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 inevitable....it 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