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February Game Report, Masai Mara

8 March, 2013

Weather and grasslands

Over the last month we have had cool mornings with hot days, with some heavy rainfall including hail, strong winds and heavy rain with trees and branches falling down on one day. The marsh filled up considerably the day after. Early morning temperatures are around 14°C and mid day temperatures reach 30°C. The grasslands on the open plains are drying out with the predominant red oat grass turning golden brown.    

sunrise, masai mara

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

General game

The Warburgia Ugandensis trees are still fruiting, elephant and baboons both frequent the woodlands and grasslands. Many impala with fawns are seen in-between the camps. Good herds of zebra have been arriving from the eastern conservation areas and there have been good sightings of very young elephant calves.

On the 22nd good numbers of Abdims storks were in the Marsh particularly the day after the hail storm on the 21st Feb.

New Cubs- Marsh pride - one of the four sisters has three cubs in the riverbed south of Bila Shaka.

In the last week many common zebra have slowly been coming down from the East and moving through Topi Plains and Bila Shaka. On the morning of the 28th there were large numbers moving towards Paradise Plains. On the 28th at the mortuary crossing point 12 zebra attempted to cross the Mara River but all of a sudden many Crocodiles surfaced, the zebras retreated and later in the morning 3 of them crossed and the others went back. 

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Giraffe herds are about throughout the woodlands between the camps. Bulls can be seen together or loose herds of females with young calves. Older males still seem to be feeding off the Warburgia leaves; there was a herd of Giraffe that spent many days within the grounds to IL Moran camp. Giraffe are not the best of mothers leaving calves to often wander quite some distance away and this in some conservation areas mortality to predation is high. In a group of females the calves of varying ages can be seen in crèches.

Eland mothers and calves will do the same. Eland herds are scattered, earlier on in the month a herd of 52 were seen in the Marsh and Lake Nakuru area, Paradise and Topi Plains are also good places to find them. Breeding Bulls showing strong sexual dimorphism can be found throughout the Mara ecosystem.

Elephant in family units go back and forth between woodlands and grasslands, in the Mara 85% of what the elephant eat is made of grasses yet they are catholic feeders with more fibrous content in their diet so a large area is required for elephant to feed. The Warburgia fruit is falling so this is drawing Elephant into the woodlands, large bulls will often rattle a tree to get the fruit down. On the 21st we had a heavy rainstorm with large hails stones and wind, this brought down much fruit and elephant were very busy. There has been much trumpeting recently and these are young males who have more than likely been pushed out of their maternal as they get of age testosterone levels flow rampant, with maternal mothers not accepting this behaviour.

 elephants, masai mara

Photo courtesy of Nicola Light

Defassa waterbuck will be seen in the Marsh grasslands with satellite male groups on the periphery. The Defassa Waterbuck is very water dependent. They eat a variety of grasses, both medium and short in length. Their diet is very rich in protein. When the amount of available grass is low, waterbuck eat other herbs to satisfy their needs. It has been said that lion don’t eat waterbuck because their skin is oily and distasteful, many waterbuck females and calves have been taken in the Marsh, leopard will often take new born calves. The waterproofing secretions of the waterbuck's sweat glands produce an unpleasant odor in its meat, myth has it that it is not edible, which is not quite correct and  perhaps breeding males are more pungent.

Cape buffalo can be seen near Bila Shaka and also on the western fan of Rhino Ridge, coarse grasses are common here and this is the fodder that buffalo like. There are also many calves here and guests this month saw two calves being born. Bachelor bulls can be seen within the Marsh environs and also in the Musiara grassland plains. Some of these bulls have been taken by the Marsh Pride of lions. As bulls leave a breeding herd they put on condition and become more sedentary and habitual in their movements and habits. 

Photo courtesy of Nicola Light

Topi and Cokes Hartebeest can be found in all areas of Musiara. Dominant Topi males in the Paradise area that hold Leks have been taken by lion and Spotted Hyena. Much energy is exerted in holding these leks so they tend to lose attention and doze off, lion and hyena have learnt this and work on it. On the morning of the 22nd one of the Paradise lionesses with her two cubs took a Topi in front of guests. Some topi females have been seen with very young calves and this is an unusual birthing time as topi generally give birth in September/October.

We have had good sightings of Serval cats recently, with many being seen on the grasslands flats on Paradise Plains. The serval is a typical grass cat, mice and grass rats making up their diet and they are capable of jumping high and clear to catch ground birds and doves to add to their diet.

Spotted Hyena can be seen wherever there are good concentrations of plains game and they compete aggressively with lion so their presence is also aligned with lion activity.

Martial eagles are a large savannah bird of prey, they have been feeding off banded mongooses and Thomson Gazelle fawns. On the afternoon of the 19th a fawn was taken near Topi plains, the eagle was seen circling high above an open grassland plain where there were many females Thomson gazelles, a fawn that was lying low got up and moved towards a group of females, one female more than likely the mother moved towards it rapidly but not as quick enough as the Martial, then swooped down and latched onto it. These large eagles have a very large rear talon toe which punctures rapidly on impact.  

Warthog and young piglets that vary between 2 and 6 months can be seen in all areas where there is open ground. Lion have fed off them heavily within the Bila Shaka, Topi Plains and Musiara Plains areas. Warthogs leave their holes early in the morning to commence their daily foraging, warthog have a memory of all bolt holes in their home range, when frightened they run to these bolt holes and occasionally they will encounter another squatter!! Sometimes they use holes that are not deep enough; when this happens lion will often then dig them out. Many sows average 2 or 3 piglets, mortality is 45% before they reach 5 months old, predation and temperature is the main cause of loss. Interestingly warthogs in the Maasai conservation areas hold onto their piglet numbers more so as there is not the pressure from larger predators such as lion there.  Some sows have given birth early this month and again this is early for warthog.

Banded and Dwarf mongooses are seen within the camps and these social mongooses are very active during daylight hours whereas the larger mongooses tend to be solitary and very nocturnal in their habits. These mongooses are insectivorous in their diets with some invertebrates included. Each group or family sleeps together each night in a communal underground den or drainage pipe, often changing between den sites every 5-10 days. They emerge at sunrise and forage together in the morning and afternoon before returning to the den at sunset. Banded mongooses are very unusual among mammals because there are multiple female breeders in each group. All the adult females in a group enter heat or ‘oestrus’ together at the same time, approximately 80% of adult females become pregnant in any one breeding attempt. Generally  these females synchronise birth to the same day, and raise their offspring together in one large communal litter. This level of birth synchrony is unique among mammals. In contrast to females, males form a strict dominance hierarchy in which the top one or two alpha males monopolise matting’s and can father over 80% of the offspring in the group.      

 mongoose, masai mara

Photo courtesy of Samantha McLellan 

Grants Gazelles are also abundant where the grasses are a little longer than the Thompsons prefer. Grants also occur in semi-arid areas as well, and are relatively arid-adapted. They are primarily browsers than grazers. Rainfalls in their habitats seem to be the determinant of their diets. Olive Baboons are common roadside visitors with still more black infants being seen, the large solitary males that are often seen wandering in between the camps and these are the males that have been ousted from a troop. Baboons can be found in a variety of habitat types, including grasslands, woodlands, semi-arid and arid savannas and rainforests. The Males are the meat eaters of the troop and will share their spoils with favorite females.

Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) meaning harnessed antelope will be seen in early mornings and evening, males are solitary and stay within a home range.  Females are more gregarious often with another female of a fawn. Bushbucks are mainly browsers but will supplement their diet with any other plant matter they can reach. Bushbucks are active around 24 hours a day but tend to be nocturnal near human habitations.

Large flocks of Abdims storks were seen arriving in the Marsh on the 22nd and this may have occurred after the heavy storm we had on the 21st. The scientific name for the Abdims stork is (Ciconia abdimii) Ciconia from the Latin for a stork and abdimii being derived from the name of the governor of Wadi Halfa in the Sudan, Bey El-Arnaut Abdim (1780-1827). Abdims storks breed in the Sud in Sudan between May and August and are intra Africa Migrants who migrate south during the southern sub Saharan wet season of October/ November, when the supposed rains ease off in the southern sub continent they then move north via East Africa in March and April. They are a gregarious species being seen in groups of 20 or 30 birds.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Cats

Lion

Marsh pride – There are 15 cubs of varying ages in the marsh pride that reside within Bila Shaka and Musiara. Siena, Charm and Bibi with their 12 cubs have been seen at Bila Shaka, the airstrip, the Marsh and the Musiara plains. Bibi’s 3 cubs are three months old, Charms three cubs are five months old and Siena’s cubs are now 9 months old although one of them is a little younger which was abandoned by Bibi. There is a young lioness (one of the four sisters) who has three cubs who are now two months old, there is river bed off from Bila Shaka called Silanga and this is where these cubs were born, and it is suspected that Scar is the sire, they are near the Boscia tree as of 9.am this morning along with Siena, charm and Bibi plus 9 of the cubs. 

lions, masai mara

Photo courtesy of Sue Lawless

They have been feeding off Defassa Waterbuck calves, buffalo and warthog. There was a lead dominant cow buffalo that all the guides recognised in the main herd at Bila Shaka and she was taken earlier on the month, by Hunter, Sikio and Morani. Early on in January on the 4th Sikio damaged his left front paw, it has healed very well and we presume that he was bitten during a fracas with Hunter over an Oestrus lioness. Scar’s wound on his penis sheath had healed well as indicated by his continued efforts within Musiara. As of yesterday evening Scar, Morani and Hunter were seen beyond the airstrip and near the boundary of the reserve. 

elephant and lion, masai mara

Photo courtesy of Sue Lawless

Modomo – and two lionesses with their four cubs that are eight months old can be seen on Rhino Ridge or in the valley that runs east from Rhino Ridge. On the 7th February on Rhino Ridge at about 9.30am Modomo and her 4 cubs who are approximately 8 months old were seen just after they had killed a female buffalo, within minutes of them eating the buffalo they were set upon by three young nomadic male lion. There was a strong fracas with Modomo and two other lionesses that put up a huge front and then ran the three male lion off although there was much noise and scratching and sadly one of the cubs was bitten by one of the males and we are not sure if it will survive. Modomo, the two lionesses and only two cubs left after eating what was left of the cow buffalo. We understand that the cub has improved and was seen on the 25th and 28th near Kreys Lugga.

 lions, masai mara

Photo courtesy of Alan Marantz

Nyota and Moja have been seen near Rhino Ridge and the Talek River. Moja is over a year old now; he was seen on the 23rd in the croton thicket near Emarti hill.

Notch and the four brothers are still within the Talek River, the Ntiaktiak River and the double crossing areas. They have been feeding off a large male hippo again and earlier on in the month they had killed another hippo near the Olkiombo airstrip. Many of the Olkiombo Pride were also feeding off this hippo.  

Paradise Pride: comprises 4 females and two eight month old cubs, the two ‘4km’ male Lion have been seen again near paradise. One of the four females who were seen mating in January by the dark manned male is now pregnant.

The Olkiombo lion pride of 12 including one sub adult cub which is estimated at 17 months old, 9 females, and one lioness has three cubs that are estimated at five months old. They are often seen near the Olkiombo airstrip, they were feeding off the remains of a hippo that the four males had killed.   

Cheetah

Malaika and her one male cub that is 10 months old are being seen near Emarti southern end of Rhino Ridge and the double crossing area and also on the white rocky plains of Naibor soit. Malaika like many cheetah have learnt to get on top of cars and this acts as a good vantage point and also to some cubs it a point of intrigue as can be seen of those chewing on spare tyres, wind screen wipers and padded roof hatch bars.

cheetah, masai mara

Photo courtesy of Samantha McLellan

The female with the two cubs that are estimated at 10 months old are also being seen near the double crossing and also Naibor soit. This family of Cheetah were from the conservation areas near the double crossing.  These cubs also like jumping up on cars and will then relax and chill out on the canvas roof. Otherwise they like to clamber up the spare tyre and then onto the roof. On the 22nd it was seen on the roof of one of the game drive cars playing on the roof hatch with the left back leg occasionally slipping into the cab!!

This female has been very active on feeding off Thomson Gazelles and also she has captured young Thomson fawns and given them to the cubs to learn the art of fending and killing for themselves.    

cheetah, masai mara

Photo courtesy of Nicola Light

The MNC female cheetah with one male cub that is 18 months old is being seen near the fly over plains in the conservancy and also as far as Musiara gate in the reserve, there are good numbers of Thomson Gazelle here; he is very active so he should be on his own in a very short time.

There is a male that is being seen between Musiara gate and Bila Shaka, he is known as Mange as he has suffered mange off and on. He has a spot of mange at the moment on his shoulder. Sarcoptic mange is quite common in cheetah and also jackals. He has been feeding off impala and Thomson Gazelles.

Leopard

The female leopard with the male cub that is perhaps over 18 months old as he is being seen more often on his own yet still in his mother’s home range. They are both being seen near the Hill at the crossing point and the Serena pump house. He is feeding off impala and Thomson Gazelles.

The male leopard at the mortuary crossing point has been seen more often this month, on the 22nd it was seen mating near the croton thickets, The female he was seen mating with is suspected to being that of the Serena pump house and Kifuko ya Nyoka leopard. The male has been seen often and has a gash on the top right of his nose, perhaps this been from a fracas with another male leopard that frequents as far as the copse of trees at paradise.

 leopard

Photo courtesy of Deborah Price

The BBC female Leopard with her two cubs estimated at four months old, the male cub earlier on in January has since been suffering from a prolapsed rectum and at that time looked in pain; he was first seen on the 3rd January near Lake Nakuru, it was on the 4th that we suspected this diagnosis. We have called the vet again and Dr Migele turned up at Sekanani gate on the 26th and soon after we got a reply that he had got in it had disappeared from sight and no one has seen it for a few days. She has been feeding off Bush buck and impala.

leopard cubs, Masai Mara

Photo courtesy of Maina Wachira

The male that also frequents the same area as the BBC female, has been seen more often near the Lake Nakuru area.

Olive and her one female cub that is over a year old now has been seen again in her home range near the Talek River on Burrangat plains side, she was seen on the 22nd on the Burrangat side of the Talek River.

Walking in the Mara North Conservancy.

Good weather has made the walks more enjoyable although cool mornings and hot days pursued.

The grasslands in the surrounding areas are drying out rapidly. Earlier on in the month they had a little rainfall in some pockets of Mara North.

In some pockets the Acacia Gerrardii are flowering and this has drawn in many of the terrestrial primates including Olive Baboons and black faced vervet monkeys. Also more sightings of the bare faced Go-away birds can be seen.

A few Wildebeest have started arriving in from the east as well as many zebra. Those female Wildebeest that are pregnant will be giving birth very soon; we have since heard that a few females have calves. Topi are in good numbers throughout the open grassland plains, those areas that are low lying have better grass coverage than the higher ground and Topi like the low lying areas, here one can see males lekking and grunting as they strut within their lek boundaries. Some of these lek males are often taken by hyena and lion who see that the lethargic attitude of these males. The Cokes Hartebeest will be seen on old Masai Manyatta plinths where grasses are often still quite green. Giraffe herds are well scattered with the Acacia woodlands being good places to see them, they move from woodland to woodland as tannin levels increase in the leaf rachis of the Acacia Gerrardii. This is typical chemical defence from a species of flora, other Acacias will often increase thorn or spike growth or in other specific and common galled acacia known as the whistling thorn they host an insect in fact an ant of the crematagaster sp family which releases a formic acid from their abdomen which has a pungent smell.

Elephant like these acacias which are rich in tannins with a number of trees being knocked over and stripped, there is good growth of young Gerrardii being evident and this is a good sign of conservation ethics. Many elephant are also being seen throughout the conservancy, a few large bulls some of which are in Musth move though sourcing females in oestrus.

elephants, masai mara

Photo courtesy of Sue Lawless

Eland herds can also be seen all over, although they do move about within the conservancies, there some good sized sexually dimorphic males with two good specimens that have large and dense spiralled horns. Average size of a breeding herd is 12 -24 animals. As males age, their coat becomes more grey. Breeding Bulls also have a dense fur mat on their foreheads and accompanied by a large dewlap on their throats. The word “eland” is derived from the Dutch word for moose. The early Dutch settlers named this large antelope of the southern subcontinent region with the name of the large northern herbivore. Eland are depicted in the early rock art of East and southern African tribes.

Defassa waterbuck and impala will be seen within the Acacia and also in riverbed grasslands, Thomson and Grants Gazelles will be seen more on the shorter grass plains. Some Bohors reedbucks have also been seen in the coarse grass areas in old non flowing river beds.

There are two breeding herds of Cape buffalo one large herd is seen from the Mara River as far as the White Highland ridge, there smaller herd is often seen close to the saltlick and as far as the northern grassland plains. With a little rain they have had here some areas have become quite dense, particularly the orange leafed croton and these thickest green up and look very pretty now, it also is a good home for resting old bull buffalo!! So we tread carefully around these thickets. There are two buffalo bulls that are much habituated to certain areas within the acacia thickets and they are always together and look very similar, as non breeding bull buffalo go they put on a lot more condition, both of these two have very polished bosses which indicate they have been about for some time, and I am sure have many stories!! Generally speaking buffalo have relatively weak hips compared with other bovine species, as the older bull buffalo age their hips can cause them problems to support this weight, which is when they can be a little unpredictable.   

Lion have been seen on two occasions mainly in the croton thickets below the saltlick and also in the sage brush thickets above the saltlick. These sage thickets known as Tarchonanthus camphoratus can reproduce vegetatively and have small wind dispersed seeds, they are progressively becoming denser with the lack of fires they have a great chance to pick up. These thickets are very cool so host many animals including buffalo and lion.

Photo courtesy of Nicola Light

On the 7th a large male lion was seen walking across the western plain in the long grass at 7.30am it was a majestic sight with the wind in his mane enlarged his size somewhat.

Three lioness and two sub adults were seen walking across the Eastern corridor plains on the 7th at 10.00am, all had blood on their mouths and necks so there had been a fresh kill not far away.

The female cheetah with the two seven month old cubs has been seen more frequently, as far out as the White highland ridge to the west to the eastern corridor plains, she has fed off Thomson Gazelles and impala fawns. On the 5th at 8.30am there was an excellent sighting of all three of them on a termite mound on the White highland ridge. On the 25th she was seen again in the Acadia Gerrardii woodlands close to the old Governors Camp Bush Camp site, she looked thin and tired and was hunting at 12.30pm which is a sign that they have been harassed at some stage to cause her to hunt during midday. Spotted hyena and lion can pressure cheetah on their daily hunting activity. She was again seen on the 27th and actually looked a lot more rested and relaxed.

There is a male that covers the fly over plains and the north eastern corridor; he was seen walking past unperturbed on the 14th at 7.25am. He is in good condition and is apparently a young male.

 A male leopard has been seen near the Olare Orok river and this is the same male that we had seen last month with the impala in an Acadia tree close to the Olive tree plain

Comments

Submitted by michael (not verified) on

thanks Patrick and co for the detailed update.my wife and i look forward to reading this each month.
its the only way of us to keep up to date with the wildlife we saw last year.
kind regards Michael.

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