December started as a very dry month, with little rain. This was reflected in the conditions on the plains as more and more wildlife ventured to the Mara River to seek water. Dust quickly turned to mud as huge storms battered down upon the open plains.
Governors’ Balloon Safaris and a lone elephant – photo credit Harry Blakey
Some much needed rain breathed life into the environment and there was a noticeable change in the behaviour of the animals; in particular their spirits seemed to be lifted and activity heightened.
Photo credits Harry Blakey
In total, we received 148.3 mm of rain during the month, which appears to be average for December when we look back at the records for the past three years. The Mara River remained at a low level with much of the embankment exposed for the most part. Meanwhile, the average temperature has been pleasant at 28.5C.
The Mara River was quite low for December – photo credit Harry Blakey
Purple and orange sunrises greet you in the morning as you leave the camp, heading out ever hopeful of the drive ahead. The search begins for serval cats and other smaller predators, busy in their search for breakfast. Often, you will catch hippos out of the water on their way back to the river, having spent the night grazing on the plains.
A purple and orange sunrise as we meet a hippo on its way back to the Mara River – photo credit Felix Rome
Huge herds of buffalos and hundreds of antelope of all kinds are gathered up on Paradise Plains as far as the eye can see, with the iconic Oloololo Escarpment as a backdrop completing the scene. Baby topis bound around their mothers, excitement taking over the control of their limbs.
Male topis go head to head – photo credit Harry Blakey
Only male impalas carry beautifully curved horns, while females have no horns at all – photo credit Harry Blakey
Due to the dry conditions early on, many elephants had moved into the Mara Triangle in search of water. But the return of the rain brought them back to the Reserve towards the end of the month. One of the classic sights of the Mara is a family of elephants elegantly sauntering across the savannah or a huge bull’s figure dominating the horizon, marching directly towards you.
A lone bull elephant in the Musiara marsh – photo credit Harry Blakey
Sightings of African servals have been good this month. Although this strong and slender medium-sized cat is common in the Masai Mara, they are seldom seen due to their elusive nature of stalking through long grass of a similar colour to themselves. Generally considered to be a rare find on your safari, it helps to look out for them around the marshier areas that are teeming with frogs, insects and small rodents.
A serval is well camouflaged in tall grasses of a similar colour to themselves – photo credit Harry Blakey
There was a significant shake-up in the lion community during December. The arrival of Kiok and his coalition partner Koshoke, two of the Bila Shaka males, caused quite the disruption. One morning, the brothers entered the Musiara Marsh territory, calling loudly. This effectively caused the satellite Marsh Pride of females and subs to move out of the area, although we expect them to be back soon as per their previous movements.
Kiok arrives in Marsh territory and is seen right outside Governors’ Camp – photo credit Harry Blakey
Early on in the month, there were a few good sightings of the Kitchwa Tembo Pride and on the afternoon of the 3rd December, they were seen all together. They were looking as if they wanted to hunt and the very next day, we found them with a buffalo kill on Paradise Plains.
The Kichwa Tembo Pride – photo credit Harry Blakey
There was one particular week where the well-known prides went quiet and the most notable lion activity during this time was by a lioness called Amara, who had given birth right between two tents at Governors’ Camp. The tents were of course closed off for the safety of guests and also to eliminate any kind of disturbance to the new mother with her young cubs which could cause her to abandon them.
Amara enjoys some peace and quiet away from her cubs – photo credit Harry Blakey
Amara is the adult daughter to the late lioness named Spot. Amara would be seen often with her aunt, Little Red, taking a break near to the camp, resting on termite mounds, keeping an eye out on her den or for prey. It is thought that perhaps one or all of her cubs may have been lost, potentially due to the presence of four Bilashaka males who were seen in the same area and the fact that she was heard calling in distress for several days after their visit.
On the 14th of December, a hippo carcass was found just outside Private Camp, believed to have died of natural causes. This was the catalyst for a lot of lion activity in the area. There was one incredibly dramatic morning, during which Yaya and her two grand-cubs were feeding on the carcass. A few hyenas were lurking but after the crescendo of noise, there were at least twenty of them that had answered the call and encircled Yaya and the youngsters.
Yaya feeds on the hippo carcass – photo credit Harry Blakey
Suddenly, there was a huge roar from the forest and out shot Chongo, who is another one of the Bilashaka males. In an instance, the hyenas scarpered and there was total silence. Talk about commanding presence!
Chongo – photo credit Harry Blakey
Appearing to have saved Yaya and the grand-cubs at first, Chongo then turned on them. Luckily, he quickly realised who they were and neither were harmed. Yaya did an incredibly brave job of trying to protect them from him. Although he is potentially the father, it is possible that he saw Simba, the young male, as a threat.
A few days later, Chongo was joined at the site of the carcass by all three of his brothers. We were treated to an amazing moment of all four brothers walking through the plains during a heavy storm, which was quite the dramatic scene.
The males show affection for each other despite the downpour – photo credit Harry Blakey
Kiok – photo credit Harry Blakey
Sightings of cheetahs had to be earned this month and one had to venture a little further to find earth’s fastest land mammal. A mother called Kweli and her subs have been thriving of late. The family seem to be in excellent form and time was spent watching them play and chase each other in the early morning sun, before turning their attention to more pressing tasks like hunting.
Cheetah Kweli and her cubs – photo credit Harry Blakey
It doesn’t take long to look around and realise that the Mara is absolutely flourishing with bird life. From tiny kingfishers and starlings to enormous raptors, there is something for everyone, whether you happen to be a keen birder or not.
Malachite kingfishers are found beside slow moving rivers or ponds and despite their name, do not only eat fish – photo credit Felix Rome
It has been a great month for critically endangered vultures in the Reserve, with two hippo carcasses causing most of the action for the undertakers of the bush. They are fascinating to watch, squabbling viciously over every last mouthful and jockeying frantically for the best positions.
Both Ruppells and African white-backed vultures clean up a hippo carcass – photo credit Harry Blakey
Marabou storks are scavengers and can be found sharing carcasses with vultures – photo credit Harry Blakey
The imperious martial eagle made some significant appearances. These powerful hunters are relatively quiet but this attribute does not align with that of their behaviour. The bird in these images below is a five year old (tagged) female known to the Mara Raptor Project as ‘M3’ and her territory is just south of our camps.
Martial eagles are known to hunt small antelope, some monkeys and a range of water birds such as herons and storks. When feeling particularly daring, they can go after more dangerous prey such as monitor lizards, venomous snakes, jackals and medium-sized wild cats.
Martial eagles are the largest of the African eagles and are incredibly powerful – photo credit Felix Rome
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for December 2022 is by Harry Blakey, resident photographer for Governors’ Camp Collection. To see other amazing wildlife imagery by Harry, please follow him on Instagram.
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