Weather and grasslands
The weather has been cool, often overcast and humid much of this month with only 48mm of rain to date. Humidity levels fluctuated between 55-70-% early morning temperatures are 19Â°C with afternoon temperatures rising to 30Â°C.
The Musiara Marsh is almost dry again with the exception of the northern area that is watered by the small escarpment stream; the central marsh pools have become mud holes, many of the resident hippos that had resided in the marsh have since migrated back into the Mara River. Grass levels throughout the reserve are short with a green flush that has been induced by the little rain we have. The Souther section of Paradise Plains has some areas of long grass, unfortunately the wildebeest that came through here did not stay for long, they have a soft mouth and tend to avoid areas with heavy stemmed unpalatable grasses. The Mara River had risen to a good height on the 18th and 20th of the month after there was some good rainfall in the areas near the western rift escarpment.
Sunrise over the Musiara Marsh, photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds
On the plains
This month witnessed some very big river crossings by the wildebeest migrationt below Look Out Hill in the early weeks of the month. There were large numbers of casualties at the Mara Bridge; by the 18th of the month the majority of this wildebeest movement had reached the Sand River and moved again further south, the large buildup of dead wildebeest at the Mara bridge had moved away when the Mara River had risen from the heavy rainfall in the west.
Photo courtesy of Charmaine Plumbridge
Scattered herds of resident wildebeest and zebra can be seen moving between Topi Plains, Double Crossing and the conservancies in the north and north east of the Reserve, rainfall patterns have been localized which has induced this movement.
Elephant are being seen in small breeding herds, now that the Marsh levels are low, their feeding habits have changed and they have moved out into the open grassland plains and further into the acacia woodlands. Many young calves can be seen within the breeding herds on Paradise Plains and south Bila Shaka.
Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku
Topi herds have moved onto Topi Plains, south Rhino Ridge, Malima Tatu and a large herd was seen earlier in the month in the west marsh, these have since moved north east onto the shorter grass plains between the conservancies and the reserve. Cokes Hartebeest are still in smaller numbers with no more than a dozen females and young seen in a breeding herd while the males stay out on their territories. Female Coke’s Hartebeests have started giving birth with two small calves being seen on Rhino Ridge and the south Paradise Plains.
Hippos live in pods, there are some large pods in the Mara River particularly where there are deeper pools. Many individuals are spending longer out to feed, with the older bulls staying out for quite some time, an average hippo needs at least 60 kg of grass matter per night, if grass levels are short Hippos will travel longer distances to find what they need.
Photo courtesy of Tom Smith
Olive Baboon are being seen on a daily basis in large troops. They start their days early venturing far out to forage, it is not uncommon to see large troops of Olive Baboons deep inside the open grassland plains foraging for insects. Older breeding and dominant males will eat the fawns of Impala and Thomson’s Gazelles, ground birds are also taken. Impala breeding herds who will also be foraging close to Baboons are scattered within the woodland areas of the river and Marsh with females in cohesive groups. Impala bachelor herds will be seen within the periphery of these breeding herds, older rams jostling for recognition by sparring with each other and ‘roaring’ by high ranking males.
Warthog sows have scattered to give birth, some sows had given birth late last month but they are only being seen now. There appears to be a mean birthing of 5-7 piglets per sow. Predators such as lion, leopard and cheetah take a toll on these sounders with warthog sows losing up to 45% of their litter before the piglets reach 5 months old; predation and temperature change can inflict heavy mortality amongst warthog piglets, on the 24th a female leopard and her sub-adult female cub took 5 piglets and their mother out of their hole over an afternoon. In the west marsh close to the Bila Shaka lioness Yaya and her two sub-adults ate a complete sounder of six piglets and two sows; warthogs struggle at this time of year when they have piglets.
Thomson Gazelles are also being seen with young fawns with Paradise Plains, Topi Plains and Malima Tatu good places to see them; the Black Backed Jackals have been very active either following lion or hyena.
Giraffe cows and older calves have been seen spread out from the riparian woodlands, they will often be seen in large loose herds, far into the acacia areas east of the reserve, male giraffes are seen often within the camp perimeters; young males can also be seen sparring with each other; while older more dominant males will be seen moving between breeding herds.
Thre are large herds of Cape buffalo in the south Bila Shaka and on Paradise Plains, the coalition of six male lion have played havoc with the Bila Shaka herd. Spotted Hyenas have also take out young calves within this herd. The Paradise Lion Pride has been feeding off the Paradise buffalo herd; the three Musketeers have also been feeding off buffalo from the Paradise herd. Solitary Buffalo males are common within the west marsh and sometimes these older males come into the camps to feed from river bank and seek refuge due to their age.
With the movement of resident wildebeest, zebra and topi within the Musiara grassland areas many predators are very active here, particularly the Spotted Hyena who strongly compete with the resident lion prides. On a near daily basis they will take down prey or rob lionesses of their kill. On 18th in the early morning hyena had killed and eaten a wildebeest on the south Topi Plains, three lionesses tried to rob over 30 hyena who were busy finishing off what they had killed, with little trouble the hyena clan drove the lionesses back. Spotted Hyena run their prey down which is similar to wolves and dogs, they have a phenomenally fast pace which they are able to keep up for long distances. Hyenas, Wild dogs and Wolves can be classified as cursorial predators.
We have had good sightings of Serval Cats on Paradise Plains and Rhino Ridge. Since grass levels are low in most areas Serval Cats and becoming quite habituated with vehicles. Bat eared fox families are also being seen.
The Marsh Pride lioness Charm and the five lionesses were again seen briefly in the north east marsh early on in the month, by mid month they had moved back to the north east into the conservancies along with her daughter Kito who is still with her four-seven month old cubs. The other lionesses Rembo and Kito had also come down with Charm along with the three older cubs with Kabibi and Dada who are twelve months old. We think that the arrival of the six male lion coalition probably caused the marsh lionesses to move back out. The original two marsh males Karibu and Bahati had not come down from the north gorge area. Charm has lost her two cubs and we suspect it was due to other male lion in the conservancy.
Photo courtesy of Charmaine Plumbridge
Marsh lioness Yaya and her two 28 month old female sub-adult cubs have been residing and hunting in the south Bila Shaka river bed and on some occasions will be seen hunting on the Silanga and northern Rhino Ridge Plains, she is very active and has survived well on her own; the two daughters have helped her pull through; they have been feeding off resident wildebeest, zebra and warthog. The three lionesses have met up with the six paradise male coalition and there appears to be no friction since the sub-adults are old enough to be accepted by other nomadic males.
The two marsh lionesses have also been residing in the west and east marsh, one of them has been mating with one of the six male coalitions. These two lionesses are the only marsh lionesses remaining within the marsh.
The Madomo Pride of 16 lion including cubs and sub-adults have their home range from the southern Topi Plains and as far as the double crossing and up to Emartii Hill. The cubs of this pride vary in age from lioness Madomo’s four 14 month old cubs, her sister lioness has three cubs that are now seven months old, madomoâs daughter the pale lioness has two cubs that are ten months old. Madomoâs other sister has one cub that is six months old and this little cub is very active and appears to be a solitary lion. Madomoâs older sister has two cubs born last month; a male and a female that are two months old, she had them in a culvert close to the double crossing on the Olare Orok side, she has moved them to the base of Emartii Hill. They have been feeding off the many wildebeest that have passed through this area. The two males Lipstick and Blackie have been seen below Emartii Hill and as far as the double crossing, Lipstick is the more dominant of the two and has sired the majority of the Madomo Prides offspring; he also show altruistic behavior, the two month old male cub is fond of his father Lipstick.
Of the four musketeers three of them are more likely to be seen; the southern Paradise areas is where Scar, Morani and Hunter can be found with any of the Paradise Pride, Scar is looking well although he still limps, he has been seen often with three lionesses and their cubs, on the 26th he was seen feeding off the remains of a zebra that had undoubtedly been killed by the lionesses.
Scar, courtesy of Patrick Reynolds
The Paradise Pride of six lionesses and their cubs of varying ages, one lioness has two cubs that are 9 months old. Three of the other lionesses have 9 cubs altogether of which three are 16 months old and five are 19 months old, these lionesses and their sub adult cubs are being seen within the Mara River and west Paradise Plains areas; they split up from time to time while also crossing the river into the Trans Mara, they have been feeding off zebra and wildebeest.
Siri the female leopard has two, ten month old cubs; she has been seen off and on beyond the Kopjes that are on the Mara River downstream from the Chinese hill, they have been seen hunting and eating impala and reedbuck.
The large male leopard Suja of the Mara River crossing area has been seen upstream of the main crossing, he is very adapted to hunting wildebeest while they cross the river.
Saba of the Olare Orok and her two 14 month old cubs; a male and a female have been very active on the Olare Orok River; she has been seen on a daily basis either resting or hunting, on the 26th they were seen hunting warthog successfully where Saba waited and dug out 5 piglets that were still very young from their burrow.
Bahati the female leopard with her two cubs; a male and a female that are ten months old of the southern bank of the Talek River; she is a popular leopard and has been seen frequently again this month, she has been feeding off warthog, impala and wildebeest calves.
The large old male of the south Talek River area has been seen often; we have had two good sightings of him resting under a fallen Warburgia Tree in the late morning of the 15th and again on the 18th while walking along the southern bank of the river.
Malaika with her two cubs; a male and a female who are now fifteen months old; are being seen in the southern areas of the reserve, in the last week of the month she was seen hunting Thompson Gazelle on the Meta Plains not far from the Ronkai depression, Malaika moves about from one habitat to another, this is typical of a successful cheetah while avoiding predator aggression.
Two young female cheetahs daughters of Imani have been seen recently close to Bila Shaka, Paradise Plains and Rhino Ridge; they move between the double crossing and Olare Orok, recently they have been hunting Thompson Gazelles on the east marsh grasslands, on the 25th in the late morning the two cheetah had killed a Bohors Reedbuck on the north bank of the Bila Shaka river in area called Fumbi Fumbi, two days later on the 27th at 4.30 pm they were very successful after a short fast burst of speed in taking down a male Thompson Gazelle with seemingly no fear of other predators they were able to feed on their kill without pressure. They have also been seen frequently close to the entrance to Governors Private Camp much to the delight of our guests.
The five male cheetahs an all brother coalition are very active and have been residing and hunting south of the double crossing area, these five males travel great distances between habitats and will hunt yearling wildebeest and impala, they hunt and feed on a daily basis. Recently they have been hunting successfully on the open grasslands plains which is on the south bank of the Ngiatiak River. Since the 28th they have moved into the Naibosho conservancy which is south-east of the reserve from where they had come from.
Another solitary young female cheetah has been hunting and seen often either on Topi Plains, the Ngiatiak side of the double crossing and or Paradise Plains.
Noraâ the single female with her one 20 month old male cub; has been seen a few times this month, more often in the south of the Ronkai Depression and Survey Hill.
Walking Safaris in North/East Masai land
Earlier on in the month we had large herds of resident wildebeest and zebra that had come through from the south and also the reserve. Bush Buck Plain from where the walks start from is all open plains and holds good herds of impala, Thomson’s Gazelles, topi and eland. Many of the Thomson Gazelles have fawns now being seen.
Black Backed Jackals have also been very active following lion and collecting scrap from lion and hyena kills, the jackal is a canid with a tremendous stamina and they also will run prey down, particularly young fawns of Thomson, Grantâs and impala. The Balanites trees are in fruit and these fruit will not only be eaten by birds but also will be eaten by jackals and porcupines.
Warthog sows have also got young piglets and many of these are only a mere few weeks old. Female warthogs or sows can have up to eight young at a time, although they usually only have two or three, after a gestation period of around six months. Young warthogs are called piglets. Piglets weigh around 500-650 gms at birth and to begin with are quite pink in color and are held in the sounder for a short period of time before exposing them to the new world, The young live with their mother in her sounder. Piglets are weaned around 4-5 months old and become mature at 20 months. Females of the last yearâs offspring tend to stay with their mother as adults and will act as a nanny, while the males or boars tend to go off on their own.
A few of the Cokes Hartebeest that are in this area have given birth, the Cokes Hartebeest are in small numbers here where their cousins the Topi are more numerous.
Giraffe herds have been seen lately with good numbers in the wooded areas south of the open plains; they have been feeding off the Gardenia species for generations and subsequently have left behind some very neatly pruned trees. On the 22nd we counted a herd of 42 giraffe in the croton thickets south of the large plain. There are two herds of Cape Buffalo, one herd is on the east plains and the other on the north plain, there are a few solitary bulls that tend to stay on the open plains. Hyena have been very active on these open plains, with wildebeest being taken almost on a daily basis, lion prides move around and are more often seen in the riverine woodlands that are between the two open plains. They have been feeding off zebra and wildebeest, on the 2nd at 8.30am six lionesses took down two wildebeests as they were crossing the valley from west to east and ate one until 9.30 am when a large clan of spotted hyena came and robbed them of the second kill.
Photo courtesy of Dana Allen
Since this the area of Masai Land has had over 50mm of rain much of the open grassland plains are very green, the macro-termitidae have been very busy building and extending their mounds particularly if there has been a large alate expulsion from the mound, with this activity there are good numbers of ponerine ants of the genus Megaponera Foetens who specialize in eating termites and will raid a nest in the early hours of the morning, there has been much activity between these ants and termites.
Patrick Reynolds, Governors Il Moran Camp Manager.