Sunday, 18 March 2012

Olive hunts in the Midday sun!

The afternoon of the 16th was a quiet but nonetheless a very pleasant drive . We came across a small breeding herd of Elephants who were feeding in the forest along the river, not too far from our camp. In amongst them was one particularly huge Elephant and that must have been at least 45 years plus. The youngsters in the herd stayed close to their mothers and dwarfed in comparison. Cavorting in all positions, and deceptively agile for the size they fed along the steep banks of the Talek River. We watched as they used their dextrous trunks to shake the seeds of the grass and spitting out the less palatable roots. Amazingly Elephants have around 100,000 muscles in their trunks and you could see how they put these to use!
Further down the river we then came across more Elephants, but this time down on the river bed. They ‘rumbled’ and communicated with one another as they slowly transited along the rocky terrain. One elephant had clearly been making use of the minerals found in the soil along the river bank as it’s tusks were stained brown and with residue of soil still evident. This process of gauging out soil along river banks is quite common practice for Elephants and is known as Geophagia (sp?), a vital way of gaining additional nutrients in their diet. 
Later on we again found the Ridge pride of Lions, laid flat out in the long grass, perhaps there were others that were hidden from view but we could only see 10 of the 12 members of this pride. They still looked hungry and given there was absolutely no prey for quite some distance they would certainly have to move in order to hunt.
The sunset was spectacular this evening and was a perfect night for a sundowner, although I have to admit I felt quite emotional knowing that this evening was my last afternoon drive and the last time for while that I would see the sunset over the Mara plains,
I did not really want the morning of the 17th to arrive as it marked our very last drive. We first focused on trying to find Olive, but knowing that by now she would have likely moved the cubs it was hard to know where to start! We knew we may not find the cubs but indeed hoped to find Olive on her way to or from the den. Although she may well have moved the cubs to avoid pressure from game viewing vehicles it would have also been expected for her to have by now moved the cubs in order to avoid leaving too much of a scent that could attract unwanted predators. She may have moved them only a short distance or perhaps a km or two up the river. Despite scouring all the possible places we were not successful in finding her so we went on a mission to find the Notch boys. From unconfirmed (and rather sketchy) reports they had apparently headed East the day before and toward the Olkiombo Pride (who are now South of the Talek). This was interesting as I the last few days we had not seem then and I suspected they may have done this so when we heard this news I was not surprised.
We came across 3 young males on their own, 2 that were around 14-16 months and one younger at around 1 year, hidden in the croton. No other adults were in sight, although again may have been hidden from view. They did not appear too stressed, although if indeed they were on their own it was slightly concerning as had the Notch boys been continuing their reign of terror over the Olkiombo Pride and split the pride? (which is currently occupied by 2 pride males and the former ‘stars’ of BBC Big Cat Diary ‘Cheza and Sala’)
We scoured the area for well over one hour but the Notch boys were nowhere to be seen, only coming across the young males noted above and later a lioness from the Olkiombo pride some distance away. If indeed the Notch males had made their way East they would be highly mobile so we knew finding them would be hard and also given by the fact that the reports we had were not substantiated first hand, but had rather come though on the ‘bush telegraph!
As we tracked back West we again saw the Ridge pride and this time just 8 members of the pride, it seemed 2 of the young males, 1 female and 1 sub female were not there. The two youngest cubs (4-6 months) continued to look a little unhealthy and by now sadly starting to look malnourished, their ribs subtly protruding and their coats beginning to show poor condition. One cub tried to feed from the mother but was denied access repeatedly, the females clearly needed some food to be able to provide the cubs with the milk they so needed. Although by now the cubs would also have also started to join the females at ‘kill’s and by now eating meat. Since the evening prior they had clearly not had anything substantial to eat and I just hope that they soon have some success. They were mobile and walked across the plains, drinking from a small pool of water along the way, then retreating into the bushes where it looked like they were likely to remain for the rest of the day.
We had heard that Notch was possibly with the Olkiombo breakaway females and I really wanted to chance to say goodbye to the ‘old mzee’ so even though by now it was coming up to 11am and baking hot we decided to ‘take a punt’ and see if we could find them. 
However, in true ‘mara plan’ style (which means there is NO plan!!) we changed our focus as Bahati (Leopard) has been seen (Olives Daughter). Sure enough, not too far from Rekero camp we had a glimpse of her for a second or two, just as she moved into a lugga. We waited, hoping she may reappear but ‘lost’ her in the area where she had walked into. We figured that in the searing heat she would now be seeking shade so it was a little pointless to bake ourselves to and by now I had to face the was time to head back to camp and pack my bag.
As we headed across ‘Smelly Crossing’, not too far from camp we stopped as a Minivan flagged us down, they pointed deep into the bush and low and behold there was Olive!!! We had started the day looking for here and now we had ended the day by finding her, just as we started packing away the cameras.
She slinked into the croton and we suspected she may come out the other side into a more open area so this is where we headed. Sure enough she did what we anticipated, relaxed with our presence, but as she appeared though the bushes her behaviour suddenly changed. She was fixed on something that had diverted her attention from ambling along. It was a group of 3 Impala, a mother, young fawn and large male tucked deep in a bush.
We moved away, giving her some space at a respectful distance as she slinked into the long grass, not taking her eyes off the Impala for a second, remaining fairly hidden and perfectly still. She was clearly going to try and hunt! I have to say she is one clever cat, who like many other cats in the Mara seem to have started adopting a strategy of hunting in midday, perhaps this was to avoid Game vehicles or perhaps this was to avoid the attentions of the lions who would by now be flat out in a bush somewhere and the Hyena that would be deep inside their dens or resting in mud pools. The game was patchy and very sparse at present in the Mara and thus competition for food is fierce in these situations. So this was one strategy which to ensure she would not lose her hunting efforts to others. In addition Leopards and the other cats are all ‘opportunistic hunters’ so while its not ‘textbook’ for them to hunt in the day they will take any opportunity if it looks like they can successfully hunt.
So it seemed that packing our luggage was going to have to wait, there was no way we would leave a hunting Leopard! She sat patiently for over 30 minutes and then began to  ‘reverse’ further into the bush, with this she then began to stalk just a few metres and then with a sudden burst of energy pelted into the croton and right at the Impala. The mother and fawn darted away, but in the bushes we heard a scuffle and saw dust flying, she had been successful and amazingly she had brought down the male Impala.
Although she had successfully managed to bring the Impala down she now had the task of dispatching her quarry. It took some time as she chose to dispatch by using the ‘kiss of death’ rather than a more common throat hold, perhaps as this was quite a large animal for her to manage. As the Impala finally stopped struggling we knew that she had now taken its last breath. It may sound as if I write these words so ‘matter of fact’ or write such an event with little emotion. However, believe me its never easy to watch an animal die and I always feel emotion in a situation like this. However, this is life and death on the plains and that I just have to try and rationalize that this is how the cats survive. We knew that Olive must feed well in order to provide for her dependent cubs. So, whilst it was of course very sad to see the Impala reach its demise we also knew that it would help Olive produce the vital milk for her little cubs, Nane and Saba.
Olive finally dragged the huge mass into another bush where she sat and caught her breath and finally began to feed, starting at the rump and pulling off its fur to try and break the skin. She fed for only a short time and then headed away from us and toward the river. Clearly the energy expounded, together with siting in the searing heat had made her dehydrated so she was off to drink. At this point we left her in peace, knowing that later she would return to feed some more. We just hoped that she would not lose her hunting efforts to any nearby predators. Once she returned she would not doubt have regained the strength to move her kill into a tree and away from Hyena and Lion.
Returning to camp it was time to face facts, our trip to the `Mara was now over. In just a couple of hours we would be jumping on a small bush plane and headed back to Nairobi where the next day we would return to the UK.
Suffice to say It’s been a truly amazing trip, catching up with my feline ‘friends’, spending time with a good friend of mine and also being guided by one of the best guides in Kenya. Thanks you Paul for such a wonderful time! 
I had hopefully taken some nice images and had also enjoyed GPS’ing the lion prides and their movements over the trip. I would certainly look forward to writing up the ‘research’ and sightings’ and completing the lion pride map that I intended to do on my return to the UK. Thanks goes to Paul for his input into clarifying the current pride dynamics in the Mara.
The time came to sadly say our goodbyes to Paul and then travel the short distance to the airstrip. As our plane travelled down the gravel runway the tears flowed as I took a long lasting look at the Mara from above. I knew I would be back again soon hopefully but its never easy in leaving the Mara and quite frankly always feels like someone is wrenching my heart out when I leave this place, it just gets right under your skin!!
At least the next time I would return (hopefully) in a few months it would be with Andy, whom had no doubt sat at home jealous at some of the sightings I had while the poor man had to slave away at work! However, I knew he was also pleased that I had seen some amazing things. Sorry Andy that you have had to put up with my blog posts, it must have been painful!! and thank you for being such a kind and understanding husband in supporting my trip to the Mara! 
Thanks also to everyone who had read and commented on my blog and my often very lengthy posts!  I hope its been both enjoyable and hopefully informative to read, and that you will join me again when I hopefully return to blogging again from the Mara again in a few months time....
Until the next time....

Olive shortly before she started to stalk the Impala

 Olive 'dispatches' her prey

Three young males from the Olkiombo Pride

 Two Members of the Ridge Pride

Friday, 16 March 2012

Returning to the Marsh

On the evening of the 15th we took a drive down toward Paradise Plains and here we came across three of the Paradise Plain/Serena females. With them were three male lions, ones which many of the guides did not recognise. Two of the males could have easily been mistaken for the 'Notch boys', but they were not these guys. Whilst Paul and I were not 100% we were quietly confident that they were in fact three of the '4km' males, who had come from the Mara Triangle (there are 4 of them in total). Two appeared to be the same age, around 7 years, whilst one was a fraction younger and looked to be no older than around 6 years. That would be a job for when I returned home to indeed see if I could make an ID match to the males from the Mara Triangle.

The next morning we headed back to the Musiara Marsh, by now we expected that some more of the Marsh pride would have discovered the dead elephant and hoped to capture some of the action at first light.

En-route we came across a leopard, straddled in the fork of the tree and at the base of the tree a Hyena, who had been attracted y the kill that the Leopard had stashed in the tree two days before. As we approached from some distance it was clear that we would have only a few 'miliseconds' before the leopard would jump down and by the time we had found a suitable position it indeed jumped down and sprinted off into the thicket. Clearly this was a shy Leopard so we decided not to try and relocate. It's not always possible to 'get the shot' and this was just one of those occasions.

As we approached the same area as the morning prior we were astonished to see that the Elephants still remained with the carcass, that was something we certainly did not expect. This appeared to include the same Elephant who had stuck closely to the body the morning prior. Unlike yesterday, when they were frantic and stressed the scene was a little more calm and the vigil at the dead Elephant continued. Sure enough on the carcass fed some of the Marsh pride, we saw that Bibi and Charm were there, but no sign of the other adult females, White eye, Sienna and Joy. With the two adults were a total of 5 sub adult females and nearby, although not feeding were the two younger males. Although it was initially suspected that these were the young males from the pride it is now thought that they may have come from elsewhere.....I would not like to be in their shoes if the 'four musketeers' return!

The Elephants just stood next to the carcass as the lions fed, the lions growling and swatting their paws as they argued over the best spot at the dinner table. Nearby on the tracks around the Marsh more elephants stood, while some lay down. One particular elephant even started mating with another Elephant even started mating with another, quite bizarre to see whilst the Lions continued to feed just a few feet away.  It was just most bizarre to see that they continued to 'mourn' and only once or twice did they try and deter the lions off the Elephant, but not with the ferocity they had done the day before. It was if they accepted that they were just not going to stop to the lions feeding.

The Elephants moved off and so later did the sub adults and into the shade, as we left the two adult females remained at the carcass and the males continued to sit around 100 metres away.

We headed off leaving the scene and wanted to try and find the '4 Musketters', the males who in September had ousted Romeo and Clawed but who had still yet to consolidate the Marsh pride since the takeover.

Today was hot, a fierce heat that feels as if it is maybe building for some rain again, the only likley place that we would be finding the male lions by now was under a tree and seeking shade.

Sure enough in the distance I spotted a shape under an Acacia and after inspecting with the binoculars you could see it was a male Lion. We headed over as as we approached you could see he was a young male, aged just a little over 5 years I would suspect, Indeed it looked like Morani or Hunter from the Marsh pride. Nearby Paul then spotted more lions around 200 metres away and again lay flat out under a tree. As we approched it was obvious we had found the remaining 3 of the 4 Musketeers. Sikio, Scarface and either Morani or Hunter (I am not 100% which one at this stage) panted heavily in the heat that must have been topping 90 degrees by now. They looked well and appeared to have fed fairly recently. Scarface had sustained a bad eye injury at least 6 months ago, which had been treated by a wildlife vet at least 3 times. Now it seemed it was starting to heal, although his eye closing up, but the wound itself not looking as infected or open as before, but still a pinkish colour.

Across the plains, maybe around 500 metres away two females appeared out of the croton and walking slowly toward an Acacia tree in the distance, but not before they had cooled themselves in a mud puddle en route!. The males saw the females and they exhanged eye contact at a distance so clearly the group had already been aware of each others presence. We watched to see where they headed and then ahead saw that they were headed to the tree where it looked as if another lion was rested. We could not see if a Lion was there but a Topi acted in such a way that signalled a predator was nearby. Investigating further there was indeed one more female here and as we got a closer look at the other two females we saw it was 'the breakaway females' from the Marsh pride. There was no sign of the 4th female, but suspected she ma have been in the thicket still from where the other two had come from.

The lions were all hot and bothered and by this point so were we!, as it was positively baking today! So leaving them to it we headed back to camp, just time for me to catch up on this mornings sightings before we head back out laer for our last afternoon drive in the Mara. Sadly we have only one further night here in the Mara and I can tell you I am starting to feel so sad that very soon I have so once again say goodbye to this wonderful place until we can hopefully return in a few months, but this time returning with Andy and Our Land Rover. 

Possibly one of the '4km males' from the Mara Triangle

The Elephants continue their vigil at the Elephant Carcass.

The two new young males at the sighting

Bibi, Charm and the female sub adults feed on the Elephant 

One of the 'Four Musketeers'

Three of the Four Musketeers

'Scarface' and the injury to his eye that begins to heal

One of the four 'Breakaway females'

Thursday, 15 March 2012

An emotional morning with the Elephants

I have to admit I am struggling to know how to start this post today. To put it bluntly this morning (15th March) I probably had one of the most emotional sightings I have ever had and one that I am unlikely to ever see again.

After spending some time with the cutest little hyena pups first thing we bumped into the four 'breakaway' females from the Marsh pride, just up above Paradise plains. They were looking to hunt and would likely be seeking out Warthog in the long grass. This sighting was 'enroute' to the Musiara Marsh, where we had heard there was a dead elephant. This was going to mean that we could potentially have a visit from a number of different predators, and perhaps even the Marsh pride so we decided to track this way.

As we approached we saw the carcass, it's tusks intact so this fortunately meant it had not been poached, but its cause of death was still unknown, perhaps it was sick or indeed just old age. It lay in the open, but in long grass, not too far from Governors Camp.

Two of the young males from the Marsh pride (those sired by Romeo/Clawed) were sitting near the carcass but not yet feeding, simply guarding from other potentially interested critters. One appeared around 3 years old and the other older, at around 4 I would estimate. Not too far there was a large clan of Hyena who wanted to advance but were deterred by the presence of the males - this was surprising in itself as there were at least 20 Hyena, who with the ratio in their favour could have potentially pushed the boys away.

This is where it started to get interesting and you are probably expecting me to now write about how there was a huge fight between the lions and Hyena, but no that's not where this post is headed and nor did that happen!

Instead approaching from the right we noticed three elephants, all different ages. They appeared to be advancing toward the carcass. Sure enough they did and what followed was an incredibly emotional scene and one I will never forget.

The lions ran off as the elephants approached closer, the younger male heading into the woods and the older one remaining in the area but just moving further from the carcass. With Hyenas still keen to advance to the carcass the elephants started to slowly and silently approach the dead elephant. They arrived at the scene and began to smell and gently touch and caress the carcass with their trunks. Gently prodding as they circled the fallen elephant.  If I said that the elephants looked sad you will all possibly laugh at such a comment and the fact I here I have 'inappropriately' associated a human emotion with an animal. However, on in all seriousness this really appeared to be the case here. They say that elephants possess a very high level of emotional intelligence and many research papers have been written about cases where elephants appear to mourn the loss of a relative, just as humans do. This appeared to be was exactly what I was witnessing right in-front of me. My thoughts at this point turned to my husband, I so desperately wished he could witness this behaviour with me, instead of being stuck back in the UK, stressed and having to work!

One particular elephant paid a greater level of attention to the carcass than the others, refusing to leave it while the others circled, walking back and forth.  I really had a 'lump in my throat' at this point and we were all in complete shock at the behaviour we were witnessing. It was incredibly moving and an emotionally charged moment. I really cannot find the words that will express what we were seeing, or how we were all feeling as we watched this all unfold in front of us.

Soon more elephants began to arrive on the scene, probably another 6-8 or so, with the one elephant still refusing to move away. As the others arrived they stopped a distance of around 5-10 metres from the lifeless body and just stood as they watched the single elephant stand motionless next to the fallen pachyderm, occasionally feeling with its trunk. It was becoming apparent that this elephant was really affected by the death of this animal. The way in which it was behaving was quite possibly as it had just lost very close family member or perhaps it was it's mother who lay there. Elephants have an incredibly tight knit relationship within the herd and these bonds last a lifetime. When a family member is lost it affects the herd and specific individuals in many ways. It was at this point we almost began to feel that we were intruders in a private family moment, but starting the vehicle would have caused more disturbance then by sitting their quietly and at a distance. Fortunately there were only a small number of cars at the sighting and their was a silence that was respectful of what was happening.

Slowly the other elephants who had also congregated moved closer, some again touched the body with their trunks and some just stood in silence, watching. One elephant approached the young elephant that was standing vigil and gently entwined their trunks together, a process of exchanging information between elephants, but was this also perhaps a way of offering some form of reassurance and comfort. It certainly seemed that way. It was as if all of these elephants were coming to pay their respects. One large adult moved in and even touched the dead elephants trunk with her large feet, as if to see if there was any life left.

At this point the Hyenas were just getting too impatient and sized the opportunity to try and move in as the elephants came back and forth to the carcass. The one particular elephant was just not wanting to leave no matter what. However, each time the Hyena advanced they were scared off by the elephants who charged at them, trumpeting as they did. The noise of the Hyenas 'giiggling' and whooping, together with the echo of the elephants trumpets resonated with power around the marsh and that was a sound I will also never forget

In this time the older of the two male lions kept trying to move in, but was moved off again and again by the elephants, although they seemed more interested in the Hyena and this was making tempers flare and causing a great deal of stress for the elephants.

Finally the Hyenas had the opportunity to move in started to open up the carcass. Their sharp and powerful teeth, that can crush a cast iron kettle made light work of breaking through the tough skin. However, their attempts to feed were constantly interrupted by the elephants who wanted the Hyena off the carcass.

This was one of those occasions when you wish you had a good video camera with you as the stills just don't capture the scene as filming would have done. One lucky man at the sighting was 'armed' with a good quality video camera, he was one lucky fella to be capturing all of this amazing behaviour!

All around the Marsh elephants appeared, some moving in to inspect closer and some staying close to the edge of the wood. Were these elephants gathering to mourn a family member? It really seemed and if this was so. 

After around an hour the elephants eventually moved off, with the one Elephant that had remained at the carcass nearly all of the time being the very last to leave. It ambled off slowly and seemed to exhibit a great deal of reluctance that it needed to now rejoin the rest of the herd again.

Its fair to say that after this left we all felt incredibly moved. Paul, in all of his years of guiding had NEVER seen such behaviour before.

Tomorrow morning we will return to the scene as by this time we think that some of the Marsh pride will appear later this evening and will watch as the story unfolds of life and death on the African plains.

Curious Hyena cubs investigate our vehicle!

 The four 'ex marsh' breakaway females

The first three elephants come to investigate

One of the young marsh males and the elephant who would not leave the carcass

Chasing away the young Marsh male 

More elephants come to investigate and 'pay their respects'

The protective young elephant tries to chase off Hyena

The herd stand by as the young Elephant still waits by the carcass

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Completing the family circle with the 'Ridge male'

As with every other morning we set off at 6am this morning and the first port of call was to check out of Notch & the 'ex Olkiombo' ladies were still around the same area as last night. 

Every morning so far whilst getting ready to go out I had heard their early morning roars from my tent but this morning was an exception and given the Buffalo had clearly reached its 'sell by date' it was quite likely they would now have moved off. As we arrived at the location we surveyed high and low and as anticipated the girls and Notch were nowhere to be seen. However, we again found the sick lioness, having not moved at all again but this time alone. Seeing something like this pulls at the heart strings and no matter how much you tell yourself that this is nature it still hurts to see an animal suffering like this. Many Hyena had now moved into the vicinity now that the other lions and cubs had moved off and given the lionesses condition it seemed the inevitable may soon occur. Of course lions are resilient but without the strength to move and Hyena nearby her future does not look bright. We decided to head off, leaving the lioness in peace.

We looked for some time in the area for the pride, but with no luck so headed off toward 'Double crossing' in search of another Leopard who had been seen in the last few days with cubs. Although this female was said to be quite shy so it was a little bit of a long shot but worth a go and with Paul Kirui at the helm we could not increase our chances anymore!

However, before we even got to this area we stopped several times to scan the plains far and wide for any activity of the feline form (or anything else interesting for that matter as its not all about the cats!). As we did Paul spotted a Leopard, at first both Angela and I struggled to locate what Paul had seen, thinking we were looking nearby only then to see that paul had spotted the Leopard in the far far distance. Paul had clearly woken up with bionic eyes this morning! 

You could see this Leopard was 'thick set' and most definitely a male. We were however on the wrong side of the Olare Orok River so we had to go a long way in order to find a crossing point, knowing that if the Leopard retreated into the bushes we would likely lose him. However, it was worth a try. We moved some distance away but still managed to keep him in our sight, losing him occasionally and then finding him before losing him again and this is how it went for the next 15-20 minutes or so. We managed to get down to Double crossing and onto the 'right side'. As we did we again found this big male, and were close enough now for Paul to advise that it was the 'Ridge Male'. Who also happens to be the father of Olives cubs that we had seen a couple of days ago. His neck was thick and with large head and his size much larger than a female Leopard such as Olive, all of these being characteristics that makes the males easy to differentiate males from the females (aside from the 'obvious of course!)

We tracked him for a short time, we did not know how shy he would be, but it turned out to be quite the contrary as he tolerated our presence without any concerns, but even so we always kept a respect distance. We managed to get a couple of shots before he then entered an area in which it looked like we would lose him for good. We really could not complain though, as on and off we had spent around 15 minutes with him and what was even better is that the entire time we had been on our own! Another prime example of how the "Mara plan' (as Paul calls it) can change at any time! We were all delighted that we had now completed the 'family circle' so far this week with Olive and the cubs and now had seen the cubs father, and what a handsome Leopard he is! 

Leaving the Ridge male we continued on and it was not too long until we came across 4/5 dark and slightly blood stained Hyena trotting along one of the tracks. As we headed over the brow of a small hill we then saw the tell tell sign of 2 male lions, two rather inconspicuous dark manes protruding from the grass. As we neared I instantly recognised the first male, it was again Grimace and he was coveting the fresh remains of a Buffalo kill together with another of the Notch sons who had his back to us at this point.  Nearby, just 5 metres or so from the kill was a female, again one that looked rather thin. Paul advised this was one of the 'breakaway Olkiombo girls, one that we had not seen so far on this trip. 

As soon as we arrived one of the males moved away and headed to a small lugga, clearly after gorging on such a large feast he was in need of water. This left Grimace at the kill but he in typical male lion behaviour he was refusing to allow the female to feed, even though she so desperately needed to eat. Every 10 minutes or so she slowly tried to edge closer to the kill, hoping that Grimace would allow her to feed, but every time that Grimace caught sight of this he growled and adopted a defensive posture, making it clear he was sharing this with no-one. 

Several Hyena waited nearby, wanting to chance their luck on getting a piece of the action but all the time that Grimace was there and without significant numbers they would be foolish to get too close so they kept a distance. Cheeky little Jackals trotted mischievously around the lions, hoping to also get some scraps to.

Given the 'bloody' Hyenas we had just seen and the way in which some of the Buffalo remains had been scattered we concluded this this was probably not killed by the lions, but more likely by the Hyenas. The males had likely stolen the mean for themselves, as so often happens.

Eventually Grimace moved off, also to get a drink and to the same tree where the other male lay (Looked to be Caesar or Ron). Although there was barely anything left of the Buffalo we hoped she could at least get some nourishment. By this point the 'clean up crew' started arriving by air, first with hooded vultures and then followed by some Tawny eagles who waited nearby on the tree above the males, also hoping that when the lioness had finished they could also procure some meat! 

However, this was not for long as soon after Grimace had left the kill the other male returned. This was bad news as we knew that as soon as he would approach he was likely to push the lioness off, and sure enough he did, she has fed for only 5 minutes or so on the tiny pieces of meat left. With a large roar there was a aggressive encounter in which despite her thin state she still managed to swipe he male with some force, but still having to retreat from the carcass in the end.

The male was taking no chances and wanted to keep the kill for himself and his brother/cousin so despite the distance (around 1/3 km) he then proceeded to drag the carcass away from the lioness and back to the tree. We really felt for her at this point, she had failed to gain any food. She followed the male at a distance, but they refused to allow her near the carcass or even into the shade.

Just moments after the males had left the initial area where the Buffalo had been killed the Hyenas moved back in, whopping and giggling with excitement and all of them frantic to see if they could scavenge any bits of meat that may have been left. Although in many ways they were rightfully trying to reclaim what had been theirs to start with! One lucky Hyena appeared to find part of a rib and ran excitedly across the plains, followed by a number of Hyena, desperate to try and steal it back! 

The initial chaos then simmered down as by now there was no trace left of the Buffalo, aside from a blood stained area and the remains of it's stomach content. It was at this point we headed off. Despite having watched what many would consider a 'gruesome' scene we were still hungry and need breakfast!! 

New beginnings and Notch finally poses for the camera!

The morning of the 13th was again dedicated to Olive and her cubs. We were very lucky as unlike the previous morning we found Olive still with the cubs and again located at the exact same spot as the last few days.

We watched with delight as they rustled around in the bushes and playfully bounded around Olive. Jumping up and down the rocks which was clearly great fun! Olive remains so unbelievably patient while the new cubs explore their new and exciting world, but they never ventured far from mum.

Today we managed to identify the sex of the cubs and pleased to report she has had one of each, a male and a female. This now means we can now name these cute little bundles of fluff! I shall leave the announcement of the names that Paul, Angela and I agreed on for Paul to cascade as we feel this should be his honour to pronounce to the world!,  but I am sure everyone will like them.....

Olive soon left and disappeared behind the rocks and that was when we lost here, with this the cubs retreated back underneath the rocks.

We made our way back to the Ridge pride, those whom we had seen the day prior. Taking the 'register' all 3 adult females, 4 male subs, 3 female subs and 2 young cubs were present and correct. They still looked rather hungry as they rested in 3 or 4 groups across a small area close to a wooded area. Whilst we still had some nice light we trundled off to see if we could again catch up with Notch and the breakaway Olkiombo girls.

Along with the females he was still at the same location as the evening prior (no other males present) and all lay comatose under the bushes, they were hauled up in this area for the day that was for sure! Getting a clear shot of the big guy still eluded me! The sick lioness was still hanging on to life, but by now had not moved for at least 48 hours. She just had no strength to move. So very sad but at 12 years old she has reached a good age, but now her age was against here in helping her to recover.

We spent a little time with the pride and before heading North to an area where the 4 breakaway females of the Marsh pride had been seen and along the way seeing the most amazing sight of 17 giraffe as they made their way in formation toward the Olare Orok river, quite a sight!

The plains were dotted with small and isolated pockets of game, with the exception of a huge herd of Buffalo. Hidden in the long grass we came across what looked to be a heavily pregnant Thomson Gazelle. However, within a short space of time we all realised that she was not just pregnant but was actually about to give birth!! This was something I had never seen before, she was alone with just a small herd a few hundred feet away. It reminds you how vulnerable they are, they have no midwife and no pain killers, in nature just left to get on with it.

She was in an area of long grass, around 100-150 feet away from the road, the sun was beating down but for the Gazelle this is the best time to give birth, a time when most of the predators had sought some shade from the 'kali' sun and also fortunately at a time when very few vehicles were around. As she lay on the floor she was clearly in discomfort but did not make a sound as we started to see the head of the fawn appear. At this point she then stood up and moved, trying to dislodge her baby. With that she then disappeared behind a mound. We took that as our cue that she needed some privacy. We would return later to see how she was doing.

We came across the 4 females who broke away from the Marsh pride some time ago. They rested under a small acacia tree, panting from the heat and covered with flies. Occasionally they stood, only to flop back down again. They looked in good condition so clearly had been suffering no issues in sourcing food and not skinny and thin as so many lions are at present. One lioness had quite a strange red wart on her left side of her mouth, again something I had not seen before.

I marked GPS coordinates and tried to get a few ID shots (very difficult when a lion is laying down!) and then decided to leave to start heading back to camp. It was scorching hot and we also wanted to check up on our little Gazelle who by now we hoped had become a mum!

As we arrived at the same spot we could see her, albeit behind long grass. There beside her was a tiny, wet Gazelle fawn. Having only been born just less than one hour before the delicate little fawn was now on its feet. It's legs wobbled as the mother licked it clean. Nature had many incredible 'Anti predator mechanisms and being able to stand so fast after birth is one of them. It was a lovely moment and of course we were glad she had made it through and delivered her fawn. The other Gazelle looked on nearby with intrigue.

With that we headed back to the lodge and time recharge our batteries!!

That afternoon we returned back to Notch, I was still really keen to get some decent photos of Notch and also hopefully to try and see the 2 tiny cubs again. The female with the two cubs had moved and we came across her first exactly 1km from the main group. She had cleverly positioned herself and the cubs on small 'island' in the middle of a lugga and where she remained quite hidden with the cubs in the long grass. Moving on to the main group Notch had not moved an inch and the females had moved about 15 feet to some other bushes. So we sat and patiently waited for the temperature to drop, knowing that this would be when Notch and possibly the females would hopefully become a little more mobile.

At least an hour after waiting sure enough and right on cue Notch started yawning, a clear sign that he would move, and that he did. Right out into the open and passing VERY close to our vehicle where he sat and surveyed his land with the confidence and arrogance of male lion that has called the Mara his home for nearly 13 years. There he happily obliged me with some nice shots. It was nice light so that was great and gave me a good opportunity to get some nice 'portrait shots'.

Not long before we had to leave he moved and again moved toward the Buffalo carcass, stopping to scent mark along the way. Surely there could not be an meat on that Buffalo any more but he was going to certainly try. Here we left him, pulling at the rotting skin of the Buffalo, it is no wander he had lost a few more teeth as by now this Buffalo hide must have been liked trying to tear through the toughest leather!

Another action packed day with some great sightings. Does anyone want to ask me again why I travel so much to the Mara!!! The same place but always something different to be seen.......

Notch finally poses

 New life in the Mara

Some of the Ridge pride

The four 'breakaway females from the Marsh pride

 A 'journey' of Giraffe

 Scent marking before dining again on the Buffalo

The sun falls as Notch chows down behind me on a rancid Buffalo!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Olive, Notch 2 and Notch, the 'mane' man!

It's not often you get the chance to see such tiny young leopard cubs so we decided on the morning of the 12th to give it another go to see Olive and her cubs. Turning the corner just 1/2 km or so before the current den site we suddenly found Olive, just ambling along the track and coming toward us. This was a moment of mixed emotions, on one hand delighted that we had found Olive, whilst on the other hand we knew that this had put a stop to any chance of seeing the cubs as the minute she leaves the den the cubs crawl under the rocks and wont appear until Olive returns. It was dark but we were still able to follow Olive for a short time as she headed east and along the Talek. Paul, Angela and I were all trying to will the sun to come up as quick as possible to get some shots! 

We followed her for around 10 minutes before she then tracked into the bush, Paul had a sneaking suspicion that she was going to potentially cross the Talek, at a point in the river that bends in an oxbow formation so we positioned ourselves and hoped she would oblige with our 'plan'! . We sat and sat for quite some time but Olive just did not appear anywhere, nor were there any signs from the river that a leopard may be approaching (no warning calls etc from the Egyptian Geese who were mooching around down in the river bed. We decided to track back in case she had doubled back but no sign at all and  where we had 'lost' her was in thick croton was no chance for us to investigate further. So Olive had decided that she did'nt want to be seen anymore and well, quite frankly that's a Leopards prerogative!!! 

Word had then come through the 'Bush Telegraph' that the females from the 'breakaway Olkiombo pride' had returned to the area where they had the Buffalo kill and that a male had joined them, so this formed the next part of the 'Mara plan'. 

Approaching I felt excited and anxious, firstly we were keen to see if the cubs were still alive after Grimace had been with the pride but secondly I was desperate to see who the male was! I will admit that deep down I hoped it would be Notch, as I was longing to see him!!! 

As we approached the stench of the now decomposing Buffalo had reached a point that it was almost unbearable, it did not help that he had been killed in a deep lugga with stagnant water!! As we approached we instantly saw the females, under the same bush as seen previously and then caught the sight of two tiny bodies that wriggled in the undergrowth. Phew!, the cubs were fine and had not fallen fate to Grimace, that was a relief for sure. It was by now around 9am so the chances to seeing the lionesses or the cubs coming out into the rising heat were practically non existant. 

So that was the cubs accounted where and who was the male. Paul manoeuvred slowly around the bush where the females hidden deep inside and the male was not to be seen, and then all of sudden we saw a flat shape right alongside the vehicle hidden deep in the grass. As soon as we passed I instantly recognised the tell tale dark belly and then saw the dark mane. It was indeed Mzee Notch. At this point I was so happy, although he had been so hidden that we almost ran over him!!! Well, ok that was an exaggeration, but he was close! 

He did not even move a inch, or lift his head at all as we passed by. We moved away and to a respectful distance. I was really happy that again I had seen the old Mzee. Paul and Angela were very tolerant as I was rather 'amped' and obliged in my request that although nothing was really happening here I just wanted him to lift his head, just enough to at least get a nice head shot. I also wanted to just spend some time in his company (ok, yes its 'corney' I know but I have had a relationship with this dude since 2005!!) The light was harsh and the grass long here, but who cared at that point, it was the man himself. I knew that Andy would be both happy and sad to hear we had found Notch. Happy as he knew it would make my day, but also sad as I knew he also would want to see how the old fella was doing.

For a lion of around 13 years and one with an active history across the Mara he looked good, but I had to admit he was now looking like an old lion, although he still looked healthy and well fed so I was not concerned in any way. There is plenty of life left in the old man yet I am sure (and I hope!!). He had a little more mange in some areas from what I could make out, but nothing that was too much concern at all, nothing that you would not expect to see in an old guy. he is always well fed which keeps him healthy and that would aid in preventing it spreading. Everyone had a bad skin day at some point!  and it looked to be quite superficial. He had sustained a broken lower canine some time ago but has now also lost three of his lower incisors. Soon he is going to need dentures!

He lifted his head once or twice whilst in a lying position, just enough to glance around and see what was going on, but not enough for the clear head shot that i really wanted. There was only so long I could expect poor Angela to sit and watch a sleeping lion and I admit I was also desperate for a cup of tea! so I said 'Kwaheri' and hoped to see him again later. Maybe later I would get the chance of some decent photos and at least see how he was moving etc and get a proper look at him.

As we moved toward a shady tree I suddenly asked Paul to stop in his tracks, I had just caught site of something dark in the long grass, probably around 1km away and just wanted to check as it looked like another male lion. As I scrambled for the binoculars my thoughts were confirmed. It was Notch 2 (who I am almost 100% is Notch's son, rather than  his nephew as I think Grimace maybe). He was obviously headed to the lions we had just left. The cup of tea could wait!!

We doubled back and Notch 2 walked toward us and past the car, it was like looking at Notch 5 years ago, just a spitting image and with the same distinct stunning black mane. I was desperate to see how the dynamics and relationship was between Notch and Notch 2 so we headed straight to where Notch was as we knew he would approach. 

As Notch 2 approached 'dad' confidently he suddenly woke dad with a start and then stood up (annoyingly with his back to us...arggghhh!!!). With that there was a large growl and Notch launched a 'left hook' at Notch 2. Notch 2 instantly lowered himself and this showed a clear sign of submissive behaviour and also respect for Notch.  This I was glad to see! Within a second or two Notch then moved and positioned himself between Notch 2 and the females/cubs (most of this happening in the bushes). He still took his role and father and protectorate seriously and Notch 2 respected this. 

Notch 2 moved away, passing close to our car and was one of the moments that you realise just how big these males are, we could have touched him!! 

Everything then settled down and Notch returned to his horizontal state and again refusing to oblige me in my hope for a photo. Who was I too argue with Notch!!! 

Whilst it was a little frustrating not to get any movement in the open from Notch it's a fact that when lions are struggling to hunt due to a lack of prey they will do their utmost to conserve their energy as who knows when there next meal is coming. Why expend the much needed energy when it is not needed? a clear survival tactic that many animals use to retain their condition.  So anyone that says lions are 'lazy' has me to argue with first!! It's called survival and there are no McDonalds in the African Bush! 

In the afternoon we caught up with the Ridge pride (aka 'Disney's River pride/Rekero Pride/maternity pride) which consisted of 4 young sub males (circa 2 years), 3 Adult females, 3 Female subs and 2 young cubs (4-5 months). They were spaced out along several croton thickets and looked like they needed a good feed (although by no means emaciated as I have sadly seen a couple of lions on this trip) 

We did not hang with them too long as we were keen to see what Notch and Co were up to with the 'Olkiombo breakaway females'. We returned to the site and found that the pride had not moved from the mornings location. Notch still lay partially hidden, but just before the light fell decided to go and chow down on the remains of the Buffalo. It must have been a sickening taste and the smell coming from the dead Buffalo was horrid and every time Notch tried to move the carcass to access any remaining meat it exaggerated the smell even more! We watched him feed on the tough skin and the tiny morsels of meat that were left for just around 10 minutes, it was late and we had to be careful not to be get back to late.......

Notch and Notch 2 = one happy Sarah! 

Notch chilling out under the Croton bushes

Notch (right) shows his son who is still boss

 Submissive behaviour from his son

Rotting Buffalo for dinner