Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR) in Kenya is famous for its Wildebeest migration, when millions of Wildebeest and Zebra head for the lush grasses on the savannahs of the reserve. Depending on the rains, they arrive from the bordering Serengeti National Park in Tanzania from July to September, annually. But, unfortunately for these herbivores, they have to cross the Mara river in the MMNR where the carnivorous beasts on the banks of the Mara river, the giant crocodiles, having waited for a year, to greet the visitors from Serengeti. This is an annual fiesta that will last for several months, but it is for their survival. The migrants are also the primary source of food for most of the other predators such as Lions and Leopards in the Kenyan Wild. At the same time wildlife lovers and photographers from around the world visit the reserve during this period to witness the Mara river crossing of these grass feeding animals especially the wildebeest, which is one of Planet Earth’s great natural spectacles.
During the last decade I have been a frequent visitor to MMNR to watch this eighth living wonder of the world, the Wildebeest migration. This year, I spent seven nights from 21st July together with my wife Lilani at MMNR. But, this was my first visit to the park in the month of July, which is the beginning of the migration in the Kenyan territory.
Most of the morning hours during our stay in Maasai Mara, was spent at the two crossing points on the Mara river close to Governors Camp and the Mara Explorer, known as the Main Crossing and the other the Mortuary Crossing. According to my jeep driver, most of the Wildebeest and Zebra killings have occurred at the latter and hence named as the Mortuary Crossing. This was true since, we also saw quite a few animals getting caught to the beasts of the Mara river. On another occasion, there was a Leopard hiding in the bushes on the side of the river, waiting to catch a Wildebeest, but it was a failed attempt.
However, on the day of our arrival in Maasai Mara, a female Leopard close to the Governors Camp ambushed a Wildebeest in the Musiara marsh. She was known as Rommi, a caring mother of a year old female cub. We spotted the cub on a branch of a tree where the mother had kept a kill of an Impala of 2 to 3 days old. The following morning, the cub brought the kill down and moved to the bush nearby. In the meantime, the Wildebeest kill made by her mother the previous afternoon was seen on a branch of a tree while the mother sat on the ground below the tree. In general, when a Leopard hunts a prey, it would take it up a tree to protect it from the Lions and the Hyenas in the bush. It would not be able to defend its kill against the bigger Lions and the more ferocious Hyenas who also attack as a pack.
It was on the 23rd morning that we sighted the first Wildebeest crossing on the Mara River at the Mortuary Crossing point when the Crocodiles on water were on the move towards their target. We witnessed a successful kill. It was interesting to note that they do not chew their food. Instead the predator tears apart the flesh and swallows large chunks of it. They sometimes keep the prey for a few days under water to soften the meat to make it easy to eat it. During our stay at Maasai Mara we sighted few more kills of Wildebeests by the resident crocs of the Mara River at the Main Crossing as well, where on one instance I was able to take some good images of the beast in action.
On the morning of 24th July, we had a sighting of a Lioness of the Paradise Pride hunting a Wildebeest, but the kill was enjoyed by the three male Lions of the famous four Musketeers at Maasai Mara who were at the site. After having done all the hard work, the Lioness was denied a share of the meal. This is the law of the jungle, where the male gets the Lion’s share of the prey!
During our stay at Maasai Mara, I heard that the famous female Cheetah of the park, called Malaika (meaning Angel in Swahili) has once again given birth to a few cubs. However, the numbers were unknown since she had hidden the cubs. But the rumors went as eight cubs. I was thrilled to hear this exciting news and decided to return to the park in September after visiting Kruger National Park in South Africa in August. The last time I saw Malaika was back in October 2014 together with her previous litter of four grown up cubs.
So I returned to MMNR together with Lilani on the 5th September from South Africa for four nights at the Governors Moran Camp situated on the banks of the Mara River close to the Musiara gate of the reserve. But the news on Malaika’s new arrivals was not good. There were only two cubs and only one survived while not many had seen them. Furthermore, the Cheetah had moved far from the Musiara marsh area towards the Serengeti National Park. Hence, I decided to concentrate on the activities around the Musiara marsh, mainly on the Marsh Pride as well as the action at the two crossing points on the Mara River.
On the 6th morning drive to the bush, my driver spotted a Leopard on a tree with a kill of an Impala on another branch of the tree. It was the same young female we had observed in July. The kill had been made by her mother the previous day. During the afternoon drive we spent most of the time with the Marsh Pride where the females of the pride tried to ambush a Cape Buffalo but the rest of the Buffalo herd chased the Lions. The current Marsh Pride consists of five adult females together with two dominant males, where a few years back the pride numbered over twenty. According to my driver the reduction in number was due to a number of Lions breaking away from the main pride, while there was an occasion where villagers had poisoned two Lions of the pride as revenge for the Lions attacking their livestock.
On our next morning drive, we came upon the Marsh Pride having a good breakfast at the expense of an adult Wildebeest. Later in the day, the fastest mammal on the planet, the Cheetah, chased a young Thompson Gazelle and caught it. Later, her two grown up cubs enjoyed the meal.
It was on the 8th of September that I captured images of some memorable sightings and action in the wild that will go into my next coffee table book titled “Odyssey into the Wild – Volume 2” to be published in 2017/8; a Lioness carrying a two weeks old cub to a new hideout, two male Cape Buffalos in an unusual fight for dominance and a Lioness of the Marsh Pride with a successful hunt of a Wildebeest in the marsh.
It was also interesting to note that there was an increased number of tourists from China to enjoy the spectacle of the Wildebeest Migration when compared to previous years. HAKUNA MATATA! (Meaning ‘no problem’ in Swahili.)
On the morning of September 10th we returned to Sri Lanka after a very successful photographic tour to the African Wild in South Africa and Kenya.