Masai Mara – West Side Story

I have put together a collection of images which I thought you might find interesting as they show the dramas during and after the animals crossing the Mara river. All of these images were taken from Lou and Veronica’s specialized CNP photographic vehicles which were superb shooting platforms.

The migration takes place from east to west across the Mara river. This post highlights some of the dramas on the West side of the river. The Mara river appears to be gently snaking through the Masai Mara. This apparent gentleness masks a  fast flowing river full of crocodiles and Hippos. It is bordered by a thick groves of riverine trees on either bank, which hide a variety of predators from Lion to Leopard and Hyaenas. Crossing entry and exit points vary from flat sandy areas to treacherously steep alluvial banks and slippery rocky outcrops.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The river itself claims many victims. This young Zebra slipped off a rock ledge jutting into the  Mara river. It fell in right next to where a Wildebeest had drowned. After a few heart stopping moments, this young Zebra managed to scramble back onto the rock shelf unscathed. After this scare the Zebra backed away and we did not see them again that day.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

Some young souls do not get to cross the river. A Leopard was taking no chances with this Wildebeest calf.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

This lioness looked bored while waiting in the open for Wildebeest and Zebra to appear on the east side of the river . Presumably these predators can see, hear the herbivores coming and feel the vibrations of thousands of hooves through the ground. There are plenty of trees and Crotons alongside the river which provide good cover for an ambush.

 Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The panic is clear to see. Once the crossing starts, the Wildebeest follow each other blindly through the dust and launch themselves into the boiling water.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The flowing river quickly drags them downstream. There were rapids just below where these Wildebeest were crossing – adding to the difficulty and danger of the crossing.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

As the crossing builds, it becomes chaotic and the danger increases exponentially.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The crossing is not all panic and hard swimming. Some of the wildlife take it all ‘in their stride’, sunning themselves on the beach, while the Wildebeest summon up the courage to cross the river.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The fast flowing river can make the swim exhausting. Some Wildebeest get to solid ground under foot on the west side of the river but are so tired that they struggle to get out of the water. This is just what the massive crocodile basking itself on the river bank had been waiting for. He had obviously seen this situation many times before. It was incredible to watch this massive croc slowly swim, in plain sight, up to the Wildebeest. The Wildebeest must have seen the croc coming but it did not move.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The next second the croc launched itself onto the Wildebeest, grabbing its head in a crunching bite and proceeded to drown the poor beast.
Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography
During the drowning process, other Wildebeest swam very close to the victim and must have seen exactly what was happening.
Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography
For some minutes, the croc held the Wildebeest’s head under the water, with little struggle.
Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography
Having caught and drowned the large adult Wildebeest, this crocodile let it go and just nudged it away, letting the river take it downstream. The croc then glided back to the river bank to bask in the sun and wait for the next crossing to catch another exhausted Wildebeest too tired to go any further. Presumably, the croc knows the carcass will beach down stream on a river bend and he can go and collect it later.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

There is high drama when these Wildebeest swim furiously to cross the river, all the while are being dragged downstream by the fast flowing river, knowing only too well what is lurking unseen in the water.
 Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography
Getting into the river  is one thing, getting out can be another entirely. Often the fast flowing water drags the animals to difficult exit points. Hooves on wet, slippery rocks make getting out of the water very tricky.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

Once successfully across the river, the Wildebeest and Zebra face another challenge, getting passed the waiting and hungry predators.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

We were  privileged to see a classic Lion ambush and kill. It took place on the West side about 100 metres from the river. It was late morning. We had already seen a Wildebeest crossing and were driving away to chat about what we had just seen up over a cup of coffee. We were driving parallel to the ‘single file’ column of Wildebeest and Zebra walking away from the river. Their coats were still glistening with water. Sammy, our guide, saw a Lioness close to the road lying in wait and intently watching the column of herbivores. We then saw a second Lioness lying in a clump of long Red Oat grass about 40 metres away.  The column of successful river crossers walked right between the two Lionesses, but could not see either. Once the lead animals had walked passed the Lionesses, the  Lioness closest to us burst from her lying position.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The line of Wildebeest panicked, focusing on the Lioness hurtling towards them. One Wildebeest did not even see the second Lioness break cover from the clump of grass behind it, and hit it with 120 kilograms of teeth and claws in the hind quarters. The other animals scattered and the second Lioness reinforced the attack on the collapsing Wildebeest. The images are not particularly sharp because of all of the dust on the scene.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The second Lioness held the Wildebeest down long enough for the first one to manoeuver the animal to get a choke hold.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The second Lioness did not do much after the Wildebeest was on the ground, not wanting to get in the way of flaying hooves. It was all over in a couple of minutes and the Mara returned to normal.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

In the next image, this Wildebeest must have made it across the river but fell foul of a predator on the west side. We came upon two Hyaena around mid-morning. Both were feeding on parts of a Wildebeest. One Hyaena was progressively demolishing the Wildebeest head, skull and all. They really are waste disposal experts.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

This Hyaena kept moving the head to keep it in the shade as the sun was rising. He was making good progress demolishing the head by the time we left.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

One drowned Wildebeest was floating close to the river bank. The proximity of the carcass to the bank enabled this Water Monitor to get to it without having to swim the crocodile gauntlet.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

On another occasion, while waiting for a crossing, we saw this massive crocodile downstream from us eating a Zebra’s head.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The same massive crocodile decided to swim upstream towards us. Just upstream of us, it climbed onto the bank to bask. The angle was not good but it gives an impression of the size of this predator with the Zebra’s head.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The grass is always greener on the other side. In fact, in the Mara it is green and gold. With the storm clouds building, the sound of distant thunder and the smell of rain on parched earth probably merge to become an intoxicating mix which drives the Wildebeest and Zebra to make such an epic crossing each year.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

We did not see Leopard, unfortunately – perhaps another time! We often saw Jackals, the light-weight gang in the clean up squad. The Cheetah operated near the river on occasion, but we normally saw them out on the open plains where these speedsters have some room to move.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

I hope you enjoyed the dramatic, and at times gruesome, images which portray  the story of the daily drama on the west side of the Mara river.

It’s  not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
Henry David  Thoreau

Seek to understand nature, marvel at its interconnectedness and then let it be.

Have fun

Mike

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