Weather and grasslands
Being in the middle of the ‘long rainy’ season, which we generally experience from March through May, we would have expected heavier rains for the month of April this year. We didn’t receive any rainfall at all, for the first 12 days of the month and the Mara River dried out considerably, threatening many water-dependent inhabitants like hippos, crocodiles, fish and others.
Luckily, in the middle of the month the weather patterns changed and good rains, especially in the late afternoons and during the nights, filled the river once again. April’s total rainfall was 125 mm – which is not much for one of the wettest months of the year – but it is sufficient to replenish rivers, streams and other water bodies.
April sky threatening plenty of rain – photo credit Fernando Faciole
Temperatures dropped as low as 14℃ during the nights and early mornings, while often rising above 25℃ in the afternoons. The humid nights were humid with 95% of humidity mostly experienced in the very early mornings, just as you are waking for game drives. During the day, we had an average humidity of 55 – 75% on a daily basis.
Strong winds usually picked up in the late afternoons, but with good natural cover from our riverine forest, hardly anything of it could be felt in camp. The sun rose each morning at approximately 06.34am, while postcard perfect sunsets were enjoyed at about 6.39pm each day.
April sunrise – photo credit Simon Landolt
April sunset – photo credit Simon Landolt
With the waters of the Mara River being at an ideal level again, hippos have become less aggressive and less noisy since all the pods (family groups) have enough space and territorial fights over the remaining deep spots, have stopped almost completely.
Hippos enjoying full pools and rainfall – photo credit Fernando Faciole
Humongous Nile crocodiles could be observed either basking in the sun on one of the many sandbanks or patiently waiting at the water’s edge for an unsuspecting antelope or olive baboon to come down. The largest crocodiles regularly prey on hippo calves which can be quite a cruel sight to witness.
We are currently in the final stage of the moon phase, before starting the cycle again with the new moon. As we approach the new moon phase, only the last sliver of light can be seen reflected back at us and this is known as the waning crescent phase of the moon.
A full moon – photo credit Felix Rome
On the plains
Out on the plains, elephants are doing well with lots of long and green grass left for them to feed on. Especially in the marsh areas, green grass is aplenty, but out on the plains, the grass is slowly taking a golden colour. The marsh is the best area to see huge individuals feeding on the very soft grass; our oldest elephants have already worn down five out of their six sets of teeth and rely on food that is easy for them to chew. With lots of young elephants out there roaming the plains together with their herd, the future looks bright for the Mara elephants.
A breeding herd of elephants – photo credit Felix Rome
This is always an extremely exciting moment for our guests and with enough respect and good distance from the animals, it is very pleasant and safe to watch. Our team of very capable askaris (night guards) are well trained, highly experienced and can always seem to predict the elephant’s movements.
Solitary bulls as well as big family herds made their way through our Mara camps, quite frequently in April. We mostly heard them feeding next to our tents during the night, but every now and then, they walk directly through the camp in broad daylight.
Photo credit Simon Landolt
At the beginning of April, thousands of Grant’s zebras (Equus quagga boehmi) pushed into the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The Grant’s zebra is the smallest of the subspecies of the plain’s zebra. This subspecies represents the zebra in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.
The zebras were mostly seen between the Musiara Gate and the Musiara Airstrip and were accompanied by good numbers of common eland and topi. Even larger herds of topi can still be seen on Topi Plains, north of Rhino Ridge and all the way down to Bila Shaka.
Photo credit Felix Rome
Aggregations of Maasai giraffe, sometimes up to ten individuals together, were commonly seen between Governors’ Camp and Governors’ Il Moran Camp, with many of them being confident enough to walk right through our camps during the day.
Masai giraffes – photo credit Fernando Faciole
Giraffes are non-territorial and form very loose and open herds, also called temporary associations. They rarely group closely, except when browsing the same tree or when the approach of a predator makes them nervous.
Our guests were very fortunate to see serval cats (Leptailurus serval) regularly this month. The normally shy and very elusive cat is usually seen patrolling through tall grass in search of food. Luckily for us, there are quite a few servals around our Mara camps that are well habituated to vehicles and human presence.
A serval sharpens its claws on a fallen tree trunk – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Servals usually hunt a variety of small mammals, particularly rodents, cane-rats and hares and possibly the young of small antelope. In the Maasai Mara, servals have also been observed taking a lot of birds, frogs, reptiles and invertebrates. They have an estimated lifespan of 8-11 years in the wild.
Big cats of the Masai Mara
Our resident lions, the Marsh Pride, were seen on a daily basis, especially the split-up pairing of famous lioness Yaya, her daughter Pamoja and the cubs.
These two are constantly moving between the north-eastern end of the Musiara Marsh (near the Musiara Gate area), the Musiara Airstrip and Bila Shaka area. They have taken down several zebras grazing around the marsh and also some buffalo calves at Bila Shaka.
Yaya – photo credit Felix Rome
The other group of Marsh Pride females, Rembo, Kito, Dada, Lola and Kaleo, are well-known for taking down huge bull buffalos without any help from the pride males, Halftail and Logol. Their five cubs are looking very healthy and well developed.
Photo credits Simon Landolt
Tackling bigger prey such as buffalos is trickier and risker work for Yaya and Pamoja, since they are only the two who can hunt. However, Yaya is one of the most experienced and successful huntresses in the Masai Mara and Pamoja, her daughter, is a very capable huntress as well. Between them they are doing a great job of raising the cubs. In April they were mostly seen taking down warthogs as the grass is long and very much in their favour when it comes to stalking small prey.
Ruling males of the Marsh Pride – Halftail and Logol – were both born in 2015 and at seven years old, they are now in their prime. This is the strongest, most aggressive phase of their life and this is also a time when their mane looks the most impressive!
Logol (front) and Halftail patrolling their territory – photo credit Felix Rome
The Paradise Pride were not seen by us in April; it is quite likely that they crossed the river into the Mara Triangle much earlier in the month when the water level was low. We look forward to updating you on this pride as soon as they are back in the reserve.
The Topi Pride, whose numbers are one of the strongest in the Masai Mara, were able to kill a few buffalos which was desperately needed to feed them all. By the end March, some of the adults and cubs had started to look a bit skinny and they were forced to act quickly.
Having a large number of individual lions in a pride is an advantage for many reasons, but it also means that they are constantly at work – having to make frequent kills in order to feed all the members.
The Topi Pride – photo credits Simon Landolt
Feeding the bellies of 14 hungry cubs can be quite challenging at the best of times, but good-sized buffalo herds, large numbers of topi and the incoming zebras from the northern conservancies, have thankfully sustained this pride in these crucial months.
Topi Pride youngster – photo credit Simon Landolt
Sightings of the most elusive of the big cats – the leopard – were quite regular in April and many of our guests were thrilled to see Romi, a female leopard whose territory lies in the riverine forest between our three Mara camps. She is a very small cat, but an experienced huntress and a successful mother at that, who has successfully raised many cubs over the past years.
Romi – photo credit Fernando Faciole
We were also blessed with many cheetah sightings – most of them in the Double-Crossing area and towards Kaboso. Sightings of solitary males, a mother with two cubs and even the Tatu Bora coalition, were enjoyed on a regular basis.
Cheetah ‘Ngao’ – photo credit Simon Landolt
Some of our guests were lucky enough to witness the full hunt of a zebra by the three males of Tatu Bora. No other mammal is as fast as a cheetah, which has a top speed of 90-115 kph (60-70 mph).
Tatu Bora – photo credit Simon Landolt
To capture its prey, a cheetah has to overtake it within 300 metres. It is difficult getting within sprinting range on open plains with no cover, so the optimum cheetah habitat therefore includes cover in the form of bushes, medium-length (not tall) grass, trees, broken ground and such.
Single cheetahs seldom kill antelopes heavier than themselves and will often take smaller game; in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, hares are second (12%) in importance to Thomson’s gazelles (62%), especially during times when gazelles are scarce.
Our renovated butterfly garden at Governors’ Camp is thriving and it attracts so many different kinds of butterflies. Hundreds of these colourful creatures can be observed here and although quite hard to identify, a little practice and experience alongside simple observation, can enable us to identify and name many of these beautiful and fairly approachable creatures.
A citrus swallowtail – photo credit Simon Landolt
A green-banded swallowtail – photo credit Simon Landolt
East Africa is home to over 2,500 different species of butterfly – which is a sizeable percentage of the 20,000 that have been identified globally.
An eyed pansy – photo credit Simon Landolt
Yellow pansy – photo credit Simon Landolt
Birds of the Masai Mara
As always, the Masai Mara National Reserve provides fantastic birding opportunities. April saw quite a few palearctic migrants like the Eurasian marsh harrier and red-backed shrikes. One of East Africa’s most iconic birds of prey, the Bateleur eagle with its striking black and red colours, could be seen gliding against a dark grey sky or down on the ground ripping apart its prey.
Bateleur egale – photo credit Simon Landolt
The edges of waterholes are the perfect place to spot rare wading birds like the ruff, little stint, different greenshanks and redshanks as well as many sandpipers and red-billed ducks. Some long-toed lapwings were seen together with a flock of spur-winged lapwing in the windmill area close to the Musiara Gate as well.
Red-billed ducks – photo credit Simon Landolt
Well-camouflaged birds like the yellow-throated sandgrouse or the Verreaux’s eagle owl were some of the highlights for this month.
Verreaux’s eagle owl – photo credit Simon Landolt
Long-crested eagles and the Wahlberg’s eagle are commonly seen around Bila Shaka as well as between Governors’ Private Camp and Paradise Plains.
The Wahlberg’s eagle is one of the most common raptors in the savanna areas of Southern Africa. It is a rather small eagle with colour variations from pale, intermediate (most common form) to very dark, but generally divisible into pale and brown morphs, the latter far more common with 80-90% of individuals being brown.
Wahlberg’s eagle – photo credit Simon Landolt
These eagles have slighter heads and weaker beaks than larger brown eagles. A short crest gives the head a distinct, squared-off look. The Wahlberg’s eagle is frequently seen soaring overhead and has a very distinctive crucifix-like shape with a long, narrow, square-ended tail and markedly straight wings.
It hunts from a perch or aerially, soaring for more than one hour at great height. They have an extremely diverse diet including reptiles like lizards and snakes and smaller mammals (preferably rodents), but will also take amphibians and insects. A Wahlberg’s eagle can take birds up to the size of a helmeted guinea fowl; they are also known to regularly rob nests of herons, weavers, African cuckoo-hawks and other species.
Birders staying at our Mara camps could enjoy a variety of sightings as usual, but the April highlights were definitely Narina trogons, Schalow’s and Ross’s turacos, double-toothed barbets, African emerald cuckoos and African goshawks.
Ross’s turaco – photo credit Simon Landolt
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for April 2022 was written by Simon Landolt, wildlife guide with Governors’ Camp Collection. Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.