Game Reports

January in the Mara 2018

Weather and grasslands

The weather has been cool and wet this month with a few clear mornings. The rainfall for the month was 191mm which fell mostly in the late afternoons and early evenings and then on two occasions as early as 3.00 am in the morning. The average early morning temperatures were  between 16-18°C with midday as warm as 24°C. The relative humidity was on the high side this month and averaged between 86-94%.

 sunrise Masai Mara

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

Grasses on all the open plains are green although still short, the many ungulate species that have passed through have kept the grass levels down. On Paradise Plains on the other hand and western areas of Rhino Ridge the perennial grasses are longer and look more palatable and with a good leave structure coming through. Around the Musiara Marsh the grass levels have improved tremendously with the red oat grass and Sporobolus species coming on very nicely. The Musiara Marsh has continued to fill up, the escarpment spring that feeds the north marsh has been flowing well and this area of the marsh is now quite full. The Mara River has risen up (not more than 10 feet at a time) and quickly gone back down to above bedrock level. The sun has risen at 6.48am and set at 6.58pm.

The Warburgia Ugandensis (or Elephant pepper tree) trees have continued to fruit heavily this month; much to the delight of the Olive Baboons, Green Pigeons, Brown Parrots and the many small families of Elephant that come through the camps. Two and sometimes three large Elephant bulls have made a habit of frequenting all three of our camps during the day and night to feast.

elephant at little Governors Camp

Photo courtesy of Chloe Flatt

The Teclea Nobilis tree has also been fruiting heavily; the fruit has drawn in the beautiful Violet Backed Starlings and both the Schalow’s and Ross’s Turacos all of whom have been enjoying this fruit. This rain also caused a blooming of wild flowers bringing splashes of colour all across the grassland plains and escarpments.

violet backed starling

Violet Backed Starling feeding on Teclea Fruit. Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

On the plains

Most species of ungulates have been well spread out this month, the recent rain is helping to move them between habitats. Paradise Plains was quite quiet this month, scattered Cape Buffalo herds would come down from Rhino Ridge and into Paradise Plains, they would feed for a few days and then move into other habitats, elephant will be seen passing through here feeding off the Paradise Plains grasses. 

bufalo

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

Topi are congregating on the southern Topi Plains and Malima Tatu areas. They are well spread now as light rainfall continues, the southern short grass plains have good numbers of Topi and their 4-5 month old calves, Cokes Hartebeests are in smaller numbers, a small breeding herd can be seen near the Marsh. The resident wildebeest, many of which are males are in small scattered herds, across the plains. The resident zebra are also in scattered herds; earlier on in the month some small herds came through from the conservancies north of the Marsh, many of these herds have now recently moved out into the shorter green areas of Malima Tatu and the Olare Orok plains. Mammalogists have suggested that the distinctive monochrome pattern keeps the animals cool under the hot African sun, this does make sense since zebra are well adapted to hot environments. In the Giraffe the skin underneath the dark areas may serve as windows for thermoregulation, being sites for complex blood vessel systems and large sweat glands. Each individual giraffe has a unique coat pattern which is also similar to that of the zebra. This thermoregulation system may be similar to that of the zebra.

There are many large breeding herds of impala with calves of varying ages across the open short grass plains, there have been some impressive fights amongst the males with with males sparring whilst other males watch ‘roaring’ loudly to spur the combatants on, till exhaustion takes hold.

 Impala fighting

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

Large troops of Olive Baboons are seen across the plains, on Paradise Plains many sentries can be seen high up in tall fig trees keeping watch as the troop members forage on the plains below. With the recent grass growth, seasonal flowers and a myriad of insectlife there is plenty for the baboons to eat. The savanna dwelling Olive Baboons live in large groups of dozens to hundreds of members called troops. Within a troop of Baboons there is a very complex hierarchy based on mother-daughter lines of descent and male strength. A female baboon is born into whatever rank her mother was, whilst males establish their place within the troop by fighting one another for dominance. Because of this, female baboons stay in the same troop their whole lives and male baboons leave the troop when they are mature enough to search for a mate.

Olive baboons

Baboons on the plains. Courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

Giraffe and eland move around depending on the moisture content of their available browsing fodder. We have had lots of lovely giraffe sightings in the Acacia woodlands bordering the reserve and riverine forests close to our camps. Strangely older male giraffe like to eat the leaves of the Warburgia trees which are notoriously spicy. The older male giraffe have very few ticks and biting flies accosting them, for their skin releases an odor which may be linked to their eating the Warburgia leaves. 

Eland are often seen in small breeding herds of between 12 and 45 animals, a few large dimorphic bulls will often be seen in small bachelor herds or on their own depending on strength and age. The resident lion prides will occasionally take down and eat large eland bulls; they will provide more meat than a Cape Buffalo, on the evening of the 25th the Madomo Lion Pride killed a large bull eland. 

Hippos are in large pods, with the river rising quickly at times the the resident hippo pods had to move fast, often by 11.00 am they would be seen resting up on the sand banks. Crocodiles are still abundant at the main crossing points; there were a few female crocodiles that hatched their eggs in late December, mortality rates are high for infant crocodiles and very few out of a batch of eggs will make it through, since the river level has risen many of these young crocodiles vanished, perhaps washed down to another part of the river. 

hippo

Photo courtesy of Dave Richards 

During the rainstorms mid month there were some good sightings of Black backed Jackals feeding and hunting field rats and mice, they would make good ratters!! This also indicates that this species of Jackal has a varied diet and has done well whilst its cousin the side striped Jackals has struggled to compete in this area.

Elephant herds still cross the river frequently and since the Marsh received more rain and is now flowing, the reeds and grasses are growing well, and the elephant are spending more time feeding here. With the Warburgia trees in fruit they have also been spending a lot of time in the forests in and around our camps. Within the breeding herds there are many young calves which is nice to see, there have been a few large bulls that were and are still in Musth, these bulls will cover large distances looking for females in oestrus. There is a bull elephant that frequents the camps often he is known as ‘Blossom’ and is also in Musth. Musth is a periodic condition in bull elephants, characterized often by highly aggressive behavior, this is also accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones – testosterone levels in an elephant in Musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times, it is always best to give these older boys that are in Musth a wide berth.

 elephants masai mara

Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

With lower grass levels in some areas Serval Cats have been seen often again, these grass cats have large dish like ears so help them hear their prey. We have had some lovely sightings of Serval Cats with kittens; the gestation period for a female Serval is 3 to 3 1/2 months. The litter consists of two or three young known as kittens, sometimes as few as one or as many as five. They are often raised in sheltered locations such as abandoned aardvark burrows. If such an ideal location is not available, a place behind a shrub or in long grass may be sufficient. The Serval is sometimes preyed upon by leopard and other large cats. On the 19th and 20th a female Seval with two young kittens estimated at 3-4 months old were seen in the long grass areas of the lower Paradise Plains.

Spotted Hyena have also been active in almost all areas of the reserve, with such large numbers in their packs, they are capable of taking away a kill from lionesses, but will shy away from male lion. The Spotted Hyena clans now have new cubs; the Topi Plains clan has three new cubs.

Large flocks of Lesser Kestrels have been seen in and around the Bila Shaka riverbed and on the open plains towards the double crossing; these small raptors are often in large groups. The Lesser Kestrel eats insects, small birds, reptiles and some rodents especially small grass mice, which are often taken on the ground.

There are some lovely Butterflies floating in the wind within the riverine woodlands and camp grounds, we have seen Green Banded Swallowtails, Narrow Green Banded Swallowtails, Mocker Swallowtails, Nobel Swallowtails, Citrus Butterflies, Small Striped Swordtails, Green Veined Charaxes, Soldier Commodores and various species of Common Whites.
 
butterfly masai mara
Photo courtesy of Alisa Bowen 

Lion

Marsh Pride lioness Yaya and her two 32 month old female sub adult cubs have been hunting and residing in the upper Bila Shaka river bed, towards the end of the month they were seen in the east side of the North Marsh with the six male lion coalition, the large dark maned male was mating with Yaya. The six males are related through various females from a related pride and a single male, they had all come from Olare Orok conservancy and have in the last five months have taken up residence in the Marsh and Bila Shaka areas.

lioness masai mara

Photo courtesy of Dave Richards

The Madomo / Rridge 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 three months old, she had two other siblings both of which went missing in December, another lioness has two cubs that are now six months old, they get on very well with the single young male cub. The four older 18 month old sub-adults (three males and female) are also with this pride. Another lioness of this pride has three cubs that are 11 months old. Lioness Madomo’s daughter the pale lioness has two cubs that are 14 months old. Madomo’s other sister has one cub that is 10 months old now, this cub is also very active and likes to climb trees. They are a very productive pride and will feed off topi and buffalo, on the 25th they had killed and eaten most of a large bull eland. Lipstick and Blackie are again with this pride and were seen eating the remains of the eland they had killed on the 25th although Blackie was seen limping again, this time favoring his right front leg, perhaps this again was a squabble between the two males.

lion masai mara

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

lion masai mara

Photo courtesy of Dave Richards 

Five lionesses and four young cubs that are estimated at three to four months old of the breakaway Monica pride who are of the Olare Orok area, on the 18th they were treated for mange and to date they are much improved although the lionesses are still a little stressed.

The Paradise Pride has seven adult lionesses and their cubs of varying ages, one of the lionesses has two cubs that are 13 months old. Three of the other lionesses have 9 cubs altogether of which three are 20 months old and five are now 23 months old, this pride of lionesses and their sub adult cubs are being seen within the Mara River area and roam between the crossing points on the Mara River and as far as the southern fan of Rhino Ridge, on the 9th they killed a large hippo and fed off it for days, they were eventually robbed of the remains by 40 Spotted Hyena. The older of the Paradise lionesses that had five cubs last month appears to now only have one this cub is nearly three months old, on the 9th she was seen calling out for them, on the 27th she was seen across the Mara River on the west bank with the one cub. This pride has been feeding off the zebra that have come down from Rhino Ridge and from the double crossing to feed off the improved brass below Emartii hill.

lions

Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku 

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 lower and before the rains set in, Hunter and Sikio and Morani were seen beyond the Chinese Hill and are often with the Paradise Pride females and sub-adult cubs.

Leopard

Saba the female leopard of the Olare Orok and her two four months old cubs, she is being seen more often on the Olare Orok side, she has been feeding off warthog and impala, her cubs are very habituated towards cars now; she is seen daily, often walking between the two rivers.

Bahati the female leopard of the Talek River area with her two cubs a male and female are estimated at 16 months old, the male is a very large specimen and can be mistaken for an adult male.

leopard masai mara

Photo courtesy of Oliver Fowler  

The female leopard on the upper reaches of the Ngiatiak River who has two cubs that are estimated at 5 months old is seldom seen although she seen briefly on the 12th near the salt lick areas of the riverine woodlands.

The female leopard Ariana the daughter to Romi has been seen again within the BBC campsite area and the lake Nakuru flats in the west marsh, she has fed off reedbuck, bushbuck, warthog piglets and impala fawns.

Cheetah

We have had lots of great sightings of Malaika and her two cubs (a male and female who are now 19 months old); she has continued to move around a lot; recently she has been seen hunting with her two sub-adults the Thomson Gazelles and impalas that are in abundance within the double crossing, south Ngiatiak areas and on the east side of the Talek River, recently she has been seen on the Posee Plains in the southern areas of the reserve.

Female cheetah Imani earlier on in the month was raising six cubs in the long grass areas of the west fan of Rhino Ridge, very sadly we noticed on the 10th of the month that she lost all six to a large group of Spotted Hyena, who were drawn in to the very area where she had her cubs by the remains of hippo they had taken from the Paradise lion pride. She stayed for a short time on the short grass plains below Emartii Hill, where there are many Thompson Gazelles and has since moved into the southern areas of the Ngiatiak River.

The five male cheetahs an all brother coalition have been seen often in the southern areas of the Mara reserve near Hammerkop and the Ongata Ronkai areas, these relatively open plains seem to be popular areas for these five cheetah, a coalition like these males will travel large distances and feed off larger prey.

A few solitary female cheetahs have seen seen hunting on Rhino Ridge and also on the southern plains below Emartii Hill and towards the double crossing on the Olare Orok side.

Walking Safaris in North/East Masai land

The Lemek group ranch has equally had good rainfall this month. We have conducted a few walking safaris this month, with the ground wet and a little boggy we tend to do less walks during the rains. The river bed that splits the two open grassland plains has been flowing well.

There are many wildebeest in our walking area although the majority of them are males, Topi are in good numbers with the eastern plains being good places to see larger herds. The resident lion pride of four females and many cubs and sub-adults have been sired by the two Marsh males; Red and Tatu who are now holding this pride. Spotted Hyenas are also actively feeding off wildebeest and topi.

Giraffe numbers are good with a large breeding herd seen on the 12th in the northern woodlands below the grassland plains, these giraffe appear to be browsing heavily off the Gardenia trees. It’s not uncommon when a large herd of Giraffe are browsing together in favorable habitat with calves of similar ages in crèches with a single or perhaps two females in attendance close by.

Elephant breeding herds will also pass through and appear not to spend much time in this particular area, the Mara North conservancy holds many more Elephant since there are good stands of acacia trees and the two common species are Nilotica and gerrardii both species releases a tannin that the Elephant are very fond of.

Patrick Reynolds, Governors il Moran Camp Manager. 

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