Masaimara – Adventure of the game hunt

Monday 26 to Wednesday 28 September

Once again, the story of our time photo-hunting the animals in the Masaimara is long, so photos are up front. There are a lot of photos as well.

Day 1 – the safari

Monday 26 September: arriving at Masaimara

It was a long and bumpy road to Masaimara. The last 70km was on an unmade road. The hour and a half journey was divided into three equal parts. The corrugation. The rocky road. The potholes. As our driver said, it was the opportunity for a good free massage.

The following morning, we set out for our first safari through the Masaimara. The number of animals we saw was extraordinary.

The safari was just the same as we experienced in Samburu. Mwendwa has very sharp eyes so not only is he negotiating a road full of potholes and massive bumps, he is also keeping a sharp eye out for animals and birds.

Mwendwa has a book which he uses to show us which particular animal we are seeing. The first new animal is the Topi Gazelle – a larger animal than other gazelles and one that doesn’t migrate.

There are Buffalo, Grand Kudu, Impalas, Thompson Gazelles and the Common Zebra.

We were enjoying animals and birds and suddenly the radio crackles and the Somali voices are shouting with excitement. ‘I think there are lions’ and the chase is on. Bumping across the minor tracks. In the distance we can see three or four vehicles and sure enough, when we reach the spot there is a lioness. She makes her way across our path. She puts on a beautiful display, sauntering across the dry grass and into bushes.

There is a protocol to sighting the big animals. The driver will get as close as he can for you, encourage you to take as many pictures as you can and then move on and give other photo-hunters their opportunity.

There are also rules on how to behave in the parks, but as Mwendwa says ‘In Kenya we do not break the law but we bend it.’ as he was driving over the grass.

We continued on our journey of exploration, trying to capture mongoose careering through the grass. An elegant Somali Ostrich, more gazelles and finally the wildebeest. Mwendwa says they are made up of spare parts – legs are short like a hyena, the neck & tail are just like the cows, the horns are like the buffalo, and the beards just like Osama Bin Laden. And they are scatty, diving this way and that as the car goes past. The wildebeest and zebras co-habitate. Large mobs of both are on the grassy plains. The Eland Antelope is the largest antelope and is shy, often hiding in the shrubs.

And so the hunt goes on… There is an elephant mum & cub and finally we sight the Masai giraffe, quite different from the Reticulated Giraffe we saw in Samburu. There is a zebra carcass, not thoroughly picked through and the first of many we will see.

We have trouble keeping up with all the animals and are madly writing the names of each as we see and photograph them, such as Grant’s Gazelle.

And we start to spot some birds, The Crowned Lapwing with its lovely red legs, the Yellow Throated Sandgrouse, the Secretary Bird which hunts snakes.

There are hundreds of zebras and wildebeests and a pancake tortoise diving into a very muddy pond.

We spot a pair of ostriches and on closer inspection we see they have a family of four chicks. Then there is a Water Buck like we had seen in Samburu, a Yellow beaked stork and a pair of Egyptian geese. A Warthog family scamper away from us, very nimble on their skinny legs.

We stop by the Mara River to awe at the Nile Crocodiles & hippos. They laze in the warm sunshine without threat. A Gray Crane on the cliff edge is on the lookout for insects.

We make a lunch stop under a beautiful tree. Little birds, Richards Pipits seem to know about the tourists and their lunches and we are quickly surrounded by them. They are cheeky – they stay at your feet ready to pick up the crumbs you drop from your roll. They are even brave enough to fly into your sandwich to help themselves. They are joined by the Superb Starlings who put on a great show hopping around flapping their iridescent blue wings.

After lunch we continued our safari, finding another very hot lioness, a Hammerkop bird, the Eastern Black and White Colobuses Monkey and the enormously ugly Marabou stork, which nests in colonies in trees and on cliffs. There were more Giraffes and Mongoose. Mwendwa pointed out a Sausage Tree which the Masai use to make local beer.

We were heading back to our lodge when I spotted a Hyena, probably on the lookout for some carrion to make a meal.

What we saw…

  • Topi gazelle don’t migrate
  • Buffalo
  • Impala
  • Zebras & trees & young. They may feed a lot and move 2 km or move up to 10km a day. Then see long line.
  • Wildebeests are leaders of migration.
  • Lioness after msg on 2-way & a chase
  • Mongoose in grass
  • Somali ostrich
  • Mongoose & topi gazelles including young x 2
  • Thompson gazelles
  • Wildebeests & zebras.
  • Wildebeests are made out of spare parts. Legs are short like a hyena, the neck & tail are just like the cows, the horns are like the buffalo, and the beards just like Osama Bin Laden.
  • Hilder antelope. Largest antelope.
  • ‘In Kenya we do not break the law but we bend it.’ Driving over grass.
  • Elephant mum & cub
  • Masai giraffe & zebra carcass
  • Grand gazelle
  • Birds crowned lapwing
  • Yellow throated sandgrouse
  • Elephants
  • Animals in distance
  • Secretary bird hunts snakes
  • Hundreds of zebras & wilder beasts
  • Pancake tortoise
  • Ostrich family. 4 chicks
  • Water Buck
  • Yellow beaked stalk
  • Egyptian geese
  • Warthog family
  • Leopard
  • Crocodiles & hippos
  • Gray crane eats insects
  • Reticulated giraffe in first park
  • Lunch with Richards pipit
  • Superb Starlings
  • Hot lioness
  • Hammerkop bird
  • Eastern black and white Colobuses monkey Nakuru
  • Marabou stork enormous ugly bird, nests in colonies trees cliffs
  • Giraffes
  • Mongoose
  • Sausage tree make local beer
  • Hyena

Day 2 – the lesson

Tuesday 27 September: Masai Mara National Reserve again

Today we asked questions and learnt a lot about the animal kingdom.

For example when male impalas reach maturity they live together in a group. If one feels strong enough he will challenge the leader of a female group. The females are all sired by the single male who looks after them. Young impalas stay in the group, but when the males reach maturity they will join the male group of warriors.

It is common to see the Hartebeest standing on a mound looking out for enemies such as a lion. The males will take it in turns as the lookout, while the rest of the group graze. The Topi Gazelle also does the same, using one animal as a lookout while they graze.

The Eland Antelope is the largest in Africa and it has the sweetest meat.

The Masai people use the leaves from the sage bush as a mosquito repellent & as a perfume. The bushes grow 2 to 3 metres high and although the leaves look more robust they certainly had a familiar perfume.

Mwendwa also pointed out the Sandpaper tree which grows on a mound created by termites.

After more excited chatter over the 2-way radio. This time it turns out to be a leopard who has dragged a young Wildebeest up into a tree. The leopard is on the ground, probably exhausted from the hunt, kill and hide activities.

There are more birds, a beautiful grey crane and an ostrich fluffed up to keep cool. We find a leopard with a young cub, on the hunt and a Southern Ground Hornbill.

Our next stop was the posts that mark the border between Kenya (Masaimara) and Tanzania (Serengeti)

In this part of the world the Wildebeests were migrating. Long lines of them, marching.

We drove to the Mara River in Narok County. After lunch atop a hill we were treated to a walk along the Mara River with a guide called Richard. He walked us along the river bank, protecting us with his rifle, against some rather sleepy hippopotami and crocodiles.

After an encounter with a hyena and a cheetah, we came across a lion with an eye for dinner.  The safari vehicles accumulated and we all waited in high expectation of seeing something gruesome.  Alas, the game our lioness was after were smart and fled.

What we saw…

  • Guineafowl
  • Male impalas
  • Hartebeest Standing on mound looking out for enemy such as lion. Topi gazelle does same
  • Eland antelope largest in Africa sweetest meet
  • Zebras & bird in water
  • Leopard tortoise in grass
  • Eland in a row
  • Yellow flower on prickly bush
  • Elephants walking
  • Buffalo carcass
  • Sage bush. Mosquito repellent & perfume for Masai
  • Vultures
  • Airport
  • Sandpaper tree on hump
  • Leopard with young wildebeest kill in tree
  • bastard bird related to larger Kori Bastard
  • Ostriches fighting.
  • Vultures on carcass
  • Cheetah & cub
  • Southern Ground Hornbill red beak
  • Sand river border to Serangetti
  • Tanzania/Kenya border
  • Line of wildebeest
  • Going into Narok County across Mara River
  • Another border post with gorillas. Pic from van
  • Lunch stop
  • Walk with Benjamin.
  • Hyenas
  • Cheetah in grass – drove a long way to see it
  • Lion hunting Topi & Water Buck poison themselves. Topi warn the zebras of danger
  • Mr Macharubu – Mr Moustache in Kenya
  • On the road again, a little late as Mwendwa still doesn’t have enough money from ‘the boss’ to pay park fees.

Day 3 – the survivors

Wednesday 28 September: Masaimara last day

We started our day with a tour of a Masai Village, it’s hard to imagine that anyone can live comfortably in the conditions we saw. Of course we were treated to a welcome with a couple of men’s dances. One was a warrior dance which comprised a long line of the men. The other was a mating dance where the men displayed how high they could jump. This dance was to impress the girls and perhaps secure a wife. It is still up to the chief to decide which girl a man can marry.

And of course a man may take many wives. The bride must come from another village and moves to her husband’s village. The dowry will cost the bride’s family 10 cows. The small village of five or six houses was enclosed by a brush style fence. Goats and cattle were brought in here at night and the unmarried men, the warriors, guarded each gate, taking alternate nights to stay awake. Fires are lit to keep the wild beasts away.

The women put on a song, which I was asked to join. The kids and dogs ran around us in excitement.

We were shown into a house. It was basic and dark. A frame of wooden poles is coated with a mixture of sand and elephant dung. It is the women’s job to put this mixture on, which has to be refreshed every three years. The house had an outer room and then an entry to the kitchen with two spaces to sleep. Solar generated lamps and bottles of kerosene with a wick provide lighting. Cooking is done in a small fireplace in the centre of the room. Apart from cooking and sleeping, most life is spent outdoors. Water is carried in. The whole area is covered by the droppings of the animals.

Five families live in the village, approximately 120 people of which 53 are children. Our guide is the son of the village chief and he hopes to be appointed chief one day. He is not the first son, but he told us he is a primary teacher and he has built a school up the hill from the village. He sat us down to explain his grand plans for schooling all children to an equal level, and asked us to help.

The last point of call was the village shop with a huge array of souvenirs.

The Masai people don’t grow crops, it would only encourage the wild animals to come and graze on them. Their diet therefore consists of the milk, blood and meat of their animals.

Tribes have clans. Clans own the land. Masai are a tribe.

We left the village (and stopped to get the drip feed money to pay our park fees) for our last day in Masaimara. Not far into the park we came across a very pregnant lioness who was panting, looking exhausted. In front of her was the carcass of a cow. I assume she had gone for an easy target as the Masai bring their cattle into the park to graze at night. This is not legal and we could understand why. Nonetheless, the Masai wanted revenge and will probably hunt down the lioness, killing her and the unborn cubs. It was a gruesome sight, but that’s life in Africa.

We spotted a pair of hyenas sitting under a tree. One was tagged. We’d also seen an elephant with a tag on it.

We go to the Grand Prix to see the skill of the drivers, not to see the accidents that are inevitable. And so it was in Africa we were there to see the animals but some carnage was inevitable. We came across a family of leopards. Four animals sitting on mounds viewing the scenery, or more particularly the opportunity for a meal. There were zebras, topi and gazelles. Topis poison themselves so are safe. The leopards were slinking around, waiting. Then to our right some gazelles and topi were moving a little closer. At the same time more and more safari vehicles were arriving. A Land Rover with two Chinese tourists drove down on the grass towards the leopards. Mwendwa said they would have paid a lot of money for the privilege of breaking the park rules. Their cameras were big and looked professional.

One leopard started to stalk. She had found a gazelle that had wandered off from the group. And before you knew it she had disappeared into the grass. The Land Rover was very close, chasing her, trying to see the action close up.

The photo-hunters vehicles started to drive down the grass and there she was. The leopard holding down a gazelle and panting furiously. After some time, she stood up and sat a little distance from her kill. Then we noticed the other three leopards moving in, walking slowly in a most orderly manner. As it turned out her three cubs had been watching and now they came to eat. We watched them patiently work on the carcass, while their mother recovered from her chase. She would eat when the young ones had had their fill.

As we drove on we saw a zebra carcass by the side of the road with a vulture enjoying a feed. A Maribou Stork was in the background. He sauntered up and tucked in beside the vulture. As Mwendwa explained, the rain the night before had freshened up the carrion, it smelt and tasted better.

We left the birds to their feed and continued on. Since we had had rain each evening it seemed that the park was becoming greener. Some particularly bright patches of green were appearing where the dried grass had been burnt.

The park was dotted with animals. Wildebeests and zebras in particular would number thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. The long line of the migration inched forward but there were still many, many animals that were grazing, not moving.

We drove across for the Mara river again. It’s the largest river system in Masaimara. The water level was low and crocodiles and hippopotami were happily sleeping, moving between the water and the banks. They live in harmony, the carnivorous crocodile and the herbivorous rhino, neither has an interest in the other. A small hippo might aggravate an old crocodile but his family will ensure there is no risk to him.

We had trouble finding a lunch tree, suddenly it seemed a lot more tourists were in the park and each driver set up his photo-hunters under a tree. Tall, shady trees in the open are few and far between. After lunch I caught sight of a single jackal, a small animal about the size of a spaniel. He would have been on the hunt for some carrion, something a lion might have finished with.

There was more – lions with their Cubs, hunting, family of elephants, one very small and cute.

Then we came across the leopard we’d seen yesterday. It had a young wildebeest strung up in a tree and was down on the ground, probably recovering from the kill and moving the carcass up into the tree. Today it was eating, sitting over the carcass, up in the tree, devouring it.

What we saw….

  • Baboon in tree
  • Masai village tour
  • Young fish Eagle
  • Lioness with kill – cow
  • Hyenas one with collar
  • Leopard family kill grant gazelle. Mother chases & kills gazelle. Cubs wait. We find mother holding gazelle down. Cubs arrive. Very orderly. Mother watches while they feed. She will feed afterwards. Still panting from chase.
  • Maribou stork & vulture picking at a zebra carcass
  • Green grass, dry grass was burnt
  • Hippos on Mara river & crocodiles
  • Lunch stop
  • Jackal eats lions leftovers
  • Lion with cubs hunting
  • Elephants with very young cubs
  • Leopard eating wildebeest that we saw yesterday