Weather and grasslands
Yet another month has gone by incredibly quickly in the Mara and as usual, there has been plenty to document. Weather wise, the month of August has been quite varied; the first few days of the month were very wet with heavy rain falling on consecutive days followed by periods of sunny dry conditions accompanied by overcast weather with rain in the evenings. We recorded total of 144 mm rainfall which is quite unusual, as the month of August is generally considered to be very dry.
August in the Masai Mara – photo credit Nick Penny
After a couple of days of heavy rain in the middle of the month, the Mara River rose, so much so, that families of hippos were seen out of the water on high ground. When hippos sense the river rising quickly, they will seek the safety of higher ground as deep, fast flowing water could be dangerous for them. The river remained at a higher level for around 48 hours before dropping to its previous level.
A hippo out of the water during the day – photo credit Nick Penny
Even though water levels in the river have risen and fallen, some seasonal wetland areas such as the hippo pool at Bila Shaka, have completely dried up and the hippos that resided there have moved back to the Mara River.
Wetland areas are mostly thick mud and hippos must move back to the river – photo credit Nick Penny
Primary migration crossing points on the river such as Main and Kaburu, are now quite congested due to the low water levels with large numbers of hippos and crocodiles. The crocodiles are waiting patiently for a crossing to take place.
Temperatures in the mornings averaged around 13°C so having an extra layer or two on for the morning game drives was needed. By the afternoon, temperatures reached around 25°C. Due to there being more rain and cloud cover this month, humidity reached between 65 – 85% on many occasions.
A journey of giraffe against a Mara sunset – photo credit Nick Penny
The varying weather brought a great range of sunrises (around 6:39am) and sunsets (around 6:44pm). Some were intensely clear while others were hazy or dramatic due to varied cloud formations. Whichever the case, the beautiful colours of the rising or falling sun made for incredible viewing for our guests.
An August sunrise in the Mara – photo credit Nick Penny
The sun dips behind the Oloololo escarpment with two grey crowned cranes in silhouette – photo credit Nick Penny
Even though there has been adequate rainfall this month, the open plains have become significantly drier; the grasses have turned a lovely golden colour which is accentuated in the soft light of sunrise and sunset.
On the plains
The drier conditions of the grasslands have meant there has been considerable movement of herbivores in the last few weeks. One example of this is large numbers of topi that have come down from Topi Plains to the Musiara Marsh and Paradise areas, in search of more favourable grass. A large herd of Cape buffalo has also descended into the lush green marsh and its environs, from drier grasslands.
One of the classic sights of the Masai Mara; a topi standing on a termite mound – photo credit Nick Penny
There are two well-known hyena clans around the Musiara Marsh area, both of which have young cubs. One of these families have chosen to inhabit a culvert under the road very near the airstrip so our guests have had some wonderful sightings of the very young cubs – just as they step off the plane. These hyenas had a challenging start to the month as their den was completely flooded for around 48 hours, after which they moved straight back in!
A curious hyena cub from one of our resident clans – photo credit Nick Penny
The Great Wildebeest Migration
August saw large numbers of resident zebras coming past our Mara camps regularly, however there has been a recent decrease in the size of these herds that are passing on their way south to meet the migratory herds.
At the start of the month, thousands of wildebeest made their way further north in the Mara Triangle and congregated there, as well as at Topi Plains for about a week, with some smaller groups seen as far north as Little Governors’ Camp.
Wildebeest cross the Mara River in what is regarded as the ‘Greatest Show on Earth – photo credit Nick Penny
Almost overnight they headed south towards the Tanzanian border in search of fresh grass due to prevailing dry conditions in the Mara. After a few weeks at the border, some herds have been seen coming back with a few crossings in the Lookout area as well as sizeable herds in the Momira area of the Mara Triangle.
Wildebeest plunge into the Mara River, temporarily heading back towards the Serengeti – photo credit Nick Penny
Big cats of the Masai Mara
After spending about a month in the reserve, the Paradise Pride crossed the Mara River into the Mara Triangle, which is still part of their territory. This could be down to the decrease in zebra herds that have been passing through Paradise Plains.
Paradise Pride youngsters play in the rain – photo credit Nick Penny
They were only absent from the reserve for about two weeks before returning. On their return, it seems they are spending a lot of time with the Bila Shaka males, formerly known as the Six Warriors / Marsh Boys. With a heavy presence of these dominant males, some of the Paradise sub-adult males have been seen alone on the outskirts and appear to have been ousted from the pride.
A cub from the Paradise Pride – photo credit Nick Penny
One afternoon towards the latter part of the month, the core Marsh Pride females, that is Dada, Kito, Rembo, Lola (Rembo’s daughter) and Kaleo (Kabibi’s daughter) plus the five subs, were seen back in their original territory of the Musiara marsh, after being away in Mara North Conservancy together with dominant males Halftail and Logol, for the past several months. They were spotted very briefly in the reserve and have not been seen by our guides or guests since that afternoon.
We were pleasantly surprised to see Rembo’s adult daughter, Lola, being followed by two very young cubs, which is of course great news for the future of the pride. This female and her cubs have taken up residence in the Bila Shaka area, which is the ancestral nursery area for the Marsh Pride.
Around the middle of August, our guides noticed that Marsh Pride female Yaya, seemed distressed. She was resting on a high mound with a clear view of the surrounding open plains and apparently calling out for what we later realised was a lost cub.
Yaya calling and looking out for the lost cub – photo credit Nick Penny
The two cubs (a male and a female), are actually the birth cubs of Pamoja (Yaya’s daughter who went missing in May), which makes Yaya their grandmother. The female cub was laying nearby but the longer we watched, it became apparent that the little male was nowhere to be seen.
The female cub was laying low in the grass – photo credit Nick Penny
As a very young lion, he is still dependent on Yaya and her ability to hunt for food and protect him. With the absence of the Paradise Pride on Paradise Plains, Yaya had taken the cubs there due to sizeable herds of topi and zebra.
The male and female cub in May this year, just after Pamoja went missing – photo credit Felix Rome
After speaking to most of our guides, one theory is that when the Paradise Pride returned to their home territory, along with four strong males from the Bila Shaka coalition, there may have been some conflict causing Yaya to become separated from the male cub. Another theory is that the young cub simply took off on his own accord to explore beyond his ‘pride lands’ – a terrible mistake that almost cost him his life.
Thankfully, in the early morning of 26th August, our head guide for Little Governors’, Moses Manduku, spotted Yaya with both cubs in the long grass not far from the wooded area that surrounds our Mara camps.
Yaya standing beside the male cub and the female lying in the grass – photo credit Moses Manduku
We believe that they must have been reunited during the night or perhaps even in those early hours because all three appeared to be exceedingly overjoyed and displaying much affection for each other.
Happily reunited: Yaya with both cubs – photo credit Moses Manduku
The male cub and female cub back together again – photo credit Moses Manduku
This was a wonderful turn of events as Yaya has been very unlucky with losing cubs and companions over the years. She lost her adult daughter, Nusu Mika, followed by her young litter of cubs, followed by another adult daughter, Pamoja, followed her grandson – who we thought was gone for good. It was great to see the young cub had finally returned after ten days and in the spirit of his wandering nature we have named him ‘Simba’.
The male cub has some minor wounds that should heal well – photo credit Moses Manduku
We have enjoyed a few sightings of a mother cheetah and her three juvenile cubs (the cubs are around one year old) in the reserve. These cheetahs are new visitors to the reserve and have been coming to and from Mara North Conservancy, which is where they normally reside. Some of our guests reported witnessing the cheetah family eating a large Thomson’s gazelle and then, without hesitation, a hyena strolled up and stole the kill with any confrontation from the cheetahs.
The cheetahs lose their meal to a hyena – photo credit Nick Penny
Two young cheetahs based themselves close to our Mara camps for a few days in August. They have only very recently (in the last few months) left their mother, Neema, and seem to be exploring vast areas to find their ‘home range’. They reportedly made a couple of kills in the area which were quickly stolen from them by the resident hyenas. They then made their way onto Topi Plains and were seen with full bellies, so we conclude that they eventually had a good feed.
When it comes to the elusive leopard, which is almost always at the top of everyone’s wildlife checklist, we can always depend on Romi, a beautiful female leopard whose territory spans the wooded area around each of our Mara camps. As usual, she treated us to phenomenal photographic opportunities, laying ever so still across a horizontal branch or a fallen tree.
Romi – photo credit Nick Penny
Birds of the Masai Mara
With drier conditions causing the seasonal pockets of water around the Musiara Marsh to mostly dry up, the water-dependent birds have started to congregate in areas of permanent water. Large numbers of grey and black-headed herons, saddle-billed storks, both great egrets and little egrets have been observed around the deeper pools.
The saddle-billed stork is a large wading bird in the stork family – photo credit Nick Penny
In the marsh, we are seeing fewer open-billed storks which, in wetter times of the year, usually migrate in their hundreds from the Mara Triangle to the Musiara Marsh daily. We used to observe them flying in at sunrise and leaving the marsh at sunset.
When more rain comes later in the year, they will return to the marsh. The seasonal marsh in front of Little Governors’ Camp has retained a good amount of water and therefore hosts huge numbers of birds such as African sacred ibises, glossy ibises and African jacanas that come to feed here – as well as herds of elephants.
A purple heron – photo credit Nick Penny
A Verreaux’s eagle-owl spotted in the treetops above Governors’ Camp – photo credit Nick Penny
Passengers aboard Governors’ Balloon Safaris witnessed an unusual bird sighting during the sunrise flight; a Bateleur (eagle) was seen hanging upside down from a branch at the top of a tree. After what seemed like a minute, the bird let go of the branch, acrobatically flipped over, and flew away in perfect form. There has been no definitive answer to why this eagle would do this.
In a very isolated area on Lower Paradise, an ostrich nest was found by our guides with over 20 eggs and there were two females sitting on the nest around the clock. There was hope that this seemingly isolated area would protect the eggs from the usual threats such as lion and hyena. Unfortunately, towards the end of the month, the nest was found to be raided with broken shells spread all around the nest. Hyena faeces was also found at the nest, so it has been concluded that it was the hyenas that did this.
A female ostrich sitting on her nest, which was sadly raided by hyenas – photo credit Nick Penny
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for August 2022 was written by Nick Penny, resident photographer for Governors’ Camp Collection. Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.