Angama Mara Head Guide, Sammy Komu
Most people all over the world associate the Maasai Mara with the Big Five and of course the Great Migration and for good reason. One morning, I set out with my guest early, having packed a picnic breakfast and lunch — we were in search of the Migration towards the border of Kenya and Tanzania. After reaching the border on the southwest side, there were no animals in sight so we decided to venture into the other side of the Greater Mara where we found a big group of zebra and wildebeest. After mingling with the huge herds, my guests were content and ready to head back home. In the Mara, you never know what’s in store for you, and little did we know we were in for a big surprise. As we headed back, I decided to take the route by the Mara River, my aim to show my guests some of the big crocodiles we have.
Upon reaching the area, we were surprised to find thousands of zebras on the other side who were very eager to cross the River. Even though we were exhausted, we decided to wait and our wait didn’t go unrewarded, for in about an hour, we experienced one of the most dramatic crossings I have seen in all my years of guiding. All the zebras started crossing and about twenty or so crocodiles were hunting them. Some zebras were caught but managed to escape the crocodiles' jaws which left them with broken legs and nasty wounds.
On this early morning game drive, we planned to check on the Angama Pride’s remaining lioness who had tried hunting the previous day without any success. We weren’t sure if she had succeeded during the evening but we wanted to see how she was faring because that was the second day she was going hungry. A few yards from her den site, we saw a herd of buffalo numbering more than a hundred and we knew things were going to get interesting. Hunting big animals like a buffalo — even more so in a herd — requires a team effort from the whole pride, not just a solitary lioness, no matter how strong.
We drove closer to the herd and stopped to watch as they slowly made their way across the road. The roadside drainage line was steep and it had rained for a couple of days so the ground was wet and slippery, which gave us a funny sighting of the young ones sliding and falling. As we were busy watching all this, one female left her calf behind (it seemed she thought her baby had already gone further in the front with the rest of the group). Instead, the calf was moving away from the herd to the opposite side, calling for its mother.
To our great surprise, the hungry lioness came out from some tall grass nearby and grabbed the calf by the throat, preventing it from making any sound. She was using the steep drainage line as a barrier, blocking the whole herd from seeing and hearing any commotion. At some point, while the lioness was holding the calf by the throat, the mother buffalo came very close, but she could not smell nor see them and she moved on joining the rest of the herd. It was such a puzzle that all the time we were there watching the buffalo, the hungry lioness was just hiding in waiting for an opportunity to present itself. We watched her eat for a while before she went down to the ravine where we thought she was going to drink water — but suddenly she appeared with her two two-month-old cubs and walked back to her kill to eat more while her cubs suckled.
The Mara Triangle has changed in terms of cat viewing, specifically the spotty ones. Over the last couple of years, we've been seeing more leopards and are now able to properly identify them, some even by name. The Triangle is a gem of the greater Mara Serengeti ecosystem and with more Angama guides exploring it, there are frequently spectacular sightings. It's been more than 10 years since I've seen or captured a mama leopard with two cubs and this year I had that great pleasure.
On the 27th of November 2023, a remarkable safari unfolded. Guests yearned for a glimpse of zebras, so we embarked on a journey toward the Eland Plain. Initially, a handful of zebras engaged in a captivating dust bath, but our adventure took an unexpected turn when a solitary hippo sought its way back to the Mara River. As we reached the riverbank, a vast herd of 200 to 400 zebras stood nervously, creating an atmosphere charged with anticipation. Positioned strategically, we awaited the emergence of the elusive hippo. Moments later, it surfaced, setting off a mesmerizing ripple of movement among the nervous zebras.
My best sighting of the year was finding one of the most famous and oldest female lionesses in the Mara from the Sausage Tree Pride called Kinky Tail. Despite her age, responsibility still lies on her. We found her with a zebra kill but the rest of the pride had already eaten and had gone down a lugga (drainage lines) to drink. Kinky Tail was left with no choice but to ensure the hard-earned meal was safe, so she had to pull it to a shady tree near where the pride was resting. What amazed me was how she still leads the Sausage Tree Pride with unrivalled loyalty and commitment.
It was around 11h00 when I was heading back to the lodge from the runway after saying goodbye to my guests and watching them take off. On my way around the Kisaka area, I found a business of banded mongoose running up and down and making some funny calls. I quickly stopped the vehicle and switched off the engine. I grabbed a pair of binoculars and scanned the area to see what was happening, little did I know, it was a ‘deadly fight' involving a red spitting cobra and a black mamba. My eyes couldn't believe what they were seeing! They fought for about 20 to 30 minutes. The red spitting cobra managed to kill the black mamba, not only that, he even attempted to eat it — but the banded mongoose all came running and one of them dragged it away into much taller grass. This was a bit of a scary sighting but out of this world.
I was on a morning game drive with my guests and we had planned to look for a leopard that day. We drove along leopard territories and luckily, we found both a male and a female just crossing the road. This was the Maji Machafu area, which was full of wildebeest, and they started crossing a small water drainage. The male leopard started walking stealthily and immediately I alerted my guests that a big chance for a kill was coming here. And just like that, it just happened in front of the car. What an exciting sighting from this year. The Mara is a paradise of wildlife, I love every moment I share with my guests but this one was very memorable.
I was with a family of five for four nights and it was their last night and we had not seen a leopard. I stopped under a tree next to the lugga at Maji Machafu on a morning drive and as I was scanning around. I saw an impala from afar and it was coming towards us and I knew it was coming to have a drink. We were talking and looking at the impala so we didn't look up the tree that was close to us; it had a nice canopy such that it was not easy to spot an animal. As the impala was going down to drink, we saw the leopard flying from the tree onto the back of the impala and we saw a kill which we didn't even expect.
My best sighting of the year was watching the two cheetah brothers, Ruka and Rafiki, hunting down a baby zebra. As soon as they brought down the foal, two hyenas appeared out of nowhere after hearing the commotion. The hyaenas came straight to the cheetahs’ kill and grabbed it like it was theirs. The two brother cheetahs were forced to run away. The hyenas, now growing in numbers, only took half an hour to finish eating it.
How about being in a serious 'big cats search' and along the way a guest asks, 'What's that turkey-like bird on our right'? Looking at it, I saw that it was a southern ground hornbill coming towards us. It didn't mind our presence as we were very still, just watching. She came very close and we saw she had at least three grasshoppers in her big bony bill. We all wondered why she didn't eat her kill until we witnessed her dropping everything she had in her beak and quickly striking at something. She came out with a whole bullfrog! A bigger prize this time. She then slowly came back, collected the grasshoppers and took off. Flying with her large white wings we saw her heading towards the thick tree line along the Mara River. We thought she must be taking food home, probably to another female sitting on eggs. It was just fascinating to see how all that unravelled, especially with this rare species of bird.
Yet, the drama didn't end there. A perceptive impala on the opposite riverbank signalled something we couldn't discern — a pride of nine lionesses patiently awaiting the zebras' decision to cross. We shadowed their path, witnessing an incredible moment as they gracefully emerged onto a rocky outcrop. Amidst this wildlife spectacle, an unexpected twist awaited. A lioness — with only one eye — spotted a nearby cheetah, a revelation brought to us by the astute guests. In less than an hour, nature's theatre unfolded before us, emphasizing the invaluable lesson that patience yields extraordinary rewards. This uniquely private safari encounter, with no other vehicle in sight, etched itself as my most memorable game drive to date.
On one beautiful morning, we started our morning drive looking for cats. Near the Owino area, we found five lions hunting a buffalo but the buffalo was clever and went into a pool of water. The lions didn’t mind and were happy to wait so they went to rest under a tree. When the buffalo tried to get out of the pool, the lions would rush back and kept coming back the whole day. Eventually, the lions succeeded at night.
This is one of the best Risasi moments with her two boys. I remember following her for more than three hours when finally she surprised us with a hunt for a grown-up Thomson's gazelle. It was amazing seeing her run up to 120km/h. It has been a crazy experience for her to bring up those young boys and it has taken her a lot of time and energy. Being able to watch her being a mother this year has been the most amazing experience.
We were on a morning drive along the Mara River when we came across a pod of hippos sunbathing on a sandy bank of the river. Suddenly, something caught my curiosity — about 100m away, a lone hippo was lying in an awkward position.
I pointed this to the guests and quickly handed them binos and what we saw was amazing — the hippo was about to give birth. The feet of the calf were sticking out and I quickly grabbed my camera. Before I could even start recording, the mother hippo was now pushing and pushing and then boom! A big splash into the water and a baby hippo was born. It looked healthy but struggled a little bit in the water as there was less buoyancy to keep it floating well but the mother was quick to help.
Watching this sighting was amazing and a wow for our guests — they've just seen life begin underwater. For me, it was an absolute treat to watch this happen during the day since hippos give birth mostly at night. I've seen births on land but never seen it happen underwater, making this my special sighting of the year!
The Migration has always been about mega herds of wildebeest moving across the plains, crossing the rivers and it's also about that time when the predators have their fill. This year's Migration lasted for only a few months with fewer animals than normal. However, this gave the guides more time to spend on the savannas and its luggas looking for the big cats of the Maasai Mara. These channels drain water to the Mara River and are a unique habitat for one of the most elusive of the big cats, a big male leopard. On this very beautiful morning, we had the best chance to find him mating with a female.
Though quite a rare sighting, we managed to follow them as they moved through the thickets on their love-entangled session, not knowing that they would end up making a kill and not mating at all. As we patiently waited for them, a herd of wildebeest came from the plains running across the lugga. It was a moment of intense waiting since nobody knew where the leopard would show and hit. Luckily, we took a high vantage point and waited. The herd kept running and went down into the channel with the dust of the Mara's savanna rising from behind, making it difficult for us and the herd to know what was happening. It was a moment of helter-skelter as the male leopard made its kill and the rest of the herd was cut short as they urgently started heading back to the plains, sprinting to save their lives.
Filed under: Stories From The Mara
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