BAM Safari

Mara Crossing!

In Sri Lanka, when we hear of Mara Crossing!, it often relates to the Parliament where MP’s crossover from one side to another; in the past few years, these crossings were mainly from the opposition to the Government and one could say, it’s a record during the 62years since Independence.

There is a similar annual event-taking place at the famous National Park in Kenya in East Africa named Masai Mara (MM). This is nothing but the migration of wildebeest and Zebra in hundreds of thousands from Serengeti (bordering national park in Tanzania), where they cross the Mara River in MM; wildlife photographers and wildlife enthusiasts around the World, do not miss this migration, crossing the Mara River, which normally takes place from mid July to late September from Kenyan side.

During the past few years, I have been a frequent visitor to the park, especially to witness the migration and the crossing of the MM River, which is sometimes described as the Eighth Wonder of the Living World. In the year 2010, my elder brother, his wife and their son, Charith, living in London joined us (my wife with her Video camera, usually accompany me). We arrived at the Governors Camp in MM on the 5th of September for lunch by a domestic flight from Nairobi with a flight time of one hour, where one could see the wildebeest in the savannas of MM in their thousands from the air. The Wildebeest and Zebra have their fixed crossing points along the Mara River and, most of the locations are close to the Governors camp, compared to other lodges available in the park. We planned to stay four nights at the Governors camp and to spend further two nights at Lake Nakuru which is located 150km, north of Nairobi; The habitat of thousands of Flamingoes.

Since, the Wildebeest crossing the Mara River usually takes place in the morning hours; the afternoon Safari trip was planned to see the wild life including the resident pride of lions whose territory is around the vicinity of the camp. Those, who have watched the Animal Planet, would have seen the Big Cat Diary and not missed Jonathan Scott in it, who always talks about this pride of lions usually known as “Marsh Pride”. Most of the Big Cat Diary stories are based on the cats around the Governors camp. During the afternoon Safari, the Marsh pride was spotted; my brother and his family were very much excited and thrilled, because it was their first experience seeing the lions in the wild. Due to the increase in the birth rate of the Marsh pride during last few years, the numbers have increased to over 25; and to see them in one location had become impossible. We focused on the new arrivals who are only three months old. It’s amazing to watch the way the cubs play with the mother and each other. I also saw Jonathan Scott, in his modified Range Rover Jeep (for easy photography) together with a guest photographer in the vicinity of the Marsh Pride; who usually use Governors camp for his lodging during his stay at the park. We returned to the camp before getting dark.

We were ready the following early morning, the 6th September to begin our Safari; our jeep driver took us to one of the spots of Mara River, where one could see the wildebeests and zebras crossing the Mara River. It took almost 30minitues to get to the spot. We saw the wildebeest in large numbers moving towards the river crossing point and I was happy to see the numbers were more than that of the previous year. There were many jeeps with tourists on both side of the river bank waiting to see this exciting annual event. Generally, wildebeests merge into one point on the river bank and wait till one jumps to the water to cross the river, and then the others follow in thousands. Our jeep Driver was able to get a good spot for photography and we kept our fingers crossed since they may start crossing in few minutes or few hours or if unlucky, there are days with no show. It was not unusual to see the crocodiles on the opposite side of the river bank waiting for the prey for their breakfast. The wildebeests were getting closer to water and within few minutes, one jumped to the water and followed by a few of them and thereafter the rest in large numbers followed the same path. All our cameras started clicking and my main focus was towards the crocodile and its movement. What a sight to watch! Even, if you are not a wildlife fan or photographer. During, the crossing, two crocodiles were successful in having a good breakfast, and I was able take a few good shots of the predator with its prey to add to my The crossing lasted almost 30minutes and on our way back for breakfast, I remember, my sister in law expressed her surprise saying; what a MARA CROSSING!

The tour package by the Governors camp included three safari trips for a day; early morning, mid day before lunch and the afternoon at 3pm. We split into two jeeps from the afternoon trip and the rest of my safaris were focused on the other cats at MM. We were lucky in seeing three male cheetahs on our afternoon safari and in the Big Cat Diary; Jonathan Scott described these Cheetahs as “Cheetah Brothers” who, always stay together although they are solitary cats. This helps them to hunt their prey easily, specially, its favorite; the wildebeest. Jonathan was our guest at Dinner on the 6th September, which was also a special day of my life, when he described a few of his wildlife experiences during the last four decades.

Next two days, my focus was to see a Leopard. While we were searching for a leopard on the 7th afternoon, a jeep passing us informed us that a Caracal was sighted, and my immediate response was to go there, since I have not seen this cat in wild. The Caracal is smaller in size and weighed about 16kgs compared to a Leopard who is about of 70-80Kgs. There were more than ten jeeps at the location where it was spotted, waiting to see this rare cat which is usually a Nocturnal animal. We were there till late evening, thinking that it may come out from the high grass land, but with no luck we returned to the camp.

Next Day, early in the morning Charith and I took the balloon safari which was a very exciting one where one could see and photograph animals and birds from the balloon at an altitude of 100- 200meters and above. The bush breakfast was part of the package. The afternoon drive was, once again, focused on the Caracal. Although we were unsuccessful on this cat, luck was with us to see a leopard in the same area.

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