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September in the Masai Mara

1 October, 2018

Weather and grasslands

September this year has been a dry and dusty month, the afternoons would be hot and humid and as the north/easterly wind would often drop, the air would become very still, scattered rain showers would mainly fall in the late afternoons or early evenings; total rainfall for the month was 36mm, the sunrise is at 6.30am and sunset was 6.35pm. There have been some wonderful sunrises and sunsets recently.

Average temperatures in the early morning were 15°C and at midday would reach 32°C. Humidity percentages have been as low as 32% and as high as 72%. There was a full moon on the 25th of the month - our guests were on an evening drive whilst having a sundowner and saw a full moon rising and a sun setting - what a perfect evening!

Grass levels are holding up although dry; some areas of the Musiara environs particularly the red oat grass is a little longer and is still green in patches. The Bila Shaka north and south grassland plains, Topi plains, East and North marsh grasslands are all a lot shorter and are being grazed down steadily with the many resident Zebra, Topi and latterly wildebeest in large herds that have come down from the north east conservancies. Paradise Plains grass levels are still long and dense with only Cape Buffalo and Elephant that will pass through, however pockets of common Zebra can also be seen. The Mara River is low at this time of year which means the hippos are mostly visible - especially any new babies! The camp surrounds are looking particularly beautiful as the Teclea trees have been flowering this month.

Game within the Governors' Concession Area

Game within the Governors' Concession Area, photo credit Moses Manduku

On the plains:

Resident wildebeest will be seen in scattered herds across the short grass areas of Malima tatu, east Olare Orok and also within the Ngiatiak river areas. More have been slowly coming down from the North east conservancies and latterly had resided in the north marsh areas - grass levels here are short due to the little rain we had during the month, but these areas have since greened up considerably. Zebra have been filing down towards the crossing points and large groups could be seen moving through the west marsh and Bila Shaka grasslands. Resident Zebra have been also building up at the main crossing points with a few crossings taking place. Some Zebra have also crossed at the Kichwa crossing points. Many of the Serengeti wildebeest are latterly in the south west grasslands of the Mara triangle at Ngiro-are; earlier on in the year, large grassland areas of the southern Mara had been burnt, with good rainfall in April through to May this had induced a good carpet of fresh grass growth and hence very palatable to wildebeest. Large columns had been slowly seen filing through to the Serena area in the Mara triangle.

Wildebeest herds Masai Mara

Wildebeest herds, photo credit Caroline Culbert

Topi are well spread out with good herds sizes being seen in the southern grasslands of the MUSIARA marsh, Topi plains, Malima Tatu, east of the Olare Orok area and on Rhino ridge. Coke's Hartebeest or (Kongoni) will be seen only in small breeding herds, these small herds will be found in small pockets with the Musiara areas.

Eland in small herds have been seen latterly within the west marsh grasslands and also across into the open short grass plains of malima tatu. Older more dimorphic dominant breeding bulls will be seen also scattered either in trios or single members, one bull seen on Rhino ridge was an exceptional size and had long tusks.

Impala breeding herds are in big numbers and are seen in most environs of Musiara. Since Impala will habituate in both grasslands and woodlands, it is not uncommon to see bachelor males of Impala not far from a resident breeding herd. There are some large herds on the short grass plains near Malima tatu. Thomson and Grant's Gazelles will be seen more commonly on the short grass plains - although Grant's Gazelle can also habituate in longer grass areas with the west marsh being good places to see them.

Young Masai Giraffe males can be seen sparring with each other while females in loose herds will spread out. Young calves of varying ages can be seen in a creche - female giraffe will often give birth away from her herd mates, some females will birth down in long grass and it is here they can be made vulnerable to predators like lion and Hyena. Lion will readily take a giraffe calf and will try to keep clear from the flaying hooves of the angry mother.

Giraffe on the Mara Plains

Giraffe on the Mara Plains, photo credit Caroline Culbert

Resident Olive Baboon troops with many young infants will be seen in the west marsh woodlands, these terrestrial Baboons will be seen foraging out deep into the grasslands while infants are either feeding or riding jockey-style on the backs of their individual mothers. Male baboons will also take meat that of young fawns or ground birds.

Elephant in small breeding herds can be seen within the camps or spread out across the open grasslands, good numbers recently will be seen in the west marsh, Paradise plains and Bila Shaka, they are mainly feeding off the resident grasses and young tree seedlings of Balanites, boscia and acacias.

Southern ground hornbills are being seen readily while they sort through the grass for scarab beetles where passing ungulates have deposited their scat. A pair of crested cranes with two chicks are being seen regularly within the west marsh grasslands and Bateleur eagles are in good numbers near the manager crossing on the Bila Shaka river bed. The secretive Narina’s Trogon has been seen quite often in the riverine woodlands at Governors' Private Camp. A flock of 36 young sub-adult ostriches’ chicks with a male who is more than likely the father, was amongst them has been seen on the east fan of Rhino ridge.

Spotted Hyenas have been very active and readily taking down Wildebeest and Topi - they compete heavily with the resident lion. Serval cats have also been seen frequently with the lower paradise plains and Bila Shaka being good areas to see them. The spotted hyena is primarily a predator, and not a scavenger. Hyenas have tremendous stamina and individuals have been clocked at over 55 kilometers per hour, and when hunting with clan members are capable of taking down the largest of prey. Black Backed Jackals are also prevalent across the open short grass plains, they can often be seen in monogamous pairs while following close behind Lion or Hyena hoping for scraps, on the other hand they are very capable predators and will avidly hunt small fawns of Thomson and Grant's Gazelles and Impala. There have been a few sightings of Jackals with pups, in the lower Paradise plains these is a pair with four 4-month old pups in a disused termite mound; termitaries are favorable birthing places for Jackals. Small parties of bat-eared foxes have been seen near the double crossing and also on Rhino ridge, - they are being primarily insectivorous, feeding off the scarab beetles that have been feeding and associating off the dung from resident wildebeest and Zebra.

Spotted hyena Masai Mara

Spotted Hyena, photo credit David Clode

Larger Cats:

Lion:

Marsh Lioness Yaya (the daughter to Sienna) and her two five month old young cubs are still in the Bila Shaka river bed areas and have been actively hunting and feeding off the resident Zebra, Topi and wildebeest. Her two 3 year old female subs (from a previous litter) have since moved into the upper Paradise Plains, Rhino Ridge areas and have been seen often - they have not joined up with any other prides and seem to be hunting warthog and Zebra and fending for themselves. Lioness Yaya has a strong character and has passed on this gene to her two offspring.

Lioness and cubs Masai Mara

Yaya and cubs, photo credit Caroline Culbert

Lioness Kito (daughter of Lioness Charm) and her four subs - two males and two females who are nearly 18 months old - are being seen in the 'Lake Nakuru' areas of the west Marsh. Lionesses Kabibi, Rembo and Dada are also being seen in the west marsh - later this month Rembo had killed a young wildebeest near the junction between the camps and she has also been feeding off Zebra. Lioness Rembo is often seen on her own.

‘Spot’ the young lioness has two cubs that are approximately two months old, they were sired by the one-eyed male who is a member of the six male lion coalition.

The six males move between the Bila Shaka and Topi Plains and they have taken over what is left of the Marsh Pride and the Madomo/Ridge Pride. The previous male lion Blackie showed up earlier this month and was quickly turned around and chased away by three of the new 'take over' males; Blackie and Lipstick held the Madomo/Ridge Pride for nearly three years.

The Madomo/Ridge Pride have since split up with the presence of the six male coalition, often four females are being seen whilst the 8 sub-adults of the pride have moved away since the new males have taken over. These sub-adult's ages ranged from four that are 25 months old, three are 21 months old and one is 18 months old and they were last seen in the upper reaches of the Olare Orok River however they can also be seen hunting on Rhino Ridge and within the double crossing areas south of the Ngiatiak River. Lioness Madomo has been mated with the darker of these male lions and two other females have also been seen being mated; these 6 males will sire well into the Marsh and Topi Plains areas.

The Paradise Pride with seven adult lionesses can be seen often split up within the main crossing points as they monitor and hope for the wildebeest and Zebra to cross - earlier on in the month, three lionesses tried to take on a bull Buffalo downstream of the main crossing, only to find that the buffalo had plenty of steam and threw them off.

Three of the 'Musketeers' are still residing in and out of the Mara river basin area; Scar has been seen in the Trans Mara recently and is still limping heavily. When a male lions fight amongst themselves either for dominance or a pride take over, they will always try and pin their foe down and sever the sciatic nerve or break the spine; Scar has had his sciatic nerve bitten into and unfortunately will not heal quickly and is beyond field treatment. The other three lions Hunter, Morani and Sikio have been seen with some of the spending time with some of the Paradise females.

Leopard:

Saba/Kabosa the female leopard of Olare Orok and her two one-year old cubs (a male and female) have been actively feeding off warthog and Impala; the male cub is more often seen whilst the female is a little shy. Kaboso's son from last year’s offspring is often seen close to the Olare Orok side of the double crossing.

Bahati the female leopard being seen on the Talek river has two cubs that are estimated at just three months old, she is also being monitored by county rangers making sure she does not receive too much pressure from vehicles.

Siri of the southern paradise area on the Mara river area has one male cub who is nearly a year old, she is being seen often, she has been feeding and hunting the resident Thomson Gazelles and Impala.

Cheetah: 

The five male cheetah coalition are being seen in the double-crossing areas and also below Emartii hill; these five males will move great distances and they have been feeding off yearling wildebeest, Grant's Gazelle and impala.

There is a single female who has been hunting in the open short grass plains of the double crossing and Ngiatiak river, she has to work harder to make a successful kill whereas the five males in a coalition have more of an advantage.

Another female cheetah has been seen in the grasslands of the Ol Kiombo murram pits with three cubs estimated at only four months, she has been hunting and feeding off Thomson gazelles and she is also being monitored by county council rangers.


Walking Safaris in North/East Masai land

There have been a few walks this month with good sightings of Giraffe and resident wildebeest, many Topi will also be seen on the west plains. The weather has been very favorable although a strong north east wind will blow until later in the day, this keeps the walking cool.

On the shorter grass plains in the west there are some large concentrations of female Thomson Gazelles, while males stake out territories with dung middens and secretions from their pre-orbital glands and try to lure females into these short-term territories. Black Backed Jackals have been hunting the young fawns and have been successful on many occasions. Like wolves, wild Black Backed Jackals have great stamina and will run and tire their prey down.

Spotted Hyena have also been successful with many wildebeest being taken particularly noticed in the early mornings. The hunts seen and witnessed large clan sizes that will clean a wildebeest in 30 minutes while leaving only the head and skin.  Spotted hyenas are a very successful Hyenid within the Mara/Serengeti ecosystem.

The resident buffalo breeding herd of approximately 100 animals is often seen on the longer grass plains in the east of the conservancy, with a few solitary bulls that fringe the woodland areas so make sure to avoid them well.

Lion have been sighted briefly with four females being seen sunning themselves close to the croton thickets outside on the rocks which is on the west bank of the river.

Masai Mara walking safari

Walking with Governors' Camps in the Masai Mara

Game Report by Patrick Reynolds, relief manager for Governors' Mara camps.

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