‘Are there young men and women in Kenya who are willing to raise their voices when mine is carried away in the wind?’ George Adamson
A belated ‘Merry Christmas’ and a pre-emptive ‘happy new year’ to you all from the central plains of the Masai Mara.
We are happy to report that the November-December rains seem (famous last words to have past leaving us with clear skies and spotless sunshine. This, combined with the Eden-like surroundings that are more something out of a nature lover’s dream than reality have made this past month almost surreal. The grasslands are still cropped short and very green, the little Sycnium flowers have bloomed like we have never seen before literally covering the plains with spots of white. Thanks to the settling of the dust and the moisture in the air the clarity of the infinite scenery has been one of the highlights of this December, a fitting ending to one of the best years yet.
Since our last report so much has happened here on the Olare-Motorogi conservancy but let’s leave that to our highlights and get on with the past months report of who’s where and doing what in the world of the conservancy’s big cats.
The Moniko Pride.
The conservancy’s (and possibly even the Mara’s) biggest pride has been quite a lot more active this month in terms of their nightly hunting escapades. They are still retreating to their rocky hill safe haven in the mornings at first light and descending again in the evenings, but from the CSI evidence in the first rays of day it looks like they are having to go further afield in their hunts as a result of the wildebeest having finally returned south and others east. It is this time of year, after the ‘Gnu’s’ have left, that one of the northern conservancies best-kept secrets takes place, this is the influx of a regional zebra migration. Every year in December thousands of Zebra appear in the OMC coming down from the north in search of the nutritious green grass that covers the plains. This year we have not seen as many as we did last year, but there are here, helping to keep the pride’s fed and the nights filled with their braying choruses.
The Enkuyeni pride.
Since our last report this pride have not moved much and nor do they need to. The area they have staked out at their November-December refuge and hunting grounds really is perfect lion country – The area around the rocky-crossing. Here there is a confluence of four plains, three streams and the bushy verges that follow these meandering trails. This pride spend their days catnapping in the shady thicker bush before emerging in the evenings to scan the four plains they are currently hunting for the best chances and the best course for their nightly stalks. As is usual for this time of year, with the ‘beesties’ gone south zebra are at the top of the menu but failing these, hunting tactics change and the focus of the conservancy’s lions become the warthogs and topis. (Both of which have increased their chances of survival by filling the ecosystems with mini-them’s, bite-sized morsels for the opportunistic cats)
Amazingly the lone Enkuyeni pride male is still very much in charge of his pride despite the huge lion population around them and the coalitions of two or more male lions in the surrounding prides. He must be quite a force to be recond with being able to hold out against superior numbers.
The Eseketa and Motorogi prides.
These two smaller prides of the OMC have as is usually the case been the most difficult to find and view due to their shy nature and the rocky, bushy terrain they call home. In the past weeks we have not had many reports from these two group but we will keep our eyes open and keep watch on them as we move further into the green season.
The coalition of 7 young males.
Again this month these seven have killed another couple of buffalo, for sure they have started to specialize in these huge bovines and by now (unlike their first buffalo kill all those months ago) they have worked out the best way to put the buff down with the least effort and risk. A special moment for all of us following these youngsters came this month when they were found with four females from their original Enkuyeni pride. This is very interesting as in the past when these young males were being kicked out of their pride the females were more than aggressive to them should they even look their way. Now it seems, with the then small cubs now grown and passed danger the lionesses may have accepted and understood that the future power of the conservancy will be held by these seven. Now, as times and hunts become more difficult and both skill and muscle begin to play ever more important rolls in health and survival, hanging out with a gang of strong young males capable of killing buffalo is a good plan.
‘Fig’ the leopardess
We very nearly had to say goodbye to Fig this month, this would have been a very sad day. Fig is one of the OMC regulars; she recently turned two and is a great huntress, fully arboreal during the daylight hours and one of the conservancies biggest ‘posers’. Early in the month the guides started to come in with reports that she may be pregnant with what would be her first litter. Her stomach was swelling, her teats developing and she seemed more fidgety than usual. Then on the morning of the 23rd a lioness from the Enkuyeni pride ambushed her while she was posing and cleaning herself. The Lioness was on top of her before she could even try to run, it had her down, managed to bite her badly twice before tossing her into the streambed. It was this fall in the river than may have saved Fig as it gave her time to get away from the lioness hurtling after her and she got up a tree. Over the next four days we have been following her progress with worry. She has one big bite on her back left leg, with obvious canine punchers running very deep, her front right leg was also opened up by what only could have been the lionesses teeth. At the time of writing this report she has done A LOT of very stiff and pained sleeping in trees and has not hunted in four days (that we know of), however she does seem alert and more active now so hopefully all will be well with a very valuable lesson learned- to much preening and vanity can be disastrous.
Acacia and Namnyak
Fig’s mother and younger sibling have (as with last month) been quite scarce this December, again as we said before more than likely due to the presence of the Enkuyeni lions in their territory. A couple of times this month Namnyak has been found alone and without Acacia, this is an exciting step forward for the youngster as she begins to become more self-reliant. Good luck to her and we feel she may need it considering the Enkuyeni prides recent history of trying to remove the other predators from their range. First they succeeded with Nalepo the cheetress, and then they had a go and almost got Fig.
The Central OMC’s leopard ‘pimp’ has also been quiet this month, he was spotted once mating with a female a couple of kilometers upstream from Mara Plains around mid-month and since then has been a bit off the radar. There was a very noisy night just before Christmas when those of us in the camp were appreciating the beauty of a four-foot puff-adder when just across the river from where we were all standing the clear and powerful coughs of a male leopard reminded us of the incredible wild nature of our surroundings. A little later we heard him again calling from the area around Mara Toto so we figured he was having a look around to see if our resident leopardess Pretty Girl (AKA Mystery) was taking calls.
So finally Narasha has left her two grown cubs. She then moved southwards into the reserve while the male and female remained in the conservancy for the rest of the month. From the reports back they have been doing fine by hunting scrub hares but neither of them seemed too perturbed about being away from their mother. We expect that when these two split up (which will not be too far away) then they will find out what it is like being a single cheetah hunting alone. Narasha on the other hand is doing fine. Her hunts are flawless and once again she has proven to be a very good mother. In three years she has raised four cubs to adulthood. The two that she lost in the second year was only due to her foot being sliced open on what could only have been corrugated iron or glass.
The lone male cheetah briefly mentioned in last month’s report has stayed around the conservancy again this December, on most days he has been easy enough to find thanks to the short green grass, which doesn’t lend much of a hiding place to a large cat or more often than not he can be found by following the tell tail signs from all the other animals as they repeatedly snort ‘cheetah’ and stand erect pointing at the danger.
Amani’s now grown cubs are also not too far from the camps, yesterday morning they were in the reserve south of Mara Toto. They are all fit and healthy and doing fine.
Some of this month’s highlights.
The green and flower covered plains scattered with the variety of the Mara’s mammals would be the backdrop for any one of these highlights below.
We have had more than usual sightings of servals cats this month, probably because of the grass being so short and green meaning they don’t blend in as well as they do in other months, but the funny thing about this is that they don’t seem to realize they can be seen quite easily. Hiding behind glass blades thinking that if it can’t see the car, the car obviously can’t see it.
Having Dereck and Beverly Joubert in camp for four days and listening to their incredible stories and knowledge of the bush stemmed from over 30 years on the front line of nature films and conservation. Anyone worrying about the future of Africa’ s Lions, Rhino and Elephant should spend time with these two. The future of this continent for these key species is far worse than we can imagine and we need more and more people to be aware of this if something is to be done- remember The Lorax from Dr Zeus? ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot nothing is going to get better, it’s not’ Spread the word, look for the stats of the current rates of poaching in Africa.
It was definitely an exciting highlight to have a four-month-old lion cub in the bush twenty meters in front of the mess tent for a whole day. The cub was separated from it’s mother and two other siblings when the morning wake-up calls were heading out to the guest tents. The Lioness they lay up for the day in the tickets in front of tent 3 while the cub tucked itself into the bush in front of the public area. The nonchalantness of the waiters was hysterical when at sunset they mentioned like it had slipped their minds, ‘oh yeah, by the way, there is a lion cub in that bush over there’. We love it and this is why we are here.
This December has been one of the best for ‘cat-tricks’. Being in ‘big cat country’ many of our guests will come to stay with the hope of getting to see some of the feline predators this conservancy has become famous for. Most have got more than they could have imagined as in the past weeks seeing Leopard’s, Lions and Cheetah all in one drive (often just minutes apart) has become the norm. We do try very hard not to become too ‘blinkered’ focusing only on the cats but sometimes one just can’t help it. On a couple of days in the past weeks some guests have been lucky enough to witness (in just one drive) not only three cats but also cheetah hunts, ‘attempted’ leopard hunts and serval cats.
Other highlights would be seeing the family herds of elephants finally back in the conservancy (and last night right in the camp). Many of these groups have arrived with new tiny little elephants in tow, heads held low, trunk useless, and very much glued to their mother’s bellies.
Two great snake sightings this month around the camp, we have a new python on the scene, a beautiful 7-foot long female with all the blotches and camouflage spots one can imagine in nature. Completely harmless and stunningly beautiful this snake was slowly cruising along the edges of the riverbank in search of tasty morsels such as mice, monitor lizards, birds and possibly even the occasional fish. We were also very appreciative of the beauty of the large puff adder we found on the edge of the camp although we were more than happy to remove her from the vicinity. This huge snake is again dappled and blotched like the python but much fatter and with a huge triangular head. You will be happy to know she is now far away from here and free to go about her life safe from humans and us from her.
Getting our first harvests out of the vegetable garden in the camp was a moment for all of us in the camp. As of now we have plenty of spinach, basil, cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, dhania and more on the way. Its lucky we used the old Mara Plains tent frames to build the ‘Jurassic park’ fence around the garden as the couple of times the old buffalo bulls have broken their way in (once bending an inch thick metal pole into an ‘S’ bend) they have made the most.
Right then, that’s about it from us here on the plains for this year anyway. Since starting this report this morning we have watched the day heat up and what was a ‘spotless sky’ begin to fill with little puffy clouds. To be honest we actually really would like a couple more inches of rain if existence were to grant this to us but we are not ones to beg and more than anything we are happy with what we have. A beautiful landscape filled with nature in all it’s glory, an amazing camp that stands as a flagship for other ‘green’ camps in Kenya, and then we have the most amazing team of guys who do their bit through thick and thin to make sure the guest’s experiences in these two camps is as best as it can be. Thank you to nature, thank you to our guests for their support and thank you to the Great Plains Mara teams in both camps. You guys are amazing.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!! And may 2014 be the best one yet!
Cheetah- Kevin Bishop
Secretary Bird- Melvie Stokes
Enkuyeni pride male- Lianna Solomon (11 years)
Fig- Fran Solomon
Blue-headed tree agama- Melvie Stokes
Ping and Dan- Richard Pye