believed to make them look like fierce honey badgers whilst they are too young to defend themselves. Nashipai is hungry, her belly is thin, she needs to hunt. There is a herd of Wildebeest across the plains, but she cannot bring down am adult by herself, so she looks for young Wildebeest to hunt. It is midday and the sun is hot, so she walks with her cubs to a nearby termite mound. The cubs eagerly climb on it with her and immediately go into the bush for shade. Nashipai stands on the edge to give her a good view of the plains, she needs to hunt. The two cubs come out again and start suckling whilst she stands and views the hunting opportunities, she barely acknowledges them feeding, she needs to eat herself in order to sustain them all. Cheetahs are successful hunters; her bronze eyes are alert, outlined by a black line running down to her nose to deflect the sun. Her spots are like fingerprints, as unique and distinctive as her. She really is a beautiful Cheetah.
Nashipai is determined to hunt even in the heat of the day and she must keep her cubs close. They walk through the tall green and red grasses, the young cubs not visible as they follow their mother. A large termite mound is ahead of her, a perfect advantage point in order to view the game. She ascends with her cubs closely behind her; the plains are teaming with Zebra and Wildebeest, but these are too large for her to hunt by herself she needs smaller prey such as young Impala or Thompson Gazelle. The cubs look hot and tired; they snuggle down next to their mum on top of the mound, their soft fur blending into hers. She looks affectionately down at them and them up at her and they lick each other’s faces in a beautiful bonding moment. As they sleep, she keeps watch for hunting opportunities.
The Topi pride are sleeping in the soft dusk light, the orange glow lighting their fur. Their bellies are full of an earlier Wildebeest kill so they are basking in the warmth. One sub adult male roll onto his back his legs akimbo and exposes his rotund belly. He sighs deeply sated and contented. The rest of the pride lay with limbs tangled together, a tight family bond. Across the plains as the thunder and lightning roll in the four sub adult males of the Enkoyanai pride are feeling frisky and playful. They frolic and chase each other in mock hunting mode. They crouch low in the grass and ambush each other pulling each other down. Even with the rain falling they enjoy this brother bonding time. However, when the rain drops become fierce, they hunker down together to keep warm. Their small mohican manes quickly becomes flattened by the deluge.
The dawn breaks clear and bright after the heavy rainfall of the night before. The sky is clear as the sun bursts through the horizon a perfect sphere of orange burning light. The air is clean and crisp and filled with the scent of moist earth and wild herbs. A lone Lioness walks slowly through the long-wet grasses, the sun reflects off of the red and green blades as they sway in the soft breeze. Her bronzed fur is almost camouflaged as the grasses brush past her body. She seems in hunting mode, but she may just be looking for her pride. Further ahead we find Short Tail one of the dominant males of the Rongai pride. He is an impressive dominant Male with a dark bronze mane and a long regal face. He exudes power and dominance although at present he is struggling to drag a part eaten Wildebeest through the long grasses. We pant heavily even though it is still dawn and quite cool. He clamps his strong jaws around the carcass, drags it a few feet and stops. He is distracted by two Lionesses ahead of him; he has mating on his mind. His golden eyes are watchful.
One of the Lionesses walks towards Short tail and crouches before him in a flirtatious manner, he drops the kill in hope she is in oestrous and will mate with him. He slowly and cautiously approaches her but she quickly sides steps him and runs towards the kill and starts eating. She had food on her mind! He looks most perturbed but does not give up, he heads to the grass where she was, crouches to pick up her scent by flehmen to see if she will be receptive to mating. He draws the scent to the back of his mouth and his lips draw back over his teeth in a crude grimace. He decides she is not so heads to the other female, she too refuses his advances. He is disappointed but not put off, he sits close to her. She is hesitant so ascends a large termite mound behind him; he looks up at her satisfied she had not gone far.
Large herds of Zebra, Wildebeest and Buffalo graze on the open plains, the grasses are long and fertile. The mothers keep a watchful eye out for predators there are dozens of new born in the herds. They keep the young in the middle of the herd surrounded by the fierce matriarchs. This however will not deter hungry Lionesses who are skilled hunters; they know how to separate the herd. Three of the Marsh Lionesses are down by the main Mara river crossing and they have successfully hunted and killed a female Wildebeest. They sit in the long grasses sated, their muscles covered in blood and their bellies turgid from the soft flesh. The rest of the Wildebeest scattered after the hunt except for the young calf of the killed Wildebeest. The young calf forlornly walks through the long grasses looking for its mother. One of the Lionesses spots it and stalks low through the grass; this is just a game of cat and mouse. The Lioness pounces and clamps her strong jaw around its neck suffocating it. Unfortunately, the Lioness seems to be playful and does not kill it; she lets it struggle so she can bat it down again. The young Wildebeest eyes are wild with fear, but the Lioness finally puts it out of its misery and suffocates it. She lifts the small body out of the grass, the calves’ body lifelessly and limply hangs from her mouth.
Wildebeest carcasses litter the Mara River, bloated from the water after drowning. The crossings are so frantic and fraught with danger that many get trampled in the crossing. Crocodiles lie like stones on the banks of the river; they are sated from hunting Wildebeest as they cross. The Crocodiles can be satisfied for six months after eating a Wildebeest; they wait for the great migration to feed well. When the Wildebeest cross the river in their droves the Crocodiles silently slink in, opening their large jaws and grabbing an unsuspecting Wildebeest, the Crocodiles cannot chew so they twist as they break their prey. It is a bloodbath as the Crocodiles gouge on this feast. Often Lions will go down to the river and pull out a freshly drowned Wildebeest, it is an easy meal.
This is feast season for the big cats, the prey although well fed, fast and agile are great sport for them. For cats it is the thrill of the hunt, the chase and then the kill. Although when there is an easy meal on offer, they will take it. Two of the Marsh Lionesses alight upon a Topi giving birth; it cannot run but succumbs to the jaws of the huntresses. As the Lionesses devour the Topi, its guts spilling to the ground the unborn baby lays eyes closed next to its mother, it would not have witnessed its mother’s demise. Nature is beautiful, awe inspiring, dramatic, kind but also brutal. The Lionesses too have cubs to feed and as they sit with blood-soaked faces, they are thinking of taking the kill back to their pride.
Lolpapit (meaning long hair) is languishing by the bushes in the Mara Toto plains. He is the second oldest Lion in the Mara after scar. He is very distinctive with his dark bronze and black long mane; he also has an elongated face and black rimmed golden eyes. He is supposed to be babysitting the cubs, but he would sooner sleep, the cubs are playful and annoy him. Instead, the role falls to a sub adult male of around two years old; he is very patient with his six-month year-old siblings. It is dusk and the air is cooler, so they want to play. The leap on him, rubbing their faces affectionately next to his. He rolls around in the grass playing with them, gently batting them with his great paws. They start playing stalking and chasing, they leap boxing each other. The sub adult male leaps on one of the siblings and mock mates his young female sibling, showing how important it is for the young males to leave the pride when they reach sexual maturity otherwise, they will mate with their sisters weakening the genes of the pride.
Close to the pride is a large herd of Wildebeest, Topi and Zebra, these will be hunted by the Lionesses when the sun goes down. Lionesses mainly rely on ambush hunting, the element of surprise. This may cause a threat to the den of young Hyaenas in the nearby bushes. The female is closely guarding her young pups, they are plain brown and very fluffy, they stand at the opening of the den watchful with liquid brown doe eyes. Like most mothers she is fiercely protective and is aware of the threat of Lions, she coaxes them back into the den.
The sunset radiates rays of warm red light across the savannah; it sets alight the deep burnished strawberry blonde coats of the Lions. The Enkoyanai pride is awake, it is time to hunt as the light dims and the air cools. They stretch their muscles and yawn mouths wide showing off their impressive sharp canines. They are fierce hunters, organised and efficient. The dominant Lioness will lead the hunt, just a flick of her ear indicating how she wants her Lionesses in hunting formation around her. For now, they are in mock hunting mode even the Lionesses, they join the cubs for a game of stalk and chase. Of all of the big cats the Lions have the closest bond hence why they live in prides. The wind picks up; the air smells like rain, thunder cracks through the heavily clouded stormy sky. The rain falls in heavy droplets bouncing off the dry earth, the lightning storm cracks through the sky. The electricity in the air is heady and exciting. The storm will not put off the Lions from hunting, their roars pierce the sound of the storm, the raw energy is palatable.
After the heavy rains of the night the savannah glistens in the morning sunrise, dew hangs like diamonds off of each of blade of grass. In the dawn light the grasses sway reflecting golden red light, the peace is only broken by the call of birds flying overhead. Hyaenas run through the tall grasses, whooping and calling, they are keen to scavenge from carcasses of kills the Lions have made in the night. Two nocturnal Bat Eared Foxes with ears like radars and dark watchful eyes stop to survey the plains for threats before running to the den inside a termite mound. Up in a tree a Battler Eagle with its impressive black plumage scans the earth for rodents to hunt, its crown of feathers on its head ruffles in the wind. The savannah is alive with nocturnal animals returning to their homes to rest for the day and diurnal animals warming their bodies for the day’s activities. The savannah night or day is vibrant, alive and ready for action.
The Enkoyanai pride has had a successful night of hunting, their bellies are turgid with meat and their muscles covered in tell-tale signs of blood. An unsuspecting Wildebeest fell prey to their hunting formation in the darkest hours before the dawn. They will find shade in the bushes and sleep most of the day, sated and contented. However, their plan is foiled by a herd of Elephants grazing in their territory. There is generally little drama between Lions and Elephants, but this herd has a young calf, and the matriarch is fiercely protective. She flaps her ears and trumpets a warning call to the Lions not to come too close. The Lions look unperturbed as they are satisfied and are not interested in the calf. They take a diverted route through the bushes to avoid a conflict with the Elephants. Once safely past the cubs take the opportunity to play, they ambush each other, pulling down their siblings into the grass and chewing tails and ears. Others attack bushes and chew off sticks to play with. The cubs are delighted with their toys and run around with sticks in their mouths. Soon they tire and it is time for sleeping, the whole pride enters the bushes and sleep together, limbs tangled, heads resting on backs, safe in the knowledge together they are safe and strong.
The rivers are deep after the heavy rainfall and sends up tidal waves when driven through. Buffalos, Pumba and Hyaena all enjoy a good mud bath as the sun begins to heat the plains. On the edge of the river a Malachite Kingfisher with brilliant blue and red plumage sits balancing on a blade of grass hanging over the water. It sits watching for any small fish to dive after, they are adept fishermen. When it catches it fish it proceeds to slam the fish on its perch to kill it then swallows it whole. They are such small delicate birds with a soft peep sound when calling.
The Kaboso area is teaming with wildlife, known as a Billa Shaka, an area certain for its great herds of prey. A troupe of Baboons sits peacefully in the short grasses, their beady eyes and nimble fingers adept at foraging for small insects and seeds. A mother is sat with her young baby; it is small, wiry and pure black with large pink ears. Two of her older children are peacefully grooming her, picking through her long dense fur for salt particles and fleas to eat. The young baby wants her attention so plays between her legs as she sits akimbo. The young baby falls sideways but the mother gently picks it up and comforts it. Baboons are superb at bonding they can spend hours grooming and being affectionate with each other.
Then the tell-tale chuffing sound can be heard in the Kaboso forest, the Queen herself is active. Kaboso the female Leopard whose territory this is has a young cub of around two and a half months old. She is calling it to follow her, up to now she had kept it hidden but it is time it learns how to navigate the world around it. She is a small but muscular Leopard with seemingly no fear, she is unperturbed by our presence. She confidently strides out of the bushes into the open, this is her domain. The cub however is shy and nervous and although she calls to it it refuses to follow her out into the open. She walks back into the bushes to coax it out, she needs it to be confident and brave and fend for itself one day. She comes back out and calls again and this time is follows her, it is tiny with downy fur and sapphire blue eyes, it is skittish and runs low to the ground, unfortunately it is spooked and heads back to the bushes. Kaboso is patient and returns back to the bushes to groom it to calm it down but she is determined it will learn to be brave, so she insists it follows her out. Once again, she alights into the sun and this time the cub walks gingerly next to her, keeping very close to its strong, protective, dominant mother. Across the glade they disappear once more into the safety of the undergrowth.
The Wildebeest are gathering again for a large crossing, the sound of honking and braying fills the air as they communicate with each other. Often seen as quite ugly, stupid Gnu they really should be admired and respected as every year they migrate hundreds of miles from the plains of the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara. This is feast time for the big cats and two cats who are very interested in this particular herd are Malaika’s last male cubs. After the famous female Cheetah Malaika drowned whilst crossing the Mara River last year she left two two-year-old male cubs to defend for themselves. They were barely old enough to fend for themselves but as a coalition they beat the odds and soon learnt to hunt for themselves. At three years old they still look young, but they are clearly successful as they are fit and healthy. They have a tight bond and lay in the grasses grooming each other affectionately. They want to hunt so they stretch their long athletic limbs, yawn and start walking stealthily through the grasses. A large herd of Buffalo are grazing behind them, but they are watchful but unperturbed by their presence as they pose no threat. The Cheetah stop by a gnarly twisted Ballanite tree and spend time marking their territory by spraying urine on the trunk they sniff it to ensure that it contains their message that they were here and seeing if any other cats have marked it. One lies down next to the tree whilst the other sprays and gets accidentally covered in urine! It quickly stands shaking it off.
They climb a nearby termite mound to get a good view of the plains and the herds of prey. As a coalition of just two they need to hunt smaller prey or young of larger prey. The great herd of Wildebeest have many young so perfect hunting opportunities. They stand on top of the mound together, shoulder to shoulder, they are in unison. One then sits down and the other then beside it and they start to groom each other licking each other’s faces. The sun is incredibly hot now and they pant heavily, they need to rest before they head to hunt as a high-speed chase expends a lot of energy. Each hunt is carefully thought through; Cheetahs have a good success rate. For now, they return to the shade of the tree and lay close.
Every safari is unique, eventful and completely remarkable. There are never two moments the same. So, seeing an old, tired Hippo sitting in a small pool of water out in the open plains would by itself seem tame but not when sitting right next to it is three Lionesses from the Marsh pride! At first glance the boulder of grey lying on its side looks like a rock but when the eyes flick opens the shape of a Hippo forms. Maybe it is sick, maybe it is injured, and the Lions are waiting for it to die to eat it. However, the Hippo gets up and gently moves around quietly assessing the situation. It has no injuries but decides sitting back in the shallow pool of water next to the Lions is a good idea. The Lionesses are panting heavily on the rocks in the hot sun; they are clearly well fed and seem unbothered by the Hippo. It seems like an unnatural truce. When the Hippo gets up again and moves slowly towards the Lionesses they swiftly move and just let it walk past and out onto the open plains. They really are not that bothered by its presence but instead focus their attention on a family of Pumbas.
The two Cheetah brothers are in luck, the large herd of Wildebeest and Zebra have migrated to near where they are languishing on a termite mound. The mound has a small bush on top which is enough to camouflage them. The herd graze peacefully and are blissfully unaware of the threat of predators in their mist. Three Wildebeest even sit down on the grass happily resting after their long walk. One of the Cheetahs sits up and surveys the scene; there are even young Wildebeest in the herd which is good hunting fodder for the two brothers. The Cheetahs take their time assessing the hunting opportunity. Then one shoots forward running at top speed, weaving with great agility between the herds. His brother lags behind and is not focused. The first Cheetah also fails to pinpoint its target and fails to pull down any of the herd. It was an easy opportunity lost and they look quite crestfallen. The reality is they are still quite young and are learning. Great hunting skills come with age and experience. They return to the termite mound to reassess their strategy as the herd moves a safe distance away.
Enkoyanai pride is sat out on the open plains at sunset, their bronze fur glistening in the deep red glow of the sun. They have been sleeping all day in the shade of the bushes, so it is time to warm their muscles ready for a night of hunting action. Their golden eyes blink in the sunlight, they still look sleepy. They yawn widely exposing their sharp teeth and barbed tongue, their tools to tackle the leathery hides of their prey. The young cubs are becoming energised from the sun and start to play. Everything is so new and exciting for these young cubs. As the wind gently blows leaves and twigs, they chase them practicing their hunting skills. Their older siblings become their targets they want them to play, they are boisterous and demanding as they chew their ears and chase their tails. After some coaxing the older cubs join in the fun, they will be too young to join the hunting party later so this is their time to be active and hone their skills for when they are old enough. The Lionesses look indulgently on, they are proud of the next generation. Their focus then turns to the plains, it is their duty and role to feed the pride, so they assess for hunting opportunities. Their golden eyes are focused on the task ahead. They stretch and yawn and lick the dirt off of their fur. They are ready for action. The sun sets on pride life, but for the cats the night has just begun.
Olbornotti sits majestically on the open plains; his bronze mane deepening into black across his shoulders gently ruffles in the wind. The sun rises behind him, the deep reds and oranges of the suns fiery glow set alight his mane, shooting through golden light. He is resplendent and magnificent in the morning light. There is a peace about him; he is alone in the dawn, as if he is quietly reflecting. He is strong and self-assured; this is his land and as he looks around him you can see he is very much aware of it. He yawns, his jaws opening wide to reveal sharp canines and a raspy pink tongue. He is a mighty male but still just a cat; he bends his head and slowly licks his paws and rubs them over his face to wash the dust off of him. He rises to his feet and cat stretches before heading down to the river. As he walks along the tracks the prey around him eyes him cautiously, his gait is slow but strong and self-assured. At the river he bends his head to lap up large quantities of water before agilely jumping from rock to rock to reach his pride on the other side.
One of the Enkoyanai pride Lionesses is hiding in the long grasses, the long golden grass sways around her, the sunlight dappling through camouflaging her. Her golden eyes are sharp and alert, she is a powerful huntress. For in front of her a herd of Wildebeest is galloping and braying in a long line heading to the river to cross. Her eyes are wide in anticipation and excitement and her jaw open salivating at the thought of Wildebeest. She can be seen by the Wildebeest, but she seems strangely relaxed and not really serious about hunting. A short time before a clan of Hyaenas was hunting the same herd and managed to catch one of the young Wildebeest. Hyaenas are excellent hunters in their own right; they have extremely powerful jaws for crunching bones and are strong and fast. However, it transpires one of the other Lionesses from the pride has taken the kill from the Hyaenas.
The Lioness sits up as the herd has past, she is too full to hunt, her stomach is turgid with meat. She casually trots through the long grasses to join the other Lioness and a sub adult cub; they are protectively guarding the stolen Wildebeest kill by some bushes. She eagerly joins them, and they affectionately rub heads in greeting. They are all well fed but will take any opportunity to obtain more food. The Hyaena want their kill back, they whoop and laugh their maniacal macabre sounds, they are most indignant at having their food stolen after working hard to hunt it. The Lionesses are unperturbed but get annoyed when the Hyaena get to close, one of the Lionesses chases them away. The Lionesses do not want to eat but jealousy guard the food. The sub adult cub sees this as a great time to play and uses the dead Wildebeest calf as a toy, it pretends it is still alive and tries to wrestle with it and strangle it again. It is both macabre and amusing. When it gets bored with playing with the kill it starts to pounce on its mother pretending, she is a Wildebeest to hunt.
Nature is cruel and kind, death is just a part of life. Out on the open plains we find a female Giraffe pacing around with Hyaena watching her closely. It is an unusual scene Giraffe are not Hyaenas prey, however in the long grasses is the reason for her distress her young calf has died and the Hyaenas want to eat it. She is mourning her baby and keeps bending down to sniff it checking on it. It is like she cannot accept it is dead, it is clearly newly born. Another Giraffe alights from the bushes, it is a male possibly the father, it too bends to sniff the baby and then touch heads with the female. More Giraffes from the herd alight from the bushes, all coming to mourn the death. As she walks to greet them the Hyaena try and drag the baby away, but the safari of Giraffe walks towards them to drive them away. In turn each Giraffe bends to sniff the baby. The tower of Giraffe surrounds the baby protecting it from the Hyaenas. Finally, the Giraffe have to concede and move away, the Hyaenas eye them cautiously then move in to eat.
Conversely a young Giraffe sits out on the plains, its eyes fringed with long lashes, face content in the knowledge its mother and other sibling are right next to it protecting it and a tower of Giraffes stands nearby. The mother bends to sniff the top of its babies’ head and it looks up at her basking in her love and protection. Giraffes are such quiet peaceful animals; they are naturally curious and enjoy just standing observing what is going on around them. They stand with their necks bent looking around; they seem quite affectionate with each other, often rubbing neck together. They are the gardeners of the Mara; they create the umbrella shapes of the Ballanite trees by grazing underneath them. Everything seems slow but deliberate with Giraffes; they take life at a slow relaxed pace.
An animal that does not move at a slow pace is the gregarious comical Pumba. It is no wonder this ugly beautiful pig is so loved, from its long tusks to bristly mohican of hair it is an unusual animal. Known as the safari express it can always be seen running away through the long grasses its tail high and rigid so it’s young can follow. It is no wonder it’s seems paranoid and skittish it is the top prey for all of the predators. Today however two boisterous males are distracted, which is never a good idea in the wild! They are well matched stocky dominant males postulating out in the open savannah. They use their large tusks to dig at the ground pulling up large clumps of plants, grass and earth which often gets stuck on their tusks! They are trying to prove who is the strongest and most dominant without causing physical harm to each other.
In the late afternoon when it cools, the six sub adult males that have now been ejected from the Enkoyanai pride decide it is time to alight from the bushes and warm their bodies in the sun before their nightly hunt. They are brothers and cousins and will in the next couple of years be a force to be reckoned with when they form a coalition and look to take over a pride. It is interesting seeing them all sit together as even though they are the same size with strong muscular bodies they clearly have different levels of testosterone which will determine their ranking in the coalition and hence mating and feeding rights. One of the males will clearly be the alpha he already has an impressive mane whereas others are still sporting mohicans or with one barely tufts of a mane. The females are always attracted to a large mane as they want to mate with the Lion with the highest levels of testosterone, for the Lionesses it is always about procreation, this is the males use for them. The young males are enjoying time bonding; they rub heads together and sleep close, limbs tangled. It is likely they will now spend the rest of their lives together, fighting and defending their own territory.
As the sun sets over the escarpment it casts far reaching rays of deep red light across the plains giving the last heat of the day. The animals bask in its warm glow knowing the night will be cold and alive with activity. This is the time the predators become active and prey ever watchful. As the sun gives way to the light of the moon and the stars light the sky a male Leopard can be heard fighting with Baboons in the long grasses. The Leopard does not tolerate Baboons in its territory as it is the only animal that can steal its kill from the trees. The night belongs to the wild, the laugh of the Hyaenas, the roar of the Lions as they gather their pride together to hunt and the honking of Hippo in the river in unison with the croaking frogs. The air is thick with anticipation.
The air is cool in the pre-dawn, clouds tumble across the blue grey sky. The grasses of the vast plains sway like waves, the vibrant greens and reds are shot through with light as the sun rises. The great herds of Wildebeest, Zebra and Gazelle are silhouetted against the orange sky. The prey starts to stretch their cold muscles by pronking and prancing. The Wildebeest honk to each other finding out if any of their family group is missing. Topi stand like sentries on termite mounds looking out for predators, the herds know to stay together, there is safety in numbers. Hyaenas snap at their heels, they are looking for any easy breakfast. Jackal actively hunt out the Lions in hope they have made a kill in the night or are about to, Jackals are nimble scavengers. The plains are teaming with activity.
A large herd of Wildebeest are heading down to the Mara River to cross; they walk in a long orderly line. They are still watchful for predators lurking in the bushes and so they should. For the Lionesses of the Enkoyanai pride although well fed will not miss an opportunity to hunt, they are hunched down, stalking, waiting to ambush. It is all about perfect timing, strength and speed. The herd is walking slowly past, tired and weak after their long migration. The Lioness spots her opportunity to ambush and shoots forward, her eyes focused on an unsuspecting tired Wildebeest. She leaps up to clamp her strong jaws around its neck; the Wildebeests eyes are wide with fear. It struggles to break free, but the Lioness has too tight a hold. The Lioness is up on her back legs using her weight to drag down the Wildebeest. Finally, it collapses under her weight and she keeps her jaws clamped around its neck. The Wildebeest stares up at the sky, head back, limbs kicking as its struggles for breath. Finally, it stops struggling. Incongruously three stunning black and red Ground Hornbill graze right next to this struggle clearly used to the drama. The Lioness releases her killer grip and the Wildebeest jerks up and tries to escape but the Lioness is aware of this trick of playing dead and quickly clamps her jaw over its nose and mouth to suffocate it. The other Lioness joins her and holds down the body. The fight leaves the Wildebeest, and it succumbs to the inevitable, death. The Lionesses are jubilant they start to mock wrestle with the Wildebeest as if it was still alive; it is a little macabre but cats like the thrill of the chase. They are not hungry, their bellies are full, so they start play fighting with each other they are so happy with the bounty of food the great migration brings. The whole drama unfolded in front of a tower of six Giraffe, from start to finish they stood just yards back watching quietly as the whole hunt, chase and kill unfolded. They stood quietly, long eye lash eyes blinking, taking it all in in quiet contemplation and curiosity.
Down at the main crossing the rest of the pride languishes in the bushes sated from their recent kills. Of course, being cats they will not pass up the opportunity to hunt again. The immigration is at its height, hundreds of thousands of Wildebeest congregate on the banks of the Mara River. Intermingled with them are Zebra and Topi, they are looking to cross the crocodile infected waters. A small herd of Zebra come down to the river to drink, they are ever watchful of crocodiles lurking under the water looking for an opportunity to snap at them and pull them under. After quickly drinking they retreat up the banks. The Wildebeest assess the waters are safe and start to descend; once a few become brave the whole herd follows. The scene is frantic, hooves kick up dust as they thunder down the banks of the river. The air is choked with dust and sweat and the smell of fear and panic. The Wildebeest launch themselves down the banks and into the river and swim for their lives. There is panic and confusion; some are drowned in the fight to cross safely, some break their legs as they scramble to find footings on the slippery rocks and a few unfortunate Wildebeest misjudge their leap off of the banks and crash rolling down into the river to be swept away. It is an exhilarating but somewhat tragic sight.
A pod of Hippos gathers to watch the Wildebeest descend and Crocodile stealthily swim between them silent but deadly. The crossing abruptly stops as the Wildebeest fear the waters. They turn back confused and scared. The Wildebeest who have safely made it to the other side honk to the ones left behind to join them. For a few moments there is just the tension as they decide whether to cross. A brave Wildebeest wanting to join its family heads down the bank and launches itself into the murky crocodile infected waters. In a flash the rest quickly follow, the water cascades as diving Wildebeest create small tidal waves as they launch themselves off of the banks. The energy mixed with raw fear is palatable. The Hippo wallow watching this incredible action.
Kaboso is a successful hunter; she has dragged an Impala up a tree safely away from Lions and scavengers. She ambushed it in the middle of the day when the Lions were sleeping, and the Impala were grazing close to the bushes in her territory. She is small but muscular and able to drag an animal her body weight up a tree clamped in her powerful jaws. The kill will last her several days. As the sun sets, she alights from the bushes with her cub but chuffs to it to go back to the den. She agilely ascends the tree barely touching the trunk with her claws as she makes her way to dinner. Balancing easily along the thick branches she reaches the carcass and drags it along so she can reach the head. The Impalas head lolls back its eyes blank in death and its tongue hangs grotesquely out of the side of its mouth. Kaboso start to gnaw at its face, you can hear the crunching of bones. At one point when she is eating its mouth it looks like she is giving it the kiss of life which is very ironic. Nothing will be wasted of the kill she will eat all of it except its fur which after she is sated will dry out in the sun as a macabre reminder of the animal it once was. Her face is slick with blood and bodily juices as she descends the tree; she is gracefully as she literally glides down the trunk and enters the bushes to re-join her cub for the night. Lions roar as the sun sets and Kaboso carefully hides her precious cub.
The early dawn is the beautiful transition time between nocturnal animals returning to their resting places and the diurnal animals waking to start their day’s activities. The grasses are moist with dew and sway in the breeze, the greens and reds catch the early dawn light. High stepping through the long grass is a beautiful Serval cat; she looks like a small leopard but with long limbs and large ears which she uses to detect the sound of rodents and reptiles scurrying through the grasses. Her beautiful eyes are alert and sharp she also has many threats especially from the big cats. She has more reasons to be watchful this morning, she has two sub adult cubs with her; they are extremely playful like kittens. As their mother hunts, they enjoy a game of chase. Every moving branch and leaf become a toy to pounce on and play with. They leap, pounce and jump on each other. It is like watching domestic cats; they do not have a care in the world as their mother protects them, ever watchful. She stops to watch them; she looks like the Egyptian goddess Baset, sleek, noble and streamlined. As the sun rises lighting up their golden spotted bodies, they head into the bushes to sleep for the day.
It is fortunate they do so as the fast five coalition of Cheetahs are heading through the plains looking to hunt. From the blood on their mussels, it looks like they had a kill but was no doubt chased off by a clan of Hyaenas. They look most indignant but also determined to eat. The plains are teaming with prey; large herds of Wildebeest are still heading to the river to cross. For five Cheetahs an adult Wildebeest would present little challenge. They stop on top of a termite mound to assess the hunting opportunities. Their amber eyes are alert as they scan the plains. In the distance a Wildebeest herd are approaching, the Cheetah eyes them greedily. But a sudden turn of events distracts them, a family of Eland are in the wrong place at the wrong time, they have two young calves. The Cheetah spots them and knows this is an easy kill. The Cheetah head off at high speed, their paws like car tyre treads enabling them to weave in and out the bushes and pursue the Eland. The Eland are large Gazelle and quick, but their calves are small and much slower and no match for five Cheetah who are hunting in formation. Four of the Cheetah leap forward, their lithe athletic bodies stretched forward as they pull down one of the calves. The fifth Cheetah pursues the other calf which is bleating with terror.
The four Cheetahs descend on the calf; its eyes are terrified as one of the Cheetahs clamps its jaws around its neck to suffocate it. It kicks it legs in a final attempt to break free. Unfortunately, the other three Cheetahs are impatient and want to feed and sadly rip into the calf eating it alive. It is a horrific scene, nature at its cruellest. The calves’ body is covered with the four Cheetahs, it succumbs time death probably more from fright than suffocation. The other calf has been caught by the fifth Cheetah who does mercifully suffocate it before it eats it. It keeps its jaws around its neck until it stops kicking and its head lolls back and its eyes go blank in death. It then rips open its soft body. The Eland parents stand by immobile in horror and disbelief at losing both of their calves. They are impotent, there is nothing they can do save them. This is nature, it is about survival. Cheetahs are on the endangered list their fight for survival will always have to be at the cost of another’s life.
It is a magnificent sightseeing thousands of Wildebeest and Zebra walking in a perfect line across the plains to the river. The sun beats down on their backs which glow like bronze in the glaring midday sun. The heat haze shimmers around them; it is a breath-taking sight. A lone Ballanite tree stands behind them, the image of the African savannah. The grasses are a blend of green and gold where the Wildebeest have grazed. They come to a small river crossing with shallow water and their hooves kick up dust then cascades of water. The Wildebeest gallop through the water their hooves occasionally slipping on the water smoothed rocks below. Across the other side they scurry up the banks trying to grip onto the tufts of grass, they slip on loose earth, but they have great determination. They turn and honk to the herd crossing, encouraging them to cross. They are fortunate here there are no crocodiles lurking below the surface of the water or predators lying in wait. They do however never let their guard down as they graze on the long grasses. Their eyes constantly scan the plains.
Hippos are lined up like grey boulders by the river, their bodies pink and grey crisscrossed with scratches from old fights look like a map of their lives. They are notoriously bad tempered, fighting over the pods for territory and mating rights. But now they enjoy some time of peace just basking. They occasionally yawn, their mammoth mouth wide showing off impressive teeth that could easily and probably have crushed a man. The young calves sit close to their mothers for protection, their main threat being crocodiles or invading male Hippos. A herd of Buffalo come down to the banks on the other side to drink in the heat of the day. They also have young with them which they protect between the herd. Prey is particularly vulnerable when they are drinking, when their heads are bent, they cannot see predators approaching. That is why the symbiosis which is the relationship between two dissimilar organisms is very common in the wild. Symbiosis is a close relationship between two species in which at least one species benefit. For the other species, the relationship may be positive, negative, or neutral. There are three basic types of symbiosis: mutualism, commensalism and parasitism. A lovely example of this is the White Egrets resting on the backs of the Buffalo. The Egrets will feed on the insects attracted to the smell of the Buffalo whilst alerting the Buffalo to potential threats. The contrast of the white soft feathers of the Egrets against the black leathery hides the Buffalo is quite stunning.
The Lippia Javanica is a beautiful bush with a strong heady herb scent, the Maasai use it to clear blocked noses. As you drive through it your senses are assaulted by the strong pungent but beautiful scent. A sounder of swine or Warthogs or Pumba (Swahili for stupid) as they affectionately known run past with small piglets. Predation is a big issue for them; they seem to be the meal of choice for most of the top predators. They are feeling the heat of the day and want to return to their burrow to rest in the cool of the earth out of the sun. Two mating Impala are not distracted by them; the heat of the day seems to just encourage their amorous activity. This graceful antelope with its long spiral horns and reddish-brown hair with white fur on the underside of its chin, inside ears and on its belly and lips, is a striking if ubiquitous sight on the plains. Even the Hyaenas are not distracted by this tempting food; it is so hot they are lazily bathing in small pool of muddy water. This snarling, cackling dangerous predator turns into a playful pup as it wallows in the cooling mud; it is so happy and relaxed to move.
It has not been long since Black rock pride dominant males kicked out the three sub adults’ males in the pride. These males are now around three years old and are reaching sexual maturity and would start mating with their siblings or mothers which would weaken the gene pool of the pride. They are also too boisterous with the younger siblings which the Lionesses will not tolerate. Having only known the protection of the pride, the next few months will be crucial for them as they will form their own coalition and have to hunt for themselves and fight for territory. They are handsome golden blonde males with almost fully formed manes and their faces are still beautifully unscarred from fighting or mating. However, in the heat of the late afternoon they are laying under the cover of the bushes, legs akimbo propped up on random branches. The bond between brothers and cousins in a pride is very tight; they will hunt, kill and fight together, always protecting each other through a lifetime of challenges in the wild. Occasionally they roll over, heads resting on backs and bums and legs and arms casually tossed across torsos. They sigh deeply, like a gentle roar whilst regulating their temperature. They pant heavily as they bellies are rotund and clearly recently filled.
Kaka one of the dominant pride males is on babysitting duty with the Fig pride in the bushes. When the Lionesses go hunting the rather lethargic male which can sleep up to twenty hours a day is often left to protect the cubs against other predators, scavengers and marauding nomadic male lions on the look out to take over a pride. It is quite a responsibility due the various threats but also due to the fact that when awake the cubs can be unruly, mischievous and quite unmanageable. Cubs also because of the threats and living in the wild must be savvy and confident from an early age. However, for the rest of the pride it means they have their paws full with trying to control them. The cubs are quite frisky after sleeping and want their father to wake and play with them. They are very much aware of their father’s temper and mighty roar, but they have no fear as they play with his tail, bite his ears and use his sleeping body as a fun slide. He gently growls a warning to let him sleep but it is to no avail they want to play. The cubs have the cutest squeak; their little roar is amusing as they even at this age jostle for dominance amongst their siblings. There will be no sleep for their father until the Lionesses return.
Across the plains the Enkoyanai Lionesses are out hunting Wildebeest. It is late afternoon close to sunset, the air is cooling, and the sky is darkening. The Lionesses are sisters, aunts and cousins, they will probably always stay together, the female bond is tight. They work as a team in all they do including giving birth around the same time, sucking each other’s cubs and hunting together. They constantly bond by licking and grooming each other and rubbing heads to share scent. When not hunting even as adults they will still play together, chasing and pouncing on each other. There is always a dominant female in the pride who leads the hunting partner. She uses her experience to teach the other Lionesses good hunting techniques. Lionesses hunt in a formation, the white spot on the back of her ear is used when flicked to indicate to the others when to move. When faced with a large herd of Wildebeest she will need to decide which prey to focus her attention on, she will need to stay focused.
It is the most stunning scene as the Enkoyanai pride Lionesses line up in formation by a lone Ballanite tree; the sky has turned a thunderous blue grey with thick clouds. They are silhouetted against the darkening sky. There is a crack of thunder but the Lions do not flinch, they are focused and determined. The streak of lightning rips across the sky lighting their golden fur and rain starts to heavily pelt down on them. They are still and unfazed by the turn in weather as it may serve them well as the prey dip their heads and turn their backs on the driving rain. They remain like statues waiting for the right time to strike. The plains start to become flooded; streams are created and the black mud is churned up. The atmosphere is electric with power and life and only serves to enhance this intense scene. The dark clouds move over the bright moon, this will be their light tonight. The Lionesses move disappearing into the dark night. The sounds of roars penetrate the darkness, it is time.
A lone male Lion walks slowly across the dewy plains at sunrise, the long grasses sway around him, the red oat tips topped with droplets of water. The air is still cool, and the only sound is the calling of the birds as they fly high from their nests. The suns burning red rays light the plains with a fiery intense glow, the Lions magnificent golden mane and coat gleam bright. His face however is coated in dirt and mud; he is dishevelled with an air of weariness about him. It appears he has been fighting with another male. Territorial fights are very frequent and quite brutal, whilst their impressive mane and muscular stature can be enough to see off a rival sometimes if the Lions are equally matched, they will have to fight. This is bloody and always leads to injuries which can lead to Lions demise. As yet we do not know the outcome of this fight or who he was fighting with, but the male Lions of the Mara are well known and know doubt we will find out. The Lion is tired and seeks shade and water as the sun rises, he must regain his strength. He is one of the dominant males of the famous Marsh pride so at least the Lionesses will hunt for him.
Further across the plains the Enkoyanai pride has hunted in the darkest hours before the dawn and killed another Wildebeest, this is very much feast time for them. Some of the young cubs are gnawing at the more tender pieces of flesh, whilst others are either playing with it or playing with their mothers. This is a good time for the Lionesses to be rearing young so they can grow strong before the herds leave and food becomes more challenging to hunt. There may also be times of hardship ahead of them, if they rains fall too heavily and prolonged hunting becomes difficult in the marshy plains and if they fail and do not come at all the prey die or migrate leaving nothing to hunt. The wild is breathtakingly stunning and free but also at the mercy of nature. The Lions know this so their merciless random excessive killings in feast time is understandable. Lions benefit from the strength of the pride to hunt and protect each other; their social and family structure is fascinating.
This is the time of the great migration and at most of the crossing points, areas of the Mara River that are accessible to cross, there are large herds of Wildebeest and Zebra ready to cross. The sound is intense, honking, braying and naying. Within these large herds are smaller family groups keen to stay together in the confusion. It really is the very definition of chaos theory. At the top of the grassy, dusty bank a group of hundreds of Wildebeest gather then all of a sudden it happens, it only takes one brave Wildebeest to make the leap and the rest will follow. They literally throw themselves with wild abandonment down the steep banks, limbs break, knees dislocate, and necks snap if they land badly. At the bottom they leap straight into the river, their bodies thrust forward as they swim and gallop through the torrent waters. Crocodiles lurk unseen under the water, some too sated to attack whilst others lay in wait. Hippos honk in their pods in the river, watching the crossing with rage at the intrusion. However, if they do see their enemy the Crocodile homing in on an unsuspecting Wildebeest they have been known to intervene. Crocodiles do however drag under three young Wildebeest, the Wildebeest frantically fight as they are being pulled under, their wild eyes in terror as they are clutched in the wide jaws of the Crocodiles. The Wildebeest body is twisted and broken by the Crocodile as it breaks it to eat almost whole. The murky water becomes stained with blood. The rest of the Wildebeest frantically divert and swim further down the river at the equal risk of being swept away and drowned. At the rivers edge the water cascades as more Wildebeest leap in to discover their fate.
There is always a large herd of Elephants grazing in the rich, moist, succulent Marsh area. Even in times of draught the Marsh will retain some moisture. The vegetation is rich in moisture, tall reeds and aquatic plants and is favourite food sources for Elephants, Buffalo and Water Buck. A mammoth matriarch Elephant stands with one of her calves to browse. She has one with twisted tusk under its trunk which is rather beautiful and clearly causes her no problems. She seems content even with a young calf grazing around her. She eyes us warily but is happy there is no threat and enjoys also this feast time whilst water and vegetation are bountiful. The plains next to the Marsh area are known as a Billa Shaka, which means no doubt. Because the plains are so rich in moisture and vegetation there is no doubt great herds of Elephants, Buffalo, Zebra, Giraffe, Topi, Warthog and even Baboons will be seen grazing here. There is also a wonderful feeling of peace and tranquillity most likely down to the water which brings calm. This is also the territory of the famous Marsh pride of Lions.
The herd of Elephants leave the marshland and march through the trees and down the steep muddy banks of the down to drink and bathe. Over twenty line up to drink, trunks raised as they prepare to suck up gallons of water. The protective mothers keep the calves if they are under a year-old underneath them or if older between the females. Then mother with a young calf and older calf come down the banks, the young calf slips but the mother kicks it up, there is no weakness allowed in the wild, it must learn to be strong. The young calf struggles with the descend, sliding comically, is seems to enjoy the experience. There are Hippos in the water which suddenly honk loudly as they approach the water’s edge, this spooks the mother. A large bull with large tusks joins them, he is not afraid of the Hippo so goes down to the water the mother and calves follow. Deeming it now safe the mother and calves cross the river, they half walk half swim as they reach the deepest part in the middle, the young calf however is inexperienced and goes completely under but it has to hold mothers’ tail and she safely guides it to the shallower water. On the other side they have a line of water across their bodies, half dark grey half light grey. The young calf struggles slipping and sliding up the bank. The other calf cannot get up the bank and the mother comes down to help it up with her trunk. It is a privilege watching the family life of wild animals especially the strong bond between mother and child.
Down at the main crossing area of the Mara River a herd of Zebra have navigated the steep dirt bank in order to drink in the intense heat of midday. These are a group of stallions, hot tempered and with a lot of energy. They jostle for a position at the water’s edge, a fight breaks out as they use their powerful bodies to knock the other out of place, the rivalry descends into kicking and biting of necks. They rear up and nay in anger; they are full of hormones and ready to mate so they take their frustrations out on each other. Young males fight with each other in practice of when they will fight with dominant males over mating rights. Even testosterone filled they are however still scared of the water; they know the dangers. A lone Crocodile comes in and looks to hunt but it just wants to sunbathe on the bank as it is sated and very large, it does rather amusingly spook the Zebra who are not as brave now they flee back up the bank to relative safety. Sadly, a dead Topi floats in the river; it may have been trampled on in the last frantic crossing and drowned. Even more tragically its calf stands on the bank bleating and looking for it in vain. The migration is a breath-taking pneumonia, but the death toll is very high.
Death is a part of life and all life has a meaning and a purpose. Always an interesting part of nature is two Zebras mating, not for the procreation but more for the hapless way some males fail to hit the mark as so to speak. The female is clearly receptive and the male clearly ready, but the male does not appear to be able to mount and connect, he keeps falling off! He is obviously a young stallion and inexperienced. The female carries on grazing as he keeps trying but after a while grows bored and wanders off leaving the male unfilled and frustrated. Nature does have a very amusing side, not a day goes by when you do not see an animal behaving in a comical manner or having a fail like all of us.
There is so much beauty and life in the wild. It is so easy to focus on the migration and hunting at this time of year and fail to appreciate all of the life. A beautiful Impala stands on the plains near her herd giving birth. She stands still absorbing the pain as she gives life to a small foul. After hours it slips from her covered in afterbirth. She looks round at the slimy pile on the ground and gently licks it until the foul shakes, its fur damp and gingerly stumbles up on spindly legs taking it first steps. Within minutes the calf is suckling eagerly from its mother, head butting her to encourage the flow of milk. The mother looks content and keeps sniffing the foul. When it has had its fill they walk together and join the rest of the herd. After plentiful rains the prey are enjoying grazing on the rich emerald grasses. Amongst the grasses you will see white tissue flowers, they are sweet to taste and a favourite of Baboons who will sit for hours picking and eating them.
The great Herds of Wildebeest migrate these thousands of miles to also graze on the moist new grasses, before they arrive the grasses grow metres tall but within days of them arriving the grass is eaten down low. A Lilac breasted roller with its stunning lilac and blue plumage sits on a low bush watching the herd. The herds attract a lot of insects who are drawn to the smell of faeces which in turn attracts the birds who will look to feed off of them. The wonderful symbiosis of the wildlife. The Maasai Mara is rich in bird life from the impressive Vultures, Martial Eagles, Fish Eagles and other raptures down to the small richly jewel coloured Kingfishers, Cinnamon chested bee eaters and Lilac breasted rollers. One of the most impressive raptures is the Tawny Eagle; it swoops down low over Pumba piglets scaring them. The large raptures will often swoop down to catch young babies in their powerful talons.
The most iconic, villainised birds of the Maasai Mara are the Vulture. One of the infamous ugly five, it is an ugly beautiful bird with plumage, talons and beaks as impressive as Eagles but its bold head and macabre hissing and cackling when devouring carcasses makes it less appealing. In flight the kettle of Vultures soars high on the vortex, its impressive wings outstretched, a staggering sight to behold. As a committee on the ground, you can appreciate the beautiful plumage and the way the white backed, ruppells and hooded Vultures organise themselves. But in a wake as in this case as they pick clean the carcass of a decaying Wildebeest you have to appreciate the macabre, the sinister and the way the Vultures are the invaluable cleaners of the plains, ensuring it remains free of rotting, stinking diseased carcasses. The Vultures bold head has a clear purpose so it can thrust its head into body cavities without getting flesh stuck in its feathers. It urinates down its legs as the acid cleans any diseased flesh stuck to it. So, they are clean birds and highly intelligent and organised so should be admired for their contribution to the ego system.
The late afternoon sees the Tano Bora or Fast Five male Cheetah coalition being followed by a Hyaena like its six member. It is most amusing they keep looking back at it but they cannot shake it off. The Hyaena is cunning and clever is knows they are hunting the great herd of Wildebeest ahead. The Hyaena wants to be ready to scavenge from them. The Cheetah walk steadily across the plains towards the herd, they are scanning for individuals that could be an easy target such as the lame, sick or old. They walk in formation ready to strike. The coalition has a dominant male who will lead the attack once they are within twenty feet or so. They need the wind in their favour, so the Wildebeest do not detect their scent and long grasses to camouflage their movement. Both are in their favour as they suddenly sprint forward, their lithe athletic bodies built for speed run towards their target. The herd suddenly see them, and they panic, the gnu start running in all directions, but the Cheetah are focused and pull down just one. The dominant male clamps it jaws around the terrified Wildebeests neck as the rest of the Cheetahs use their weight to pull it one. The Wildebeest legs buckle under him as he collapses to the ground, its eyes wild and staring. As it takes its last breath its legs stop kicking and its head lolls back. The Cheetah releases it as its body slumps to the ground. They pant heavily exhausted by the chase and kill, they regain their breath before they tear into the tough hide, devour the bloody soft flesh beneath. Cheetahs seem to feed together less aggressively than Lions; they form a circle around the Wildebeest and eat different parts from each other, so they all get their share. One animal not getting a share yet is the Hyaena, he laughs and cackles and stalks around them, its distinctive slopping gait iconic. Usually, Hyaena can chase Cheetah off of a kill but the odds are stacked against him.
The Queen Kaboso is sat on a small termite mound with the sun setting behind her. Her greeny blue eyes are stunning against her bronzed black rosette spotted fur. She is relaxed, this is her territory and although small in stature she more than makes up for it in confidence and strength. She has hunted earlier and dragged the kill up a nearby tree, her cub is safely stowed in a den close by so she can relax and enjoy the heat on her fur. That is not to say that if the opportunity arose, she would not hunt again. Every rustling in the bushes has her ears twitching. She has an expressive face, it is one of the reasons she is so loved, she is not elusive but playful, confident and defiant. Only earlier she chased off Hyaenas who wandered too close to her cub’s den. But for now, she is relaxed as she sits grooming herself, slow graceful licks of her paw before swiping it over her ears or face. Behind her Baboons scream in the tree tops no doubt fighting over food or mating. She is not bothered by them unless they come too close to her kill. She lays down, content as the suns final rays settle over her.
Pre-Dawn whilst it is still dark the Enkoyanai Lioness and two sub adult cubs hunt and bring down a Wildebeest. They are full so the cubs play with it, one tries to suffocate it by putting its mouth over its, but it takes a while, the Wildebeest kicks whilst the young cub plays with its legs. When it finally dies the cubs mock kills it again, rolling over the body, wrestling with it and biting its neck. They are not hungry, so the Wildebeest becomes more of a toy and target. The Wildebeest had a calf which has run off in fear across the plains, the Lioness looks to hunt it to but it runs off further before stopping to look forlornly back for its mother. The Lions have an adrenaline rush after hunting and start to play with each other, the younger cub attacks its mother like she is a Wildebeest, biting ears and throat and trying to bring her down. As the sun rises a stunning burst of orange and red light spreading across the horizon, it lights the Lions golden fur as they rip into the carcass. The older cub gnaws at the face, gauging out the eyes and chewing off the nose. It enjoys playing with the ears and chewing them. The Lioness rips open the abdomen, and the internal organs spew out. They pull out the stomach and tear it open, mounds of undigested grass tumble out and the Lions chew the lining.
The Lions faces are coated in blood and bodily fluids, as the bladder falls out of the body cavity it splits and the urine bursts out. The Lions put their faces inside of the body to gain access to the soft flesh inside; this is a large meal for three Lions. The Lioness scratches at the ground trying to cover the spilt blood with grass to hide the sign of carnage from Vultures soaring on the vortex overhead. When sated they Lions feel frisky and start chasing each other, jumping in the air and pulling each other down. They soon tire and collapse in the grass and affectionately and gently lick blood from each other’s faces. They have long pink barbed tongues, perfect for removing blood, guts and dirt from each other’s fur. Their faces are a picture of contentment and happiness. The bond between Lions is incredibly beautiful to watch, they really take care of each other.
The Wildebeest calf comes back looking for its mother, the Lioness jumps to her feet to stalk it. She is not hungry but for the Lions the thrill is in the hunt and chase. The calf sees the Lions and runs off once more. The Lions are fully satisfied but do not want to leave the Wildebeest for the scavengers, so the Lioness starts to drag it to the bushes. It uses it jaws to take a tight hold on the neck and drags it between its legs. The cubs see this as a fun game as they start stalking the dragged Wildebeest, the Lioness has to drop it as the cubs are pulling it away to play with. The Lioness is very patient and indulgent with her cubs; she knows play is an important part of their development in hunting and strength skills. As the sunrise warms them, they settle in the long golden red oat topped grasses to rest.
They are not the only big cat taking advantage of the early dawn to hunt unsuspecting prey; Kaboso has also hunted and killed a young Wildebeest. She is dragging it along the banks of the Talek River, the river burbles over the jutting grey stones next to her. She wants to take the kill to her young cub, but it is heavy and there are hungry Baboons about who would love to steal her kill and worse her cub. As she gets close, she hides the kill in some bushes and walks up the bank into the sunlight; she blinks her beautiful green blue eyes and focuses on returning to her cub to protect it. She is such a strong, beautiful Leopard, her black and bronze rosette’s the perfect camouflage in the dense undergrowth. She pants in exhaustion from the hunt and kill but she is focused on her cub. In a nearby Fig tree a troupe of Baboons wildly swing through the branches making them shake, Kaboso views them with caution and slinks soundlessly into the bushes.
Lions, Leopards and Cheetah are sadly all on the endangered list now. None more so than the Cheetah with only 7,000 left in the wild. In the Maasai Mara the Cheetah seem to be thriving by forming strong coalitions. Before only brothers would stay together but due to the constant threat from Lions, Leopards and Hyaenas stealing their kills they have started forming coalitions of cousins and even strangers. They know there is strength in numbers and together they can hunt larger prey and fight off threats. Two of the Tano Bora Cheetahs have crossed the river to the Olarorok area leaving the other three behind. One of the three males is following a female who rejects his advances as she is not in oestrus. This male catches up with the two that crossed the river and is greeted with jealousy as he broke away to find a female. One of the males fight with him, the fight is over within minutes it involves hissing, screaming and jumping around each. Then unsurprisingly that lay on the ground together resting on each other under the shade of a beautiful lone Ballanite tree, all is forgiven.
A herd of Wildebeest walk directly past the Cheetahs where they are resting under the tree, the expectation would be for the Cheetahs to become alert and chase the Wildebeest, but they seem lethargic and in need of rest. Cheetahs expend a lot of energy hunting so need to be sure of the conditions and odds. Sometimes they need time to recharge before hunting again. A herd of reddish-brown Topi watch them with keen interest; Topi have very keen eyesight and snort a warning call that there are predators in the vicinity. Many of the prey of the Maasai Mara have a mutual symbiotic relationship. They rely on each other to keep alert and make a call if they see a threat. It could be that the Cheetahs are waiting to be reunited as they are stronger as a coalition and can bring down larger prey, for all afternoon they observe with only a passing interest varying prey that graze within hunting distance. When night falls they will walk a far distance.
Bahati the beautiful female Leopard is using her strong jaw to drag a recently killed Wildebeest kill into bushes. It is not a fully grown Wildebeest, but it will suffice her for at least three days if it is not stolen by scavengers. When she is settled in the centre of the bushes for cover you can hear her crunching the bones. Leopards are fascinating panthera pardus; their ancestors have been roaming East Africa for over three million years. They are solitary cats except when they are mating or have cubs and communicate with a hoarse sound like a wood saw cutting through wood or a chuffing noise. Their stunning coveted coats are bronze with white bellies and covered in distinctive black rosettes. Even though they are predominantly ambush hunters they can run up to thirty-five miles an hour. Rather impressively they can also leap up to six metres forward, something often seen when crossing rivers from stone to stone as they do not like getting wet! Bahati has the Rekero area as her territory which she marks by scratching trees, leaving urine scent marks and faeces. As the sun sets casting a deep red glow on the bright orange leaves of the croton bush, she is still content devouring her meal. Later she will regurgitate some for her hidden cub.
Lolpapit the male Lion is walking slowly through the short grasses, mown by the herds of Wildebeest. He is old now; his body had lost muscle tone and he is bony is wizened with age. He had large soulful, black rimmed golden eyes that look weary from battle. However, he still retains his famous long black and bronze mane which spills down his back and across his shoulders. He shakes the dew from it, and it stands on edge a perfect quiff at the front. It makes him look majestic again, the king he humbly and proudly with is. The sun rises behind him a perfect metaphor for a king for it signals another glorious day of his reign. His fur is on fire, gleaming red in the sunlight. Lions are the very image of majesty and the very image of Africa itself. He roars, whose land is it anyway, it is mine, it is mine! He is seeking the rest of his pride. For unfortunately Lolpapit has been injured he was fighting with Blackie 2 over territory. His back left leg is badly strained and he is limping. That is why he is calling and trying to get back to the pride. He keenly marks his territory as he walks, stopping at every bush spraying urine. Hyaenas watch him go, they can sense his weakness and vulnerability and a large clan could easily attack him. Fortunately, they assess their chances and decide to leave him alone.
The fight must have only just happened before dawn as Blackie 2 is walking in the opposite direction just a few hundred yards away. He is a younger fitter Lion and came away uninjured. He will seek out the Lionesses to mate with if they accept him. This is the harsh reality for Lions when they become old, they need to constantly fight off younger fitter males to keep their prides and territory. Lolpapit has a stronger brother Olbornotti who will defend and fight with him but when they are apart Lolpapit is vulnerable. It is clear by his age and physical wellbeing the sun will soon set on his time as king. This will leave Olbornotti vulnerable as most Lions now rule as coalitions; he will not be able to defend his territories by himself.
Pride life does bring much pleasure, joy and security. Lions have the strength of the pride behind them. The sky is crystal clear, no clouds in sight just a stunning canvass of azure blue. The plains in contrast are a rich carpet of emerald grasses. The Enkoyanai pride are well fed, happy, content and playful! Two lioness and sub adult male cub are enjoying the beautiful morning by indulging in a rugby match. They chase, tackle and fly up into the air and bring each other down. The two Lionesses are evenly matched; they are large and muscular and run towards each other, as they nearly reach each other they leap into the air arms outstretched to bring the other down. The tussle in the dirt, a friendly wrestle as part of their bonding. The sub adult joins in wrestling and being thoroughly battered down. The prey grazing around them looks on nervously but the Lions are not hunting. They run over termite mounds and hide behind boulders to ambush each other. They are full of exuberance and energy; the happiness and love are palpable. In times of great food supplies the Lions can just be cats and indulge in play.
Across the Talek River one of the Rokero Lioness has a Wildebeest kill, the stench of the carcass is disguised by the intoxicating scent of Croton bushes. She has eaten her fill which her rotund belly and heavy panting attests to. On the bank’s huge herds of Wildebeest, Zebra and Topi are ready to cross the Talek River there is a mass of brown bodies wanting to cross together for safety. As far as the eye can see across the plain’s huge herds of Wildebeest, Zebra, Topi and Eland are grazing together there is safety in numbers. There is also a large mating impala herd being watched over by a dominant male jealously guarding them from the bachelor herd. Banded mongoose scurry to their burrows afraid of Eagles who would easily pick them off. They are fortunate this time as two Fish Eagle have already hunted and are eating fish on a rock by the river. The Maasai Mara never disappoints as this is the true wild, the drama, the excitement and fight for life never ends.
When you think it has given all it can it just gives you more. Two lone Lionesses are walking along the banks of the river, it is just after midday, so the sun is intense and beating down on them. They are fully feed and satisfied and are just in search of water and shade to rest from the unrelenting intensity of the sun. But then they are distracted they can see a small herd of Wildebeest across the banks, the river is low and an easy and safe place for the Wildebeest to cross. The Lions are intelligent and can see can easy kill. They slowly descend the banks of the river, the dry beige earth the perfect camouflage. One sits on a ledge behind a small green bush, hiding in plain sight, still and patient. For over an hour the Lionesses crouch in the dirt, watchful, patient. The Wildebeest eventually arrive on the other bank, they too are hot and tired and in need of water. They know the threats waiting for them in the water and cautiously descend the banks. At the bottom they peer into the water, they are looking for tell-tale movement. They are so focused on the water they do not even lift their heads to look at the banks on the other side. The water is very shallow and narrow, so they bend their heads to drink quickly. Easily spooked they then leap across the water onto the banks on the other side. Their hooves kick up great clouds of dust and dirt and there is the stench of fear and confusion. When almost half have crossed unseeing the Lionesses waiting patiently to strike, the Lioness launches her attack, she leaps forward, shoulders stretched powerful and muscular and clamps her jaws on an adult male Wildebeest, his eyes are wide in alarm and terror. She is a dominant female, an experienced hunter; he is no match for her. He struggles and kicks but the more he does so the more she clamps her jaw tight around his neck mercifully suffocating him. She anchors her weight to drag him down. He lies prone in the dirt still kicking impotently. The light fades in his eyes and his head lolls back. The Lioness is exhausted from the ambush and struggle and pants heavily.
Whilst the Lioness is strangling the Wildebeest the rest of the herd beats a hasty retreat past, the other Lionesses at the top just looks on she is tired and not keen to hunt in the heat. The Wildebeest are terrified they don’t stop running until they are far from the Lions. It is a scene of chaos; the air is thick with sweat, blood and dust. The Lioness eventually releases the Wildebeest and as its lifeless body falls to the ground she discards it! She is not hungry she just wanted the thrill of the hunt. She goes down to the water’s edge to sate her thirst then picks her way slowly along the bank to find shade and rest. The other Lionesses gets up slowly and yawns and casually descends the bank. She looks down as the dead male Wildebeest, sniffs it then walks to his back end and chews off his penis. It is as grotesque as it is fascinating. You can see her pulling at it, chewing and swallowing. Rather tragically that is all she eats, she gets up, stretches and walks down to the river to drink. After lapping up the stagnant warm water she gazes down to the river where her sister is and joins her. The Wildebeest lies like it is asleep, still almost perfectly intact. This is the wild, unpredictable but all death has a meaning. This Wildebeest is part of the eco system, the food chain, it will be feasted upon my Hyaena, Jackal and finally Vultures, nothing will be wasted. This is the extraordinary story, from death comes life. One life ends to provide life to another; the wild draws you in so you can experience nature at its most powerful, beautiful and life defining.