What a contrast! Just a few days ago I was in Kenya, wrestling with a new web cam set up (that I hope will be live soon on the WW site) and watching distant thunderstorms rolling in from the south. And now, back in Blighty I have to steel myself against the chill and damp of autumn. Not that I am grumbling in any way. I have the great good fortune to explore the planet and each of its natural marvels, whether in our temperate isle or on the equator thrill me equally.
The trip to Kenya was primarily to host a Safari for seven guests and was centred on the Masai Mara.
The Mara is of course home to the big cats that I have followed for the past 25 years and on this last trip lived up to its awesome reputation. We kicked off with lion and cheetah on the first day, closely followed by leopard on day two. All 3 super stars in the first couple of days. NOT BAD!
Actually, the cheetah situation in the Mara was not good. We saw only one male whilst we were there and reports of others were few and far between. The grass everywhere was very short, not ideal for cheetah’s that need to sneak relatively close to their prey before launching a high-speed attack, so I can only hope that the female cheetahs that usually occupy the area we were based in the first few days of the safari were further south in Tanzania.
The marsh pride of lions was in disarray too. Romeo and Clawed, the pride males, had recently lost their throne to a coalition of four new young males. These lads were shadowing the marsh females who were spread out around the territory. Bibi (a mature female who I first worked with about seven years ago) was mating with one of the new boys, whilst white-eye, one of the pride matriarchs, was keeping her distance with two well grown cubs. Joy (from the 3 graces – Joy, Charm and Beauty) was keeping a very low profile at the opposite end of Musiara marsh with the main gang of cubs. She was of course hiding with very good reason since the cubs are all progeny of the previous marsh males, and the four new boys will be looking to be rid of them if they catch up with them.
Leopards were, as usual, elusive. All the more amazing then that we saw a ‘group’ of three on our second day. This was the lovely female Olive and two cubs from different generations. Mum had secured a kill of a wildebeest the previous evening, and the youngsters had gravitated to her side to feast. The sight of a leopard under any circumstances is breathtaking. To see three together is a real red letter day!
The Mara is known for its cats, but it is of course also home to a myriad other creatures. Great herds of wildebeest were still very much in residence as were zebra, giraffe, buffalo and much more.
Perhaps one of the most thrilling encounters of the trip was an astonishing showdown between two clans of hyenas. Border skirmishes are rare with these powerful predators and to see one in broad daylight is like finding a hen’s tooth. But that is precisely what we witnessed, with up to a hundred hyenas, fifty from each clan, charging to and fro across an unseen frontier, hurling threats and vocal abuse at their neighbours and from time to time trying to single out a victim to drive home and attack. It was undoubtedly one of the most graphic displays of its kind I have ever seen, and very exciting.
A balloon ride over the south conservancy, bush lunches and dinners and a few other surprises kept the programme fun filled. We shifted from the Musiara area to the north for the second half of the trip, where we stayed at the wonderful Richard’s Camp.
On the way we came across a freshly dead wildebeest and so paused in our journey to witness the arrival of the vultures. They came in their droves and put on a suitably impressive if slightly macabre show.
Rishard’s Camp lies outside the reserve on conservancy land, which allowed us the freedom to take night drives. Zorillas, spring hares, white tailed mongooses and hyenas on a fresh kill all added to the magic of the African night, and between some much needed rain storms we were treated to some of the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises of the trip.
Not far from the camp, we were also treated to what was undoubtedly a highlight for many. Hidden in a rocky gorge, a very fresh litter of leopards; three cubs in all, that with patience and care on behalf of the observers showed themselves in the most endearing and amusing fashion. I estimated that they were about eight weeks old and just exploring their natal neighbourhood with wobbly legs and blinking, blue eyes.
Once I bid my guests farewell in Nairobi, I made a brief trip to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in the north to continue work on the webcam and then headed back to the UK. I am here for only a short stay though, before going to India for a couple of weeks, again hosting a safari. What a month, with three of the worlds big cats seen and hopping across continents to try and catch up with a fourth in the form of tigers! I’ll let you know how it goes.
Peace and Light