Masai Mara Photography Safari 2
The perfectly green Masai Mara savannah was speckled with the wastepaper and crossandra flowers. The animals stood out more against the greenness. More so on the few occasions that the sun broke through the clouded up skies. Only a short while back, the wildebeest filled the plains. The pasture was shorter then, well grazed. Earlier still, the Mara was golden brown, camouflaging the wildlife coated to hide. It was a different season then.
To know a place is to know all sides of the coin. The November Masai Mara Photography safari was a different adventure from that of the month of August. As it is, a travel plan can re-arrange itself. That is what it did for some of our safari guests. A five hour flight delay to Kenya caused them a missed flight from the Wilson airport to the Masai Mara National Reserve. Even so, a separate 45 minute charter flight saw all the Ashish Parmar Photography safari members reunited in Masai Mara. Having seen them off at the Wilson airport, it was 5pm when I left Nairobi for Narok, where I spent the night.
All but one of my travels to Mara have been within the Masai Mara national reserve – yet again – for the third consecutive year – named as Africa’s leading national park at the World Travel Awards. What is generally referred to as the Mara covers about 5,550km2. Of this, the Masai Mara National Reserve occupies some 1,510km2, with the surrounding pastoral ranches and conservancies covering approximately 4,000km2. Although the wildlife is spread across the Mara, I have always found the park to have a great show of wildlife.
By the first evening we had seen all the big five including a large herd of buffalos and smaller groups of elephant families. Elephants in Masai Mara move in smaller groups than those in the Amboseli National Park and Samburu National Reserve. In Amboseli, you will meet large herds of them going to or from the swamps – the main watering place there. Similarly, in Samburu, you will not miss large herds of elephants in and around the Euwaso Nyiro River. Apart from the main Mara River, Masai Mara has several other seasonal rivers and streams, so apart from the dry season, the animals do not gather at a particular water source together as such.
Malaika – Masai Mara’s famous female cheetah is not a shy one, and neither are her three cubs. The malaika family is a downright favorite of the Ashish Parmar Photography Tours team leader who has met her for the last six years on different safaris to the Masai Mara. Every day, we saw her with her cubs that are in my estimation about one year four months old. We missed her hunting expeditions by a whisker – only finding her with her first catch – a baby thompson’s gazelle which must not have been enough because a little later, on the same day – a second time too late, we found her family with an impala – with vultures, six jackals, and two tawny eagles waiting their turn. Cheetahs give birth to a litter of between 1-6 cubs. Malaika had four. Trying to make the puzzle fit, we decided that the young lone cheetah we saw hunting poorly was malaika’s runaway cub.
Spotting a leopard is a worthwhile safari exploit because they like to hide. As it seems to be the norm, our first spotting was a leopard lounging on a tree. It had its back to us, never giving us a front shot, not in a hurry to climb down the tree either. From morning to midday it stayed there – even as we moved around the area to snap away at those glad to see us. It was on the fifth day, that finally, we were going to get some good leopard pictures. Information got around to us that the leopard was bahati – a female with cubs – almost as well known as malaika.
To get to Bahati, we had to cross the Talek River – water filled, with steep muddy banks typical of the rainy season. I crossed second in our convoy with some difficulty. The first car had sailed through well with the banks firm after the night. The third vehicle – the banks all squashed up – made good attempts but had to be towed. A confession, on that safari, I did get stuck in the mud – not once, not twice…right from the first day – trying to get close to a black rhino, the mud held firm and the rhino, as though chuckling, brushed us off, turned, and went its way. Bahati was there alright – there across the Talek River, at Olkiombo area, but had hidden her cubs away somewhere.
Day six – the last day of the safari, was quite the show stopper. I got to know what it really means for something to happen in the blink of an eye. There were three teenagers at that sand river scene. One was a teenage buffalo sleeping in the bushes. The other two were teenage elephants strolling with a young calf in the company of a mature female elephant with one left tusk. We will never know what shocked the buffalo out of the safety of the bush. Fleeing, it blindly ran for the elephants – head on to the matriarch. There is no greater wisdom in the wild than to know not to threaten elephant herds with calves. In all my years as a safari driver/guide, it was the first time I heard visitors screaming at the happenings in the bush. Never mind that the scream did not come from our group. The matriarch elephant’s one tusk was tusk enough to lift the buffalo 10 feet off the ground. Coming down, the marred buffalo was not a picture to send home. The unexpected shock of it all froze us in place cameras and all. That split second moment was not captured.
There were other rare photo and video moments on the safari though – a lone serval cat, a ten 10ft python smoothly disappearing into a termite mound, a dung beetle oblivious of us, rolling a treasured dung ball. As though showing up to make the farewell bow on that last day, there was variety, even the birds. We saw – both resident and migratory birds; the white billed stock, saddle billed stock, the African fish eagle, lesser kestrel, and the Eurasian marsh harrier. We got to see the migratory sooty falcon – a beautiful bird with the prized catch of a thoroughly colored bull frog. It was an interesting picture, but watching it gulp the frog down may have been a different story. We did not stick around long enough to see.
Masai Mara has a good population of lions easily sighted at any time of the year. They live in fairly large prides/known prides. Notch was a legend lion “king” that “ruled” the Mara until just a few years ago. His clan however remains. We met both his sons and grandsons on the safari. With the lions all over, some decided that we would not leave without the rare photograph proving that they too have tree climbing talent – and not necessarily to “save their lives”. A lioness posed atop a sausage tree. On the last evening of the Masai Mara Photography 2, the cameras clicked again on lions on a shaded balanite tree.
There was only one right way for us to end the safari – with the malaika family as the last stop. Sadly, after the safari, we got word that she lost one more cub to a crocodile at the Talek River. Such is nature, and such will it be again when at 18 months old, malaika will leave her cubs to survive on their own in the Masai Mara.
All the pictures on this blog taken on the safari are courtesy of professional photographer the late Ashish Parmar of Ashish Parmar Photography