Christmas Safari

We left camp early this morning, before sunrise, although it was fairly light as we had a three-quarter moon, high in the cloudless sky. Usually when we cross the small stream into the park we are greeted by many zebra, gazelles and giraffe. This morning it was just a lone Hyena. The plains animals had moved out further away from the edge of the park due to the huge number of Maasai cows invading their space, and the reason for this is drought. It is very, very dry at the moment, the grass is mostly pale in colour, like straw and lying flat on the ground due to lack of water, obviously this gives no nourishment to the cows on which the Maasai depend for their livelihood, so, they are forced to take their cows out into the park at night, retuning each morning. Sometimes walking long distances to where the grass is greener, despite the dangers of the wild animals, in order to keep their cows alive.

So, after the brief sighting of the Hyena the second animal we encounter is our local male cheetah, he also has moved further out, following the food. We reach him just as the sun is rising and he looks like he is ready to hunt. We gave him lots of space, positioning ourselves on the other side of a group of Impala that he is focused on. Unfortunately, not all drivers can read the signs and one Landcruiser drove up too close to the cheetah, blocking his view of the prey, so he relaxed for a while but continued to scan the area for another opportunity.

Cheetahs and in fact all predators need to have patience, and that also applies to people who want to witness one of the predators hunting. Cheetahs have a success rate of around 50% while for Lions and leopards it is only around 30%

The cheetah then stands and starts travelling to find more prey, marking his territory on the trees as he passes. We follow him for quite a distance, through bush, up over hills, I notice that when he spots something interesting his tail goes up and twitches in excitement. It is already very windy this morning but as we reach the top of the hill it’s like a gale blowing through the jeep and since the cheetah has now taken shelter under one of the bushes we head down.

After some time of cruising the Sopa pride territory, Alison spots 2 lions, a female and an adolescent. But, as often happens, they are on the other side of a small stream with very steep sides, so we had to find a place for the jeep to cross. This means first deciding which direction to follow the stream, then looking at, and testing different spots to see if they are viable crossing points. Mostly this involves the guide checking out the ground on foot to see how soft or muddy the ground is and assessing the chances of not getting stuck.


Finally, we make it and drive up close to the two sleeping lions. The younger one is hiding in the bush; I can only just make him out. The female looks up at us when we arrive but loses interest very quickly, we sit with her for a while until the younger one comes out of hiding, rubs up against his or her mother and settles down. It looks like they are settled for the day, so we move on to try and find the blackrock females.


On the way we pass a small herd of Elephants, a family by the looks of it with members of all sizes including a small baby. They were moving very fast in our direction, I’m not sure if something spooked them or they were just in a hurry, but I think they were not very happy about us being in their way.

As we entered the blackrock territory, Alison once again spots 2 lions in the distance, females, they are not too far away from a group of Zebra. Looking through the binoculars I could see that they were interested in hunting, one of the females started stalking slowly towards them, moving low in the not so long grass. So giving them a wide birth, the driver positioned the jeep closer to the Zebra, we were hopeful of seeing a kill, the female took a run at them, however, it was not to be, a Zebra sensed her, gave a warning call to the whole herd and they ran away. I have noticed that when Zebra run from lions they only run a short distance, it’s as if they instinctively know how far away they need to go, to be safe from attack. As soon as they have that space between them and the lions, they stop and turn around to watch their attackers, if the lions move closer, they move away again, keeping the same distance between them. It seems difficult for a lion to get close enough in daylight, they have a very tough job. One of the photo’s shows the lioness after her failed attempt, with all that food just out of reach. Once the females had lost the element of surprise they moved on, playfully jumping on one another as they go, probably to dissipate their pent-up energy.


We then try to find the other females with their cubs, the females were not difficult to find, three of them were sleeping together at the edge of the black rocks, from where they got their name. The cubs however were nowhere to be seen, the mothers had hidden them in a den before coming out to sleep, so it was decided we would come back later, and we drove off to find a nice place for breakfast.

We found a perfect spot, a large tree for shade and dense bush close by for toilet. A lovely open-air restaurant.

After this we went to find a leopard with a cub near the sand river, Alison had heard that she was in the area, there was another jeep cruising up and down the river also trying to find her. Unfortunately, I had to get back to camp as I had business there, so we couldn’t search for long, it didn’t matter, there would be other days.

We took a slow drive back to the three mothers in the hope of seeing the cubs before returning to camp. We were not lucky this time, the females were in the exact same position that we had left them earlier and the cubs still in the den.


What we did see instead was 5 Ostriches, one female and five males. It looked like 2 of the males were interested in mating as they stayed close to the female and were squabbling with each other. The 2 males took it in turns of spreading their feathers and doing a sort of dance, this is the behavior they exhibit when trying to attract the attention of a female, however this particular female looked to be more interested in eating than in mating.


And so, it was time to return, as we approached the camp antelope and giraffe had returned to the plains near our camp, even though a few cows and Maasai were still around, you can see how close they get to each other in one of the photos.


Maasai Culture Experience

Part of life here in the Mara for us and the Maasai who work with us is to do our best to ensure all visitors to our camp have a memorable time and it’s great if you allow enough time to immerse yourself in the culture as well as the wildlife, our guides will give you an experience never to be forgotten.

This week we had a group of people from the USA with us for 5 nights. It’s really nice when we get visitors for 4 nights or more, as we have time to get to know them better and they get to know us.

The first day for the guests involved an early start, leaving camp at 6am just as it was starting to get light, taking breakfast and lunch with them. The early start paid off and our guides were able to show them the ‘big five’ all before lunch. The benefits of an early start are that more animals are out and about, especially the cats, before it gets too hot in the afternoon. All photos from the park are courtesy of our head guide and budding photographer, Alison. You can see from the photos that the vehicles were able to get up close with the animals, even the Rhino which is not often found out in the open like this, preferring instead to hide in areas of dense bush.

Our guests still had another 2 full days of game drives to look forward to, although topping the first day will be a difficult task for the team. However on the last day they did it, finding a family of Rhinos, the male, the female and a younger, but almost grown Rhino.

One of the days was spent on other activities. This group booked their trip to the Maasai Mara through Arte for Elephants, a travel agency based in the US. Founded by Thyra and David Rutter who also help raise funds for endangered species, including Elephants, not only that, but they also sponsor children in Education, including four children in our local school. So Thyra’s groups always include a cultural element and a visit to the local school, and they came prepared with lots of pens, colouring pencils and copy books for the children.

But before the visit to the school, there was a hill to climb. One of the activities we offer is a Hill walk, for those who feel fit enough, it’s not too tough and the view from the top makes it worth the effort. From the top you can see for miles, out over the park, all the way to Tanzania. Also you get a different perspective of the local town below, from the top it looks quite neat and nicely arranged, which is not the impression you get when you are in it. We sent extra guides on this one because the Maasai Mara is currently experiencing a drought, it hasn’t rained, apart from a few very brief showers, for several months. A drought is absolutely a bad thing for the Maasai because of their livestock not getting enough to eat and possibly dying, but another side affect of the drought is more wildlife – human conflict. Wild animals also need access to water and food and so they come closer and closer to the Maasai villages. The Maasai situated around the bottom of the hill we climb have experienced more encounters with Elephants and baboons. So, we needed the extra guides to scout ahead and scare away any dangerous wild animals. One of our guides lives in this area and the baboons have recently started to come into his house looking for food, he must hide it under the bed, and his children haven’t been outside to play for a while because of them. Baboons can be very scary animals when up close.

The next stop was the school located just at the bottom of the hill. The children were especially excited on this day as they were preparing to go home for the Christmas break and so were in high spirits. Our guests were first given a tour of the school, then they went into one of the classrooms to hand out some of the gifts they had brought with them and to talk to the children, then outside to a less formal setting before leaving the school and returning to camp.

After lunch the group walked up to a local manyatta, these are our neighbours, we know them personally and they are always happy to receive our guests. On the walk up to the village, known as a manyatta, our Maasai guides demonstrate the use of their weapons, mainly the bow and arrow and the spear. Guests are shown how to use these and are welcome to try their skills, which I have to say have never yet come close to matching the skills of the guides, although one of the women in the group practiced back at camp and became quite proficient with the spear. The Maasai are very proud of their culture, when entering the village both the men and the women perform a welcome dance and then the men go on to do s dance, that is used to celebrate their experiences when returning from time spent in the bush. Individually showing off their jumping skills, they encourage all the guests to take part as you can see from the photos. They also show their skills at making a fire with 2 pieces of wood, a handy skill to have when spending time in the bush as Moran (warrior). After this they welcome the guests into their home where they explain their culture and traditions and answer any questions you have. Finally, time to visit the women’s market, laid out on the ground, where you can buy traditional handmade Maasai jewelry, amongst many other items on show.

I can say without doubt that the group spent a great 5 days with us and were sad to leave.


Elegance and Engineering

This week I was not able to go out on a game drive as I had to go to Nairobi for supplies for the camp, so my post is about the other animals that we saw on our previous game drive last week, in addition to the ‘Big Cats.’ Mostly birds, but also the Giraffe. Always on a game drive you can see Giraffe as well as Zebra and antelopes, they often get overlooked in the rush to see Lions, Leopards and Cheetah’s.

I think the Giraffe are the most elegant creatures in the park, with their long legs and the way they have of looking down on you. Their method of walking is to lift both legs of one side of the body at the same time, that, and their long stride give the impression of gliding rather than walking. Giraffes also seem to be quite curious, if not startled they will stand quite still and just look at you, like this little one who was with his mother and siblings but who came and posed for me in one of the photos.

Another of the photos shows some young male Giraffe engaged in ‘knecking’ a term to describe the way in which they slam their long necks and hard heads into each other as a way to prove their strength or to settle a dispute. 

Something else overlooked by many tourists are the birds, there are around 450 species of birds in the Mara, and while I am not particularly a bird watcher, I can still admire their success as a species and in most cases, with a few exceptions, their beauty.

As we were driving from one group of lions to another, I happened to see a single elephant and a single buffalo, grazing together. This, in itself was unusual as normally they both spend their time as part of a group, in the case of buffalo’s very large groups, so I asked to get closer. This is when we noticed the two egrets right by the buffalo’s head, keeping pace as he moved through the grass. The egret and the buffalo have a symbiotic relationship, whereby the egret eats the flies and insects that are exposed as he grazes and the buffalo benefits as they also eat the flies and insects that would otherwise bother him. Another bird that has this type of relationship with the buffalo is the oxpecker, anyone who has been on safari will have seen these small birds sitting on the backs of the buffalo picking the ticks and insects from his body.

The next bird I noticed was in the air, not unusual for a bird you might think, but this one looked a little different as it had quite a large wingspan and very long legs. Alison identified it as a secretary bird, which was surprising because these birds rarely fly, preferring to stay on the ground foraging for insects in the long grass. As you can see from the photos, they look very different in flight.


A while later we had just pulled up to the group of lions when we heard a lot of noise and activity from a nearby tree, it came from the gray backed fiscal bird. These are very common birds and very social, a group of them get together and perform a lot of tail wagging and create a constant noisy babble, for what reason I have no idea, but they are difficult to ignore, unless you are a lion.


After this, down by a small stream Alison pointed out a small, colourful bird among the leaves on the branch of a tree. It took me a while to see him, it was a malachite kingfisher, these beautiful creatures are quite small, only 13cm, they sit in a tree close to a slow-moving stream or river, while their sharp eyes pick out anything moving in or over the water, they immediately dive down, catch it, and are back in the tree in a matter of seconds, very efficient hunters.


Not far away was another efficient hunter with a similar strategy. This was a black winged kite. They perch on a branch, where they sit for hours scanning the area around them, looking for small rodents, lizards, and grasshoppers, so they really need to have good eyesight. As soon as it spots something tasty to eat it swoops down, sometimes hovering, just like a hawk above its prey while deciding the best way to attack.

The next bird we came across was the hamerkop, so named because its head resembles the shape of a hammer. It’s an unassuming brown coloured bird that likes to wade in shallow ponds looking for insects to eat, but he has a hidden talent, he is a master engineer when it comes to nest building. He builds nests so large and strong that a grown man can fit inside, and it can support his weight.

They start by creating a platform made of sticks and mud, then they make an encircling wall, topped off with a domed roof. Inside, they build a nesting chamber at the widest part of the nest so there is enough room for both parents and the young. Hamerkops are compulsive nest builders, they can build 3 to 5 nests each year, even when they are not breeding. Because these nests are large and strong quite often, other, larger birds will take possession and kick the hamerkop out. The nest we saw looked like it had been claimed by Egyptian geese.

Finally on our way back to camp we stop to look at a male elephant. This elephant caught my eye because of the liquid that could be seen coming out of the elephants’ temporal glands at each side of his head. This apparently is normal for male elephants, it is called musth and occurs each year for a couple of months, during this time the elephant can become more aggressive. This elephant looked fairly young to me because of his size, he was by himself, eating the grass and moving slowly, he didn’t look particularly aggressive, which was a good thing for us.

There is always so much to see in the Maasai Mara and everyday there is always something new. Nature is full of surprises.


Lives of the ‘Big Cats’

Another early start this morning, we had planned to watch the sunrise from the park, but a thick blanket of cloud put a stop to that, this is what happens here when you try to plan something, but it’s not important, there will be other days.

Today, I will be spending all my time with my favorites, the ‘Big Cats’ providing we find them of course. As we were heading to the place where we had last seen the lioness with the three 3-month-old cubs our guide spotted other lions on a rock, off the road but not too far away. One male and 2 females. It was decided we would continue on our way to see the cubs as planned, but just then the females got up, stretched, and made their way to the road, I saw what they were looking at.  

. Two Zebra on the other side of the road, so we decided to turn the car around and wait for a while to see if they would hunt. They made a half-hearted attempt, but the Zebra were never in any real danger, at least not this time. So, since we were here, we went to take a closer look at the male, who was sitting under a bush just around 50 meters away. He was a fine example of a male lion, very handsome, very powerful. See what I mean about making plans.

After taking a few photos we drove back to the road, which had a ditch along the side, we must have come out in a different place than we went in, where the ditch was deeper, because when the back end of the car went down, it went down with a bang and no amount of revving was getting us out. The guide got out to check any damage to the back of the car while the driver went to the front wheels to put on the 4-wheel drive. Now, bear in mind we were not far from a fully grown, male lion, who had got up to see what all the noise was about and was already looking in our direction. It was quite amusing that when the guys got out of the car, the lion, who was walking towards us, saw the red shukas they were wearing did an about turn, and ran away, it was afraid of the Maasai! Anyway, the ditch was no problem for the 4-wheel drive, and we drove on to see the cubs.

When we reached them, I was surprised to see them at a kill with not just their mother but other females in the same pride, and they were not afraid to take their fair share. It was only last week that the mother was teaching them how to behave at a kill. They are fast learners. After spending a little time with them we went to take a look at a male lying on a rock nearby, he had clearly already eaten, the male always eats first, even if he has taken no part in the kill. Now he was just relaxing. 

As we got closer, I could see that there was a female with him as well, just chilling out. It is clear from one of the photos that the male was very affectionate towards the female next to him.

The Sopa pride females that we had been with a few weeks ago had moved across the sand river and into Tanzania, so unfortunately, we can’t go to see them. Hopefully they will be back soon. Lions don’t distinguish between countries; they only know their territory. The females we are watching this morning are from the blackrock pride, so called because their territory has many of the black rocks that are a feature in this part of the Mara. But the Male on the rock and 2 other males, were originally with the Sopa pride but have now joined up with the blackrock females, and very successfully too if the number of cubs they have fathered is anything to go by. In addition to the 3 cubs at the kill there are also the four 3-weeks old cubs that we saw last week and two other very young cubs that we haven’t yet seen.

We eventually move on to try and find the 3-week-old cubs but without success. So, we made the decision to come back later in the afternoon and try again.

Next on the agenda is to find a leopard. We had some sad news that a few days ago Lorrian the leopard we had tried to find last week, but found her son Roho instead, had been found dead, probably killed by lions. So, we wanted to try and find Roho to see how he was doing but, again, had no luck, I really hope that he can look after himself and survive, we will have another look for him next time.

However, we did manage to see a Leopard, well, we caught a glimpse of him in an area of dense bush as he ran away through the long grass. We couldn’t follow as there was no way through for the vehicle. As we were leaving, we just saw him heading up a tree. We returned this way on our way back from the game drive but approached from a different direction and were able to get close to the tree, and there he still was, lying along a thick branch, indifferent to anything going on around him. I suspect he had not moved since we left him this morning.

Now only the cheetah left to find, we drove over towards Talek to the territory of 4 male cheetahs. These are not brothers but formed a coalition as it made hunting easier. Originally, they were a coalition of 5 but one of the cheetahs left to go with a female and when he returned the others refused to have him back.

We found them as they were resting in the open plains, camouflaged in the grass. We kept back a little as there were a few zebra and Impala in the distance, near a line of bushes. Then one by one the cheetahs took an interest in them and got up, organized themselves into a hunting party and started forward. The only problem was, they were exposed in the open, so they were seen, and the prey moved to the other side of the bush. This meant the cheetahs could move up and hide, a perfect place for an ambush. We had also moved the vehicle to the other side, close to the Impala, I felt sure that the cheetahs would make a surprise attack. 

Unfortunately, a herd of cattle with a Maasai was also headed toward the Impala, this spooked them, and they ran away before the cheetahs had a chance. This is Life in the Mara for the ‘Big Cats’


The afternoon was wearing on so we went back to see if we could see the baby lion cubs. Luck was with us, and they were outside their den, playing with their mother, with each other and feeding. They are now exactly one month and one day old. It is clear from watching this family that female lions are devoted and loving towards their cubs.

Since the other blackrock females were not far we decided to drop in on them again. As expected after their large feast this morning they were lazing around not doing much, but all three of the male lions were with them now, one hiding in a bush, another, posing for the camera. Then as a bonus we found the other two baby cubs with their mother and the third male lion who was not so happy to see us. They were a little apart from the main pride hidden by bushes, these cubs were just a little younger than their Cussons we had just left.