We decided that on Monday we would move over to the North side of the Mara River, after all no trip to the Mara is ever complete without finding a certain male lion, we all know that we are talking about Notch!
However, first we spent Monday morning on another 'Mgoro mission' and game viewing on the south side of the river by 9am we decided we should 'mobilise' for our trip over the river. As we are headed along the main road near Serena Airstrip to get water and fuel before starting the 2 hour journey we were suddenly stopped literally dead in our tracks by the loud roar right by the vehicle, when we say right by the vehicle we make no exaggeration and it was exactly at the moment was passed. Instantly we knew it was a female lioness, but where on earth was she, close that was for sure. Then suddenly just 3 feet from the road we saw the top of a lioness head pop up from the long long grass. We were totally aghast as to how hidden she was, whilst she was so close to the road the grass was so high making her invisible.
We could only see ears so could not ID the lion, was it Killer Bogey (KB) or one of the other members of the Mgoro pride? After just a few seconds she flopped down and then again disappeared into the grass. It was amazing as to how close she was but you could not see her, not even a tiny faction of skin or tail. Guides stopped to ask what we were looking at and as we explained but they to could not see her at all. Driving off from where the lioness was Andy and I were convinced they did not believe us when we said there was a lion there! We sat patiently for some time waiting to see if we could get a better look. Then again she moved but that was revealed was a belly, this was not helping! Moments later we suddenly saw more movement, there was 2 lionesses! Quite something to see how one such a large creature can just disappear, let alone two, but as the grass was around 3foot+ in this area so it was hardly surprising. Time pressed on and we knew we had to get water, on the way back we would pop by again in case they had moved.
Returning back they had not moved as hoped, the occasional flick of a tail was all we got to know they were still there. That was until the bush plane from Nairobi came over! Startled by the noise of the low flying plane suddenly the two lionesses were rudely awoken from their slumber and leaped out of the grass and onto the road. At this point in unison Andy and I both excitedly proclaimed "its Killer Bogey'!. Yep, that's right we had found her and one of the other members of the Mgoro pride. Had it not been for the load roar and the plane overhead we would have been none the wiser. Ok, yes its coincidence but even still quite amusing!. Sadly we have no photos of her as she then retreated back to the grass fast, but we had seen her so that was good to see she was doing well. Hopefully when we go back over we will see them again.
The bizarre twist of fate continued on the next leg of our journey.... 'finding Notch'. Just an hour into the journey to the North side we came across 2 female elephants and their older calves. Always being cautious of elephants and especially mothers and calves we stopped around 125feet away, they knew we were there so we decided to sit quietly sat with the engine off and watched as their posture was relaxed.
They started to very slowly move along away from the road and we decided a little after to slowly move forward to pass. We had not even moved 5 feet at snail pace that without any warning one the larger of the two females suddenly bolted full speed at us, this was no mock charge and we were given no warning at all so the moral of the story is don't always think you will get a warning! Andy had no option but to slam into reverse as we watched this elephant run toward us, at this point we could see she was secreting fluid out of her temporal glands on the side of her head. She was not happy about something as this is often a sign of stress (caused by many things) and us turning up was obviously for some reason been'the straw that broke the camels back'! To say the adrenalin was pumping is a pretty accurate description! She closed the gap slightly as she did not relent toward us, but as we had already some distance away she never got too close, this was lucky we had not decided to get too close and retain a healthy respect and distance. We were lucky in that we were on a nice bit of even and dry track so made it easy to reverse. After running for around 150 metres she finally stopped. Without panic we then had the opportunity to turn the vehicle around and face the direction of travel in as calm manner as possible and take a different route. However, she decided that even though by now we were a considerable distance away and still moving away from her she was going to start running again after us! We drove slowly knowing at this point we had no need to panic, she continued to run for again another 150 metres. What had upset her was a mystery and the first time we had experienced this. We have come across elephants before who are a little 'stroppy or sensitive' but knowing the signs we have always avoided any issues, but this girl gave us no warning!
So, after this little episode we continued to re-route on another track, it would still get us to where we needed to be eventually, just a slightly different way. The mystery of what had upset the elephant then became a little clearer when we soon came across a large bull elephant nearby, stomping around the plains, testosterone filled. Perhaps this guy had been upsetting the herd and was why she was easily agitated, one possible theory!.? Or perhaps she had just awoken the wrong side of the 'bed' or decided she did not like green Land Rovers!
So here comes the second 'twist of fate'......continuing the journey we then saw up ahead a lone acacia which clearly had some feline inhabitants underneath. It was indeed lions, two, a male and a female. As we approached closer it took only moments until we both proclaimed "its Notch". Yes, indeed this was the old Mzee himself and in an area we had actually not expected to find him. He was some distance away but enough to see his familiar face, he looked well fed (having heard that he and his boys had been feeding on Hippo just days before). I hate to say this but now he looked old now and not quite as good as he had done in February when we last saw him. You could see this in his face and his skin condition was changing and certainly showing his age.
As reported recently we also saw for ourselves that Notch has lost a lower canine. Even still there was still plenty of strength there so we are not writing Notch off yet by any means, he has been like a Duracell battery so far so long live Mzee Notch! Soon he will be feeding on a glut of wildebeest, that will keep him going for sure. The female he was with also looked a little battered with a large older injury to half of her face and was having some issues with her eye as it streamed and barely opened. They really looked a right pair of bruisers! So we have to say thank you to the elephant for having charged us, without this we would have taken a different track and totally missed where the big guy was. Sadly he sat up for only moments and not long enough to get any great images but there was fine with us as it was good to see the old guy again. We decided that after lunch we would return as he was not going to be moving anywhere that was for sure and we knew that his 'bodyguard' (Grimace/Bob) and the other boys could be near by.
Headed back a few hours later he was in the same spot, having moved about 12 inches! They were still flat out and looked almost comotose! Leaving him we headed off to look for the others, just a couple of KM away we came across another familar face, it was Grimace (Bob). He lay on the open plain with another female and as we cast our eyes around we could see they were not too far from the remains of the hippo that had been their substiance for the last few days but now teemed with three different species of vulture all fighting over the best morsels of meat left over. Grimace was also not 'playing ball' for the cameras but we managed to get a couple of shots but nothing that would make it to the website I doubt!. Enough to see that he has now also lost an upper canine, probably embedded in a hippo somewhere!
So now it was off to try and find the three other boys. We spoke to a guide who mentioned he thought they had been seen a couple of kilometres away so off we went. We soon approached the area and saw three cars under a tree, this meant two things, lions or given the area a cheetah. The flick of a tawny tail with a black tuft gave it away as we moved closer, and then two tails and then three. So we knew we had lions and we knew it was likely the boys. The grass was again long (and in this instance frustratingly long!) so we saw the odd head pop up quickly and then flop back down. It was enough to see that it was the Notch sons (Including the tell tell dark maned 'Notch II') It was incredible to see (albeit briefly as they re-adjusted their position) that they really did look like Notch in his younger days but now even bigger than dad for sure. This had been a great day so far, but in terms of photography was not great given the long grass but we had set a mission to find Notch and his boys and we had succeeded so no complaints there, sometimes that is just the way it happens on a trip. Given the light was rather dull anyway it was hardly an issue and we are happy just to see these handsome and rather 'famous' lions and to see how they have grown up in the years we have followed them.
As our day came to an end our last twist of fate ends with Cheetahs. Saying goodnight to the boys it was time to head back to camp (having still not moved!)We had made plans for a particular site but for a few reasons we had to make some last minute changes late that day as to where we would stay which was fine. In Africa we 'make a plan' day by day so this was not an issue at all. As we headed to the different site the sun had almost gone and a dark light prevailed. We made out vehicles in the distance, the way we were headed. As we came nearer and in front of the cars we suddently saw two cheetahs running, then three, then four, then five, then six and then SEVEN!!!! It was 'Shingo' and her six cubs, and it seemed almost unreal to see so many Cheetahs together, let alone for a mother to have raised all her cubs to such an age. (I am not sure of their exact age but they looked around 12-15 months old). It was our first time to see these cats in the flesh. They all looked in great condition and well fed, this really was some sight. We backed off as they were obviously chasing something which the cars masked for a few moments, until we saw they had taken down a 'Tommie' fawn. The cheetahs then instantly huddled around the kill and it was dispatched quickly, each one of the cheetahs getting their own piece of dinner. The cameras were away! (given the fact we were about the exit the park and it was getting dark) but out in enough time to boost up the 'ISO' and try and get at least something to remind us of the fact we had just seen 7 cheetahs. Well done mum, you are a clever girl!
And so that ends our day that was brimming with either many coincidences or a bizarre twist of fate. We had caught up with old and new feline friends so we were pretty happy that night as you can imagine. Welcome to the Masai Mara and all is wonderous glory (except for the bad light and rain!!)
Grimace (A.K.A Bob)