As September rolled into October, the expected continuation of wet weather came to an end and dusty roads have re-entered the fray. Talks of supposed weather phenomena have been put to bed and the Mara is uncharacteristically dry. The area is crawling with lions, causing enormous friction between prides and factions as territories are repeatedly crossed. Another eventful month in the Mara is coming to an end and it has been action-packed and full of drama.
Photo credit Harry Blakey
In some areas, the grass has shot up to nearly eye level – which provides excellent hunting cover for big cats. Servals slink through the shorter grass of the marsh in the early hours.
African servals are most commonly found in grasslands and wetlands – photo credit Harry Blakey
There has been wide speculation of a weather phenomenon known as El Nino around camp. We saw a glimmer of this on 17th October with a huge storm in the evening and 40mm of rain fell in just two hours. Since then however, rain has been sporadic and the suggestion is that El Nino might not happen in the Maasai Mara.
Photo credit Harry Blakey
In general, weather has been hot and dry for October; this has caused the Mara River level to drop, prompting frustrations to grow between hippos as they compete for space.
The Mara River – photo credit Harry Blakey
More of them are making use of the pools near the airstrip and across the marsh. Crocodiles are seen more frequently on banks of the river. The forecast ahead looks dry, so we could see friction increase between the regular dwellers of the water.
You can often catch hippos, out of the water as they return to the river after a night of grazing – photo credit Harry Blakey
Elephants are crossing the river from the Mara triangle in droves to visit the luxuries of the marshland. They emerge elegantly from the forest, making a beeline for the water. It is wonderful to see them in such great numbers and to also photograph some really impressive individuals.
A mother and calf – photo credit Harry Blakey
We were blessed with the visit of an enormous bull, who was enjoying himself in the marsh area. He eventually surfaced to show off his incredibly impressive tusks, as he strode majestically out of the wetlands and across the savannah (watch the video).
The Mara tusker – photo credit Harry Blakey
It seems to be ‘baby season’ in the Masai Mara as all the grazers and more, are nursing young ones. Plenty of topi calves bound around on Paradise Plains. A huge herd of buffalos moves between here and Rhino Ridge with lots of calves among them.
Warthog piglets zoom in and out of the grass chasing one another, tails pointed to the sky like TV aerials. Giraffes have been seen a few times making the journey across the river at Main Crossing. Reluctant at first, they pluck up the courage to enter the water, mindful of the crocodiles and certainly keeping a distance from the numerous hippos.
It has been a testing month for the Masai Mara’s most famous lion pride. After the joy of Dada’s cubs being revealed in September, the pride has encountered some significant challenges since. An unfortunate incident of Human Wildlife Conflict was reported by Governors’ Camp guides in early October; Dada was found one morning with a big gaping wound that was consistent to that of a spear injury.
We followed up with the Sheldrick Wildlife trust’s Mara veterinary unit until treatment was provided and Dada has now fully healed. Since then however, Dada has lost both of her cub’s to the wrath of the Bila Shaka males who have been in and out of the territory, causing chaos and upheaval amongst the pride.
Dada with one of her cub’s – photo credit Harry Blakey
It is suspected that the first cub was killed by Kibogoyo, one of the Bila Shaka males. He had been spotted the day after the cub went missing with significant injuries to his eye, indicating a fight between himself and the pride females.
Lionesses Kaleo and Lola did not take kindly to his presence, snarling and growling as he entered their territory (watch the video). It’s incredibly sad that in the final days of the month, the second cub went missing after a big commotion involving all four of the Bila Shaka males and the Marsh Pride.
Dada’s took great care of her remaining cub – until it was no longer – photo credit Harry Blakey
Nusurika, the daughter of Lola, was also a victim of these males in August this year. She sustained significant injuries and spent around ten days alone hiding in the Marsh; it was widely feared that she would not make it. A visit from the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Kenya Wildlife Service Veterinary Unit was required to check her over. After inspecting her, the team deemed that she was making a slow but steady recovery and would not require any treatment. Remarkable resilience from the young lioness.
The vet team check on Nusurika who was relaxing with her mother Lola – photo credit Harry Blakey
Marsh Pride male Halftail reappeared in mid-October. He was seen snatching a topi vertebrae off Kaleo, who had herself stolen it from a clan of hyena. He enjoyed eating his meal before marching proudly towards the Bila Shaka area.
Kaleo and her meal of topi vertebrae – photo credit Harry Blakey
Halftail chases Kaleo – photo credit Harry Blakey
His visit was fleeting as the Bila Shaka males seem to be everywhere at the moment – and he cannot risk being around for too long. Halftail is a mighty lion in his own right but taking on the four brothers on his own would be fatal.
And eventually robs her of her meal – photo credit Harry Blakey
Marsh Pride breakaway lioness Yaya has had a limp for some time. During the same afternoon that they examined Nusurika, The SWT vet unit decided to check on Yaya too. After a three-hour search, she was found on Rhino Ridge.
And she was rather well, sitting on a recent buffalo kill. Grand cubs Pamoja Mbili and Simba were with her, bellies full after feasting. The vets took a look at Yaya and saw that her limp was now minor and there was no reason to intervene. Bringing down a buffalo almost single-handedly is an incredible feat, so she must be nearly back to full health. She continues to provide astonishingly well for the young ones.
Yaya was found having just killed a buffalo – photo credit Harry Blakey
The Paradise Pride continues to be covered by Chongo and Kiok – two of the Bila Shaka brothers. These males are on a mission to dominate both the Paradise and Marsh Prides although they have recently been hanging around the river by Main Crossing with the Paradise females.
Chongo – photo credit Harry Blakey
A female from the Paradise Pride – photo credit Harry Blakey
It’s safe to say all four brothers have been incredibly busy, blazing trails of carnage in their path wherever they go. On the 26th of October, Chongo, Kiok, Koshoke and Kibogoyo were all seen around the Bila Shaka area and tensions were rising between them and the Marsh Pride.
Kiok on patrol – photo credit Harry Blakey
Young marsh male, Oleku, was roughed up by the four aggressors and thankfully the lionesses came to his rescue. Kito, who had seemingly given birth to cubs recently (although we did not get a chance to see them) was later spotted resting in the thicket with Koshoke; this has made our guides suspect that her cubs might have been killed in the commotion.
An affectionate moment between Oleku and Dada’s cub – photo credit Harry Blakey
There had been some rumours of leopard sightings near Governors’ Il Moran. The big male revealed himself and was spotted far up a tree, possibly hiding from the many lions that have been roaming the area. It is possible that he is the son of Romi, the ex-resident leopardess at Little Governors’ Camp – although she has not been seen for quite some time now.
We saw this male in the middle of the marsh one afternoon. Unlike a lot of the more habituated big cats of the Mara, he is incredibly wild and wasn’t too happy to see us. It looks as if he is slightly injured so hopefully he returns to the forest to rest in safety.
The heavy storm in the middle of the month provided the perfect environment for birds in the wetlands. Saddle-bill storks and egrets patrol the shallows looking for food, while the soundtrack of frogs echo from the water.
A male saddle-bill stork has dark-brown eyes while the female has yellow eyes – photo credit Harry Blakey
Bateleur eagles swoop through the skies, whilst vultures – the undertakers of the Mara – are never too far away. Ostriches maraud the plains in healthy numbers, with the roosters showing off their phenomenal plumage to the females. A busy time in the world of birds.
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for October 2023 is by Harry Blakey. To see other amazing wildlife imagery by Harry, please follow him on Instagram.
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