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The Big Cats of the Mara

Part 2 of 2

Published:1 September 2018

Above: Lioness at dawn in Maasai Mara National Reserve August 2018
Copyright Rupi Mangat 2018

The wildebeest crossing takes the entire day. The following morning packed with a picnic breakfast and lunch from Crocodile Camp on the banks of the Talek river by Talek gate, we’re inside the reserve but this time heading to the Olkiombo plains on the west side of Mara with the Oloololo escarpment lined in the horizon. The Talek is a main tributary flowing into the mighty Mara River.

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Migrating wildebeest in Maasai Mara National Reserve August 2018 Copyright Rupi Mangat 2018

Hot air balloons rise above the plains as the sun pops out again.

The plains are filled with gnus dotted topi, zebra, elephants and other plains game.

In this first light we see our first pride of lions by the forested grove near a stream. The tawny cats are relaxed, well-fed and ignore us.

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The lioness in the first light of the day will hunt. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Above, the sky is beginning to fill with vultures rising with the hot thermals. If somebody said that there has been a decline in vultures in Kenya and the rest of Africa by more than 80 per cent in the last two decades, it would be hard to believe that here.

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Let the feast begin. Tthe keen-eyed vultures are everywhere in the Mara now. Copyright Rupi Mangat

On the ground, a flock of vultures has stripped a zebra carcass to the bone. There are two kinds by the cleaned carcass – the bigger and more powerful Lappet-faced vulture that tears the thick hide of the animal and then the smaller vultures follow to dig in. This time it’s the White-backed vultures.

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Next big cat: A cheetah in Maasai Mara National Reserve August 2018 Copyright Rupi Mangat 2018

Our next big cat on the plains is a lone female cheetah. I take a picture for the cheetah research team to identify. Elena Chelysheva founder of the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project gives the update on Malaika the grande dame of the Mara, who raised several litters and was the mother of the beautiful Malka. Malaika disappeared on 4 March 2018, while Malkia died on 25 July 2017. The previous day we sighted the coalition of the five male cheetahs, the largest coalition ever recorded of male cheetahs. As research progresses into the wild creatures, many of the statements taken for granted are no longer so. Cheetahs once seen as the cats of the plains are even found in mountains and the Tuaregs of the Atlas mountains call it the cat that moves slowly!

The migration is the time of plenty. It’s drama after drama.

A lioness and her two grown cubs are crouched near the wildebeest and zebra. The female  moves crouched in the grass towards the grazing animals. The cubs move in tandem. Suddenly with bolt lightening she springs into action followed by the cubs. But the gnus are too fast and the cats give up the chase. There’s so much food in the ladder for them to chase after a meal.

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The elephant by the stream in Maasai Mara National Reserve August 2018 Copyright Rupi Mangat 2018

The elephant at the bottom of the stream kicks clumps of grass to browse. He then steps into the river gingerly, splashes around with his trunk and then lifts one leg to step across the log in the water and then the other three, one at a time.

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The lone civet camouflaged in Maasai Mara National Reserve August 2018 Copyright Rupi Mangat 2018

We feel pleased with the two of the big cats seen when in a clump of grass we stumble upon a civet, a svelte dotted cat like a mini leopard. It’s a nocturnal feline and so we’re on a high with another cat added to the list.

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The she-leopard comes out to hunt fto feed her two cubs in Maasai Mara National Reserve August 2018 Copyright Rupi Mangat 2018

The day is nearing to an end when through the bush telegraph Bahati the leopard has been spotted with her two cubs. Unbelievably she’s got them hidden in a bush on the road. Cars stream in from everywhere and Bahati appears from the bush, ignores everyone and walks stealthily for ten minutes along the riverine forest and vanishes. And just when we thought we had hit the crescendo for the evening, a few meters away a lone silver-backed jackal is nibbling on a carcass, tearing at the flesh with the hyena lying in the grass.

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The jackal feeds – August 2018 Copyright Rupi Mangat 2018

Back at Crocodile Camp, the resident gigantic crocodile and its mate are on their customary rock while in the evening light the warthogs return to burrow. The wildebeest keep their grunting on and will begin to leave the Mara by October. This is the season of migrations with the Humpback whales swimming in from South Africa via Mozambique to our part of the Indian Ocean and the wildebeest into the Mara from Serengeti.

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Well-fed vultures on every rock in Mara River in Maasai Mara National Reserve August 2018 Copyright Rupi Mangat

Driving out of Mara via the Oloololo Gate to Mbita Point on Lake Victoria via Kisii, we stop one more time on the bridge over the Mara River. It’s filled with well-fed vultures on every rock sunning themselves as carcasses of wildebeest float past.

Fact File

For information on the migration and Mara entry fee follow www.facebook.com/crocodilecamp

 

 

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