While the Mara may be quieter than usual in terms of guests, for the wildlife September has been anything but. The wildebeest migration continued as dramatically as ever, while mating lions have been found behind almost every rock – and their successful efforts resulting in ‘Mama Kali’s’ cubs, which were just sighted for the first time. Couple this with some of the Mara’s classic thunder storms and it has been a remarkable month.
On Saturday 19th, huge herds of wildebeest were building up by Lookout Hill. While they all remained calm and happily grazing, it was agreed between guides that the next couple of days could see dramatic river crossings. How right they were: The following day, five enormous crossings took place across a variety of points, just within a couple of kilometres of each other. Tens of thousands of wildebeest moved from the Reserve to the Mara Triangle, rewarding the 21 hours we had spent over the weekend to try and witness it all.
Towards the end of September, we experienced torrential rainfall which seems to have encouraged the herds to move further south. Many wildebeest are now congregating south of Serena Camp while a few remain on Paradise Plain. Will we get one more lap before their return to Tanzania? That remains to be seen but we all have our fingers crossed.
For some reason unbeknownst to me, the Mara has never been considered a ‘bucket list’ elephant destination. September has proved my long held belief that it very much should be. Twice this month I have seen family groups join together to create herds of 50+, while the Musiara Marsh has regularly boasted over 70 elephants in an area not much larger than a football field. This is an exciting enough proposition before you add the Mara’s enormous horizons, often shrouded in storm clouds. The combination of both this month, has made the area a photographer’s dream.
In early September, just above the Billa Shaka area, a breeding herd formed with two of the Mara’s biggest bulls in pursuit. The herd’s health was demonstrated by the great number of calves it contained and while we mainly now see them as separate families, there have been three occasions where we have looked out from the dining tent at Governors’ Camp to see them moving slowly across the plains.
Sightings of large bulls have been frequent, either following the family groups in the hope of breeding or simply wandering alone, grazing. When not in musth they have been calm around the vehicles, allowing guests and photographers alike a great viewing experience.
Mama Kali has been seen with her cubs near Main Crossing. The cubs, two in total, are already relaxed in the presence of safari vehicles as they approach two months old. Their mother is fairly tolerant of their playful attitude but she did not get her name (‘kali’ is Swahili for ‘angry’) for nothing! When she has had enough of their attention she is sure to let them know.
Marsh Pride lioness Yaya was seen mating with ‘Blonde 2’ on Paradise on both the 8th and 9th of September, and then mating with Chongo on the 10th. Her two adult daughters, Pamoja and Nusu Mkia, were often seen within a few hundred meters, keeping their distance and careful not to disturb. We are all very hopeful that there might be some new cubs for Yaya around New Year, what a way to start 2021 that would be.
The Marsh Pride have been spending time back in the Musiara Marsh, occasionally chasing or being chased by buffalo, but with no harm coming to either party. While the five remaining Marsh Boys (Doa, Kiok, Chongo, Koshoke and Kibogoyo) are spending more and more time on Paradise, two males from the Oloololo pride have been seen showing an increasing amount of interest in the Marsh Pride females. The previously mentioned Blonde 2 and his companion appear to be taking advantage of the absence of the the Marsh males.
Towards the end of the month we had a rare sighting of lions in a fig tree. A breakaway section of the Topi Plains Pride have started to make a habit of it, with the trees whose gently angled branches provide them with a comfortable hideaway in the shade.
A group of four lions (three females and a sub adult male) spent the entire day in a fig tree on Sunday 20th September, until a group of elephants appeared underneath them. The three females made their way to the ground while the male remained on his branch. He seemed amused rather than afraid of their presence and walked up and down the branch before settling to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the grazing elephants below – a sight that many photographers and guests would envy. Bizarrely, the elephants made no obvious objections to the lion above them and we watched for 20 minutes as two of the Mara’s most iconic species (and two that traditionally do not get on at all, might I add), allowed each other the space to relax and carry on as normal.
Eventually the lion decided he had had enough, and jumped down, startling the elephants and prompting them to chase the four lions away. A truly unique moment!
Cheetah sightings have been as frequent as lions this month. Kisaru and her three subs (sub-adult cubs), have been seen operating between the Musiara Marsh and Paradise Plain. Their hunting skills, despite Kisaru’s best efforts to teach them, is a work in progress. Towards the end of the month we found the four on Paradise; Kisaru had just caught a young Thompson gazelle and was allowing the three youngsters to practice hunting with it. We watched in awe as they let it go, before closing in and capturing it again. This may seem like harsh behaviour, but the lessons learnt by the three cheetahs will be invaluable later in life.
Since then, the four have been seen making their way back in the direction of Mara North Conservancy – the direction in which they originally came from. A young male cheetah is gently in pursuit, his intentions unclear but in no way aggressive.
Kaboso continues to raise her cub well, with guest from Il Moran seeing her kill an impala on 24th September. Robert, one of our Governors’ Camp guides saw Romi (another well known female leopard), near Governors’ Camp.
Mornings have been consistently clear, the sun rising as a vibrant, orange orb over the horizon. As we’ve moved towards the end of the month the mornings have grown colder, and a thick blanket of mist covered the Mara this morning (29th). Watching the hippo walking through the mist, back towards the river after a night’s grazing, was a stunning spectacle.
Over the last week our evenings have seen the build up of giant cloud formations that proceeded to shower us with some of the Mara’s famous storms. It’s a sight that thrills me every time it happens, and I always reach for my camera to capture the storm and the way the animals react, in an image.
One of our female warthogs at Governors’ Camp has given birth to two tiny piglets. While by no means tame, anyone who has met any of our local warthogs around camp will know that they are accustomed to our presence. This trait seems to have been passed on early to these piglets as both were found enjoying the morning sun outside the dining tent this month. Perhaps it’s time we start to think of names for them, all suggestions welcome!
By far our favourite visitor is ‘Mama’ – a wonderfully gentle elephant who visits us in camp at least once a fortnight. We’ve been seeing her since mid way through last year, as she feeds on grass and foliage around the tents. Guests at dinner on the 9th got a real treat as she passed by the dining tent, followed closely by one of our askaris, showing that your safari is never quite finished when staying at Governors’.
In all, it’s been another stunning month in the Mara, and we are extremely excited to welcome you all back as soon as possible.
Mara Game Report and all images by Will Fortescue, in-house photographer at Governors’ Camp Collection.