Weather and grasslands
December saw cool mornings start off the day, often followed by a light drizzle of rain, with the day warming up considerably afterwards. Rainfall patterns have been low with a total of 16.2mm recorded for December. Heavier pockets of rain, often with strong winds, were recorded in the conservancies to the north east.
December rainfall – photo credit Felix Rome
Humidity has been fluctuating between 48 – 80%. Average early morning temperatures are still low at 17°c and midday temperatures have averaged at 28°c. The grasslands have turned a shade greener with the little rain, enticing more resident ungulates to move down into the reserve and between the open plains and savannah areas.
The Mara River is still at an all-time low and is now down to bedrock level. Hippo pods are converging with dominant herd males now being in direct competition with each other as pod densities deplete in size and fragment.
As river levels drop, older males then get refused entry into the river where water rights are held by other younger males. These older hippo bulls often meet their waterloo via lions and hyenas. A few hippos, generally older males, have succumbed and were seen floating down the river with crocodiles constantly jabbing in and out of the floating carcasses.
Hippo pods become denser in receding river levels – photo credit Patrick Reynolds
Being prominently grass eaters, hippos have been coming out to graze earlier in the evenings and returning to the river later in the morning. They crop the grass with a horny layer on their lips. While in search of the correct leaf structure, hippos can travel long distance during the course of the night.
Photo credit Patrick Reynolds
Interestingly, the Warburgia trees still have a little fruit despite elephant and baboon activity over the last few months. The Quinine trees are also in fruit; this brings in the black and white casqued hornbills, the crowned hornbill and Schalow’s turacos.
On the plains
More common zebras have been seen in the eastern grasslands of Musiara; they have been moving steadily down from the Mara North Conservancy into the Reserve during the last two weeks. A small number of resident wildebeests can be seen grazing in the eastern grasslands of Musiara and also within the Mara North Conservancy that abuts the national reserve. More wildebeest will still be found in small herds in the Olare Orok Conservancy and also on the east side of the Olare Orok River.
Wildebeest and zebras at the Musiara Airstrip – photo credit Patrick Reynolds
It has been recorded and witnessed that a few wildebeest cows have already given birth, which is very early. Perhaps this phenomenon is suggesting that due to overly dry conditions and habitat loss, subsequent stress levels have offset estrous cycles. As a result, hyena activity is high in this grassland area where wildebeest are concentrating and with cows birthing early. In the Mara Triangle, more wildebeest and zebra are being seen in some areas in quite large herds.
Topi with young calves have been seen in larger numbers, moving down, as outside of the national reserve the various herds of livestock have competed until grass levels have dropped. The East marsh, Bila Shaka and north marsh are good areas to see strong numbers of Topi and while Coke’s hartebeest are in a similar plight, they are also well scattered. The Coke’s hartebeest have the youngest calves at this moment in time.
More Masai giraffes have again been coming through from the south and east in the later days of the month, while a large group of bachelors will be seen in the riparian woodlands of the river or in loose breeding herds. It is not uncommon to see a large dark-colored male giraffe reaching as high as he can, to get the last remaining leaves from the already pruned Warburgia trees.
Two African rock pythons have been seen both near termitaria holes. One photo indicated a size of over 12 feet long! Although pythons are abundant, they are not often seen. Black rhinos are not often seen this side of the reserve although the Mara Triangle offers good sightings. Occasionally a rhino will cross the river and into the greater Mara; on the 20th December, a male black rhino was seen for a few days at lookout hill.
Elephants keep passing through the reserve although mostly in small herds recently. The larger herd sizes are in the Mara Triangle; indicating by their scat contents, much of their diet appears to be grass and Warburgia fruit that is only sliced and not chewed by their molars. The young elephant that was born last month at Governors’ Il Moran Camp has a great character and will often be seen in the west marsh grasslands with its mother.
The baby elephant that was born at Il Moran – photo credit Patrick Reynolds
Defassa waterbuck and impala are still residents within the west and north marsh areas. Olive baboons are still in large troop sizes and will be seen spread out along the riverine woodland verges. This area of the north marsh is very dry and dusty due to the lack of rain. Sykes monkeys are beginning to appear more closely within the camp grounds; fruit, vegetation matter from riparian woodland leaves and a certain amount of insect’s, bulk up most of the dietary habits. Meanwhile, dry conditions are drawing the Sykes closer into the camps.
Warthogs and their four-month-old piglets keep in shape as they forage further afield. The camp contingent of warthogs are better off than their counterparts as resident lion prides will continue to feed off those outside of the parameters.
Resident warthogs in the camps generally have a longer life expectancy – photo credit Kathrin Schumacher
The Bila Shaka cape buffalo herd with many young calves are still within the lower Bila Shaka and the east Marsh. They can also be seen on the east fan of Rhino ridge – this herd moves around and has killed many cubs of the Marsh pride over the years, a phenomenon known as predator prey activity. Spotted Hyenas have learned to feed off these young calves with success, by rushing in and disrupting cows and calves, the slower and weaker ones getting taken quickly.
Spotted hyena dens are being visited by our guests, with one especially large den in the Silanga area on southern Bila Shaka which has many young cubs. These hyenas have proliferated well hence the strong presence between the two main predators; the presence of adequate numbers of lions will control the numbers of hyenas although the balance is easily turned around.
Spotted hyenas in large clan numbers will steal lion kills – they are kleptoparasites of other predators hence their prolific success. The lion is the last of Africa’s apex land predators; they help maintain a balance among other competition predators and other herbivores, such as wildebeest and other larger ungulates.
More serval sightings are generally seen all over, since grass levels are low these small cats are being seen more frequently. A young male serval in the lower Bila Shaka was seen eating the remains of a ground bird of the francolin species.
A serval cat stalks prey – photo credit Felix Rome
Four Masai ostriches are being found in the west marsh grasslands; these are the remnants from a much larger flock, there are four hens and cock.
Photo credits Patrick Reynolds
A black-backed jackal family of six pups at three months old were seen near the culvert between the camps and the airstrip. On the 26th only four were seen; jackals will move den sites very quickly if threatened.
Big cats of the Masai Mara
The Marsh Pride with Yaya, her daughter Pamoja along with her two cubs at 4 months old will be seen residing in the west marsh and on the lower Bila Shaka. They have been feeding off buffalo, hippo and warthogs.
Yaya and Pamoja – photo credit Felix Rome
On the 10th December, Yaya had killed a buffalo and soon after killing it, a clan of hyenas took this over – as mentioned earlier this is typical of kleptoparasitic behavior of the spotted hyenas.
On the 19th, some young nomadic male lions passed through the west mash areas and sensing the arrival of these two males, the two lionesses and the cubs made a dash for Governors’ Camp and housed themselves near tent 30.
Lionesses Rembo, Kito and Dada, as well as their five cubs, are very busy in the east marsh with large herds of resident wildebeest and zebra, not to forget a big male hippo being fed upon in the later week of the month. Male lion Halftail and his companion Logol will be seen with the lionesses Rembo and Kito, these two lions were both the strength in taking down the large hippo.
Halftail is one of two dominant males in the marsh area – photo credit Felix Rome
Lionesses Spot and Little Red have mostly been seen in the wooded areas of the marsh, but recently they have moved to Rhino Ridge. There are two cubs that are with Little Red. On the 27th late morning, the Sala’s male lion called Olepolos was seen mating with lioness Little Red on the west fan of Rhino ridge.
The Ridge Pride have 22 lions; there are 14 cubs of varying ages from two months old to five months old. A relatively new male called Olepolos, who in late October had come in from Salas’s camp area in the southern Mara, has taken these two prides over.
The playful cubs of the Ridge Pride – photo credit Felix Rome
The Ridge Pride have been residing on Rhino Ridge and Topi Plains and are now in the lower end of the Bila Shaka riverbed. On the 21st they had killed a large male hippo and fed on it for three days.The Ridge Pride had nearly disappeared some years ago. The two older lionesses are relatives of Marsh Pride lioness Siena and they have pulled together extremely well.
Ridge Pride female – photo credit Felix Rome
The Paradise Pride had crossed the river into the Trans Mara late last month; along with male lion Koshoke they are still in the Trans Mara.
Paradise Pride female – photo credit Felix Rome
Female cheetah Kisaru with her two five-month-old cubs are being seen, most recently near the murram pits close to the Ngiatiak River. There are short grasses in these short plains areas and with Thomson and Grant’s gazelles in abundance, they often go back into the Olare Orok Conservancy. Female cheetah Neema and her three adult cubs are also in a similar area – they have been seen hunting on the lower Topi Plains.
A nomadic male cheetah was seen near Governors’ Private Camp on the 6th December – he had killed a young zebra foal. A young male cheetah was seen on a few occasions south of the double crossing and close to the Olkiombo airstrip; on the 23rd December, we found him with a kill of Thomson gazelle.
Kaboso the legendary female leopard has cubs as has been witnessed by some guides from other camps (although our guides have not seen them) as this report was written. Her young female subadult has been feeding on Thomson gazelles and young impala. A female leopard called Fig is often seen on the Ngiatiak and Olare Orok River junction, has one cub estimated at one year old.
Romi, who is a small female leopard named after one of the founders of the Governors’ Camp Collection, has finally crossed the river into the Trans Mara on the 20th. The good news is her wound has healed up and she has come back across from the Trans Mara; she was seen in early morning of the 27th in the north marsh escarpment, having killed and eating a large male impala. Romi is a small leopard with character that packs a punch.
Bela, is a female leopard who is also found on the river junction between the Mara and Talek rivers. On the 15th and 17th she was seen with the remains of a well eaten impala carcass, thankfully with no interference from other scavenging predators.
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for December 2021 is written by Patrick Reynolds, for Governors’ Camp Collection. Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.
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