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Dawn to Dusk Part 2

So, to continue, Alison, our guide had heard where the two females were with their young cubs, and we headed over to where they might be. On the way, we came across 3 male lions, these are brothers and were part of the Sopa pride until they reached maturity and had to leave. Now they are with the females from the BlackRock pride and more than likely fathered the cubs that we were on our way to see. They were doing what most male lions do during the day, which is absolutely nothing, just lazing in the shade of the bush. From what I saw of them they are fine examples of  male lions, large and powerful.

We drove on and after another 10 minutes or so we saw a female lion walking in the distance, she was coming our way. As we got closer to her, we could see that she had 3 young cubs with her, the cubs which were around 3 months old, were playing around as they were following, if they strayed too far, she gave a low quiet grunt to call them back to her. Cubs of this age are not yet ready to join the pride, the mother only takes them to join the pride when they are able to hold their own at a kill, otherwise they would starve and die.

We followed for a while to see where she was taking them, then Alison noticed that she had a little blood on the side of her leg, and from this he concluded that she had made a kill and was now taking the cubs to it so they could eat. We stopped following, took a detour to get ahead of her and see if we could find the food. The plan worked, we found a small lifeless warthog half hidden in a bush, this was definitely where she was headed. It wasn’t long before the lioness and the cubs came into view. The driver had positioned the vehicle so that we had a good view of what was about to happen.

The mother walked right up to the carcass stopping in front of it, and it didn’t take long for the cubs to figure out what they were supposed to do with it. They were jumping on it, rolling it over and trying their utmost to get their teeth through the tough skin, into the flesh underneath. It took a full 20 minutes of working together before they managed to break through. The mother, meanwhile, had found a nice shady spot in which to sit, watch her offspring, and relax. They took a leg each and worked away, taking short breaks to take a drink in the small rock pools and get a little reassurance from their mother.

 After getting a little to eat, they became tired and took a short ‘cat nap.’ Then, fully restored it was playtime, they were a delight to watch as they splashed around in the shallow rock pools, stalked, and jumped on each other. We stayed with them for a couple of hours while they played and by this time it was just past mid-day, the sun was at its highest in the cloudless sky. It was getting unbearably hot, the flies had multiplied, if that was possible. The lioness was now finishing of the warthog, both her and the warthog both covered in flies, and they were also disturbing us, so we all agreed it was time to move on.

We wanted to find the other female with cubs, so we drove back to the place where we had seen the first lioness as the 2 females would stay around the same area for protection. However, this female would be more difficult to find as her cubs were only 3 weeks old so she would be hiding somewhere to keep her cubs safe during this critical time. Lion cubs don’t open their eyes until they are at least 2 weeks old, so everything is new to these 2 cubs, and they stay close to their mother for safety.

It took us a while, slowly driving around the area, looking into many bushes. Eventually, we got lucky and found them. When we pulled up in the vehicle the cubs immediately hid behind their mother, but curiosity got the better of them and they came out to look at what this strange thing was. Once they realized it wasn’t going to hurt them, they promptly ignored us and carried on playing with each other while their mother dozed. They were very cute, but I have to say, not yet as entertaining as their older cousins.

It was now 2:30pm time for lunch so our driver took us to a nice spot in the shade of a tree next to a small river. Sitting in a tree nearby was a vervet monkey, however he didn’t try and join us for lunch. There was also a black bellied bustard, patrolling a piece of ground close by, looking for his own lunch of grasshoppers, ants, and other small insects.

We went to the river to eat because after lunch this is where we would start our search for a female leopard by the name of Lorian and her male cub Roho. She had been sighted in the area over the last few days. Leopards tend to move around quite a bit but like to stay near a river as it is a source of water as well as food. Many animals come to the river to drink so this is where they lie in wait for them.

There were three small rivers in this area, and we searched all three before, at last finding the cub Roho. When I say the cub, he was almost fully grown maybe a year and a half to two years old. He seemed quite relaxed that we had come to join him, he did move a little further into the trees, lining the riverbank but didn’t go into hiding. His mother was nowhere to be seen so she must have gone hunting. It looked like the mother wouldn’t be back any time soon and we had to start making tracks back to camp.

On the way back Alison spotted a Serval cat in the long grass, Serval cats are very difficult to see as they are small, very shy and run away when disturbed. They stick to the long grass for cover and also because there are many rats in this kind of terrain, rats and lizards being a large part of their diet. Another animal we came across was a bushbuck on top of a mound of earth, with the distinctive markings on his chest and front legs. While bushbucks are not rare, they are not often seen.

By the time we got close to the camp the light was fading and the moon was just coming up, when we noticed 3 more lionesses on an outcrop of rocks, not only that, nearby were some zebra and we felt they just might go hunting, so we waited. We didn’t have to wait long before they first stalked and then gave chase to the prey, however this time they were not successful and we had to leave as it was now getting dark, but to watch 3 lionesses hunting at dusk was a perfect end to the day.

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Dawn to Dusk part 1

We left camp early today, as it was getting light, before the sunrise. We had just 2 guests this week, Fred and Tijda, the couple who had volunteered last week and so we asked them if they would mind sharing the vehicle with us on this particular day. They were delighted, and so we set off for the whole day. The day was to be so eventful with so many sightings and things happening that I have decided to split the blog into two parts, before breakfast and after breakfast.

As the Jeep passed over the small stream leading into the park the first thing, we encountered were Impala, a small group who, instead of running away decided to escort us through the woods, leading out onto the plains, where we watched the sunrise, as it spread its warming rays over the land. The plains also were teeming with life, different kinds of antelopes’ most herds having babies amongst them, it was a pleasure to see so much new life all around us.

Then not too far away we saw the cheetah, this is the one who’s brother died while hunting, it’s nice to know he is still around and doing well. Despite all the antelopes in sight he displayed no inclination to hunt them, maybe he wasn’t hungry, he was however very relaxed. When we reached him, the sun had just risen, bathing the area in soft morning light. He was at first laying down rolling around in the dry soil, then he took a short walk over to his tree where he made a show of sniffing and then marking his territory before casually walking away. This is his small part of the Mara and he looked comfortable in it.

The aim this morning was to find a group of lions that was originally part of the Sopa pride, through the females, they had split apart around 2 years ago, just before the corona took hold and prevented people from visiting. This group is smaller than the main group, consisting of 2 females and around 10 adolescents of various ages. Both branches of this large pride are doing well and increasing in numbers, there are still no males around, the males seem to be incidental to this pride

The guide had a rough idea where to find them, so we went to explore. The area we travelled through to reach them was so beautiful, we were completely alone except for small herds of gazelle, buffalo, and elephants in the distance. Many different species of birds hopping around, big and small, catching their breakfast, and a lone vulture in a tree. It was if the rest of the world no longer existed, corona long forgotten. As we climbed, the plains and distant hills stretched out before us.

Before long they were spotted, in the dry grass, eating a meal. As we get closer, the wind blowing towards us we get the full force of the smell of the fresh dead meat. By this time the sun was well up and things were warming up considerably. I’m sure this had something to do with the number of flies around, all over the fresh meat and also the lions, every time they shook them off, the flies would form a cloud above them before settling down again on their backs and faces. Flies were to be a feature of the whole day, although not a pleasant feature, but they are still part of the life out here.

We settled down to watch the lions at their meal, we could clearly hear the crunching and scraping of bone and tearing of flesh. The inside of the carcass, which had previously been a wildebeest, was completely gone and the ribs were being removed one by one. They were taking turns, when one or two were tired or full they would move away from this feeding frenzy to take a breather, with bloody faces and big bellies they would stroll over to a nearby bush to relax in the shade and clean each other. 

The young ones in particular were having a great time, grunting, and growling at each other to get their share. One of the females started to clean up by covering the intestines, the bits that the lions don’t eat, with loose soil just like a domestic cat would do after it has been to the toilet.

When the food was almost finished one of the females picked up the remaining carcass by the head and started to drag it to another location, the only problem was that 3 young males were still feasting. She wasn’t deterred, she kept dragging, and the youngsters were not deterred either they hung on and kept eating, it looked very comical.

 

Watching all this reminded me that I was also hungry, so we left the pride relaxing in the shade of the bush and went to find a nice spot for breakfast. Not far from the lions we came across a steenbok antelope resting beside the stump of a dead tree, it is rare to see the steenbok in the Maasai Mara, there are few and they are generally shy and like to hide.

We drove a little further up the side of the hill until we reached the top. This spot had everything we needed for a pleasant breakfast. The view was fantastic, other amenities included large boulders strewn around that we could use as seats and a clump of bushes that made a serviceable bush toilet. After half an hour After half an hour of eating, relaxing, and enjoying the view we packed up the car, careful not to leave any rubbish to spoil the natural environment and continued on our way, all of us trying to imagine what other treats were in store for us today. Here I leave it until the next blog.

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Volunteering in the Maasai Mara

The idea I had in doing the blog was to write about life here in the Maasai Mara and so, it is not just animals that live here. Apart from looking after our guests and going out into the reserve to spend time with the animals there are other things going on. Sometimes even visitors come here to do other things, in addition to going out on game drives.

Currently we have two visitors staying with us, Fred and Tijda from the Netherlands. They have certain skills that they are willing to share with the Local Maasai. Tijda is a physiotherapist and wanted to put her skills to use to help local people, so she volunteered her services, free of charge, to the local hospital. We spoke to the doctor at the local hospital, and he organized a clinic so that people who needed treatment could come. The clinic ran for a week and during this time many people, including mothers with young children turned up, often travelling long distances to get this help. Tijda met with the doctor and the team she would be working with, which consisted of a nurse and a physiotherapist that had been sent to our village from Narok for the week. Fred volunteered his wide ranging skills at the local primary school.

Every morning at 8.30am we would drive Fred and Tijda down to the hospital and school and pick them up again at around 4pm so they both did a full day’s work.

After the first day at the hospital Tijda had assessed how the team treated the patients and had a few suggestions as to how they might improve things. Since there is no equipment available for them to use and many of the patients were children, she had the idea of making a few simple objects with things lying around that would hopefully engage the child in their exercises.

They made use of some surgical gloves by blowing them up like a balloon, these were soft to the touch and were used for the children to squeeze, they took a small length of plastic water pipe and hung bottle tops and other small items from it to get the children to focus and reach for them, there was a plastic bottle with a few stones inside that made a noise when it was shaken and bits of soft plastic that made a noise when scrunched up, also they made a roll out of 2 spare leg braces that was stuffed with plaster of paris, this was used for support on the stomach when trying to crawl. All the ‘equipment was stored in a cardboard box at the end of the day, labelled occupational therapy tools. Some of the children she worked with were very handicapped but even so after a short period of time she started to notice small differences, things they had achieved, one boy was even laughing by the end of the week.

 

Meanwhile Fred was engaging with the children, they put him with classes two and three that is 7- to 8-year-olds. He jumped straight in and taught them English and Maths, did the marking and other tasks that teachers need to do. It was funny to think that a Dutch person was teaching English to Maasai children!

Not all the activities were carried out in the classroom, there was also time for sports, where he showed the children the importance of warming up exercises, there was football, or at least the Maasai version of football where everyone chases after the ball which inevitably ends in a sort of scrum. Then there was a bit of volleyball and some running. Fred was challenged to a race by a girl in which he came a not so close second, however at 70 years of age there is no shame in that. He also attempted to explain why plastics were He also attempted to explain why plastics were bad for the environment and why they shouldn’t be thrown into the streets or the bush, but this was an uphill struggle. At the end of lessons, he even entertained the children by playing some Maasai music, which he had on his ipad and attempting to do Maasai dancing with them. Needless to say, they loved Fred teaching them and he also got on very well with the teaching staff.

Both Fred and Tijda thoroughly enjoyed their week working with the Maasai, and the clinic was such a success that they plan on returning next year to do it again. Now they have time for a few game drives and nature walks before returning home to the Netherlands.

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A new beginning

As we set out this morning the sky was clear, the sun just rising, little did we know there was a treat in store for us. I was wrapped up as usual, sat back in the seat, happy just to watch the game as we drove along the track.

 

Something moved in the grass which caught my eye, on looking closer I saw 2 small ears sticking up out of the grass, I knew it had to be something small as the grass is not high at the moment. I asked the driver to stop so that we could see what it was, just then the ears, followed by the rest of the body appeared unsteady on its feet and took its first few tentative steps. It was a baby zebra which had just recently been born. 

The mother had already cleaned off the afterbirth and was standing close by waiting for her baby to get up, we could see the mother still had blood on her from the birth. Zebras usually walk within the first 15 minutes and can run within the hour. I think if we had been just 15 minutes earlier, we would have witnessed the actual birth. It seemed to be a morning for babies and young because just a little further along the track we came to a group of young black backed Jackals playing and having fun in the early morning sun.

Our guide thought he saw something in the distance, we stopped the car while he had a good look with the binoculars, and sure enough he had spotted the Sopa pride of lions lying on a rocky outcrop in the far distance. The problem we now had, was how to get to them. They were on the other side of the sand river, which is wide, if not deep, and there are very few crossing points. We drove in the opposite direction for about 20 minutes before coming upon a place that looked promising. Even though it was quite steep, it had obviously been used before as there was a clear track on both sides of the bank. The sand on the riverbed looked firm enough and the water was shallow, so off we went.

 

We almost made it. Our driver had underestimated how steep the far bank was and we hadn’t enough power to reach the top, this happens, so we rolled back to give it another go, unfortunately as we rolled back to the riverbed we rolled into a patch of soft sand, we all instantly knew what this meant, we were going nowhere now. The guys immediately started to work on getting us free by collecting stones, jacking up the car and putting the stones underneath the wheels.

They had just started when luck would have it another vehicle appeared, which considering where we were, was pretty astounding. It looked like we were going to be pulled out. Always prepared, we took out the chain we bought for exactly this situation only to find it couldn’t be attached to the other vehicle. So that was something we were going to have to look at for the future. The driver of the other vehicle was taking a guest to the airstrip so couldn’t stay and help, he did say that he would find a tow rope from somewhere and bring it back with him. Resigned to being here for a while at least, I got out the tea and pancakes that I always bring, and we had a little picnic. It was a very lovely spot for it. The guys then continued to work while I went for a paddle in the shallow waters, to where some monkeys were playing just downstream. It was a very pleasant way to spend the time until the vehicle was free. After about an hour, a few attempts and many rocks, we finally made it and continued on our way to see the pride.

By the time we reached them they had spread out a little but the whole pride was still there. We were sad to see that one of the females had an injury on her hind leg and a few puncture marks on her side. Even being a good hunter doesn’t always mean you don’t pick up any injuries. Lions may be the most powerful predator in the Mara but they still risk their lives whenever they hunt.

Another thing I found unusual was that some of the young males clearly should have left the pride by now. You can see in some of the photos that they are growing a mane and so have reached puberty. Normally at this stage the adolescent males are kicked out of the pride to avoid inbreeding. This is done by the dominant males of the pride, however since the males in this pride have not been around, they continue to enjoy the protection and the food offered by their mothers.

I feel that spending time with this captivating group of lions gives me a kind of connection to them, instead of being just a pride of lions they have become my pride of lions, I even recognize one or two of them, it is so satisfying.

After a couple of hours, we must leave and head back to camp. The trip back was uneventful, but we did see the baby zebra again, feeding from his mother.

It is such a nice feeling after a game drive, as we reach the plains in front of our camp and see all the Giraffes, Impala, and many others. Today we had Eland around to welcome us home, and I feel so lucky to call this home.