What would be your first impression flying over the Great Plains of the Maasai Mara? The Maasai villages on the edge of the reserve, each enkang formed in a circle and enclosed by a fence of tightly woven branches to protect their loaf shaped mud houses (enkaji) and livestock. The enkaji made by the women of the villages from hay and dung to house their family and young cattle. The livestock so valued by the village in the middle to protect them from the predators who roam the plains. The fragile balance of life between humans and wildlife, each looking to just live peacefully. The great herds of Elephants, Buffalos and Zebras that roam the plains, grazing and browsing on rich grasses and low scrub bushes. Led by matriarchs from one source of water to another, ensuring the herds remain strong. Tall Giraffe browsing from the iconic architectural thorny Balanite trees, the gardeners of the Mara giving the trees their unique umbrella shape. The Mara River snaking through the plains, torrent and fast flowing after a heavy rainfall, groaning with Hippos wallowing in its inky depths. Rafts of Crocodiles floating on the river waiting for the unsuspecting prey to cross the fast current trying not to be swept away downstream. Hundreds of thousands of Wildebeest on their annual migration, honking and braying to ensure within this organised chaos their family group stays together. Exhausted from their long Safari from the Serengeti they navigate their way through the Mara plains. Prides of Lions thirty plus strong languishing under tall Fig trees groaning with fruit trying to protect themselves from the heat of the sun. Their coats glimmering golden in the bright sunlight, their bronze eyes sharp and alert looking for opportunities to hunt. The young cubs playful, secure in the protection of the pride. Leopards watching from the tops of the thick branches of Sheppard trees, the tell-tale white tip of their long thick tale hanging down. Their green eyes bright and iconic rosette spotted coats gleaming in the dappled sunlight through the dense foliage. Lithe athlete Cheetahs roaming in ever growing coalitions looking also to hunt, their eyes protected from the suns glare by the black tear mark that runs from their eyes to their nose. Under foot insects and reptiles forge ahead tirelessly building their homes and gathering food. Raptors soaring on the vortex, colourful birds filling the skies with song. Where else on earth can you see such rich diversity, feel the power and might of nature and smell the intense intoxicating scents of the earth? Where else can you see the big cat tails unfurl?
The vast plains of the Lemek conservancy are covered in green rich grasses from the recent rains; new shoots are sprouting up abundantly. The air is heavily scented with an intoxicating mix of heady wild sage and soil, it is the aroma of the wild, potent and inviting. Up in these high plains the air is cooler and fresh, the prey and predators are thriving in such good climatical conditions. Mist rolls down from the mountains in the early morn giving a beautiful eerie grey aura. Balanite trees rise up from the earth, its branches long and straight with green spines arranged in spirals. The fluted trunk has greyish-brown ragged bark with yellow-green patches where it is shed; it is both food and shelter for the animals. It is after the rains Fireball lilies grow, the red umbel of flowers is globe shaped with from 10 to 200 individual flowers. The bases of the leaves, the stalks are tightly wrapped together to form a pseudostem. Whilst stunningly beautiful against the green of the newly sprouted grass they are highly toxic to animals, the tribes us them as poison for arrows. This is the wild, beauty can be deadly. Next to them beautifully delicate white tissue flowers grow; they are favoured by Baboons for their sweet taste and gentle structure. The plains boast the most amazing plant life and trees from the gnarly twisted trunks of the olive trees to the thick strong branches of the Sheppard trees so favoured by Leopards. Fever trees with their smooth bark, powdery and greenish flaking to its distinctive yellow are used to fight malaria but are also a playground for curious Vervet monkeys. Ravines snake through the once parched earth and marshy lakes attract prey and predator alike to drink. This conservancy is a Billa Shaka which is Swahili for without doubt and used to describe a place where animals will be in abundance due to the perfect conditions.
A pride is only as strong as the males protecting it. For many years the Lemek pride has been closely guarded by Dere and Barikoi and thrived under their rule. But the reign of kings is short; there are always contenders to the crown. A year ago a coalition of five male Lions called the Sankai boys entered their territory. The males made up of Kini, Lemurt, Merrinyo, Seenka and Lerai challenged Dere and Barakoi defeating them. No two older males could withstand the challenge of five younger males. Defeated, the males turned tail and headed into the mountain range surrounding the Lemek conservancy to form a new pride. The Sankai boys are younger and hopefully due to the size of the coalition will be able to protect the Lemek pride for many years from further challenges, there are always nomadic males looking to take over prides. The Sankai boys have obviously wasted no time mating with the pride females, after a year there are already several litters of cubs. Gestation for Lionesses is only three months and they tend to give birth around the same so they can nurse each other’s cubs whilst the others hunt. The Lionesses often bond for life; they hunt together, play together and raise their young together. It is the pride males’ role to protect and mate, although at present the boys are languishing under the shade and insect repellent properties of the croton bushes. The early morning sun is now beating down, their huge rotund bellies heave as they breathe heavily to regulate their temperature. They have dark golden manes that protect their faces when they fight and also to attract females. The darker the mane the more testosterone the male has, it is easy to spot the dominant male in the coalition, his mane is darker and fuller. The Lions give deep throaty sighs; the flies are bothering them as they try and sleep.
Two of the Lemek Lionesses are looking to hunt, a safari of eleven Giraffe are following them as they are afraid the Lionesses will hunt their new born babies. The conservancy has an unusually high population of Giraffe, whilst quiet and peaceful they are notoriously curious. If you see a tower of Giraffes just standing and staring there is a high chance they are observing the big cats. The young Giraffes are wide eyed with long eyelashes staring at the Lions, afraid but transfixed. There is a cuteness about the new born giraffes, their eyes are very large and round, innocent but playful. Giraffes are not known for being good mothers, they tend to wander off and leave their young making them vulnerable to predator attacks. They are fortunate today the Lionesses are focused on a herd of resident Wildebeest. The pride is very large so they need to target large prey. The conservancy due to the plentiful rains from the hills attracts large herds of Wildebeest, Buffalo, Zebra and Impala, all perfect prey for the big cats. It is why the Lemek pride is so successful. The Lionesses crouch low, muscular shoulders hunched, ears flat. Their pale golden fur perfectly camouflaged against the dry stalks of golden grass. They silently and cautiously move through the grasses, they will need to be within ambush distance of the prey before they strike, they are built for strength not speed or endurance. That they leave to the Cheetah.
Mtoto the daughter of Kisaru is also looking to hunt, the plains are teaming with great herds of Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala and Thompson Gazelle. This beautiful female Cheetah gave birth three weeks ago to seven cubs so she needs to keep herself fed and strong to produce milk for them and protect them. Female Cheetahs are solitary cats, they only come together with males to mate which they often do in the bushes. The success rate of raising young Cheetahs is low due to the threat from both predator and scavengers. Whilst she is out hunting the cubs are at the mercy of both. Cheetahs are the most successful hunters out of all of the big cats; they are built for speed and endurance. Their paws are narrower resembling paws of dogs and the claws are blunt, slightly curved and only semi-retractable. Cheetahs’ claws are like running spikes used to increase traction whilst pursuing prey, whilst the pads are like tyre treads for grip. They are the least threatening and docile of all of the big cats, they don’t roar, they meow and purr like domestic cats. Female Cheetahs have a quiet beauty and poise, but undoubtedly when they catch prey their true hunter nature is prevalent. She is hungry, her bright amber eyes are sharp and focused, the black tear mark running from her eyes to nose deflects the glare of the sun. She sits on a termite mound her beautiful black spots as individual as finger prints sit against her bronze fur. A herd of Wildebeest graze before her but they are too large for her to hunt. She gazes around assessing her options. She slinks through the long grasses undetected. A herd of Impala graze in the bushes, she crouches low and sits and waits patiently, she does not want to waste her energy on an unsuccessful hunt. She suddenly starts to run but the Impala are fast and outrun her as for some reason she does not seem to run at full speed. She stops then starts to walk in another direction looking for other prey. She does this three times, she seems unfocused. She could just be hot and tired, she needs food and rest, her cubs will be very draining on her energy.
Topi stand like sentries on termite mounds. They are the eyes and ears of the plains, snorting warning calls when they detect predators approaching. Topi are such beautiful antelope with their dark red fur and curved horns. They are incredibly sociable animals and tend to eat fast in small bites so they are constantly alert. They are very fast runners with a bounding gait, you will often see them just running showing off their prowess. Related closely to them lighter coloured Hartebeest graze, they have stunning curved horns in a heart shape. Antelope will often herd together for protection from predators. The vast open plains are perfect grazing grounds for them and as well as affording them views for miles. They are diurnal animals so active during the day hence why the predators like to hunt at night giving them the advantage with their night vision. They are on constant alert, the rains have gathered in small pools, perfect for Hyaenas to wallow in. The afternoon sun is intense and the Hyenas need to keep cool, however their presence makes the Antelope nervous, after all Hyaenas are excellent hunters in their own right. However for now they are content to sit and wallow, it is too hot to hunt, they will wait until sunset when the cats become active. Fortunately for the Antelope the other pools of water are not so threatening. Small turtles swim in the shallow waters also looking to keep cool from the intense heat of the afternoon.
Vultures fly overhead soaring on the vortex. In the sky they are a committee, when they come into land they are known as a kettle, when they start eating a carcass they are appropriately called a wake. These beautiful raptures do not sing, they have no song, they cackle, which along with their practical bold heads which they push into rotting crevices give them their ghoulish macabre reputation. They are one of the ugly five, but undoubtedly one of the most interesting, in flight they are as beautiful and graceful as Eagles but their place in the eco system is so incredibly important to clean up the rotting decaying carcasses which could spread disease. Often persecuted they are now protected due to their great importance. In contrast two Tawny Eagle are sat in the high branches of a Balanite Tree. They are monogamous birds and mate for life. This Eagle has tawny coloured upperparts with black flight feathers and tail and a paler lower back area. It has light coloured stripes on its wings. The Tawny Eagle’s piercing eyes are brown and it has a yellow beak with a sharp, black, hooked tip. Their legs are heavily feathered and their feet are equipped with large sharp talons. Tawny Eagles have acute eyesight and their hearing is also an important sense as it helps them locate prey when they are hunting. Tawny Eagles are endothermic which means they absorb energy from the surrounding heat. They are looking for food too, it is all about the hunt and their eyes will detect any small motion in the grass, typically carnivores they seek small animals.
Giraffes are well known to be the tallest animal in the world, beloved by most; they are quietly charming if not awkward with their long necks and impossibly long tongues. However these mega herbivores can also be quite violent. In intense bouts, male giraffes compete for dominance by steadying their legs and swinging their necks to deliver sledgehammer blows to each other with the stout ossicones atop their heads. For a time, it seemed that this violent behaviour might be the secret to why giraffes are so oddly proportioned. Sexual selection, rather than the quest to reach ever-higher foliage, was picked out as a possible explanation for the strange anatomy. However their long necks have evolved to give them the advantage over other prey for food. The two males necking stop for just seconds to watch Mtoto the female Cheetah pass, she is not a threat to them and so they carry on with the violent slaps, the sound is intense. Mtoto does not even given then a cursory glance she still has not made a kill yet and is very hungry and needs to get back to her cubs. Suddenly she sees a pair of Impala standing nervously in the long grass, they are guarding their baby. She runs, she knows from this distance the Impala can easily outrun her but the baby cannot. She pounces on the baby secreted in the grass, it is new born and does not have the strength to run, the parents have fled they know they are no match for the Cheetah. The Cheetah quickly takes the baby in a strangle hold crushing its windpipe, the light in its eyes fade and its head gently lolls back. The Cheetah briefly looks up checking for threats from both other predators and scavengers who would steal her kill. Satisfied she is safe she licks the skin, first to tenderise, second to break the skin and the third to draw blood. She quickly eats; she is vulnerable as are her cubs.
The two Lemek Lionesses have not successfully hunted in the heat of the afternoon, the diurnal prey are too alert and active. They will now wait until after sunset and call the rest of the pride to hunt. The Lionesses grunt for their cubs, they are hidden in the bushes. The cubs dutifully squeak and meow they are so excited and happy to see their mothers. They bound through the grass; their small bodies are still covered in rosettes for camouflage. Even at such a young age you can see which are male and which are female and who will be dominant. The Lionesses greet their cubs by licking them, heading butting them and playfully batting them with their strong paws. Lionesses are very fierce, protective but loving mothers, they will spend hours playing with their cubs. It is an important part of their bonding and education. The cubs are still small so live apart from the pride; the older cubs can be too boisterous with the new additions. Soon the Lionesses will introduce them to the pride especially the males who will use their Jacobson gland to sniff them to see if they sired them. But for the moment the cubs are safe in the care of their mothers. They leap on their mothers’ tails using them as prey, hunting and attacking them. They leap on their mothers legs vying for attention. The mothers are patient and join in their games. Soon the cubs grow tired and want to suckle, the Lionesses have not fed so their milk is running low, they lie down and feed the cubs as best they can. One of the cubs is significantly smaller than the rest, it is the runt and will probably not survive but the mother puts her paw around it and encourages it to feed. The rest of the cubs are gentle around it, it has courage but not strength. When it is time to move their den across the plains the cub struggles to keep up.
The vast plains of the savannah give way to the perfect horizon for the sun to set. The horizons are endless, dotted with architectural thorny Acacia and Balanite trees which become silhouetted against the darkening sky. Sunlight encounters more air molecules when the sun is low in the sky than when the sun is overhead. Even more blue light is scattered away, leaving mostly the reddish component of white sunlight to travel the straighter path to your eyes. So the setting sun looks red. As the sun sets over the hills shades of yellow turn orange and then red, the prey lift their heads enjoying the last vestiges of warmth and become perfectly silhouetted against the deep red sky. The Maasai Mara is renowned for its sunsets; it is breathtakingly spectacular, nature’s greatest light show. As the sky darkens the moon appears, followed by the bright constellations, this will light the savannah for the prey and predators alike. The Zebra migrate towards the Maasai villages on the edge of the conservancy they know they are safer near the cattle as they are protected by the tribes. Hippos emerge from the water to graze at night, they are cumbersome on land but it is a good time to eat in the cool of the night. Birds screech overhead they are heading back to the trees to roost. Scrub hare dart from bush to bush, they know the cats both big and small are nocturnal hunters and they are the prey. Cats’ eyes reflect light and can be seen at night, a female Leopard appears, her eyes almost glowing; her pupils are wide to let in light. She is looking to hunt, she is small but powerful, and she knows her territory and will stalk quietly through the grass and ambush unsuspecting prey. The night belongs to the wild, from the bellowing of the bullfrog to the mighty roar of the Lions calling the pride together to hunt, the savannah never sleeps.
Pre-dawn is cold, the air is crisp and fresh and heavily scented with moist earth and herbs. It is the promise of a new day, with new challenges and opportunities, who knows what nature will provide. Mist rolls across the plains, the tiny droplets of water hanging in the air create a beautiful eerie but ethereal grey sheet of cloud that softens the landscape. It blurs the green of the savannah grasses into the blues of the sky, a Monet watercolour landscape. DikDik the smallest antelope on the plains scuttles from bush to bush hoping to be undetected by predators; they are beautiful with soft doe eyes and mate for life. Zebra return in droves from the base of the mountain where the villages are, happy in the knowledge their family members are safe and with them. Prey of all shapes and sizes stretch cold muscles and start to prance, leap and run. It is such a joyous sight watching them show off their speed and prowess. As the sun rises and heats the plains the mist disperses, tiny droplets of water cling to individual blades of grass, the light refracts through the water creating a kaleidoscope of colour. The moist golden, green and purple grasses sway like the sea, undulating, living and moving, the trees become islands within its waves. Golden Crowned Cranes with their angelic halo of golden feathers high step through the grass looking for insects and seeds to feed on. They are monogamous and mate for life. During the breeding season, these birds perform beautiful displays; dancing, bowing, running and jumping, while making low booming calls which inflate their gular sacs. The plains are teaming with the most incredible plant, bird and animal life, each so beautifully unique and fascinating.
The Enonkishu pride separated from the Lemek pride when the Sankai five male Lion Coalition chased out Dere and Barikoi as pride leaders. They are sitting out on the dewy grass after a night of hunting, their bellies are full and they are happily tired and sated. The pride is small being a breakaway, so out in the open warming up after the cold night of hunting one sub adult male and female, three Lionesses and a large male Lion enjoy the warmth of the sunrise. They have definitely made a kill in the night, their muzzle show tell-tell signs of blood and their stomachs are turgid from the feast of meat. They rise together as a pride, a strong family unit stretching cold tired muscles. In turn they yawn, pink barbed tongues poked out between yellowing canines. The male will mate with the females to produce the next line for this pride, within a few years if he can protect them from marauding nomadic males the pride will be strong. The Lion cat stretches forward preparing his body for at least fourteen hours of sleep before they hunt again tonight. Slowly they make their way to the bushes, they will sleep together, prides bond through many means, wrapping limbs around each and resting heads on backs and bums is certainly one of them. They sleep in a beautifully tangled mess of protection, love and family.
Mtoto the female Cheetah is once again stood on termite mound trying to hunt, with seven mouths to feed she must make a kill every day and yesterday she had such a small kill, it sustained her but did not satisfy her, today she must bring down a larger prey such as a Thompson Gazelle or Impala. There are large resident herds of Wildebeest grazing in the conservancy as the grass is plentiful but unless she can find a young or adolescent Wildebeest to bring down a large adult may be too much of a challenge by herself. Male Cheetahs form coalitions either by birth or by needs of survival so they can hunt large prey such as Wildebeest or Zebra but the females are solitary so must rely on their own strength and skill. Of course cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world, reaching speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. They can accelerate from 0 to 68 miles per hour in just three seconds. Cheetahs are the only big cat that can turn in mid-air while sprinting, so her skills are pretty impressive. She looks around her; she can see detail of up to 3 miles away so searches for potential prey. She heads across the plains, her pale yellow coat with black dots on the upper parts, and white on her underbelly blend into the environment. Her movements are athletic but smooth and deliberate she does not want to alarm any potential prey. Her back and shoulders are flat giving her a streamlined pose, she walks undetected. She hunts in the heat of the early morning after the Lions go into the bushes to sleep; it gives her a competitive advantage.
The heat can get very intense late morning on the plains, a heat haze shimmers across the savannah blurring the landscape. A lone Topi becomes tired and sits down on the plains, usually a very alert antelope his behaviour is most unusual as he knows how vulnerable he is to attack when he is not alert. He nods his head forward, he wants to sleep but his brain tells him to stay alert. On his left the rest of the herd graze, their backs are turned to him, they are busy eating. On his right a herd of Zebra graze too but tempers flare as two young male Zebra start fighting, they can be very hot tempered especially over mating rights. The Zebra kick and bite each other exerting their dominance, it is all about strength. All of the prey are distracted, none see the lone female Lioness sat in the long grasses, her golden fur is camouflaged against the yellow stems. Her bronze eyes are sharp and alert, she is only twenty feet away from the sleepy Topi but it is hot and she is built for strength not speed and the Topi can easily outrun her. She must be within ambush distance before she strikes otherwise she will waste her energy. She crouches low and soundlessly creeps forward inch by inch as she does not want to be detected. She is in luck the prey are so distracted they are blissfully unaware of her presence. She must be an inexperienced female as she waits for over an hour in the grasses just watching and observing, indecisive. Then suddenly it happens she launches herself forward, her flanks taut her shoulder muscles bearing her weight as she leaps to ambush the Topi. The Topi amazingly leaps up in alarm as quick as lightening and she gives chase. She is in a whiskers length of him, her paws reaches forward her claws extended to dig into his flesh to pull him off balance but he swerves and she misses. She is still in hot pursuit, this was an easy target she must catch him but he is alert, wake and fast. He twists and turns and out manoeuvres her, she cannot follow his moves she does not have the athletic flexibility of a Cheetah or stamina. She stops, pants heavily and looks perplexed. The rest of the Topi and Zebra have scattered and now stand looking at her snorting a warning call. She blinks into the sun, hot and tired and slinks back into the shade of the long grasses to rest and regain her energy.
Lemurt (which means big thick neck) is the dominant male of the Sankai lion coalition. He is a strong large male with a full dark golden mane. As dominant male he has first mating rights with the Lionesses of the pride. He is alone he is following the Lionesses he wants to see which ones have come into oestrus so he can mate with them. The Lionesses are still cautious around him as he is new to the pride, there is no love between Lions and Lionesses it is more of a symbiotic relationship based on mutualism. Mutualism is a type of symbiotic relationship where all species involved benefit from their interactions. While mutualism is highly complex, it can be roughly broken down into two types of relationship. In some cases, the species are entirely dependent on each other (obligate mutualism) and in others; they derive benefits from their relationship but could survive without each other (facultative mutualism). The Lions needs the Lionesses to hunt and bear his cubs so his genes can be passed on and Lionesses need the Lions to protect them and their cubs against attacks from nomadic males who would seek to kill their cubs to bring them back into oestrus. Whilst it looks wildly passionate and fierce Lions mating is painful and dutiful but always dramatic! Lemurt bides his time by lying in the grass; his rough golden fur is incongruously surrounded by delicate white tissue flowers. Then suddenly the heavens open and it starts to rain, he cowers down his coarse fur with many coats is equipped to keep him dry but his mane becomes flattened by the deluge. He looks forlorn and closes his eyes; cats do not like rain on the whole. When it stops the mighty king shakes his magnificent mane, the water cascades in an arc over him, the small droplets shining as the sun breaks through. His mane once again stands on edge a halo of deep bronze around his powerful face.
The plains provide food and sanctuary for thousands of stunning birds who permanently reside here or migrate thousands of miles to enjoy the bounty of the plains after the rains. Secretary birds whose English name was once thought to come from the 1800s, when Europeans first spotted these birds. Back then, male secretaries wore grey tailcoats and dark knee-length pants. They also used goose-quill pens that they carried behind their ears. Although these birds can fly, flapping their wings is laborious and requires a lot of energy. As a result, when secretary birds do fly they tend to soar without flapping their wings or make use of thermal columns that can help lift them up to altitudes of 12,500 feet. Secretary birds eat rodents, grasshoppers, large insects, small mammals, frogs, lizards, and tortoises. They specialise in snakes and as they prefer to walk rather than fly so you always see them high stepping through the grass their heads bent and their beady sharp eyes focused on the ground. One of the beautiful facts about them is Secretary birds are monogamous and are thought to pair for life. During courtship, they exhibit a nuptial display by soaring high with undulating flight patterns. A deep, low croak or a roaring groan can be made during a courtship flight. Males and females can also perform a grounded display by chasing each other with their wings up and back, much like the way they chase prey.
Another bird you always find high stepping through the grass reluctant to fly is the Kori Bustard. The Kori Bustard is one of the world’s heaviest flying birds, however, it lives on the ground and is reluctant to fly unless in serious danger. Kori bustards are one of the few species of birds that drink water using a sucking motion rather than scooping. Bustard is the name given to those birds that walk. The bee-eaters ride on the back of the bustard and eat insects which fly up when the bustards walk. In turn the bee-eater can spot predators and warn the bustard of their presence. They lack the gland that produces an oily secretion which most birds have to assist with preening. A symbiotic relationship. The Kori Bustard has many predators including leopards, lions, cheetahs, caracals, hyenas, and even eagles. Chicks are, by far, the most vulnerable to predators. Even though they’re cleverly camouflaged and carefully taken care of, they are regularly picked off by leopards and jackals during the night. The Kori Bustard is cryptically coloured, meaning there are many blotches and spots all over its body. Its back and tail are a light brown, with large black and white spots near the front underside of their wings. The chin, throat and neck are whitish with thin, fine black lines. It is a beautiful bird to watch, its unique proportions makes it easy to recognise.
The Maasai Mara national reserve and surrounding conservancies is not just about the wildlife, the Maasai tribes live on these plains. Two traditionally dressed Maasai ladies in their colourful beaded dresses and leso (colourful motif shawls) wrapped around their shoulders are carrying great bundles of entwined firewood on their backs. When a Maasai lady is preparing for pregnancy she starts collecting reserves of firewood so when she gives birth she is well stocked. Firewood is so important as the fire in the enkaji is used for heating the house at night, cooking the food and boiling water but also the smoke acts as an insect repellent. It is traditional for Maasai women to keep a fire burning in their houses from the time they marry. The Maasai women are strong and independent; they build and repair the houses, collect water and firewood, cook and take care of the children as well as the goats and sheep. They also make the most beautiful crafts; the Maasai tribe are renowned for their colourful beaded jewellery and clothing. Like Lionesses they work as a team helping each other build their houses and take care of the children, the bond is strong between these women. When a woman gives birth it is the women who take care of her, feeding her milk mixed with blood from a calabash (a kind of large fruit which has a hard skin when it dries out and can then be made into a bottle) to give her strength. Visitors within a Maasai home are greeted with warmth and food, community and kindness is paramount to the Maasai way of living.
Three of the Seenka males, Merrinyo (brave), Seenka (hairy) and Lerai (light brown) are relaxing together out on the plains, their dark golden manes lit beautifully by the setting sun. Merrinyo has a stunning large light blonde mane, he is exceptionally striking. He and Seenka are very affectionate with each other, a true bromance. Even though they are around six years old they play like sub adults, rolling around on the ground, play fighting and batting each other with their large paws. The bond between males is exceptional, you will see them often rubbing heads together, grooming each other and flopping down practically n top of each other. When then sleep they will do so with arms and legs entwined. They are brothers and will stay together for life, fighting together ensuring as a coalition they protect each other and their pride. They have a very serious role to play protecting the pride so this time to play with each other and bond is so important. Male lions “mating” with other males are not an uncommon occurrence rather strangely; this behaviour is often seen as a way of asserting dominance over another male, or a way of reinforcing their social bonds. Lions’ social and pride structure can be a complex system. The males stand and indulge in another important ritual spraying urine of the bushes to scent mark their territory. They need to send a message to nomadic males who may enter their territory that this area belongs to them. They rub heads in an act of bonding and distribute their scent to each and head off across the plains into the sunset. The sun is low now and a perfect background of bright red behind them.
The night sky is clear and the constellations are bright and clearly identifiable. Through a telescope Jupiter the giant gas burning red planet and Saturn with its perfect rings of ice can be clearly seen. Venus, the second planet from the sun, named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, burns bright. It is the second brightest natural object in the night sky after the moon so why can be so easily seen with the naked eye. The moon is almost full; it is the earth’s only permanent satellite and the brightest object in the earth’s night sky, second only to the sun itself. There is no light pollution here so the wonders of the night sky can be fully appreciated in all its awe and wonder. The Mara River is lit by the moon; its reflection can be seen in the ripples. Hippo honk in the river, it is a bright night and the moon lights their way as they ascend the banks to graze in the cool of the night. Across the bank of the river the deep roar of Lions can be heard calling the pride together to hunt. This will be a challenging night for them as the moon will assist in their night vision but also the preys. Owls screech overhead looking for small mammals and rodents to hunt. Bat’s unfurl their wings and starts their nightly hunt, they reside on the savannah and in the forests, they roost together in colonies in tall trees. They can find their food in total darkness relying on their sonic hearing; bats can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes an hour, which is useful in Africa! The air is thick with the sound of animals, it is time to hunt!
The morning air is crisp and cool and always intoxicatingly inviting. To fill your lungs with such natural clean air is a privilege. The sky is clear making it cooler but it gives way to the perfect blanket of orange light unfiltered by cloud. It is an explosion of dazzling light, vibrant and life giving. The prey are perfectly silhouetted, black distinctive shapes against such depth of colour. As the sun rises a perfect sphere of blinding white light, the plains begin to warm. The sun rays spread like fingers across the horizon; the sky is stripped with red, pink and orange. As thin wispy clouds blow across the sky it takes on the iconic African image of splashes of deep vibrant colours, the perfect foil for the iconic trees. The Enonkishu pride male is roaring, calling the pride to the bushes. They have had another successful night of hunting and they are sated and looking to sleep. As a break away coalition they stay together, protecting each other. They are stronger as a pride. Their coats shine in the early morning golden light, Lions were made for this light, it highlights their majestic strength and beauty. Hyaenas and Jackal fight over the remains of the fully devoured Wildebeest kill the Lions left. The air is filled with the bark of the Jackal as they steal their share and the laugh of the Hyaenas as they live up to their mischievous reputation as comical scavengers. A very hungry Hyaenas runs off with the Wildebeest head, their strong jaws were made for crunching bone. It is macabrely amusing watching the skull swing with gay abandonment from its jaws.
Three of the Seenka males, Metinyo (brave), Seenka (hairy) and Leroi (light brown) are walking across the plains, they would have hunted pre-dawn when it is darkest. The sun rises behind them, their manes backlit as if they are on fire; the vibrant red light enhances the colour of their bronze and dark blonde fur. They are strong confident males at the peak of their fitness. Their powerful shoulders rise and fall as they navigate the uneven terrain, they need to patrol their territory, scent marking bushes with urine to let nomadic know this territory is theirs. They are very affectionate with one another, rubbing heads as they walk. As they rub heads they transfer their scent to the other to bond, if the head butt is reciprocated the bond is sealed. In this case it certainly is, they repeat over and over again this beautiful act of love and affection, the bond between pride males is unbreakable, it has been proven that pride males will bond for life. This keeps the coalition strong; they will fight to protect each other. Males will sleep together, eat together and even mate together sharing a Lioness. Their aim is to mate as such as possible and sire dozens of cubs to pass on their genes. For them it is about creating a legacy.
Impala and Waterbuck graze in the bushes oblivious to the potential threat heading towards them. Mtoto the young Cheetah mother is looking to hunt. She hunches her shoulders and flattens her head to streamline her body and then suddenly sprints forward. It is a short dash as the Impalas cannot escape and so she leaps onto the neck of an adult Impala and drags it under a bush. She clamps her mouth and sharp teeth around its windpipe to quickly suffocate it. Once strangled she drags it to the edge bushes and licks it breaking the skin and starts eating. She keeps glancing up to ensure no predators or scavengers are around to steal it or attack her, she is vulnerable but hungry. She pants heavily after the hunt but bites off large lumps of flesh. The dead eyes of Impala are mesmerising, the light fades and death envelopes it, the scent of metallic fresh blood fills the air. Her chin covered in blood, it oozes from her mouth and dribbles down her chin. You can hear the crunching of sinew and bone. The bloated abdomen of the adult Impala from gases and grass spills out as Mtoto breaks flesh. The stomach and intestines spill to the ground; she will not eat these but leave them to the scavengers. Blood is smeared across her cheek, her amber eyes are constantly alert, flies buzzing around her head are attracted to the smell of blood. She gets up periodically to check for threats. The black tear marks protect her eyes from the glaring morning sun. The bloated abdomen of the Impala could be the result of it being heavily pregnant. Impala are slower when they are pregnant making them easier for predators to catch. She will not eat the foetus but leave it casually abandoned; a life never lived but now at the mercy of scavengers.
Mtoto is sated and leaves the carcass under the bush. She walks to the shade of a tree as the late morning sun is beating down. She is so happy and rolls enthusiastically around on the grass; her face really is the picture of ecstasy. Her stomach is rotund, completely full and satisfied. Or so we think, just moments later she gets up and walks back to the Impala that is lying prone in the bushes and she starts eating one of the legs. It is unimaginable how she is consuming so much meat; the adult Impala is as large as her. She walks off again, urinates then finds a bush to rest under. The Impala herd spot her and alarm call, they have already lost one of their herd to her so now they warn other prey a predator is on the prowl. She is completely unperturbed she is used to be ousted by the prey. She lies down, her stomach heavy and starts licking her paws and swiping them over her face to wash the blood off. She purrs in contentment, she is a gentle cat. The food will nourish her body and so she will be able to produce milk for her cubs. She needs to remain strong for them.
Down in the main reserve the Marsh pride has two new dominant males, Half tail and Ologolo (meaning strong). The pride over the last few years have declined due to instability in the pride leadership but now with young cubs this pride hopefully will start to increase in number. Their territory is the Marsh Musiara area which has plentiful prey and water, the perfect conditions for them to thrive. Yaya the dominant pride Lioness who leads the hunts has the chance now to ensure the survival of the reserves most famous and loved pride. Only a few days ago they caught a Buffalo and feasted on it for several days. The Marsh area attracts great herds of Elephants, Zebra, Wildebeest and Impala who come to graze on the moist marsh grasses and drink from the cool pools of water. Even during dry seasons this area generally has water. It is a Billashaka, a place of certainty. Ologolo lies out on the grass his golden mane splayed out around his powerful head and broad shoulders. He is watching over his new pride. The five cubs, a litter of two and a litter of three are playful in the mid afternoon sunshine. They clamber on their sleeping mothers trying to gain their attention by chewing their ears and biting their necks. As the Lionesses flick their tails the cubs pounce on them. The mothers are very patient even though they clearly want to sleep!
A large herd of Elephants march over the plains grazing on the moist grasses. They have a number of young with them so they keep them safe between the large females. They have not seen the Lions resting in the grass but they raise their trunks to test the air and they pick up their scent of them. The Lions are not disturbed by the Elephants although the young cubs sit up curious at these colossal giants. Lions can hunt and kill a baby Elephant but they see them as no threat today. The Lions are well fed and sleeping, not hungry or in hunting mode. One of the Lionesses gets up and walks over to Ologolo and rubs her face over his in deference, he reciprocates and uses him Jacobson gland to draw in her scent to test if she is in oestrus. When males take over a pride they have to gain the trust and respect of the females. The Lioness walks back over to her sister and lays down almost on top of her, the females bond for life, the sisterhood in the pride is very important. One of the other females goes over to one of the young cubs and lies on top of it, she almost squashes it, it yelps in surprise and wriggles out. It climbs up a mound and starts to play with a small bush. Cubs are very hardy and resilient; they have to be pride life is protective but tough. They have to stand their ground in order to gain a place in the hierarchy. It is fight for status and feeding rights. Even playtime to rough housing, the cubs need to grow strong and able to fight.
Two Cheetah brothers are walking through the Billashaka area; they are only around three years old. Male Cheetahs when they leave their mother form a coalition so they can hunt together and bring down larger prey. They look hungry and are still fairly inexperienced in their hunting technique. They watch as a herd of Elephants walk through the tall trees but they soon refocus their attention on a family of Topi with a young baby. The grass is too short to provide coverage and pair of Crown Crane are determined to give away their presence by screeching a warning call. The Topi have great vision and quickly pick up the Cheetah stealthily walking through the grass. They start to snort indicating to the Cheetah they have been seen. One of the Cheetahs stands still whilst the other crouches lower in the grass and continues to stalk. It tricks them by pretending to walk away from them then changes direction to try and hunt them from behind. The baby Topi will not be quick so if the Cheetah starts running at full speed in striking distance it should be able to bring it down. The Cheetah crouches low then springs, it does not however run at top speed and the Topi outmanoeuvre and out run it. The Cheetah is disappointed and re-joins its brother. They head across the plains in search of easier prey.
The Marsh pride wake at twilight as the temperature cools and there is a gentle breeze. Dust clouds spin around them as the plains are dry from several days of no rain. A cub sneezes, it’s whole body shakes and it topples over. This amuses its siblings who rouse from their slumber and start to play. Play is so important for bonding, establishing hierarchies and practicing hunting skills. They chase each other around, pouncing and leaping on each other. They get easily distracted as they find sticks and clumps of grass to play with. They love to climb however unlike Leopards they are not proficient at it. They are muscular and bulky, fit for strength not agility. However like all cats they like to sharpen their claws on the textured bark and gnaw at the loose trunk. They have such beautiful bronze eyes that shine with mischievousness as they plot their next attack. They chase each other in and out of the bushes, using the foliage as perfect camouflage. The Lionesses reluctantly wake and yawn, stretching wide their mouths and poking out their bright pink barbed tongues. They are used to the crazy antics of their offspring but it is time for their baths. A Lioness scoops one of the young cubs with her mighty paw as it passes and pulls it into her. She clamps it to her and tries to start washing it with her tongue but it squirms and wiggles, it does not want to be washed it wants to play. The young males squeals and bats his mum with his paws but she is determined he will be clean. Once finished she lets him go and play and fixes her gaze on Hippos in the water, she seems amused by their bad tempered antics. Close by one of the pride male’s sleep, the young cubs are not intimidated by their powerful father, he is just dad. They bound over to him hoping to play but he is none too happy about being disturbed and bears his teeth at them and growls, they stare at his large teeth and slink away duly told off. The sun sets low behind the pride, the image of family life. The vibrant deep glow of the red light casts warm fire over the family. The air is filled with the sound of the lions roar.
The cool pre-dawn is a very active time for Lions; it is a time when they usually come back from a night of hunting. Sometimes successfully and their bellies are taut from gorging on meat and sometimes unsuccessfully and they groan with hunger and are grumpy and unsatisfied. The Marsh pride walk in a line away from the kill they completely demolished. Their rotund bellies swing comically almost reaching the ground. The young cubs chase their mothers, attacking their legs and leaping at their necks and tails. The Lionesses are patient and playful and bat them with their large paws sending them rolling along the ground. Or they pin them down playfully putting their heads in their mouth teasing them. Their mussels are have tell-tale signs of sinew and blood from eating but they will wash thoroughly when they reach the bushes. The Lionesses are joyful from a good meal and play with each other; they chase each other around mock fighting and hunting. They leap high into the air pulling each other down. It is so joyful. When they reach the Marsh area they retreat to the bushes to wash and sleep. The young cubs find a small acacia bush and start climbing it. They chew the twisted twigs and start attacking branches as they swing back towards them. They practice their hunt skills on each other as they chase each other around the bush. As the sun starts to rise the golden light lights up the blonde rosettes on the young cubs. They need them for camouflage as they are still at a vulnerable age. As they peak through the branches the sun light is caught in their eyes, their bronze eyes shine bright with wonder at this big world.
Hyaenas are excellent hunters in their own right and as the sun rises they can be seen with their own Zebra kill. They have dragged it to their den and the whole clan is feeding from it, including three ages of puppies. 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, at a glance a cross between a small bear and a dog. 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. For many years Hyaenas were thought to be hermaphroditic (possessing both male and female organs) due to the fact that the external labia of the female is swollen in the form of a false scrotum, and the clitoris is long and erectile, making it indistinguishable from the male’s penis. Copulation takes place by the male inserting his penis into an enlarged opening in the females’ clitoris, which connects with the merged urino-genital duct. The cubs are well developed at birth with their eyes open and their canines and incisor teeth already cut. Siblings of the same sex fight for dominance, and the death of one of the cubs is common. 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. They are highly opportunistic and scavenge kills but they are also very effective hunters. Hyaenas live in clans of between 5-30, you often see them lying by their dens resting during the day or cooling in shallow pools of water. Females will remain with their clan for life whereas as males will become nomadic until they join another clan to prevent interbreeding. Females lead the clan in hunting and are the dominant in the group. They recognise each other by scent, secreting liquid from their anal glands on blades of grass. Their faeces are white due to the high level of calcium they consume from crunching bones. Hyaenas can kill and eat each other during clan battles and they will often be killed by male Lions when scavenging a kill. It is a hard life for Hyaenas; they are very impressive but so very misunderstood.
The Ridge pride did not successfully hunt in the night so they are still looking to hunt at sunrise. Five Lionesses are with two of the two dominant Salis pride Lions. They also have eleven small cubs with them all around two months old, very vocal and complaining they want their mothers to lay down and relax so they can suckle but the Lionesses are active looking for possible hunting opportunities. It is difficult for the Lionesses to satisfy the pride and take care of the cubs hence why they more than often leave the cubs with the prides males to babysit whilst they hunt for the pride. The cubs are hungry so are needy and meow constantly, the males provide no comfort as they are hungry too and so become short tempered with them. The Lionesses keep one eye on the cubs and one of the hunting opportunities. Not far away two other Lionesses from the pride are hunting Warthog in the long grasses; they are a family of five which should be relatively easy for the females as the piglets are vulnerable. The Lionesses are cautious as the male Warthog is large with sharp tusks and could easily spear them defending his family. The Lionesses give chase, the grass is long and the warthogs are ambushed on each side so they do the only tactic open to them, scatter. This confuses the Lionesses as they do not lock onto a target and run around frantically losing focus. Amazingly the whole family escapes being caught. They regroup shocked bewildered but happy to be back together. The Lionesses however look none too pleased; they look annoyed to be outmanoeuvred. They are also still hungry so quite bad tempered at losing a meal.
The female Leopard Fig is languishing up a tree in the Olararok area; she has caught an Impala and her cub Figlet is at the top of the Acacia tree with its long thorns tearing into the flesh. As a protective mother Fig is sat at the bottom of the tree protecting her cub from marauding Lions or Scavengers who would look to kill the cub. A lone brave or maybe stupid Hyaenas sits within feet of her, it is hoping the Impala will drop from the tree. Fig ignores it but has it in her peripheral vision in case it moves too close to her. The cub descends the tree and joins her mother, Fig starts washing Figlet affectingly. Figlet revels in her mother’s love and lies down next to her angling her head backwards so her mother can wash the blood of the Impala off of her face. The Hyaenas swiftly moves away, she does not like the odds of two Leopards; the cub is nearly a year old. Fig ascends the tree and takes the kill in her mouth and inexplicably brings it down the tree, the cub joins her and they run with it across the plains, the Hyaenas in hot pursuit. Fig quickly ascends another tree with the Impala; it dangles dangerously from her mouth as she stares down at the Hyaenas. The cub is on the branch below her having followed her up and hisses at the Hyaenas. The cub quickly ascends and runs to another nearby tree and climbs to the very top, the Hyaenas does not follow her as it is just interested in the kill. Fig ascends again and runs with the kill to a denser tree and pulls the kill up the tree and hangs it over a branch. A morsel of flesh drops tantalising and teasing the Hyaenas, it greedily eats the flesh but when it jumps up it cannot climb the tree, its claws are fixed like a dog and it has no grip. Fig stands on the edge of the branch where she has laid the kill and looks down at the Hyaenas, a look of distain on her face, she has outwitted the Hyaenas three times. The Hyaenas sits under the tree hoping for more morsels to drop like a beggar at a feast.
Fig once again descends the tree leaving the kill for her to eat later, it is safely stored. She spots a family of Warthog on the open plains and just for sport she gives chase alarming the poor family who scatter. The male Warthog with its brittle mantle of hair and large dangerous tusks puts himself between his female and very small piglets. They run fast outmanoeuvring Fig, the Warthogs have their tails in the air to signal the piglets to follow. It is clear she is just having fun with them, she stops and watches them then rather comically they run back towards her, she half-heartedly chases them again but they manage to get away. The sun is burning; the sky is so clear it beats down relentlessly. Fig is tired after her exertion and climbs down the bank to the cool dried up river below; the earth is cold in the shade of the overhanging bank. She slowly washes, licking her impressively large powerful paws and swiping them over her blood streaked face. She sighs and lays down to rest. She knows her cub is safe but at a year old she is also keen for it to start looking after itself. The wild is harsh and cubs have to be independent very young.
The afternoon sun is so intense; there are very few clouds in the sky. Every animal has its own unique way of keeping cool during the hottest part of the day. Hyaenas have very thick, dense wiry fur so really feel the heat. So what better way of cooling off is to have a refreshing mud bath! So after an exhausting day scavenging two Hyaenas find a deliciously cool mud pool and immerse themselves in its thick, gloopy brown depth right up to their necks. They look blissfully happy relaxing. A herd of Elephants walk close to them but they do not move. The Elephants glance at them most probably envying them as they too will be looking for much larger pools of water to cool off in. The Elephants use their large feet to kick up small acacia bushes and pull them up with the sensitive ends of their trunks to deposit them in their mouths. They are unique as they are browsers and grazers and enjoy the bountiful new growth of plants from the recent rains. A troupe of Baboons watch eating delicate white tissue flowers.
After her much needed rest Fig calls Figlet, it is mother and daughter time. In the two years Figlet is with Fig she must learn so much from her mother. But sometimes it is time for fun and bonding. Fig starts to wrestle with Figlet on the ground, they bite each other necks and try and pin each other down. Of course Fig is stronger but she allows Figlet to win sometimes to give her confidence. They leap up and wrestle in the air pulling each other down and giving chase. It is joyous to see the bond of love between them. She is a successful mother she has raised many cubs to independent adults in this difficult environment. They collapse on the ground, hot and panting. Of course big cats also purr when they are happy. Figlet lies next to Fig so her mother can wash her, the delight on her face is beautiful, she revels in her mother’s love and attention. For solitary animals Leopards are very good parents, even the father can occasionally visit to check on its offspring although more likely to check whether the mother is back in oestrus. The competition for mating rights with Leopards is very fierce to the point of deadly. So establishing mating rights without putting your life is danger is always a preference.
It is late in the afternoon and the light is golden, the Marsh pride are out on the open plains looking to hunt. The two dominant male Lions are being chased by a herd of Elephants as they have young calves in the herd and are fearful the pride will kill them. Ironically the Lions are unperturbed as they are not interested in the calves; there is easier plentiful prey here such as Wildebeest, Impala and Zebra. At a safe distance the male Lions stop running and sit in the grass in the golden sunlight watching the Elephants. The matriarch trumpets a warning sound to them but the Lions just casually observe. One of the males joins the pride cubs on a mound and is stunningly backlit by the sunset with the young cubs playing around him; it is a beautiful scene of parental love. The cubs are safe and secure in their fathers protection. He is surprisingly gentle and patient with them and gently plays. Then it happened the Lionesses are out to hunt and use the Elephants as a screen and diversion to hunt Zebra. The Lionesses suddenly run around the Elephants ambushing the Zebra. One of the Lionesses brings one down, strangling it from the front using her weight to pull it down. The other Lioness comes in to pull down its hind legs but fearful of its lethal kick. They manage to subdue it, the Zebras eyes are wild, adrenaline courses through its veins as it makes it last bid to stay alive. The Lionesses head is next to its, cheek to cheek eye to eye, one determined to succeed to kill and one fighting to stay alive. The Lioness is skilled, she closes the Zebras windpipe and the light leaves its eyes and its head lolls to one side and its legs stop kicking. The Lionesses keep hold, one at the front and one at the back they are tired but want to be sure it is dead. They finally let go and pant heavily. The male Lions come running in to join the Lionesses in the feast, there is surprisingly no fighting as there plenty to share. The two Lions and two Lionesses sit shoulder to shoulder tearing at eye flesh, gorging on the moist meat. Behind them the glorious sun sets, a vibrant technicolour, the rich blood of the Zebra amplified by the sun rays; it brings beauty to a natural scene, the fight for survival.
It is still, calm and peaceful, just the melodic sound of the dawn chorus signalling the dawn of a new day. The clear skies provide the blank canvas for a perfect sunrise, an orange and red graduated sky. The trees and Elephants are perfectly silhouetted against the vibrant awe inspiring sky. There is so much beauty in nature; everywhere you look there are signs of new life. From the tender way a mammoth Elephant will encourage a calf to stay underneath for protection to the delicate white tissue flowers that push their way through the moist earth after the rains. Nature is life, hope and new beginnings. For if you turn your face to the sun your shadows will fall behind you. The prey do just that they stand their heads lifted to the rising sun, enjoying the heat on their faces after a cold night. They start to joyously frolic and canter as they warm their cold muscles. There is always joy in a new day, for who knows what nature will bring. Life is such a beautiful safari; the journey from birth to death is challenging but full of adventure. The sun rises, a fiery ball of flames lighting the plains, the tips of the red oat grass look like they are on fire. The grasses sway in the cool breeze; they are camouflage, protection, food and life. They sprout up after the rains, attracting all prey to nourish themselves. The ubiquitous circle of life, from predator to prey, from seed to the mighty Baobab trees thousands of years old.
The Marsh pride dominant male lions are lying in the grass, the early morning golden light sets their manes on fire. They are still new to this pride so they protectively guide their pride. The Lionesses are very playful after last night’s feast; some of the females are sub adults and enjoy play time. The pride has cubs of all ages and they play so well together, the Lionesses chase the younger cubs and playfully pin them down and pretend to bite them, they try and pick them up in their mouths but the cubs meow as they are too big now for that. The Lionesses chase them batting their bottoms, play is important for bonding but also teaching them to be tough and how to fight and hunt. The lionesses even play with each other, jumping in the air and pulling each other down. The cubs use the mounds and ravines to ambush each other, leaping on rumps, biting and mock hunting. The Lions look on, watching their pride at play knowing the cubs are their future and carry their genes. After all the excitement the cubs grow tired. The Lionesses lead the cubs to the bushes to sleep, the males groan and reluctantly get up and follow, their bellies are rotund and they struggle to walk. The males’ first meander down to the water to drink, their image of majesty is perfectly reflected in the water. They take long slugs of water, quenching their thirst after their salty meal. A Lioness walks over to one of the males and gently bats his face with her paw, affection or dominance? The Lionesses are the heart and soul of the pride, the consistent presence in the pride, dominant males come and go but the Lionesses have a bond for life keeping the pride together. Pride life depends on matriarchal continuity that can last many generations.
The Ridge pride has a Wildebeest kill; two of the dominant males are finishing it off. The males will gorge themselves until nothing is left of the kill, their bellies look like they will explode. Jackals are running around with some bones in their mouths. They are as cunning and quick as foxes and just as appealing. Their bravery around these mighty males is to be commended. The male Lions walk to the water to quench their thirst after such a salty meal. They can barely walk their stomachs almost touch the ground. The two males’ crotch shoulder to shoulder their mighty heads with their glorious golden manes are reflected in the water. They ascend a mound, the cool early morning breeze blows back their manes, their faces are lifted to the sun, picking up the scents of the plains. It is a beautiful moment of pure beauty and tranquillity as their manes are windswept and they view their territory. They get up and walk down the mound towards the Lioness sitting in the grass; they stalk the Lionesses as they are unsure of their reaction as they have only just taken over the pride. One of the Lionesses is nervous of their attention and gets up and moves away. The males use their Jacobson bland at the back of their mouth to draw in her scent where she was sitting to see if she is in oestrus and receptive to mating. The males lie on the grass where she was and start licking each other, very affectionately, face to face mutually licking the blood from the kill off of each other’s faces. It is pure bonding and bromance.
Neema (meaning good luck) the female Cheetah is laying out in the early morning sun, she has three cubs around a year old that are enjoying the shade of the nearby bushes. A small herd of Buffalo are grazing nearby and have not seen her. The Buffalo get closer and catches her scent on the breeze, they are short sighted and short tempered and do not like cats, they are a threat to their calves. The matriarch snorts she is confrontational, she wants to eradicate the threat, she charges Neema. Neema is alarmed and leaps to her feet, she glances briefly back at them and runs off, she wants them to follow her, and she needs them away from her cubs. They follow for a distance then turn back to the bushes to graze. They do not see the three cubs sitting in the bushes until once again they pick up their scent. The Buffalo are within two feet of the cubs, just the small croton bush between them before they snort. The cubs leap to their feet but instead of running off they confront the Buffalo, they Buffalo are angry and will not stand down so the Cheetah turn tail and start to jog off, they know the Buffalo are slow so they do not need to dash. The cubs have an almost joyful look on their faces; they seem to enjoy the chase like it is a game.
Neema and her cubs start walking across the plains. The cubs are feeling playful and frisky and start to chase and leap on each other, they are in hunting mode. They leap in the air; limbs entangled trying to bring each other down. They pit strength against strength, bonding and preparing themselves for when they leave their mother in another year and have to fight for themselves. Two of the cubs get separated from their mother and ascend a mound to look for her. One chirps like a bird, it’s shrill call piercing the air hoping to be picked up by its mother. Neema is not far and calls back and they eagerly run to join her. Neema and the other cub are relaxing under a bush and the other two cubs join them. It is a joyful reunion; they run heads and groom each other. The cubs roll around in the earth trying to remove ticks from their fur. Then they lick their paws and start grooming their faces. Cats are very fastidious, they like to keep clean.
Olope (the brave one) one of the male Lions from the Moniko pride is sitting on the banks of the river with one of the Lionesses. They have separated themselves from the pride to begin mating. They will mate every fifteen or so minutes for three to five days, not eating until she is satisfied she has been impregnated. He is an older male around ten years old with a fully black nose and a stunning full mane graduating from dark bronze around is handsome face to pure black fur around his powerful muscular shoulders. She is asleep under the bush whilst he is awake waiting for her, he is keen to mate but she decides when and where it will happen. He gets up and flexes his muscles and finds a small pool of water to drink from. Something on the grass clearly attracts his attention as he starts joyfully rubbing his face over it. It may be faeces of another animal. He walks back to the bush waking the Lioness who sits up but she does not seem ready to mate. He grows weary of waiting and breaks protocol and mounds her as she is just there, he starts thrusting several times but does not connect. She shifts clearly bored and allows him to connect, he growls and thrusts and bites her head. The mating is over in seconds. She looks unimpressed, they are near the end of their mating time and she is clearly tired. He gently licks her and settles next to her whilst she rests her head on her paws and goes back to sleep.
The Maasai Mara is blessed with a large number of successful prides of Lions. With less than 20,000 Lions left in the wild this is one of the last strongholds where they thrive in the true wild. The Paradise pride are sat out on the plains at sunset, four females and four sub adults are enjoying the view from the top of a large termite mound. They have just woken from their days sleep and they are contemplating their night of hunting ahead. The sub adults are old enough to join the hunting party and so are also scanning the plains for prey. The sub adults have not fought or mated yet so their golden faces are unscarred, they have a youthful beauty. Periodically they rub heads together in affection and love. As the sun sits lower in the sky the rays are reflected in the Lions golden bronze eyes. Lions are the only cats to live as a family; they know they are stronger as a pride. These Lionesses raised their cubs together, supporting and nurturing them. The sub adult females will undoubtedly stay with the pride whilst the males will be ousted in a few years so they can start their own pride. In the meantime they learn from their mothers to whom they are bonded. The sun sets behind them creating the perfect backdrop of red and gold light to enhance the true beauty of these magnificent cats. The scavengers lurk on the plains ready to follow the pride; they hold they will be successful. Scavengers shriek overhead, soaring like Eagles on the vortex, their sharp eyes following the movements of the pride, for where there are predators there is the opportunity to kill. The suns glow disappears below the horizon and the perfect sphere of the moon lights the sky, this will be there illumination tonight.
Pre-dawn is when you will see the nocturnal animals still active, they scurry around knowing when the sun rises it will be become too warm and they will retreat to their dens and burrows. One of the most beautiful cats to see is the Serval cat. The serval is a medium-sized wild cat that stands about 15-25 inches at the shoulder and usually weigh between 20-30 pounds. It is a leggy slender cat but very strong. Its name is derived from a Portuguese word meaning “wolf-deer.” Servals have the longest legs of any cat relative to their body size, their legginess is due to stretched out metatarsal bones in the feet. Servals have large oval ears, which are black on the back with a distinctive white spot. When hunting birds and rodents, servals make high vertical leaps into the air, sometimes jumping more than 9 feet straight up. They can also leap up to 12 feet horizontally from a stationery position to land on targets with enough force to stun or kill their prey on impact. Threat displays between hostile servals can look scary, with the cats flattening their ears, arching their backs, baring their teeth, and nodding their heads vigorously. If the situation escalates, they lash out with their long front legs and bark and growl just like domestic cats. Also like domestic cats it makes various sounds like purr, chirp, hiss, cackle, grunt, and meow. Servals rely heavily on their keen sense of hearing and height advantage to locate prey in tall grass. They pounce from one to four meters away, landing on the prey with their front paws and then delivering a deadly bite to the neck. Servals can also leap in the air to grab birds in flight, hook fish and frogs out of the water, and snatch rodents from out of their burrows. It’s estimated that the cats are successful in about half of their prey capture attempts which is a much greater success rate than the big cats. They are fascinating cat to observe, they are solitary except when mating or raising kittens, their focus when hunting is fascinating. They are quite shy but when focused on feeding they are confident and powerful.
Leopards were notoriously known as nocturnal solitary ghost cats, almost impossible to see, they can disappear without a trace. But now they are almost as gregarious and confident as Lions and Cheetahs. They are both nocturnal and diurnal, it is common to see them hunting or playing during the day when the Lions sleep so they are not disturbed. Luluka’s cub is up an Olive tree, it is in a playful mood and as a sub adult now quite confident without his mother. He is walking steadily along the narrow branches demonstrating his skills; he wants to get the best views of the plains so he can view the prey. Whilst still too young to hunt for himself he has learnt from his mother how to identify which prey is good to hunt. He is a beautiful young male, his coat is gleaming, he has a scarless youthful face and a strong body. He is so confident he settles right on the far end of a branch in full morning sunlight giving him the best view. His eyes are a startling violet blue, he is fascinated by this immense world in front of him. In six months to a year he will be old enough to leave his mother and hunt for himself. He has learnt a lot from her and their bond is strong but he will need to mate and carry on his gene line. He gets distracted a bird in a nearby tree is squawking angrily, he turns his head but is unperturbed, he wants to watch the prey instead, later his mother will hunt again for them.
So what would make a Hamerkop bird shriek with such anger and indignation? Hamerkops are the smallest African stork; they are often seen perching on the back of hippopotamuses, searching for frogs. Amusingly they sometimes participate in group ceremonies. As many as 10 birds call loudly while running round each other in circles. Next, a male will pretend to copulate with a female. With their crest raised, wings fluttering, a chorus of cries continues for several minutes. Only after this elaborate display, does breeding take place. These birds are famous for their strong, three-tiered nests. The nest is up to 180 cm (6 ft.) high, 180 cm (6 ft.) wide, and can weigh a whopping 24.75 to 49.5 kg (55 to 110 lbs.). It is made of sticks, reeds, grass, and dead plant stems placed in a tree fork, on a cliff or on the ground. Such a structure takes 3 to 4 months to build and they often provide nests for other species such as owls, geese, ducks, kestrels, and pigeons. Or Leopards? Yes Luluka like any arrogant cat (usually domestic though) like to find new and interesting places to sleep. She has decided the large Hamerkop nest is the perfect place to sleep comfortably up the tree without her having to perch and with great shade so she can easily view the plains. She seems completely oblivious to the birds’ angry shrieks, it would like its nest back! But like all cats she has selective hearing! She occasionally opens her big beautiful emerald eyes and peers across the plains to see if there is any prey nearby she can ambush, but on ascertaining there is not she drowsily returns to sleep much to the Hamerkops annoyance.
This area is very popular for the big cats, there is plentiful game and water. The Black Rock pride male Lions are only a few hundred yards away, they are a real threat for Leopards as Lions will not tolerate any competition for food even though it is plentiful right now. It is midday and the sun relentlessly beats down, the Lions are hot and are being bothered by yellow hippoboscid flies, they are attracted to the scent of blood on the Lions faces from when they were feeding. The Lions lay under the shade of croton bushes, known for their insect repellent properties but today the flies are settling all over the Lions bodies making the Lions irritable. They snap their large jaws at the flies and try to swot them with their large paws. The flies are numerous and relentless. Even these large dominant males are no match for swarms of flies. The Lions give a heavy deep masculine groan, they give in and fall back to sleep. They can sleep up to twenty hours a day, they like to conserve their energy for hunting, fighting and mating. The males sleep close together, bodies touching, there is a strong bond between brothers.
A lone female Cheetah is trying to hunt Thompson Gazelle. She is young female maybe newly separated from her mother. The heat is intense but she knows the Lions are asleep and this is a great time to hunt. She stalks low in the grass, she is downwind of them and they have not picked up her scent. She walks slowly each step deliberate so she does not make a sound. Her back is a perfect straight a clean line, she is calculating how close she needs to get to them before she runs at full speed. The Thompson Gazelle lift their heads they think they can detect something but they cannot see her but still they are always cautious and on the lookout for predators. Her amber eyes are focused, she wants to ensure this is a successful strike. She suddenly sprints and the Gazelle are alarmed they scatter, she must lock onto a target to be successful in the hunt. She becomes unfocused chasing one then another, they outmanoeuvre her, they are fast and agile. She slows she knows she lost this hunt, she walks towards the shade of a tree and lays down panting heavily to regulate her temperature. She is will try again later when she has regained her energy. The Thompson Gazelle stand a little way off observing her and making alarm calls to warn other prey there is a predator out hunting.
Lorian is a beautiful older female Leopard around eleven years old, she is the grand dame on these plains. She is still a strong powerful huntress and a good mother, successfully raising many cubs to adulthood. She is very confident, she knows these plains, this area is her territory so does not shy away. She languishes on the thick branch of a Sheppard tree having hunted and killed an Impala and dragged it up the tree. The Impala is draped almost artfully over the branch even though it must weigh as much as her. A Leopard can drag a prey up to three times its body weight whilst making it look effortless. The Impalas head lolls to one side, its eyes blank in death, it looks asleep apart from the tell-tale bite marks on its neck from where she ethically strangled it. Lorian needs to rest after such exertions; she is not a young Leopard now. Her beautiful green eyes scan the plains; she is always looking out for threats or hunting opportunities. She yawns widely and decides it is too hot to eat and so elegantly descends the tree she claws barely touching the bark. She heads to the cool of the ravine and nestles in the underside of the bank where the soil is moist and cool. Her cub appears it wants to spend time with her but she snarls at him, she is tired she wants some sleep and alone time. She gets up and walks away from him and finds another cool spot but he follows her, he wants some attention but again she snarls and he backs off he knows she is not in her mood. He instead settles near her. After a while he grows hungry and heads to the tree with the Impala kill and starts to rip open the thick skin and starts to chew on the moist bloody flesh underneath. Below him a herd of Wildebeest are walking in a straight line towards the river, they need water on the heat of the day. They are followed by a beautiful herd of Eland, the largest antelope on the plains. They are slow but methodical, their knees click as they walk.
Sunset sees the big cats waking from the days slumber. The Marsh pride cubs are playful n the warm golden light, their bronze eyes shine with mischief and excitement. It is time to bond and practice their hunting skills. The grasses are long and they use it as perfect ambush territory to leap up and bring down an unsuspecting sibling. Irrespective of size cubs will play with each other, the tiny cubs are just as brave and ferocious as their older siblings. It is often the tiniest that are the most confident, trying to bring down a cub twice its size. They know it is survival of the fittest within the pride, even at this young age they need to establish hierarchy. The Lionesses look on indulgently, they give the cubs space to find their feet, they encourage them to be brave, strong and independent, their very survival depends on it. The Lionesses indulge in their own bonding, lovingly grooming each other. They use their long pink barbed tongues to remove, dust, blood and ticks from each other’s fur, their faces are a picture of pure love and happiness. Across the plains three of the
Marsh Lionesses are out hunting already. The last of the Wildebeest herds are heading across the plains and the Lionesses take this opportunity to ambush them and bring down one of the Wildebeest. It brays and honks loudly in terror but the rest of the herd can only look on they know any rescue attempt would be futile and put themselves at risk. The Lionesses quickly and cleanly suffocate the Wildebeest, they are ethical hunters. They start to eat shoulder to shoulder pulling out white sinew like chewing gum, they are hungry and this is a large meal.
As the sun begins to set one of the Marsh pride dominant male lions comes out of bushes and joins the Lionesses, one goes up to nuzzle him but he seems afraid of her. He jumps back but she persists then sits next to him. It is probably because he is still new to the pride and is unsure of their loyalty to him. She is showing him subservience, she knows he is their protector now against other nomadic males who would seek to take over the pride and kill her cubs. Whilst there is no love between the Lions and Lionesses, there is loyalty, respect and a common bond to protect the pride at all costs. One of the cubs comes to play with the male but he snarls at it, he males are not very patient with the cubs. However the cubs are strong and brave and are used to their father’s grumpy manner and try and jump all over him anyway. He tolerates it for just moments before reluctantly getting up from his comfortable position and moving away. As he gets up to leave one of the small cub jumps up to bite his bum and he turns and snarls back, it is most comical! The cubs are unperturbed by his mood, they almost see it as a challenge! Above them one of the ugly five is keeping watch on the pride, it wants them to hunt so it can scavenge the kill. The Marabou Stalk is sat right at the top of a Ballanite tree, its sinister profile macabre against the stormy grey clouds behind it. The sun has now set below the horizon and strips of deep red and orange are seen through the heavy battleship grey clouds, a herd of Elephants are perfectly silhouetted against the sky.
The sunrise out on the plains is so unbelievably magical. There is a grey eerie mist rolling over the plains making everything seem in soft focus like a movie set. The mountains behind are a blur of greens and browns. The sun rises over the horizon a stark contrast of vibrant reds, oranges and pinks, vivid and striking. As the light touches the plains the vibrant greens, purples and yellows of the grasses come to life, the dew drops sparkle refracting the light. The sun gives life and warmth to the plains and the predators and prey living on it and within it. The Marsh pride is just arriving back from their nightly hunt, sated and energised. The cubs are very playful running around with sticks in their mouths. Small logs become good toys to gnaw and tosh about; they are just kittens, using play to hone their skills. One cub amusingly finds a tyre flap from a vehicle and start running round with it in its mouth. The other cubs become envious of this unique toy and start to chase him to steal it. Cubs are notorious for stealing vehicle parts when they are parked, naturally curious like all cats they cannot resist seeing what they can remove to play with! The Lionesses too are playful and frisky, they start joining in with the play, chasing the cubs around. They like rough play, challenging the cubs, making them strong. Often the cubs meow when the Lioness is too rough but it just makes them rougher with them as they want strong independent offspring. After years of changes in dominant males, this pride is once again thriving; the strength of the pride is in consistent strong leadership.
Neema the stunningly athlete young female Cheetah and her three cubs of around a year old are walking steadily across the plains. She has three very hungry mouths to feed and she has done really well getting three cubs to this age under very tough conditions. Even though Cheetahs are the most successful hunters of the big cats their kills are constantly being stolen by Lions, Leopards and Hyaenas. That is why she hunts in the heat of the day when there are fewer threats around; even Hyenas sooner wallow in the cool of muddy pools than be scavenging around. Her beautiful black kohl rimmed amber eyes are constantly focused and scanning for both prey and predators. She is very focused on the hunt but her cubs are playful and chase each other around. They are too young to be useful in the hunt but they must start learning these valuable skills from their mother, but the heat makes them frisky and playful and they would sooner run and hunt and play at bring down each other. One stops and looks up, her amber eyes bright in the sunshine, she is the picture of innocence and she squats and emits a very smelly poo. With a complete rich meat diet the stench is overwhelming but she is not bothered, needs must. She scratches at the grass to ineffectively cover it then runs off after her siblings. Neema keeps a watchful eye on them, she does not rest, their survival is her sole focus.
The plains are a Billashaka, a place of certainty, there is so much prey around. Neema detects a herd of Thompson Gazelle sat in the grass ahead, they have not seen or smelt her as they are upwind. She crouches low in the grass and indicates to her cubs to do the same. She waits a long time, just observing them and ensuring they have not detected her. After an hour she finally sets off to hunt them, but rather strangely instead of running which of course Cheetah being the fastest land mammal are famed for she just jogs to them, they leap up in alarm and of course easily out run her. It is a surprise as she is clearly very hungry and needs to feed her cubs as well. She looks resigned to have lost out on this hunt and chirps at her cubs to follow her. She leads them to the shade of a bush to rest from the intense heat of the sun. She starts grooming one of them and it starts purring loudly, it is such a beautiful moment. Neemas face is a picture of pure love and happiness and her cub is in heaven and to have its mother’s undivided attention and love. Its purring grows louder; it is the most beautiful sound in the world. Peace ascends over this family, her focus is entirely on them, her love and protection of them is overwhelmingly beautiful.
The plains at the end of the migration are still teaming with herds of Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala, Eland and Thompson Gazelle. It is prime hunting time for predators and scavengers. To drive through a sea of honking, braying prey is deafening but energising, this is life, the very beating heart of the plains. Here the herds mate, give birth and die, the quintessential circle of life. Like a scene from a movie, mixed herds gather around the watering hole, on the surface peaceful and calm but there is always the chance a predator ambushing this idyllic scene. Prey will always graze together as each brings their strengths. Topi have incredible sharp eyesight, Zebra their tenacity and Wildebeest their sense of smell. They bond over their mutual threats. In the late afternoon it is peaceful most of the big cats are still asleep so the prey relax more, some even sit in the grass enjoying the late afternoon rays of sun. Baboons join them peacefully picking seeds from the grasses and plucking moist white issue flowers. They too have sharp eyesight and will bark if they detect any threats. Baboons are very gregarious and mostly peaceful, the occasional argument will flare between the adolescents but overall the troop enjoys grooming each other in mutual bond and care. A pair of Crowned cranes descend on the plains, they are omnivores like the Baboons so join them looking for seeds and invertebrates. They are such majestic birds with their crown of golden feathers, but they are loud, they honk not tweet specially when coming into land. They are monogamous birds and can be often seen dancing together and preening each other’s necks which strengthens their bond.
Sunset is very such a peaceful time on the plains, stunning golden light floods the savannah. The sky speaks a thousand colours; it is the magical place between heaven and earth. The brilliant colours reflected in the clouds take on the red and orange hues of the setting sun, reflecting the colours back onto the vast plains. As the evening sun casts long shadows on the savannah, the slanting rays of the setting sun give a warm orange tinge to the golden fur of the Marsh pride Lions. The whole pride is together including the dominant males, they have just woken from their slumber. It is time to warm their bodies, stretch their muscles and get ready for their nocturnal activity of hunting. The males flex their muscles and shake the dust from their mighty manes. The Lionesses groom each other, licking dirt and ticks from each other’s fur. The cubs of course are just frisky and frolic with each other. It is time to play! There den is a dense thicket of bushes and small trees which are the perfect climbing frames for curious cubs. However unlike Leopards, Lions are very bad at climbing, they are built for strength not agility. They very comically try and climb but keep falling inelegantly onto their bottoms. But the trunks are perfect for them sharpening their claws and the branches for swinging on. They use the dense cover to hone their ambush skills and delight in pouncing on each other. Dusk settles, the darker part of twilight, it is time for the Lions to gather for the nightly hunt. Their roars reverberate through the still night, it is an incredibly low-pitched call which resonates and rings out for nearly five miles across the plains. The night belongs to the wild.
The sunrise marks the journey of the sun in the sky. In the twilight of the morning it is like all life silently waits for the sun to rise. The light during the period from dusk to sunrise increases in intensity; it becomes bright, brilliant and dazzling. Dust and airborne particles scatter light and rays from the sun giving the savannah an ethereal glow. As the warm orange, yellow and red light spreads across the plains it lights up the golden fur of the Marsh pride who are walking across the plains sated and contented after an successful night of hunting. They walk in a line, bellies rotund and full, they are now looking to sleep the day away. They reach the bushes and push their way through the dense leaves , the males stop to scent mark the branches, this is their territory and they are leaving markers to keep out marauding nomadic males. The cubs yawn widely; they are very tired and want to curl up beside the Lionesses for warmth and protection. The strength of the Lion is in the pride. They disappear into the bushes contented to sleep after a long night hunting but this is the wild, totally unpredictable. The Marsh area is also home to herds of Elephants who enjoy the rich marsh grasses and plentiful water. Whilst it is rare for Lions to attack Elephants, Elephants are still wary of them and trumpet loudly when they inadvertently come across the sleeping Lions. The Lions, rudely awakened, jump up and leave the bushes, they do not want the cubs to be trampled under the Elephants colossal feet. The Lions seek refuge on a large mound away from the Elephants and curl up together, legs akimbo, limbs casually flung over each other’s bodies. Content in the safety and protection of the pride.
Graceful, beautiful, powerful but small Kaboso the female Leopard and her cub are relaxing up a tree. She is an exceptional hunter and has killed an adult Impala kill and dragged it up the tree, it languishes lifelessly next to them over a branch. The meal will last them two to three days but the scent of fresh blood will always attract scavengers and other predators. A lone Hyaena has sniffed out this enticing smell and stands below the tree ready to catch any morsels that may fall its way. Kaboso is unperturbed by its presence as she knows it cannot climb the tree so her, her cub and her kill are safe. She beadily eyes it; the look of distain on her face at this mangy scavenger is very amusing. Whilst it keeps its distance she is fine, the Hyaenas however is salivating at the very thought of any part of the kill falling from the tree into its waiting mouth. The cub easily navigates the narrow branches to the kill and starts chewing on the flesh. It tears off a chunk and jumps down from the tree with some bones to chew but it is frightened by the Hyaenas and drops its food. The Hyaenas is ecstatic with this unexpected windfall and chew greedily on the bones, its powerful jaws, one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom, greater than the Leopards, easily crunches through the bones.
After an unsuccessful day of hunting yesterday it is gratifying that Neema the female Cheetah and her three cubs have killed a Thompson Gazelle, they have very full bellies. As the morning grows warm they are found panting in the little shade of a very small bush. Neema grooms her cubs in turn; they still have a very small mantle of hair running down their heads down their back. The cubs purr very loudly, they are so contented; they are well fed and protected by their mother. Like all cats the cubs scratch at the ground to make it more comfortable, they push away stones and smooth out the ground. As the morning grows hot they will need better shade but for now they are contented to just be together. The name Cheetah comes from the Hindi word Chita which means spotted one. Each Cheetah can be identified by their unique spot patterns. Considered the most docile of the big cats, Cheetahs do not roar, they lack the special two-piece bone in their throat that allows other big cats to do so. But they do growl and hiss when threatened and they certainly purr very loudly and chirp lovingly to each other when wanting to communicate. It is no wonder the Ancient Egyptians kept them as companions, they believed a cat Goddess named Mafdet with a head of a Cheetah would speed the pharaohs’ soul to the after world. There is no doubt being in the presence of a Cheetah is very peaceful. A herd of hundreds of Wildebeest pass in a straight line in front of the contented family heading to the Talek River to cross. The Cheetahs watch in interest but they are too full to hunt.
The breathtakingly beautiful flightless Ostrich is the world’s largest bird. Its feathers are synonymous with elegance and beauty. Ostriches interestingly have three stomachs and unlike all other living birds, the ostrich secretes urine separately from faeces. Ostriches are well known for being the fastest runners of any birds or other two-legged animal and can sprint at over 70 km/hr, covering up to 5m in a single stride. Ostriches live in herds but like most of the prey on the plains it likes to graze with other prey such as zebras and antelopes. Like many birds ostriches are omnivores, they eat insects and small reptiles. So by grazing with other prey that help them find insects on the ground by kicking the soil, in return, the ostriches keep an eye out for potential predators and warn the animals and their herd if a predator is approaching them by producing a loud sound. Ostriches are homoeothermic endotherms, and they maintain a stable body temperature by regulating the metabolic heat in their bodies. A male Ostrich is grazing with three females, his distinct black feathers in contrast to their dull beige feathers. Courtship in ostriches is a spectacular affair. The males acquire scarlet colouring on their beaks, foreheads, necks and shins. They chase each other around frantically in competition and dance alluringly for the females to achieve dominance. Males will approach females with an exaggerated prancing gait, feathers raised, and then will drop to their knees as if in proposal while waving the wings to reveal their white tips and twisting their necks corkscrew-like. This male clearly is ready to mate his long legs are bright scarlet but the females at present seem quite indifferent.
It is not unusual to see a Topi on a termite mound doing its usual sentry duty, they have great eyesight so are always on the lookout for predators hence why you will usually see other prey gazing nearby for protection. However his Topi has additional reasons for being on her guard, she is heavily pregnant and ready to give birth, the head of her foul is already starting to appear. She is vulnerable and on high alert. It is not just predators she must be on the look out for but scavengers and even raptors that could carry off her vulnerable young when it is born. Calving normally occurs once a year and is timed for periods when grass supplies are plentiful. Topi are fussy eaters they prefer only grass and will choose the tender shoots. Topi’s are almost as flexible in their reproduction as they are in social organizations. If food supplies are particularly good, then they will conceive at different times of the year, with shorter intervals between calves. Females have also developed the ability to stall the labour process if they sense immediate danger, hence why she is stood stock still; she will not give birth until she feels like there are no threats. Around her Swallows diving and swooping over the dry grasses where the herds have disturbed insects. Mutualism is a type of symbiotic relationship where all species involved benefit from their interactions. Weeks of no rain has left the plains looking dry and yellow in areas.
Two of the Topi pride Lionesses are hunting a family of Warthog in the blisteringly hot midday heat, they must be very hungry. They are tired and too hot so it is not surprising that one misses then the other tries but misses. Birds overhead are screeching letting the prey know there are predators hunting. It is the alpha pride female who is older and has darker fur and a smaller younger lighter female, probably mother and daughter. She is teaching her valuable hunting skills. They are disappointed by the failed hunt, but less than twenty percent of their hunt result in a kill. They are thirsty so head to the ravine to drink. They bend down shoulder to shoulder and take long cool gulps to revive them. As they raise their heads their chins are covered in mud. Their dark bronze eyes scan the plains for further hunting opportunities. Lion’s eyes are quite large with round pupils that are three times as big as a human’s. A second eyelid, called a nictitating membrane, helps to clean and protect the eye. They blink, the light is too bright and harsh so they head to the bushes for shade. They will no doubt sleep until sunset when it gets cooler. It looks like a storm is rolling in and Lions love hunting in a storm when the prey are distracted by the rain. Across the plains hundreds of Buffalo are grazing, this may be the target of the whole pride after the sun sets.
The plains have the most stunning flora. It is easy to miss its beauty whilst surrounded by such incredible wildlife. One of the most stunning plants is the Fireball lily. Fireball Lilies (Scadoxus multiflorus) belong to the family Amaryllidaceae, home to onions, garlic, leeks and flowering lilies. Also known as blood lilies for their stunning red colour and poisonous properties. Fire Lilies exhibit marvellous wreaths of tubular, trumpet-shaped flowers sprouting off each flower stem’s end. The stems of the plants are much like the leaves in that they slightly twist as they grow outward. They grow in beautiful clumps of dozens of flowers, it is such a stark contrast to the dry plains. They are surrounded by delicate white tissue flowers, which grow quickly after short rains. The plains dominated by grasses such as red oats grass, star grass, lemon grass, and some shrubs including the fragrant croton bushes. Most savannah grass is coarse and grows in patches with interspersed areas of bare ground. You won’t see many trees in the savanna because of little rainfall. However the ones that do grow are quite spectacular including the Acacia tree which is one of the most iconic sights in the grasslands, Baobab Tree, Candelabra Tree, Jackal Berry Tree and of course the iconic Balanite Tree with its distinctive umbrella shape. Eland and Zebra are grazing together under the shade of a mighty Fig tree, its thick trunk and branches twisted and gnarly. The Eland have an exceptionally high amount of calves hence they need the good eyesight of the Zebra to help protect them.
So what does the future look like for big cats in the wild? In the Maasai Mara seeing the Leopards after decades of hunting and persecution thriving is gratifying. Prides of Lions are growing in number, strength and territory. Cheetahs are evolving and forming larger coalitions to hunt larger prey for their survival. Servals known for being nocturnal are often seen hunting during the day. But the human wildlife conflict does exist here; humans and the big cats do fight for territory. However through education, wildlife conservation and protection of the national reserve and the surrounding conservancies, the future of the big cats here does look good. To be able to observe the big cats in their natural environment away from human interference is a privilege. Writing the tales of the cats from mating to birthing to even death will always be awe inspiring, uplifting, sometimes tragic but never without drama. How they survive in such a harsh environment is a testament to their strength, courage and adaptability. Over millions of years cats from the sabre toothed tiger to the present day domestic cat has evolved to fit into its environment. Cats are efficient hunters, have acute senses, extreme muscular strength, and unmatched reflexes. So conserving and protecting their prey is also a large part of ensuring big cats have a future in the wild. Securing the future of big cats in the wild is about so much more than just saving an iconic species. When big cats are prospering in the wild, it is a gauge that their ecosystems are also thriving. So to answer the question, when big cats are flourishing it is also good for other wildlife, humans, and our planet.