Monthly Archives: February 2010

North Mara Conservancy

After three hours searching for a lioness and her cub, we decided to head back to camp. Our guide Godfrey was disappointed that this was the first outing in ten days that we did not see what we had planned to. Suddenly, running across our path, being chased by its mate was a spotted hyena. The mood quickly changed as Godfrey shouted to me at the back of the van, ”Hyena! …. with a kill! …. hold on!”. Foot down we were in hot pursuit.

As we drew closer to the hyenas, they started to fight over the catch. Probably a kill from a leopard or cheetah that the hyenas had stolen. Obviously not willing to share with each other, they savagely snapped and snarled.

Hyenas have the strongest jaws and bite power on the planes. Being bitten by a hyena would cause serious damage. Hyena’s steal most of their food, but they do bring down prey when times are hard.

Hyenas don’t humanely kill their prey like a lion does. As a pack they mob their victim, and while some hang on to the defenceless animal, the others start to tear it apart.

All of a sudden, one of the hyenas won priority over the meal.

From our van, we could hear the bones crushing one after another as the Hyena broke its way past the rib cage and in to the tender inner’s.

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Mara Triangle

Cheetah, the fastest land mammal. With a top speed of seventy miles per hour, there’s not much that can escape this swift agile cat over a short sprint. Normally the cheetah hunts alone, but when a female has cubs nearing maturity, then hunting as a pack can prove successful but sometimes testing.

As the rains came down, activity on the plains of the Masai Mara calmed down. For two hours we sat and watched a lone thomson gazelle move closer to the bush with great caution, as spectators we could sense the tension. Shakira and her three cubs lay in the grass ahead waiting for the rains to ease. At this point all four cheetahs lay facing away from each other looking for the next opportunity. One of the cubs had a firm fix on the nervous gazelle, patiently waiting for it to draw closer (A cheetah will not waist energy in a pursuit if the target is more than a short sprint away).

As the rain stopped, the gazelle froze. It was now all too aware of the dangers ahead. After a few minutes assessing the area around it, the thomson gazelle ran in to the distance away from the hunters. The next day, as dawn broke, we followed Shakira and her cubs along the flats beside the Mara River.

For several hours she guided her cubs over the open land keeping a watchful eye on the nearing herds of gazelle. Suddenly from across the plains three topi antelope charged the pacing cheetahs. Two topi veered off to the small herd of nearby gazelle, and as if they were shepherds, rounded up the gazelle and escorted them to safety. While the remaining topi faced off our hunters.

After a short rest and a refreshing drink from a rainwater puddle, Shakira spotted another lone thomson, this time she had a plan!

While Shakira sat on the crest of a termite mound, the three cubs dispersed. Two headed left and one turned right. On the left, one of the cubs started to crouch down whilst the other continued to move round. A classic pincer movement was being formed. The aim, to push the thomson closer to Shakira for a deadly attack.In an attempt to confuse the young cubs, the herd of gazelles regrouped with its stray companion. Now the cubs became unclear on what to do. Shakira clearly had more teaching to do before her students could graduate.

With a frustrated look, Shakira and the cubs retired in to the bushland to escape the increasingly searing sun.

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Lake Nakuru

The most accomplished climber of all the big cats in Africa, agility combined with the strength to carry twice its own body weight enables the leopard to kill and store its prey in the trees for several days before the need to feed. Although it has been known for lions to climb trees, they do not have the strength to carry a kill off the ground away from other predators.

Through the daylight hours, you are most likely to find a leopard resting up in the branches of a tree.

Whilst driving through the forest area, along the edge of Lake Nakuru, our driver suddenly came to an abrupt stop. Leaning out of the driver’s window, Godfrey pointed deep in to the woodland “There Leopard, can you see?”. Every time I think about this moment, I still can’t believe how Godfrey saw this leopard. Not only was it over 50 meters away, but we needed to reverse our vehicle 20 meters or more to a clear opening in the trees to see it.

This was a proud moment for our eagle eyed guide, as quickly as the Leopard was spotted, the location of the sighting was passed around all the vehicles in the vicinity. I’m sure Godfrey was the hero of the drivers camp later that night.

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Thieving Monkey

After a fantastic experience of being within inches of African Buffalo, we decided to retreat the terrace bar for a cool drink, the bar looked out over the water hole where the Buffalo were still happily grazing away. Little did we know there was a highly skilled thief about, as we relaxed with our drinks and looking over the images we took of the Buffalo, we could hear a “Clink, Clink” sound, my wife said that sounds like a tea cup and spoon.

As we looked out over in the direction the sound was coming from towards our room, that was on the fourth floor, on the far side of the four story high wooden mountain lodge building. We could see a Vervet monkey sitting on the edge of the rooms balcony, it took a while, but when it registered that, that was our balcony and it was my tea cup the Monkey was holding and drinking from, we soon chased back to the room.

On entering our room we were relieved to find that we did shut and lock the door before we left to photograph the Buffalo. But in our haste to be the first in the viewing bunker we had left our tea and books on the balcony! My wife desperate to not loose the items left outside opened the door and the monkey made a dash for it, as my wife turned around the monkey reappeared with its head around the corner post make a screeching call and reached out for the tea cup. Not expecting the monkey to reappear we both ended up on our backsides on the floor.

Lesson one learned; never leave any door, window, bag or anything you don’t want to loose, exposed for a Vervet monkey to have away. unfortunately the monkey did get the better of us and the cup came to a shattering end.

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Mount Kenya

African buffalo, the most dangerous animal in East Africa. The Masai people will fight off lion and leopard with their sticks, but if they come across a buffalo, they will keep a safe distance or change direction to avoid them.

It is commonly known that a lone bull can be seen charging and attacking a tree for no apparent reason. This is said to be a way of releasing frustration for being excluded from the herd it was accustomed to by a younger bull. This unprovoked attacking helps earn the buffalo its aggressive reputation.

From the security of an underground viewing bunker, I was able to photograph buffalo from up close, without becoming a threat to the buffalo or putting myself in danger.  Several Buffalo came within inches of my lens, the hot steamy breath they exhaled as they grazed on the fresh grass at the edge of the bunker, could be felt passing over my hands that were wrapped around my camera. If I dared I could have reached out and touched them.

Aware of my presence, the females of the herd continued to graze around the bunker with grace, not phased by my movements, quite literally under their noses. When a bull came close and I positioned myself for a shot, immediately I had eye contact with him. In his eyes you could see him calculating was I a risk, should he charge me.

Looking back on this moment, I do wonder how close was I to being charged, what was the deciding factor for him not to attack.

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