We finally received some rain yesterday and overnight, not enough to relieve the hunger of the livestock but enough to make the going extremely tough in the park. As we enter the park we hit a patch of black cotton soil that has been turned to mud by the recent rain, driving across black cotton soil is like driving on ice, the car slides all over the place, the wheels spin while trying to gain traction, anyone that has visited the Mara in the rainy season will have experienced this. This is when the 4-wheel drive comes in real handy.
Today we witnessed young adolescents that are just starting out on their own, having to fend for themselves, often without the comfort of knowing that if they fail their mother will provide.
The first one we came across was a cheetah, at first, I thought it was our local male cheetah, as it was in the same general area. This one though, was behaving strangely. We saw him at a distance and had to drive back and around a small stream to where he was, when we arrived at the spot we thought he should be, we found he was still way ahead of us and moving fast. He wasn’t hunting because there was no prey in his sights. We followed and as we got closer, we could hear him calling, a kind of high-pitched chirp together with a cross between a purr and a rumbling growl.
This is when Alison realized it was a young adolescent who just yesterday was seen with his mother and two siblings. He had obviously been separated and was now trying to re-unite with them by smelling the scent on the trees and calling out to them. Alison explained that when the cubs are around 18 months old the mother leaves them, and they must make their own way in life from then on. Usually, a female sibling will stay with her brothers until she is ready to mate and then go off by herself, but males will stick together and form a coalition. Fortunately for this cheetah he did manage to find his siblings later in the day and re-join them, however their mother had moved on. I’m not sure how long these three young cheetahs will stick around as this area is part of the territory covered by our local cheetah, he might not be too happy about it, we will have to wait and see what happens.
After leaving the cheetah, we drove on for a while with not a single animal in sight until we approached the brow of a hill and there, before us covering the plains, such a diverse collection of animals. Many types of antelopes including Impala, Hartebeest, Thompson gazelle, Eland, also Buffalo, Zebra, Wildebeest and right in front of us, just next to the road around six or seven young Jackals, three of whom were eating something, I couldn’t quite make out what, possibly something they had killed themselves, which means they also may soon be starting out on their own.
After a brief discussion I proposed that we try to find the Leopard cub Roho, that had lost his mother, to see how he was coping on his own. We drove in vain around the small rivers where Leopards tend to live.
While we were trying to find Roho we did see two female lions, the lions were lying close to a herd of gazelle and a few zebra, who surprisingly didn’t look too concerned about how close they were. When the lionesses got up to walk off away from them, I could see they had full bellies, maybe the gazelles and zebras knew this. It is fascinating to sit and watch how these animals, predator and prey, are able to live and die side by side.
We took a break and stopped on the blackrocks for breakfast. It was a nice, secluded spot but I suspect a popular place to stop as we were joined by this very friendly, chuck chuck. It is actually a spur fowl, but we call them chuck chucks because of the sounds they make. This one in the photo walked right up to where me and Ken were sitting to have a look inside our breakfast box, he was clearly indicating he wanted a few crumbs.
So, since we were in the blackrock pride territory we tried to find the cubs. The best time to see the cubs though is early morning when they are either eating or playing so when we did find one of the mothers, they were not around. They did make a brief appearance when we returned later, as they came to suckle from their mother.
Moving on, we headed for another of the small rivers, still looking for Roho, we passed a small group of Elephants, one of the younger members of the group had no tusks, since even the babies had very small tusks so it was strange for one to have nothing at all, I have seen elephants with just one tusk where the other one was destroyed by either fighting or by accident, or a broken tusk, but never one born with no tusks at all.
Then in the distance we saw many vehicles crowding around the base of a tree, near a dried up river bed, I was hopeful that we had found him as we made our way over. It turned out not to be Roho but another cub, this one, a female called Nantito who is generally seen with her mother Kazuri, but this time was by herself relaxing along a branch of the tree. She had a kill in the tree with her, a baby waterbuck that she was trying to drag closer, at one point I thought she was going to let it fall but she managed to hang on to it and then started eating it.
Alison pointed out an adult waterbuck not far away, this was possibly the baby’s mother, looking for her baby, nature is not always kind. The care Nantito was showing when handling the kill indicated that she had probably made the kill herself. She had reached the age where she could look after her own needs. Unlike the cheetah, a mother Leopard doesn’t leave her cubs, and a young female Leopard will sometimes stay with her mother for up to four years before establishing her own territory and even then, will often visit her mother.
Seeing these young adolescents beginning a new stage in their lives is incredible, I hope we will see much more of this in the years to come, and hope that climate change doesn’t destroy their habitat forever. It would be satisfying to think that our children and our children’s children would get to see these magnificent animals in the wild.
Finally, as we made our way home, we passed another family of elephants, two adults and five young of various ages, including a baby. All vying for shade under a sparce acacia tree.