Game Reports Kenya Masai Mara

Masai Mara weather and wildlife August 2020

The weather and grasslands

We experienced typical August weather: it was generally still, dry and dusty with low cloud cover in the cool mornings. There was often a light drizzle of rain in the late evenings. We had 39mm of rain which fell during the middle of the month and a little again on the 26th; it was this light rainfall which induced a green flush – particularly over the grassland areas that were burnt in July. Temperatures still tend to be cool with early morning temperatures averaging 13-14°C and midday temperatures are at 25°C. Recent humidity has been 72-80%.

Low cloud cover on cool mornings – photo credit Alisa Karstad

Grass levels are low and slowly being grazed down particularly on the grassland plains east and south of the Musiara Marsh. Paradise plains have a new carpet of short green grass; these grassland plains were subject to controlled burning earlier on in July as well as the west and east fan of Rhino ridge. The Teclea Nobilis trees are continuing to be fruiting heavily and often leaving sticky berries littering the riverine riparian woodlands floor. Driver ants, safari ants or (‘Siafu’) are being seen around Governors’ Il Moran Camp, in large columns erupting from bivouacs or temporary nests, since they are carnivorous migratory ants. They can cause discomfort from their bites – particularly to those that are walking around at night. The workers and soldiers are sterile females which do not reproduce, whereas the males are winged and called ‘sausage flies’ by their vernacular language of the area.

The Great Migration

We enjoyed large movements of wildebeest in herds of thousands during the first week of the month: They had come through from the southern Masai Mara Reserve and then would cross the Mara River into the Trans Mara. Herds in large columns that had moved out from the southern Reserve and subsequently crossed the Mara River between Lookout hill and Ashnil, quickly dispersed onto the open short green grass plains in the Trans Mara.

Photo credit Moses Manduku

On the 7th to the 12th of August, some very large herds had crossed from the southern Reserve into the Trans Mara; in fact, we saw wildebeest crossings at all hours of the day, on a daily basis, during the first two weeks.  From the 13th onwards, large herds were seen grazing in the southern plains near the Talek River and Keekorok areas. The wildebeest appeared to split into two ‘cow horn-type’ movements; of the right horn that crossed the Talek River, some went into the northeast conservancies while other large herds then passed via the double-crossing, after which they all then moved towards the west side of Rhino Ridge and started crossing the Mara River from East to West at the main crossing points.

Photo credit Moses Manduku

The left horn movements had crossed the Mara River between Ashnil and Lookout Hill into the Trans Mara. The left horn was seen on the 13th until the 19th in large herds that had crossed in their thousands going from East to West at the main crossing points, the cul de sac crossing points and also huge herds crossed below the Chinese Hill – there was much activity here with crocodile and wildebeest.

Wildebeest crossing – photo credit Elisha Korir

Small numbers of Thomson gazelles also tried to cross the river at the main crossing points, but were often taken by crocodiles; it is not uncommon for smaller gazelles to cross from one side to the other. We also saw many resident zebra which had filtered down from the northeast areas of the Reserve; they were crossing the Mara River, heading west into the Trans Mara. Crocodile have been feeding heavily off the zebra with many being taken and then left.

On the 18th of August, the large herds from the right horn (that had previously crossed over from the southern Reserve into the Trans Mara), started crossing from west to east at the rocky crossing points south of the Kichwa Tembo airstrip. On the 19th a continual flow of wildebeests was seen crossing from the west, heading east at the Kisingera crossing point. Due to a precarious choice of fording the river, hundreds of wildebeest were unable to climb back out over the steep and wet rocks and unfortunately many succumbed to the crossing and were left dead in the river on on the banks.

Photo credits Moses Manduku

At 10.15 am on the 21st there was a good crossing at the Chinese hill of an estimated 2,000 wildebeest heading west. On the same day at approximately 4.30 pm, we witnessed another crossing at the Kisingera crossing point; a mere 600 had crossed with a dozen of them had fallen back down at the rocky exit and were left behind – unfortunately dead. Large numbers of vultures have been drawn in by the bloating carcasses of decaying wildebeest – in particular, Ruppell’s Griffon vultures are in plentiful numbers – more so than the White-backed vultures that we are also seeing at the moment.

Photo credit Alisa Karstad

In the late morning of the 24th, large movements of wildebeest were crossing at the Ol Keju Ronkai and were headed south towards the Burangat and Posse plains; large herds in their thousands have been seen congregating as far as Hammerkop and the south Burangat plains. It was early morning of the 26th of August when masses of wildebeests that had emptied out of the posse and Burangat plains and were seen crossing the Sand River, heading south west.

Photo credit Alisa Karstad

The Mara wildlife

Warthogs are with young piglets at the moment; this is the correct time of year for warthogs to give birth and so far, many of the sows have birthed between three and four piglets. We have many new piglets around the Governors’ camps – it seems as though time is with them – to replenish numbers that were taken by resident lions and leopards.

Photo credit Alisa Karstad

Earlier on in the month, Topi females on Paradise plains have been seen with very young calves; this is considered a little early for the normal Topi calving season, but towards the end of the month, many more calves have been seen on Paradise plains and Rhino ridge. Topi herds have aggregated on the east fan of Rhino ridge and also more are congregating together on Paradise plains. In contrast, Coke’s will be seen in smaller breeding herds, in pockets of the Reserve. Since these grasslands have been burnt, a green flush has erupted offering more visibility and allowing us two more sightings of the smaller antelope – the Oribi.

The Masai Giraffes were often seen in the west marsh and also as far as the southern Marsh area; some can be found in bachelor herds while others are loose female herds. We enjoyed some good sightings of a breeding herd of giraffe walking down the marsh channel in single file, against a skyline with late or early light; this is known as a ‘tower of giraffes’ and is considered to be one of the classic African safari sightings.

A tower of giraffe – photo credit Will Fortescue

Elephants are still resident within the marsh and west marsh grasslands (watch video here). Watching them and their calves crossing the Mara River at the old BBC campsite area is an incredible sight to behold. Elephants are coming right into our camps at night and feeding on the fruit of the Teclea Nobilis tree, which some birds also seem to enjoy, particularly the common Bulbuls.

Elephants moving through Governors’ Camp in August – photo credit Shaun Mousley

Photo credit Alisa Karstad

Breeding herds of Impala with young fawns in varying ages, are being seen well scattered within the open grassland habitats and likewise riparian woodlands. Olive baboons will associate with Impala as feeding locations and habitats coincide, but it is a very common scenario for a young fawn to be snatched by the dominant male baboons.

Black-backed Jackals have also got pups and two dens with young can be seen. The pair on Topi Plains have three pups and south of the Bila Shaka area is another den which also has three pups – these pups are over a month old. There are slight conditions of sexual dimorphism between the dog and bitch, so much so, that the dogs also taking a strong role in rearing the young.

Small breeding herds of Eland were seen in the west marsh and also in the lower reaches of Paradise plains. The Cape buffalo herds of the east marsh and Bila Shaka area have a good number of young calves of varying ages. There are still a few resident bull buffalos in the west marsh grasslands and also within the grounds of the Governors’ camps. Another buffalo herd can be seen on Rhino ridge and often below Emartii hill.

The Spotted hyena is still playing havoc on the resident lion prides – both species are dominant carnivores in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem and they compete fiercely with one another. We have seen a big hyena clan den with many young cubs south of Bila Shaka.

Spotted hyena – photo credit Alisa Karstad

The Big Cats of the Masai Mara

The Topi Pride of eight lionesses has nine cubs of varying ages; two are sub-adults and seven are around ten months old. They are being seen on the southern fan of Rhino ridge and on the western end of the Krie riverbed.

The two male lions known as Purungat male (half tail) and his companion Iseketa male have caused this Topi Pride to occasionally fragment – particularly when the two males are in the immediate area – this pride will temporarily split apart. The Purungat male has mated with a lioness called Long neck who is the daughter of lioness Madomo – who is related to the iconic lioness called Sienna. Much of their prey is the recent incoming wildebeests and Topi – even during dry conditions and hard times, this pride has survived off the Topi alone.

The Marsh Pride lionesses are split into three groups: The four females Kabibi, Dada, Kito, Rembo have four offspring between them, of which there are two sub-adult males and two lionesses. They were mostly seen in the west marsh and the Bila Shaka riverbed areas in August.

Kabibi, Dada, Kito, Rembo and subs with buffalo kill – photo credit Moses Manduku

The second group of females consists of Yaya and her two adult daughters known as Pamoja and Nusu Mkia (this means ‘half a tail’ in Swahili). They have been seen hunting and feeding off wildebeest in the lower reaches of Paradise plains.

The third group are Spot and Little Red who have co-raised two adult offspring of over two years old (a male and female). The cubs were birthed by Spot but Little Red has acted as a second mother to them and they remain a very close knit family. This August they were mostly seen in the west marsh and windmill areas – on the 18th we saw these four lions hunting wildebeest on Paradise plains.

Spot, Little Red and subs with wildebeest kill – photo credit Moses Manduku

Of the Paradise Pride, there are seven lionesses and one small cub estimated at just one month old, which can be seen near the Serena pump house area. Doa, who is one of the Marsh Males is the father to the cub and is usually nearby displaying altruistic behaviour towards this pride. The Paradise Pride (sometimes called the ‘River bank Pride’), have been feeding off the many wildebeest and zebra that crossed the Mara River in August.

Doa seen relaxing and watching over the Paradise females – photo credit Moses Manduku

In August, we also noticed two other males known as the ‘Kichwa males’ frequenting the immediate core area of the Musiara Marsh. One is called Blond/Blondie/Fang and the other is called ‘Snip Tail’ as he is missing part of the tuft of tail. They crossed over from the Transmara a while back and they are now residing in the bit of marsh near Lake Nakuru. Blond/Fang has matted strip of hair beneath his chin and a badly damaged eye and can be seen limping heavily – it is quite likely that he has had a fracas with some other males; when male lions fight, they try and bite into the rear end of the torso often damaging the sciatic nerve or worse still, in a ‘takeover duel’, they will break the spine.

The Blond Kichwa male – also known as Fang – photo credit Moses Manduku

Snip Tail – photo credit Moses Manduku

Of the original Six Marsh Males, we are now left with five: They are Kiok, Chongo, Koshoke, Doa and Kibogoyo. These males have been seen habituating and hunting on Paradise plains and also at the main migration crossing points. They will cover great distances and sometimes we do not see them for a few weeks at a time, which is probably the reason that we are having more frequent sightings of the two Kichwa males in the Musiara Marsh area. Sadly, Baba Yao has not been seen for over half a year now – he seems to have vanished after he had an aggressive fight with some of the Rekero males in January this year.

Marsh Males reunited – photo credit Moses Manduku

Scar and Morani, two males of the ‘Four Musketeers’ coalition, were seen during mid-August in the Lookout Hill area. Scar is looking well for his age apart from a weak hip which he has endured for a long time now – an injury which most likely came about from a fight with another male lion. He has quite a history and has left his genes well spread out. On the 23rd of August, Scar was treated by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust‘s clinic from Sekenani, for his right eye which has been a problem with him for many years.

There are two male cheetahs that have moved into Paradise plains; they have been very active hunters and have subsequently been feeding off the many young wildebeest that have recently passed through. On the 18th we had a good sighting of the two cheetahs feeding off a young wildebeest.

Cheetah sighting in August – photo credit Alisa Karstad

‘Tano Bora’ is a coalition of five male cheetahs and during August we have seen them on the Posee and Meta plains in the south of the Reserve. On the 26th they had killed a Topi and its calf on the Meta grassland plains and on the 27th we watched them in the early morning as they attempted to take down a young wildebeest at the Double-Crossing area of the Ngiatiak side. These five males move around from one area to another quickly.

The female leopard Kaboso has a new cub that our guides estimate at just two months old.  She is still on the Olare Orok River and surrounding areas of riverine forest where she can leave the cub safely while she hunts. This particular leopard is very used to vehicles and will casually walk in between cars offering good photographic shots. She was seen on a daily basis since about the 15th of the month. We had an amazing sighting of her and the tiny cub on the 22nd – you can watch a video here.

The female leopard Bahati also has a young cub that is estimated at just two months old. She was being seen on the Talek River earlier on in the month where she was hiding her cub in an old termite mound. We have since heard that she has moved out to another location along the river line.

Romi the female leopard of the riverine woodlands surrounding our Mara camps has been seen hunting the Dik Dik near the Private Camp, while her adult daughter is being seen near the BBC campsite also hunting Dik Dik.

The birds of the Masai Mara

African Fish Eagles have been very vocal in August and can be heard from the river banks and the large savannah areas. Martial Eagles have also been actively feeding off Yellow-Billed storks from the Marsh area and Impala fawns in the north Marsh areas. Secretary birds are also being seen often in shorter grass areas – it is a long legged terrestrial bird which unlike other birds of prey, hunts and captures its prey by stomping on it to death.

Photo credit Alisa Karstad

Masai Mara Weather and Wildlife for August 2020 is written by Patrick Reynolds, courtesy of Governors’ Camp Collection.

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