Weather and grasslands
April this year has been a very wet month; rain has been falling on a near daily basis, often in the early morning and also during the afternoon and night. Total rainfall for the month was 298mm, with particularly heavy rain on the 6th, 26th and 27th when 75mm fell; in 2017 rainfall load was 68mm. The sun has been rising at 6.36am and setting at 6.40pm. Average temperatures in the early morning were 20Â°C and midday would reach 28Â°C. There was a new moon on the 16th and a full moon on the 30th of the month.
Photo courtesy of Alisa Bowen
The Savanna grasses are green and long in the Musiara area particularly the red oat grass, which is as long as three feet. The Bila Shaka north and south plains, Topi Plains and East Marsh grasslands have all recovered well. The Musiara Marsh is full and looking well stocked with a myriad of water birds and water is flowing strongly past the culvert.
The Mara River has been at a very high level for most of the month, many of the river banks have fallen in with weight of water flowing down. With all the good and plentiful rain the Little Governors Marsh has filled up tremendously, since the heavy rainfall on the 26th and 27th an overflow of marsh water is now flowing behind tent 17 which is more than likely the old river pattern.
On the plains
Game species have spread and some have dispersed due to the abundance of water and grazing. Topi herds are well scattered on Topi Plains, Malima Tatu and the east Olare Orok grass levels here are shorter here just how the Topi like it. Small herds of Coke’s hartebeest will also be seen in these areas and also in the Lower Bila Shaka.
Masai Giraffe move about and are seen in most areas of good standing trees, with all the rain there is good new growth of various small shrubs and vines that the giraffe like to feed off on the open plains. They have to spread their legs and bend down low too feed on these bushes, the same way they drink. The Musiara river woodlands have also been good places to see giraffe.
Photo courtesy of George Murray
Elephant herds come and go from the Trans Mara and despite the river being high elephant will still cross. Elephant families love to congregate and feed in the marsh on a daily basis. Elephant in small breeding herds have also been seen feeding out on the plains.
Photo courtesy of Harrison Nampaso
There are breeding herds of Impala in the open areas, the good growth of vegetation drawing them out. Olive Baboons are also being seen in large troops, they now do not have to venture to far to feed. Defassa Waterbuck are also well spread out within the Marsh. Male waterbuck are dimorphic and have long curved horns; home ranges of females may overlap, resulting in small herds that average 5 – 10 animals. Within these herds, there is no established rank order. Defassa Waterbuck are very water dependent. They eat a variety of grasses, both medium and short in length. When the amount of available grass is low in dry periods, waterbuck will adapt and eat other herbs to satisfy their needs.
Grant’s Gazelles are being seen in most open grasslands, normally they are more browsers than grazers but in rainy season when the grasses grow long and plentiful they will graze more than browse. Grant’s Gazelles are generally a gregarious species, territorial, and non migratory in the Mara ecosystem. Thomson Gazelles in loose associated herds of femaleâs will be seen throughout the shorter grass areas and whilst males are strongly territorial.
Buffalo breeding herds are also well spread out, they spend much of their time lying down especially during the warm hours of the day, ruminating. Older bachelor males can still be seen in the west marsh near the camps and some of these males will come into the camps at night where they feel safe from lions.Buffalo have hard mouths and like cattle can palate the coarser grasses better than many of the other ungulate species out here.
Hippo have been seen out feeding later in the morning. Hippo generally have a relatively poor epidermal layer they are vulnerable to strong sunlight and will take advantage of cloud cover during rainy season to feed for longer. During sunny spells they release a substance known as âhipposudoric acidâ which acts as a basic sunscreen and antiseptic. Hippo secretions are not technically sweat glands and hippos don’t have the small sebaceous glands that produce it. Instead bigger, deeper glands release liquid through skin holes that are actually visible to the naked eye, mammalogists suggest that the secretions play a role in regulating body temperature since a âhotâ hippo just lumbers into water to cool off.
Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku
Spotted Hyenas are quite spread out, on the 14th a hippo had died on the open plains north of the Marsh, many hyena were seen here feeding off the remains. The Topi plains clan is still in situ with a topi being seen eaten earlier on in the month, we suspect they killed it themselves. Black Back Jackals in monogamous pairs are present on all the open grassland plains they have been feeding off young fawns of Grant’s Gazelles and impala. There is a pair that is often seen near the Musiara airstrip, they both always seem in good condition, perhaps with the long grass insects and rodents will play a role in keeping them looking well fed.
Warthogs and their 9-10 month old piglets are being seen on a daily basis, resident lion prides have been feeding off them regularly, and with warthog piglets suffering a high mortality rate at this time of year. When piglets are between birth and one month old they have a poor thermal regulating system and can succumb to sudden changes of temperature. Boars are now mating with sows; gestation is 5-6 months, so sows will give birth in August and September.
Birdlife in the Little Governorâs marsh is teeming with, Crested Cranes on eggs and the Heronry opposite tent 17 are very active with three species of herons being seen, Black-Crowned Night Herons, Rufus-Bellied Herons and Black Headed Herons and many Cattle Egrets. Within the camp grounds we see and hear the Red Chested Cuckoo, Woodland Kingfishers and Malachite Kingfishers.
Photo courtesy of Dave Richards
White storks are also in abundance and were seen circling beyond the marsh in the Trans Mara and perhaps late migrants, more were being seen on the open plains and this is the time of year they should have gone back.
New arrivals: Marsh Lioness Yaya has two new cubs seen on the Bila Shaka and estimated at four weeks old. Marsh Lioness Yaya and her two four week old young cubs and two 35 month old female subs, have been residing in the Bila Shaka and west Marsh. Lionesses prefer to give birth in their natal breeding grounds, most of the Marsh lions (those still in the pride and those that have dispersed into breakaway prides) were all reared in the Bila Shaka river bed area.
Marsh Pride lioness Rembo who originally had three cubs in the woodlands near Lake Nakuru, she lost one when she moved them to a new den site and remained with the two for quite some time proving to be a caring mother but on the 18th or 19th the remaining two cubs seemed to be missing, guides have said that the two were killed by the one eyed male who is a member of the six male lion coalition, this is known as infanticidal activity.
The Madomo/ridge Pride of over 20 lions and cubs of varying ages have still been seen in the south Topi Plains areas; they have been feeding off topi and warthogs. The two males Blackie and Lipstick will wander off to below Emartii Hill, Lipstick was treated in February for wounds that he sustained due to a probable fracas another male lion, he is still limping. Later on in the month these two males were seen below Emartii hill, Blackie has been seen mating with the pale lioness whose mother is the older lioness Madomo.
5 lionesses of the breakaway Monica pride and their four 7 month old cubs had been seen earlier in the upper reaches of the Ngiatiak River, due to the volume of rain not that much game drive traffic has been in this area of the Ngiatiak.
The Paradise Pride with seven adult lionesses and their cubs of varying ages have also been seen split up as individuals, again with all the rain we have had much of the Paradise areas are under water with many springs coming out of the west Rhino Ridge wall. Some of the pride have spent time down in the Marsh Pride territory close to our camps. On one occassion one of the six males tried to chase them off a kill but they were having none of it and saw the male off.
Photos courtesy of Moses Manduku
Scar and the other musketeers were in and out of the Mara River basin area in the latter days of last month and the first week of this month, Scar has been seen in the Trans Mara recently whilst Hunter and Sikio have been seen with some of the Paradise females beyond the Chinese hill.
Saba the female leopard of the Olare Orok and her two seven months old cubs, has been actively feeding off warthog and impala, on the 25th she was seen with the remains of an impala close to the Olare Orok side of the double crossing.
The young male has been seen a few times this month near the woodlands of Little Governors crossing and the salt flats in the west marsh, he is the son to female leopard Romi. There are many impala ewes and fawns here in these woodlands and also Olive Baboons, hence sightings of leopard can be not easy.
The female leopard has been seen frequently in the Ronkai depression area of the southern park, on the 26th she had killed a warthog at midday and dragged it quickly into the croton thickets of the Ronkai river bed.
Malaikaâs two male sub adults (now 22 months old) had been seen earlier on in the month, often in the Ngiatiak area of the double crossing; since the heavy rain the two rivers that make up the âdouble crossingâ (the Olare Orok and the Ngiatiak) have been in full flow and we have not had many sightings of the pair. Malaika herself has not been seen again since last month.
Another solitary female cheetah has seen hunting on Rhino Ridge and on the southern plains below Emartii Hill and towards the double crossing on the Olare Orok side, she has been hunting in this area since end of the last month.
There is a male cheetah often seen in the southern Paradise Plains, he is very shy and has been seen hunting below Emartii Hill, on the 6th he was seen feeding off young an Impala fawn, on the 8th he was seen again hunting Impala fawns but failed on one attempt.
Patrick Reynolds, Governors Il Moran Camp Manager.