A Year of Wildlife Highs
In a year when we haven't spent as much time taking guests out on safari, my highlight came late but was nevertheless a real spectacle. “What are you hoping to see while you are here on safari?” is a question that I always ask my guests in my 'safari office' which doubles as my safari vehicle.
When Eric and Randi, a couple who are time-and-again safari-goers, mentioned a kill, we all understood the effort it would take. They mentioned it as an unforeseeable occurrence which any safari enthusiast knows could happen any time, but I said, “just say it out loud – you never know! Nature might conspire to bring it home to you.”
On the final hours of their last evening out on safari, a lioness from the Angama Pride stood poised on the perch of one the trees on the way up the hill to camp, sweeping the area for potential prey.
Eland aren't usually on a lioness's menu, but a lonely male caught her eye and two more lionesses from her pride joined in the hunt. A quick succession of events followed and the eland ran into a gulley. Everything suggested success in favour of the three girls from the Angama Pride, but the eland ran and leapt away from them; this battle was won by the eland.
It all started just like a normal day in the Mara, with incredible sightings of elephants, lions and cheetah. I was heading back to camp when we came across a huge herd of elephants. Of course we stopped to enjoy the amazing sight and as soon as I switched off the engine of the vehicle, I noticed something unusual. An elephant cow had something bulging on her underside and for a minute I thought she had some abnormalities or a deformity. But within a blink of an eye I realised it wasn’t a deformity but a baby emerging from her birth canal.
Quickly and quietly, I told my guests, “Take videos and photos – she is going to give birth!” as I also got my phone out to capture the moment.
Within seconds the baby was on the ground, fully covered by the placenta, and the whole herd immediately rushed to the opposite side of the road right in front of our vehicle; the position where I was was incredible and as we didn’t have to move, we weren’t a disturbance. It was the most amazing sight I have witnessed in more than a decade of guiding. The sounds coming from the herd were incredible. They all surrounded the baby as the big cows rolled the baby over, trying to remove the placenta. Not all the cows were allowed to touch the baby, some of the youngsters were kneeling to the baby at some point, which I thought was some kind of welcoming ritual.
We noticed that the mother was not allowed to come close to the baby; every time she tried, one of the cows - presumably the matriarch - would chase her off. While the big cows helped the baby to stand, the rest of the herd surrounded them which was an incredible way to provide security to the little member who was helpless.
We were not ready to leave the sighting until we saw the baby walk, which happened after a long struggle of waking up, wobbling on all fours then rolling over. Luckily the big females were there to help and we could see the intelligence in those gentle eyes. After a while, the calf was able to take a few steps and within 40 minutes it was following its mum. We watched with big sighs of relief as they disappeared into the red oat grass.
It was a beautiful morning when we started our early morning game drive heading down south towards Ngiro-Are. On the way however somebody radioed me to let me know that there was lots of activity by a crossing point.
On the way to the crossing we spotted a leopard dragging a baby wildebeest and eventually disappearing towards the river bank.
We proceeded onwards, and when arrived we found three male lions just resting by the crossing point with thousands of wildebeest already crossing the river. I suggested to my guests that we reposition because these males might do something.
As soon as we repositioned, the males got up and started hunting. They successfully brought down two wildebeest, and all the while the herds kept crossing the Mara River - a very exciting morning indeed.
I was on a drive with a family from Botswana, and although they were from Africa, they had never been on safari before. They were nervous about the open vehicle, but I assured them all would be well.
It turned out to be one of my shortest but most epic drives of all time. We found all the animals they had hoped to see, including Mary, a female rhino, for the first time since she'd had her calf. After that, we were off to see some lionesses and a few moments later I noticed a hyena under a tree. One of the guests seemed uneasy so I assured him it would be fine, but he insisted “are they good climbers? Would it jump into the car?”
As I started to explain, he quickly shifted seats and said, “like the other one up in the tree?” What a moment, as a leopard stormed down the tree and off into the grass!
One day my guests and I decided to take a long safari day and went looking for the Inselberg Pride of lions at the border. It didn't take long; as soon as we got to Maji ya Chumvi, one of my colleagues informed me that one of the lions had made a kill near an area called Military Drift.
Excitement rose as we rushed there trying to find him, and true to my colleague's word, we found him on a kill. We stayed there enjoying the sighting, and out of nowhere a lioness came running towards the male. At first I thought she wanted to join in the feast but she had other ideas she started seducing the male and they started mating right next to our vehicle!
It was a lovely evening, just after a short shower of rain, when we headed out for a drive. We were looking for the cats when my colleague signalled to me that he just found an amazing scene. On arriving at the location, I couldn't believe what I was seeing: two monitor lizards mating. I was so excited, even more than the guests!
On a very beautiful sunrise drive, we found an amazing coalition of five male lions at a place called Maji ya Ndege within the Mara Triangle.
About 300 metres from them was a female pride with cubs hiding, and these males seemed to be tracking them. As we were watching and admiring these males, one of the females appeared and suddenly two males began chasing her. She ran off, leading them towards the river and away from the cubs.
We joined the chase, and followed them from a distance. She outran them, but they never gave up and kept tracking her. She chose her hiding place, which was a very steep bank of the river, and carefully descended down the river. The males got there but couldn't descend down the river and so opted to stay put and wait for her to come out – but that never happened as she let them doze off and cleverly sneaked downstream and escaped them.
Fred Ole Sinoni
The 10th of November was a very special day for me. We got started early in the morning with a fixed plan to head south in the hope of finding a cheetah. Along the way, we had exciting sightings of lions, which slowed our pace. We eventually reached the border late morning, searching for the cheetah until midday; too bad we couldn’t find one.
Time to start our journey back home for lunch, it was quiet until we got to Maji ya Ndege, where our determination to get back for lunch was suddenly altered. The usual buffalo bulls that hang around a place called “Technology” were intently staring, so I slowed down to check. As I pulled off the road to have a better look, wow! Two male rhinos were running towards us.
At top speed, they came closer and eventually found one of the drainage pools. At this point I was able to figure out exactly what was happening: it was a real battle, the blows and screams filled the air, buffalo and waterbuck spectating as if they were taking sides. The fight got intense, noisy, and vigorous – I even contacted Rhino 1, the rhino monitoring team, if they could intervene. It was a real clash of the titans.
We see rhinos fairly often but that was the first time I’d seen evenly-matched bulls in a serious war. No doubt it qualified to be my sighting of the year.
My best sighting of the year was one beautiful morning when I found a male lion roaring, which is quite rare to see. And hearing this unique sound so close by is simply amazing.
It was a two-day safari without any leopard sightings, but we had heard of a female called Luluka from the other side of the river who was with her young cub. Since she's a calm leopard, we decided to try our luck there and drove all the way around.
Upon arrival, we found her on transit towards her territory and got a got a chance to view her in motion for a long time, very close. It was very special. She's one of few leopards that is really used to vehicles, and she is clearly passing this on to her son.
I was driving back to the lodge from a half-day game drive, and near Maji ya Ndege there was a pair of grey crowned cranes with chicks feeding on grass seeds. We stopped to take pictures when all of a sudden a troop of baboons were coming out of the bushes and one of the dominant males decided to chase the crane's chicks as if to play with them. But he never knew that was a bad move, because both the parents flew up in the air and dived down, attacking the baboon with all the weapons they had: their wings, claws, and pecking with their bills, at the same time making aggressive calls.
After a couple of attacks, the baboon screamed and ran away very fast, causing nearly all the troop members to get attacked and they all got confused not knowing what to do. It was quite a spectacle.
Long ears, long legs, and a short tail, resembling a tiny cheetah on the savannah... I had an amazing sighting of this serval, making three different kills of mice on the plains as we followed her closely. The curiosity, flexibility, stalking, and leap-hunting was amazing to see.
Quite interesting, this year compared to previous years, I had several amazing serval sightings, including recently one on top of a Balanites tree spotted by my guest. Just like a tiny leopard.
My sighting of the year was seeing four male lions, which is always a special sighting. But what made it interesting was that after staying for about 45 minutes, one of the males start mounting his coalition brother!
It's very strange behaviour to see a big male lion mating with another male lion, I thought maybe it was a show of dominance within the coalition. It was something I had never seen before, and was my sighting of the year.
My end of year, best sighting just happened a few days ago. I drove down to the south of the park, aiming to drive to the border to look for a cheetah. On the way, we decided to have breakfast under a big fig tree. While I was unpacking and putting the utensils on the table, I heard a jackal barking and told the guest it could be that the jackals had seen something. We scanned and found a hyena nearby, eating something small before it stopped and moved away.
I continued arranging the table, but the jackal started barking again. We checked again with binoculars, and all of a sudden the guest shouted “cheetah!” I took my binoculars to look and confirmed it was actually a leopard! But the biggest surprise was seeing that this leopard had killed an ostrich.
We immediately left the table and drove closer, and watched in amazement as the leopard struggled and dragged the strange kill up a tree. I have asked around and am yet to find anyone else who has seen that before.
A good day starts in the morning. With two professional photographers and their private guide on board, we set off early to find big cats. We were trying to photograph a bird sighting when we were surprised by a male lion’s roar quite some distance from where we were. Nothing captures the hearts like the roar of male lions, and we were both surprised and happy as we drove towards the direction of the roar.
Before we could get there, just on the road track, we found a lioness and her two young cubs running for their lives as something bad was about to happen. Little did we know the male lions were just a few metres away and two of the males, Kibogoyo and Doa, were chasing the lioness probably trying to get the two young cubs. Thankfully they got away.
It was beautiful to see all five male lions from the coalition walking behind one another - such mighty force. It was the most beautiful sighting I have ever seen of well-built lions mixed with dark and blonde manes having a walk together in the savannah. What a beautiful Mara we have, always full of surprises.
It was a beautiful morning shortly after we reopened, and we were on the lookout for elephants. On the way, we heard from my colleague, Titus, that some lions were hunting zebra. We went to investigate, and found the lions were actually interested in oribi – an unusual choice of prey for a lion, as they are small, fast, and usually hidden.
The lionesses took off on a chase, and were able to capture an oribi only because it was pregnant and slower than usual.
Despite this being a fascinating sighting I hadn’t seen before, it quickly became traumatic for one of my guests as the lion played with the injured oribi instead of killing it right away, so we departed to find the elephants we initially wanted to see, and the guests quickly relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed the serene herbivores going about their business with their babies playing.
It was a busy morning that highlighted the polar opposites that the Mara can offer, of high drama and calm peacefulness.
Filed under: Inside Angama