On our second day in the Masai Mara, our wake-up call, complete with coffee delivered to our rooms, came early. It was still dark as we walked toward the jeep, thus the night watchman escorted us from our tents. I asked if he saw any wild animals overnight, and he said he chased away some elephants. Hmm, I don’t think I’d like that job. Hey enraged elephant and lurking leopard, shoo! It was hard enough to keep the monkeys from visiting our tents. More on that later.
Today we hired two vehicles for an all-day outing. We had lots of space with only three people in each vehicle. What a luxury to switch from one side of the jeep to the other when photographing. We left camp as hot air balloons fired up and the sun rose over the horizon.
News over the CB confirmed the location of a mama leopard with her cub. As a result, we drove about 45 minutes across the plains to find them hidden in the thicket. Occasionally, we caught a glimpse of the two-month old cub as it climbed onto the lower branches of a bush. We hardly snapped a photo as the obscured view only warranted a shot to say, “see, we were there.”
Lucky for us, it only took five minutes before they moved into the open as they trotted between the small shrubs. Most the time, the cub stayed close behind its mom, though occasionally it would practice its stalking skills as it hid behind the bushes.
With all the vehicles following them, at one point, the poor cub was frightened to continue as it meowed for its mother. This broke my heart. Fortunately, they reconnected and with the cub rubbing up by its mama’s side, they kept going toward the road. Treated to a fantastic leopard sighting, after 30 minutes, we proceeded the Mara River, though others stayed with them for longer.
The Mara River
The Mara River is where the wildebeest cross during their migration which begins in Tanzania around June and continues through Kenya in August and eventually returns to Tanzania in a clockwise direction. Of the 1.2 million wildebeest that leave Tanzania near the end of the dry season while there is still water available in the Masai Mara in search of greener grass, approximately 90% survive.
There are particular river sections where the wildebeest cross. As such, we headed toward one of the areas on the Mara in a relaxed fashion. Along the way, we enjoyed a picnic breakfast beneath the shade of a tree, watched mongoose and jackals scamper through the prairie grass, and admired some beautiful Egyptian geese and a lilac-breasted roller. Soon we reached a herd of wildebeest mixed with a small herd of elephants.
Elephants and Wildebeest
The elephants were causing a raucous as they trumpeted at the wildebeest. Normally, the wildebeest move out of the way of the elephants as they pass. Unfortunately, one wildebeest was injured and couldn’t get up, and its uncharacteristic behavior of staying put scared the elephants. While I was saddened to see the suffering wildebeest, it was kind of funny to see giant elephants fit to be tied over a wildebeest laying on the ground. Eventually, the elephants turned around and chased a different part of the herd out of the way.
Hyenas and a Warthog
Since the wildebeest weren’t moving toward the river very quickly, or at all for the time being, we went in search of a nearby cheetah. As we bounced along the dirt road, we spotted six hyenas resting near a small water source. It was hilarious to watch them run away when a warthog meandered over for a drink. Really? Six on one, and the once relaxed hyenas suddenly stood attention with their focus on Pumba!
Giraffes and a Cheetah
It took a while to find the cheetah who had moved from its original location. The giraffes, who were all facing in the same direction, tipped off our guide, Patrick, who was excellent. The giraffes stared at the fastest sprinter on earth who was lurking in the shade of the brush. The cheetah didn’t stick around for very long as it was hunting, but we got about five minutes with it before it disappeared. It’s amazing how well they camouflage.
Mama Giraffe and her Baby
Sensing it was time to check on the wildebeest again, we backtracked toward the river’s edge. As we rumbled along, we were fortunate to see a mama and baby giraffe licking and kissing each other. Upon arrival at the river, with just a crocodile resting on the bank and no wildebeest in sight, we ate our lunch which included a chicken leg, chips, juice, fruit and a variety of breads. Between breakfast and lunch, we had enough food for an army! In fact, after looking in my bag at breakfast, I remarked, “Oh this is breakfast and lunch,” to which our other guide, Morris, responded, “No, that’s just breakfast.”
Wildebeest Crossing the River
Having waited for an hour over lunch to no avail, we learned there was a huge herd about to cross the Mara in another location. As such, we sped over there. The herd of 8,000, climbed the hill for as far as we could see. Upon reaching the top, however, they turned left rather than right toward the river. The crossing didn’t look promising.
While others waited at this location, we returned to our original spot where a smaller herd of 500 had finally arrived and were contemplating the plunge. We were one of only four cars there. With the wildebeest near the shore, we waited as they worked up the nerve to cross, which sometimes takes hours before the first one gains the courage to leap into the rushing water as crocodiles lie in wait. Fortunately for us and amazingly only a few other spectators, it only took about 30 minutes before the first one finally jumped.
The crossing of 500 wildebeest lasted six minutes. The first few jumped in and began their swim in a single file line as hippos and a lurking crocodile looked on. While the first two made it to the shore, the third wildebeest was not so lucky as the crocodile lurched forward and captured it in its jaws. Though it put up a struggle, it was not strong enough for the croc who wrestled it under the murky water to drown it.
As the third wildebeest fought for its life, the rest of the herd kept crossing. More and more plunged into the water. Three lines of wildebeest were now swimming for the other side. Maybe a hundred went by when another crocodile attacked, this time in the middle of the river. Another wildebeest drowned.
My head was on a swivel. One moment I was watching the wildebeest chaotically launch themselves off the shoreline and the next minute I was turning to see the crocodiles get their afternoon snack. Personally, I enjoy observing this rather dense antelope jump into the river. They splash and thrash after hurling themselves into the water, when they could just saunter in off the flat bank. It’s sort of humorous and quite a commotion.
Eland and Thomson’s Gazelles
It was nearly 3:15 by the time the wildebeest made it to the other side. We felt lucky to have seen them, as the herd of 8,000 never did cross that day, but being quite a distance from camp, it was time to return. All day safaris usually only last until 4pm and do not include the evening drive. We took about 1.5 hours with a few stops to see the shy eland and baby Thomson’s gazelles that hide in the grass from predators before arriving shortly before the skies unleashed with another incredible storm.
We had time to freshen up before dinner, and back at the tent I was greeted to a break in. Those darn monkeys unzipped my tent door and opened every one of my snacks, though ate none of them. I guess they don’t have a taste for health food. Going forward, to monkey proof my tent, I followed the staff’s lead and covered the bottom zipper with the welcome mat and put a chair in front of the door. Mischievous little suckers.
With my tent protected, I returned to the main camp for happy hour in the lounge and our group dinner in the dining area. In the meantime, the rain cooled the night air. It certainly was a treat to return to a bed warmed with a hot water bottle with turn down service! I went to bed wondering what tomorrow would bring. To be continued…ETB
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