Maasai Mara 2019 – More Notes from a Memorable Trip

Siligi and five of her cubs - Maasai Mara 2019
Siligi and five of her cubs

On our third full day in the Maasai Mara, we had a plan that involved an even earlier start than usual. It involved a long journey to reach the area where we were hoping to catch up with a Cheetah (Siligi) and her seven cubs.* It was roughly the same area as we had seen the Fast Five the previous day, but was bordering a no-go area where it would be impossible to find them.

We struck lucky, but it was to be the only time we’d see them on the whole trip. The main piece of luck was they were still in the no-go area when we arrived, but close enough to the road to be able to get pictures. The early morning light upon them was superb and we were privileged to spend around 70 minutes with them before they moved further into the restricted area and out of range.

It was a truly magical sighting, watching the cubs, still with their fluffy ‘Mohican’ manes, playing with one another while Siligi kept an eye out for danger. The Maasai Mara keeps giving us new experiences.

A decision had to be taken at this point; did we stay in the area to find the Fast Five again, or Notch 2 and Spear Boy, or should we go elsewhere in search of fresh subjects. The latter idea won the day and we motored off in the direction we had approached from.

It was fully an hour before we had a sighting to work with, a Saddle-billed Stork. The light was getting a bit harsh to work with a predominately black and white bird, but they are a great subject so we had a go at it. Ten minutes later, we were in Lion territory with members of the Rongai pride who were spread over quite a distance.

The final sighting before breakfast was of a Zebra herd drinking in a large pond. It was almost as if they were posing for us, giving us some nice head-on and side-by-side shots. Probably our best Zebra sighting in the Maasai Mara so far.

Zebra quenching their thirst - Maasai Mara 2019
Zebra quenching their thirst

After a late breakfast it wasn’t long before we met up with the old warrior Scarface again, a survivor of a male Lion if ever there was one. We spent a good deal of time with him, although being honest he wasn’t doing much. But we stuck with him until lunchtime.

Over lunch we decided we would go back to the same location and get some images of the other members of the Four Musketeers. We knew that we would only see Morani and Sikio, because the fourth member, Hunter, hasn’t been seen for some time. That proved to be a fruitful early afternoon, but Lion inactivity eventually decided us to move on and see what else we could find.

Our next encounter was a short series of shots of a Secretarybird sideways on, before it did the usual trick of turning its back and walking away from us. In a matter of minutes we next found a couple of Black-backed Jackals. I have always found them to be very photogenic and quite liked spotting them, but on this trip I saw the other side of them. That situation was a few days away and I’ll refer to that more in another post.

Time was now approaching 3pm and it seemed things were starting to peter out. We had what for us has been a rare sighting of a pair of Southern Ground Hornbills. What was good about it is the fact that we got the best shots of this species since we first photographed them in Kruger National in South Africa back in 2012.

There was then a brief period with a Leopard Tortoise before he ambled off into the grass and out of sight. Next up, the heavens opened and operations were put on hold for a while. Time passed and eventually we headed back to the camp for the day, briefly photographing a decidedly damp Spotted Hyena beside a flooded track on the way.

At first light next day we were with the Enkuyanai Pride of Lions photographing mainly cubs and sub adults. Close by we found a pair of Black-backed Jackals with quite a number of cubs playing in the early morning sun outside their den. The parents were quite relaxed and happy to move some distance away from the cubs, only returning to them now and again. We had an enthralling twenty minutes recording their antics, before word came through that Kaboso, the female Leopard and star of the Maasai Mara, had been sighted.

After about an hour, we finally managed to see her, but she was quite deep in a ravine. The rain of the previous evening had made approaching the edge a very hazardous action and so after a while of waiting to see if she was going to move, we went to find a spot for breakfast. Over breakfast we decided a plan to return to where Kaboso was located and if there was no improvement in her position, to move on. We were somewhat in luck when we got there to find she had moved and we could get shots, but they still weren’t optimal so we headed off to see what the Enkuyanai Pride were doing.

Enkuyanai Pride having lunch - Maasai Mara 2019
Enkuyanai Pride having lunch

This proved to be a good plan as they had taken down a Wildebeest and virtually the whole pride were there tucking in. We stayed with them for about an hour and a half and witnessed some very interesting behaviour and interactions. That took us nicely into our lunchtime and discussing a plan for another Maasai Mara afternoon.

With Kaboso being relatively close, we drove back to where she was and witnessed a most wonderful afternoon. Arriving in the area, we first spotted a male Leopard that we learned was Kaboso’s partner. Soon after, Kaboso appeared and with her was her cub. They walked right in front of us and as she did so, she retrieved a baby Warthog that the male had killed and brought for her.

She moved it away from us into an area where she felt safe, but we could still see her and watched as the cub helped itself to a welcome meal. They were there for sometime, until they moved back down into the ravine.

Kaboso and her cub - Maasai Mara 2019
Kaboso and her cub

At this point we started to see a troop of Olive Baboons arriving and started to fear for the cub’s survival. They cornered Kaboso under a bush against the side of the ravine, but fortunately the cub had escaped to where the male was located. There followed quite a concerted effort by the Baboons to try to get at Kaboso, but after what seemed like an age, she managed to escape and headed towards the male. The Baboons lost interest once she was no longer cornered and left the scene. We were concerned about whether the cub had survived, but as time was getting on we had to set off back to camp for the day.

As with the previous day, around this time there was another very heavy rainstorm. We battened down the sides of the truck and got on our way, but just had time to check out the Enkuyanai Pride on the way. Things had quietened down by then of course although there were still some rather grubby and wet cubs feeding on the remains. And so another eventful day drew to a close.

* Footnote to this post

As I write this in April 2020, we learn from Dr. Elena Chelysheva of the Mara Meru Cheetah Project that sadly only two of Siligi’s cubs have survived.

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