Life and death on the plains
In the last few days the weather has changed a little, lovely sunrises but the afternoons marked with cloud and a slightly increased rainfall as well as a rise in temperature. Fortunately so far the rivers remain low and allowing us to still cross over.
A few days back we were treated to quite some action. Starting first with an attempted hunt by three cheetah’s, all offspring of a cheetah mum called ‘Amani’. That consists of two males and a female, all under two years old. When we arrived at the sighting we looked skyward and saw that one if the cubs was aloft on a car belonging to a friend of ours, a tactic that many of the cheetah in the Mara seem to be adopting with increased frequency in order to scan for prey. Not long after all three were mobile, and had locked onto a warthog family. Barely getting a chance to reposition the vehicle for a good spot and anticiptaing their direction the cheetahs were off! Starting at some distance away but running at high speed toward us. During the intense chase on of the cheetah lost its footing slightly as one of the adult warthogs turned to face off the cheetah, in an effort to defend them against their small piglets. The cheetah darted after different individuals and it was incredibly hard to keep locked on to them and they sped across the plains! Up and down the many undulations and at one point coming so close to succeeding in an effort to secure a meal. However, with the distraction of the warthog family darting in different directions the cheetah soon lost ground and no sooner did this happen they ground to a halt and gave up on their attempts. The warthogs, for now would live to see another day and were reunited as a family further up the plains. The sun began to set and as it did the cheetah all began to settle, tomorrow would be another day that would allow them to hunt.
The next morning we headed to the Musiara Marsh, yet before we even got as far as the area we spotted a startled group of wildebeest and not long after saw the cause. A small clan of spotted hyena, around 5-7 individuals. The wildebeest began to run from the hyena and as they did we noticed an adult, who was possibly lame and lagged behind. At this point we knew that the fate of this animal was sealed. The hyena soon isolated the individual and circled it, then each moved in closer. Then the inevitable happened, as one or two of the hyena started biting at the legs of the wildebeest. This was all happening at quite some distance but we saw that very soon the wildebeest was down. Now, we knew it stod no chance. The way in which hyena hunt and dispatch their prey is not for the feint hearted and their is no easy way to describe what we saw. Whilst the animal was still alive they bit at it’s rear and pulled it down, on one or two occaisons the wildebeest tried to rise but it was a fruitless effort as each time the hyena dragged it back down. The hyena would bite chunks and then looked up scanning for any other imcoming predators, their faces becoming more and more bloody as the poor wildebeest struggled. This continued for about 15 minutes until at the point that which the hyena went for the stomach, opening it up. At this point the pain was over for the wildebeest and the hyena fed in a frenzy. Whilst we admit this was not the most pleasant thing to watch we were incredibly fortunate to have witnessed such behaviour and an illustration of what successful hunters Hyena actually are. Contrary to many who mark this animal as being a scavenger alone. Statistically they are actually more successful hunters than lion. However, witnessing such behaviour is often very hard given such hunts usually occur at night. The first time in nine years of travelling to Africa that we have actually witnessed this!
We evetually made ot to the Marsh, and managed to find two of the four marsh males (Morani and Hunter) as well as five of the sub adults belonging to the pride. They were inactive with the males popping up their heads out of the croton every now and then! The subs all looked rather hungary but this would not continue for long given that the marsh is always an area with plenty of game.
In addition we have returned again to look for the Notch Coalition of lions, now finding all four males on this trip and to get more ID shots of some of the females in the rongai area. As well as looking for the lionesses with cubs. we have been successful in finding them as well as some new lions not seen so far on this trip, including 2 more sub adult males (who we think originated from the Rekero Pride) with a female. An intetesting sighting in which the female trailed the males, who would only tolerate her at a distance. In large given that times are now tough with little game in the central area of the Mara most times the lions have been inactive, often when finding them deep in the shade of a tree or large bush.
As well as lions we have found a lovely pack of jackal pups, they were tiny and stayed close to their den. Sadly they remained quite hidden so we were only able to get a few limited shots in bad light, before the sun rose and they entered back into their den to rest for the day.
We have also found another cheetah, one that we have followed for a couple of years now, her name being Malaika. When we saw the cheetah we could barely make her out and only knew it was Malaika as we talked to our friend Elena who is one of the cheetah researchers here in the Mara. She confirmed the cheetah was malaika and delighted in telling us she has given birth just four days prior to at least 4 cubs who with her hidden deep in long grass but out of sight for us to take any images. An important time that vehicles need to be kept away from her. This was awesome news! However, on the other hand the news was marked with some concern given that she was literallly 500 metres from lions. Sadly the next day our worst fears were confirmed as Elena advised she lost 3 of the 4 tiny cubs to lions. Now leaving only one. We can only hope that she now has the ability to focus on the one remaining cub and whilst it was such sad news it is unfortunately part of life and death on the plains of Africa.
Hunter (Marsh Pride)