A roar comes from within a thicket, the leaves are dense shielding its occupants but there is no mistaking the sound. A Lioness has taken herself away from her pride to give birth, protecting her offspring against over exuberant siblings and competition between cubs for limited milk, she must protect her own. Her den has been compromised; a group of sub adult Lions from her pride have stumbled upon her hiding place and her hormones and primal urge to protect her cubs rouses her. She leaps out of the bush snarling and roaring, the sub adult’s leap back alarmed, they did not know she was there. They may be her offspring also but she is nursing younger cubs and nothing comes between a mother and her new born babies. She stands her ground, her teeth exposed in a grimace, the sub adults back down immediately they know not to approach her, they make a hasty retreat. The Lioness is fierce, muscular and strong, but she is also a mother. She hears the small meows of her cubs and her face relaxes and she turns back to the thicket. Three tiny faces appear, cubs of around just two weeks old, their eyes are still shut and they are stumbling around looking for the warmth of their mother. She bends to nuzzle and lick them, reassuring them of her presence. She lays down encouraging them to come to her with low grunts; they smell for her milk and blindly scramble onto her stomach, kneading her belly to encourage the flow of milk. Each clamps their mouth on a nipple meowing contentedly. The Lioness relaxes and closes her eyes; this is her purpose, her meaning in life to produce heirs for the pride, to ensure the survival of Africa’s greatest cat.
The African sun beats down intensely on the vast plains, the savannah stretches for miles in every direction, untamed, wild and free. The conditions are harsh but this is one of the last strongholds for endangered wild animals. Over millions of years the animals have had to evolve and adapt to the climate changes and therefore hunting conditions. The perfect example of this is the Tano Bora or Fast Five coalition of Cheetahs who arrived in these plains four years ago. It was initially thought they were brothers as only Cheetah brothers stay together but genetics extracted from faeces showed only two are brothers the other three joined them to form a powerful coalition. Alone or in pairs they can only hunt small prey but as a coalition they can hunt larger prey expanding their diet and their chances of a kill. They are as a coalition also formidable; scavengers have less chance of stealing their kills. They may not be brothers but they bond like them, when walking or sat down together they are constantly rubbing faces and grooming each other. They hunt in unison, supporting each other, more like Lions than Cheetahs. But that is evolution, the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions for survival. With less than seven thousand Cheetahs left in the wild, this development will certainly increase the chances of survival of the world’s fastest cat.
The Cheetahs are in formation, their bronzed black spotted bodies sleek and lithe as they walk silently through the grasses. The sun beats down relentlessly but their black kohl rimmed eyes running down to their nose deflects the suns glare. They have spotted a herd of Impala and Topi in the distance, the prey has their back to them and they are down wind increasing their chances of not being detected. The herd has their head bent grazing but with their peripheral vision they still scan the plains for threats. The Topi look up, maybe they have caught the scent of the Cheetah, they have excellent eyesight so are the sentries of the plains. The Cheetah stop and stay very still they do not want to be detected, the Topi cannot see them so they bend again to graze. The conditions are good and the Cheetah slowly approach the herd, they take their time, even though they can run long distances at speed it is very hot and they will not want to waste energy. The hunt looks good, they are nearly within sprinting distance of the prey; they know they must get it right as both the Topi and Impala are also fast sprinters and can jump. The Cheetahs hunch their shoulders low but then there is a high pitched screech! Two Crown Cranes have flown down onto the plains and spotted them, giving away their location, they scream dramatically at them alerting the herd who look up and spot the Cheetah. The herd bolt, they know how fast the Cheetahs are and want to be far away from them.
The Cheetahs sit up, their faces are almost a picture of disbelief, they were ousted by Crown Crane! The Crane may have a nest nearby as they are relentless in their screeching, they want the Cheetah away from this area. The Cheetahs gaze over nonplussed at the Cranes and casually walk off. There will be more hunting opportunities for them it is only midday. Of course the two Hyaenas following them also hope they will make a kill, they hang back observing the Cheetahs behaviour, it is unlikely they will be able to steal a kill from them but they will certainly be able to scavenge the carcass. The Cheetahs continue their steady walk over the plains occasionally stopping to scan and detect where the prey may be. It is not their afternoon though as they stumble upon a large muscular Fig Tree pride alpha Lioness, she is most angry to see them in her hunting territory. She growls and gives chase, she may be one against their five but she could easily kill or maim any one of them. They know better than to confront her and run far out of her reach, they are considerably faster than her, they are built for speed she is built for strength.
The big cats fight over territory and hunting rights, the Cheetahs are the most successful hunters out of all big cats but are also the smallest so often get their kills stolen. They have to hunt wisely away from other predators and scavengers. The Cheetahs arrive at a beautiful Olive tree with a twisted gnarly trunk and start to sniff it then turn around to scent mark it. Cheetah scent marking involves spraying urine and defecating on trees and bushes. This is often undertaken by males competing for the best hunting grounds. Scent is one of the main communication outlets among cheetahs. They spend much of their time smelling and depositing their own scent on previously marked places by other cats. They particularly like termite mounds and trees stumps which are also useful lookout points and act almost correspondingly to a status update of who is or has been in the area, an important postal point for receiving and leaving olfactory information. The unique chemical signature of cheetah scent marking indicates to competitors that a particular area is already occupied, and hopefully intimidates them. Scent marking is the main means of communication among cheetahs, which will spend time searching for and identifying unknown scents and depositing their own. After scent marking the tree they try and climb the tree like a Leopard but as they have non retractable claws like a dog they fail to grip the trunk and fall down! They want to use the tree as a look out point but decide a termite mound will be a better and easier option.
When hungry, a cat will catch anything however small and the Cheetahs are now ravenous. The leader of the coalition is an actually the smallest but also the fastest, he spots a Scrub Hare under a bush and darts forward and ensnares it in its vast jaws. The Hare kicks wildly but the Cheetah crushes its windpipe and it hangs limply from its mouth. The other Cheetahs chase him, they want him to share as they usually would but this kill is too small it will not even satisfy him. He runs away from them and settles on a small mound to devour the hare. It tears at the soft fur spitting out clumps of hair distastefully, it wants to gorge on the soft flesh beneath. Blood oozes out as he bites into the flesh, his mouth become covered in thick red blood. He devours every morsel, crunching on soft bones, the other Cheetahs come over to him but there is only blood left on the grass and clumps of discarded fur. They lick the grass tasting the blood, this makes them hungrier. They spot a herd of Hartebeest and Wildebeest but there is no cover to hunt. They find the shade of a Shepard tree and wait in the shade until the afternoon cools down and they can hunt again.
At sunset three four year old sub adult male Lions of the Moniko pride are walking across the plains. They are nomadic and looking to take over a pride. They have glorious golden manes not yet darkened by age, pink noses indicating their youth and unscarred faces as yet from mating or fighting. They are a vision of youthful strength, confidence and virility. As they walk they rub up again each other bonding. This time as nomads after they leave their pride is so important, this is the time they will hunt together, fight together and groom each other, forming an unbreakable bond for when they will fight together to take over a pride from other male coalitions. After all the male Lions purpose is to be a pride leader, siring cubs ensuring his genetics are passed down. The whole anatomy of a male Lion is designed to protect. His frame is strong and muscular, his mane thick to protect his face when fighting and intimidating other males. The more testosterone he has the larger his mane is which attracts the females to mate with him. It is almost poetic as they walk towards the sunset together, the red light setting fire to their golden manes; it is quite a vision, the iconic image of the African plains. These mighty cats roaming free as they have done for millennia. In the distance Lions roar it is time to call the pride to hunt.
Pre-dawn the air is crisp and cool and filled with the scent of wild sage and croton. The prey stretch their cold muscles as the sun rises over the escarpment. The golden light spreads across the plains warming everything it touches. The bronze fur of the Topi is on fire in the red light, they anticipate the arrival of the hunters and pronk and prance like ponies showing off their prowess and strength. They have many young with them and encourage them to run next to them, flight is their only option when faced with the strength and speed of the big cats. The Enkoyanai pride is sat out on the plains, the large Wildebeest herds are migrating back to the Serengeti so food is not so plentiful. They are looking to hunt; the alpha female stands and starts roaring, calling the rest of pride to gather to hunt. She stands strong; her muscular shoulders hunched forward, neck stretched as she roars. The sub adults are alert ready to follow her lead. One of the young sub adult males has one bent ear, it makes him look very vulnerable, but his golden eyes are alert as he follows his mother. Lions represent the strength and very beating heart of the Maasai Mara. The pride is strong and the family bond very apparent as the cubs nuzzle each other.
Across the plains the Tano Bora Cheetahs have still not made a kill and they are very hungry. The smaller male leads the boys across the plains; he is the fastest of them all and leads the hunt. They arrive at a Ballanite tree and sniff it eagerly to detect what other cat have already scent marked it. They lift their long tails as they spray the tree with urine to mark their territory, often accidentally spraying each other, the smell of ammonia is strong. They pound the ground with their feet as they urinate. The earth is very dry and they roll around on their backs to rid themselves of mites that irritate them. The boys are incredibly affectionate with each other, rubbing their heads together and licking each other’s faces. They know they are stronger as a coalition and bonding is an important part of success. Tired but focused on food they walk in a line looking for hunting opportunities. A pair of Topi stands like sentries on termite mounds; they have not seen the approaching Cheetah yet but are constantly on their guard. The Cheetahs see their opportunity and crouch low in the grass to assess their chances of making a successful kill. Cheetahs expend a huge amount of energy in the chase and as they are already very hungry they need to be confident they get it right. What is not helping their chances is a lone Hyaenas stalking them, waiting to steal their kill.
Fortune favours the strong and with the Topi sentries looking in the opposite direction the Cheetah see an easy target, a Topi foul stood apart from its mother, vulnerable and slower than the adults. The Cheetahs sprint, their lithe bodies stretching forward, aerodynamic and streamlined. The Topi pick up their scent but it is too late, the adults can run fast but the baby panics and cannot get away quick enough. All five pounce on it, taking it down in a strangle hold; the baby loses consciousness fortunately quickly. The Cheetah knowing the Hyaenas is close behind start to rip into the tender flesh straight away, between five Cheetahs this will be a small snack until they can make a larger kill. You cannot see the Topi the Cheetahs bodies are completely covering it, as they glance up looking for threats you can see the blood running down their mussels. There is no fighting over food with these cats they formed the coalition to be a strong and work together. Within no time the Topi is completely devoured, as the Cheetahs walk away all remains is blood stained grass and some fur. The Hyaenas quickly meanders over, it’s lopping gait comical, it licks the spilt blood up and scavenges for small morsels of flesh. It will carry on following the Cheetah as it knows they will hunt again after a short rest under a Ballanite tree.
Two of the Lookout prides Lionesses are relaxing on the grass in the early morning sun after a long night of hunting; the sun warms their dew covered reddish blonde fur. A herd of Elephants are browsing behind them; they are not at all concerned as they are not their prey. The Lionesses are sated and very relaxed; they roll over showing their rotund bellies covered in flies. One of the Lionesses stretches her cold tired muscles, yawns and gets up. She starts huffing; she clearly has cubs hidden in a den. She walks slowly ensuring no other predators are watching her and fetches her three small two month cubs from the bushes; she calls to them as she nears to let them know it is safe to come out. They meow back so happy to hear her, it is a beautiful sound. They jump all over her, licking her face and playing with her tail. Now they know they are safe they chase each other, they are confident and playful. The Lioness takes them back to the other Lioness but she is less than pleased to see them, she was enjoying relaxing and bonding with her sister but the cubs are boisterous and demanding. The Lionesses groom each other and the cubs join in but the Lioness growls at them as if she wants her sister’s attention to herself. The cubs are happy to jump all over the Lionesses, they are not bothered about how bad tempered she is.
Osidai (meaning beautiful one) is a large male Leopard whose territory is the Ashnil area. The male Leopards are very muscular and almost twice as large as the females but are not beautiful like their female counterparts. I think his name is ironic as his face is very scratched and scarred from fighting and mating, one of his ears is mangled and he has an air of general disarray. He is lying by the Laga looking for Lorian one of the female Leopards to mate with. She recently lost a cub and he knows she will come back into oestrus. The males are more elusive than the females, apart from mating they very much hide themselves in the trees and bushes where they ambush hunt. He will have competition from other territorial males for Lorians attention; she will choose the strongest to mate with as she will want her cubs to have good genes. The females have to rear young and teach them survival skills so seem to be more confident out in the open.
Maridadi (meaning handsome) majestically stands on a termite mound surveying his domain. He has a dark bronze full mane tapering down over his shoulders, thick and black. He gets up and strides towards the Hammercop Lionesses with cubs but stops a little way away looking nervous. He scent marks the bushes indicating to other males this is his pride and territory. One of the Lionesses comes to greet him but smacks him on the face she does not want him near the cubs, the Lionesses are very protective of their cubs and do not want his attentions. He looks alarmed and beats a hasty retreat and heavily lies down on the grass and gives a growling resigned sigh. The cubs are not however shy and run to play with their father, this large ferocious predator holds any fear for them. He flehmen to make sure they are his, males will only accept their own offspring. The cubs try and play with him but he growls at them, they find this amusing and try and clamber on his back and mane. He tries again to growl at them but they are used to his bad temper and carry on playing. He sighs again and resigns himself to their rambunctious behaviour and leans his chin on his mighty paw.
The plains are still green where the Wildebeest did not reach and are the perfect foraging and grazing grounds for the rest of the wildlife. Troupes of Baboons are siting peacefully eating white tissue flowers that only grow after it has rained. Their nimble fingers gently pluck the delicate flowers and they pop them in their mouths. Baboons have very good eyesight and they work quickly and diligently. Young sit next to their mothers watching them, learning what is good to eat. They follow by example and gently pick a flower too, examine it and chew it. Baboons are quite argumentative so it is good seeing them so at peace. Other family groups sit back to front grooming each other, combing through each other’s hair looking for ticks and salty skin flakes to eat. This grooming is good bonding time; it forges close relationships and hierarchies. The youngsters begin to play chasing each other through the tall grasses, screeching and jumping on each other, they are safe in the knowledge their mothers are close by. The troupe are surrounded by the giants of the Mara, a large herd of Elephants passes by led by the dominant matriarch off to find water whilst Giraffe silently graze on nearby bushes, they quietly watch the Elephants pass.
The African sunsets really are a breath-taking sight to witness especially when there is light cloud cover. The thin white clouds are wispy and light and streaked through with vibrant rays of red, purple and orange. As the sun sets the colours intensify to deeper hues. Under this intensely mesmerising sky is sat Luluka one of the young female Leopards, she has hidden her remaining cub in the bushes and his relaxing by the river. Her beautiful green gold eyes survey the plains, she is content in the knowledge her cub is safe. She yawns, it is time to rest, she sticks out her pink tongue and bares her teeth, it is exhausting bringing up a cub alone. The deep colours of the sun rays fall on her bronze and black coat making it look burnished and bright. She enjoys the intensity of the heat and rolls onto her side and starts grooming. She slowly licks her mighty paw and swipes it across her face to wash off the dust and dirt of the day. She licks again and rubs it over her ears and across her nose, such normal cat behaviour but even more fascinating when watching a large predator do it. Soon she will return to the bush where her cub is stowed, for today she hunted and is quite content. The clouds disperse and a billion stars appear of the deep midnight blue sky to light her way.
At dawn the air is cool and heavy with the scent of wild sage and croton, thunderous grey clouds spread across the sky and are shot through with deep red light. The grasses are a field of gold, red and green. There was rain in the night so as the grasses sway they glisten in the morning light. Overhead birds call as they leave their nests and Baboons howl as they descend from their nests in the trees. The plains become alive as the sun rises over the horizon. The Wildebeest and Topi stretch and warm their muscle pronking and prancing, they prove their prowess and strength to each other and the predators. A herd of stallion bachelor Zebra jostle and mock fight, competing against each other. The landscape is breath-taking, the plains spread out for hundreds of miles. Crown Crane perch of the dead branches of a skeleton tree; it is a stark contrast to the luscious green trees by the Laga. The Laga is abundant with papyrus grass and water lilies. Four Southern Ground Hornbill, parents and two young stamp the ground to find insects to feed on. Soft white and grey mist gently rolls over the plains.
Maridadi and a female from the Hammerkop pride are out on the open plains in the beautiful golden sunrise, the deep reds light their bronze fur. They are mating away from the pride, Maridadi is alert and keen but the Lioness is not keen to mate. He sits close to her, every time she moves he watches her carefully. She growls at him telling him she is not ready and lies down to sleep. He looks forlorn but accepting it is her decision when to mate. He rests his powerful head on his mighty paws sighs deeply like the rumble of a storm and rests. He keeps her close, his golden eyes occasionally opening to watch her. Finally she gets up and yawns, her pink tongue thrusted out between her sharp canines. Maridadi gets up too stretches his muscular body in a deep cat stretch and yawns giving a deep rumbling roar. She inexplicably runs from him making him chase her. She is teasing him and collapses back into the grass, not yet ready. He sighs, used to the female’s erratic behaviour and lays quietly next to her. Finally she is ready again and runs off, he looks perturbed but runs after her. She crouches down in front of him and growls, he mounts her biting her neck. The copulation is over in seconds, she swipes her sharp claws at him and he jumps back to avoid her rage. She rolls over to aid the flow of the semen and ignores him. There is no affection between Lions when they mate; it is about survival of the pride. They mate for a few seconds every fifteen minutes for days until she is satisfied she is impregnated.
Where there is plenty of love and affection is between a big cat and her cub. Luluka brings her cub out of the ravine and proudly holds it in her mouth and carries it across the plains. The small Leopard cub is around two months old now and growing fast, its sapphire blue eyes timidly view the vast open plains as it dangles in its mother’s mouth. The bond and love is very visible as the female Leopard gently holds the neck of her cub in her sharp strong jaws. The baby is heavy and she occasionally places it down. The baby meows it wants to be held by its mother where it feels safe, the plains are still fraught with danger for it. Luluka eyes are large round and green, she is conscious of the threats, the Lions are not far away. The cub’s body gently sways as she walks; it is so big now it almost touches the ground as she walks with it hanging from her mouth. She is strong and will protect this cub with her life. She reaches another ravine and places the cub over the edge of the bank, she jumps down and gently picks it up again as she navigates the steep bank. At the bottom the water gently flows and she jumps the narrow river with the cub safely in her mouth. She climbs the other side and finds a dense bush to hide her precious baby in. She settles the cub and comes out onto the bank to rest, it was a long walk. However the cub is not tired it wants to sit with its mother. The cub warily alights from the bush and nuzzles into its mother, its large sapphire eyes scanning the plains, it is a vast world and it needs its mother’s protection. She gently licks it but it is nervous and scuttles into the bush again. Luluka follows it to nurse it.
Back at the skeleton tree the Crown Crane have flown off and incongruously an Egyptian Geese and a Heron sit side by side on the bare branches. Below the water is green with algae, the surface is occasionally broken by insects and amphibians. Out of the waters grow succulent papyrus grasses and water lilies, their pads and beautiful white and yellow flowers cover the surface. It is a real oasis for the birds of the Mara. The Crown Cranes stalk through the short grasses next to the water looking for insects to feed on and seeds and berries. A brown Cuckoo swoops in its long colourful tail feathers like streamers behind. It settles on a low bush and starts singing a lyrical melody.
The Topi are lying in the grass relaxing; their stunning deep reddish brown bodies perfectly blended against the red oat topped green grasses. Fortunately for them the eighteen strong Fig Tree pride are sleeping peacefully in the nearby croton bushes, they have had a night of hunting and are relaxing in a heap, limbs tangled together, and heads resting on bellies and bottoms and legs akimbo. The early morning is growing warm and they need the shade and the insecticide properties of the croton leaves to protect them. A herd of Elephants march past heading for water. The young calves walk next to their mothers for protection. The matriarch trumpets, she can smell water from thirty miles away, the knowledge of the best water holes is passed down through the generations. A tower of Giraffe with young blinks their long lashed eyes in the sunlight quietly observing the other wildlife around them.
Posei plains (place of no trees in Maasai) are a Billa Shaka (no doubt), it is teaming with herds of Zebra, Wildebeest, Topi and Warthog so it is no wonder it is popular with the big cats. It sits next to the Talek River which provides much needed water for the prey and predators alike. The Moniko sub adult males have made a Zebra kill in the night, the whole of the abdomen has been picked clean exposing the ribs, the stomach lays discarded on the grass for the scavengers. Yellow hipposcide flies sit on the mussels of the Lions cleaning the blood from their fur. The Lions have full rotund bellies, turgid from their feast. They pant heavily trying to regulate their temperature, the morning is growing hot. The flesh of the Zebra is becoming rancid and leathery in the heat of the sun, the head has empty sockets, it is macabre but fascinating. Two of the males head off to the bushes but one stays to jealousy guard the food from the scavengers. He is only around four years old; his mane is still dark blonde yet to turn black. His nose is pink with youth and face mainly unscarred. It will not be long before these young males have their own pride.
Bahati the beautiful female Leopard of the Rekero area has successfully raised two cubs, she is a proficient mother but also an excellent hunter. She has killed an adult Impala and dragged it up a tree for her and her cubs to feed on. The Impalas body is strewn across several thin branches, its head and limbs dangling lifelessly down. The Impala weighs more than her but she is built for strength. She has eaten most of the body but she pushes her head inside the body cavity to chew on the sinew. The air is heavily scented with wild sage masking the smell of the carcass. One of her cubs joins her, it is around three months old and even though it is still suckling it has also started to eat meat. It gingerly tears at small pieces of meat and chews, it balances well across the branches. The Impala only has one horn; where the other was is just a bloody hole, it must have been knocked off when she dragged it up the tree. When she finishes eating she calls the other cub which is surprisingly right at the top of a nearby tree. It meows back at her and carefully navigates the extremely high vertical trunk of the tree. The fearlessness of the young cubs is staggering. Bahati encourages her cubs to be fearless and independent from a young age. When it reaches the ground the cub runs eagerly to its mother to suckle from her.
Early afternoon the clouds cover the sky cooling the plains. Naibor (meaning the white one) the dominant Lioness of the Enkoyanai pride is looking to hunt, with scarce food now she has to work hard. Five of the sub adults follow her out of the bushes onto the plains. They have been sleeping all day and are thirsty so they head down the banks to the river. One by one they navigate the grey rocks smoothed by the torrent waters. They are careful to leap from rock to rock as they don’t want to get their feet wet. They bend down to drink the cool waters lapping up great quantities with their raspy pink tongues. Some of the young cubs are fretful about the water and call to their mother but she ignores their cries as she needs them to be independent. The smaller sub adults leap and sometimes miss the slippery rocks and they shake their feet free of water. Across the other side of the Laga the Lions find a termite mound and sit on top together. They want to hunt; their golden eyes are focused on the plains. Naibor moves forward she has seen two Topi running but they are too fast and too far to hunt. She walks back to her cubs, nuzzling them. Some of the cubs settle down together to rest, they lay with heads resting on backs and limbs thrown over each other’s heads. They look so peaceful and content. Naibor does not rest; she must feed them so she keeps a close eye on the prey.
Baharti’s cubs are awake and playing at the base of the Olive tree whilst she sleeps in the branches. They are chasing each other around enjoying a game of hunting safe in the knowledge their mother is watching them. It is cool in the shade and they tumble around the ground. Bahati gets up and stretches on the thin branch almost breaking it under her muscular frame. She steadily walks towards the kill and pulls it towards her. The chest is fully eaten so she starts gnawing the rump. The cubs grow tired but do not join her to eat but instead curl up at the base of the tree to rest. The carcass precariously hangs over the branch, the head almost separated from the body.
In the dappling soft light of the late afternoon Kaboso the beautiful female Leopard is dangling her limbs from a tree. It is the classic Leopard pose of all four legs draped over the thick fig tree branch. Her deep green eyes are surveying the plains for hunting opportunities, she is not hungry she has been very successful hunting the last few days but she enjoys the thrill of the chase. There is a herd of Impala grazing with Warthogs but they are a little too far to ambush. She is more in observation mode, studying the form of the prey. She yawns widely bearing her sharp canines and poking out her long pink barbed tongue. She starts licking her paw and rubs is over her dust covered face. She does this slowly and thoroughly, she is in no rush, now is time to relax. Her cub is sleeping and she is satisfied. She looks content and sleepy; she rests her beautiful face on her paws and sighs. The sun dips lower sending a warm glow of red light across her face. It is a serene moment. The plains are flooded with the deep red light and the prey lifts their faces to the sun enjoying the final warmth of the day. As the sun sets behind the escarpment there is peace, the only sounds are birds flying overhead to roost for the night.
The pre-dawn is such a peaceful time on the plains; the air is cool and heavily scented, an intoxicating mix of herbs, grasses and moist earth. The wind gently blows through the grasses; they undulate and flow like waves in the ocean. The dew covered tips glint in the sun rise like precious jewels. The grasses are a myriad of colours, purple, red, yellow and green from which rise iconic Ballanite trees silhouetted against the blazing orange sky. In this quiet time Bahati enjoys play time with her cub under tree, she lies on her back and allows the cub to wrestle her, it gently bites her as if she was prey. She springs up and wrestles the cub to the ground testing its strength and courage. It is feisty and fiery and struggles under her weight as she teases it. They both leap up and chase each other around the tree in a game of mock hunting. She knows play is an important part of the cub’s development; she wants it to be strong, confident and able to defend itself. The cubs will stay with her until they are around two years old. Her other cub is up the tree eating, even at such a young age they are fiercely independent and know what they want. It is struggling with the hard flesh of the carcass now leathery from drying in the sun. It’s small but sharp teeth chew and tear determined to pull off small pieces. It steadies the carcass with its paws and uses its back legs and tail to balance on the branch; it has a look of utter determination.
The Fig Tree pride is relaxing after hunting and eating a Wildebeest. They lay prone on the grass, legs akimbo, their round turgid bellies being warmed by the sun. Their faces are smeared with blood and bodily fluids, flies start buzzing around them attracted to the smell. They groan, they are very full; Lions have a habit of eating until they are fit to burst. They breathe heavily to regulate their body temperature, their chests rising and falling rapidly. They use their large paws to try and bat away the flies, failing that they snap at them. Lions are gregarious and love to lie together using each other bodies as props and pillows. A leg is thrown over a body and a bottom becomes a comfy pillow. One will often roll over and spoon another, resting their face on the others back. The affection between siblings and mothers is very apparent when they sleep in a huddle. One sub adult roles over and starts washing the face of its sibling, gently cleaning the blood off. The females will generally always stay together whilst the males will leave the pride when they are around three years old. The success and strength of Lions is in pride life, the support and affection between them is immense. Warthogs graze on the plains in front of them but the Lions are too tired, full and hot to barely glance at them.
Nashipai (meaning happy one) the beautiful female Cheetah is out hunting on the open plains with her two cubs. The cubs are around six months old now and still have the ridge of downy hair across their heads and back. She needs to teach them survival techniques and also keep them close. They are hungry so they must hunt but as a lone Cheetah she needs to find smaller prey. She spots a herd of Thompson Gazelle; an adult would be a small challenge for her but a baby would be an easy kill. She scans the herd her amber eyes assessing the dynamics of the herd, their heads are bent low as they graze, they have not picked up her scent yet. There could be babies nestled and hidden in the grasses but as it is high she cannot immediately spot any. She crouches low to stalk through the grass and indicates to her cubs to stay where they are. Her lithe body stretches out in slow, deliberate movements as graceful as a dancer. When she is within reach she sprints alarming the Gazelle, they like her are quick and agile and dart through the grasses, weaving and changing direction. She chooses one to chase but it is fast and out manoeuvres her. She slows she knows when to stop the chase; it is frustrating for her as she has cubs to feed but she knows she will have other opportunities. Nashipai returns to her cubs, they are pleased to see her; they rub faces but moan at the lack of food. They walk together to a nearby tree to relax; she is an affectionate mother and washes both of her cubs. Cheetahs purr quite loudly when they are happy, the cubs in particular are very vocal. They meow in delight with the attention and start washing their mother back. The bond between mother and cubs is so heart-warming, she would do anything to protect them including putting herself between them and danger.
The Tano Bora or Fast Five Cheetah male coalition are not far away from Nashipai, they are hunting a large male Impala that is grazing in the bushes. The Cheetahs walk slowly knowing the Impala has not picked up their scent, the grass is long and so they cannot be seen. The grass brushes almost soundlessly against their bodies as the five boys move lithely in a line. The leader keeps his eyes on the Impala; it is a large male but a relatively easy target for the coalition. The Impala seems impervious as it slowly grazes. The Cheetahs are in striking distance so they suddenly pick up speed and sprint towards the Impala. The Impala quickly picks up their scent and bucks in alarm and runs into the bushes. It is strong and fast in the dense vegetation which is to its advantage as the Cheetah need wide open plains to hunt at speed, the bushes slow them down. Unbelievably they cannot capture it as the bushes prevent a clear ambush, the Impala escapes unscathed. They look disgruntled and head back out of the bushes; they will find more prey to hunt. However before they decide to do so they pick up another intoxicating scent, the scent of a female, Nashipai.
The Tano Bora head over to a mound to give them an advantage point across the plains. They climb up, all five gathering at the top to lie next to each other, their amber eyes bright and focused scanning ahead. Then they spot her, Nashipai walking in the distance. They quickly sit up, they want to mate and here is a female who may be receptive. Each Cheetah cat stretches in anticipation of possible activity and heads down the mound. They walk through the grasses slightly apart from each other, if this female is receptive to mating they will have to fight for the right to mate with her. It is a tense situation as Nashipai has cubs and the males will kill them in order to bring her into oestrus. Nashipai is still walking with the cubs across the plains unaware of the impending threat to her babies. The Tano Bora start to jog, quickening their pace, they are keen to reach her. Nashipai picks up their scent and the sound of the pads of their paws hitting the ground. She turns startled and fearful of the five males. They reach her and she screeches and lays flat to the ground in submission as she knows she cannot fight them. The male’s flehmen to see if she is in oestrus and can mate, but she is not so they turn their attention to her cubs.
Nashipai is a strong independent fierce female and will protect her cubs at any cost, she places herself between the males and the cubs screeching at them to leave her cubs alone but they will not. One of the males pounces on the cubs and they hiss back, brave but frightened of these large males. The other males surround Nashipai and keep sniffing her but she lashes out to keep them away from her, she does not want to mate, her only concern is her cubs. The situation is dangerous, tense and harrowing as infanticide is prevalent in cats. The male sniffs the cubs again flehmen grimace to taste their scent, fortunately for them he realises they are his cubs and whilst he still hisses at them he will not harm them, the males have no role in the upbringing of his cubs. The cubs seem to be concerned for their mother’s safety and stand up, their fur on edge to make themselves look bigger and hiss back at him, their survival instincts are strong. The other males are still surrounding Nashipai, clearly wanting to mate with her but will not if she is not in oestrus. She is afraid but strong and starts lashing out at the males, swiping them with her sharp claws if they get too close. The cubs meow for her, she needs to get to them and protect them but cannot fight all five males, the survival of her cubs depends on her and so she cannot get injured. The problem is the males are persistent and her patience wears thin as she smacks them down. The stand-off goes on for other an hour, neither will give in. The cubs try and back away but are chased by their father; they turn and stand bravely up to him. Nashipai can see them but cannot reach them, her aggression towards the males heightens until they finally realise they are wasting their time, she will not mate and so they walk away.
Nashipai is high on adrenaline, her maternal instinct had been tested to the limit, she put her life on the line fighting the males to protect her cubs. She quickly goes over to them and they rush to her, they nuzzle and lick each other, both relieved to be reunited, the situation was so dangerous and tense. She sits down with them to calm them then washes them slowly to bond. The family are reunited and peace pervades for a while, but she knows they are not out of danger. She slowly stands up and encourages the cubs to walk with her, her walk is slow and deliberate she does not want to attract the male’s attention. Unfortunately the males returned to the mound and see her trying to slink off and decide they cannot let her go yet without another chance to try and mate. The males sprint across the plains once more after her, they leap on her pinning her down and separating her from her cubs. One of the males keeps guard of the cubs, they hiss at each other. The other males frantically nip and sniff at her, this time she had had enough and really fights back, she is not interested and needs to defend her cubs. Even though she is outnumbered and smaller than them she exudes an undeniable courage and strength that you only see when a mother is protecting her cubs. The males are taken aback by her ferocity and eventually give up. They walk away this time to carry on hunting; this gives her the opportunity to walk quickly across the plains with her cubs and away from danger.
The Hammerkop Lionesses are relaxing by croton bushes in the heat of the late afternoon. They are lethargic and sleepy but want to warm their bodies in the last rays of the sun. A herd of Topi graze behind them very much aware of their presence. They buck and kick showing their strength; they need to let the Lions know they are not an easy target. The Lionesses are not disturbed by them, they are not ready to hunt yet, they have been sleeping all day and are enjoying some time relaxing before the nightly hunt. Lions are nocturnal hunters but will certainly hunt during the day if the opportunity arose or they failed to hunt in the night. The wind picks up and air is scented with rain. Dark grey clouds roll across the darkening sky and the thunder begins to rumble. A lightning bolt cracks across the sky lightening up the plains, the atmosphere is electric as thick drops of rain begin to fall. The Lionesses sit up, it is too cool to sleep now, the dark sky heralds the time to hunt. The dominant female roars to the rest of the pride through the torrential rain, it is time.
Lolpapit, a true alpha male and king of the plains is feasting at sunrise; the sun catches the deep bronze of his mane tapering down to black over his shoulders. He is devouring the remnants of a Buffalo kill which the pride would have taken down in the night. He has a rotund belly but no muscle tone in his backend or legs due to his age, he is near the end of his reign and the crippling arthritis means he struggles to walk. The old Lions depend on their pride to feed them in old age which they will, his threat is from rival males who will want to oust him as dominant pride male. He painfully and slowly walks down to the water’s edge and laps up water, his weary soulful eyes scanning the plains. He is tired he wants peace and sleep in his final weeks. When he finishes drinking he picks up one of the legs of the buffalo to feed on later and carries it into the shade of the bush. He has forlorn eyes and a flattened mane, there is an air of resignation about him, it is clear he knows the sun will set on his reign soon. He lays down under the shade of the bush, contented and sated from his meal, he gives a deep weary sign and closes his eyes, he may sleep peacefully now for twelve or fourteen hours.
Nightjars are nocturnal birds and can be seen hawking for food at dust and dawn when their strange calls and songs can be heard. They are well camouflaged birds, their beige mottled cryptic plumage patterns blend in with the environment. They have broad heads and very short bills, but wide mouths helping them catch moths in flight. They are exceptionally agile fliers, with long tapered wings and king tails, but they have very short legs and can scarcely walk. They are sat on the small rocks by the water where insects buzz around them. Overhead a pair Tawny Eagle fly over the plains looking for small rodents to hunt. They tend to occupy the same territory for many years, sometimes decades in pairs. Their call is a rather harsh, hollow sounding loud bark, or kowk-kowk. This does not disturb the family of Southern ground hornbill with their stunning black plumage and extensive brilliant red face and throat wattles high stepping through the grasses looking for seeds and insects. They live in co-operative family groups and forage and hunt together. In this large group there is one dominant pair who are the only ones that breed, the rest of the group with help rear the chicks and protect them.
Two of the sub adult males of around two years old from the Fig Tree pride have eaten some of the Buffalo kill that Lolpapit was eating. They are lagging behind the rest of the pride as they are full and tired. They are clearly brothers; they walk together shoulder to shoulder a true bromance. They are incredibly affectionate with one another, rubbing heads as they walk. Interaction between the young males in the pride is very important; it maintains bonds between individuals and keeps the peace within the pride. They stop at a tree where their pride has urinated and they tilt their heads up and bare their teeth by lifting their top lips. This is called flehmen grimace or response and makes them look like they are smiling. The name is derived from the German to bare upper teeth. The lions suck the air through their front teeth which forces it over an area of the roof of their mouth called the Jacobson’s organ which decodes pheromones and other scents left by urine. They will detect their pride has passed this area. They spot the rest of their pride across the river, they head down the bank and agilely jump from rock to rock careful not to get wet, Lions do not like water. Across the river they run to catch up with the pride that is disappearing into the bushes to sleep in the growing heat of the day.
A Malachite Kingfisher sits on a skeleton branch in the middle of the river. This jewel coloured kingfisher is often seen perched on reeds and small twigs near slow moving water. It hunts fish and aquatic insects and will beat its prey against a branch to subdue it. It’s vibrant royal blue plumage on its head and golden chest feathers stand out against the grey water below. Its long orange beak matches its small orange talons that are curled around the branch. It’s beady round eyes are fixed on the water looking for any movement. Aquatic life skims the surface breaking the water, whilst frogs create circles on the water. Sat on the grey rocks next to the water is a male Agama Lizard with his bright orange head and vibrant blue body; he is warming his cold blooded body in the sun. Agamas are insectivorous, hunting prey by sight and snatching it opportunistically. Their incisor-like front teeth and strong jaws have evolved to eat quite large tough prey. He sits motionless watching for the prey to come within striking distance.
Egyptian Goose is a member of the duck, goose and swan family Anatidae. It is native to Africa and was considered sacred by the Ancient Egyptians and appeared in much of their artwork and paintings. Egyptian Geese are monogamous and have one partner for life. Both sexes are aggressively territorial towards their own species when breeding and frequently pursue intruders into the air, attacking them in a series of “dog fights”. So when waiting for a Leopard to appear from the bushes they can put on quite a show. A mating pair is swimming on the river when a rival male ascends on the water disrupting them. The rival male swims to the female but is intercepted by her mate, the two males start pecking fiercely at each other and chasing each other through the water. Wings are outstretched and chests inflated to intimidate each other, they fly at each other, necks entangled, beaks pecking and wings beating. They water splashes around them frantically as they attack. Their wings beat as they hover above the water’s surface, the male must protect his mate against the usurper. It is intense and aggressive but the mate wins and sees off the rival who flies up into the air. The mating pair is reunited and swim off together, bodies touching in an unbreakable bond.
The fight did not disturb the herds of Buffalo and Warthog grazing together on the plains by the river. The Hyaenas wallowing in watering holes from last night’s rains are too hot even to glance up. A Troupe of Baboons picking tissue flowers are quiet and at peace surrounded by Zebra and Topi. The Maasai Mara never disappoints, it is a rich utopia of wildlife. Into this almost idyllic setting Kaboso the confident female Leopard finally emerges with her cub, it is nervous but she encourages it to follow her. It trusts its mother and soon relaxes and starts playing by the Laga crossing with her. As she walks the cub leaps on her biting her neck and trying to pull her down but she is strong. She chases the cub and bats in down, pinning it under her weight, it squirms while she gently nips at it. It crawls out from underneath her and leaps on her back tugging at her ears. It is a beautiful bond between mother and cub. Kaboso is patient and loving with her cub but she needs to hunt and heads towards the river and the plentiful prey on the other side. The cub is nervous it does not want to follow its mum across the water, it sits up looking forlorn and meows for her but she has jumped across the banks so it runs back into the bushes. The cub plays under a beautiful fig tree with thick beige branches covered in green moss, the leaves are dark green and the branches laden with ripening fruit. The cub knows it must keep itself safe whilst she hunts. A mating pair of DikDik graze next to the bushes next to Kaboso, their doe eyes fearful and watchful as they survey the scene, as the Mara’s smallest Antelope who mate for life they are lucky this time not to be the focus of her attention.
One of the Rekero Lionesses has brought two of her cubs out of the bushes in the early afternoon as it has grown cool, they are around two months. The cubs are very playful and feisty and delight with their amusing squeak and meow sounds as they tumble over each other fighting for dominance. Even at a young age they show strong personality traits. Their attention is drawn to their resting mother, she is the perfect playground, as she flicks her tail they chase and bite it, they leap in the air as she flicks it up trying to chase it. They clamber onto her body and use it as a slide, slipping comically down onto the grass. They clamber up again walking across her body, chewing at her ears and rolling over her. She growls in warning and gently bites them, she is tired, they are quite boisterous and she wants to rest. Suddenly the wind picks up and the heavens open and thick drops of rain pelt down on them. The cubs huddle into her as she bends her head against the sudden deluge. Fortunately it is just a sudden shower and is over as quickly as it started and the clouds give way to blue clouds. The Lionesses coat whilst thick, wiry and waterproof is soaked and she shakes her powerful head, spraying the cubs that are nestled behind her with water. They try and leap away but they get completely showered by her. The cubs start licking the water from their fur then start to lick the water from their mothers fur, when they are nearly dried she shakes her head again, showering and soaking them once more! The cubs look most disgruntled. Cubs will be cubs though as the wet does not stop them from playing, they start chasing each other, rolling over and biting their tails. Every small bush, twig and stone becomes prey to chase, wrestle and maul.
Ologolo (meaning strong) is a new male from Mara North, he and half tail have taken over the Topi pride. He is mating with one of the females of the Topi pride. He is exceptionally large with a large full mottled mane, a stunning ombré mix of blonde, bronze and black. He is only around eight years old and his muscle tone is a stark contrast to Lolpapit, his whole body is a power house of muscle. He walks over to a pile of Buffalo dung and enthusiastically rubs his face on it like it is catnip, he looks ecstatic. Lions roll in the faeces and urine of herbivores to mask their scent for hunting. The Lioness is also young, only around six years old, she is being quite affectionate and deferent but he is very cool towards her, he does not appear to want to mate which is unusual. A herd of Impala cross in front of them and she sets off in pursuit but fails to catch one. She returns to him and he flehmen to check she is in oestrus, when she walks away he smacks her bottom with his paw in quite a playful if not assertive gesture. She only walks off a short distance before she crouches low to the ground inviting him to mate with her. He mounts her from behind and growls and bites her neck, she growls back in pain and snarls at him. He bites her head and she looks furious, when copulation ends he jumps back but she turns quickly and claws him on the face. There is no love lost when mating, she falls to the ground and rolls on her back, legs akimbo to aid the flow of sperm. His contribution has ended and is no longer needed by her so he walks slowly off and ascends a termite mound where he sits to survey his domain. He really is the image of strength and majesty. The Lioness heads off to hunt again; they are clearly at the end of their days of mating so due to part. There is no backward glance as she follows her instinct and heads to hunt the Impala herd, it is all about survival.
The sun is setting on another incredible day on the plains. This is the true wild; here it is all about survival, bonding and family. Each animal whether bird, reptile or mammal has an innate instinct to hunt, fight and mate. As the sun floods the plains with warm red ambient light a clan of Hyaenas set off to chase a herd of Wildebeest, they snap and bite at their spindly legs. The Spotted Hyaenas is the most common seen in the Masai Mara; it is the largest and the most powerful. It is an unusual animal. They have large powerful jaws for crushing bones and a slopping back, their gait is very ungainly. They have large rounded eyes and ears and are reddish brown in colour with black spots. Their short bushy tail is often erect in aggressive situations. They have blunt, non-retractile claws like Cheetah for long distance chasing. Hyaenas are well known for their high pitch maniacal laugh when gathered at a kill. When calling each other it sounds like a whooping wail which they do now. They are hungry and organised; they are determined to make their own kill. The Wildebeest scatter in fright and the Hyaenas must pick off an easy target, usually an injured or old one. The sky darkens and the moon appears, the night presents the perfect conditions for predators to hunt.
The morning is crisp and clear, the sun rises a deep orange spread across the escarpment, splashes of colour striped across the sky. The perfect back drop for Chikwa a large male nomad Lion from Serengeti sitting on the rocks in the Black Rock area. The Black Rock pride here is strong but it has lost one of its dominant pride males and this will attract competition from nomad Lions looking to take over a pride. He sits proud, confident in his strength and his ability to fight. His bronze mane catches the light; he has a halo of red. The Black Rock area is stunning, obviously named for his big black rocks and boulders which contain minerals which glint in the light. As the sun warms them they retain the heat which attracts the Lions who enjoy the warmth after a cold night of hunting. It is surrounded by luscious grasslands, marsh areas and palm trees which attracts prey and therefore a good hunting ground for the Lions. It is a Billa Shaka, an area of no doubt as its plains are teaming with wildlife. Sausage Trees, Fig Trees and Olive Trees give shade to the mighty herds of Zebra, Topi and Wildebeest who come to enjoy the fertile soil.
The Supa pride whose territory this is also is enjoying the heat of the early morning sun. Seven Lionesses with fifteen sub adult cubs of different ages are walking through the Supa plains, the long grasses gently brush against their golden fur. They are arriving back from hunting and the cubs are playful but the Lionesses are tired. The cubs weave in and out of the Lionesses trying to incite them to play with them. They are high from a good feast and are full of energy and enthusiasm. The cubs chase each other, pulling each other down. There is always sibling rivalry amongst the cubs especially when there are several ages, the older cubs are boisterous with the younger cubs, sometimes even a little too rough but they are disciplined by the Lionesses when they do so. They are preparing themselves for when they are older and they take their place in the pride as leaders. The pride stop by a termite mound which has absorbed the heat of the morning sun, the pale beige soil reflects the light. The Lions enjoy its warmth and start grooming each other very affectionately. They still have morsels of food on their faces combined with dust and they use their long barbed tongues to lick of off. The look of sheer pleasure on the recipients face when it is being cleaned is delightful, they revel in the attention.
A large bull Elephant with long tusks almost reaching the ground crashes through the bushes, they steamroller whatever is in front of them especially if they are on a mission to seek water. Elephant tusks have evolved from teeth, giving the species an evolutionary advantage. They serve a variety of purposes including digging, lifting objects, gathering food, stripping bark from trees to eat, and defence. The tusks also protect the trunks which of course are another valuable tool for drinking, breathing, and eating. Adult male Elephants live a predominantly nomadic and solitary life. When a male Elephant or bull reaches puberty, around 12 to 15 years of age, he will gradually become more independent of his family until he breaks away completely, to either roam alone or find a loosely-knit group of male Elephants to join. Elephants are considered to be adults at about eighteen year old and live to approximately seventy years old. Both males and females begin mating in order to reproduce when they are twenty years old. They will continue to mate and give birth until they are about fifty, so similar to humans. This male looks quite mature, he lifts his trunk to pull down fronds on leaves to eat and stuff them in his mouth. He lifts his tail to deposit large boulders of dung on the ground, Elephants are considered to be important gardeners as their dung will contain undigested seeds which will germinate where deposited and create new life on the plains. Of course it is also food for dung beetles and foraging animals that will sort through it and eat the seeds.
A lone old Buffalo is walking through the marshy area enjoying the succulent reed grasses, the water reaches up to his stomach, he enjoys the coolness in the midday heat. When male Buffalos are old they leave the herd to graze alone, they can be very volatile and aggressive. They are naturally confrontational in the wild; they use their strong heads to butt and shove each other and scare off predators. This male seems contented; he is wallowing in the cool surrounded by water and food. On the edge of the marsh a Grey-headed Kingfisher sits on a low bush. It is a medium-sized kingfisher with a distinctive chestnut belly, sapphire blue tail and flight feathers, ashy-grey head and breast, and vermillion bill. Pairs inhabit dry and moist woodland, especially riverine woodland and have been known to breed in riverbanks. It has complex movements and is a migrant in the southern part of its range. When it calls it is a strident trilling “t-t-t-t-t-t-t”. As the Buffalo moves it is perfectly positioned behind the vibrant Kingfisher, a perfect foil of black to offset its stunning long red beak and sapphire blue feathers.
On the Ashnil plains a herd of thousands of Wildebeest are migrating and looking to cross the Mara River. It is midday and growing very hot, the heat haze shimmers over the short dry grasses eaten by the herd. They come to the top of the bank and look down; they know there are dangers in the water and so hesitate at the edge. A movement alarms them and they retreat quickly into the bushes. The sound of them braying is deafening, they are communicating they need to cross but it is dangerous. They walk through the bushes to another steep section of the bank, a near vertical drop. They are growing hot and thirsty, their instinct drives them on. The Wildebeest literally start to throw themselves down the bank with almost reckless abandonment. Some catch their footing and scurry down arriving at the bottom on their feet, whereas others lose their balance tumbling down, bruised, strained and worse broken. It is a chaotic sight, wild, primal and adrenaline fuelled. It is fight or flight as they must face the dangers that await them below. For the dangers are real, Crocodile are waiting in the water next to the bank, still, silent and deadly. Fortunately the Wildebeest see them and divert around them. They cross the river nervously jumping like horses through the fast moving waters. They water cascades around them, white foam licking their tired bodies. The air is thick with dust, sweat and adrenaline. Hippos wallow in the waters watching with fury as the Wildebeest disturb their peace. Their grey bodies lying like boulders below the faeces polluted water; white herons calmly perched on their backs.
There are dozens of drowned Wildebeest in the water, the Crocodiles move forward by means of lateral wavelike motions of their tail. They have plenty of food to eat so the Wildebeest crossing are safe from the fate of being pulled under. Across the other side they frantically scrabble up the bank, wet, cold and tired. The Wildebeest who have already crossed honk and call to them. Across the bank it is chaotic; some of the Wildebeest decide not to cross and try to climb back up the steep bank but cannot so they have to cross. Vultures soar high above the river in a kettle. They circle above detecting food; they have sharp eyesight and sense of smell and so are drawn to the decomposing bloated carcasses. One by one the Vultures land on the bloated carcasses, Rigor mortis has set in and the dead Wildebeest lay upturned, stiff legs pointing to the sky. The Vultures favour the soft tissue first; they pluck out the eyes and thrust their beaks into nasal and anal passages pulling out soft tissue. One Vulture pushes its bold featherless head into the mouth of a Wildebeest and pulls out its long pink tongue, as it pulls, the tongue stretches, it is macabre but fascinating. The Vultures are so important to the eco system; they are nature’s clean-up crew.
After hours of crossings and scavenging, dozens of Vultures fly up and rest on the dead grey branches of a skeleton tree, it looks like a macabre Christmas tree. Vultures are sociable creatures and are often seen as a collective unit. They are not like other birds they have no song but communicate in grunts and hisses, adding to their scary image. “Urohydrosis” is a process in which they urinate on themselves in order to cool down in this blistering heat. It also disinfects their legs of bacteria following them feeding on the rotten carcasses. The tree branches are covered in urine and white liquid faeces due to the bones they consume which are high in calcium. Not surprisingly they have extremely strong stomach acids to allow them to break down the bones and destroy the lethal bacteria. They stretch their wings out for thermoregulation and drying off their wings after perching in the water. They enjoy absorbing the solar energy, recharging for flight. Of the 23 species of vulture that exist over half of them are considered threatened or endangered as a result of human conflict.
Amani (meaning peace) the much loved female Cheetah of these plains has recently given birth to four cubs, they are around two weeks old and she has hidden them in some croton bushes, the strong scent masks theirs. They are very small and crawl slowly on the grass around their mother keeping her warmth close. They squeak at her, they either suckle or sleep or both when they are contented. She is a successful mother and has raised many cubs to adulthood which is challenging as a lone mother who needs to hunt and feed herself so she can stay strong to protect them. The first three months are the most critical; more than half will not survive. They fall prey to Lions, Jackals, Hyaenas and birds of prey as she must leave them behind when she hunts. She will nurse them for three months, but they can start eating meat from as young as three weeks as it will help them grow faster. At just six weeks old they will start coming with her when she hunts. The cubs have the distinctive long silvery strip of fur called a mantle that runs all the way down their back like a mohawk. It will shield them from bad weather and help to camouflage them. Every few days she will move her cubs to protect them from predators. Her amber eyes are ever watchful, she does not rest, she will always protect them.
At sunset two of the Rekero Lionesses are lazing out on the plains with five cubs of around two months old. Even at this young age they start to gently wrestle and roughhouse with their siblings and cousins. Lionesses give birth around the same time in a pride so they can share the upbringing of their cubs including nursing each other’s cubs. This is especially important as one Lioness will need to be left behind to take care of the cubs when the others go hunting. The cubs are scrambling around exploring this intimidating new world, the light breezes blows leaves around them both scaring and exciting them. They suddenly crouch low as an Eagle screeches overhead, they are frightened by the sound but also their instincts tell them the bird could fly down and pick them up in its talons. Danger passes and they start to explore again under the watchful eye of their mothers. When they come across an unknown object they gentle tap it with their paw deciding if it is friend or foe, it is very comical, they learn through play. When they grow tired they stumble across the grass to their mothers for comfort, the Lionesses indulgently start licking their cubs, the pure love and pleasure can be seen on their faces, it is bonding time. The cubs settle by their mother’s stomach to nurse, each nuzzling and prodding to activate the milk, the squeak at each other to gain a nipple. The sun bathes this contented scene of parental love with a warm golden glow. In the distance the roar of the rest of the pride can be heard, gathering them together. The strength and success of Lions is the pride.
The Serval is a very unique cat; it is sleek, long and elegant like the ancient Egyptian Goddess Bastet. It is small like a Jackal with a long, lean, lithe body golden in colour with black spots across the body and black spots and streaks across its shoulders and neck. What makes it also beautifully unique is its long legs and huge bat like ears. It is mainly nocturnal but it is this seen morning high-stepping through the long grasses listening out for scrub hares and mice. The long grass areas is its preferred habitat and this morning the dew covered grass brushes against it fur as it silently walks through. Servals are solitary cats and mark their territory by secreting urine onto bushes. Also like all cats they rub secretions from the corners of their mouths onto grass stems. Its large ears serve to detect movement in the long grasses, when detected it will leap into the air and pounce on the unsuspecting rodent or bird. It decides to rest and sits in the long grasses and becomes almost undetectable as it curls its long limbs under itself and its coat is camouflaged against the grasses. Its golden eyes though are ever watchful and its large ears twitching to detect any small sound or movement.
Chongo and Doa are the dominant male Lions of the Marsh area but as it is migration time they have come down to sit on the sand next to the main river crossing where the Wildebeest are plentiful. It is a popular misconception that Lions do not hunt for themselves, these males are good hunters, before they took over the pride they were nomads and had to fend for themselves. They are both handsome males with full dark bronze manes tapering down to their shoulders and back to black. The bond between the males in a coalition is unbreakable. They will hunt, sleep and fight together; they can also mate at the same time with one female. Chongo has only one eye but that does not hinder him, if anything it just adds to air of strength as he is a fighter and protector. They have been up most of the night hunting so they are enjoying the glow and heat of the sunrise. It is the most perfect light to appreciate the textures and colour of their fur, the dark blonde of their coat covering their body in contrast to the deep bronzes and black of their mane. Their faces are a map of their lives, deeply scarred and scratched from fighting and mating. As it grows warm they head into the croton bushes to benefit from the shade and insect repellent properties.
Across from the Lions nine crocodile are laying like driftwood on the sandy island in the middle of the Mara river as the water is low. There is the skeleton of a dead Hippo rising out of the river, the rib cage looks like prison bars. The crocodile would have been feeding off of it, there is an age old rivalry between Hippos and Crocodiles as they often eat the Hippos offspring. The Crocodile are fully fed so bask in the sun on the sand. Crocodiles do not sweat so they sit with their mouths open like panting to regulate their temperature; they are cold blooded reptiles so need the heat from the sun. One of the Crocodiles slides into the river when it has heated up using its tail to manoeuvre, it gets too close to the Hippo pod and the Hippos angrily chases it. The stench of Hippo faeces is overwhelming, Hippos defecate where they wallow and use their tail as a propeller to distribute the waste away from them. When the river becomes low the stagnate water becomes green with bacteria and unbelievably stinky. This does not seem to put off two Cinnamon Chested Bee Eaters sitting on the branches of a Croton Bush over hanging the river looking to catch flying insects. They are surrounded though by the strong heady scent of wild sage.
The wild is not just about the big five or prey and predators there are millions of interesting insects and invertebrates. The little five members bear the names of their considerable mightier namesakes: the rhino beetle, buffalo weaver, ant lion, leopard tortoise and elephant shrew. They too have an important part to place in the ecology of the savannah. Another interesting fellow is the sociable Praying Mantis who likes to hitch a ride sometimes. It is non venomous and does not carry bacteria so quite safe. The praying mantis is named for its prominent front legs, which are bent and held together at an angle that suggests the position of prayer. They are predators with triangular heads poised on an elongated thorax. Mantis can turn their heads 180 degrees to scan their surroundings with two large compound eyes and three other simple eyes located between them. A stunning green colour it is easily camouflaged on the plants among which they live, mantis lie in ambush or patiently stalk their quarry. They use their front legs to snare their prey with reflexes so quick that they are difficult to see with the naked eye. Their legs are further equipped with spikes for snaring prey and pinning it in place. However in this case he became a fun safari companion.
It is usually quite a big give away when you see Giraffe staring into the bushes, they are naturally curious. These silent calm mammals seem to enjoy watching the antics of the predators. A surprising fact about them is even though they are vegetarian they do like to eat bones. Their huge skeletons require more calcium and phosphorous than they can get from a strictly vegetarian diet. So they have evolved to chew the bones from carcasses to make their own bones stronger, a behaviour known as osteophagy. Maybe that is why they like to know where the big cats are so where there are predators there are bones! In this case they are curious to see what the beautiful female Leopard Kaboso is doing. The queen is ready to hunt; there is a herd of Wildebeest across the plain who are heading to the riverine forest to drink. She is patient and hides in the tree line, her green eyes fixed on the herd tracking their progress. The Wildebeest herd moves slowly as they stop to graze along the route but she remains in place, patient and watchful.
Then it happens, the Wildebeest reach the water and start to cross, Kaboso is still patient and waits, she does not want to alarm them otherwise they will turn tail and retreat. When almost half have crossed she leaps out of the bushes, her muscular body taut and flexed and jumps from rock to rock chasing the herd. The pads of her paws grip the slippery rocks; she ignores the spray of the water. The herd are alarmed and panic, they race through the river, their hooves kicking up water, eyes wide with fear. The scene is chaotic and wild, the bodies of the Wildebeest almost merge into one as they run, the water cascades around them blurring their movement. She decides to run next to them but misjudges her hunting tactic; she follows them into the bushes but fails to catch any. The Wildebeest are braying alerting the rest of the herd of the danger. Kaboso looks frustrated, she knows she misjudged the hunt, there were several young Wildebeest in the herd but she seemed to lose focus in the chaos and water which is not the best hunting ground for cats that do not like getting wet. She is a great hunter and so heads back to her cub to rest, she knows she will have another opportunity later.
Even though it is only late afternoon the Marsh pride are walking through the long grasses of the marshy plains. They are in hunting mode; it is quite likely they failed to make a kill last night. The Lionesses are joined by the over enthusiastic energetic sub adults who race around playing tag with each other. The Lionesses ignore their playful antics; they are focused on finding prey to hunt. The pride look hungry, it may have been a couple of days since they have eaten. One the sub adult males are particularly frisky, jumping on anything that moves, he is showing off his prowess. Then his deep golden eyes light up, he has spotted something. He quickly leaps forward and alights on a Scrub Hare hiding under a small bush. It is a classic game of cat and mouse. He pins the hare down with his large paws whilst it tries to scrabble away, the Lion looks like an excited child with a new toy. It lets the hare go then pounces on it again, for him it is a game; the thrill is in the chase. The poor hare is alarmed as it tries to break free but the Lion is relentless. The Lion suddenly grabs the hare in its jaws and starts running around with it in its mouth, the poor hares head and legs flail around wildly. The Lion wants to carry on playing with it but its siblings have seen his prize and gives chase, they want it. The Lion will not give up his prize and leaps over the marshy pools of water with the Hare still in his mouth. By the time he stops the poor hare is dead, either from shock or having its body flung around. The sub adult lays the hare on a grassy mound away from the dust of the earth and starts tearing it apart, the bones are soft so the Lion can just eat all of it, nothing will go to waste. His siblings are jealous and sit and watch him eat, hoping fruitlessly he will leave some. This will be a light snack for him until they make a large kill, enough for the whole pride.
Troupes of Baboons are sat on a fallen tree in the Marsh area, like all the animals that are attracted to the moist grasses and abundant food. They seem contented as they sit and groom each other in the glow of the late afternoon sun. Baboons are interesting monkeys; they are very muscular with dark olive hairy coats, dog like faces and large sharp canines. A large male will grow a thick mane of hair which like the Lion protects its face when fighting. Baboons like most monkeys are diurnal and very gregarious; they live in large troupes’ of anywhere up to two hundred individuals. They will move to where food is plentiful depending on the season. Within the troupe there are smaller family groups made up of related females and their babies. There is very much a dominance hierarchy within the troupe. Within the family group it is the mother who dominates. They form alliances through bonding rather than aggression, grooming is an important part of this. The males do not lead the troupe their role is more for protection. They are also very sexual and excitable, when they see they are being observed the males become aroused and erect as they stare at us. Like all monkeys they then start to mate with any available receptive female. It is quite common for monkey’s calm behaviour to descend into anarchy, whether fighting or mating, both arouse them.
The Topi Lionesses are sat out on the plains bathed in the warm glow of the sunset, their dark blonde fur tinted red by the sun’s rays. They lift their heads to the sun; eyes closed enjoying the warmth on their faces. They look content and peaceful; they are recharging themselves for the nightly hunt. The bond between the females is very apparent. One female lays her head on the paws of another and enjoys her face being washed affectionately. She yawns and her sister playfully puts her head inside her mouth. There is always time for affection and bonding, it makes them stronger as a pride, they very much work together. The females will often stay together for life, a real sisterhood based on trust and affection. The whole plains now are lit with ambient light; there is nothing more beautiful than on African sunset. Deep vibrant oranges, reds and yellows push through the dark clouds. The architectural Ballanite trees are silhouetted against the sky along with a lone Giraffe walking through the plains. It is peaceful as the air cools and the only sounds are birds returning to their nests. The sun sets on another truly memorable experience in the Maasai Mara, home to endangered wildlife living free. There are no words to describe the privilege of spending time with them.