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