Monday, September 21, 2009

Large Cats of the Masai Mara

The main reason I went to the Masai Mara in August of 2009 was for the migration of the herds crossing the Mara River in Kenya. Due to the devastating drought that I discussed in a previous blog, the massive migration of thousands of animals did not happen this year. Instead the animals starting arriving in early June resulting in infrequent small crossings; see an example above.
In the past at the peak of the migration, this fields would have been covered with large numbers of wildebeest and zebras moving in unison towards the Mara River. The herds would congregate at the edge of the river, hesitate, and all of the sudden jump into the river where crocodiles were waiting for their meals. I was not able to photograph what I call the "Greatest Nature's Show on Earth" this year.

But the predators were there as always waiting for the arrival of the herds. Lions are at the top of the food chain in the Masai Mara/Serengeti ecosystem in East Africa ( Kenya and Tanzania).
I have observed these cats sitting in rocks and hills scanning the horizon for the arrival of the herds.

In May of 2007 I was in the Western Serengeti near the Retima River (Tanzania) awaiting for the arrival of the herds. It was amazing to watch the lions sitting on top of the Kopjes scanning the horizon. As soon as they saw the arriving animals, they would climb down off the rocks and head for the herds to get their meals. A whole pride including cubs would move together.

As is well known, these cats work in teams and the females are usually the ones who lead the hunting parties. For what I have observed in the past, there seems to be female leader who starts the hunt and will instigate the others into following her to the hunt. These are elaborate and include the setting of traps. Some of the cats will hide in strategic locations and the others will drive the prey in their direction. I have also witnessed what I call relays where one cat will start a chase and direct the prey into others that have previously positioned themselves.

Not all chases are successful and when this happens, the cubs left behind, usually with an adult nanny for protection , will reunite with the hunting party and are greeted by their moms with licking and rubbing of faces.

Lions spent most of the time sleeping and looking after the cubs who frequently interrupt the adults sleep. Most prides have an adult male that service and protect the females and his cubs from other males that would try to take over the family. He usually is not active in the hunts but is the first to the banquet. Other adult male lions live solitary lives or with brothers. But when it comes to taking over a pride or mating, all brotherhood sharing is forgotten.

The leopard is the major trophy of any safari due to their shyness an difficulty in photographing. This is the only one I got to photograph but able to get great images; he stayed in the tree all the time. He had killed an impala early in the morning and the carcass was hanging from a nearby tree. In 2007 while in the Serengeti I got to see 11 leopards--very unusual--but I was not able to approach them due to park rules that does not allow for of-the-road-traffic.
And finally the cheetahs, the fastest cats. I did see a chase this year but it happened so fast that I missed photographing it. These two were resting after having a morning meal. They mostly chased impalas and Thompson gazelles babies and were not always successful.


SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

WOW!! What can I say Jose? This is a stunning and most informative post but the picture of the leopard is the most fantastic of all. I can see by the color of the grass how dry it still is there and you are right, the herds are not anything like they usually are.

The lion shots are terrific too.

Thanks for sharing.

William Deed said...

I'm not sure it was because of the drought that you missed the migration - I think you must have been unlucky with timing or location as the migration in the Mara Triangle has been one of the largest we've seen for years.

Jose's World said...

William: I had been to the Mara migration and my point of reference was the year 2003 where the largest number of animals was recorded in 35 years. I was saw then does not match what was there this year. The migration started tricking in June but the massive herds were not there. Maybe next year if the rains come in October.

William Deed said...

Where were you in the Mara?

Jose's World said...

August 15-21. Plan to return next year last week of July/first of August. Visited Meru for the first time this year. Not many tourists there and the kopjes reminded me of the Serengeti.

sfox said...

Nice photography and commentary

Lots for sale in Costa Rica said...

Great photos, and the information is very interesting, thanks for the blog!!!