February 2023 in the Masai Mara has been a wonderful month for all aspects of game viewing for our guests staying at our Mara camps. The area of the reserve where our camps are situated, has been lucky to have had some localised rainfall over this month, 87mm in total.
Other areas have not been so lucky and are drying out quickly. This has meant that the Musiara Marsh which lies adjacent to our camps, is still retaining a good amount of water which in turn has drawn animals in from afar.
Hippos are spending more time in the marsh than in the river – photo credit Nick Penny
This month, mornings in the Mara started out at around 14/15°C and as soon as the sun rises the heat quickly builds to around 31/32°C in the early afternoon. Humidity has fluctuated between 40-60% in the day and 80-90% at night. On afternoons where storm clouds built over the Mara sky, it certainly felt quite humid, but this would drop very quickly just as it started to rain.
Days have been hot and humid – photo credit Nick Penny
The mornings have been quite varied weather-wise, some have been incredibly still and misty which resulted in excellent conditions for photography. Stunningly clear sunrises lit up the Mara’s savannahs in the most beautiful light.
Sunrise in February – photo credit Nick Penny
Sunrises in February took place around 06:47am each day. Many of the animals have been quite active just before sunrise because from mid-morning to late afternoon the temperatures have been quite hot.
February sunrise – photo credit Nick Penny
The Big cats have been evading the heat by finding a good bit of shade to rest in throughout the hottest parts of the day. On a few days this month, large and intense storm clouds built over the grassy plains late in the afternoon, which has made for some dramatic photo opportunities for our guests as the golden sun pokes through the stormy clouds.
On days that had clearer afternoons, guests were able to enjoy their last sighting of the day and their ‘sundowner’ drinks while watching the sun set behind the Oloololo escarpment. Sunsets have been around 18:55pm.
The Mara River is still extremely low and has fallen since last month – in some areas, just a trickle of water remains. Localised rainfall around our camps has barely affected the river level at all – it was the same for January.
The level of the Mara River at the end of February – photo credit Nick Penny
The fact the river level dropped further than last month tells us it must be extremely dry in the Mau escarpment area, which is where the Mara River originates from. Many areas all over Kenya are really struggling with a very harsh drought at the moment which is making life incredibly hard for people and animals, so we are all hoping the rains come soon to relive these areas.
There have been some epic herds of zebra residing around the Bila Shaka, Topi Plains and Rhino Ridge areas, all throughout February. The numbers are truly vast and have been likened to that of a ‘mini migration’ by some of our guides.
Large herds of zebras have congregated on the open plains – photo credit Nick Penny
These zebras are thought to be staying in these areas due to the healthy amount of grass for grazing. The Marsh and Topi lion prides are fortunate that the zebra herds have remained their territories and both prides have made zebra kills several times this month.
The Musiara Marsh area is bustling with life as it is a great source of fresh vegetation and water for the grazers as well as other species that need to cool down during the heat of the day. Bull elephants in particular have been seen in the area of the marsh that is closest to Little Governors’ Camp.
A hyena cools off in the water pools of the marsh – photo credit Nick Penny
Little Governors’ has been amazing for elephants coming though the camp at literally any time of the day, sometimes even in the middle of lunch service! The seasonal marsh in front of the camp is a great source of food for the elephants, which is what pulls them in daily.
One of the resident warthogs enjoy green grass around the marsh in front of Little – photo credit Nick Penny
Only a matter of metres from Il Moran on the night of the 11th of February, a hippo died, believed to have been natural causes. The following morning, there were masses of hyenas at the kill, rampantly tearing at the carcass.
The drama and noise of the scene was certainly impressive. So much so, that it attracted the attention of the Kichwa Tembo pride of lions who were waiting in the bushes. It was reported that the lions and hyenas kept stealing the kill from each other over the next 24 hours.
The Kichwa Tembo Pride is also known as the ‘Riverline Pride’ – photo credit Nick Penny
The number of giraffes that are being sighted between each of our mara camps has been very impressive this month. At around midday they seem to emerge from the riverine forest and head out into the plains for several hours. Guests had lovely sightings of the giraffe when departing camp on their afternoon game drive. The increase in numbers could be due to the river being so low – it is incredibly easy for them to cross back and forth from the Mara Triangle.
Masai giraffe – photo credit Nick Penny
February was full of action for the Big Cats of the Masai Mara. Marsh Pride females, Dada, Kito, Rembo and Lola along with the youngsters, returned to the Reserve very early on in the month from Mara North Conservancy to the Bila Shaka area, after being away for only a couple of weeks.
The Marsh Pride – photo credit Nick Penny
The three sub-adult boys and the dominant male of the pride, Halftail, did not join the rest of the pride for about another week. The boys were first spotted again on the 9th February as our guests headed out on early morning game drives.
Halftail of the Marsh Pride – photo credit Nick Penny
Lola has thankfully healed quite well after her injury that was a result of Human-Wildlife conflict, occurring in the Musiara marsh area. She was incredibly lucky as the injury just missed her spine. Governors’ guides are working closely with the Mara Predator Conservation Program to report any incidences of conflict to them and we have also hosted Kasaine Sankan from MPCP for another presentation for all our guides in camp. Governors’ is also working on raising funds for a lion collaring event which will help to mitigate some of these conflicts. Please read more on these recent HWC incidents here.
Lola plays with her female cub after recovering well from her injury – photo credit Felix Rome
Lola’s cub – photo credit Felix Rome
Halftail was spotted in the marsh feeding on a hippo while the three male subs went straight to Bila Shaka to join the others. Since they have all returned to their home territory, the pride has spent quite a lot of time together between the Musiara Marsh and Bila Shaka, with our guests watching them playing, hunting and relaxing.
The young males of the Marsh Pride – photo credit Felix Rome
There have been some lovely sightings of Halftail mating with a female from the pride known as ‘Kaleo’. This lioness is the daughter of the late Kabibi and she often spends time alone on the fringe of the pride; we are hoping that the news of her mating with Halftail will result in some cubs for the pride and draw her closer to the four core females.
Haltail and Kaleo were mating during February – photo credit Felix Rome
In the early morning of February 19th, the Marsh Pride had taken down a zebra. This, in turn, drew the attention of about forty hyenas. It wasn’t until there was just one male sub left attempting to guard the meal, that the hyenas really took control.
We watched five minutes of the young male lion fighting off the noisy hyenas as they tried to steal the kill. He made many charges on the hyenas but they kept coming back, as they do. Unfortunately, there were too many hyenas for the young male, so he had to give up the kill. This was a very intense sighting and the sound show was incredible. It certainly was a memorable sighting for our guests (WATCH VIDEO HERE).
On the 25th February, our guides gave us the good news that Marsh Pride female Dada, had three new cubs which were estimated to be about a week old at that point. She is keeping them hidden in the dense thicket and we have been keeping a discreet eye on her during our game drives.
Yaya and her grand cubs, Simba and Pamoja mibili, were seen around the Bila Shaka area for most of the month, but they did head off into the conservancies for about six days before returning. They are keeping a respectable distance from the core Marsh Pride but staying in roughly the same territory.
Yaya with grandcubs ‘Simba’ and ‘Pamoja mbili’ photo credit Nick Penny
The coalition of lions known as the ‘Bila Shaka males’ moved around a bit more in February compared to January and have been spotted near the Kichwa Tembo crossing point, which is upstream on the Mara River from all our camps.
Koshoke and Kiok – two of the Bila Shaka males – photo credit Felix Rome
This is a normal thing for them to do as they patrol and scent mark. They have been passing quite close to where the Marsh Pride resides so there is the possibility that will run into each other soon. We are monitoring their movements closely, to see what happens.
Kiok – photo credit Felix Rome
The Paradise Pride was sighted a few times in February, most recently in an area known as ‘manager’s crossing’ or ‘manager’s lugga’. It is thought that they are spending time on both sides of the Mara River and are crossing frequently. Again, this will be easy enough for them as the river is so low at the moment.
In the middle of the month, it was lovely to have a cheetah arrive and stay around our camps for a couple of days. On one morning, guests were lucky to see this cheetah attempt to hunt impala just a few metres from Governors’ Il Moran Camp. One attempt was stopped by some aggressive baboons which chased the cheetah for about 500 metres before retreating. On the second attempt, a dramatic chase commenced and as the cheetah was in full speed behind the impala, it made sudden dive for the marsh and went bounding through the reeds – the cheetah quickly came to a stop and went to rest in some shade.
The cheetah that visited us at Governors’ Camp – photo credit Nick Penny
We have also had great sightings of cheetah Risasi and her three cubs.
Our beautiful resident leopardess, Romi, who’s territory lies in the riverine forest surrounding our camps, was spotted numerous times in February – often coming out to the fringes of the forest to look for prey. She is having to hunt more than usual at the moment as she has a young cub to care for and he will be growing quickly.
Romi – photo credit Nick Penny
The Mara’s bird life is always impressive, but notable sightings for February were that of palearctic migrants (mainly from Europe), passing through the Mara on their mammoth journey north as they head back to Europe for the European spring and summer seasons.
The Bila Shaka and Musiara Marsh areas have been particularly good areas for spotting these species as they rest in the bushes and trees of these areas. Some of these species include the white storks which came in their hundreds for a few days in the middle of the month and occupied most of the trees along the Mara River as they roosted at night.
The white stork avoids the European winter by making the journey to sub-Saharan Africa – photo credit Felix Rome
Another migrant species that has been spotted passing through is the steppe eagle, which is often easily confused with the tawny eagle. These birds fly incredibly far north to breed; some go all the way to the wildernesses of Russia, Mongolia and China.
One other particularly colourful migrant that has been spotted numerous times in the Bila Shaka area is the European roller. These rollers are quite similar to the lilac-breasted roller, which is a very common bird of the Mara. However, the biggest difference is that the European migrant has a much ‘bluer’ head.
The lilac-breasted roller is Kenya’s national bird due to its many colors – photo credit Nick Penny
European rollers are migratory, spending the winter mainly in the east and south of Africa – photo credit Nick Penny
A lovely flock of wattled starlings has been seen around our camps. The breeding males of these birds are quite unique as they often acquire a long, fleshy, dangling wattle from below their beak and a strong coloured yellow head.
Wattled starlings are nomadic resident in eastern and southern Africa – photo credit Nick Penny
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for January 2023 is by Nick Penny, resident photographer for Governors’ Camp Collection. To see other amazing wildlife imagery by Nick, please follow him on Instagram.
Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.