Weekends are free time, so on the first Saturday, five of us made a trip to the Masai Mara reserve itself, which adjoins our conservancy, but is about an hour’s drive away. We were up at 5.30 and had the most fantastic start to the day – 30- 50 meters away was a small herd of elephants browsing on the trees. Bearing in mind that there are no fences here, to stand in our camp and watch them so closely in the pink light of dawn was breathtaking.
The sunrise was also stunning and we were already having a brilliant day before even leaving camp.
On our way out we saw a couple of jackals feeding on a carcass,
then another small herd of elephants where four of the youngsters were play fighting and having a great tousle with each other. One came so close that if he had chosen to stretch out his trunk he could have touched me.
Once in the Mara itself, I saw a lone ground hornbill and managed to get a good shot of it. Ground hornbills are on the endangered list, as they can only mate once every three years and only after they have reached at least 7 years old. One to three eggs are laid at the beginning of the wet season but siblicide ensures that only one nestling is ever fledged, meaning that their numbers are drastically reduced. I personally think they should belong in the ‘ugly five’ group!
There are quite a few pods of hippos and we stopped to have breakfast by the river bank in a very scenic spot.
Breakfast didn’t actually happen at that time however, as our guide suddenly had news that a leopard had been spotted about 10 minutes away, so we all ignored our hunger, sprinted back into the vehicle and set off as fast as we could to see if it was still there. One of the girls in our group had spent 15 weeks in Africa and never seen a leopard, so was desperately trying to contain her excitement at the same time as trying not to get her hopes up that this day would be the day she finally saw one. We were all to be rewarded with the most incredible sighting. A female leopard in full view, completely relaxed and unfazed by a few vehicles nearby.
A leopard will often dash off into deep undergrowth if a vehicle stops and all you ever see is the tail as it disappears, but we had over an hour with her. She moved a few times but never too far away and we were able to get good photos of her whenever she settled down.
We couldn’t believe our luck when she came out of the wooded area and started crossing the plain.
Our guide said that she had two cubs who she’d obviously hidden whilst out hunting, and she was going to bring them back over to where she’d hidden her kill which was up in a tree. The next image is not of her recent kill as it’s dried out – we don’t know why it was left there and not eaten, but for those of you who haven’t experienced African Wildlife it shows just what a leopard does with its food.
By this time there were seven vehicles following her, and when we all stopped to give her some space, she strolled over to one of them and sat down in its shade. We couldn’t see her, so pulled round to get a good view.
It was whilst I was half lying on the floor of our vehicle that she looked right into my lens, got up and started walking straight towards us.
I got a few shots and then knew that being just above her head height in an open sided vehicle wasn’t the most sensible position to be in, so I got up rather sharpish and she came within a touching distance, walked around, and lay down in our shade.
She eventually continued across the plain and disappeared into thick woodland.
We were all quite prepared to just sit and wait to see if she came out again with the cubs in tow, but our guide said that one of his friends who was in another vehicle would ring him when she did, so we went and had our breakfast, not believing our luck.
After breakfast we discovered that the friend had left the woods and not let us know, and I was really disappointed that we had potentially missed seeing the cubs out in the open. We went back to see if she’d brought her cubs over and got excited all over again when our guide spotted them. There were 10-15 frustrating minutes when only he could see them, but another vehicle finally left and we moved our vehicle into a better position where we could spot them. They were very shy, but we were prepared to wait it out, and once all the other vehicles had left, they did venture out to where we could take photos.
They were about 3 months old, but despite that, they already had tree climbing skills, and made it all the way up to where their mum had stashed the kill.
We spent another hour with them, and even our guide said that it was the best sighting he’d ever had. I’ve seen between 5-10 leopards in the past; most of them have either been from a great distance and they were hiding in undergrowth, or they dashed off immediately we stopped, or it was night time and too dark to see them properly, let alone take photos. Certainly the most time they’ve hung around was about 5 minutes, so our luck was certainly in and we left with the hugest smiles on our faces.
Apart from the 7 vehicles that gathered round the leopard, we didn’t see too many others which was great, as I’d heard that the Mara can be too full of tourist vehicles. We did pass a school bus though, and as the drivers stopped to talk to each other this little boy shyly waved at me. He was so gorgeous I couldn’t resist grabbing a photo.
As we were making our way out of the reserve, our guide saw four cheetahs in the distance so we drove over to them. They are such graceful animals and they also strolled right past our vehicle within touching distance.
All in all, it was one of the best days out ever! (Photo below thanks to Kerstin Kiel)