Masai Mara

March 2017 in the Masai Mara

Weather and grasslands

We have had plenty of cool and clear mornings this month with cloud building up in the afternoons and sometimes light showers of rain in the late evenings, early mornings and at night and we were treated to some beautiful sunrises. The Musiara Marsh, East Musiara Plains area, Bila Shaka and Topi Plains have had 82 mm of rain to date with early morning temperatures as low as 19°C and afternoon temperatures rise to a high 32°C and the humidity being high at 65-75%.

sunrise masai mara

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

The Musiara Marsh has risen and fallen with the rain and it is still looking green with plenty of water in it. The Mara River rose during the early part of the month and has now subsided almost to a standstill. The Warburgia trees have been fruiting again and this has brought in many Olive baboons.

On the plains

More elephant have been seen this month feeding on the open grasslands, moving later in the afternoons to the marsh and also passing through the riverine woodlands. Most of these elephant are in small family units and are now mostly feeding on the savannah grasses since grass levels have improved. There are many young calves with these family units, there are also large solitary bulls that have been seen moving across the open plains with majority of them in Musth.

elephants masai mara

Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

Since the Warburgia trees are still fruiting the older bull elephant move into the forests around our camps feed on the fruit and likewise the Olive Baboons who are now finding life a little more relaxed since the recent rainfall has brought more herbs, shrubs and new grass shoots along with more insect life. The BBC camps site troop is large and over 150 animals with many young infants. The savanna species of Baboons Known as the Olive Baboon live in large groups called troops. Within a troop of Baboons there is a very complex hierarchy based on mother-daughter lines of decent and male strength. A female Baboon is born into whatever rank her mother was and a males establish their place within the troop by fighting one another for dominance. Each female ranks just below her mother and above her older sisters (called “younger daughter ascendancy”), and the process by which this rank is attained involves substantial maternal support and because of this, female Baboons stay in the same troop their whole lives and male Baboons will often leave the troop when they are mature enough to search for a mate or to take over from an existing male.

Resident wildebeest and their calves will be found in the Masai conservancies in the north east. On the eastern plans of the Olare Orok there a few herds of male wildebeest and a small number of females with calves. Although this area of the Olare Orok has some large herds of resident Zebra and more Zebra can be seen towards the double crossing and the Ngiatiak area.

Cokes Hartebeest will be seen in small herds with a male and females and with calves, there is a resident herd in the west marsh grasslands in southern areas of the Marsh.

Good numbers of Topi have been congregating on the South Bila Shaka Plains, Topi Plains and on the eastern fan of Rhino Ridge, The Topi males have stated to rut with males grunting and sparring with one another. Topi Females with young of 5-6 month old calves were keeping out of the way as males rush past.

topi masai mara

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Impala and Defassa waterbuck are also well spread out with the waterbuck being very much more habituated in the west and east marsh verges. The Defassa Waterbucks are more water dependent than their cousins the common waterbuck who are capable of living in quite arid regions. They eat a variety of grasses, both medium and short and their diet is very rich in protein. When the amount of available grass is low, waterbuck eat other herbs to satisfy their needs. Thompson Gazelles are more commonly seen on the open shorter grass plains with a few females being seen with young fawns. Cheetah and those with older sub adult cubs will prey upon these gazelles readily. Grants Gazelles are also well spread out and will habituate more wooded and longer grass areas. The Grant’s Gazelles are primarily browsers rather than grazers, with this they can be quite a migratory species.

Giraffe are being seen more frequently within the camp grounds and riverine woodlands, many of these are young and older males, females and calves are still spread out on the periphery of the reserve and conservancies. Hippo’s are also being very vocal since the main Mara river is low and males are conflicting as pod densities encroach on one another. Adult hippos require large quantities of grass up to 65kg per night and since they have a poor epidermal layer and no body hair they are more subjected to heat stress so spend night hours feeding or cooler hours of the morning whilst returning to a watered refuge where they will lie up digesting for the course of the day.

More serval cats are being seen near Paradise Plains and Bila Shaka, the three legged female has also been seen again. We have had two sightings of Aardwolves which is a true bonus since these small insectivore/carnivores are not often seen. Two good sightings of the Marsh Mongoose this month, on the 19th he was seen in the centre of the marsh eating a small catfish, these mongooses are watered habitat feeders and will feed off fish, frogs and fresh water crabs, here in the Musiara Marsh prey such as frogs, fish and insects are commonly eaten, their anatomy differs a little from other mongooses in having little to no hair on their feet which is ideal for foraging and feeling for morsels whilst in shallow water.

serval cat masai mara

Photo courtesy of Nigel English 

On the 30th a large flock of 42 ostriches was seen on the south Bila Shaka Plains and these are young adult ostriches perhaps 8 months old with cocks and hens mixed until they split up and go their different ways. By six months, a chick is almost at its full-grown height; at 3 or 4 years, it will reach maturity. An ostrich can live up to 50+ years.

On the 28th a family of four Bats Eared Foxes were seen on Topi Plains although they seemed shy and were constantly on the move, Bat eared foxes are more commonly seen resting in the early mornings or evenings at their dens. In addition to raising their young in dens, Bat-Eared Foxes use self-dug dens for shelter from extreme temperatures and winds; they have a poor thermoregulation and like to sun themselves in the early mornings. The bat-eared fox’s name comes from its enormous ears, which can be up to 114 to 130 mm long. Besides the large ears, the bat-eared fox is set apart from other foxes by its unique dentition. It has more teeth than any other heterodont placental mammal with a total between 46 and 50 and with this phenomenal tooth row is a very well developed digastric muscle allowing snapping its jaws 3 times a second influencing the Bat Eared Fox to be primarily an insectivore although some vertebrates will be eaten as well.

Spotted Hyena’s have been very active on Topi Plains; feeding and competing with the resident lion prides. There is a large clan in the north Bila Shaka grasslands and with many cubs of varying ages; they have been feeding of zebra and Thompson Gazelles. There is another active clan on the east flank of Topi Plains; they have been competing with the Madomo lion pride.

hyena masai mara

White storks were seen in small flocks on the 14th of the month in the southern Bila Shaka grasslands and more again on Topi plains. Earlier on in the month a small flock of Abdims storks were seen in the Musiara Marsh although they did not stay long.

Lion

The Marsh Pride has six small cubs with them, two that are two months old belong to Lioness Charm and four that are six weeks old are with lioness Kito. The three older cubs are with Kabibi and Dada they are five months old and spend much time in the west and north marsh areas whilst Charm and Kito are in the east marsh and are very close to each other, Charms two cubs are in a fallen fig tree root whilst Kito and her cubs are literally across the ditch. The other two marsh lionesses were being seen in the Bila Shaka river bed area and have been hunting warthog and zebra.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

The six Paradise male coalition have been seen not that frequently this month, in the early hours of the 19th they obviously had killed a large male buffalo in the west marsh close to Governors Private camp; later that morning two larger and older males who we suspect had come over from the Trans Mara were seen chasing the six males off their kill. They did not return. The two males did not stay long either.

lions masai mara

Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

Two of the Musketeers Scar and Hunter have been in the southern areas of Paradise Plains; Scar is looking well apart from his right rear hip is looking more frail although on the 27th he was seen eating a male Impala which was likely killed by the paradise lionesses. Hunter was seen again on the 28th across the river upstream of the main crossing point. The cubs of the Paradise lionesses are likely to be sired by Scar.

Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

The Paradise Pride of six lionesses and many cubs of varying ages are split into two units; some have crossed into the Trans Mara while the others are south from the main crossing point. They have been feeding off buffalo and warthog. One of the younger breakaway lionesses has two cubs that are estimated at 4 months old. Three other lionesses have 9 cubs altogether of which three are 9 months old and five are over a year old, these lionesses and their cubs are now being seen on the open Paradise Plains. Two other lioness who are often together upstream of the main crossing points have 6 cubs together of which two are five months old and four are eight months old, these lion are often seen on the western fan of Rhino Ridge that leads down to the main crossing point on the Mara River.

Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

The Madomo Pride has 16 lion in all and have taken up residence near Malima Tatu, Madomo’s sister has three cubs that are estimated at 6 weeks old, the four, eight month old sub-adults of Madomo, Madomo’s daughter the pale lioness has two cubs that are four months old. This is an active pride and will take in the southern hill of Rhino Ridge as part of their home range. The two males Lipstick and Blackie are often being seen below Emartii Hill although they will join the pride when they are feeding. On the 19th they all were seen feeding off a large giraffe which they had killed in the early hours in the euclea thickets downstream of the Olare Orok River. 

lions masai mara

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 

Leopard

Siri the female leopard is often near the rocky kopjes on the Mara River; she has been seen more frequently and she is still nursing cubs that are estimated at 4 months old.

Saba of the Olare Orok and her two eight month old cubs a male and female are resident in the Olare Orok woodlands, she and her cubs have been feeding off Thompson Gazelles, Impala, Dik Dik, Scrub Hares and young topi, in fact leopards are resourceful feeders. The female sub-adult cub is very adventurous and will often be seen on her own.

Female leopard Romi’s young male has been seen twice this month once on the 14th below Governors private camp and again on the 21st in the bottom end of the Bila Shaka river bed.

leopard masai mara

A large male Leopard was seen on the 22nd in the Paradise Plains woodlands and we are thinking that it is Suja’s father, he was seen battling and tugging with Spotted Hyena over a young topi kill and sadly lost it to the Spotted Hyena before the leopard could take it up a tree and out of reach. This is the same hyena clan that has competed with the Paradise lionesses and somehow will not harass the six male lion coalition.

Siri the female leopard has cubs that are at least 4-5 months old, she has been seen a few times this month, below the rocky Kopjes leaping across a water course.

Cheetah

Malaika with her two cubs; a male and female who are now nine months old; and have been hunting avidly in the southern open plains of the east Talek River. Malaika has been feeding off the many Thompson Gazelles and impala, on the 24th she had killed a female Grants Gazelle and was lucky that she had eaten much of it before Spotted Hyena robbed her of her prey.

Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

Malaika’s young daughter has been seen earlier in the month hunting on Rhino Ridge and on the grassland plains below Emartii, and lately we understand she has moved into the conservancies in the north east of the reserve.

There are two male cheetah that have been seen on the east Musiara Plains and on the 12th they were seen resting under a Ballanites Aegyptiaca tree (desert date) later in the 15th they were seen to cross into the conservancies bordering the reserve.

Nora’ the single female has one 14 month old male cub; she has been residing east of the double crossing and latterly she had moved into the conservancies. Female cheetah with single sub-adult cubs will move from habitat to habitat looking for suitable prey and to keep as far away from the larger predators to avoid predator aggression.

Walking Safaris in North/East Masai land

The Lemek group ranch has received a little rain with three heavy storms this month. Grass levels have improved with the western plains certainly looking more refreshed.

There is a large breeding herd of Cape Buffalo on the Western Plains they have been here for much of the month. Giraffe were feeding off the Gardenia in the northern area close to the Mara River; this breeding herd of giraffe has been here for some time now with the Gardenia trees showing signs of heavy browsing.

A small herd of eland will also be seen on the east tern euclea thickets. Topi and wildebeest are present mainly on the eastern plains. Impala and Thompson Gazelles are in good numbers on the western and eastern plains. Black Backed Jackals have been active and have been feeding off impala fawns, two fawns have been seen taken, and Thomson Gazelle fawns suffer the same mortality rate when the ewes start giving birth.

Walking Safari Masai Mara

Photo courtesy of Dana Allen

Two male cheetah have been seen on the Western Plains and these two cheetah had come from the reserve between the 16th and 17th of the month. On the 21st they had moved into eastern plains and have been since actively hunting the many Thompson Gazelles.

There is a river bed that splits the two grassland plains and within the riverine woodlands the resident lion pride of four lionesses and three sub-adults had killed a Buffalo earlier on the month, they have lately moved north closer to the Mara River.

Patrick Reynolds, Governors Il Moran Camp Manager.

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