Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Great Migration

No more than 5 paces away from our van at the top of Lookout Hill “Quick, Stuart into the van, we must go now!” Godfrey shouted. The race was on. Over the airwaves the wardens had called in that the wildebeest gathered beside the Mara River had started to cross. As we sped down from the heights of Lookout Hill, from all around, there were vans heading towards the river. This truly was a race. There is only so much space along the river bank from where you can get a good viewing point and we wanted that space.

As we arrived at the rivers edge, the crossing was in full flow. Thousands of wildebeest were lining up and jumping in to the river and struggling to get to the bank on the far side. Within minutes the last few were in and making their way across. Some of the younger stragglers for some reason turned back, maybe the current was too strong for them. Once back where they started, the stragglers made their way up and down the bank to attempt another crossing. Out from the shadows on the far bank, a very slow moving object swam towards one of the young calves that stood in the waters edge.

The biggest Nile Croc I had ever seen was heading straight for the calf. Slowly, the crocodile swam towards it with unbelievable speed, launched itself from the water to grab the young wildebeest by the head. Within less than a second it had grabbed the wildebeest and dragged it under. Godfrey had managed to get a perfect spot on the river bank, out of 40+ vans positioned on the side of the river, we were the only van in a position to witness the ferociousness of the Nile Croc.

For the next 4 hours we waited for the herds and pressure to build in order for the wildebeest to cross again. They have very poor eyesight and throughout the day, they would move down to the water’s edge then move back again to safety, their behaviour is intriguing, so indecisive! If there are no Zebra to lead the way, then wildebeest will go back and forth all day long. If a super herd is formed at the rivers edge, then the wildebeest on the edge of the river bank are more than likely to have no choice but to jump in and cross. Once this happens then the rest will follow.

Life and death is all part of existence in the Mara. Many wildebeest die from drowning as they break their legs jumping into the river from a height. Some get taken by crocs, and some, rarely, are attacked and killed by a bull hippo from one of the many pods that share the river. The crossings present many opportunities for other predators to try their luck. Leopards and female lions will come to the river in the chance of an easy kill.

The river is a dangerous place to be, but year after year the wildebeest make this life threatening journey as part of their fight to survive.

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Friends round for breakfast

The alarm rang out and it was time to get up, get dressed and make our way up to the tea and coffee station for a hit of caffeine before our 6AM drive out in to the Mara. At 05.30am it was still dark and there was a nip in the air, the rain was still falling as it had been all night, we just new it was going to be one of those days!

As we drove out of camp and headed into the bush, we heard over the radio that two Black Rhino had been seen not far from camp, so we headed off to find them. Once we arrived at the area they had been spotted, there were several vans parked up and all were looking in to the bush area beside us. The Rhino had made their way in to the dense bush and could not be seen. We decided to stay for a while in case they came out, but after nearly an hour we decided to move on.

For the next hour or so we were slowly driving around on the look out for any animals of interest. Then suddenly over the radio, “Godfrey, come in Godfrey…….” it was James, one of the rangers we gave a lift to earlier in the week. James was asking Godfrey to meet at a certain point in the Mara. Godfrey turned to me and asked if we wanted to meet up with James. We had nothing to loose, maybe there would be some game or with a bit of luck one of the big five over in that direction, so we decided to go and find out what James was calling us over for.

When we arrived at James’s location, to our surprise James had found four lions feeding on a kill from earlier in the night. 80% of the wildebeest was gone, this was a big feed for the whole pride. As we sat in our van next to James’s van, James told us he heard Godfrey on the radio asking if any one had seen lions this morning, and to show his appreciation for the lift we gave him on our way in to the Mara, he wanted share his find with us, hence the lack of information given over the airwaves. So it goes to show, if you do a good deed the favour will be returned when you need it.

We sat and watched the Lions feed for almost an hour before any other vans arrived. When they did it would be time for us to leave and make our way back to camp for our own breakfast.

 

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Pride of Africa

Designed to kill, they stalk with stealth and attack in a group. The only big cat in the world to have a social network. The lion is an amazing animal, and in the wild their true power can be seen in full glory. The day before we had seen a pride of lions in the distance which were coming down from the rolling hills bordering Tanzania and Kenya. We stopped on the dirt track and could see that they were looking for food. Behind us was a small herd of wildebeest numbering 30 strong. The mother of the pride was assessing the situation for a kill, but there was no cover for the lions to utilise in order to get close to the herd for an attack. After a few minutes the pride walked off into the distance.

After breakfast we had planned to drive to the river to watch the wildebeest crossing, this was 50 km away from camp and as we drove out of the gates, we heard on the radio that there had been a lion kill not far from the airstrip. As we got closer to the kill site, we could smell in the air the potent stench of death, we were close by. As we arrived we quickly counted the lions in the pride. There were 14 lions in total, several females and many young males, but no big male. This was the pride we had seen the day before, and that night, just after dark, we could hear the male near camp calling out marking territory.

The pride must have had a kill in the night as there was not much left of the large wildebeest when we arrived. The pride were clearly satisfied and full, as some of the young males were playing and others were rolling around in the short grass. It was enthralling to be able to watch such a large pride interact with each other. As they approached one another they would rub heads and against each other’s bodies. In a way it felt like they were congratulating each member of the pride for a job well done. Even the smallest cubs of the pride were relaxing and showing affection to their siblings.

There has been many years of research and study on Lion prides in Kenya and Tanzania,  trying to understand why Lions are the only big cat with a social network. To date there is no definitive answer to why this is. With the ever encroaching human population on the Lion’s territory, will we ever understand them fully, or will we forever be second guessing long past their existence?

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How many are there!

Driving through the bush looking for leopards we heard a rumbling. Slowly it got louder and louder until out of the gap between the bushes came the Wildebeest! Before we knew it, we were caught up in a mighty stampede of them passing through, amazingly they all kept to single file as they passed by. For five minutes my wife counted the wildebeest whilst i tried to get a panning shot of the action, after nearly a 1000 she gave up. “Wow, how many are there, when will this end, its amazing” I heard her say to Godfrey. The noise, the volume of animals and the luck was truly incredible, we could have been anywhere in the Mara but no we were right in the middle of it. After fifteen minutes from when it all started, we decided to move on when a gap appeared. There must have been over 2500 wildebeest pass us, and when we left they were still flooding by.

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