Weather and grasslands
February has been warm and dry, we received only 1.5 mm at the beginning of the month, a north easterly wind blew in the early afternoons, sometimes creating dust storms like rooster tails as the dust spirals and twists high above tree level. There was a heavy rainstorm on Topi Plains in the evening of the 26th. Average morning temperatures were 18Â°C and mid morning would be as high as 29-30Â°C. The relative humidity fluctuated between 81-92%.
Grass levels are drying out with only small patches of short green grass left on the open plains at Malima Tatu, Topi Plains and the southern Topi Plains areas leading towards the double crossing. Paradise Plains still has dense dry red oat grass with little sign of any ungulate movement, the exception of Elephant breeding herds and the resident Cape Buffalo that pass through.
Photo courtesy of Dave Roberts
The Musiara Marsh is slowly drying up, the north marsh flats have little water passing though since the spring has reduced and the resident Zebra, Waterbuck and Buffalo pass over here. The centre marsh still has many Elephant feeding within the reeds. The Mara River has been getting lower each day, the water flowing is showing signs of clarity indicating the flow of water upstream has receded drastically.
On the plains
More herds of resident zebra have been filing down into the Musiara area from the north east conservancies; pockets of zebra herds and wildebeest will be seen in the north Marsh, Olare Orok areas and double crossing. On the 23rd columns of resident wildebeest were seen filing down from the north east in the early hours of the morning, many of these herds had some young calves who were travelling in situ, some of these calves are very young and are still being born. Topi are in well scattered herds and females are with young calves that were born in September/October. Elephant herds come and go, since the Warburgia trees are still with a little fruit this brings the elephant into the camps mainly during the night but they also often pass through the camps at breakfast and lunch time, There have been some sightings of elephant females giving birth, on the 12th of the month a young cow elephant was seen by the Governors Camp manager who gave birth early in the morning on the front lawn at Governors camp, another cow elephant was seen on the 21st to giving birth near the BBC camps site are an the Mara river. There are equally many bull elephants in musth, these dominant bulls will spar with one another and will travel great distances to source females in estrus.
Giraffe herds are equally well spread out and since they are catholic browsers, they can be seen from the riverine woodlands as far as the open plains in the conservancies, young males can be seen sparring whilst the breeding herds are being seen often in loose associations; calves of varying ages are in crÃ¨ches with the attendance of a few females at the most.
Two Cape Buffalo breeding herds are being seen, one is being seen on Rhino Ridge and the other, the Bila Shaka herd move between the east Marsh grasslands and the Bila Shaka river bed, on the 11th this herd was feeding and drinking from the shallow pools in the upper eastern side of the river bed, then surprisingly quickly they smelt the presence of the resident Marsh Pride of lion who were resting under a gardenia shrub, they got themselves together all looked up in the direction of where the lions were and gave chase, all five lions including three males took flight and ran into the nearby croton thickets.
There are lots of Grant’s Gazelle fawns about and our guests saw two females giving birth. Good numbers of them can be seen in the west marsh grasslands, East Marsh and Topi Plains, there are some large horned rams in attendance within these breeding herds. Thomson Gazelles are also seen with young fawns in large loose herds on all of the short grass plains, male Thomsonâs will stake out and hold territories, they mark stems of grass or shrubs with a glandular secretion released from the preorbital glands and also use short term dung middens.
Bohors Reedbuck are also being seen regularly, Reedbuck are a shy animal and prefer areas with long dense grasses, since much of their naturally preferred habitat has been thinned out they are being seen more readily. Two Oribi have been seen again on Rhino Ridge, these small antelope are not often seen in this area of the Mara, and perhaps what was seen on the 18th was the same pair that is resident on the open plains on Rhino Ridge.
Black Backed Jackals will be seen in monogamous pairs in all open areas of the reserve and if not hunting grass rats they will be seen close by to a kill with either hyena or lion, there are pups being seen and these are a few months old, male jackal who illustrate no sexual dimorphism will play an important role in the rearing of the pups.
Impala will be seen in large herds of either a breeding herds with young fawns or bachelor males who spar for dominance and strength when they themselves are ready to take over from a resident maleâs harem. Impala are sexually dimorphic as can be seen with the males who have âSâ shaped horns that are 45 to 91.7 cm long. These horns are heavily ridged, thin, and the tips lie far apart. 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 as well as sebaceous glands on the forehead it is these glands that males use to ascertain dominance.
Bat Eared Foxes have also been seen and these will reside in dens or holes either of a termite mound or a hole initially dug by an aardvark, Bat Eared Foxes are usually monogamous with a dominant male or female with cubs, Bat Eared Foxes have a poor thermal regulation system so early morning sun bathing is an important start to their day. The Bat-Eared Foxes name comes from its enormous ears; they also have a well developed digastric muscle that enables them to snap 3 times a second.
Spotted Hyenas are plentiful with some clans exceeding 50 members, the Topi clan is one such clan large clan, and there are also many young cubs that can be seen in their den sites. Interestingly, all members of a clan recognize each other, cooperatively defend a common territory and rear their cubs together at a communal den. Spotted Hyenas establish enduring relationships with clan mates that often last many years. Clan sizes and territory size will vary largely upon the abundance of prey.
Serval cats have also been seen frequently with a male and female being seen hunting south of the Bila Shaka river bed areas, on the 16th guests had a very good sighting of a male in good light, since grass levels are short in most areas sightings of these cats are more frequent.
Southern Ground Hornbills will be seen collecting insects and other invertebrates in their bills, the females must be nesting close by. These hornbills have one of the slowest reproductive rates in the bird kingdom, producing only one chick approximately every few years. They are co-operative breeders, with just one dominant breeding pair in a social group, and the rest of the birds or juveniles being helpers. The ground hornbills are the only birds in the hornbill family which do not entirely seal the entrances of their nests when eggs are laid. Often two or three eggs are laid but siblicide ensures that only one nestling is ever fledged.
The large African Rock Python has been seen in the Silanga area south of Bila Shaka; it appears that on the 23rd it had eaten something very large and we suspect perhaps a Thomson Gazelle, it had been lying in a pool of water with only its head showing although when it moved the swelling along the mid abdomen showed up something very large. On the 17th it had moved into the Bila Shaka river bed.
Marsh Lioness Yaya and her two 33 month old female subs, have been residing in the Bila Shaka and west Marsh, Yaya likes to hunt as far as Rhino Ridge which appears to be the limit of her home range. Both the subs and Yaya have mated with one of the two more dominant of the six male lion coalition. The other two lionesses of the marsh pride that stayed behind in the east marsh have also mated with these males. On the morning of the 11th the two marsh lionesses and two males were seen in the upper reaches of the Bila Shaka, the dark maned lion was mating with lioness smudge under a gardenia tree, there was a herd of Buffalo that was slowly moving into the same area as they grazed their way down, on sensing the lion they charged forward lead by a dominant cow and dispersed them all into the nearby croton thicket. This activity is a common phenomenon with lion and buffalo and is known as âpredator/preyâ aggression.
Earlier on in the month Lioness Rembo of the marsh breakaway pride who had left last year with other members of the Marsh pride for the leopard gorge area of the Mara north Conservancy had returned to have her litter of three cubs in the wooded area of the centre marsh, she has three cubs that are estimated at two months old. Lionesses will prefer to return to their natal breeding grounds to raise their cubs. On the 21st the males and two marsh lionesses had killed a buffalo in the Marsh and had been feeding off it for some days, Rembo is often seen near the pool of water resting while her cubs are deep in a thicket, this immediate area of the Marsh many of the Marsh lionesses have had and raised their young, also many cubs have been taken prey by Martial eagles.
Photos courtesy of Moses Manduku
The Madomo/Ridge pride of 20 lions and cubs of varying ages are in the south Topi plains areas; one older lioness has one male cub that is now four months old. The four older 19 month old sub-adults (three males and a female) are also within residence with this pride. Another lioness of this pride has three cubs that are now 12 months old. Lioness Madomoâs daughter the pale lioness has two cubs that are 15 months old. Madomoâs other sister has one cub that is 11 months old now, this pride is very active and will be seen within the Topi Plains areas and as far as the double crossing. They have been feeding off zebra, topi and buffalo. The two males Blackie and Lipstick will wander off to below Emartii Hill, Lipstick was treated in the latter weeks of the month for wounds that was probably caused by friction from other male lion or a tussle from a buffalo, generally speaking injuries sustained from buffalo can often can be quite severe, he has improved since, although he still appears to limp a little, favoring his right front paw. On the 11th lioness Madomoâs daughter was seen on her own further west on Topi Plains, under a Balanites tree, she appeared to be lactating and we all wonder if she has or will have cubs somewhere soon.
Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku
The five lionesses of the breakaway Monica Pride and their four young cubs that are five months old are looking very much better after their mange treatment. On the 23rd one of the cubs was seen being eaten by hyena and we are not sure what the cause of this was, earlier on in the month it was noticed that the cub did have a deep wound on its right front paw and perhaps it could not keep up and was subsequently taken by hyena, mortality of lion cubs can be high if lion are in direct competition with Spotted Hyena.
The Paradise pride with seven adult lionesses and their cubs of varying ages, there are two cubs that are 14 months old. Three of the other lionesses have 9 cubs altogether of which three are 21 months old and five are now 24 months old, this pride of lionesses and their sub adult cubs are being seen within the Mara River and still roam between the crossing points on the Mara River and as far as the south fan of Rhino Ridge. The older of the Paradise lionesses had five cubs originally and since last month she had been seen with one cub who is four months old, this pride crosses back and forth and will also move into the southern fan of Rhino Ridge, these females have been seen hunting on their own in the long grass, on the 19th they had killed a warthog, they also will source Cape Buffalo that come down into the long grass areas.
Scar and the other musketeers were in and out of the Mara river basin area, Scar still crosses over into the Trans Mara when the river is low, Hunter, Sikio and Morani were seen beyond the Chinese Hill and are often with the Paradise Pride females and sub-adult cubs.
Saba the female leopard of the Olare Orok and her two five months old cubs, she has been very active and was also being seen with her previous male offspring on the 10th while on the Olare Orok river she had a fracas with this young male although he does spend time with her cubs, rather unfamiliar behavior to that of Leopard. She has been feeding off warthog and Impala.
Bahati the female leopard of the Talek River area with her two cubs a male and female are estimated at 17 months old, they have been seen on a few occasions this month, the male is a large specimen.
The female leopard on the upper reaches of the Ngiatiak River who has two cubs that are estimated at 6 months old has been seen again high up in a sycamore fig tree in the wooded riverine areas of the Ngiatiak River.
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.
Malaika with her two male sub adults who are now 20 months old; Malaika and her two male subs were last seen in the Olkiombo area close to the Talek River, she also travels great distances, and Malaika has been feeding off Thomson Gazelles. These two subs are due to leave their maternal mother and seem strange that they are still all together.
The five male cheetah coalition who are of two brothers and another male have been seen earlier in the month hunting in the Olkiombo and also the Hammerkop area of the southern Mara reserve, they were seen again in the Ronkai region on the 26th and were resting under a croton thicket, it was here that a female Leopard had killed a warthog not far from these five cheetah. They had met up with female cheetah Malaika on the 25th on the Posee plains area of the southern reserve, her two male subs had moved away and were lying low.
A solitary female cheetah has seen hunting on Rhino ridge and also 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 last month.
There is a male Cheetah often seen in the southern Paradise plains, he is very shy and has been hunting and feeding off young Impala fawns, he was seen on the 18th and 24th in the same area and both times was seen feeding off Impala fawns.
Walking Safaris in North/East Masai land
The Lemek group ranch has been generally very dry with grass levels being short and eaten down by the resident zebra and wildebeest; in the evening of the 25th this area received a heavy rainstorm.
There have been many zebra and resident wildebeest that have moved into this group ranch area, other conservancies such as the Naibosho and Motorogi have suffered dry months with lack of rain stemming the grasslands into a barren golf course. On the south Aitong plains many Wildebeest cows have calved down, on the 18th and 21st large herds were seen filing down to the Mara North Conservancy and also onto the open plains of the north Marsh.
The two Marsh Pride male Lions Red and Tatu have taken over the Lemek lion pride, there are four cubs of varying ages, it appears that male lion Red is the sire of these cubs, this is an active pride, and they have been feeding off Buffalo, Wildebeest and Zebra.
A large herd of breeding buffalo move between the east and west grasslands, with this there is also a small bachelor herd of bull buffalo. Thomson Gazelles are in good numbers on these open plains and also Grant’s Gazelles. Impala will be seen in the north riverine woodlands, one breeding herd is over 75 animals.
Photo courtesy of Alisa Bowen
Giraffe also pass through here with breeding herds and calves being seen in the north riverine woodlands and they also favor the acacia and croton thickest in the south, the calves often being seen in a crÃ¨che along with an adult who is not too far away. Topi are well scattered with the eastern plains being good place to see them. Spotted hyena are actively feeding off the wildebeest and Topi. Black Backed Jackals are also seen in monogamous pairs, on the 14th at 8.00am we saw a pair run down a scrub hair they chased this hare for over 10 minutes and over a great distance, Jackals are similar to dogs and wolves in that once they have something in their sights they donât give in quickly.
Patrick Reynolds, Governors Il Moran Camp Manager.