Weather and grasslands
January has been yet again a warm and humid month; although rainfall patterns have been localised and scattered we have had a few heavy showers with a total of 107.5mm received. Latterly, there have been some heavy mists in the early mornings, often giving rise to a warm day ahead. In the early hours on the morning of the 26th there were heavy rain showers of 44mm across most of the Mara regions. Humidity has been as high as 95-100% at times. Early morning temperatures are 16°C and with evening temperatures being low as 25°C. Sunrise is at 6.46am and sunset at 6.57pm. The Mara River has been high on more occasions this month although the water level did go down quite quickly. The Musiara Marsh is still full and somewhat resembles the Okavango Delta in Botswana! Grass levels throughout the open grassland plains are long and lush green; many areas are still very saturated. The Warbugia trees are fruiting heavily, which has drawn in many Elephant and Olive Baboons.
Rising water levels – our Landcruisers are in their element! Photo credit Dave Richards
A male lion jumps a section of the Marsh waterway – photo credit Jo Plisnier
On the plains:
Large numbers of elephant have come through into the Reserve since mid-December 2019. They are scattered about in small breeding herds throughout the long grass plains and within the Musiara and Marsh regions. During early mornings with a low heavy mist, the elephant look like dark ghosts floating through a cloud! Throughout all of Bila Shaka, northern fan of Rhino Ridge, East marsh grasslands and Paradise Plains, an estimated 250 elephant can be seen scattered in selective breeding herds with calves of varying ages.
Elephant breeding herds in the Reserve – photo credit Moses Manduku
Earlier on in the month (on the 11th), a female elephant had died near the southern Krie river bed area of Topi Plains and although we are not sure of the reason it died, the resident Ridge/Topi lion pride and the Marsh Pride male, Baba Yao, fed off it for days.
Elephant carcass and Topi Pride – photo credit Dave Richards
Elephants love water and with many waterholes about, they cannot resist bathing whilst throwing muddy water and mud over their bodies. There have been many recent sightings of elephants bathing and the southern Bila Shaka and Paradise Plains have been good places to watch this activity. They still cross the Mara River and in the late evening of the 14th, a herd of 14 elephants crossed at the BBC campsite – the two young calves were held close by the two adult females due to the high-water level. On the morning of the 19th a young elephant calf was seen dead on a sandbank a few kilometers downstream of the BBC crossing; it is suggested that the rising water level of the 19th was perhaps too high and fast flowing and the calf was probably swept away from its mother. The Warbugia trees are still with fruit which has drawn many elephant into the camps. Our infrared camera trail of the 26th January shows two separate families and a nomad male making their way directly through Governors’ Camp! You can see the video HERE. There have also been sightings of elephant mating; with this there are a few older bull elephants who are in Musth and have been circulating breeding herds since December.
Elephants enjoying the wet January weather – photo credit Moses Manduku
There are a few small breeding herds of Coke’s Hartebeest with young calves at 4-5-months old, seen within the Musiara regions; one in the south-East marsh grassland and the other on Topi Plains. It is unfortunate that they are not as numerous as their cousins, the Topi, who are being seen in larger, more scattered herds, on Topi plains, Malima Tatu and the Olare Orok grassland areas with their 4-month-old calves.
Coke’s Hartebeest in the Musiara environs – photo credit Dave Richards
Warthogs and their 3-4 month old piglets will be seen scattered across most of the open plains; all of the Governors’ Mara camp’s grounds support many warthogs families; these camp-habituated warthogs do not get preyed on as often as the outside warthogs, although lion and leopard do come through looking for them. In the evening of the 7th at 7.00pm the female leopardess, Romi, came into Il Moran Camp looking for warthogs and went right under the bar deck with all guests seeing her doing so! Naturally however, the commotion of people running back and forth on the wooden deck caused the leopard to slink away quickly.
Impala’s are being seen in large breeding herds within the riverine woodlands – there are many fawns about of varying ages. The very young fawns often get taken by Black-Backed Jackals and also male Olive Baboons – in the early morning of the 16th a male Baboon snatched a young fawn near the BBC campsite area. The riverine troop of Olive Baboons is a very large troop now and exceeds over 150 members. There are many infants in this troop, and the new, very young, infants are black in color and will start to ride Jockey-style on their mother’s backs when they are between 6 weeks and two months old.
Defassa Waterbuck in small breeding herds and also male satellite herds, will be seen in the west marsh and riverine woodland areas. Small herds of Eland will also be seen within the riverine open plains. Bohor’s Reedbuck have also been seen in the west marsh reed bed verges and on the Bila Shaka and airstrip riverbed. However, now that the grass levels are longer they can be more difficult to see.
Thomson and Grant’s gazelles are well spread out; particularly the Thomson’s and since the recent rains they do not like the long grass and will source areas of shorter grass on the open plains. There are also some young Thomson fawns being seen about. Thomson ewes have a gestation of 5-5½ months, therefore they are able to have two fawns a year! In the first six hours of the fawn’s life, it will move and rest with its mother, but eventually spends more time away from its mother by hiding low in the grass. The mother stays in the vicinity of the fawn and returns to nurse it daily. The dominant predators of these young Tommie fawns are Black-Backed Jackals who will often work in monogamous pairs. Also predatory to them are cheetah and male Olive Baboons. On the 12th and 23rd two Tommie fawns were taken by Black-Backed Jackal pairs on Topi Plains.
The Bila Shaka Cape Buffalo herd is being seen within the Bila Shaka south and north grassland plains. The resident Marsh Pride of lion have been feeding off this herd and in the evening of the 21st a buffalo cow was taken north of the Musiara airstrip by them. On the morning of the 22nd there was much activity seen between a large clan of spotted hyenas and the Marsh Pride females Kito, Rembo, Dada and Kabibi. Since there was no male lion present, the Hyena had taken the upper hand.
Large clans of Spotted Hyena are constantly active on Topi Plains and Bila Shaka; clan sizes here are in the region of 50 members and above. These numbers of Spotted Hyenas can pose a serious threat to the resident lion prides, particularly if the resident male lion is not in the immediate vicinity.
White-tailed Mongooses often on their own or in pairs, have been seen between the campgrounds with late evenings being good times to see them as they are nocturnal in their feeding habits. The dwarf and banded Mongooses are more ‘diurnal feeders’ and will move and hunt prey in troops. Unlike many other mongoose species, the banded mongoose are very social animals and live in packs that average around 10 to 20 individuals, but can have as many as 40 individuals! At Governors’ Camp, one can witness a symbiotic relationship between Banded Mongoose and warthog, which is rarely documented anywhere else in the world. While it’s known that this relationship exists, in order to witness it, both species need to be unafraid of humans. Due to our longterm presence in the Mara, both these species have become resident in the camp and guests can quite often observe their grooming behaviour from a very close distance.
Banded mongoose are very social animals – photo credit Dave Richards
A symbiotic relationship between warthog and banded mongoose – photo credit Alisa Bowen
Masai Giraffes are also being seen spread out since the wet weather although male herds and older males will pass through the west marsh wooded areas, while breeding herds of females and calves will be seen further out of the Reserve. Weaver birds have been active, with the Village Weavers being seen bathing and chattering in large numbers mainly in the reeds of the outlying water holes.
Village Weavers building their nests over water sources – photo credit Moses Manduku
Nile Monitor Lizards are also being seen at these water holes and also near the marsh; they prefer to stay around a regular water source. Sometimes female Nile Monitors will lay their eggs in termite mounds; the female tears open the nest (particularly in the rainy season when the walls are soft), and deposit up to 60 soft-shelled eggs without attempting to cover them. The termite colony will think of this intrusion as an invasion and they will quickly cover it up, which incubates the eggs for the Monitor Lizard. Inside the termite nest, temperatures vary between 30-31 degrees – which is very much the same incubation temperature required for the Nile monitor’s eggs.
There is still a myriad of butterflies with the riverine woodlands and within the campgrounds in both December and January there was a very good, colourful selection of them. The best time to see them is in the late mornings and early afternoons particularly. At Governors’ Camp there is a very beautiful ‘butterfly garden’ which attracts all the following varieties: Citrus Swallowtail, the Green-banded swallowtail, Narrow green-banded swallowtail, the Mocker Swallowtail, Nobel Swallowtail, the Blue-Spotted Charaxes, the Eared Commodore and the African Blue Tiger.
A myriad of butterfly species in January – photo credit Dave Richards
Crested cranes have four chicks near Bila Shaka; also Egyptian Geese have been seen with thirteen chicks near the East marsh.
Marsh lioness Yaya and her two adult females, Pamoja and Nusu Mkia, are in the west Musiara marsh and have been here for most of January. All three were seen very close to Governors’ Camp, stalking an unsuspecting male warthog who could not see them for the long grass. Pamoja took the lead in this particular ambush and chased the warthog right across the airstrip road, directly in front of guests who had just arrived in the Mara. Quite a sighting for our visitors!
Pamojoa, Nusu Mkia and Yaya with warthog kill at Governors’ Camp – photo credit Moses Manduku
The other Marsh Pride females, Rembo, Kabibi, Dada and Kito and their five cubs of varying ages, have been hunting in the north Bila Shaka and East marsh grasslands. They have been feeding off warthogs and mostly the resident Buffalo, which they are able to take down due to their large group size. On the 21st they had killed a buffalo in the East marsh grasslands and were still feeding off the remains the following day, until they were pushed away by large clan of Spotted Hyena. Unfortunately, the hyena had the upper hand (there were over 50 of them) and they aggressively chased the lions away.
Marsh Pride females: Dada, Kito Rembo and Kabibi – photo credit Moses Manduku
Four of their five cubs – photo credit Moses Manduku
The six Marsh Males have spread themselves out between Rhino Ridge, Topi Plains and Bila Shaka. They continue to ‘cover’ the Marsh and Ridge Pride lionesses. Zebra, Topi, and warthog have been supporting this coalition of dominant males.
Two new lionesses are being seen latterly almost on a daily basis – they have come down from the double gorge area in the Mara North Conservancy and they are often spotted near the Little Governors’ Camp river crossing and the Lake Nakuru salt flats of the west marsh. These two lionesses are likely to be the offspring from lioness Charm who left the Musiara East Marsh in August 2017 and they would be two and a half years old now. We have seen them mating with two big males from the Oloololo (Siria) Escarpment area in the Trans-Mara Conservancy. Generally speaking, lionesses will often try to return to their natal birth place and these two lionesses would have been born in the East Marsh and Bila Shaka areas, if they are indeed Charm’s offspring.
The Topi Plains Pride, which are five lionesses and two 12-month-old cubs (a male and female) and six 8-month-old cubs, are still residing and hunting on the higher reaches of Topi Plains and Malima Tatu where they have been hunting Topi and zebra. On the late afternoon of the 11th a female elephant had died of unknown causes close to the Krie riverbed area of Topi Plains and this pride of lion and the male lion Baba Yao continued to feed off it for a number of days.
The female leopard Saba of the Kaboso area on the Olare Orok River and her one four-month-old cub have both been seen on a few occasions in the latter days of the month. Earlier on, the grassland areas surrounding the Olare Orok were too wet and saturated to enter. The resident large male Leopard is also being seen on the lower reaches of the Olare Orok River and as far as the double-crossing on the Olare Orok side.
Romi the female leopard has been seen more frequently this month – twice trying to take more warthogs from Il Moran Camp! She has also been seen in the woodlands near Lake Nakuru where she has been feeding off Impala and the BBC camps site areas – also hunting resident warthogs and Impala. In late afternoons and early evenings, she can be seen resting on dead tree trunks or up on a limb of a tree within the wooded areas surrounding the Governors’ camps. With many species of trees in full foliage, sometimes sightings of any leopard can be obscured. Romi’s daughter, who is still unnamed, was seen mid-month close by to Little Governors’ Camp.
The female leopard Bahati and her two 13-month-old cubs of the Talek River areas have not been seen by our guides or guests since the wet weather has hindered vehicle movements – although there it’s reported that she has been seen actively hunting Impala and warthogs.
Tano Bora, the five-male cheetah coalition had latterly been seen in the southern Reserve and the Trans-Mara Conservancy and had crossed the Talek River in a gap when water level was low. In the last week they were also sighted near the Ol Keju Ronkai depression.
Imani the female cheetah has been sighted in the Mara North Conservancy. On the 19th she was nearly taken by the high-water level of the Olare Orok.
By Patrick Reynolds, Manager at Governors’ Il Moran Camp.