Weather and grasslands
This month of May the weather has been hot, dusty and humid; pastel sunrises would open the day. The rainfall patterns have been very scattered in the early stages of the month, with only two very light showers in first week of the month. A sudden burst of short heavy rain that came in from the west was had on the 24th. Total rainfall for the month was 28 mm, and the Trans Mara have received more rainfall than the Musiara and north-east conservancies.
Pastel sunrises in May – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
The Mara River has also started to drop drastically with the bedrock now being seen in some parts, while the Musiara Marsh has also started looking dry with the northern spring just flowing.
Mara River levels have subsided – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
Grass levels in some areas of the reserve are very low; other grasslands are still quite long. With grass stems looking dry, there are few herbivores grazing here. The green tinge that we had in April has now disappeared. A few larger Warburgia trees have fruit and the Crotons are also dropping their fruit in large quantities.
Low grass levels sufficing a mix of herbivores – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
On the plains:
General game species are well spread out with the East marsh plains and Topi Plains being generally quiet. The southern Bila Shaka plains have been grazed down to a low level.
Many of the large herds of common zebra have moved out and back into the short grass plains in the north-east conservancies as there are different grasses here due to soil texture. Some zebra have even crossed the river into the Trans Mara. The resident Wildebeest are also being seen on the short grass plains within the conservancies and eastern areas of the reserve. Thomson and Grant’s Gazelles are well spread out along with breeding herds of Impala; there is a bachelor herd of males close to Governors’ Camp. Within the breeding herd of Impala, there are many young fawns of varying ages which can be seen in ‘crèches’. The Impala have bred well this month despite the poor rainfall patterns. Large troops of Olive Baboons are also seen within the woodland verges and the roadside; there are many infants in this one particular troop that is between the camps. Warthogs with their piglets which are 8-9 months old are well spread out and in large numbers – the resident lion prides feed upon them frequently. Many warthogs have taken up residency within our camps for some time now, and it is not uncommon for lion to pass through the camps and feed on them. Three have been eaten this month within the camps; it is fair to say that when these warthogs become residents, they lose some of their alertness and become a little blasé about the relative safety and life that surrounds them.
Bohors Reedbuck who like to lie low, can be seen in the Bila Shaka area and within the longer grass areas of the Marsh verge. A male and three females are often seen in the east marsh close to the main culvert area. On the whole, the habitat for Reedbucks is a long grass area within alluvial depressions. With good weather conditions, alluvial floodplains fill up and Bohors Reedbuck can be seen in quite high densities. Their gestation is seven and a half months.
Hippo pod densities in the main river are converging again with low water levels prevailing; many of the insubordinate males are being forcibly moved out and chased away by older dominant bulls. They will often lay up in wooded areas close to the river and as the day moves on, they will slink back quickly in to the river until they are noticed. It is not uncommon to see solitary hippo out of water at this time of year – unfortunately many of these solitary younger or older males end up being eaten by the resident lion.
Densities of hippo pods are a frequent sight – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
Masai Giraffe are also being seen in the east marsh grasslands and woodlands; recently there has been one large herd of young male giraffe passing between the camps, and there are also the well-known older males who are feeding on the leaves of the Warburgia trees. These leaves are pepper hot (similar to that of cinnamon), so much so that there is a ‘giraffe browse line’ left on these trees. Elephant breeding herds come and go between the Marsh and the Trans Mara, and they appear to cross the river at the old BBC campsite area. This elephant crossing point is well known. There is one particular herd of twelve members that like to frequent in between the camp grounds.
Herd of male giraffe making their way up into camp – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
Bushbuck are seldom seen in the riverine woodlands; perhaps predator aggression between lion and spotted Hyena has pressured leopard to concentrate their activity in these deeper wooded areas. However, one female bushbuck was seen in the early morning of the 16th May, in the west marsh woodlands. Eland, whom are in the same tribe (Tragelaphini) as Bushbuck and Kudu etc, are more adaptable to open plains grazing, and these in small breeding herds can be seen well spread out.
Spotted Hyena clans prevail and compete with the resident lion prides. Later on in the month, an estimate of over seventy hyena were seen on the remains of a hippo carcass in the north-west marsh areas! This particular hippo may have been wounded by another or perhaps it was weak and subsequently sunk in the soft mud of the marsh and fell prey to the hyena. There are a few young hyena cubs in the east marsh grasslands where the clan den is located.
Spotted hyena, young cub, east marshlands clan – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
Serval cats have also been seen often in May; there is a female with two young kittens which are estimated at just three months old. She had been seen early morning of 21st May in the coarse grass areas of the old ox-bow by Governors’ Private Camp, eating a cape hare. Serval cats are ‘grass cats’ and feed primarily on birds and small rodents; in this case the guide said there was not even a chase, since hares have a quick turn and so the Serval must have surprised the hare in its lair. The Serval is characterised by a small head, large ears, a golden-yellow-to-buff coat, with black spots and stripes and a short, black-tipped tail. The serval has the longest legs of any cat relative to its body size. When hunting ground birds, they will leap to catch them as they are trying to fly off. The well known ‘leapers’ of the savannah cats is the Caracal.
The Serval has the longest legs of any cat, relative to its body size – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
The Marsh lionesses have been residing in the Bila Shaka area and also as far as the east marsh. Lioness Yaya and her two adult female daughters were being spotted on Rhino Ridge earlier on in the month. There has been plenty of mating between Yaya, Pamoja, Nusu Mkia and Marsh males Baba Yao and Kibogoyo.
Yaya and Baba Yao – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
On 22nd May, a zebra was killed on the south bank of the Bila Shaka by lionesses Dada, Rembo, Kito and Kabibi. They are still with their five cubs who are between 8-9 months old.
On the early morning of the 23rd May, two males plus lioness Spot and her cubs, plus Little Red, were seen having killed and eaten well off a hippo in the west marsh. They fed off this hippo for three days.
Marsh Pride lionesses – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
These males are collectively seen between two prides – the Madomo/Ridge Pride and the Marsh Pride. They move around between the west Marsh, Bila Shaka, Olare Orok and Malima Tatu areas – this is their large home range.
There are two lionesses in the east Olare Orok riverine woodlands with three very small, three-month-old cubs, that were seen on the 14th and we are suggesting they are two lionesses of the Madomo/Ridge Pride.
The Madomo/Ridge Pride currently has five lionesses and two 5-month-old cubs, plus two sub-adult lionesses. They have been seen hunting zebra and Topi within the Olare Orok, Topi Plains and Malima Tatu areas. This is a very successful pride with three sisters that dominate the hierarchy of this pride.
The female leopard ‘Saba’ of Olare Orok and her two young cubs who are six months old, are being seen more regularly now, although the cubs are often held deep into the river gorge and a long wait is required. On the 21st May she was seen south of the Olare Orok crossing, this area is a favourite haunt of hers.
Early in the month, Romi the female leopard that has two cubs (estimated at ten months old) was seen near the ‘Lake Nakuru’ area in the west marsh; there are some large hyena clans here and this will no doubt put pressure on leopard hunting movements. On the evening of the 19th she was seen near the BBC campsite area, it appears that she moves between the north Marsh and wooded areas of the old BBC campsite.
On the morning of the 23rd the young male leopard of the Ngiatiak River area was moving through the long grass areas of the river verges. The maternal mother of this male leopard is often seen near the double crossing on the Ngiatiak side.
Leopard sighting just outside of Governors’ Camp – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
On the 12th at 9.00am, a large male leopard was seen with two hyenas having a ‘tug of war’ with an Impala that had obviously been killed by the leopard, although he was caught unawares as he tried to drag his kill across a glade.
Female leopard Siri was seen on the 17th and 18th near the main crossing on the Mara River – she was up a Boscia tree with a Thomson Gazelle. Her male sub-adult cub is often seen near the Serena pump house area of the Mara River – the male cub must nearly twenty months old now. He is often seen within his mother’s home range and the granite outcrop near the pump house is a good place to see him.
The five male cheetah coalition were last seen recently heading towards the murram pits south of the Ngiatiak River. These cheetahs have been known to go as far as the Hammerkop area in the southern reserve. They have also been residing and hunting in the Olare Orok conservancy which is where they had originally come from.
A single male and single female cheetah have both been seen again on the east Rhino Ridge grasslands. The female cheetah has been successful in two recorded attempts out of four. On the late morning of the 18th she attempted to strike a Thomson gazelle but after 100 meters she gave up, we suspect that her strike distance was misjudged. Cheetah hunting in late hours of the day is an indication of predation pressure from more dominant predators.
Cheetah prefer the short grass plains which support smaller antelope – photo credit Alberto Beltramello
The female cheetah Selenkai with her four sub-adult cubs (which are estimated at 11 months old), were seen mid-month hunting Thompson gazelles and young warthog below Emartii Hill. Later in the month, she was seen hunting in the Olare Orok Conservancy – these northern conservancies have better options for short grass plains that support many of the smaller antelopes such as Thomson and Grant’s gazelles.
Mara Game Report by Patrick Reynolds, manager of Governors’ Il Moran Camp.