Our guide Patrick, who despite his anglicized name is actually a Masai, is waiting to greet us at reception and when we’re all ready we head off to the jeep that will be our transportation for the next 4 days. Sammy, our driver is waiting for us there, and after helping us into the vehicle asks us what we’re particularly interested in seeing, everyone immediately replies with the same response…. “Leopard, I want to see a leopard”. A nervous laugh issues from both Patrick and Sammy, we have of course asked for the holy grail of animals, the most cunning and elusive creature to roam the plains of the Masai Mara.
We set off and what’s immediately apparent is how much more bump the ride is this year even though we’re in the same type of vehicle. A quick look out at the track we’re following and it becomes apparent why the road is as rough.. the road isn’t as smooth!! (that involved large and complex calculations to come to that conclusion, Dear Reader, so I hope you appreciated it?!?). No, what is apparent is that there have been heavy rains prior to our visit and this has had a doubly detrimental effect on the track surfaces; in places, the water has washed away some of the track creating deep fissures along the road. Where this has occurred vehicles have had to circumnavigate these ruts creating new muddy paths which with each wheel passing through it making the surface increasingly uneven.
The rain has a secondary and more obvious effect, the grass covering the plains of the Mara which last year had been fairly short has benefitted from the life giving moisture and sprung up everywhere you looked, in fact you could quite easily mistaken the plains of the Mara for the corn producing Great Plains of America which seem to go on forever. Whilst this over abundance of food is good for the animals it can cause some consternation when it came to photography but of course we’re only observers and the animals welfare comes above all else… plus there’ll be other times.
Our first stop is to a location I recognise from last year’s trip where we’d spotted 4 juvenile male lions (and their mother) feasting on the remains of a zebra – this time we were looking for a mother Cheetah who had been spotted only minutes before our arrival but who has disappeared into deep cover. After ten minutes or so of constant maneuvering and scanning the treeline, we conclude that we weren’t going to be luck and to move on and only 5 minutes away we spot our first big game. On the side of a hill we are traversing, perfectly illuminated by the late afternoon sun, a herd of around eleven Giraffe are grazing on the tops of a number of the larger bushes that are dotted around the side of the incline we are making our way up.
Our next encounter is with a similar sized herd of elephants, however these are near the ridge of the hill, with strong backlighting and the only photos we’re initially able to get are silhouettes of these magnificent beasts, that is until I remember I have my flashgun and the Better Beamer I bought specifically for the trip. It’s my first attempt with the unit “in anger” but it seems to “do what it says on the tin” and I am able to get some photos of these magnificent beasts which I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to take.
We move on and I’m suddenly struck that whilst there may be a profusion of fodder for the grazing animals, there aren’t many herbivores present, with the exception of the larger beasts already mentioned. After what seems a length drive we spot a number of vehicles gathered together, which could only mean one thing – they were watching something. We head over to where three male lions are spread eagled on the ground, trying to get some sleep despite the hum of the vehicle engines, and the click of the camera shutters. Our guide informs us that these three ( there is a fourth) are all sons of the great Notch, and it was these that we actually saw feeding together last year as mentioned earlier. Despite their size, they were still under the influence and tutelage of their father who had enlisted their assistance to hunt, unusual in itself (it’s the females who normally do all the hard work when it comes to food) but even more unusual was the prey that these 5 males went for… Hippo. Patrick, our Masai guide, said they’d never heard of any lions attacking these big animals before, they’re such an intimidating prey – however, they’d already killed 7 hippo in 2012. The mystery of how the lions had managed to kill these huge creatures has not yet been revealed, hunting at night as lions do – the first person to capture that on film will certainly have a gold mine on their hands…. sadly it wasn’t me.