Weather and grasslands:
Earlier on in the month weather was favorable being dusty and hot, we had a little rainfall in the first week. On the 14th the onset of the rains had come, with rain occuring almost on a daily basis. In the late afternoons and evenings rain was more apparent. More favourable weather patterns improved since the 25th of the month. Daily temperatures have been hot and humid with an average humidity level of 85%. Rainfall for the month of January was a total of 108mm. At this time of the year the sun rises at 6.46am and sun sets at 6.57pm.
The Mara River has risen up, and a heavy discharge of silt can be seen in the water level. The river can rise up 3ft and then come down quite quickly. Much of this rain is coming through from northern Tanzania and Uganda. Latterly towards the end of the month the Mara River had subsided to a low level.
River levels in January – photo credit William Fortescue
Grass levels greened up tremendously in January and many low lying pockets on the open plains are waterlogged. The marsh water level has also increased although low volumes of water are flowing under the causeway. The Teclea and Warburgia trees have started fruiting.
On the plains:
Game sightings have been trying with wet weather conditions prevailing particularly in the early mornings. Good herds of Topi will be seen on the south Bila Shaka plains, earlier on in the month some of these female had early or late calving – two newborn calves were seen. The Malima Tatu and the Olare Orok short grass plains areas are also good places to see herds of Topi.
Topi with newborn calves in Silanga area – photo credit Patrick Reynolds
There are also large herds of male Thomson gazelles around. The Grant’s Gazelles will be seen in the longer grass areas although they prefer open plains like the Thomson Gazelles. Generally they are fond of open grass plains, and although they frequent bushy savannah habitat, they avoid areas of high dense grass. Female Grant’s Gazelles have a gestation of seven months. Cape Buffalo are well scattered with two large breeding herds which can be seen between the south Bila Shaka and Rhino Ridge plains. Older solitary bull buffalo will be seen separated from the main herds and live a solitary and habitual life often with other age mates.
Large buffalo herds on the plains – photo credit William Fortescue
Elephant breeding herds come and go as grass levels increase on the open plains, there are some good young acacia saplings in the grasslands on the open plains – unfortunately the elephant also like to pull them up and eat the complete sapling. The elephant are now well spread out, whereas earlier in the month of January, many were seen feeding in the Marsh itself. Elephant will often come through the camps to feed off the fruit of the Warburgia trees, these trees have started to bear fruit so we are seeing the elephant often.
Elephant at the Musiara Marsh areas – photo credit William Fortescue
Defassa Waterbuck are more commonly seen closer to the marsh and also where water is lying, this ‘Kob species’ is more water dependant than its cousin the common waterbuck. Good and easy places to see Defassa waterbuck are in the east and west march grasslands. Eland are in scattered herds with a few breeding bulls being seen on the east Rhino Ridge plains. Resident plains Zebra have been coming through from the Trans Mara during the middle of the month: these Zebras have crossed the river at the main crossing points and then have latterly moved north east onto the shorter grass areas of the conservancies. On the 16th, 17th and 19th of January, an estimated 2,500 Zebra crossed over from the Trans Mara. On the 17th, three Zebra were taken by crocodile and then one was killed by a lioness form the paradise pride as it came up the bank. (See the video HERE). On the 19th there was another crossing where two Zebra were taken and eaten by the resident crocodiles.
Herds of breeding Impala will be seen well scattered across most habitats since the recent rains, and large herd of Impala rams are being seen near Governors Camp. Olive Baboons are also in large troops and can be seen feeding on the fringes of the riverine woodlands – they will also venture further out onto the open plains. Since some of the Warburgia trees are now fruiting this brings baboons closer to the woodlands as they are very partial to fruit-bearing trees. There are many infants in these baboon troops with many of them seen riding ‘Jockey’ style on their mother’s lower back just in front of the tail area. They are the most terrestrial of all the Cercopithecines; they also possess well defined ischial callosities which are areas of hardened, leathery skin on either side of the base of the tail on the rump. Vervet monkeys will also be seen although they are more commonly seen outside of riverine woodlands; Blue Monkeys are more commonly seen since they are more arboreal in their feeding habits. The social structure of the Blue Monkeys is that they are mainly females – the males leave once they are mature and only one dominant male will be found mating with the females. One can often hear the males calling their calls reverberating through the woodlands. There can be many young infants amongst these troops. Warthogs sows with 2-3 piglets are resident throughout the open plains, many of the piglets are 4-5 months old and sounders can often be sows with their offspring and a younger sow who acts as nanny (who is from a previous litter). The warthogs we have as residents between the camps, appear to have more piglets about, since they reside within the camp grounds predation on them is less common.
Breeding Thomson Gazelles – photo credit William Fortescue
Serval cats have also been seen – these are grass cats and the Musiara environs provide a suitable habitat for Serval cats. As grasslands shorten they become more easily seen. Spotted Hyenas have been very active whilst feeding off Topi and robbing lions of their prey; the spotted Hyena is an intelligent predator and has proliferated well in the Mara ecosystem. Large clans will be seen on the northern areas of the Musiara marsh and the south Bila Shaka plains. Black-Backed Jackals are also seen often in monogamous pairs as they forage on the open plains; black-backed jackals have a varied diet and perhaps the most successful of the small canids, they will frequently prey on small antelopes such as Thomson Gazelles and also the fawns of the Impala and Grant’s Gazelles. They will also feed off carrion, the fruit of the Ballantines trees, cape hares, insects, and other small rodents. Their cousins, the side striped Jackal, is less often seen in the Musiara environs and due to a less varied diet, competition with a more prolific Jackal and habitat loss, they are slowly dwindling in numbers unfortunately. Flocks of Lesser Kestrels have been seen lately, they can be seen in quite large flocks across most of the open plains. Pallid Harriers are also being seen on the short grass plains. Grey and Black necked herons will be seen in the marsh and grasslands. The Western-Banded Snake Eagles are being seen in riverine canopy while Black Chested snakes with their piercing yellow eye are more commonly seen alighted on a Balanites tree in the grasslands.
Flocks of Lesser Kestrels – photo credit Patrick Reynolds
A Kori Bustard displaying on Topi Plains – photo credit Patrick Reynolds
A female Saddle Billed stork – photo credit Patrick Reynolds
Marsh Lioness ‘Yaya’ had sadly lost her two eight-month-old young cubs to the male lion called Chongo. There was constant pressure here from this male who in the first week of December killed the two cubs sadly. Yaya is with her two daughters from a previous male lion (that migrated up to the Mara North Conservancy with marsh Lioness Charm), she is often seen in the east marsh and bottom end of the Bila Shaka river bed on the open plains leading to Rhino Ridge, and she has been feeding off zebra and warthog.
Lioness ‘Spot’ is also in Bila Shaka area with her two cubs (a male and a female who are five months old and were sired by male lion Chongo). ‘Little Red’ in the Bila Shaka area also has been seen with one young cub that is estimated at one or two months old. The two lionesses are both together in the north side of the Bila Shaka and are feeding of Topi and warthog. Chongo the male lion is often with these two lionesses, and he has been seen on the 21st and 23rd of January in this same area.
Lionesses ‘Rembo’ and ‘Kabibi’ are being seen in the east marsh reed areas not far from the wooded ‘Lake Nakuru’ flats. There are four cubs between the two lionesses – three are from Kabibi and one is to Rembo and they are estimated at 2 months old.
Lionesses Kabibi and Rembo with their cubs – photo credit Moses Manduku
One of the cubs from Kabibi and Rembo litter learning to climb – photo credit Moses Manduku
Lioness ‘Dada’ has very young cubs and she has hidden them in the wooded areas of Lake Nakuru (she has given birth here before). ‘Kito’ is often with Dada so these two lionesses are not far from one another.
Lioness Dada on the lookout for warthog – photo credit Moses Manduku
The six male lion coalition have been moving between the two resident prides: they have sired the small cubs of the Marsh Pride lionesses and also the Madomo/Ridge Pride cubs. Two lionesses of this pride are being mated at the moment.
One of the six males coalition – photo credit Patrick Reynolds
The Madomo/Ridge Pride are hunting and residing on Topi plains and also will hunt in the lower Topi plains. Later on in the month, they were seen hunting as far as the Silanga grassland plains; this is a very active pride and they have killed and eaten two bull Eland this month as well as Zebra and Topi.
The Monica Pride lionesses and their four 12-month-old cubs are residing east of the Double Crossing areas of the Ngiatiak River. They are often seen as far down as the Double Crossing and also near the murram pits.
The Paradise Pride with seven adult lionesses and their cubs of varying ages; there are four two-year-old males an these young males and their mother will hunt as far as the lower Bila Shaka river bed. The remaining pride members are residing and hunting on Paradise Plains and will be seen again on the southern areas of the Mara River, they have been feeding off the resident Zebra that cross the river and they have monitored these river crossing for many years.
The female leopard ‘Saba’ of the Olare Orok has two very young cubs and they in the riverine woodlands of the Olare Orok. The female sub-adult cub can be seen quite frequently in the Olare Orok riverine areas – this young female sub-adult is very active and shares the same home range as her maternal mother yet the young male moves in and out of this area and he is less often seen. There are many Thompson Gazelles, warthogs and their many piglets and impala within the short grass plains that the Olare Orok passes through and these are good hunting grounds for leopard.
‘Romi’ the female leopard of the Riverine woodlands by the old BBC campsite area has been sighted in January and seen more frequently as she hunts in the north marsh woodlands. She has two cubs that are estimated at 6 months old. She has been seen seldom this month and one of her favourite haunts is the old BBC campsite.
Beautiful ‘Romi’ the female leopard – photo credit William Fortescue
Female leopard ‘Siri’ with her male sub-adult cub is often being seen near the Serena pump house area of the Mara River. The male cub must be nearly 15 months old now and so generally speaking, he will be leaving his maternal mother shortly.
A large male leopard who was often last year seen in the cul-de-sac crossing point was seen again in the croton thickest later this month. He was actively targeting yearling wildebeest when they crossed here during the migration.
Male leopard spotted by Moses Manduku
The five male cheetahs have been seen in the Double Crossing and within the southern Reserve, the murram pit plains close to the Talek River and as far as the Hammerkop grasslands of the southern Reserve. They travel great distances and have been seen more frequently in the Olare Orok Conservancy as the short grass plains in these areas are good places for both species of gazelles and also Impala.
A single male has been seen hunting in the East marsh grasslands, the southern Bila Shaka area and also recently within the west marsh grasslands – he was seen recently near the ‘Lake Nakuru’ area.
Single male cheetah on the hunt – photo credit William Fortescue
‘Imani’ the female in the Ol Kiombo murram pit area with three cubs estimated at eight months old, has been seen earlier on in the month in the east side of the Murram pits.
Another single female who is on her own is being seen on Paradise Plains and Rhino Ridge – she appears a little nervous – on the evening of the 16th she was seen eating a Thomson Gazelle.
Female cheetah with her kill – photo credit William Fortescue
There was a single male cheetah being seen on the 13th and 18th in the North Marsh conservation area – he was seen here for some time and had been seen to have eaten a young Grant’s’ Gazelle and a scrub hare. There are many spotted hyena on these plains and perhaps due to predator pressure he moved on out.
Mara Game Report by Patrick Reynolds.