Weather and grasslands
Temperatures have been warm and humid. This has been a relatively wet December with a total of 256mm of rain, of which the heaviest pattern of this wet weather was from the 3rd until the 26th of the month. Other areas within the Mara ecosystem were receiving heavier rainfall patterns and although weather patterns were often quite localised, there were continual rain showers on the 19th and again on the 26th when we received 48mm. The relative humidity was high and averaged between 96 – 100%. Temperatures in the early mornings were 15°c and midday 23°c.
The Musiara Marsh has filled up again with water often flowing across the main road to the airstrip after the culvert; the center marsh level had expanded as far as 200 meters beyond the reed bed verges. The Mara River has been high for most of the month – during one week the river level was actually much higher than it has been for the last 10 years! All major tributaries have been full of water this month; the Olare Orok has flooded as well as the Ngiatiak; both these rivers being high has caused the double-crossing to be off limits for some time. The Olare Orok flows into the Ngiatiak, which in turn flows into the Talek River and eventually into the Mara River.
On the plains:
Game sightings have been rewarding for the most part of December, although many species have dispersed causing slow movements for the game drives due to excess water and muddy conditions. The perennial grasses on the open plains are green and growing and the areas are looking very fresh. Lion sightings have been more successful despite the wet conditions – we are seeing more of the bigger prides feeding on larger kill such as buffalo and hippo.
The Riverline Pride feeding on hippo in the Mara Triangle – photo credit Moses Manduku
Topi and their young calves, which are between 1-3 months, are well dispersed; latterly females and calves are being seen in good numbers in the west marsh grasslands. Warthogs and piglets that are 3-4 months old are also widespread; at this time of year the resident lion prides feed off the resident Savannah warthogs.
Elephants come and go and are being seen in small breeding herds along with many young calves; due to the recent good rains, they are well spread out across the open plains and one particular herd visits the west marsh grasslands and moves in between the Governors’ camps. There are a few large elephant bulls that arrived into the west marsh in the last week of the month: of which two of them are in Musth.
Elephants enjoying the wet marsh areas – photo credit Moses Manduku
Giraffe breeding herds and a bachelor herd of male Giraffes were being seen in the west marsh riverine woodlands, while two older and more dominant males are habituating the campgrounds. Defassa waterbuck, Impala and a large troop of Olive Baboons with many young infants are resident species within the riverine woodlands; Impala will also be seen in more open habitat at this time of year.
The Bila Shaka Cape Buffalo breeding herd is also being seen in the East Marsh and Bila Shaka river bed – there are many young calves in this herd. The spotted hyena clan which reside around the Musiara Airstrip, have been hunting the small young buffalo calves from this herd and for some unknown reason these buffalo calves are very small and look hunched up. A dozen or so large sedentary bull Buffalo frequent the west marsh grasslands; often they are seen enjoying a good wallow in the thick mud from the drainage ditches off the main roads.
Spotted hyenas are also well spread out and many are being seen in the conservancies. The two active clans are the ‘airstrip clan’ and the Topi Plains clan – they have recently eaten two young Thomson’s fawns – one the 23rd and again on the 24th of the month.
Spotted hyena of the ‘airstrip clan’ near Governors’ Camps – photo credit Moses Manduku
Small herds of Zebra, small herds of Eland and loose herds of female Thomson Gazelles will be seen in the north marsh and northern conservancies, with Malima Tatu and Topi Plains also being good areas to see them.
Photo credit Moses Manduku
Black-Backed Jackals will be seen in monogamous pairs as they strut across the open plains in search of the ever-present Cape Hare or Thomson Gazelle fawns. In the early morning of the 16th a Black-Backed Jackal pair had killed and eaten a Cape Hare in the west Marsh. One Side-striped Jackal was seen on the south Bila Shaka plains earlier on in the month.
Caspian plovers in quite a large flock are being seen near the Culvert area of the East marsh grasslands – they were in non-breeding plumage, while at Little Governors’ Camp, the Cattle Egrets, Little Egrets and Rufus bellied herons are all in breeding plumage. Within the surrounds of the riverine woodlands of the Mara River, Ovambo Sparrow hawks are being seen and on the open plains, Bateleur eagles and Grey Kestrels have also been spotted. Adam’s storks and Painted Snipe can be seen within the Musiara marsh byways.
A lovely array of butterflies was suddenly seen during the middle of the month – around late morning many species appeared to congregate on the Vangueria Apiculata trees within the Governors’ camps. Commonly seen butterflies are the citrus swallowtail, the green-banded swallowtail, the narrow green-banded swallowtail, the Mocker Swallowtail, the Nobel Swallowtail, the blue-spotted Charaxes, the Eared Commodore and the African blue tiger.
Marsh lioness Yaya and her two adult females Pamoja and Nusu Mkia are being seen recently around Paradise area after moving up from Rhino Ridge and the Bilashaka areas. Pamoja’s two cubs have unfortunately not been seen by any of the Governors’ guides for over a month now. It is quite likely that they ran into some trouble involving buffalo, hyena or another adult male lion that might have been trying to bring Pamoja back into oestrus. Very sadly, more than half of all African lion cubs do not make it past their first year.
Yaya in December, Marsh Pride lioness – photo credit Moses Manduku
The other Marsh lionesses Rembo, Kabibi, Dada and Kito and their five cubs of varying ages (three of the cubs are now over one year old and two are 11 months old), had moved into the top areas of Paradise Plains at the beginning of the month and recently they have moved back into the Bila Shaka river bed.
The male lion coalition known as the six Marsh Boys have spread themselves out between Rhino Ridge, Topi Plains and Bila Shaka; they cover the Marsh, Topi Plains and Ridge Pride lionesses. Zebra, Topi, and warthog have been supporting these lions.
Kibogoyo, part of the Six Marsh Boys, on the lookout for Topi Plains females
– photo credit Moses Manduku
Topi Plains females and their youngsters – photo credit Moses Manduku
The Madomo/Ridge Pride are still residing and hunting on the higher reaches of Topi Plains and East of Rhino Ridge on Emartii Hill – they have latterly been seen hunting in the Krie riverbed area of Topi Plains. There are Topi and Zebra below Emartii Hill and across Topi Plains; this pride can be seen feeding on the plains game of these short grass open plains, particularly in the early hours of the morning. Before mid-morning each day, they have usually moved into the higher reaches of Rhino Ridge and Topi Plains. Latterly, this pride have been mainly feeding off Topi and in the early hours of the 24th, four of the Ridge Pride lionesses had killed a Topi. In the morning of the 26th another new male lion from the conservancies in the northeast came across the Ridge Pride and killed one of the seven cubs.
The Moniko ‘breakaway’ lion pride from the Olare Orok Conservancy are being seen hunting and habituating in the Double Crossing area on the Ngiatiak side. They broke away from the main Moniko pride in September 2017. They are five lionesses altogether with 13 cubs that range between 10 months old and two months old.There are a further six males and two females who are all part of this pride – they are all about two years old. In January 2018, four of these cubs were suffering from sarcoptic mange and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s mobile veterinary clinic treated them. This pride has been feeding off Eland and Zebra in the area.
The two breeding males Olbarnoti (meaning Youngster) and Lolparpit (meaning ‘big hair’) are also being seen regularly – they are from the Enkoyonai Pride which is found in between the Double Crossing area. On the 5th December our guide saw Lolparpit mating with one of the females from the Topi Pride, with Olbarnoti watching close by. Physically, Olbarnoti is the fitter of the two lions but it is thought that Lolparpit attracts more females due to his heavier, darker mane.
Lolparpit and Topi Pride female – photo credit Moses Manduku
Olbarnoti (Enkoyonai Pride) – photo credit Moses Manduku
The female leopard Saba, of the Kaboso area on the Olare Orok River and her one three-month-old cub, were earlier were being seen earlier in the month, but with the high rainfall of late, she is seldom encountered. The resident large male leopard is also being seen on the lower reaches of the Olare Orok River.
Kaboso leopard – photo credit Moses Manduku
Romi the female Leopard has been seen more frequently this month: on the 16th December at 7.00 pm, she took a warthog from the Il Moran car park! She is often seen along the riverine woodlands and in the early hours of the 25th she took another warthog from Il Moran. The female leopard Bahati and her two 12-month-old cubs of the Talek River areas have been seen by other camp guides; due to high water levels our vehicle movements into these areas has been difficult.
Latterly another female leopard in the lower Bila Shaka was seen late in the afternoon on the 13th December, with an impala ewe up a Warburgia tree. There is a large male leopard that is well known and he often hunts within this female’s home range – our guides saw him in the first week of the month.
Tano Bora, the five male cheetah coalition has been seen in the conservancies and also across the south side of the Double Crossing.
A single female has been seen often on the north fan of Bila Shaka and Rhino Ridge. On the 8th and 11th she was seen hunting on the lower Topi Plains – she has been feeding off Thomson Gazelles.
The lone male cheetah is again being seen hunting Thomson Gazelles on the grasslands on the Eastern rocky areas of Rhino Ridge and below Emartii Hill – there are good numbers of Thompson gazelles and Topi fawns here.
Imani the female cheetah has been sighted in the Olare Orok Conservancy a few times in December while the female cheetah Selenkai who has three sub-adult cubs of 18 months old are being seen by other camp guides in the Olare Orok Conservancy and Naibosho Conservancy.
The female cheetah Siligi (meaning ‘Hope’) who had seven cubs (approximately three months old) sadly lost one. They are still being seen on the Agama plains south of Sarova and the Sekenani gate area – she was last seen heading north of the Sekenani gate. Due to weather patterns and swollen rivers this month, our Governors’ guides have been unable to visit this area.
By Patrick Reynolds, Manager at Governors’ Il Moran Camp.