Weather and grasslands:
April has been a mixed month of hot and humid weather; rainfall patterns have been very scattered in the early stages of the month, with some very light showers in most areas of the Reserve. On the 25th April we had 28mm of light rain that fell during the whole night: this rainfall has come from the west, and more light rain has since fallen from the same direction. Total rainfall for the month was 86.5mm. In comparison, in April 2018, we had 290 mm of rain which indicates a dry season that has been felt throughout. In the last days of March we had a huge deluge of rain, 54mm that came with a strong wind from the south west of the Reserve.
April in the Masai Mara – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
The Mara River has risen quite high recently although earlier on in the month, it had reduced to just a thin trickle of water. Meanwhile, downstream towards the southern reserve, it appeared to have almost stopped flowing completely. The marsh is also getting dry although the centre marsh byways have water. The north marsh spring still has flowing water, but this water quantity soon disperses and seeps quickly into the marsh reeds.
Mara River flowing after some rain in late April – photo credit Harrison Nampaso
Grass levels in some areas of the reserve are very low and dry; other grasslands are quite long and now drying out, and there are very few herbivores grazing here due to the dry stems. As a result of the scattered rainfall patterns, a green tinge has come through into the short grass plains. The Musiara grassland plains have reasonable grass levels and are still quite long in areas close to the Musiara Marsh itself.
On the plains:
Resident common zebra are still in large herds and scattered throughout the open plains. There was a good movement of zebra in March that had come from the north east conservancies. Grass levels have been grazed down due to the residency of various herbivore species but this is a good thing since much of the grass species need to be grazed down for regrowth. Some scattered showers have provided some greenery to these plains and this has brought on more Impala herds which are being seen spread across the open plains along with Thomson and Grant’s gazelles. There are few herds of resident wildebeest mainly on the short grass plains on the conservancies and within the Olare Orok area of the reserve, many of these small herds are males.
Large zebra herds can be seen on the open plains – photo credit Moses Manduku
Topi can be seen on the open plains in the Malima Tatu area, Topi Plains and also towards the Olare Orok grassland areas. The large movement towards the Olare Orok some days ago depleted the numbers of Topi that were on Topi Plains. Within the riverine woodlands along the main Mara River there are also some large breeding herds of Impala. Interestingly, near the BBC campsite area there are two ewes that have quite dark faces in a similar pattern to the black-faced Impala of sub Saharan Africa.
Many of the Elephants that were in small breeding herds have moved back into the Trans Mara Conservancy. A few individual elephant bulls have passed through and these are still in Musth for more than a month, the Asian bull elephant stays longer than a month while in Musth. During the dry spell, older elephants demonstrate to the young, how to extract salt from the ground, which they use to aid digestion.
In dry weather, older elephants will show the young how to extract salt – photo credit Moses Manduku
Hippos were stressed out earlier on in the month with many males seen fighting amongst one another and they are being more vocal due to the river level dwindling. With water levels getting very low, hippo pods were congregating into dense numbers. Sadly, a few young hippo calves have been caught up in this frenzy, and large dominant bulls have been known to kill young calves. Hippos reside in water, which is why their Greek name is Hippopotamus amphibious, which means the “river horse”. They will spend up to 14-16 hours a day submerged in rivers or other water sources to keep their massive bodies cool under the hot sun. When they do venture out of the water for a significant amount of time, hippos secrete a red-color substance to cool their hairless skin. The secretion is referred to as ‘blood-sweat’ or correctly termed Hipposudoric acid. Hippos appear graceful in water, good swimmers, and can hold their breath underwater for up to at least five minutes. Their eyes and nostrils are located high on their heads, which allows them to see and breathe while mostly submerged. Hippos will also bask on the river banks and sand bars, at the same time they secrete this oily red substance. The blood sweat is actually a skin moistener and perhaps a natural sun block and there’s the suggestion that it also provides protection against germs.
A hippo making its way back to the river in the early morning – photo credit Moses Manduku
The small herds of Grants’ gazelles that are resident within the marsh have moved closer to the marsh edge recently. One of the fawns was taken by a martial eagle earlier on the month in the west marsh grasslands; this phenomenon is not uncommon with the larger savannah eagles. The manager at Governors’ Camp, Harrison Nampaso, had reported and seen a large African rock python (another common predator of antelope) that was on the river’s edge, near the camp manager’s accommodation units!
The Masai Giraffe have been seen latterly between the camps as they browse off the shrubs within the riverine woodlands. One large breeding herd with calves of varying ages were also present – the calves are social amongst themselves and will form into crèches; this socialising between calves is probably the most social bonding they ever get since adult breeding herds can be well dispersed. It is said that the giraffe’s age can be found in its skin spots: the darker spots, the older the giraffe is said to be. No two giraffes have the same coat pattern, while a herd or group of giraffe is known as a ‘tower’. The so-called horns are actually formed from cartilaginous growths and through ossification are called ‘Ossicones’. These solid looking bone horns are then covered in skin. Also within the woodland verges and the marsh itself are Defassa waterbuck, which are daily residents. Eland in small breeding herds have been residing in the west marsh grasslands, and two larger dimorphic bulls were also being seen within the marsh environs.
Olive baboons are in large troop numbers with many infants being seen either riding ‘jockey style’ or slung beneath their mother’s belly. Interestingly enough, two male baboons were taken and killed by spotted Hyena; this phenomenon has been noticed on more than a few occasions. A red-tailed monkey is being seen at Governors’ Il Moran Camp – it is a single male and classed within the family Cercopithecidae which includes the Blue and Sykes monkeys. Sightings of the Red-tailed monkey are generally few and far between as they prefer forested areas compared to the savannah like plains of the Masai Mara. The few individuals that are around inhabit the riverine forest that lines our camps, following the winding banks of the Mara River.
A Red-tailed monkey stops by Il Moran to see what’s on the lunch menu – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
Warthogs and their young piglets are seen throughout the reserve. Sows live in ‘sounders’ and the males known as boars, live a more solitary life. Earlier on in the month, boars were mating with sows and we expect these sows to give birth to 1-7 piglets each: after a 5½ moths gestation, they will have their young in the months of August to September.
There are two large herds of Cape buffalo, one of which is latterly being seen in the east mash grasslands, of which many cows have calves. The Spotted hyena clans of the East Marsh have taken some of the young calves. The other large herd is based between the west fan of Rhino Ridge and Paradise Plains; these grasses here can support the hard-mouthed insulates that include buffalo. There are still a few of the resident old bull buffalo that reside close to the camps.
Spotted hyenas are still prevalent here in the reserve with the Marsh clan being very competitive with the resident Marsh Lion Pride. Earlier on in the month and also just latterly, two hyenas have been seen killing olive baboons, and on both occasions the baboons were males. Interesting to note that hyena have been seen to learn different strategies for eating alternate prey species.
Spotted hyena in the Marsh area – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
On the 26th of April, early in the morning, a serval cat had been seen with some very young kittens in the west marsh verges. The following morning, she was seen moving her two kittens from one grass bank to another grass thicket.
Nine of the Marsh Pride lionesses are being seen within the Bila Shaka riverbed area which is south-west of the Musiara Airstrip. Yaya was seen to have killed a zebra on the south bank of the Bila Shaka river bed earlier on in the month; she had struggled latterly before her two daughters (Pamoja and Nusu Mkia) rejoined her. Yaya has also been seen mating plenty with two of the six Marsh males – Baba Yao and Kibogoyo. And Pamoja has been very recently mating, with Koshoke – another of the six Marsh males.
Yaya mating with Kibogoyo despite a particularly heavy downpour – photo credit Moses Manduku
Yaya with one of two successful zebra kills in April – photo credit Moses Manduku
Lionesses Kito and Dada are also again residing and hunting in the Bila Shaka area. There are still five small cubs left in the Marsh Pride: three are to lionesses Kabibi, one to Kito and one to Rembo, these cubs are five and three months old. They have been feeding off the many zebra that have passed through into the East marsh Grasslands, and they have also preyed on Topi and Buffalo calves.
Always fun and games for Kito, Rembo and Kabibi and the cubs – photo credit Moses Manduku
Lioness Little Red frequents the Bila Shaka river too, bed but will keep her distance from Rembo, Kito, Kabibi and Dada and and their young cubs. Little Red is almost always seen together with lioness Spot, they are the daughters of original Marsh Pride lioness Siena. Spot has two cubs and she gets a lot of help from Little Red in raising them – it is hopeful that the two cubs will adopt this close behaviour and remain together well into adulthood.
Beautiful photo of Little Red minding Spot’s cubs – photo credit Moses Manduku
The coalition of the six Marsh males (Baba Yao, Kiok, Kibogoyo, Chongo, Doa and Koshoke) are still often being seen between the Bila Shaka area and Topi Plains. Dominant male Baba Yao was latterly seen above Topi Plains and Chongo is more commonly seen in the Bila Shaka area, while the other four are often at Kries river bed and tend to move between Olare Orok and Malima Tatu.
Dominant male of the Marsh Pride ‘Baba Yao’ – photo credit Moses Manduku
The Madomo Pride (also known as the Ridge Pride) has five lionesses and two four-month-old cubs. There are also two sub-adult lionesses in this pride. They are being seen hunting and residing below Emartii and on the west bank of the Olare Orok river bed. They will also hunt in upper areas of the Olare Orok River and Double Crossing areas. This pride has been feeding of the resident zebra and Topi.
The female leopard Saba (of the Olare Orok area) and her two young cubs at five months old are being seen regularly now by guests of Governors’. Earlier in the month she was seen south of the Olare Orok.
Romi the female leopard who has two cubs that are estimated at nine months old, has been seen between the BBC campsite area and Lake Nakuru area; she also likes to move downstream to the area around Governors’ Private Camp.
A unnamed female leopard was seen for some days in the southern Paradise Plains grasslands – she had been feeding off Thompson and grant gazelle fawns. Another female leopard is being seen on the Ngiatiak River upstream to the east of the Double Crossing, and she is also often seen within the sycamore fig trees that fringe the river banks.
The five male cheetah coalition have been seen recently on the north fan of Rhino Ridge and were hunting Topi here. They move around in large circles. On the 26th of April, they had moved into the Double Crossing area beneath Rhino ridge.
Male cheetah coalition – photo credit Will Fortescue
A single male and female cheetah have both been seen again on Rhino Ridge grasslands – the female we suspect was the one seen later on in the month, in the east marsh Grasslands. Our resident photographer for the moth of April, Alberto Beltramello, was lucky enough to photograph a female cheetah and her very young cub, right down at southern border with the Serengeti.
Female cheetah and cub sighting – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
Meanwhile, another female cheetah called Selenkai with her four sub-adult cubs estimated at ten months old, were seen latterly near the Geoffrey Road – they had killed a Thompson gazelle. She has also been frequenting the east side of the Murram pits – latterly she has been hunting on Topi Plains and on the Naibor Soit Plains. Selenkai is the daughter to Imani and she raised her cubs in the Naibosho area of the east Mara conservancy.
Mara Game Report by Patrick Reynolds, manager at Governors’ Il Moran Camp.