Masai Mara

December Game Report Masai Mara

Weather and grasslands

Over the last month we have had cool and clear mornings with pastel colours lighting up the dawn as the day opens, later on hot days prevailed for December with early morning temperatures as low as 15°C and late mornings being as high as 30°C the humidity fluctuating between 52-65%. Rainfall for the month was 49mm while last year was 150mm; this was a dry month for Musiara, the sun rose at 6.25am. The grasslands are very dry and some springs from Rhino Ridge have now dried up. The Bila Shaka riverbed has also stopped flowing and many pools have since dried up. The Musiara Marsh has also dried up in most areas with the exception of a little water in the centre reed beds and in the northern flats.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

On the plains

The Mara River is slowly going down and this brings friction amongst the hippo pods as they move closer together.  As the month progressed more Hippos’ were seen coming back later in the morning from foraging out beyond their water habitats’. Hippo need large quantities of grass each night, a dominant male requires at least 65 kg, with the grasslands drying up hippos are having to move further and further afield to find grazing with some sadly succoming along the way. 

Warthogs are also well spread out with sows and their 3-4 month old piglets; lion feed off warthog when prey is more difficult to come by. A typical sounder is the sow (female) and her recent piglets and then one or two females from last year’s progeny and these will acts as nannies, the males wander off and will wait their turn to breed.

Elephant are also being seen across many of the open plains congregating later in the afternoons in the marsh. The Warburgia trees in the riverine forest have started to shed fruit and this now will draw more elephant into the forest.

elephant masai mara

Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

Impala and Olive baboons are still resident in all open grasslands and woodlands; Baboons are being seen far out from their normal habitats and likewise impala will also spread out in large breeding herds. When frightened or startled the whole impala herd starts leaping about in order to confuse their predator. They can jump distances more than 9 meters and 2.5 meters high. Leopards, cheetah, Nile Crocodiles, lions, spotted hyenas and wild dogs prey on impala. Impala are sexually dimorphic with the male having horns and emitting a roar with a modified larynx and females are hornless. In this species only the males have S shaped horns that are 45 to 91.7 cm long. These horns are heavily ridged, thin, and the tips lie far apart. Both sexes are similarly colored with red-brown hair which pales on the sides. The underside of the belly, chin, lips, inside ears, the line over the eye, and tail are white. There are black stripes down the tail, forehead, both thighs, and ear tips. These black stripes might aid in recognition between individuals. Impala also have scent glands on their rear feet beneath patches of black hair that look like ‘golf socks’ as well as sebaceous glands on the forehead.

There are a few small herds of Grants Gazelle in the west marsh grasslands and these can be seen grazing close by to Impala and Baboons. Thompson Gazelles are more prevalent on the short grass plains.

Many large often solitary bull eland will be seen below Emartii Hill and on Paradise Plains, on the 24th a very large heavy bull was seen below Emartii Hill. Topi and a few hartebeest have moved into the south Paradise Plains while the open grasslands of Topi Plains areas are dry. There were mixed herds of Topi and calves in the south Paradise Plains with Topi flats had a few scattered herds; by the 15th many more had come down into the Topi flats on Paradise Plains.

eland and Gnus Masai Mara

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

The hen Ostrich still has ten out of thirteen chicks near the east Musiara Marsh they are now nearly 7 months old. Nile monitor lizards are also being seen in the marsh, with some of the older males reaching more than 5 feet long.

ostriches masai mara

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

Good numbers of Masai giraffe are being seen more frequently closer to the riverine woodlands and the acacia woodlands in the conservation areas; latterly as the areas dry out Giraffe have been seeing feeding heavily off the Gardenia bushes; some of these gardenia trees have been pruned into the shapes of conifers. The Masai Giraffe here in the Masai Mara have a vine leaved pattern on the coat; the coat has dark blotches or patches which can be orange, chestnut, brown or nearly black on some of the older dominant breeding males and then separated by light hair white or cream in color. Generally male giraffes become darker as they age. The coat pattern serves perhaps two purposes; one as camouflage, allowing it to blend in the light and shade patterns of savanna and riverine woodlands, and two the skin underneath the dark areas may serve as windows for thermoregulation, being sites for some rather complex blood vessel systems and large sweat glands. Each individual giraffe has a unique coat pattern. The skin is unusually thick and allows them to run through many species of Acacias and thorny bush without being punctured. Their fur may serve as a chemical defense, as it is full of parasite repellents that give the animal a characteristic scent.

giraffe masai mara

 Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku 

Spur winged plovers are sitting on eggs and also a few flocks of white storks could be seen near the river upstream of the cul de sac crossing. Some of the areas north east of the reserve have received small pockets of rainfall, many of the white ‘tissue paper’ flowers are out in many areas that have had pockets of rain. Bateleur Eagles have been plentiful with some good aerial displays for photographic purposes. We have had good sightings of Serval Cats again this month and also one Caracal near the double crossing area. On the 24th there was a particularly good sighting of a tawny eagle who was seen perched over the remains of the warthog kill that was with the two male lions Blackie and Lipstick; a little further down from the lions a Bateleur Eagle was seen eating the remains of a Guinea fowl that had been probably killed earlier that morning by another predator such as a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl who was seen perched deep in a boscia tree not far away.

Lion

The Marsh Pride has this month been resident in the north east grasslands of the Musiara Marsh, Marsh lioness Kabibi has three little cubs that are approximately six weeks old. On the 27th this pride killed a zebra in the east marsh reeds. These three cubs, lioness Kabibi, Charm and four other marsh lionesses were all seen again on the 28th afternoon near the Lake Nakuru area of the marsh.

lion cubs

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Sadly lioness Smudge (BBC name) or Dada has lost her cubs. One of the marsh males was seen with the five lionesses and he was very close to these cubs again portraying altruistic behavior; on one occasion one cub was very close and affectionate to the male. The other darker male is in the same area, on the 28th they were all seen in the east side of the marsh. This particular lion pride is feeding off buffalo, zebra and warthog.

Marsh lioness Charm appears to be pregnant and if she has her cubs quite soon then there is a greater chance of survival for these cubs as they will grow up together with the other similarly aged cubs and a stronger bond between the mothers will develop.

On the morning of the 17th lioness Yaya and her two 17 month old cubs (a male and female) were seen coming down from the rocky escarpment in north Masai land, they quickly towards Bila Shaka, the marsh lionesses had seen her that day and also the resident male, Yaya was not stopping, her two cubs are from another nomadic male that had come from the Olare Orok conservancy last year; she was not tempting any interaction with the her sisters beacuse if another male was there he could have easily killed her cubs. Lately Yaya and her two sub-adult cubs were hunting in the eastern grasslands of the Bila Shaka and the Musiara Plains.

lions masai mara

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

The Six young male lions that are approximately 3-3½ years old and were seen near the bottom end of the Bila Shaka river bed on the 24th, they are all looking well and nice to see them back again and after a week or so of not being seen. They often cross the river and go back to the Trans Mara, they have been in the west marsh for the last 10 days. Due to their age these young male lion could very well be the sub-adult males from the Paradise Pride and the progeny of the four musketeers.  On the 28th in the evening the six male lions had seen lioness Yaya on the south side of the Bila Shaka and her sub-adult cubs and gave chase, they chased her almost up as far as Rhino Ridge. Leaving Yaya and her two sub-adult cubs under pressure.

 lions masai mara

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

Three of the male lion coalition of the ‘musketeers’ Sikio, Hunter and Scar are being seen close to the Mara river south of Paradise Plains, Scar is looking very well and was with two paradise lionesses; he is certainly a Trojan.

scar lion

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

The Paradise Pride of four lionesses and six cubs (between the ages of 2-4 months old) are being seen near the Chinese Hill; on the 16th all six cubs were with them, it appears two have gone.  We have since heard that Scar has crossed the river and is with two lionesses, showing he is still active. 

lions masai maraPhoto courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

The Madomo Pride of four lionesses, two resident pride males, four 5 month old cubs and four 14 month old sub-adult cubs (three males and a female) are resident in the area south of Topi Plains; on the 24th they were in a croton thicket south of Topi Plains and close to the murram pits, Male lions Blackie and Lipstick were also with them and were sitting over the remains of a warthog kill; we suspect that the young lioness of the Madomo Pride has two very young cubs.  

Leopard

Saba the female leopard of the Olare Orok River has again been the highlight this month, her two cubs are five months old and the female cub is very much more adventurous with the male who is a little quieter. Saba has been hunting impala, warthog and dik dik. The male who often hunts further south of Saba’s home range has also been very active; he has been seen feeding off topi and young zebra.

 leopard masai mara

Photo courtesy of Collins

A female leopard has been seen in the southern paradise riverine woodlands and she is quite shy, on the 16th on the late evening she was seen with a female bushbuck kill high up a Warburgia tree.

We have had lots of good sightings of Romi the female leopard with her 17 month old female cub in the wooded areas of the north marsh. Earlier on in the month she was seen late in the evenings with her cub near the BBC area of the river.

Cheetah

Malaika with her two cubs that are six months old were earlier on being seen between the double crossing and the saltlick area of the Ngiatiak River in the south areas of the reserve, later in the month she had moved close to the southern grasslands of the Rhino Ridge and the Chinese Hill area of the Mara River. She spent a long time near the Keekorok area and since moving into the double crossing and Ngiatiak short grass areas she has been very successful in hunting Thompson Gazelles.   

‘Musiara’ the female cheetah has been seen between the Ol Keju river beds and look out hill and the Ronkai depression. She is very active and hunts on her own with Thompson Gazelles and Grants Gazelles being her favourite prey.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

A lone female who is Malaika’s daughter has been hunting in the Paradise Plains and Rhino Ridge areas, in the early hours of the 29th this female cheetah had killed and was eating a Thompson Gazelle near the double crossing; there is another nomadic male that is being seen, south of Rhino Ridge and as far as the double crossing; he has been seen talking Thompson Gazelles and also young Topi calves, he was seen again on the west side of the double crossing where he was seen later in the morning attempting to run down a Thompson Gazelle and failed and was more than likely burned out as he began the chase a little too early.

Nora’ the single female has one 12 month old male cub; she is still being seen on the short grass plains north east of the reserve, earlier on this month she moved down closer to the Talek river she has been seen eating warthog piglets, Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelles and their fawns.

Walking Safaris in North/East Masai land

The northern conservation areas of Mara north and Lemek group ranches have also received very little rain; and subsequently the grasslands are dry and short in areas where cattle have been allowed to graze.

Many topi and their calves, a few resident wildebeest will be seen scattered in loose herds and some of these individuals are males holding onto short term territories and small breeding herds of cokes hartebeest. Common zebra are also in loose herds with the shorter grass plains being more habituated. Giraffe are also being seen down in the woodlands below the open plains, the shrub Gardenia is being eaten by Giraffe and also Eland of which there is a small breeding herd of 25 animals in northern plains.

Good numbers of Thompson Gazelles and Impala on the open plains, Spotted Hyena have also been active in taking down Zebra, Topi and Wildebeest.

The ponerine ants that specialise in hunting and feeding off the termite species are in large columns recently. An Aardwolf midden has been identified on the northern plains and still yet to see them physically.

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