A month of two halves on the weather front. December was greeted with huge rainstorms, turning the once smooth, dry roads into a river of mud. Hippos and crocodiles creep out of the depths of the river to fill the pools on the plains as they fill up.
Photo credit Harry Blakey
Young cubs have been discovered, their mothers fighting tenaciously to protect them from the elements and threats of adversaries. December is over, Christmas has been and gone, yet the wildlife remains.
Kito’s four cubs in early December – photo credit Harry Blakey
The early rain followed by the very dry conditions provided an excellent environment for plant and grass growth. As a result, the grass has shot right up, with some areas being near impossible to spot wildlife. A lion could simply lie down and you wouldn’t even know they were there. These conditions have made wildlife photography particularly challenging. Sunsets and sunrises however have been more than spectacular, and the Mara is certainly one of the best places in the world for both of these.
A December sunset – photo credit Harry Blakey
A classic Mara sunrise – photo credit Harry Blakey
There was 198mm of rain in December. This is about average for this time of year but it was hugely concentrated in the first half of the month. The sudden nature of wet then dry conditions creates chaos on the roads, as the river-esque tracks slowly dry up and become sticky, stifling mud. The Musiara marsh water expanded enormously, looking almost like a lake at times.
A family of elephants enjoys a muddy patch – photo credit Harry Blakey
With rainstorms, comes great skies. Gigantic, dark clouds roll in from the Aitong hills, the rumble of thunder sauntering in with them. With the right light, this can create some incredible scenery and ideal conditions for photography.
There is a resident rhino that has been hanging out around the Manager’s Crossing area. Once thought to just be passing through, the young male has been a fairly consistent feature, despite being one of the more elusive natured species in the Masai Mara. He’s pretty shy but if you’re quiet enough, there’s a chance of a sighting and possibly even a photo or two.
A special sighting of a black rhino – photo credit Harry Blakey
The Bull’s Club of bachelor elephants that hang around the Musiara marsh have come into musth. We’ve noticed that their usual ‘play fighting’ is getting more and more aggressive day by day. This has resulted in some epic battles in the mud. Two big bulls going head to head at full throttle is a sight to behold. You don’t want to get too close though.
The impressive ‘Bull’s Club’ – photo credit Harry Blakey
The Marsh Pride had some incredibly exciting news. They welcomed seven new cubs between two mothers, Kito and Kaleo. Lioness Kito managed to keep hers hidden for a couple of months and by the time they were discovered, they were already out and about, tumbling and playing fighting with each other.
Kito’s cubs learning to climb fallen trees – photo credit Harry Blakey
Sadly, it has been a real battle to keep them all safe; with that many cubs, it was always going to be difficult to keep a close eye on all of them. There have been different opinions as to what might have happened but heavy rainfall and flooding – plus the domineering presence of the Bila Shaka boys in the area – seems to be the most likely causes.
Kaleo’s cubs playing with each other – photo credit Harry Blakey
The frictions between males within the Marsh Pride has calmed down to an extent. With no sightings at all of Halftail, it seems that his reign as dominant male of the Marsh Pride, is at an all-time end. The Bila Shaka brothers have taken over and it looks as if they will be here to stay.
Kiok and Koshoke patrolling the Marsh territory – photo credit Harry Blakey
Koshoke is looking rather worn out from all his recent conflicts – photo credit Harry Blakey
They are often seen together, patrolling the marsh area. It is believed that one of them could be the father of the cubs – however – they are very averse to the young Marsh pride male known as Oleku, who is the son of Halftail.
Handsome Oleku spotted on one of his solo missions, away from the pride – photo credit Harry Blakey
Oleku has to settle far away from the pride and is sometimes chased away entirely and then not seen for a few days. It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out as the brothers will not tolerate his presence long-term.
We have seen very little of Yaya, Simba and Pamoja Mbili in recent times, although one of our guides spotted them on the 25th, resting in tall grass around Nyoka area. Simba had some injuries on his back and it was assumed that they may have had some conflict with the Bila Shaka boys who were also around the area at the same time.
A wonderful surprise sighting was a cheetah that passed through the Musiara area during December – thank you to Cheetah Enthusiast for confirming that this was Nagol who is the daughter of Neema, It’s a shame that they do not pass through more frequently. The reality is that there are so many threats from lions and hyenas, that any kill made would be stolen in a heartbeat.
Nagol in the Musiara Marsh – photo credit Harry Blakey
All the rains in the first half of the month meant an explosion of birdlife in the marsh, particularly kingfishers. They hover exquisitely above the water, waiting to strike on small frogs, the noise of which fills the air. Saddle-bill storks wade through the shallows of the marsh, waiting patiently to feed on small fishes as the water flows briskly past them.
Saddle billed storks forage alone or in pairs; they are territorial and will chase other pairs out of their home range – photo credit Harry Blakey
Lilac-breasted rollers are an iconic bird for the Masai Mara and always seem present. Their colourful wings are mesmerising, as they flit and dance in between trees along the river, before perching on a dead tree from where it can spot insects, amphibians, snails and many other prey species.
Lilac-breasted rollers prefer savannas with well-spaced trees that serve as vantage points – photo credit Harry Blakey
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for December 2023 is by Harry Blakey. To see other amazing wildlife imagery by Harry, please follow him on Instagram.
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