Weather and grasslands
The month of June this year the weather has been quite wet, cool and humid; cloudy mornings were often on a daily basis. Total rainfall for the month was 138 mm. The Trans Mara again has received generally more rainfall than the Musiara areas and the north-east conservancies have also received good rainfall. The humidity has been in the region of 65-75%. Grass levels within the riverine woodlands in the East and West Marsh have improved which has brought back many elephant: much of the savannah elephant’s diet is grass although they do compensate for more fibrous feed when grass levels are dry and short. The Warburgia trees were fruiting earlier on in the month and have since eased off, although the Teclea trees are now flowering.
Savannah elephants – photo credit Will Fortescue
The Mara River has risen latterly and is flowing well – earlier on in the month the level was very low. Grass levels on the short grass plains have also improved throughout the Musiara environs: the Bila Shaka southern plains, Topi Plains, Malima Tatu and Emartii have all good grass growth. The Paradise Plains still have thick dense grass which is more palatable for the hard mouthed Cape Buffalo and elephant.
On the plains:
Serengeti wildebeest and zebra:
The Serengeti Wildebeest are still on their way up to the Sand River: on the 7th of the month some large numbers had already crossed below the Sand River gate and Sala’s camp.
Serengeti wildebeest near Sand River – photo credit Will Fortescue
On the morning of the 10th at 11.45 am, a large crossing estimated at around 5,000 wildebeest were seen crossing the Mara River near the Lookout Hill area, downstream of the Mara Bridge. They were all going from south-east in the southern Mara to north-east of the Trans Mara conservancy – this group have since moved down to the Sand River.
Wildebeest enjoying the green grass of the Reserve – photo credit Moses Manduku
Last year, large grassland areas of the Reserve and Trans Mara were burnt and the recent rainfall has brought on a green flush which is more palatable than grasses that have not been burnt for the last ten years. On the 19th of June, an estimated herd of 2,000 zebra crossed the Mara River downstream of the main crossing points – they were coming from the West and heading East. They all then filed towards the south-east conservancies of Olare Orok, Motorogi and Naibosho.
There are a few scattered herds of wildebeest on the Meta Plains, Ol Misingiyoi Plains and larger herds within the sausage tree crossing point – these areas are in the southern sector of the Reserve. On the 26th quite a large herd of wildebeest were seen near Roan and Survey Hill, they were latterly seen moving down towards the sand river areas of the Meat Plains. On the 26th a herd size of approximately 5,000 wildebeest were seen crossing the OL Keju Ronkai River – they were then seen moving west towards the short grass Meta Plains in the southern Mara.
Other plains game:
Elephant have started returning back into the Reserve since the good rainfall this month. The marsh is often supporting herds of elephant and there have been a few good sightings of elephant mating.
Elephant in the Reserve – photo credit Dave Richards
On the 25th and 26th two elephant cows were mated in the west marsh. Generally the courtship between a male and a female elephant is short lived. To begin with, the females tend to run away from the males and he will have to pursue her. The older males that are from 40 to 50 years of age are the most likely to breed with the females, while females are ready to breed from about 14-16 years of age.
Giraffe are seen plenty within the riverine woodlands of the Mara River, and also within the Governors’ campgrounds. There are the resident older more dominant males that we are seeing more frequently. Giraffes are browsers and select leaves and buds on trees and shrubs – mostly Acacia species whose leaves and shoots form the bulk of the giraffe’s diet in most areas. The proportion of grass in the diet is very low. Evidence shows that giraffe adapt their diet to the species available in any specific region they find themselves, as well as adapting intake depending on the seasons and the plant’s growth stage. Males are capable of feeding on vegetation at higher levels than females do. Olive Baboons in large troop sizes are being seen within the west marsh riverine verges – many young infants being seen as well.
Hippo numbers in the main river have dispersed into their pods now that the river has swollen up again. Some older bulls suffered before the rains came and a few weak individuals were taken by the resident lion prides. On the 27th a hippo was seen being eaten between Governors’ Camp and Private Camp by Marsh Pride lionesses Spot, Little Red and the cubs. It was suspected that this hippo had died the evening before.
Spot, Little Red and cubs feeding on a hippo kill opposite Governors’ Camp – photo credit Moses Manduku
The Bila Shaka Cape Buffalo herd have been feeding and grazing within the east marsh area – some older more resident bulls are still habituating the West Marsh and can be seen close by to the Governors’ line of camps. Two males have been eaten by the resident lion prides: on the 28th a large bull buffalo was taken in the north marsh by three Marsh Pride lionesses – Yaya and her two daughters Pamoja and Nusu Mkia.
Yaya, Pamoja and Nusu Mkia with hippo kill – photo credit Moses Manduku
As males get older they lose the ability to keep up with the main breeding herds due to younger males taking their place. Buffalo generally have weak hips and as they get older and heavier, the older bulls will suffer from hip dysplasia, and they become habituated to areas where grasses are more readily available with less effort in moving about. When they live a solitary life like this, they become prey to the lion prides.
Spotted Hyenas are well spread out and can generally be seen around any prey that is with lions. The Spotted Hyena is very important in the Mara/Serengeti ecosystem; they are very active predators and will compete heavily with the resident lion prides to ensure a good balance of predators.
Spotted hyena – an important part of the Mara ecosystem – photo credit Will Fortescue
This June has seen some good cat sightings with the resident Marsh lion pride: the four lionesses Kabibi, Kito, Rembo and Dada, together with their cubs are seen fairly often by our guides and guests. On the 25th June they were all seen together feeding on a Topi kill together with Marsh male Chongo. In the distance were four other Marsh males: Kiok, Doa, Koshoke and Kibogoyo who were keeping a respectable distance from the females and the cubs. They were carrying the scent of females from another pride (these males and known to move about between prides in the area), hence the reason they were not being allowed too close. The only male missing from this scenario was Baba Yao – the sixth member of the six Marsh Males.
Dada, Kito, Rembo, Kabibi and cubs – photo credit Moses Manduku
Four of the six ‘Marsh Boys’ – photo credit Moses Manduku
Male Marsh Pride lion ‘Koshoke’ and cub – photo credit Moses Manduku
Yaya and her sub adult daughters have all been mated at this stage, and Yaya is carrying cubs which we estimate to be due sometime in late August. She was mated at the end of April and the gestation period of a lion is 110 days or so. Both Pamoja and Nusu Mkia were also seen mating with Marsh male Koshoke in late April and early May respectively. The three lionesses have been seen together a lot as of late, and very successful with their kills which included a huge lone male buffalo on the morning of 28th June.
The female leopard of the Olare Orok River, is being seen often and is well habituated to vehicles; and not to forget female leopard Bahati with her two 3-4 month old cubs are seen near the Talek River area. She has been seen frequently with her cubs in full view. The Kaboso leopard is also seen from time to time, and was most recently spotted on the 26th, near Governors’ Camp, on the look out for some prey.
Kaboso leopard seen resting near Governors’ Camp – photo credit Moses Manduku
Cheetah sightings have also been good with the five male cheetah were last seen in the southern reserve near the Hammerkop area, these males are capable to cover large areas and are very successful hunters. They are enjoying the surplus numbers of migration animals in the area and on the morning of the 25th June, 3 out of the 5 of them were seen resting in the thicket not far from Governors’ Private Camp, after a good feed of wildebeest.
Three of the five cheetah coalition near Governors’ Private Camp – photo credit Moses Manduku
On the last day of June, our guests witnessed an incredible ambush and kill made by female cheetah Amani and her three sub-adult cubs. She has spent a lot of time teaching them how patience and team work eventually pays off. It was a treat in itself to see this family of cheetah, never mind to see them in such high force action as on this particular day.
Amani and cubs with Impala kill – photo credit Moses Manduku
Mara Game Report by Patrick Reynolds, manager at Governors’ Il Moran Camp