The weather and grasslands
This month has been warm and humid again, although the last two weeks we have had good and relatively clear weather. Strong northeasterly winds had picked up in the latter days of the month. Total rainfall was 95 mm with 75 mm being received in the first week: In the evening of the 26th we received a further 10 mm of rain. Grasses are still long with many areas now showing signs of slowly drying up; the grass levels on the open grasslands by Malima Tatu and Topi Plains are now short from ungulate pressure although many of the vehicle tracks have been damaged by the persistent rainfall over the last three months. By mid February, morning temperatures had cooled down allowing for some very nice pastel dawns and sunrises. Humidity levels were still on the high side. The Warburgia trees are still fruiting and the Diospyros Abyssinica trees had lost their flowers by the middle of the month. The marsh water levels have receded and eased up with the Calvert now dry of excess water flowing around it. The Mara River level is holding: Earlier on in the month the level had come up again for a short time and much of the riverbank has eroded due to high water levels.
Photo credit Will Fortescue
On the grassland plains
With grass levels being high, elephant in mixed breeding family herds have been feeding within most areas of the open plains and the Musiara Marsh; there are many calves of varying age groups in these herds. Also many older dominant bulls that are in Musth, some with very large tusks, have come from the Trans Mara side and have been clashing with each other. With this there has been many sightings of elephants mating. A cow elephant was seen giving birth at 5.30 am on the 8th of February near the Il Moran camp manager’s house. Elephant cows tend to give birth at night or in the early hours of the morning.
Elephants in February – photo credit Will Fortescue
As the Warburgia trees are still fruiting, we have had many elephant passing through camp – as well as Olive baboons who love the fruit too.
‘Backlite’ baboon photographed at Il Moran by our guest Dave Roberts
Impala breeding herds are frequent residents within the woodland verges and large troops of Olive baboons continually parade the pathway and tracks in the early mornings. Scattered herds of Topi will be seen within the west and east marsh Grasslands; larger concentrations tend to be seen on the shorter grass plains of Topi and Malima Tatu. Coke’s Hartebeest are in small herd numbers – a herd of 8 females are resident in the lower Bila Shaka area.
Male and female impala in February – photo credit Will Fortescue
Eland are being seen in small breeding herds or a by way of a large bull on his own. They are particularly seen on the short grass plains; young grass shoots are grazed by Eland although they are predominantly ‘browsers’ as well as ‘grazers’. In the Olare Orok River thickets, a young male Bush buck was seen during mid month; this is a species that is in the same tribe as Eland and is often very elusive. Water buck are commonly seen in the long grass areas between the Musiara Marsh and the riverine forests surrounding.
Waterbuck as seen just outside Governors’ camps – photo credit Will Fortescue
The Common Zebra are more often seen in scattered herds on the short grass plains in the southern areas of the Reserve and likewise with the wildebeest, more Zebra have been coming down from the Olare Orok Conservancy and concentrating in large numbers in the Kaboso area of the Olare Orok. Giraffe in breeding herds or ‘bachelor herds’ are also commonly seen within the periphery of the riverine woodlands of the Mara River and also on the Olare Orok River.
Masai Giraffe in February – photo credit Will Fortescue
Cape Buffalo are in good condition with the long grass that is available; there is a big herd north of the Bila Shaka and as far as the east fan of Rhino Ridge. Some of the buffalo cows have been taken by the resident lion prides and the young calves by Spotted Hyenas – who are also very active predators and live in large clan sizes. Resident old bull Buffalos are still close by to the camps; these bachelor bulls are often seen keeping cool by wallowing in the residual water or mud holes and the occasional solitary bull also gets taken by the resident lion.
Photo credits – Will Fortescue
Hippo calves are in abundance at this time of year; two young calves can be seen at Il Moran and three on the Mara River bend near the Toyota site. On the 19th February, a hippo died of natural causes near the hippo pool – it would seem that quite a few male hippos have died naturally recently. We have lately spotted crocodile feeding activity in the Musiara marsh – it is not often seen here as much as in the Mara River itself. In the evening of the 14th a large crocodile snatched a warthog that had come down to drink.
The social Banded and Dwarf mongooses are residents within the camp grounds along with the many resident warthogs; a mutualistic interaction is often associated with warthogs and banded mongooses.
Banded Mongoose – photo credit Will Fortescue
Breeding Village Weavers can be seen in their plenty around most water sources – in particular, a good place to see them is at the Mara River crossing to Little Governors’ Camp. The Cinnamon-Chested Bee-eaters are in small flocks at the moment and some can be seen nesting in the river banks. One White-headed vulture was seen on the 16th downstream of the Mara River near the Serena pump house and was perched on a Boscia tree; unfortunately this carrion raptor is seldom seen now.
A male Village Weaver building a new nest – photo credit Will Fortescue
On the open Mara plains one can see the Kori Bustard, which is Africa’s largest flying native bird. Due to its significant weight, this is ground-dwelling bird and an opportunistic omnivore. The males can be up to twice as heavy as the females and will attempt to breed with as many females as possible – yet they take no responsibility in raising the young!
Kori Bustard – photo credit Will Fortescue
Larger Cats of the Mara
The Marsh Pride lionesses Kabibi, Dada, Kito, Rembo and their five sub-adult cubs are being seen in the Bila Shaka and East Marsh areas hunting Topi, Warthog, and Buffalo. This pride killed two Topi on the 17th which were robbed by a large clan of spotted Hyena.
Little Red, Spot and the two 15 month-old sub-adult cubs (a male and female) are also being seen in the lower Bila Shaka, East and west marsh grasslands. On 9th they were seen eating warthogs which they had pulled out from their bolt-hole; later on another young nomadic male lion with an upper lip growth had taken their kill. On the 19th a cow buffalo was killed and eaten, and later the following morning, it was also taken by Hyena.
Marsh Pride male lion Chongo is in the Bila Shaka and Rhino Ridge areas and is often seen with Little Red and Spot; the current offspring of lioness Spot was sired by Chongo. In the early morning of the 21st, four of the ‘Six Marsh Males’, Chongo, Koshoke, Kibogoyo & Kiok, had killed a hippo in the lower Bila shaka river bed and were seen eating the remains later that morning.
Four of the Six Marsh Males seen in February – photo credit Moses Manduku
On the same afternoon, lionesses Spot, Little Red and the two sub-adult cubs brought down a cow buffalo in the East marsh grasslands; it was clear that this buffalo had suffered from a large hematoma on her knee for a number of years and was therefore an easy target. On hearing the commotion, Chongo quickly joined them to assist in bringing down the Buffalo; while the lionesses were suffocation the buffalo, Chongo started eating from the mid section of the rear. On the 24th another hippo had died near Private Camp and Chongo was seen eating the carcass.
Little Red, Spot and sub adult cubs with Chongo and buffalo kill
– photo credit Moses Manduku
Lioness Yaya and her two adult daughters, Pamoja and Nusu Mukia have moved up from the lower Bila Shaka river bed and will be seen now in the Kisingera and North Marsh; it seems that there is friction between them and the other female members of the Marsh Pride. They have been hunting Topi, warthog and zebra that have come down from the Mara North Conservancy.
The Topi/Madomo lion pride (they are now 16 members in total with 5 adult lionesses) are all being seen on Topi Plains, south Bila shaka, and the Silanga area. They have been hunting Buffalo, Topi, Warthog, and Zebra. On the 18th they killed a Topi on Topi Plains and ate it all. On the morning of the 23rd, they had killed and were eating a buffalo near the Ngorbop River. Also with this pride are three young adult lionesses, one lioness is with a longer neck. Male lion Doa likes to be with this pride and was seen mating with one of the females in February.
Doa mating with Topi Pride female – photo credit Moses Manduku
Male lion Baba Yao has not been seen since January and suspected to be keeping a low profile if he is injured or he may have been killed by other males of the Talek River areas.
Two new males (estimated at eight years old) came down from Mara North and are being seen hunting in the East Marsh grasslands; on the 13th they had killed and eaten a young hippo. When four of the Marsh males arrived together these two new males were hastily chased out of the area. Another new male was seen to have come from the Trans Mara and has a noticeable growth on his upper lip; he has been seen hunting near the airstrip areas, the west marsh and near Governors’ Private Camp.
The Double-Crossing Pride (also known as the Moniko breakaway lion pride) is a large pride of lion and were being between the Olare Orok and Ngiatiak Rivers in February. The pride consists of five adult lionesses and 13 cubs of varying ages; eight cubs are now sub-adults at thirteen months old, and five of them are just three months old. They are also very active and have been feeding on Topi, zebra and buffalo. On the morning of the 21st, they were seen eating the remains of a large bull buffalo killed the evening before and on the 26th they had killed a Topi near the Olare Orok side of the Double Crossing.
On the 27th five lionesses of the Paradise Pride were seen near the Musiara airstrip. These lionesses have come up from Paradise Plains; due to many springs coming out from the west fan of Rhino Ridge, the grass leaves are long and coarse and therefore ungulate movement is slim.
A young female leopard (daughter of female leopard Romi), is being seen also near the BBC campsite and has been sighted as far as the Kisingera area of the north marsh. Romi herself is also being seen near BBC campsite and Il Moran Camp, sniffing out the resident camp warthogs – on the 12th February she was seen taking a young female sow by the carwash area. She is also being seen hunting and residing as far as Kisingera like her daughter.
The female leopard Kaboso and her one five-month-old cub on Olare Orok were seen frequently in February once the weather had eased up.
Male leopard sighting in February – photo credit Will Fortescue
The five male cheetah coalition has been seen hunting in the Ol Kiombo area and south of the Ngiatiak. A young lone female is often being seen in East Marsh and Top Plains and as far as Mara North Conservancy. Recently another female cheetah is being seen in the Olare Orok Conservancy.
Serval cats have not been sighted often due to the long grass, but on the 13th and 16th we spotted a male hunting in the lower Bila Shaka grasslands.
By Patrick Reynolds, Manager at Governors’ Il Moran Camp.
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