It was fantastic to be back in the Mara after a few days away in Nakuru and Amboseli with our Best of Kenya safari. As we drove into the park we were blessed with the first rainfall in a couple of weeks. The clouds were so dark all around us and dust was in the air. The rain kept the dust down for a while but most importantly and hopefully, it would attract the herds of Wildebeests to come back from the Mara Triangle and Northern Serengeti, where they migrated in the month of July. As we headed down to the Mara river in the early morning of the first full day it was shocking to see a huge structure with dishes and antennas on top, and a platform with a tent at the bottom, built on one of the hills along the river. It’s the Chinese television broadcasting live to China the progress of the migration. Will this mean more Chinese turists in the Mara in the coming years? Most likely. It can be a good thing if this will help to improve their awareness about wildlife and consequently reduce demand for animal products such as ivory and rhino horns. However, it could be disastrous in terms of impact on the Masai Mara. Already now I think the carrying capacity of the area in terms of tourists has been far exceeded and the impact on the environment is becoming severe and unsustainable. Camps at every bend of the river, hundreds of vehicles at crossing sites, waste thrown all over the place. The place needs some serious improvements in terms of management in my opinion.
We caught two Mara river crossings in our direction in the early morning of the first day, almost to ourselves due to the early hours, so we were happy to leave the “vehicle madness” surrounding the migration and concentrate on the many cats that make the Mara so special.
The highlight of this period were probably the Cheetah Amani and her three grown cubs, two boys and a girl. Mother Amani hunted daily, supported by the three youngsters. Sometimes she released the caught Gazelle for her babies to train on hunting skills. They had a lot of energy and were very good at chasing but didn’t seem to have grasped the art of killing. On the last morning we followed them the whole morning, watching them play, drink, chase Wildebeests across the plains, and finally killing a female Thomson’s Gazelle that failed to escape with the rest of the herd.
We spent time with the Marsh Lions. We didn’t see the tiny cubs of the Lioness Jicho. From rumors we came to know that one of the cubs was killed, allegedly by a Martial Eagle. On the last morning in the marsh, one of the old females managed to kill a baby Waterbuck inside the swamp and ran away from one of the four males pursuing her.
We also had nice sightings of the whole family of Leopards of our area. We saw the big dominant male entering a patch of bushes, leaving a Wildebeest kill on a tree. On the same day his three year old daughter Bahati also came out and tried invain to hunt a group of running Wildebeests. On the last evening an extraordinary moment occurred. While driving searching for the Leopards, I was showing my guests images of Leopards from my archive of ID images and telling them the stories of Olive and her younger daughter Saba, and all of a sudden I look to my left and a Leopard is sitting in the grass in the open, looking at us. It was Saba, she was staring at us. I hadn’t seen her for a long time and she is a wonderful Leopard now, almost adult sized and with beautiful eyes. As we stopped she retreated slowly to the bushes she had come out of, although we were alone and keeping a good distance from her. She laid to rest in the bushes and soon after her mother Olive appeared as well, but refused to come out, as much as we gave them space by parking far away from the bushes. Through the years I noticed a change in Olive’s behavior, and her appearences outside of the forest have been more and more rare, sometimes only coming out to cross the plains to a new forest where she would disappear for days. Vehicle pressure on these Leopards is at times unbearable and painful to watch, so she probably understood that she can be much more in peace in the cover of the bushes.
Talking about cats, the Serval with her cub made another appearance on a cloudy afternoon, although always in very long grass, making photography almost impossible. It was lovely to see the cub again though.