Game Reports

Masai Mara Game Report: August 2019

Weather and grasslands

Weather patterns have been cool and warm, with many overcast days, although some mornings have been clear and bright. Average morning temperatures were 15°C, whilst midday was 28°C and humidity between 45-51%. Rainfall has been very low at 22mm of which much of this rainfall fell in the last week of the month. There have been some very beautiful sunsets and sunrises in August.

August sunrise – photo credit Will Fortescue 

The Musiara Marsh has almost dried up again with the exception of the northern area that is watered by the small escarpment stream which is now also receding in flow rate; the centre marsh still has some deep pools although not flowing.  The Mara River has receded quite a lot and still surprisingly has had a reasonable flow considering the generally poor rainfall in the last four months.

On the plains

Serengeti Wildebeest and zebra

Large herds of the Serengeti and resident wildebeest were seen on the Musiara Marsh and grassland plains since the 12th of the month. In the early morning of the 23rd July, large herds of wildebeest had crossed from the west and were seen going East at the Kichwa crossing point – these wildebeest have since moved into the north Marsh and East Musiara plains areas.

Wildebeest and zebra crossing – photo credit Will Fortescue

On the 14th August at 4.30pm, two large herds of wildebeest and zebra had crossed the Mara River going from East to West at the main crossing and cul-de-sac points. We did see two wildebeest taken by the resident crocodile. On the 15th many more resident wildebeest and zebra were seen coming down from the north-east Masai land with large herds then being seen on north end of the Bila Shaka riverbed.

Wildebeest at Bila Shaka – photo credit Patrick Reynolds

At 4.45 pm on the 16th, an estimated 15-20,000 zebra and wildebeest again crossed at the cul-de-sac and main crossing points: All animals were going from East to West.  On the 19th August, we saw very dense concentrations of Serengeti and resident wildebeest in the Reserve from the South Bila Shaka, Topi and East Rhino Ridge Plains. Large herds had filed down during the course of the night when it’s cooler. In the early morning of the 21st the vastness of the open, short grass plains suddenly appeared smaller and frail due to the phenomenal mass movement of the migrating wildebeest.

Herds on the move from Malima Tatu towards Southern Topi Plains – photo credit Moses Manduku.

In late July and early August there were large numbers coming up from the southern Reserve. They had split into two arms; the left arm had moved into the Trans Mara by crossing the Mara River at Lookout Hill and they have now since crossed via the Kichwa crossing point and into the northern marsh and Musiara Plains. The right arm had swung north-east into the conservancies; this was a very dense movement and our guides suggested that they have now all moved out of the conservancies. On the 20th and 21st more zebra and Topi crossed from East to West at the cul-de-sac and main crossing points, and an estimated 600 animals crossed into the Trans Mara. Due to a little rain in the last week of August (which was heavier than on the Marsh) the wildebeest and zebra have stayed put on these open plains and circulated around. On the 29th August, at least one million wildebeest crossed the Mara River, which were headed from East to West – and this is thought to be the biggest crossing this season.

Other plains game

Elephant have really dispersed since the arrival of the wildebeest and are now scattered across most grassland areas of Musiara. Elephants crossing the Mara River at the BBC site is a frequent occurrence now, and there are still a few males that are in Musth. Elephant breeding herds crossing the Mara River can be seen on a daily basis at approximately midday; these elephants then cross back to the Trans Mara during the late evenings. They have been using this trail since millennia, and elephants have very good directional memories. Some of the Warburgia trees within the riverine woodlands are still fruiting which is very usual for this time of year.

Elephants crossing the Mara River at the BBC site – photo credit Moses Manduku

Giraffe are being seen throughout the Mara and there is no better sighting than a ‘tower of giraffe’ walking across the open plains skyline. An older dark male is often seen between the Governors’ camps.

A ‘tower of giraffe’ against a Mara sunset – photo credit Will Fortescue

As the Mara River level has gone down, hippos in their pods have become quite noisy and are mostly heard during the early morning and evening light. Male hippos can be seen grazing in the early mornings; many of these are older males who would need to tread carefully before backing into the river. A few hippos have been eaten by the resident lion prides in the past few months.

In most habitats throughout the Mara, one can see Impala breeding herds with fawns of varying age groups. Their feeding habitat are associated with Olive Baboons and more fawns are being seen taken by older dominant male Baboons quite frequently.

August through September is when warthogs start birthing; some sows have been seen on Topi Plains and Malima Tatu with young piglets and also within the camps. Warthogs have no fat reserves, therefore they have very poor thermoregulation and the piglets suffer from sudden cold temperatures. Before a warthog sow gives birth to a new litter, she will often chase away the previous litter she has been raising and will go into isolation for a while. These abandoned youngsters may join up with other solitary females for a short time before they go out on their own, or it is also not uncommon for a particular sow from the previous litter to stay back and assist in being a nanny to her mother’s new litter.

Topi and zebra are being seen in very large numbers; particularly the zebra as many of them have been filtering down from the north-east conservancies and have now crossed into the Trans Mara. Lion prides in the Bila Shaka and Topi Plains have been feeding well off zebra. Topi are more localised and are scattered in specific areas and Coke’s hartebeest are found in even smaller herds across the Mara.

Thomson Gazelles are seen interspersed within the zebra and wildebeest herds. The grass levels on Bila Shaka, Topi Plains, Double Crossing and Malima Tatu areas have been grazed down tremendously in the last week of August.

Two Oribi (a small antelope found in eastern, southern and western Africa) were seen in August. Both sightings (on the 5th and 7th), were on Rhino Ridge. The only sightings of Oribi in the last few years, have also been on Rhino Ridge. Bohor Reedbucks are also being seen in the west marsh and Paradise – both areas are good to see reedbuck.

The resident Bila Shaka Cape Buffalo herds are feeding on the east marsh grasslands and also the southern areas of the Bila Shaka. This breeding herd has latterly moved into the Paradise Plains areas as grass levels here are more suitable for a buffalos’ hard mouth. A few of the older, more solitary bulls have slowly been thinned out by the resident lion prides; two of the habituated bulls that could be seen near Governors Private Camp have been eaten.

Bull buffalo at Olare Orok – photo credit Patrick Reynolds

Spotted Hyenas are well spread out with some clans who are in large numbers and have been excessively active in preying upon the wildebeest herds – on a daily basis we have seen them feeding off yearling wildebeest. Two pairs of Black-Backed Jackals have pups which are estimated at three months old; the pups on the east Topi Plains are now quite habituated to photographers. Black-Backed Jackals are monogamous with the dog playing as much of a role as the bitch in rearing the young pups. These Black-Backed Jackals are omnivorous feeders and will hunt as well as being scavengers. Jackals may either scavenge from a carcass or avidly hunt larger prey such as Impala and Thomson Gazelle fawns – and they will normally hunt alone or in monogamous pairs. Their diet also includes reptiles and vegetation matter; the fruit of the Balanites aegyptiaca (Desert Dates) is regularly eaten by Black-Backed Jackals and porcupines.

We had two wildcat sightings in August; a record after a long time of seldom seeing them. Not easily come across are African wildcats, they are generally very nocturnal and shy. In the early morning hours of the 3rd by the windmill area of the north Marsh, a wildcat was seen stalking some rock Hyraxes. The second sighting was again in the early morning hours on the 6th near the BBC campsite on the riverine woodland verge; it was suspected to be hunting grass rats or cape hares which would be a large part of their diet. The Serval cat is larger and easier to see, particularly when grass levels are shorter.

Serval cat, the tallest of Africa’s ‘small cats’ – photo credit Will Fortescue

Larger Cats

Lion

Iconic Marsh Pride lioness Yaya and her two adult females have been hunting in the southern areas of the Bila Shaka and as far as Rhino Ridge. Their hunts have been very successful and we have seen them feeding off the many wildebeest and zebra that have been settling in the Musiara areas of late.

Lioness Spot still has her two sub-cubs (a male and female) which are now over one year old and are more often seen with lioness Little Red. Earlier in the month we were seeing them in the west marsh Byways but they have since moved into the Bila shaka areas. These four lions have been feeding off the resident buffalo and also the many zebra, wildebeest and warthog.

Lionesses Rembo, Kabibi, Dada and Kito and their five cubs have all been feeding off buffalo as their first choice; a buffalo provides more food to sustain their group and bringing down buffalo has become more of a possibility due to the combined strength of the four adult females. However, they too, are taking advantage of the surplus numbers of zebra and wildebeest that have filtered through in the last two weeks.

Rembo, Kito, Kabibi and Dada with cubs feeding on wildebeest kill – photo credit Moses Manduku

The Madomo/Ridge Pride has five adult lionesses and two 7-month-old cubs (a male and female), as well as seven very young cubs ranging between the ages of three months and two-months-old. Earlier on in the month, they had been residing on the east fan of Rhino Ridge, since then they have moved into the Emartii areas of Rhino Ridge due to the movement of zebra and wildebeest, which they have also been hunting on. The six-male lion coalition still controls much of the East Marsh, Bila Shaka and Topi Plains areas, they have sired the present cubs of the Marsh lionesses and Madomo/Ridge Prides.

Earlier on in the month three young males had come into the Marsh from the Trans Mara side, they had killed and partially eaten a buffalo before crossing back.

Leopard

The female leopard Saba of the Olare Orok is very habituated to vehicles and can often be seen with her last offspring, feeding off Impala and warthog. Both are being seen almost on a daily basis within the Olare Orok riverine woodlands.

Female leopard Romi is often seen on her own; she has two cubs who are nearly a year old now and they have also been seen within the riverine woodlands close to the old BBC campsite. She was being seen frequently in the late afternoon game drives earlier on in the month and it is not uncommon to see her resting up on a dead Warburgia tree trunk while the sun was setting in between the Governors’ line of camps.

Romi – photo credit Moses Manduku 

The female leopard Bahati and her two 7-month-old cubs of the Talek River Area is often found in the riverine woodlands that skirt the lower Talek River. A male leopard known as Sujaa has again been seen hunting wildebeest at the cul-de-sac or Kaburu River crossing areas; particularly during the actual crossings, he is not an uncommon visitor.

Leopard sighting near Governors’ Camp – photo credit Will Fortescue

Cheetah

The coalition of five male cheetahs, who are also known as the Fast Five or Tano Bora, were last seen by us in the southern Reserve. Earlier on in the month, they had traveled as far as the Hammerkop and Lookout Hill grassland plains; latterly they have been hunting and residing in the Olare Orok and Motorogi conservancies. While being in the Ongata Ronkai depression, they were frequently sighted either hunting and eating yearling wildebeest and Thomson Gazelles or resting up during the heat of the day. On the 10th and 12th they were seen on Burangat Plains hunting yearling wildebeest; they were successful on the 12th in taking down a young wildebeest and ate most of it before being arrested by Spotted Hyena. There is a very interesting story about male cheetah coalitions in general, but with a strong focus on these five males, who have formed the biggest coalition in the Mara. Brotherhood of Strangers is a fascinating read, written by Dr. Elena Chelysheva of the Mara Meru Cheetah Project, which explains how male cheetah create alliances, pooling their mental and physical abilities, in order to face the challenges of life in the Mara.

Tano Bora, the Mara’s largest cheetah coalition – photo credit Will Fortescue

Individual male and female cheetahs are both being seen within the northern and southern Reserve, the Double-Crossing areas and also the southern Burangat Plains have been good places to see them. Earlier on in August, an active young female was seen hunting Thomson Gazelles on the upper reaches of the Olare Orok southern plains.Imani the female cheetah who has three cubs estimated at 15-months-old has been hunting and feeding off Thomson gazelles in the southern Reserve around the Hamerkop and Ongata Ronkai area. She is a very active mother and will frequently be seen by our guests out on game drives.

Cheetah numbers are sadly on the decline worldwide and so for those of you who are travelling to any of our Mara camps soon, please note that is is possible to request a cheetah focused game drive and/or presentation on cheetah numbers in the Mara by Dr. Elena Chelysheva, for which there is a donation requested, please enquire when making your booking.

Masai Mara Game Report by Patrick Reynolds, Manager at Governors’ Il Moran Camp.

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