The beautiful Luluka

Another chance to get out into the park today. One of our guests kindly allowed us to accompany him on a full day game drive. It had rained the previous day and, in the night, well more of a drizzle really but it gave the earth a fresh damp earth smell, and the earth really needed it. We left camp early this morning, taking with us our breakfast and lunch. As the sky brightened from the east, we could see the usual zebra and antelope in the early morning mist. It is very cloudy this morning and it looked as if it might even rain again.

As we passed the second bridge the usual hippo was there at the river, then just as we were approaching the airstrip the car stopped abruptly and Alison pointed to a serval cat, perfectly camouflaged in the long grass, how he ever saw him I don’t know. At first the only giveaway was the grass moving, then we caught a glimpse of his ears, as he moved closer to us we were able to get a good look at him. He looked like he was hunting, first perfectly still and focused then suddenly jumping up in the air and landing on whatever unfortunate insect had caught his attention. It was a pleasure to watch, we followed him for a while before he crossed the road and moved off.

This morning we are heading towards the Talek area where the guys had heard there was something we would like to see but wouldn’t say what it was, they are always so secretive, maybe thinking it’s better to surprise us.

As we drove along the main road we passed a digger, left there by the county council. The digger itself is not very interesting but this one had a baboon sitting on top checking it out.

We stopped to see what the baboon was going to do. He looked it over and saw that the doors were open, so he went inside and found a half empty bottle of coke lying on the floor which he picked up and tried to open. It was very funny to watch him trying to figure out the best way to get at what was inside the bottle. In the end I think he pierced it with his large fangs so that the liquid leaked out, pretty smart.

We crossed the open plains towards Talek, an area densely populated with herds of zebra and Topi. The Topi had many lively calves who ran around chasing each other among the adults. The newborns are a much lighter colour than the adults and have no markings yet, they look completely different.

The driver was now picking up the pace and we could sense the urgency. As we passed a group of cars crowded together, I asked, “what are they looking at?” The answer was “oh just lions.” We clearly weren’t stopping for them, lions you can see almost any time. Then just a little further, maybe even part of the same pride were two lionesses from the Topi pride with very young cubs. We had to stop briefly for these because lion cubs are so cute and not always so easy to find.

We are not the first to arrive at the spot where the leopard is, already there are around twenty cars, all keeping a respectable distance. Then she starts to walk. We find that it is Luluka a female leopard that had recently given birth to two cubs, they must be around 3 or 4 weeks old now. As she walks, all the cars, including ours, drive ahead and try to position themselves so that they get a good view of her walking towards them, it is really crazy, everyone jockeying for position, fortunately she is completely unfazed, this must be a regular occurrence for her.

When she takes a break and sits down for a rest we drive ahead and find a spot for breakfast. Alison finds a nice tree on the banks of a dry riverbed, next to a shallow pool of water currently inhabited by egyptian geese and a plover bird strutting around on its striking yellow legs. As we lay out the breakfast a curious young giraffe wanders down into the riverbed to get a closer look at us. There are quite a few giraffe around as well as a couple of eland, the eland are not as curious though and keep their distance. It was a beautiful experience to sit out in the open surrounded by all these animals.

After breakfast we return to Luluka and she is on the move again, walking towards us. All the giraffe that were watching us eat are now looking at Luluka. You can always be sure that there is a predator around if a herd of giraffe are all staring in the same direction. Although the giraffe are never in any danger, they are too much for a leopard. She continued on her path. Alison was not sure if she was looking for food or if she was going to where she had hidden her cubs, so we kept following along with the other twenty or so cars.

She walked along tracks, through long grass, through thick bush, where she gave us all the slip a couple times forcing everyone to go searching for her, then she would pop up again sometimes on the opposite side of the riverbank. While it was easy for Luluka to cross over it was more difficult for the vehicles, if you picked the wrong place to cross then you would be in trouble as a couple of vehicles found out and had to be pulled out.

On her walk she encountered a large male warthog, she would have no interest in him as prey because a warthog would fight back and with two young cubs to provide for she just couldn’t take a chance on getting injured. As we continued to follow her, we saw another group of vehicles a short distance away, we went over to take a look and it was another leopard, Jilime, Lulukas daughter from a previous litter.

Luluka didn’t seem to notice her, but she must have picked up her scent because she began acting strangely. First pacing up and down, she then stood on a small mound and started a loud aggressive grunting noise, I was surprised because I had never heard a leopard vocalize before. It was her way of warning off Jilime. She also stopped at a bush every few metres to smell and then spray her own scent. A female leopard doesn’t like another leopard in her territory when she has new cubs, even if the intruder is one of her own mature cubs. 

We stayed with her up until it started to rain and she decided to take shelter in the bush. This is where we left her, maybe she would hunt later this afternoon or even tomorrow. Leopards can leave their young cubs for a whole day or even longer when they go hunting.

There was yet another surprise for me later in the afternoon, on our way back to the camp Alison spotted something out on the plains, close to a tree.

Immediately the car drove off the road through the grass towards it. Alison had said it was a Jackal and I thought rushing over just to see a Jackal was a little odd, as we nearly always see Jackal on our game drives and have never once rushed off road to see one. However, this was a striped Jackal, very rare, not only had I never seen one, I didn’t even know they existed. As you can see from the photo it has very beautiful markings and a white tip on its tail.

And finally, a collection of birds that Ken photographed during the day. In order, there is the elegant secretary bird looking for insects, A black shouldered kite, a common fiscal, a bateleur eagle, a very angry looking starling, a small bee eater with an insect in its long beak and a little fat bird in the rain. We had no idea what type of bird this is, after looking it up when we returned home Ken thought it might be a pipit, but he can’t be certain.


Blackrock cubs

It’s good to be going out on a game drive this morning, I have waited three months, first because of a broken wrist, then high season and the jeep was booked. So, I am really looking forward to the day, it doesn’t matter to me what I see or don’t see I know I will enjoy it anyway.

The terrain is so different from the last time we took a game drive, all the marshy areas are now just soft mud, the pool filled tracks that we had trouble navigating are now dry and dusty. The long grass is short and pale in colour, like straw. The few zebra and wildebeest that remain are doing their best to get what nourishment they can from it. Where the mornings were bitingly cold this morning the temperature was very mild with a warm dry breeze blowing down from the north.

As we pass the second bridge the change is so obvious, the water that flowed over the stones like a waterfall just three months ago is now down to a trickle, I see a lone hippo over to the right where there used to be a whole family. As we get closer to the sand river we drive through large patches of scorched earth where the grass has been burned. This is done in certain areas to stimulate new grass for the purpose of improved grazing.

Before reaching the sand river Alison notices lions on a large rocky outcrop in the distance, this whole area is strewn with rocky outcrops and scattered rocks, driving through it to reach the lions is like driving through an obstacle course. But we make it and are rewarded with four females from the Sopa pride. The Sopa pride is a large pride consisting of around 23 lions, unfortunately most had moved on, we were told they had headed south over the hill, but it was still nice to sit with these four healthy looking lionesses while they relaxed in the sun.

The only sounds we could hear as we sat there in the silence were the calls from various birds and the distant call of an elephant, which was all too familiar to us because for the previous three nights, there had been a large herd of elephants in the camp, causing havoc by tearing off branches and scattering them all over the place. Thankfully, they only enter during the night when no one is present.

After this we had breakfast then went to find the blackrock pride, I was very excited at the thought of seeing the cubs again and to see how they had grown over the last few months. When we arrived, the pride was spread out over a fairly large area, some relaxing in the shade, some wandering around and one lioness eating a warthog. She must have caught the warthog herself because when one or two of the other lions tried to get a little of the kill, she put them in their place in no uncertain terms.

We didn’t stay with them for very long as there were too many vehicles all crowding around them and Alison had heard there was a leopard not too far away, so we decided to come back later when it was quieter and head out to see if we could find the leopard. He wasn’t difficult to spot, he was in a tall tree and there was only one other vehicle present when we arrived. When he turned so that I could get a better look at him I saw that it was split nose, named because of the scar on his nose.

. He seemed a little restless, very alert and even somewhat uneasy, this is not like him, he is a large confident leopard and in a very safe place. We did hear later that there was also a female in the area, we didn’t see her, but this might be the reason for his initial restlessness. Eventually he settled down to sleep. We stayed with him for a couple of hours to see if he would come down, but he showed no signs of this, so we drove to the nearby sand river to have lunch.

The dry months had also had an effect on the sand river which now was literally a bed of sand with narrow rivulets of water winding their way downstream.

As we followed the sand river we encountered many elephant families, each family had at least two babies and quite a few young ones. The sand river is a particularly nice place to have lunch as there are large trees spaced out along the banks offering much needed shade. The only problem was that the elephants were also taking advantage of this and nearly every tree we passed was occupied by them. In the end we had to wait for a family of elephants to move on before we could claim the tree for ourselves.

After lunch the plan was to go back to the blackrock pride, but before we did that, we wanted to drive by the Tree with Split Nose to check if he was still there. And he was; a leopard is likely to spend the entire day in a good, secure location if he is not hungry.

The blackrock pride were still in the same area as they had been this morning, they were now all relaxing in the shade of the surrounding bushes, it is very hot this afternoon. I could barley believe it when I saw the cubs, they had grown so much since the last time I saw them and some of the boys are growing the first signs of their mane. There were 13 cubs altogether but of different ages. You can see in the photos how small they were and how big they are now. This is a very successful pride, the mothers have looked after their young very well, out of the 13 cubs only one hasn’t survived so far. The first litter is now a year and a half old and the second litter around ten or eleven months. You can see from the before and after photos how they have grown. Eventually I had to tear myself away and we headed home.

On the return journey, just as we were about to cross a small river we saw Elephants, what caught my attention is how small they were, in fact there were two fully grown mother elephants each with a baby. I just love baby elephants they are so cute. It was amazing to see close up how they were interacting, and they were not at all nervous of us being there with them, not once did either of the mothers get agitated and warn us off, so we stayed. Just then another two elephants joined them, these two were big but not yet fully grown. We saw many elephants today and every single group had small babies.

The day was nearly over, we continued to the camp but stopped one more time, almost on our doorstep so to speak, to see the male cheetah who’s territory borders our camp.

I hope it isn’t to long before I can get out into the reserve again.


The Honeymoon Couple

The plan this morning is to stay away from the main roads and the many other tourist vehicles, as much as possible, so we drive across the plains just outside our camp and head for the hills. Alison tells us that the sopa pride were in this area just yesterday. There are another three vehicles searching for the pride, they are difficult to find, the terrain is challenging. The hills are thick with bushes and impenetrable, the tracks are littered with large stones and deep potholes, but we stick with it. While searching for the pride we came across this attractive jackal she was just outside her den we sat with her for a while just in case she had young ones and we might get to see them, but perhaps not because she was very relaxed about us being there.


We were about to leave and give up the search when Alison got a phone call to let us know they had been found, they were halfway up a hill and were well hidden. When we reached them, we caught glimpses of the odd one or two, not the whole pride, a couple of them graced us with their present, a female, and a young male. Alison had just received another call about a sighting of 2 male lions, so we head off to try and find them.

We are not the only ones looking for them as there are many cars heading in the same direction. After a while the cars split up, some continuing to look and some head for the river and other areas.

We pass a large group of ostriches that we don’t stop for this time as we are on a mission.

We don’t find 2 males, but we do come across a fine strong male with a female, they are what we call a honeymoon couple. The male has scars on his face and looks like he has been in quite a few fights. This is a good thing for the female because if she has cubs with him, she knows he is willing and able to defend them. Quite often with lions it is the female that initiates the sexual contact, as is the case with this couple. She does this by getting up and walking a few feet away then assuming a position that made it clear for the male what was expected of him.

 The actual act lasts for a very short time, between 5 and 20 seconds, and in the case of this lion it was on the lower end of the scale. Afterwards the male lion lets out a load roar and gently bites the back of the females’ neck and the female growls at her partner, then rolls over and lays down for a rest. This performance can go on for days, with the lions copulating almost every half hour.

There are 2 other females nearby, but one is lying down by a stream after having a drink and the other one is eating a meal. She is really tucking into the food, cracking the bones, and tearing at the flesh to get to the meat, using her sharp teeth and powerful paws to steady the carcass.

The honeymoon couple have no interest in the others or of eating during this period of mating.

We leave them to it and drive over to where the 3 male cheetahs were last seen. On the way we pass a buffalo that looked like he had recently been in a vicious fight and come off worse. As you can see from the photo, he is a big grumpy looking bull. Half his horn is missing, and his ear is torn and bloody. Male Buffalos from the same herd do sometimes fight each other, mostly to prove dominance, although they rarely fight to the death, but an injured buffalo like this one is likely to be easy prey for a pride of lions.


We find the three cheetahs under a small bush taking what shade they could find out in the middle of the plains. This was originally a coalition of five males now down to three, ‘Tatu Bora’. We noticed a large herd of wildebeest not too far away, easily within stalking distance for them, so we waited for a while, but they showed no interest in them. Cheetahs only need to eat every two to five days, so maybe they had eaten recently.

Unfortunately, not long after seeing them we got word that another one of the cheetahs had died, as a result of what looked like a lion attack. They are going to do an autopsy to confirm the cause of death. This is very sad news.

After leaving the cheetahs we run into another group of lions. A few females, some cubs and also a Male lion was with them, a very scruffy looking male lion also with scars and injuries. These lions had been very busy, as we looked around several dead zebras and wildebeest littered the area, some partially eaten but more lay untouched. There was far too many for the pride to eat, they had been on a killing spree. Being cats, the instinct to hunt and kill is probably so strong that with hundreds of wildebeest and zebra on hand, they just can’t help it.

This was a very nice morning, with the different lion prides and the cheetahs and now we head for the river to see the wildebeest crossing that I wrote about last week.


Migration in full flow

This week I’m going to continue on the theme of the wildebeest migration. When the Wildebeest gather in huge numbers on the northern Serengeti getting ready to cross the Mara River with all its dangers. This is what attracts hundreds of tourists to the Maasai Mara in July and August.

Most people have heard of the great wildebeest migration, which also includes thousands of zebra, most have also seen footage of this spectacle on national geographic or similar programs. Although the event is often not as dramatic as seen on the TV as they spend weeks if not months filming before putting together the footage.

Having said that it can be, and often is very exciting and an amazing thing to witness. The one thing you need though is patience. You can be lucky and get to the river just as they are about to cross but most people spend hours, watching them gather, hesitantly go down to the edge of the water only to get spooked by something and run back up.

The other thing you need to understand is that it can get pretty crowded at the river, although protocol by the drivers has improved considerably over the last few years. At one time, no so long ago, the riverbank would be so crowded with cars that there was nowhere for the wildebeest to cross, which sort of defeats the purpose of being there. Now the drivers have been persuaded to stay back and give the wildebeest space. Once they start to cross though it is a free for all as vehicles rush to the riverbank all jostling for space.

So, we arrive at the Mara River at around 11 am. We found just a small gathering of wildebeest and zebra on our side of the bank that we thought might cross. There were almost as many vehicles as there were wildebeest.

After a while slowly, very slowly they make their way towards the river. Eventually, the group descend to the water’s edge, and after taking a drink, two zebra take the initiative and enter the water to cross, followed by two more and then two wildebeest, suddenly there was a loud call from one of the zebra still on the bank, this caused confusion and fear amongst the waiting wildebeest, as one, they turned and ran back up the bank to wait and graze again. So, it was a very small and uneventful crossing.

Along the whole length of the river, there are numerous locations where wildebeest and zebra choose to cross. We noticed another gathering a little further along, so together with all the other vehicles we raced off to the next spot, hoping for better luck next time.

This looked more promising, it was a much larger group and as they grazed the occasional call of the zebra mingled with the constant loud grunting of the wildebeest made it a very noisy place. Everyone was exited at the thought of watching these hundreds of animals cross the river into the Mara Triangle.  We had a nice view of the crossing point, so we settled down to wait, and wait, and have lunch and wait some more.

The tension was building, the guides were looking for signs, everyone was eager for the show to begin. When it did start it was the wildebeest that took the lead. As they scrambled down the bank and plunged into the river the cars all moved in, including ours. Our driver is very skilled, he focused on the best position, very smoothly moved in, not letting anyone cut in and held his ground, we had a great view. Once it started there was no stopping them, as they splashed through the river and scrambled up the opposite bank oblivious to any danger.

Just then Alison pointed to a single wildebeest that had strayed away from the bulk of the herd, he was splashing around and looked as if he was in trouble, that’s when I saw the large Nile crocodile appear from below.

He skillfully circled the lone wildebeest stopping at the hind quarters then opened his huge mouth and locked his massive jaw on to the back of the struggling wildebeest. Blood seeped from the bite turning the water red. Another crocodile silently slid into the water from the bank to join forces with the first. There was no hope for the wildebeest, despite making every effort to reach the other side the crocodile was too strong for him, inch by inch he was steadily dragged back out to the middle of the river where it is deep enough to drown, which is how 

the croc’s kill their prey, they will take their prey and stash it somewhere under the water to feast on later. This is the only casualty of the whole crossing, so I suppose it could be called a success.

The vehicles start to disperse, it has been a very long day but well worth the wait, I can understand why so many people want to witness this in real life. Reluctantly we head for home. 

We stop again briefly further downstream where three crocodiles are resting on the water’s edge, one of them slid into the water, I watched as he glided toward another crocodile that was already in the water but that I had not even noticed. The jaws of the other crocodile held the flesh of an earlier kill, and this crocodile wanted a share. The croc that held the meat had other ideas trying to evade the croc coming straight for him but to no avail. There was a brief struggle, the two crocs thrashing about in the river until the first croc got a share, then the water became calm once more.

. At this time of year food is plentiful for all the predators, both in the water and on land. The wildebeest are so important to the eco system here in the Mara, it helps to sustain the many large cats that the Mara is also famous for.