Above: Maasai giraffe, mother and calf. In Maasai Mara. Copyright Rupi Mangat
Published: 27 Juy 2019
It’s the mid-year bonanza in the Maasai Mara. It’s lush and green after a long dry spell. We’re in the south-eastern part of the 1,510-square-kilometre park that is a continuation of the 14,750-square-kilometres Serengeti National Park.
It is this enormous space that is world-famous as big game country: big for the huge herds of wildebeest, big for the big cats, big for the world’s largest land mammal – the elephant and big for the tallest – the giraffe. There are so many superlatives that describe the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that it is mind-boggling.
I’m with Luck ole Soit the Maasai driver-guide and Pancras Karema of Expeditions Maasai Safaris whose mantra is to make safaris affordable to Kenyans. “Only 10 percent of Kenyans take holidays within Kenya,” reveals Karema. He believes that when people travel, it raises their conscience about nature.
In the late evening, the light and sprawl of the Mara is – as always – magical. A pair of cheetahs saunters out of the lugga and on the wet plains as a double rainbow arches across the sky. The elephant family gathers at the picturesque stream dotted with palms. The thirsty calf drinks his fill stretching his trunk to reach the water and then folds it to place it in his mouth. Some water dribbles – they have to learn to use the trunk just like Homo sapien children have to learn to use their hands.
Morning heralds more excitement. The vultures are back with the wildebeest. The Ruppell’s and the Lappett are at a carcass gorging themselves. I love these birds. They are so full or character and if it weren’t for them, the plains would be disease-ridden with rotting flesh while the stench would be overbearing.
Breakfast continues. A trio of ground hornbills stride the grass plains – and suddenly one raises its enormous red-flanked bill. It has a thin snake dangling from it – still alive. With a throw of its head, the hornbill swallows its breakfast.
A few minutes down the road a pair of lions is courting. The male is a handsome black-maned lion and the female a diva. She’s really in no mood but the male woos her persistently. Finally she flops herself in the shade of the tour vans and the male follows suit.
I send my lion shots to Niels Mogensen at the Mara Predator Conservation Program curious to see if ‘my’ lion can be identified.
The lion in my picture is identified as Mandevu from the clear photos of his whisker spots. He was born into the Topi pride in mid-2015. He dispersed with two brothers and a sister a few years ago. Now he is with his two brothers, trying to establish themselves, but they still don’t have control over any prides.
“There are about 470 lions above the age of one (year) in the reserve and the conservancies,” tells the scientist. “The population seems to be stable.”
That’s good news because the lions living by the international border cross into Serengeti while the community programme with the Mara Predator Conservation Program has helped to lessen the perennial human-wildlife conflict. But it seems that there are more lodges than lions in the Mara now.
Word reaches – the leopard is on the prowl. We are just in time to see the elusive cat cross the stream and disappear.
It’s only in the Mara that you can see the three big cats in one morning.
There’s never a dull moment in the wild. A family of bat-eared fox enjoy the morning sun by its burrow and then take a run. This cute little fox is an African endemic – south of the Sahara. Further on a pair of silver-backed jackals slip through the grass. Like the bat-eared fox, it’s also a sub-Saharan endemic.
The road leads to the international border at Sand River between the Serengeti and the Mara. Thankfully the wildebeest and the rest are unaware of this; hence we’re treated to the great wildebeest migration that happens between June and October as the gnus follow the grass route in their perpetual search for food.
The mighty Mara is in spate. While the hippos honk and yawn in the river, l spot the noxious parthenium spreading like wildfire across Africa. This weed was unheard of in Kenya until a decade ago. It’s from South America. Although it’s gazetted as a weed-non grata in Kenya, nothing is being done to get rid of it except for the Friends of Nairobi National Park (FoNNaP) regularly uprooting it carefully in Nairobi.
In the late afternoon, the pair of cheetah from the day before have made a kill. One has her mouth bloody. Suddenly all the cars descend on the spotted feline within a few inches of the cats feeding. It’s inhuman.
Studies show that cheetahs are stressed when a car is within a few metres of them. It’s much better to carry binoculars and a camera with great zoom lens.
It’s when you get the best shots of any wildlife.
The Mara is a seven hour drive from Nairobi to Sekanani Gate. Pay with a credit card or MPESA. You must have your ID card – foreigners need a passport to prove their citizenship.
The Mara never disappoints – go at any time of the year.