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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.

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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.

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The Migration is underway

I’m excited today about going out on my first game drive for nearly 4 weeks. The moon is full when we leave camp giving the morning a soft glow before the sun rises. As we head towards the main road, we see many vehicles stopped on the road, with many more racing to the same spot leaving huge dust trails behind them. It hasn’t rained now for a few weeks, so the land is very dry and the long grass no longer green but a pale yellow colour.

Ken managed to get a shot of this single Topi standing in the middle of the dust filled air stirred up by the passing vehicles. This is high season in the Mara with hundreds of people from all over the world expected, in the hope of witnessing the annual migration of wildebeest and of course the ‘Big Cats’. Which is what we have here.

Our male cheetah Olodupa is sitting by the main road making it easy for the visitors to get up close to him. How he remains so relaxed when surrounded by about 30 vehicles is a mystery to me, but he does it. He is also surrounded by wildebeest and Zebra. A couple of times he gets up, looks for a possible target, picking out a baby from the herd, we think he might hunt, but he is not too serious. He trots one way and then another barely breaking into a run let alone a full-on sprint.

The wildebeest, keep pace with him, run a little when he chases them, then stop and face him when he stops, always keeping him in their sights although no going very far. It’s like a dance, they are both involved in, a dance of death maybe for one of them. Zebra look on from the sidelines, they know they are not in any danger as a zebra is too strong for a single cheetah. Since Olodupa is not in a hunting mood right now we move off, heading towards the Sand River and Mara River to see if any of the wildebeest are ready to cross.

Driving through the long grass my attention is caught by something dark and straight sticking up out of the undulating grass. It was the head and long neck of a heron. Herons are fond of the long grass as it contains many insects that the heron like to eat. But it seems he doesn’t much care for our company, and he flies away.

Alison notices that there are a few vultures circling off to our left, so we drive over to see what has caught their attention. It is the remains of a fresh and very smelly carcass, that of a small wildebeest and Alison believes it was a leopard kill because none of the rib bones are broken. Not long after this we see another gathering of vehicles in the distance, it can only mean one thing, it’s one of the cats. We don’t have to go searching for the cats during high season, within minutes of a cat being spotted it is surrounded by many cars. Personally, I prefer to go looking for them. There is so much more satisfaction of finally coming upon a leopard after a long search and being the only vehicle there. 

So, we head over to find the leopard concealed in a bush, it’s very difficult to see her and when she walks out it is still difficult to see her because she is camouflaged in the long yellow grass. She walks just a little way then settles back down again under another bush; however we do get a good look at her here and Alison is sure it’s Kazuri. We have seen Kazuri quite a few times, once with her daughter Nantito. I know leopards can be recognized by looking closely at certain patterns on their head and neck but for me it is not easy to tell them apart.

The closer we get to the Tanzanian border the larger the groups of Wildebeest and Zebra, in some cases there are herds of more than 300 wildebeest, but this is still only a fraction of what is slowly making its way towards the Mara, despite efforts to keep them in the Serengeti. We see the thick smoke, from the fires they light to dissuade the wildebeest from coming, it may slow them but ultimately it doesn’t work. We try the Sand River first, this river feeds into the Mara River and many wildebeest take this route. They are gathering on the other side but show no signs yet of wanting to cross so we try the Mara River. There are already large numbers of wildebeest on this side of the river, those that have already crossed and survived the crocodiles that lie in wait for them, but none on the other side. Since there is no ‘action’ we have lunch and head back to camp. Although we didn’t’ see any wildebeest crossing today I am hopeful that we will see them cross at some time, maybe on our next game drive. The photo at the top is from last year’s migration.

On the way back we see yet again a large group of cars, this time they are looking at lions. It is a couple of females, two young cubs and a slightly older cub. Alison thinks this is two of the BlackRock females and their cubs if this is so the cubs have certainly grown. It has been quite a while since we last saw them, maybe even a couple of months, they have been hiding, so I was particularly excited to see them again. They had also been feasting on wildebeest, maybe these two females have brought their cubs to this place to be closer to the food.

Now that the migration has begun, and the supply of wildebeest is plentiful they are the easiest of prey.

As we near home, driving along the main road we are stopped in our tracks by a black Mamba. It is in the middle of the road right in front of us, it has reared up, flattening his head in the strike position and has no intention of giving way. We slowly drive around it and once we have passed, it slithers away. If there is one snake you don’t want to mess with it’s a black mamba, they are deadly poisonous.

Then we finish our game drive as we started with Olodupa. We find him not far from camp in the shade of a tree, with a full stomach, feasting on a baby wildebeest. So, he took his time and finally caught one. This time there is not so many vehicles watching his every move so he can eat in peace. I think he will eat well over the next couple of months until the wildebeest return to the Serengeti. It is time to say goodbye to him and return to camp, although I am sure we will be seeing a lot of him in the near future

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Success in the Savannah

This week since I have broken my wrist and am unable to get out into the park for at least another couple of weeks a good friend and travel agent, Thyra Rutter has written a blog this week about her experience on a game drive during her stay with us at Fisi Camp. So, enjoy and I will be back just as soon as my wrist heals.

A silent cheetah stalks its prey. Waiting for what seems like ages to make a move. Watching, waiting until, at a precise moment the cat launches into a full speed chase! Using perfectly choreographed actions, the lead cheetah drives its unfortunate prey (a topi) from the safety of its herd. Suddenly, two other cheetahs join the fray, erupting from the bush like four legged rockets. The three cats, joined together in complex maneuvers, attack. One cheetah leaping at the topi’s haunches, a second going for the exposed flanks with the largest of the three sinking its claws and teeth into the neck.

For the topi it’s a mercifully quick and dramatic end to life in the savannah, for the cheetahs a hard-earned feast giving them necessary energy to face another day and for our safari guests, it was the thrill of a lifetime.

There is no denying, a day spent in the Masai Mara is unlike anything else on earth. Endless skies oversee cycles of drama that have evolved for centuries

 

Predator, prey and somewhat surprisingly, partnerships all have a part to play in the natural rhythms of the bush. From humble oxpecker birds hitching free rides on cape buffalo in exchange for removing pesky (for the buffalo) and delicious (for the oxpecker) ticks off of their “taxi” to the unlikely alliance of wildebeest and zebra, the former with better hearing and the latter with sharper eyesight, the animal kingdom is held together by partnerships.

It doesn’t take a biologist to note that like wildlife, human lives are enriched beyond measure by trusted relationships.  

AFE Adventures, is proud to partner with the incredible folks at Fisi Camp to ensure our guest experience a safari that exceeds their wildest dreams.

Turns out, we aren’t so different after all!

Thyra Rutter

Founder, Arte for Elephants

323-899-3859 mobile

[email protected]

[email protected]