A Familiar Face

We have a great start to the day, a soft warm breeze keeping the usual early morning chill at bay and a perfect sunrise, which we hadn’t seen for a few weeks now. So many animals greeted us as we entered the park, large herds of all different kinds of gazelle, too many to photograph together, zebra, giraffe, warthog, wildebeest, buffalo, elephant, just so many. We stopped to take the sunrise with the zebra and wildebesst in the foreground as these are the most accommodating when it comes to standing still for the camera.

Just next to the wildebeest, over the crest of a hill, a few Hyena were in dispute as to which one was the rightful owner of a bit of wildebeest skin, which is all that remains of an earlier kill. With a few Jackals on the sidelines just waiting for the chance to run in and get a piece, this wasn’t going to happen because the Hyena that had claimed the skin was holding on to it tightly, running with it into some nearby bushes, no-one was taking that away from him.

As we continued to drive there were many elephants on both sides of the main road, some by themselves, some in two’s and three’s and a few small families, but the strange thing was they all seemed to be moving quite fast, in some cases almost running. This to me, seemed unusual behavior and to Ken also as he commented on it.

As we turned off the main road onto one of the tracks, we came across even more elephants. There was an energy, a sense of anticipation in the air, that involved just elephants and we were not included, it felt like they were all going to an elephant convention or something. One of the larger groups were crossing the track in front of us, and one elephant stood his ground, facing us as if daring us to disturb him, we had no choice but to stop and wait for them to move on.

In fact there was so much activity out in the park this morning I didn’t know which way to direct my attention, on one side a line of ostriches moving in the opposite direction to the elephants, on the other a glimpse of movement in the long grass gave away the presence of a warthog, a large hawk in a dead tree ahead of us, and so many different kinds of small birds in nearly every tree and bush that we pass, constantly singing their own tunes making up a delightful background noise.

Since it was now time for breakfast we headed for our usual spot, our breakfast rock. When we arrived it was already taken, not by other tourists but by the blackrock females and their cubs. They were stretched out on the rock where we normally sit, resting and sleeping, occasionally looking up to see who was disturbing them. One of the mothers separated herself and her cub followed to suckle for a little while before placing her head next to her mother to sleep.

Needless to say, we had to find somewhere else. We stayed with them for a little while, took a few photos and took in the peaceful scene before us, before driving to another rock not too close to this one. We were joined for breakfast by a group of very noisy go away birds foraging in the treetops. They are named for their very loud call that sounds as if they are shouting ‘go away’.

Alson had heard that there was a leopard not too far away, close to the sand river, so we made our way over to it. On the way we saw three vehicles, minivans, at first, I thought they must be looking at something but then I noticed the drivers were out of their vehicles.

When they saw us, they started to frantically gesture to us to come over. One of the vans was well and truly stuck, to avoid the water on the road he had driven through the soft mud at the side, a bad mistake, and the other two had been trying to pull him out without success. Their own vehicles didn’t have enough power. Our driver had to get through the water first then reverse to pull him out, the water as you can see from the photo is quite deep, but the venture was successful, and the driver very thankful.

We continued on our way towards the Leopard, when we find him, not surprisingly he is in a tree. There are already a few other vehicles there watching him. This Leopard is very familiar face in this area, when you can find him, as he does tend to travel large distances. He is a large male named split nose. He got his name a good few years ago when he got into a fight with a warthog who managed to escape by attacking the Leopard with his tusks and splitting his nose as you can see from the photos.

At around 13 years he is also one of the oldest Leopards in the Mara, generally Leopards in the wild live to between 12 and 15 years. He is looking quite comfortable and relaxed in the tree, but it’s not long before he decides to come down. The powerful shoulders and strong claws help leopards become the best climbers of all the big cats. Apart from when stashing a kill in a tree to keep it safe from other predators they also like to rest in trees with a dense canopy in order to escape the heat of the day, this is why clear shots of a leopard in a tree is difficult to get.

Once he is down it is clear to see that he is looking quite thin, I don’t think he has eaten for a while, but he has lived a long time and so is well able to take care of himself. He starts walking and we all follow. As he walks and the vehicles move, the air is suddenly filled with swallows circling swooping and soaring above our heads, the reason for this is that as the leopard and the cars move through the long grass, the insects are disturbed and fly up out of the grass where they are promptly eaten by the swallows.

It has been a very hot day but now there is a cool breeze getting up, which is quite refreshing, signaling possible rain to come, dark clouds are gathering in the distance. He continues to walk, and we continue to follow, he stops occasionally to take a drink from some muddy water, or to take cover from the sun in a bush for a few minutes. Alison points to a large sausage tree down near the river, there is also a herd of Impala nearby and so he thinks that’s where the leopard is heading. The sausage tree doesn’t have any sausages on it, it is a sausageless, sausage tree, but it has thick cover.

We drove straight towards the tree and waited for split nose to catch up. Alison was right, he went directly to the tree, climbed up and settled on a large, lower branch. Yet another group of elephants came towards us, or maybe it was the same group from this morning, it looks to me like the same group. They passed right underneath the tree, but split nose just ignored them and closed his eyes. As I was taking a photo of the elephants one of them approached our car and pointed his trunk straight at me, I think he was smelling us, I believe they are very good at that, so maybe he recognized us from earlier as well. It looked like split nose was settling down for the evening but just then he saw a troop of baboons in a tree not too far away and in a flash, he was up and out of the tree, hiding himself in the long grass. Leopards don’t like to be near baboons they are mortal enemies, he may be old, but he still has good instincts.

We left him there as it was time to head home but I had to take photos of the Impala as we passed, they are such lovely, delicate animals. I wonder if split nose will try to hunt one of them when they go to drink from the river as the sun goes down.

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