Game Reports

Masai Mara Game Report: September 2019

Weather and grasslands

Hot and windy days with mostly strong north easterly winds in the afternoons. Early mornings have often been overcast with midday temperatures being 27°C and humidity as high as 77%. Rainfall for September was relatively low at 82mm of which the areas received 35mm in the first week of the month and 47mm in the final week of the month. Despite the odd overcast morning, there have been some very stunning sunsets and sunrises.

Lioness at sunrise – photo credit Will Fortescue

The Musiara Marsh is progressively drying up although the centre marsh still has stagnant water with the exception of the northern area that is watered by the small escarpment stream, which is still flowing slowly. The Mara River rose at the start of the month and held a reasonable flow rate considering the overall poor rainfall in the last two months. Many of the Warburgia trees are still with fruit which has attracted the local elephants and Olive Baboons. The Diospyros abyssinica trees are also heavy with fruit, thus drawing in many different bird species. The fruit is also an important part of the diet to primates and fruit bats.

On the plains:

The last big crossings of the Serengeti wildebeest on the Mara River, were at the end of September. Large herds filed down towards the southern border areas. Huge concentrations could be seen in the southern Reserve and in the Triangle that borders Tanzania, while some wildebeest herds had already gone back into the northern Serengeti.

The last of the the large herds – photo credit Moses Manduku

At the beginning and the very end of September, large crossings were seen at the main crossing points and all were heading west. Some even then crossed below Look Out Hill as the wildebeest moved in a south easterly direction. In the early afternoons of the 19th and 21st some crossings were seen on the Mara River below Look Out Hill. Good numbers in the Talek River areas of the southern Reserve can now be seen and these were the wildebeest that crossed the Mara River earlier. During the dry periods of the month, many resident wildebeest and zebra have been seen filing down from the northeast conservancies – many of these wildebeest are now in the southern Reserve. Since the 20th, large herds of wildebeest have now been seen congregating in the southern Kishanga and salt lick areas of the Triangle. On the 25th larger herds of wildebeest suddenly appeared in the southern Burangat Plains and also into the Ol Keju Ronkai depression.

Small herds of resident zebra were seen throughout the Reserve and across all the short grass plains. On the 18th of the month, a melanistic zebra foal was being seen in the southern areas of the Mara Reserve – this sighting is not common and has subsequently drawn many people. She was named ‘Tira’ after Anthony Tira, the guide who first spotted her. On the 27th she was photographed near the border between Kenya and Tanzania by Will Fortescue, our in-house photographer at Governors’ Camp Collection.

Tira the melanistic zebra foal – photo credit Will Fortescue

Elephant continue crossing the Mara River at the BBC site; this is still a frequent occurrence and there are still a few wandering males. Elephant breeding herds can be seen on a daily basis crossing the Mara River at approximately midday and there is a small breeding herd that frequents the Governors’ camps. An older female elephant from the same breeding herd has a habit of wandering between the camps on her own – she has now learnt to pass between the new deck and office at Governors’ Il Moran Camp.

Elephants crossing at the BBC site – photo credit Moses Manduku

Hippo cows have many calves now and these can be seen in the deeper pools of the Mara River, although there has been some infanticide activity from the dominant adult males. Resident crocodile will also take young hippo calves as was seen on the 11th at the Toyota site which is just downstream from Governors’ Private Camp.

Breeding herds of Impala and troops of Olive Baboons often co-inhabit within the riverine woodlands. The Warburgia trees which are still fruiting have kept the resident Olive Baboons occupied. There are many infants amongst these Baboon troops – within a troop there is a very complex hierarchy based on mother-daughter lines of descent and male strength. Baboon social behaviour is an interesting study of primatology: Female Baboons stay in the same troop their whole lives and male Baboons leave the troop when they are mature enough to search for a mate. As female Olive Baboons are philopatric (in that they remain in their natal groups), they do have a tendency to return to reproduce in their natal birthplace. The females within a troop are closely related and will also form subgroups with their close relatives, so much so that within the close-kit sub-groups, a ‘matrilineal’ hierarchical society exists. Young infants are black when born with a pink face and large ears. At about six weeks old the young baboons ride on their mother’s back ‘jockey style’.

Black-faced Vervet monkeys are also common – the males are easily identified with a bright blue scrotum. There is a Red-tailed monkey that has been seen in the Governors’ Il Moran compound and as arboreal primates go, this Red-tailed monkey is very well marked with a red tail and white nose patch.

More warthog sows have been seen with new piglets – our Mara camps are literally buzzing with energetic piglets! Out in the grasslands plains, the warthog sows are a little slower in birthing and this is perhaps due to the camp-based warthogs having a more sheltered lifestyle. The resident lion prides feed heavily on warthogs and their piglets have a high mortality rate already due to having no subcutaneous fat reserves and are therefore susceptible to sudden temperature changes.

One of the new piglets at Governors’ Il Moran Camp – photo credit Will Fortescue

Small herds of eland have been seen recently and in the west marsh grasslands there were 22 eland cows. A few older, more dominant Bull elands are being seen on Paradise Plains, Southern Topi Plains and Rhino Ridge. Topi are seen in large scattered herds and their relatives, the Coke’s Hartebeest, are found in smaller herds on the grassland plains. Many Topi females are heavily pregnant at the moment with a few newborn calves already being seen, while many more should be dropping their calves soon. Coke’s Hartebeest will also be giving birth very shortly; they follow soon after the Topi.

Thomson Gazelles were seen on the short grass plains and since rainfall has been low, larger scattered herds have been forming. There are many young fawns about and the Bila Shaka, Topi, Double Crossing and Malima Tatu areas are generally good places to see them. In the last month, these open grassland plains have been grazed down heavily. More of the Bohors Reedbucks have been seen in the west marsh and Paradise Plains area.

The resident Cape Buffalo of the Bila Shaka herds are found on the east marsh grasslands and also along the southern Rhino Ridge. Larger, older bulls who are more sedentary can be seen in bachelor herds and when they start suffering from age and hip dysplasia, most of them become solitary. The resident lion prides have taken a few of these larger bulls down.

Lone male buffalos become a target for lions – photo credit Will Fortescue

Masai Giraffe are quite spread out since they are browsers, and they move from habitat to habitat – the riverine woodlands that surrounds our Mara camps is a good place to see them. The older, dominant male giraffe can be seen feeding off the hot leaves from the Warburgia trees; these males will also feed off other aromatic leaves from other tree species. The skin of a giraffe is mostly grey but colour variation depends on their location and geographic distribution. The skin is also thick and allows them to run through thorn bush without being punctured. Their hair may serve as a chemical defense mechanism as it is full of parasitic repellents that give the animal a characteristic scent. The skin underneath the dark areas may serve as windows for thermoregulation – being sites for complex blood vessel systems and large sweat glands. Each individual giraffe has a unique coat pattern similar to that of zebra. The so-called horns of giraffe are formed from ossified cartilage and are called ‘ossicones’, which are then covered in skin and hair.

Masai giraffe moving between woodland and grasslands – photo credit Will Fortescue

Spotted hyenas have been very prevalent within the Mara ecosystem by competing heavily with the resident lion prides – in the early hours of the morning and evening, large clans will gather to feed off the resident wildebeest and Topi. Earlier on in the month, wildebeest had passed through the north and east marsh and the hyenas were very active in the early hours of the morning. More Serval cats are being sighted recently as grass levels are at an all time low.

Two giant pouched rats were seen in the riverine woodlands near to Il Moran Camp: On both accounts they were partially eaten by an owl and since these pouched rats can weigh up to 1kg in weight, it’s likely that the owl was a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. This type of owl is a highly opportunistic predator equipped with large and powerful talons. Greater Galagos or thick-tailed bush babies have been active lately in the Diospyros trees that are in fruit; the Galago is a fruit eater. A Martial Eagle was seen taking a Guinea Fowl on the 23rd of September and then later that evening, the same bird was seen taking a small monitor lizard; this was in the north marsh reed beds. On the 19th of the month at 4.00pm, a Fish Eagle was seen to take down an Egyptian goose on the Toyota bend of the Mara River.

Larger Cats:

Lion

Marsh Pride lioness Yaya and her two adult female daughters, Pamoja and Nusu Mkia can be seen within the southern Marsh and the lower Paradise Plains areas. Pamoja gave birth to two new cubs close to the Toyota site on the river in September. These three females have all been hunting and feeding off Zebra and Topi.

Pamoja and her two new cubs – photo credit Moses Manduku

Lioness Spot has two sub-cubs, a male and female which are over one year old now and are often seen with lioness Little Red. Earlier in September, they all moved to the Silanga area of Topi Plains and have been there since, feeding off Topi. These four lions have since been seen hunting close to the Double Crossing area and below Emartii Hill.

Lionesses Rembo, Kabibi, Dada and Kito and their five cubs (two cubs are estimated at 11 months old and two are 9 months old) had been hunting zebra within the Bila Shaka, northern Marsh and southern Marsh areas. Latterly, this group have also moved up into the Silanga area of Topi Plains and have been hunting the resident zebra and Topi here. On the 16th September we saw that they had killed a Topi and on the 27th they were seen eating the remains of a zebra.

Kabibi attending to the cubs as they drink – photo credit Moses Manduku

Marsh pride female Kito – photo credit Moses Manduku

The six Marsh males are currently split between the Marsh pride and the Madomo/Ridge Pride lionesses. Bila Shaka, Topi Plains and Rhino Ridge are good areas to see the movement of these males. In the last week of September, the males have been on Rhino Ridge with the Madomo Pride.

Leopard

The female leopard Saba of the Olare Orok is continually being visited and is well habituated to vehicles; she had the remains of a Thomson’s Gazelle up a Diospyros tree near the Olare Orok crossing recently.

Romi the female leopard is often seen in the riverine woodlands close to the old BBC campsite, she was being seen quite frequently earlier on in the month.

The female leopard Bahati and her two eight-month-old cubs of the Talek River area was sighted a few times in September. The male leopard known as Sujaa has become well habituated to vehicles – he has been seen again close to the Cul-de-sac or Kaburu River crossing areas. In the evening of the 20th he had killed an impala and quickly dragged it into the croton thicket, then up a Boscia Tree before a hyena got too close.

Cheetah:

The coalition of five male cheetahs are being seen in the southern reserve on the Burangat Plains and the Ol Keju Ronkai depression – they have been very active hunting and feeding of Topi, yearling wildebeest and young zebra. On the 23rd they had killed a wildebeest and on the 24th they had killed a Topi in the South Burangat Plains. In the last two weeks of the month, they have mostly resided in this southern area.

Amani the female cheetah who has three cubs (sixteen months old now), has been seen again in the north east conservancies of Motorogi while hunting and feeding off Thomson’s Gazelles. She is a very active female and in the last week of the month she had moved into the southern plains of the Mara North Conservancy.

Amani and cubs – photo credit Moses Manduku

There are still individual male and female cheetahs being seen; on the 17th a female cheetah had killed a Thomson Gazelle close to the Double Crossing, while another floating male has been seen hunting on the Burangat Plains – these large open grassland plains are generally good places to see them. Earlier on in the month, an active young female was seen hunting Thomson Gazelles on the upper reaches of the Olare Orok southern plains – our guides suggest it is the same cheetah that frequents the Double Crossing and Olare Orok areas.

 

Walking safaris in North/East Masai land

Guided walking safaris have resumed and we did quite a few in September. The open grass plains are very short and dry now. Earlier on in the month many resident wildebeest were seen scattered across the short grass plains, yet later on in the month large numbers were seen filing down in the early hours of the morning and moved to the lower Mara North Conservancy and towards the Olare Orok areas – pockets of rain has induced this movement.

The local Spotted Hyena clans have moved into the Mara North Conservancy since the wildebeest moved out. In the early hours of the 16th and 18th we saw three wildebeests taken by these hyena.

Topi are in loose herds on the east plains and the resident Cape Buffalo herds are still frequenting the east riverine thickets; a few older solitary bulls are often being encountered on the East plains.

The West Plains is a good place to see warthogs and their piglets – we saw two piglets taken by Black-backed Jackals. The Black-backed Jackals hunt in monogamous pairs. Masai Giraffe are still being seen frequently on our walks and the view of a ‘tower of giraffe’ walking against the horizon in the early mornings or late evenings is a true African sight to see!

Small herds of elephant have also been seen in the same riverine thickets whilst breeding bulls will travel long distances looking for females in oestrus. Giraffe bulls do the same and will travel great distances; on the 16th two males met up and sparred for 10 minutes by ‘necking’ one another – we could feel the thud through the ground. Males can often determine dominance without resorting to fighting and instead they just size each other up, but if this doesn’t settle it, they will resort to fighting with their necks.

There has been much activity of the Ponerine ant that is of the genus Megaponera. They are a strictly termite-eating ponerine ant species which are widely distributed across East and sub-Saharan Africa. They are commonly known for their column-like raiding formation when attacking termite feeding sites and they have a modified ovipositor so they are capable of giving you a painful sting.

There is a single cheetah called Nalangu – she is the daughter of Amani and is with six young cubs estimated at just two months old; she has not been easy to see since she hunts in the early hours of the morning and evening. She is quite active and tends to move about quite a lot. On the morning of the 25th we saw she had killed a Thomson’s Gazelle on the eastern plains – with six young cubs she has to hunt daily.

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