Updated: Sep 26, 2020
Collectivism in Safari-land.
The flight out to the Masai Mara was pleasant, although the low cloud cover robbed us of the view flying over the Great Rift Valley. We were met by our drivers, Masai Mara natives suitably garbed in colourful swaddling cloth. Ours is Daniel – about 6’8 and skinny, but with the most beautiful bitter chocolate skin, lovely smile and engaging shy persona. Another driver is short, barrelly, smarty, and missing several fangs. Daniel wins. The second we turned the corner off the airstrip, we were welcomed by tower. Having been briefed by photographer David, we headed out on our first ‘real’ drive at 4 pm under a lowering sky, which quickly delivered rain. First hit – a flock of ostriches, Thompson’s gazelles (real cuties), then a herd of elephants (with a baby rolling in the muddied track ruts), crowned cranes, more Grant’s gazelles, impala, zebra, giraffe, marabou stork, warthogs. We crossed the river and up into scrubby bush where, oh joy, we scored a beautiful leopard. Standing, running, sitting still for ten minutes in clear sight, she was gorgeous.
Much later, we were off to a pair of cheetahs resting in a thorny thicket. Next, a scruffy spotted hyena, giraffes parading along the skyline, with ostriches hiking in the opposite direction. A black-backed jackel strolled across our path, along with topi as the sun set. We detoured up a hill to come across a pride of lions feasting on the remains of a water buffalo comprising the King of the Jungle and his harem of five lionesses. After a while (and 100 photos), another lion warily climbed up from the plain. As he neared, it was obvious he was severely malnourished – all cock and ribs like a drover’s dog.
We expected the King to beat up the new kid, but instead he and his girlies all removed themselves a few feet away as the lean chap invaded the banqueting hall. Once the starving one settled down to feast, the King strolled back and the chaps had a feasting bonding session (Daniel said the young male was one of his sons), while the ladies retired to the ante-thicket to sharpen their claws for their next tour-of-killing-duty. Marvellous stuff. To finish off our wildlife day, we scored a black-backed jackal and a bat-eared fox in the gloaming before heading back to camp, dinner and bidies (with complementary hot water bottle).
Day two started with a wake-up at 5:30am, consisting of a lovely young chap delivering hot tea and biscuits to our tent. We left camp pre-dawn, passing topi and an implausibility of wildebeest along the way, via a couple of serious creek crossings before coming across a coalition of cheetahs feasting on the carcass of a Thompson’s gazelle (there were about seven cheetahs, but who could tell, as it was impossible to discern individual form within the writhing pile of dots).
Next, we dropped down to the creek-side scrub where Daniel had spotted a sault of lions with several cute cubs scampering around with mum paying close attention. Unfortunately the family refused to play ball with our narcissism of photographers and happy-snappers and retired to the scrub. We headed back up to the cheetahs, still feasting, while a muster of storks stooged by David (our photographer) cheerily complained “damn – those cats are really mucking up the background to my stork photos!” One cheetah took a break to wander off for a quick crap before getting back to scoffing.
Onward, we passed wildebeest with their babies, black-backed jackal, warthogs, then our passage was interrupted by a raft of ducks (including chicks), so we followed them to a pond edged with lush vegetation and occupied by a dissimulation of avian critters (i.e. birds) – saddle-billed and yellow-billed stork, black-headed heron, hammerkop, egrets, a veritable congregation of plovers, red-billed teal, striated heron and sacred ibis and South African spoonbill, and Egyptian geese who promptly put on a serious display of birdie beak biffo and feather-flying until they realised a hyena was approaching at high speed in search of a poultry (or paltry) morning tea of goose-chick.
Time for breakfast. We stopped at 9:30 in the middle of a plain under the lone tree. Not surprisingly, for an outing organised by men, there wasn’t a bush in sight to serve as the ‘Ladies’.
On our way back to Entim, our viewing program kicked off with a zeal of zebra (including young’uns), topi prettily posing on every mound into the middle distance, a dead zebra hanging on tree (courtesy of a leopard kill – zebra are not known for their climbing skills) and a cheetah sunbathing on a rock. Rounding into a steep creek crossing in the brushland, Daniel and David spotted a leopard scampering down a tree at high speed, but he was gone in a flash. Damn! A leopard in a tree is the rarest of sights and was #1 on our wishlist!
Then there were also huge elands among zebra, zebras hoof-stroking in a pond, an obstinacy of water buffalo, plus a sounder of warthogs running through the long grass with their tails waving, looking for all the world like a sushi train. Back to Entim Camp for a lazy lunch. At our appointed afternoon drive departure time, it was bucketing, so we were somewhat delayed, then the drive had to be done with the roof panels in place, which rather nukes the pleasure of happy-snapping through the roof.
First up – the ultra-shy bat-eared fox, then Grant’s gazelle, prostrate hyena, Thompson’s gazelle, Hartebeest, zebra and two vultures in a tree. Then we came across a souse of lions, with the King scoffing the goodies while the young bucks and working women waited on the sidelines. Himself did have a nice face, but his charm was somewhat diminished when he noisily chundered his afternoon tea. And a skulk of jackals (much cuter than their reputation would lead one to believe), with, on cue, a couple of hopeful hyena tagged along for the leftovers.
David and the chaps’ truck were still tied up getting the perfect lion shot, so Daniel took us for a short detour. We checked out a couple of crocodiles, then moved on to a vantage point above the Mara River to scan a bloat of hippopotami. Engine engaged again, we trundled along the bank for about 20 meters before Lyn yelled ‘monkey’ a couple of seconds before I yelled ‘stop!’ As an enormous baboon appeared at the top of the steep river bank. Supposedly of a shy breed, this chap was clearly a baboon bella figura, as he ambled up and popped himself into a photo pose, with all his accoutrements on display. Given our failure to toss peeled grapes in his direction, he settled on cracking into some tasty bark, but his manners let him down as he crunched away open-mouthed.
David and the crew were still with the lions, so we headed back to join them, but Daniel, with his extraordinary vision, suddenly veered off the track to where a single jeep was stationary and said ‘leopard, in tree’! Raptuous expletives deleted! A Leopard! In a tree! With a fresh kill of a Grant’s caramel-coloured gazelle draped across a branch twenty feet above the ground.
Of course the third member of our party complained that there were leaves in front of the leopard’s face/the leopard was facing the wrong way/it’s too dark (yes, well that’s when big cats hunt)/we’re too far forward, back, sideways/the other truck’s in the best position….
On the way back to camp in the fading light, we spotted a secretary bird parading its wares atop a tree before diving into a gin and tonic to round out the day.
Up at the crack of dawn again, a dingo’s breakfast, then into the jeep for some ritual bone-crushing across the plains. Just for starters, we veered off to make the acquaintance of a huge bull elephant scoffing a ton of herbaceous fodder. Then, in the pre-dawn light, Daniel managed to spot a cheetah crossing the slope so we charged up to check him out. He scampered up to the top of a hillock and proceeded to cry – a heart-wrenching, mournful cry – he’d mislaid his brother and was calling for him. We left him to his miserable search, poor thing, some of us (i.e., me) with tears running freely.
Our drivers were in search of Miale – a female cheetah with three cubs. We found her crossing a creek bed, so sped across to grab a few shots of the scampering dotty furballs (sporting white mohawks)! Climbing up through the grass, she gave the furballs a clip over the ears and told them to stay put. Then she settled down to check out a herd of Grant’s gazelles grazing about 100 metres away at the edge of the brush, with their male sentry alert to impending danger. He was a dud.
After about five minutes, she slowly raised her hind quarters and padded forward with incredible grace in slow motion before launching into a full sprint (in your dreams, Usain Bolt). It was over in a flash, as she targeted a gazelle and we saw it go down in a flurry of dust.
Daniel gunned our jeep up to the scene where the gazelle was in its final death throes, with Miale strangling it, but without drawing blood, as that would attract the hyena. The deed done, she caught her breath for about three minutes, while checking out the surroundings for impending interlopers.
Then she gave a couple of barely audible growls (we were about 5 metres away from her) and after a minute the three furballs came bounding up through the grass, whereupon she dragged the gazelle into the lee of a bush, and let the little’uns work out how to open their lunchbox. Being well trained, they started at the haunches (which is where the best nourishment is), having a nibble then bounding off to play before getting back on the job. Meanwhile, Miale relaxed and kept watch over her brood while she recovered from her labours. Astonishing, and a stunningly beautiful episode of voyeurism (at which my pre-conception was that I would be appalled – who knew!).
Time for our picnic breakfast (after a side of elephant). Find a lone tree on the savannah, overlooking the Serengeti just across the river in Tanzania, with Petro and Daniel setting up our vittels – boiled eggs, chipolata wrapped in bacon, yoghurt, mango cheeks, bananas, watermelon plus toast or crepes, tea and coffee. More than adequate.
On our way back, we spotted huge elands, ostriches and a congress of baboons scampering in the grass, then three giraffe as we returned to camp.
As we left camp for the afternoon drive, we were quickly arrested by a lone lion tucking into his rump steak of zebra. Daniel didn’t know this chap (it turned out this was a lion the drivers hadn’t seen for two years, so had been presumed dead, but it seems he’d been on vacation across the river).
The afternoon storm was gathering, so we were treated to grand background skies for our wildlife photography (giraffe and zebra punctuate a stormy scene nicely). By now it was bucketing so it was a case of just watch the hyena, topi, zebra, Thompson’s gazelle, and miserable lions (five females) in driving rain. They still managed to procure the plat du jour (zebra) and drag it into a bushy lean-to for their evening meal (by the following evening, there wasn’t a trace of the zebra – the hyena had licked the platter clean of its 300 kg corpse).
Wednesday. What, more lions? Pre-dawn we set about snapping three males (Grimace, Caesar and Roi) snoring in the open plain waiting for the rising sun to warm them enough to open their eyes, have a yawn, stagger down to the creek and generally prepare for their day of lying around in the shade.
Now, here’s the thing about photographers. This breed is willing (nay, determined) to sit around peering into a lens steadied on a bean-bag for hours, waiting for the perfect shot (and if you blink, you miss it). And to some, everything is a conspiracy – a blade of grass, twig or leaf in the wrong place, a feral cloud making a sub-optimal shape, the light coming from the wrong quarter, the sun coming up from the east in the morning (instead of?) all of which are specifically designed to spoil their day. David is convinced that the collective noun for photographers should be a ‘clique’ (or ‘click’ in the US). I’m never going to make the grade, having been imbued with the attention span of a cabbage moth on heat, and given my fully paid up membership of the ‘90%-is-fine’ club.
After waiting for the lions to stir for over an hour, we headed off to a hillock some distance away and had breakfast. Of course, the lions chose that time to stir themselves, so we hightailed it back to take a couple of shots of the chaps slurping at the creek. We finished off the morning with a troop of baboons scampering around in the grass.
Late afternoon, we headed up to Lookout Hill and sprung a parade of elephants grazing in long grass, including a tiny calf – Daniel reckoned he was three weeks old, then back to the lionesses and their zebra. By this stage it was pouring rain again, with fabulous cloudscapes and lightning. Time to call it a day, especially as Daniel’s windscreen wiper had come adrift of its moorings.
Thursday we were back at the foot of Lookout Hill with the mother elephant, four year-old son and the baby on a sunny morning, The bub was in high spirits and promptly caused merry hell annoying the shitter out of his brother and mum by skipping around, head butting them both and generally being a damned nuisance. It was a laugh a second. Lyn took a 2.5 minute video of the bub’s shenanigans.
The weather had heated up by this stage, so it was a lean afternoon in the viewing department – just some lazy lions snoozing in the shade, a few zebra and giraffe and a croc or two in the river.
Friday, and our last full day of hooning around the savannah in search of cat-quarry. Our first treat was five lionesses with their communal brood of six lion cubs, with the little ones scampering around while their mums checked out a distant warthog for breakfast potential, but the warthog decided to head for the Serengeti instead.
Next, we came across and angry, tatty-eared bull elephant who charged towards us, so we beat a hasty retreat. Further on, Daniel spotted a leopard sunning itself near a creek so we followed it around for about half and hour, with me insisting (in total ignorance) that the leopard was going to climb a tree, and Lyn and me yelling ‘stop’ to Daniel, which he did, just in time for us to get our cameras steadied. I reeled off twenty shots as the leopard scaled the tree in seconds, then posed in the fork of the tree giving us a perfect silhouette of its beautiful form against the savannah slope. Utterly superb.
After a calming breakfast, we caught a dazzle of zebras at a watering hole, which capped off a lovely morning. The afternoon was again hot, but we caught a serval (a small cat with striped ears) and managed a risky crossing of the Mara river to where there was a possibility of spotting a rhino. They lied. Eventually we came across three lions snoring on the riverbank, then a burrow camp clan of hyenas with their cute youngsters. To end the day, we stopped near the river crossing at the hippo pool, to be met by our lovely Masai chaps from Entim camp, complete with champagne and nibbles, so we settled down on the rocks to be treated to a circus of hippo biffo at sunset, with a corps of half a dozen giraffes also enjoying the show from the opposite river bank.
Our short morning drive before leaving Entim delivered lean pickings – an enormous herd of buffalo and sleeping lions, some topi and Thompson’s gazelles. But on the way to Olkiombo airport we were treated to a bonus of giraffes paddling at the river crossing.
Time to fly back to Nairobi, with 5000 photos to edit…..