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 for.....now 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


  1. what a wonderful report thanks sarah

  2. Incredible to follow the Lions lives and know of their whereabouts, when wildlife is not disrupted we can learn so much. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  3. Sarah great great pictures of our dear Notch. Amazing pictures of him. Who is he ? I'm enjoying a lot reading your wild adventures. Thank's very much !

  4. Sarah, thank you so much for this wonderful report on my favorite lion. I still cannot believe that I can actually get up to date reports on him and my other favorite cats in the Mara. Thanks for keep us all in the loop and loving our Notch!

  5. it's good to know old notch is doing well. hope the ridge pride will get a big meal soon. and i hate to even know there are emaciated lions exist at all.