The Two Local Prides

As we leave camp this morning, cross the small river and enter the park we are met with two Hyena bathed in the golden light of early morning, a lovely start to the day. You cannot look at the photo of this hyena and not think they are just lovely. I believe Hyena have a bad reputation just because they are scavengers and although this is largely true, they are also skilled hunters and when working in a pack can take down wildebeest or antelope. Unfortunately, they also try to kill the Maasai livestock causing human / wildlife conflict.

Part of the Sopa pride are again not far from our camp. We meet just four of them, two females and two young males. They are relaxing until one of the females spots a warthog. She walks over and hides herself behind a bush to get a better look and the two young males follow her, although the warthog is quite a distance away, I don’t think he is in immediate danger. The other female looks up as see’s that the others have gone and she doesn’t know where, so she calls out for them, when there is no answering call she gets up, has a little look around and calls again.

We leave them and drive to an area where the other part of the Sopa pride, around twenty of them, were sighted the day before. They were not easy to find.

We pass through the middle of a huge herd of buffalo, at least two hundred of them, a mix of families of all ages, the older ones with large horns that meet in the middle forming a hard shield, younger ones whose horns are just forming and babies whose horns are barely visible. When you pass closely to buffalo, they like to stand and stare at you, it’s as if they are indignant that you are even there. The babies stick very close to their mothers, especially when in Lion territory, and they need to, I have seen how lions target the babies, separate them from their mothers and attack them.

We hadn’t gone far when Ken spotted a group of around six or seven warthogs, what was unusual about this group is that they were all young. Warthogs normally stay together in a family group where the young have the protection of the older members, but these were all young with no adult supervising them, this is very dangerous for them, again since they are in lion territory and lions love a warthog snack.

We found some of the pride halfway up a hill surrounded by bushes and long grass, we had to leave the track to get to them and the going was tough. They must have split up overnight as we could only see seven of them, five females and a couple of young males. I was quite excited though, as one of the females was Selegei this is the Senior female of the group, she is easy to recognize as she is collared so that the researchers can follow and check on this large pride, and I hadn’t seen her for a few months now as this part of the pride had crossed over into Tanzania.

Apart from Selegei and another older female, the younger ones kept sitting up, all looking in the same direction, at what I don’t know as we couldn’t see anything.

We didn’t stay too long with them as we could only do a half day game drive today due to lack of diesel. There is a fuel shortage in Kenya at the moment, of which I am informed is a false shortage due to political reasons that I don’t fully understand.

We decided to go and check on the blackrock pride since they were not too far away. These two prides are neighbours, there territories are very close. As we leave the side of the hill, the track down is very narrow with high sides making it difficult if you need to pass another vehicle, I found this out because we came up behind another safari vehicle that had stopped on the track, the ocupants were looking at something. I stood up to look out, to see what they were looking at, but couldn’t see anything. I asked Alison, ‘what are they looking at?’ He replied, ‘a dung beetle.’ The dung beetle in question was happily rolling a ball of elephant dung along the road, oblivious to the fact that at any minute he may be crushed to death by a passing vehicle. Although dung beetles are fascinating to watch they are not top of the list for a game drive in the Mara!

We move into blackrock territory and Alison spots a few lions in the long grass, but at least here the ground is mostly flat. We discover it is four females from the blackrock pride just relaxing. Driving a little further on we come across four young males and a female. These also were relaxing; it is the wrong time of day for them to be very active. One of the young males had got himself into trouble when ventured too close to a snake and was bitten in the eye, you can see the result from the photo.

He’ll probably avoid getting too close to another snake, this was a harsh lesson for him. There were no cubs around so all the cubs have been hidden, there would be no point looking for them as they would be either in a den or in dense bush and could be anywhere within a wide area. There had been a report that Kazuri the leopard had been seen close by so it was decided we would try to see her instead. When we arrived at the banks of a small river where she had been seen our vehicle and two others scoured both sides but to no avail.

On our return journey we saw the four female lions again in the distance. Through the binoculars I could see that they had their sights on a Topi that was not far from our vehicle so we waited to see what would happen. They began their move, walking slowly towards us through the long grass with only their heads visible. The Topi had no idea they were coming for him or her. The Lions were up wind of us and today it was very windy. They only managed to get halfway before the Topi sensed something, I would say he smelled the Lions and took off leaving the Lions a little disappointed.

We drove back along the Sand River, which only a few weeks ago was high and in full flow, now because we haven’t had rain for a few weeks it was back to a trickle, ankle deep, as you can see from the photos of these two antelope who had come for a drink.

Just before turning off the main road onto the tracks back to camp, we meet a troop of baboons crossing the road in front of us. It is unusual to see baboons this close to our camp, although they do cover large distances during the day, returning to their chosen sleeping place at night. The adult baboons in this troop were foraging on the ground, you can see one mother with her infant. The baby was clinging to her back at first, then the mother moved her down below where she would be better protected. The young baboons however were having a great time playing and climbing up all the trees in their path.


An encounter with Jilime

We leave camp at first light this morning and are greeted by monkeys as we enter the park, these monkeys have made their home in the trees that line the stream separating our camp form the park. Although they live quite close to us, fortunately they haven’t started coming into the camp as yet. A little further on we stop to watch a Dik Dik feeding on a small bush, these, the smallest of the antelopes are very nervous and tend to run when they see people, so we were lucky to get a shot of him before he ran away into the bush. This Dik Dik also lives very close to the camp, we catch a glimpse of him from time to time as he passes through.

When we come out onto the plains the antelope, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest are all spread out, grazing in one’s and two’s instead of coming together in herds as usual. As we pass an old quarry, we see four of the sopa pride females, sitting around enjoying the morning sun. Also near the quarry is a small pool, Ken noticed a black and white kingfisher hovering over the pool for a few seconds, then diving down to the water to catch the insects on the surface. It is fascinating to watch the kingfisher in action.

After this there is nothing, no animals, no vehicles, just nothing except the sounds of the birds. We drive for around half an hour in silence. I am lost in the beautiful scenery and my own thoughts and reflections on life and how lucky I am to be here. We drove to the blackrock area to try and find the female lions and their cubs. After a while with no luck Alison rang around to see if anyone had seen them this morning and it seemed we had passed quite close to them as we left the main road for the tracks.

We doubled back and found them not too far away, warming themselves on one of the black rocks. All six females were there but only 3 cubs were around, 2 young ones and one slightly older, this means the mothers must have hidden the other cubs somewhere close by, but try as we might, we couldn’t find them and no-one else had seen them either. Why they had allowed three cubs to remain with them I don’t know. If you are lucky enough to watch lions with their cubs, you will see how much tenderness and patience the mothers have for them and how much affection there is between the females in the group. Two of the cubs wanted to suckle from their mother, first they went to rub up against her face as if greeting her or asking if they could suckle then she turned over onto her back to make it easy for them, both the mother and the cubs seemed very contented.

There were still not many animals around certainly nothing for the lions to hunt so we left them relaxing, we did pass a nice elephant family, a mother, a young one and a baby so small that he was barely visible in the long grass.

We thought it best not to use our usual breakfast spot because the cubs may have been hidden there, so we drove on until we came to a nice sausage tree, this one didn’t have a leopard in it.

During breakfast Alison had heard there was a Leopard near a place called rhino ridge, so we packed up and headed out. We did make a brief stop at a tree where Ken had spotted a group of vervet monkeys. Even though these kinds of monkeys are naturally small they looked lost in this huge tree. You will see in one of the photos a mother with a baby. Some of the monkeys were higher up in the dense foliage, all of a sudden I thought it had started to rain, it turned out that some of the monkeys were peeing on us, I guess they weren’t as thrilled to see us as we were to see them, so we moved off.

The driver picked up the pace and we headed off at speed, it felt at times like we were in the Dakar rally. It took around 30 minutes of driving like this to reach the where the leopard had been sighted. When we arrived, there were already around 12 vehicles searching a small area of dense bush.

You can see in these photos how difficult it is to find a leopard when it doesn’t want to be found. It was a young Leopard and Alison thought it may have been Roho, but it turned out to be Jilime. These two leopards are around the same age between one and a half and two years old, they are also related, in that Roho’s mother, who sadly died, was also the mother of Luluka who is Jilime’s mother. Thelast time I saw Jilime was about 3 months ago, she was in a tree with her mother, it looks like she has started to become a little more independent. 

We were first alerted to her position by a flock of guinea fowl, she tried to pounce on one of them and so they flew up into the air, very noisy and very agitated, she tried her best to jump up and catch one and even though she jumped quite high she didn’t succeed. Leopards are by nature opportunists so when they see a chance they take it. She has, like all cats, good instincts.

Jilime has been followed and photographed for all her young life, so she is well used to the vehicles. As she walked through the long grass weaving in and out of the bushes, the cars including ours, circled round to get good positions, she just walked straight up to them, if they were in her way instead of walking around, she just crawled right underneath and out the other side. It was incredible how close we got to her, or I should say how close she got to us.

It seemed like she had considered if we were a threat, we weren’t. If we could be eaten, we couldn’t, so she just dismissed us, we just weren’t that interesting to her. Finally, she settled down again in a ravine, a dried-up part of the riverbed. We had seen where she had laid down but if you hadn’t seen the exact spot, you never would have seen her.

Clearly she wanted her privacy so we left her there and headed back to the blackrock females to see if more of the cubs had come out to play.

Unfortunately, they hadn’t. The females had moved from the rock to the shade of a nearby bush, they were just encouraging the three cubs to go with them, which of course they did. I think this was the height of their activity for the day and we left them as we found them, relaxing, with the cubs feeding. The two youngest cubs were suckling again but the older cub wasn’t finding it so easy this time, he tried 3 females before accepting that he might not get anything.

We made brief stops on the way back to camp to watch a couple of buffalo grazing and cooling off in the water, the oxpeckers feeding off the insects on their backs. And as we approached the camp, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of these young giraffe. Alison also pointed out the pride of Lions just up on the horizon. It was the Sopa pride, we didn’t go to see them as we didn’t have time today, but during the day they had moved closer to our camp, so maybe they will come to see us.