“All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa. We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.”
Ernest Hemingway (1898 – 1961)
Typing this with the sound of thunder on the 29th day of this leap year we have only good memories of February. The month started with each day seemingly being hotter than the last, with midday heat hazes making the spots of wildlife on the plains around the camp dance and shimmer. The waving Red Oat and Contortis grasses slowly drained of colour as red and black seeds fell in preparation for the March rains. In the first ten days we began to see the initial few newborns of the wildebeest calving 2012, tottering on spindly legs and then running within the hour of being born. As time moved on into the second week the small pockets of these “beests” dropped more and more of this synchronized generation. This annual phenomenon floods the market for the predators and ensures a maximum survival rate. Also around this time the Acacias along the tops of the ridges began flowering. It is said that this is a sign that arrival of rain is within weeks.
There is nothing quite like waiting with Africa for the promise of life to come. The earth becomes parched and cracked; the crotons slowly begin to turn their leaves in the oppressive heat to expose their reflective white undersides so as to cut down evaporation into the dry air.
In the last week of February Nature teased the central Masai Mara – storms could be seen in the north, east and south, and thunder rumbled its promise and forks of lightning speared the horizons, lighting up the nights in moments of stark whiteness. Huge winds hurtled into the camp, tossing flower vases and threatening to blow the tents away. Finally on the 28th the teasing came to an end. As the heavy heat moved into evening and the thunderclouds gathered to the northeast the wind came and then huge, fat drops of rain. All eyes looked gratefully to the heavens and water fell steadily into the night until 1am.
On the wildlife front the challenge of the long grass carried over from January. Guides have pulled out all the stops to locate the birds and animals hiding in the swaying hay that blankets the plains. At the beginning of the month the majority of herbivores were clustered densely on the shorter, safer pastures of Motorogi and the Northern Olare Orok Conservancy. As the grazing thinned these spreads of thousands of Zebra and Wildebeest, Topi and Eland began making their way south down the Ntiakitaik river towards camp. In the last ten days of February they could be seen from the mess as they spent time around the Enkoyeni spring, moving closer each day for grazing. The last days of the month were a gift – waking every morning to find hundreds of animals of all species on the plain in front of the camp could never cease to amaze and cause a ten out of ten in the ‘wow factor’ test.
Many have said that there is no way to be able to do this kind of experience justice in description, photograph or film, but we can try… Imagine sitting atop a hill overlooking the whole conservancy and greater Masai Mara, sundowner in hand. What follows is a list of mammals visible in a 180 degree arc taken on the 21st Feb: 12 Thompson’s gazelle; 9 Coke’s hartebeest; 6 Grant’s gazelle; 29 impala; 30 topi; 70 buffalo; +/-600 wildebeest; 2 water buck; 13 elephant; 70 zebra; 2 ostrich; 1 warthog; 5 giraffe; 10 baboons; two hyena and a hippo out of water. Quite a spread! If this doesn’t paint a picture…Have you ever heard of a ‘cat-trick’? Probably not as there are not many places in the world where one can see leopard, lion and cheetah in one day (and on one occasion TWICE in one day!) and within kilometers of one another. In the last seven days there have been five ‘cat-tricks’ (one including multiple cheetah hunts) and on the 25th there were four feline species spotted by one vehicle on one morning, including the elusive caracal (above) and a leopard with her cub.
The Moniko lion pride, after roaming from Ol Donyo Loip onto the southern escarpment area, has moved back to their namesake haunt, surveying their territory from atop Moniko Hill. We are pleased to report that their cubs are all healthy and getting big, and the young males have begun to develop their first tufts of manes. Typically these members of the Olare Orok Conservancy’s strongest pride can be found in the very early mornings or late evenings as they leave their rocky throne of a vantage point for water, playtime and hunting.
Notch and his four sons have been raising the stakes bringing down buffalo and hippo, roaming their vast territory noisily challenging any young male lions foolish enough to take them on, while at the same time extending their lineage with any and every female that takes their fancy.
The Enkoyeni lions have spent most of the month in the north of the Olare Orok Conservancy in the river valley and escarpment between the Enkoyeni outpost and the Ntiakitiak gorge. Like the plains above the escarpment this area all the way up to the Enchoro naibor area has been thick with wildlife making for a cat’s heaven.
Speaking of which, as the grazing species moved south and west into the central and southern conservancy, and then on into the Masai Mara Reserve, they brought with them an incredible number of cheetah. Amazingly this coincided with the guest arrival of Hari and Beena, the greatest cheetah enthusiasts ever to stay at Mara Plains, whose passion for these magnificent cats manifested a record number of sightings and hunts over their week-long stay. On one morning alone the count came to 10 cheetahs in an area not more than ten square kilometers: a young coalition of three males and a female (who are severely denting the scrub hare population!); Shingo and her two daughters; an adult female with her nine-month-old son; and another lone female. And this doesn’t count the two territorial brothers who have spent the last few days patrolling and scent-marking through the Olare Orok Conservancy.
On the leopard front February has been a spectacular month in the conservancy with unbeatable experiences. Acacia and her two-month-old cub have made the biggest impact on guests lucky enough to witness their interactions. These two have on a number of occasions entertained as they stalked, chased and played with one another along the bends of the Ntiakitiak River around the Hammerkop Crossing and onto the forested river bends north of Loan Tree Hill.
Pretty Girl (below) has made a few appearances on the river north of Mara Plains and more recently to the south but she seems a little put out by her mother (Acacia) and her little fur ball sibling stealing the show in her home range! On the last day of February she made a dramatic appearance with the sunrise as she was found lying on a branch five minutes south of the camp. After her initial shyness she became her true self and strutted eastwards onto the Kereput stream where she headed up to a group of Yellow barked acacias where she had an Impala hanging safely out of the reach of all but her kind.
‘Pink Nose’ (AKA Bow) has, as always, made some bold appearances as he saunters and marks his way around the Conservancy. As ever he seems in charge and unfazed by everything and everyone, even rubbing himself on the bumpers of cars attempting to back up and give him space.
Earlier in the month we mentioned on the blog the leopardess Houdini and her one-year-old male cub, who put on a great show over a few days stashing no fewer than three kills in a single tree. These two have lived up to mum’s name, however, and have once again vanished, though their tracks are still visible on the edges of the muddy crossing points on the upper end of the Kereput. But, as with all leopards, if and when we see them again, it will be at the moment of their choosing, not ours!
Once again, a spectacular month in the Olare Orok Conservancy filled with the excitement of rains to come and breathtaking wildlife that the Mara is famous for, but as always without the crowds. March promises to be a month of beauty and life. We long to have the river flowing past us again to wash out the crude oil-like nutritious hippo bath that these creatures seem to enjoy so much.
‘Salaams’ from the team on the plains and we hope to welcoming you (or welcome you back!) soon to this corner of paradise.
Photographic credits (in order):
- ‘Pretty Girl’ by Maria Potter
- ‘River Crossing’ by Maria Potter
- ‘Caracal’ by Richard Pye
- ‘Acacia with cub’ by Craig Miley
- ‘Notch’s boys’ by Maria Potter
- ‘Cheetah Surveying the Plains’ & ‘Four Cheetah Brothers’ by Beena Bula
- ‘Pretty Girl’ by Maria Potter
- ‘African Green Snake’ (don’t worry – they are harmless!) by Lorna Buchanan-Jardine
Tags: 60 Minutes, animals, baboons, buffalo, Caracal, cheetah, Coke's Hartebeest, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, Eland, Elepehant, giraffe, Grant's Gazelle, Great Plains Conservation, Hippo, Hyena, impala, Kenya, Kenyan Luxury Safari, leopard, lion, Mara Plains camp, Masai Mara Reserve, Olare Orok Conservancy, Ostrich, Safari, The Last Lions, Thompsons Gazelle, Topi, Warthog, Water Buck, Wildebeest, wildlife, zebra
This entry was posted on Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 at 10:13 am
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