Maasai Mara 2019: Observations and Comparisons
Having twice been to the same place, it was interesting for me to compare the two trips; for while a lot was familiar and similar this time, a lot was different.
Abundance of Wildlife
We encountered 42 unique species of wildlife. There may possibly have been more; but as best as I can recall, it was 42. Here they are:
- Agama lizard
- Banded mongoose
- Cape buffalo
- Dung beetle
- Grant's gazelle
- Grey crowned crane
- Helmeted guineafowl
- Lilac-breasted roller
- Marabou stork
- Martial eagle
- Red-necked francolin
- Rock hyrax
- Saddle-billed stork
- Short-tailed eagle
- Thomson's gazelle
- Tree python
- Woodland kingfisher
- Yellow mongoose
For a seven-day trip, this is quite a large list of wildlife species. This list documents unique encounters, but we had multiple encounters with numerous species, and sometimes we encountered the same unique animal on multiple occasions.
Year of the Cheetah
This is Amani:
On day two, we encountered Amani and her cubs for a third time, and on this occasion, they had captured a juvenile Thomson's gazelle, and were in the process of killing it and consuming it right in front of us.
A few days later, we spent most of the day in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. While private conservancies offer more exclusive access, as well as the ability to go off-road and get close to wildlife, the Maasai Mara National Reserve is always worth visiting, as it is a much larger reserve and is home too some truly special characters.
On day four, we were treated to some special sightings, including one of the infamous Five Musketeers, a coalition of cheetahs which has been dominating the Maasai Mara National Reserve and causing a lot of trouble.
We had our first and only encounter with brothers Mbili and Milele, who are the sons of Kiraposhe. We never met Kiraposhe, but her sons had unfortunately lost their lunch to hyenas, which is unfortunately quite a common problem cheetahs encounter.
We had two fantastic sightings of Kisaru, and during one late afternoon and early evening game drive, we had her to ourselves. Inexplicably, nobody else in the conservancy was aware of her presence until it was too late, as when we left her to return to camp on the evening we first met her, other vehicles were heading towards where we had been, by which time it may have been too late.
Typically, when a big cat is spotted (no pun intended!), vehicles from all over the conservancy descend upon the scene. We had the Dream Team of Mario and Francis, so we might have got a piece of the action before anyone else!
Here is Kisaru in her spectacular glory:
Indeed, this was what I call the Year of the Cheetah, as we had experienced, across seven sightings, a total of 12 individual cheetahs, mostly in the Mara North Conservancy, but also in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Life is good.
King of the Jungle
On the first day, we encountered a lioness from the resident, and familiar, Cheli Pride. The Cheli Pride, named after Cheli & Peacock Safaris, was the first pride of lions we encountered during our first trip.
The Cheli Pride has significantly changed in the past four years. There have been numerous off-shoots, which have become distinct prides, as well as newcomers and disruption to what was once a 27-strong pride.
What occurred to me during this trip is that some of the now adult Cheli Pride lions we saw may have been cubs we saw during the last trip. We have no way of knowing, but it is pleasant to think that we may have seen some of the exact same lions four years later, some of which may have themselves become parents to a new generation of cubs.
Here is one of the handsome males we encountered.
Firstly, here is Lenkume:
It can be viewed at the following link:
On our second day, we headed south to the lush area near Offbeat Mara Camp, from the resident Offbeat Pride takes its name. We first met this pride early into the trip, but our most special time with these lions occurred on day five.
This was the third time we had witnessed lions devouring their meal. During the first trip, we experienced two such sightings. The first was the Cheli Pride devouring a zebra kill; and the second was the Double Crossing Pride consuming a deceased elephant.
During this sighting, our Dream Team, knowing lions well, hastily departed the kill site, as the large male was seeking water.
We had the unique and exclusive experience of watching the large male drinking from a stream and climbing the bank right in front of us.
Here he is in all his glory, climbing the bank and heading straight towards us:
Unfortunately, the conditions were not at all ideal for photography, as the lions were under thick cover of bushes and down in a stream, so it was an eyes-only experience.
There were plenty of cubs. I did shoot numerous images, but typical for wildlife photography, far more images are shot than published. I do have my own memories and images of the Marsh Pride, but unfortunately the images are not of a suitable standard for publication.
Mario had been keeping count of the number of individual lions we saw, but somewhere after about 40, he lost count. Forty-something is about as accurate as we can be at this stage. It was a treat all the same.
What About the Leopards?
There is not much to report. We did not see a single leopard during this trip. This was the first time Mario had not seen one during a visit to the Maasai Mara, and he has been travelling to the region for many years.
We knew that leopards are notoriously elusive, but they proved it to us this this time. On both of our previous visits to Africa, we had seen numerous leopards; but that was not to be the case during this trip.
Francis did his absolute best to find one. There had certainly been evidence of the presence of leopards in the region, but finding one proved impossible. We went looking for them often, and spent a lot of time searching, but to no avail.
Something is in the Water: Fighting and Mating
Here he is, flying the 'flag':
The jackals were getting into it, and even the pigs were going for it.
Where Were the Elephants?
There were elephants around, but not very many.
We did have a very pleasant encounter, as this giant strolled right up to our vehicle.
There is nothing quite like having a six-tonne animal right outside your vehicle!
Other than these two sightings, we only spotted elephants on one other occasion, but they were in the distance, and we were heading elsewhere.
Very Dry Conditions
The wet season had officially ended, but by all accounts, it was quite a dry wet season, and we could see evidence of that. Even in the image of the elephant above, the grass is very brown and dry.
Without being too political, it must be conceded that our climate is changing. Africa is becoming hotter, and the mighty Victoria Falls has reduced to something of a trickle. The plains of the Mara were very visibly short and dry, and while there was plenty of wildlife around, there had to have been an impact.
We visited the Mara River on a number of occasions, and the water level was dangerously low. The height of the banks, and the potential height of the water could be seen; but the water was not there.
Four years earlier, the Mara was more lush and more green.
Dawn Landscapes: Craptacular Skies
Our best landscape images were captured during the afternoon, during which time we were treated to moody skies and an intense golden hour on day five. We shot away from the sun, towards a brooding sky.
What amazing light!
Beginning of the Great Migration
The wildebeest were already around the Talek River further to the north, where were had seen them. These early migrants would soon enough be joined by hundreds of thousands more as the season continued on.
While we did not see the spectacle of a river crossing, we did witness the beginning of the Great Migration, which in this part of the African continent had arrived earlier than usual.
We had been on two amazing trips to Kenya over a period of four years. There were many experiences, many encounters, many familiar sights, sounds and smells, a re-visit to old friends, and the making of new friends.
They had been two similar trips, but two vastly different trips.
Published on Saturday, 21st December, 2019.