What a month it has been to kick off 2023! The Masai Mara Reserve is bustling with life and that has meant there has been a lot of action taking place. January has been a bit wetter than expected and rainfall has been fairly regular in the evenings.
A perfect day in January – photo credit Nick Penny
On the evening of the 12th, a large storm rolled in and 40mm of rain fell in just a few hours, which is the same amount of rainfall for the whole of October last year. The total amount of rainfall for January is 116.5mm, which was more than usual but it has left the reserve looking particularly green and healthy.
The Mara has greened up with recent rains – photo credit Nick Penny
The fair amount of localised rainfall this month has not increased the level of the Mara River at all – which is interesting – but we suspect this tells us that upstream must be very dry now. The river is extremely shallow and at some points, the riverbed can be seen. This has made it incredibly easy for animals to cross from the reserve to the Mara Triangle.
The low river has also meant that hippos are forced to reside in the deepest pools of the river, which means family groups are closer together than usual. Tensions have been rising and there have been reports from guides and guests witnessing hippos fights throughout the month.
The marshy areas around our camps are full of water and full of life. Elephants have been loving the fresh new growth in the Musiara marsh and numerous family groups can be found grazing in there for hours throughout the day.
Breeding herds of elephants descend upon the marsh daily – photo credit Nick Penny
Temperatures in the mornings have averaged around 13°C but have quickly risen to an average of 31°C in the day. Humidity has varied quite a bit throughout the month, with some days as low as 20% and other days up to 85%, especially when there has been lots of cloud cover.
There has been a distinct variety of clear and cloudy mornings and evenings throughout January. In the evenings, when storms started to build in the distance, it made for some incredibly dramatic skies as the sun was setting each day at approximately 06:56pm.
A intensely dramatic sky in January – photo credit Nick Penny
Sunrises have been around 06:46am each day. So, when you are heading out on a 6:30am game drive, leave plenty of time to find a sighting and watch the sun come up with the animals which is a very special experience.
Sunrise in the Masai Mara – photo credit Nick Penny
The grassy plains of the Mara are quite short now due to large number of herbivores such as zebras, topis, elands, and gazelles, that are all grazing around the Rhino Ridge, Topi Plains and Paradise Plains areas.
Grant’s gazelles enjoying the flush of green – photo credit Nick Penny
Due to the recent rains, this short grass is looking particularly healthy and there is lots of fresh growth which possibly explains the lovely numbers of grazers that are in these areas at the moment.
A Defassa waterbuck in the Musiara marsh area – photo credit Nick Penny
Having shorter grass has given opportunity to spot some of the less known species of a safari such as servals; in times of the year when the grass is long, they often conceal themselves very well.
Servals are well camouflaged, stealthy hunters – photo credit Nick Penny
Other species that have been seen more this month include reed bucks, leopard tortoise and African hares, to name a few. It is always great to see the more unfamiliar species as it demonstrates the impressive biodiversity the Mara has.
The leopard tortoise gets its name from the leopard-type markings on its carapace (hard upper shell)- photo credit Nick Penny
An African hare lies still in the grass, hoping it won’t be noticed – photo credit Nick Penny
We have enjoyed stopping to observe a large herd of topis during game drives. They have many young calves who are often running around and getting used to their long legs! Over the last few weeks, there have been reports of strong numbers of giraffe in the Mara Triangle. One morning, as guests were returning to Little Governors’ Camp after their game drive, a tower of 24 giraffe were counted just a few hundred metres from the camp.
It has been an extremely action-packed month for the big cats of the Masai Mara; there have been positive stories and unfortunately some upsetting stories. Firstly, the core females of the Marsh Pride came back to the reserve from Mara North Conservancy early on in January.
The Marsh Pride and Lola’s cub – photo credit Nick Penny
They spent around two weeks in their ancestral home, the Bila Shaka area, alongside Yaya and her grand cubs who did not leave the area the entire time the pride was there (they were seen around 100 metres from the pride at times).
Two of Marsh Pride’s male subs – photo credit Nick Penny
The Paradise Pride spent most of January in the reserve but there have been reports that they have crossed the river into the Mara Triangle a few times. Early on in the month we saw them with the coalition known as the Bila Shaka males (who are covering this pride) eating a hippo just next to the Mara River.
The Bila Shaka males (Chongo, Koshoke, Kiok and Kibogoyo), have spent most of the month below Serena Lodge, but unfortunately Doa has not been seen for a while now.
Koshoke on patrol – photo credit Nick Penny
Kiok – photo credit Nick Penny
The rest of the Paradise Pride have been spotted along the Mara River at locations such as Main Crossing and Kaburu Crossing.
Kiok and Koshoke – photo credit Nick Penny
The Topi Pride has been sighted throughout the month and are still very much a formidable force with numbers in the mid-twenties. One morning, some of our guests witnessed the three large Topi Pride males and one female feeding on cape buffalo. As the guests were sat observing this, a sub adult male was spotted coming toward the buffalo kill. He did not stop and he was only around 20 metres away from the kill when the Topi males spotted him. Suddenly, a full speed chase commenced and they charged the sub adult across the grassy plains.
A member of the Topi Pride – photo credit Nick Penny
Thankfully, the younger lion was too fast for the fully grown and heavier males so there were no casualties, but it certainly was close. It really demonstrates that danger can be just around the corner at any time for these big cats.
Hyenas steal parts of the carcass from the Topi Pride – photo credit Nick Penny
One particular pride that has taken advantage of the Mara River being so low at the moment, is the River Pride. They crossed over from the Mara Triangle and came into the reserve for a couple of days towards the end of the month, taking down a buffalo very near to Governors’ Camp, at what we call the Manager’s Crossing. There were also other reports of this pride visiting the reserve and then returning to the triangle earlier in the month.
Unfortunately, there has been some sad news from the Mara Triangle as Risasi the cheetah lost another one of her cubs to a crocodile as they tried to cross a lugga (small stream). She is now left with two males who are still doing very well.
Risasi is a great mother and has done a wonderful job raising her cubs. Sadly, there are so many threats to young cheetahs as they grow up and their infant mortality rate is high. Just 5% of cheetah cubs make it to adulthood.
Some highly anticipated news was confirmed for us all in January; Romi the leopardess was finally spotted with her cub! After a few months of speculation, Romi and her cub were photographed together on the forest floor, not far from the Little Governors’ Camp car park.
Romi, our favourite leopard, resting on her favourite fallen tree – photo credit Nick Penny
Since then, several guests have been fortunate enough to see them both and the cub has even been seen practicing its climbing skills in the early evenings. Watch our video of Romi.
The Mara’s bird life was spectacular for January. From small pied kingfishers and spur-winged lapwing chicks to the largest of the African eagles, the mighty martial eagle, there has been great diversity in the range of avifauna seen around our camps and out on game drives.
The pied kingfisher is mostly piscivores (a specialist fish-eater) but also feeds on crustaceans and large aquatic insects – photo credit Nick Penny
A spur-winged lapwing chick; it will develop its full colouring as it matures – photo credit Nick Penny
The frequent rain that is falling at the moment has made for some ideal conditions for wading birds in the marshy areas, particularly around our Mara camps. This includes numerous plovers, lapwings, and storks. Grey and black-headed herons have been seen consistently, foraging for small amphibians or insects in the shorter grasses around the marshes throughout the day.
The Rufous-bellied Heron is a species of heron in the genus Ardeola (the pond herons). It prefers swampy, marsh areas – photo credit Nick Penny
Tawny eagles will both hunt and scavenge. Scavenging makes them vulnerable to poisoning incidents – photo credit Nick Penny
As guests headed out on early morning game drives, they often came across a flock of five ostrich made of two males and three females. They were mostly spotted by the airstrip, as the sun was rising each day.
Ostriches in silhouette at sunrise – photo credit Nick Penny
This is a magnificent photo opportunity as the warm orange sun climbs above the horizon and lights up the endless savannah in a wonderful vibrant glow. Certainly, a lovely way to start a morning!
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.
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