Late in the afternoon of our first day on safari in the Masai Mara, we take our first ‘proper’ game drive into the national park – the awesome wildlife spotting I described in an earlier post took place just on the drive from the airport to the Sarova Mara Game Camp!
Seconds after we leave the gates of the camp, we see a large herd of zebra grazing. Moments later we see two different types of gazelles – Thomson’s gazelles and Impala gazelles – along with a Topi gazelle with a child which Edward, our guide for the next few days, thinks is just four days old.
Edward explains the difference between the three different gazelles, and between males and females. The small fawn-coloured Thomson’s gazelles have a broad, black, horizontal stripe across its body, and long, straight, ringed horns, with the ram (male) boasting longer horns than the ewe (female). The medium-sized Impala has similar colouring and black vertical stripes on its buttock while the rams have long, elegant, curved horns. The large, dark brown Topi gazelle is the largest and strongest-looking, with black markings on its hind, shoulders and face.
Next, we spot some giraffes – the dark ones are males, Edward explains, and the darkest ones are the oldest ones. We drive on and just minutes later we see even more animals – giraffes, zebras, buffaloes, and grey-crowned cranes, with pretty combs on their heads. Our safari in the Masai Mara has started well!
A little further on we see a massive herd of blue wildebeest with their hunchbacks and black manes and beards. Edward says there are around one million in the park at the moment, and by the end of our three-day safari we reckon we just might have seen the whole million.
We see a handsome herd of elephants – a family of eight – and Edward tells us they’re all women: a mother, her children, and grandmother. The males apparently only join the herd to mate. Typical. The women stay together, and when the girls have babies, they stay with their group, so there might be three or four generations travelling together. Elephants, Edward tells us, can communicate with each other, at a very low frequency that humans can’t hear, up to 10kms away! They live to 60-65 years only. We drive on and soon see a group of males, and we get very close.
The abundance of animals we spot is astonishing. Our afternoon takes this form: we drive, spot something interesting, say, a cheetah sleeping on its own, and we stop a bit to take it in and take some photos, as Edward provides fascinating commentary, from ways to identify different species or males and females, to interesting tidbits on everything from mating habits to child rearing. It’s all enlightening stuff.
We see a silver-backed jackal crossing the road. “The jackals are scavengers,” Edward says. “There must be lions close by…” And he’s right. A short distance on, we spot three lions – or rather, lionesses, Edward says. It’s the lionesses who do the hunting, he tells us. Two are sleeping, while one is eating the carcass of a wildebeest.
“Lions travel in prides. They’re territorial. They’ll cover a distance of just 3-7 square kilometers,” Edward tells us. “They’re the opposite of elephants. They rest for 20 hours and are active just for four hours, mainly at night.” We see white-backed vultures on a tree nearby. “They have a very good view!” Edward says. “They’re waiting until the lions leave and then they’ll enjoy the scraps.”
On our first safari in the Masai Mara, we drive on and spot even more wildebeest, more zebras (about one hundred, Edward estimates) – their tails wagging in unison – with greater blue-eared starlings perched on their backs.
The sun is starting its rapid descent toward the horizon so we begin our drive back to the Sarova Mara. A stunning saddle-billed stork flies off into the sunset. There is a freshness to the air – it’s cool but not yet cold, although that will quickly change once the sun sinks. It’s a spectacular sunset.
On the drive back, we spot hundreds more wildebeest, scores more zebras and dozens of Thomson’s gazelles before the sun finally sinks and the sky darkens.
What an afternoon. We’re tired – especially Terence who has been snapping off hundreds of images – but we’ve seen a colossal amount of wildlife. I wonder whether it’s possible to ever tire of seeing so much wildlife. If Edward’s enthusiasm and energy is any indication, obviously not.
Just when we think it’s impossible to see anything else, I spot a couple of black rhinos hurrying across the road ahead of us. Wow. They’re huge. Edward quickly brings the car to a stop. “It’s a mother and child,” Edward he says. “They’re rare!” In a matter of seconds they disappear into the dark shrubs. Such a shame it’s too dark to take photos.
“It’s really been a good day!” Edward says, as we push on. It certainly has. “You’ve seen four of the Big Five! Maybe tomorrow we’ll see a leopard!” Based on today’s successful animal spotting, I’m fairly certain we will.
Our safaris in Kenya were expertly coordinated by Agnes of Africa Safari Holidays: details here.