Above: Elephant feeding in the lush swamp in Siana Springs Conservancy
Copyright Rupi Mangat
Published: Saturday Magazine 16 June 2018
Nestled in the craggy hills of Ngama from where the springs that give the wildlife haven its name, Siana, the sound of water and the wind add to the drama of the day. I scan the copper-coloured bare cliffs of the hills where the leopard hides. The view of the Masai Mara from up the hills is unbelievable.
The springs of Siana drain their water into the swamp that is luscious green with more grasses than usual because of the long rains. A herd of 25 elephants feast on the healthy swamp, ranging from the baby to the matriarch with two youngsters engaged in some trunk-twisting and playful banter.
In the green and grey of the elephants in the swamp, a pair of Grey crowned cranes cut a colourful profile. It’s fascinating to watch these birds of the swamp stomping through it, dipping their stately crowned heads in the grasses to pull out a frog or a snail totally ignoring the world’s largest land mammal in their midst.
It’s a happy picture. A recent survey by Kenya Wildlife Service shows that elephant numbers have increased by 72 per cent since 2014 in the Mara ecosystem made of the famous Masai Mara National Reserve, the Mara Triangle and the conservancies like Siana covering 11,600 square kilometers. In 2014, 1,448 elephants were counted versus 2,493 in 2017. But here’s one theory for the dramatic increase – many of these elephants may have wandered in from the neighbouring Serengeti to indulge in the food fiesta. I’m happy with that if the elephants are.
The Grey crowned cranes meantime send out the signature call – loud and clear. In the last two decades in Kenya and Uganda, Grey crowned crane populations have spiralled down by 80 per cent with an alarming decline of nests due to human-wildlife conflict around nesting sites.
It’s tranquil and we could be the only people on earth in this beautiful place. Mike Luka our Masai driver-guide points to a dozen birds and plants each so interesting. Herds of impala appear in their lavish coats of caramel as the sun peeps through the cloud filled horizon, painting it in hues of pinks. In the same sky, as the sun sets, a huge silvery-white moon appears from the eastern sky. In one word, it’s surreal.
The nightlife begins on exquisite palettes of cuisine at the exquisite Spirit of the Masai Mara camp on the Masai-owned conservancy. Meanwhile, the sprawling savannah beckons. A sudden shriek has us stop eating and the Masai morans (warriors) appear – not to attack but amaze us with a rendition of straight jumps that they do while living a moran’s life in the bush.
The Masai guides from the Siana Conservancy, Luka and William Letura ready with the infra-red massive torch that won’t disturb the night creatures, open the door to the safari cruiser. Donned in the warm ponchos provided by the lodge, we’re ready for our night out.
Luminous eyes dart in the bushes to reveal a tiny animal with humongous eyes. It’s a bushbaby, a purely nocturnal animal. Another one darts so fast that it’s a split-second sighting.
The guides show creatures we would have missed out like the African scops owl camouflaged on a branch. It could fit in the palm of my hand. The guys then turn the spotlight on the migrant kestrel hidden deep in the bushes and asleep. It doesn’t stir. The elephants in the swamp have left and instead it’s full of impalas their eyes lit in the dark. The waterbuck stirs and the grand finale is when Letura shines the torch skywards to reveal a Grey crowned crane perched on the tip of a single branch with the moon on its crest.
The deep-throated roar of the lion sounds deep in the night. It’s the spirit of the Masai Mara and in the first light of the day it’s beautiful to wake up to wide open skies and the savannah full of luscious grasses and wild flowers.
Fly to the conservancy – it’s a 45-minute flight or drive – 233 klometres that can take 6 hours because the road from Narok is in bad shape.
You must carry your ID or passport.
In 1979, 1.2 million elephants roamed Africa. Kenya had 167,000, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Today, Africa has an estimated 300,000 that is a 75 per cent loss since 1979.
Latest figures in Kenya show between 30,000 and 38,000 elephants.