Our first group safari for the 2016 Summer season started with three days in Samburu NR. Samburu is a beautiful reserve at the heart of a semi-arid ecosystem gravitating around the Ewaso Nyiro river. Its landscape of savannahs, dry river beds and rocky outcrops is particularly fascinating. Right out of the gate, on our first game drive, we came across a magnificent young male Leopard. First we caught up with him resting in the shade of a bush, then he disappeared in the bushes and suddenly reappeared on a beautiful fallen tree just as the sun was about to set.
In the following days we came across this young male again almost every day. He was quite thin, he had just separated from his mother and on a couple of occasions we saw him try to stalk some Impalas. I had seen this cub last year already in September, when he was about three months old. I was eager to see his mother also, as she is a very relaxed leopard with beautiful dark eyes. One morning as we were driving around the base of a rocky hill looking for a Cheetah with three cubs that had been spotted the previous day in the area, we stopped in an open area to scan the surroundings. As I was looking ahead with my binoculars, one of my guests spotted a carcass hanging from a small Acacia to our left. And inside the foliage was a leopard. The curious thing is that a group of four male Impalas was unknowingly browsing directly below the leopard! As the leopard came into view I recognized the mother of the juvenile. We hoped that the following morning they might join up to share the food but when we got there, both the leopard and the carcass had disappeared.
Lions were also quite prominent, especially along the river, where they frequently waited in ambush for Impalas and Oryxes coming to drink. We had a couple of close calls and failed attempts, but we were not lucky to see a hunt occur. The Lionesses had two small cubs. The two dominant males were also in the area, huge and powerful but with very small manes compared to the males in the Mara-Serengeti.
As usual in Samburu, we also spent a lot of time watching Elephants coming to drink and bathe at the river, one of this park’s highlights.
We then took the direct flight from Samburu to Mara, flew over Lake Nakuru and the Rift Valley. It is so beautiful to see this country from the air. In the Mara we were greeted by the Rongai pride of Lions. During the course of the week we saw them regularly. At the time the pride had a couple of small cubs and some slightly older cubs who hardly ever failed to play intensely. The single pride male, Long Face, was often seen with the females, probably gaining comfort by staying with them. One mighty evening the whole pride started to roar while lying on granite in the river bed, including the small cubs. Their voices echoing against the banks and sending chills down our guests’ spines.
Also near our camp were the remnants of the Rekero pride, consisting of just three females and one single cub. Without any sibling to play with, the cub was often engaging its older cousin and mother in its games, a treat to see and photograph.
On this trip we had Leopard sightings every single day, and very good ones as well. We started with the famous Bahati, on the Talek River, attempting to hunt a solitary Topi. She has become much harder to spot these days, as she likes to spend a lot of time in the riverine forest. Probably away from too much vehicle pressure.
We also had many sightings of the Leopards in the Marsh, Romi with her adolescent female cub. One morning in particular, the cub was in the trees at the heart of the marsh, and we caught a fleeting image of her descending from a tree with the rising sun behind. Then she posed on the trees for us. The next day, Romi hanged a kill on a tree just above the Mara River crossing site, and in the evening she climbed the very tall tree to feed. Unfortunately, there were too many baboons in the area and she got scared and ran away.
On our last couple of days the Wildebeests migration intensified significantly. Animals had gathered on the Mara Triangle side for about a week and finally they started to come in mass to our side. We had one beautiful crossing that was unfortunately interrupted by a Chinese guest leaving the vehicle and running to the river banks to take a picture with her phone. This resulted in a serious confrontation between all the guides from the other vehicles and the driver of the Chinese tour, who apologized extensively.
Fortunately, the next day the animals started crossing again just after sunrise. We had wonderful images and the most dramatic moment of a Lioness repeatedly causing havoc and panic among the Wildebeests. She killed three Wildebeests by the end of the crossing, and even attempted to kill a warthog piglet who had descended to drink at the river edge. Its family saved it when the Lioness was already holding it. A truly unforgettable morning.
We also came across the male Lion Blacky in honeymoon with a female just at sunset on Topi plains, and a beautiful Elephant in the forest along the Mara River one late afternoon, an image I have been wishing to take for a long time. Also in the forest we found a very cute Waterbuck baby, in an enchanting sunset light.
As a last gift from the Mara to my guests, on our last morning we found Bahati and her almost one-year-old male cub walking along the Talek river, playing occasionally before retreating to the forest. And later on the female Cheetah Malaika finally decided to walk out of the den with her two tiny cubs who were approximately two months-old by now.