Game Reports Kenya Masai Mara

Masai Mara weather and wildlife May 2024

A month with two faces: May has been both exceptionally wet at times while at others the sun has broken through and dried up the muddy roads with surprising speed. The Mara River has captured everybody’s attention and talk at camp has frequently been about rainfall upriver.

Photo credit Frankie Adamson 

The plains may seem quieter, but there’s plenty happening still, if you take some time to slow down and watch. Intense competition for prey makes for some serious clashes between predators and scavengers at kill sites, hippos gather in huge numbers in shallower pools, and the skies put on quite the performance with both moody storm clouds punctuated by arresting sunsets.

May sunset – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Weather and grasslands

May has been a mixed month for weather, with exceptionally heavy downpours occurring in the first week of the month but getting fewer and further between as the days went by. In total, 112mm of rainfall was recorded this month, mostly within the first 2 weeks.

The sun has been rising at approximately 6:36am and setting at around 6:38pm in the evenings. Due to the ever-present threat of rain at the start of the month, sunrises and sunsets were often obscured by low lying cloud; however, when the sun did get a clear showing, the results were spectacular.

Sunrise Masai Mara Kenya

May sunrise – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

On the 1st of May, after immense heavy rain upriver, the Talek River burst its banks and flooded many camps which sit alongside it, as well as flooding the Talek gate itself. The Mara Bridge, which connected the Reserve with the Mara Triangle, was also swept away by the excessive force of the water once the Talek flowed into the Mara River.

All eyes were on the Mara River levels near our camps in the first week of May, as the water levels rose quite drastically in a short space of time. Gratefully, our Mara camps did not flood, but precautions were taken to ensure the safety of all guests and staff at our properties.

Mara River, Kenya

The Mara River on the 6th of May – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

While April’s heavy rain transformed the grasslands into verdant hues of green, May saw the grass grow even longer out on the plains and it is now turning more of a golden colour as we move into June. The Red Oat grass (Themeda triandra) which covers much of the Mara’s plains is now in seed and its density, length and colour makes an excellent hiding place for sleepy lions.

Marsh Pride lioness Naserian is the same color as the grass – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

On the 23rd of May, we were treated to an absolutely spectacular sight of the full moon. It was as though the sunset was competing for attention that evening, as on one side, reds and pinks filled the sky with great drama, and on the other the moon rose amidst a vibrance of purple and blue. Being surrounded by a herd of elephants during this particular moment made for some absolutely breathtaking images from a photography perspective.

Full moon Masai Mara

A beautiful full moon as seen from Governors’ Camp – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

On the plains

A great deal of the plain’s grazers, including zebra, eland, topi, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelle, have eschewed the dangers concealed by the long grass by leaving the Reserve and seeking refuge on the more open plains of Mara North Conservancy.

When the Mara River levels were at their highest, large herds of elephants with several young babies could be seen grazing across the open plains near Governors’ Camp, across Paradise plains and on the lower slopes of Rhino Ridge. Once river levels became more manageable in the second half of May, these big herds dissipated, presumably being able to cross back into the Mara Triangle.

Elephants Masai Mara

A real trunk twister – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Camp regular, Blossom the bull elephant – instantly recognizable not least because of his huge size but on account of his lone remaining ‘right-hand’ tusk – had a rough week at the end of April / beginning of May. He was spotted for at least five days straight, casting a forlorn figure alone at Bila Shaka area. For large portions of time he was even lying down, using a termite mound as a giant pillow for his gargantuan head.

Blossom the elephant Masai Mara

Blossom looking a little worse for wear – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

When standing, he was avoiding placing his whole weight on both of his back legs, choosing to elevate one foot off the ground at a time and was barely eating. Governors’ guides feared the worst for him, until one morning he had suddenly brightened up and moved on, spotted near Private Camp mock charging a vehicle – grumpy, but seemingly back to full health.

Blossom the elephant Masai Mara

Blossom – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

In the second week of May, we spotted him grazing near the Mara North Conservancy border, thankfully looking a lot more like his old self. Another of Governors’ resident elephants, ‘Harry,’ has also been seen with fellow bull elephants in marsh throughout the month of May.

Large breeding herds of buffalo can be seen dotted around the grasslands; they are the main target for predators in the absence of many other plain’s grazers. There are many small baby buffalos hidden amongst the larger bodies, hairier and browner in colour, before they grow up and turn a darker shade of black.

A herd of Cape buffalos – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

On the 2nd of May, just as the Marsh Pride were looking to hunt, opportunistic hyenas snatched a baby buffalo from a large grazing herd and began eating quickly. Governors’ guides saw the Marsh Pride lions attracted by the large commotion and jump in to snatch a paltry meal from the hyenas.

The Marsh Pride Kenya

The Marsh Pride keeps an eye on the buffalo herd in the distance – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Journeys of giraffe have been seen on occasion making their way across the plains, but favoring the edges of the Musiara forest around camp to browse the bushes and trees. One group have two young offspring, the ‘ossicones’ atop of their heads covered quite comically in tufts of spiky brown hair. These features, often mistaken for horns, are bone formations covered with hide and hair, and are used in a similar fashion as antlers or horns by male giraffe when in combat with a rival.

Baby giraffe Masai Mara Kenya

A curious baby Maasai giraffe – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

In light of the higher levels of the Mara River, hippos have gathered in huge numbers in the dam near Musiara Airstrip – there are two resident pods each occupying a separate pool of the dam separated by a series of small islands. After the heavy rains, the dam is completely full of water and completely covered in water hyacinth – not yet in bloom.

Photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Sitting beside the hippo pool in your vehicle and watching the multiple eyes and ears peer out from between the green is a particularly delightful sight. Before long, you’ll catch an impressive hippo yawn or a quick skirmish as one large body encroaches too much on the personal space of another.

Big Cats of the Masai Mara

Our resident pride of lions – the Marsh Pride – have had quite the eventful month in May. Starting off strong with a buffalo kill right at the beginning of the month, the pride was well fed for several days and remained resting in a lugga on the far side of Bila Shaka. Watch the video.

Lionesses Enkerai and Kito Marsh Pride

Marsh Pride lionesses Enkerai and her mother Kito – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Sadly, lioness Dada was seen limping and walking tenderly for a few days following this kill, presumably the result of an injury picked up while hunting. Her activity for the ensuing few days was limited – she remained resting while the rest of the pride searched for food.  This, however, has proven to be a good thing as she is now very mobile once again and keeping up with them without issue.

Dada lioness Marsh Pride Kenya

Dada feeding on the buffalo kill – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Bila Shaka beasts Chongo, Koshoke and Kiok have all been seen periodically with Marsh Pride females throughout the month of May. Lola and one of Kito’s daughters – to this date unknown if it was Enkerai or Naserian due to the long grass obscuring our view – have been spotted mating with these males. On the 30th of May, Kaleo was seen mating with Chongo.

Kiok at sunrise – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Most recently, on the 28th of May, they were spotted walking with great effort to transport their enormously full bellies from Musiara Airstrip directly to Governors’ Camp (watch video). They found themselves a shady spot in the bushes near the main gate to sleep for the entire day before emerging shortly before sunset to resume their nightly patrols.

For a little over a week in the first half of the month, Musiara Marsh was intruded by three young male lions, almost fully grown but their bodies full of scars and cuts and with sorry excuses for manes. They were first seen nursing a buffalo kill in the marshy area between the turn off for Governors’ Il Moran Camp and the road to Little Governors’ Camp crossing, for several days.

Swampy's boys

Two of Swampy’s boys – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Fully aware that they were on borrowed land, the boys looked tense and alert. They were spotted several times by Governors’ staff around the Musiara Marsh and at the entrance to Private Camp, before disappearing again towards the end of the month.

Swampy’s guarding a hippo carcass – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

The three males were later identified by some helpful contributors on the Marsh Pride Facebook page as Swampy’s boys. Swampy is a Riverline Pride breakaway lioness who impressively raised these three males to adulthood without the security of her own pride. Sired by the Bila Shaka males, they have been off on their own adventures without their mother for some time although it is suspected that they occasionally hook up with mama Swampy every now and then.

Swampy's boys lions Masai Mara

Swampy’s boys – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Speaking of ‘lone lionesses’, Marsh Pride breakaway Yaya made an appearance with her grandcubs, Pamoja mbili and Simba, much to our relief on the morning of May 21st. It had been over three weeks since she was previously seen, and the circumstances in which she reappeared on this occasion are yet another testament to her bravery and resilience.

A dead hippo was spotted in the grass by the side of the road on the 20th of May – it had lost its fight for life after combat with a rival male. The next morning, we returned to the carcass to see if anything had discovered it, and it turned out to be quite the meeting point!

The entire Marsh Pride surrounded the feast, with numerous hyenas loitering around the periphery, and three sandy coloured figures crouched timidly in the grass – Yaya and her grandcubs. Faced with Kaleo and Lola nearby, they had no way to approach the kill without conflict.

Oleku and Yaya eat side by side – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

After what felt like an eternity of tense staring and growling from Marsh Pride members, the three figures rose at once – as if in solidarity – and for a brief moment all hell broke loose. Pamoja mbili and Simba were immediately chased away by the younger Marsh lionesses and the elder female Dada, while lead lioness Kito and young male Oleku, made Yaya know their unhappy feelings about her presence voraciously.

Oleku Masai Mara

Oleku – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Yaya’s body language was immediately submissive, lying on her side as if begging them to let her stay. Eventually, and quite remarkably, after Oleku had returned to eat and the majority of the pride had taken off after the grandcubs, Yaya ever so slowly and cautiously crawled her way over to the carcass and started to eat. A few instances of Oleku correcting Yaya’s table manners ensued, but before long she was eating peacefully alongside him, joined by Nusurika and eventually again by Kito.

Yaya with Nusurika at the hippo carcass – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

It was reported by Governors’ guides that later in the morning, Simba and Pamoja mbili somehow managed to also eat at the hippo in the presence of the rest of the Marsh Pride – a remarkable feat given the rapturous unwelcome they were shown during the dawn hours, being chased away not once, but twice!

The ever-present threat of two different hyena clans sporadically boiled over into a boisterous cacophony as they quite literally fought over scraps of hippo skin, but this was proven to be a mere preview of the main act performed the following morning on May 22nd.

Hyenas Masai Mara

Hyenas feed on the hippo carcass – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Driving in the direction of Musiara Gate that morning, we slowed to see Simba and some core Marsh Pride members making a very swift exit from the scene. As our vehicle came to a stop, an explosion of hyena cackling and lion roars came rolling across the grasslands and a quick glance in the direction of the carcass showed a huge cloud of steam rising into the morning light.

Hyenas illuminated by the rising sun – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Pulling up to the carcass was like driving into a scene straight out of the afterlife: in the red hues of the rising sun, lions fought to hold onto every last bit of food as over 40 hyenas piled on top of the ribcage and remaining bits of torso.

Every lion gave up the fight one-by-one, until two resilient figures remained side-by-side refusing to give up their share: Yaya and her siter Dada. After several minutes, even Dada gave up the fight and retreated to find the rest of the pride leaving Yaya to eat alone surrounded by squabbling hyenas. She did not give up her share easily by any means, eating alongside them pausing only to growl, snap, and deliver warning blows with her front paw. Watch the video.

Eventually, the penny dropped for the hyenas and they realised there was only one lioness left and spotted bodies began piling on top of Yaya. Despite being bitten and bruised, Yaya fought off the hyenas to continue eating alone with them for some time.

Yaya lioness Marsh Pride Kenya

Yaya walks away – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Deciding enough was enough after some time, she left the kill and walked alone towards Musiara Airstrip where she was last seen on the 23rd of May, calling for her grandcubs. On the 30th of May, Simba and Pamoja mbili were seen together, without Yaya. It is unknown if they have since reunited, but history has told us that Yaya’s little close-knit family always have a way of finding each other again.

Yaya lioness Masai Mara

Yaya has made quite a ‘comeback’ after months of looking ill – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

The neighboring Paradise Pride have welcomed two very young cubs into their family which have now joined the rest of their pride. There are now five cubs of varying ages in this group; the youngest about six weeks old and the eldest around nine months old.

Paradise Pride Masai Mara Kenya

Lioness from the Paradise Pride – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Birds of the Masai Mara

May’s full grasslands are punctuated with the sight of male Jackson’s widowbirds and red-collared widowbirds hopping out of the long grass in full breeding plumage as they perform their courtship dances in the hopes of attracting a female. Their beautiful downward-turned black feather tails add to the drama of the sight – males lose this plumage when out of breeding season.

A Jackson’s widowbird – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Numerous pairs of grey-crowned cranes frequent Musiara Marsh area, recognisable not only for their beautiful plumage, but their loud calls that can be heard in the evening and early morning. One pair near camp still have a juvenile with them; its downy and fluffy plumage slowly taking the shape and form of the adults is suggestive of near-maturity.

Grey crowned cranes

Grey crowned cranes in flight – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

An incredible sighting of a martial eagle hunt was captured on the 2nd of May; the eagle landed on top of a tree and kept its eyes fixed on a nearby flock of cattle egrets accompanying a large breeding herd of buffalo. In the blink of an eye, the martial eagle took off from its perch with lightning speed and precision, captured a cattle egret and pummelled it to the ground in its talons.

Martial eagle

A martial eagle snatches an egret – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

After a brief pause, the eagle took off again with the egret in its talons and returned to its tree. Perching on a lower branch, the eagle began plucking out the feathers of the egret before starting to tear away at the flesh. The martial eagle is Africa’s largest of its kind, with wingspans of over 2.5 metres. Known for their incredible eyesight, martial eagles are able to spot prey from over six kilometers away. Watching one pinpoint its target and execute its hunt perfectly, was truly a sight to behold.

Martial eagle

The martial eagle with its prey – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Elsewhere near camp, the wet conditions provide a haven for a range of wetland birds such as saddle-billed stork, sacred ibis, and little egrets. On the drive from Musiara Airstrip to Governors’ Camp, both malachite and pied kingfishers are regularly spotted taking advantage of the little fish that are swept away by waters draining from Musiara Marsh into the luggas that feed the Mara River.

The rufous-naped lark is the most widespread lark in East Africa – photo credit Frankie Adamson 

Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for May 2024 is by Frankie Adamson.  To see other amazing wildlife imagery by Frankie, please follow her on Instagram.

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