Weather and grasslands
The month of February 2022 was quite a turnaround from the previous month. Since the beginning of the month, we’ve had good rains almost on a daily basis – which isn’t a normal weather pattern during this usually dry period of the year.
Sunrise in the Mara – photo credit Felix Rome
A total of 198.5 mm in February is higher than usual, and all that rainfall has made the Mara River come up dramatically. Almost no sandbanks can be seen down in the river and the hippos are now facing a different set of challenges compared to the previous month.
The Mara River after decent rain – photo credit Simon Landolt
Most of the rain we had in February was quite localised and rather thunderstorm-like, usually starting in the late afternoon and sometimes lasting the whole night. We also experienced some strong wind during the thunderstorms, but during the day, winds are as low as 7-15 km/m.
Grey skies create dramatic backdrops – photo credit Felix Rome
Humidity, especially during the night and in the early mornings, can rise up to 97% and usually plummets to 50% during the course of the day. The sun rose at 06:48 am and had set at 6:56pm.
A new day dawns – photo credit Ann Aveyard
The sun sets on the Masai Mara – photo credit Ann Aveyard
We have noticed hippos coming out of the river much earlier, sometimes as early as 6pm, in order to spend the night on the plains grazing. Hippopotamuses cannot swim, they have instead evolved as bottom dwellers; they are able to push their way to the surface to take a deep breath and slowly return to the bottom.
A hippo begins grazing earlier than usual – photo credit Simon Landolt
In more shallow and slow-flowing water, hippos can also stand upright on their hind legs for a short period of time. They can only stay under water for about five minutes and will consequently drown in fast-flowing water or in water that is too deep to reach the surface for air. This is quite the opposite from last month, where the water level in the Mara River was too low in order to provide a comfortable distance between different pods.
On the plains
Out there on the plains, there is a lot of water. Almost the entire grassland area in front of Governors’ Il Moran and Governors’ Camp are completely flooded; it has become a paradise for frogs, Nile monitor lizards and of course for all kinds of water-dependent bird species. More on these later!
A Nile monitor searches through the grass for frogs – photo credit Felix Rome
Despite all the rains we’ve had over the course of this month, our guests were happy to have witnessed many special and unforgettable wildlife-events happening on the mighty plains of Maasai Mara.
Photo credit Felix Rome
Since there is so much excess water sitting on the plains and therefore a lot of soft grass available, elephants, especially the older individuals, have plenty of opportunities to feed almost everywhere.
A solitary bull heads towards the Musiara Marsh – photo credit Simon Landolt
Herds and solitary individuals were seen pretty much everywhere, inside the riverine forests along the Mara River as well as out on the plains. With plenty of soft grass available, elephants are doing more than great. Many cows have given, or are about to give birth in the next few weeks.
A new born elephant stays close to its mother – photo credit Felix Rome
The most commonly seen antelopes were impalas and topi. Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles are rarely seen around the Musiara Marsh or Paradise areas, but are common further east towards the borders of the conservancies.
A male impala stands on alert – photo credit Simon Landolt
We had amazing sightings of Bohor reedbuck, a rather shy and elusive antelope species which occurs in suitable floodplain and drainage-line grasslands.
Bohor reedbucks prefer waterlogged areas – photo credit Simon Landolt
On the 16th of February we were able to watch the entire process of a serval hunting, starting with the small cat suddenly being attracted to the sound of its prey. After locating and then stalking the rat for a few minutes, the serval leaped into the air and came down with both front feet on its victim.
A serval with its kill – photo credit Simon Landolt
The serval made a whole series of spectacular jumps and pounces before eventually making the kill. This cat is a very efficient predator; around 40% of its pounces by day and around 60% by night are successful.
Big cats of the Masai Mara
Our resident lion prides have braved the elements and are all doing very well. The Marsh Pride group of five females (Dada, Rembo, Kito, Lola, Kaleo and the youngsters), was mainly focused on taking down buffalos – young calves as well as fully grown bulls.
The Marsh Pride move across the open plains – photo credit Felix Rome
They have successfully hunted topi since the notably large herd has moved very close to Bila Shaka area, which is located in the south-eastern part of the Musiara Marsh – the core territory for this pride for most of the year.
Photo credit Felix Rome
Taking down a topi sounds like easy business for a strong pride with five formidable huntresses, but it by no means a simple task. Topi are highly social and one of the fastest of the African antelopes. There are several individuals in a herd which are always on the lookout, highly alert, preferably positioned on higher ground such as a termite mound.
A classic Mara image: A Topi stands on a termite mound – photo credit Simon Landolt
The topis which are currently occupying the grasslands between Topi plains and Bila Shaka definitely have an advantage in numbers. As long as they can see approaching predators, they are relatively safe.
Marsh Pride split-up Yaya and Pamoja were regularly seen between the Little Governors’ Camp river crossing point and all the way up towards paradise ya zamani which is beyond Governors’ Private Camp.
Yaya and Pamoja – photo credit Moses Manduku
They have also mainly focused on buffalo as their choice of prey. They managed to take down a few during the month of February which is quite impressive considering the fact that there are only two of them actively hunting.
Yaya and Pamoja take down a buffalo not far from Governors’ Camp – photo credit Moses Manduku
We were even more impressed when we learned that they had successfully taken down an adult hippo – however, we suspect that the hippo must have been either very old, injured or sick. The two lionesses, accompanied by their two cubs, managed to keep their kill for about two days, before two nomadic males took over the carcass.
A nomadic male relaxes on the banks of the Mara River – photo credit Felix Rome
These males, which have been spotted not far from the Governors’ Mara camps, are very powerful and healthy looking, both between two and three years old. We are currently trying to find out whether they came from the Mara Triangle and crossed the river into the National Reserve, or where exactly they came from.
The second nomadic male – photo credit Felix Rome
The Paradise Pride made their way back to the reserve mid-month and have been spotted several times in the northern part of paradise plains, close to paradise ya zamani and Governors’ Private Camp. They have been keeping a very low profile and might have already crossed the river again into the Mara Triangle, but that has yet to be confirmed.
Towards the end of February, we came across a young male lion, who was all alone in the Musiara Marsh, desperately calling for his pride. We are fairly sure that he belongs to the Paradise Pride; he must have been separated from them for at least a few days. He was operating on dangerous ground as he got extremely close to the two nomads who would definitely kill him if given the chance.
The young lost male separated from his pride – photo credit Simon Landolt
Despite keeping an eye out for him, we haven’t seen the young male in recent days which could hopefully mean that he has been reunited with his pride. We have not been able to cross into Paradise Plains to look for him due to all the rain and fast flowing streams but we shall provide an update on this once we know more.
Photo credit Simon Landolt
An extraordinary event took place mid-month; our lucky guests watched as one of the Rekero females killed and ate a crocodile. This is an extremely unusual sighting as crocodiles and cats tend to stay out of each other’s way.
The Rekero female with her two cubs and the dead crocodile – photo credits guide Issak Langat
The Nile crocodile is a strong example of an apex predator who is clearly situated on top of the food chain. In general, big cats and crocodiles have a relationship of mutual avoidance. Outside water however, crocodiles can meet competition from other dominant predators, such as lions or leopards. Lions definitely have a better chance of killing a crocodile because they hunt in a team and are therefore less vulnerable to get injured or even killed by the armoured reptile enemy.
Over the last two weeks, we were happy to have the young cheetah male called Ngao patrolling in front of Governors’ Il Moran and Governors’ Camp. He was seen almost daily by our guests and we are happy that he is doing well, despite the fact that he is alone.
Ngao – photo credit Ann Aveyard (Governors’ guest in February)
As there are almost no Thompson’s or Grant’s gazelles currently available around the Musiara Marsh area, Ngao has specialised in hunting impala, which is rather astonishing. The harems and the bachelor herds of impala here are quite large in numbers and they are often accompanied by troops of olive baboons which means many eyes watching out for any kind of approaching predator.
Surprisingly, he was able to take down a few individuals, mainly young ones. He was also seen trying to cross the Mara River into the Mara Triangle, but he couldn’t find a suitable spot due to the high-water level. We are delighted by his presence around Governors’ as he is a very handsome young cheetah!
Ngao just beyond Governors’ Camp – photo credit Felix Rome
February brought excellent leopard sightings in different parts of the Maasai Mara National Reserve and the Mara Triangle, which were all very enjoyable for our guests. The queen of Mara leopards, Kaboso, was the most seen individual this month, and as a proud mother of a healthy young cub, she has been kind enough to take the cub into the open several times.
Kaboso – Queen of the Mara – photo credit Ann Aveyard (Governors’ guest in February)
Kaboso and her cub – photo credit Ann Aveyard (Governors’ guest in February)
If you are on the lookout for the elusive leopard, always make sure to regularly check the trees for this big cat. Leopards are the cat species that come closest to caching food, but their habit of taking their food into secure, out-of-reach places like trees aims more at keeping it from being stolen rather than storing it. An advantage of this behaviour is that they can afford to eat over a longer period and even leave the kill unguarded for a while in the knowledge that it is relatively secure.
‘Romi’ the resident leopardess whose territory spans the Governors’ Mara camps – photo credit Moses Manduku
Birds of the Masai Mara
We were very lucky to have seen some interesting birds in February. With all the excess water and the completely flooded pools and ponds, birds like the whiskered tern or the red-billed teal were seen just outside of Governors’ Camp on the road towards the airstrip.
A whiskered tern in flight – photo credit Simon Landolt
The marsh now provides for many heron species like the Rufous-bellied heron and even goliath herons were regularly seen. Herons will take on prey like frogs and fish but are regularly seen scoffing a big snake or a good-sized grass rat.
A goliath heron searches the marsh for food – photo credit Simon Landolt
A big flock of Abdim’s storks, comprising at least 50 birds, visited the Musiara Marsh before heading down to the Mara Triangle.
Abdim’s storks – photo credit Simon Landolt
At Governors’ Camp, we were able to count up to 17 black-crowned night-herons down in the well-vegetated riverbed.
A black-crowned night heron – photo credit Simon Landolt
Night-herons are usually nocturnal birds and interestingly, this colony were quite active during the day; some were even actively fishing in the afternoon while others were being very vocal and flying between bushes.
Other great birds like the red-chested cuckoos, grey-headed bushshrikes, grey cuckooshrikes or Holub’s golden weavers were regularly observed by our guests and staff members at Governors’ Camp.
A red-chested cuckoo perched in the canopy above Governors’ Camp – photo credit Simon Landolt
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for February 2022 was written by Simon Landolt, wildlife guide with Governors’ Camp Collection. Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.