The Masai Mara National Reserve covers some 1,510 square kilometres in south-west Kenya and is one of Africa’s greatest wildlife reserves. It is the northern-most section of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, spanning 25,000 square kilometres across Tanzania and Kenya. It is bounded by the Serengeti National Park to the south, the Siria escarpment to the west, and Masai pastoral ranches to the north, east and west. Together with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, this reserve forms Africa’s most diverse and most spectacular eco-system.
The reserve is named in honour of the Maasai people (the ancestral inhabitants of the area). They use the Maasia word “Maa” which means “spotted” to describe the pattern of scattered trees and scrub over vast tracts of savanna, which are often punctuated with cloud shadows.
“Hidden in the glorious wildness like unmined gold.”
― John Muir
The romance of the Mara lies in its ‘big skies’, vast savanna plains, wildlife spectacles such as the annual wildebeest migration, associations with films like ‘Out of Africa’, an abundance of wildlife as far as the eye can see and the unmistakable roar of hot air balloons rising from the early morning mist on the plains.
One aspect of wildlife photography which CNP’s Lou Coetzer has impressed upon us is that we need to show depth and versatility in our wildlife photography, so that when we compile a portfolio it shows the photographers skill, versatility and insight. So in that vein, moving away from the “big cats”, this post shows you some of the wonderful vistas and scenes we immersed ourselves in.
On the afternoon of our arrival at Kitchwa Tembo, we were greeted by this pride of Lions lying very close to the airstrip.
I took the next image a few days later looking north from the west bank of the Mara river from the” & Beyond” Conservancy quite close to where the Leopard cub was killed by the Lion pride. There was a reasonable flow of water in the river though it was not as strong as I expected after all the rain we had each night. Needless to say the reptilian terror is ever present.
The light was challenging as, for the most part, it was heavily overcast. Every now and then the sun would break through the cloud cover illuminating the grasslands. Even when the syn was out, the moisture haze complicated the focusing. The next image is of a Lioness wandering over the grasslands towards the Mara river with her cubs running three steps for her every one. The ubiquitous Topis were in the background.
There are numerous Topis on the grasslands. During daylight hours they are too alert and too fast for the Lions to catch and the adults are too big for the Cheetahs. At night the game changes. Often the Hyaenas catch the Topis asleep in the grass. This was a daylight silhouette of a few Topis. A black control point placed on the foreground helped to emphasis the silhouette.
One of the unique aspects about the Mara is its spotted plains. The Desert Dates and Boscia’s dot the plains. I asked our ranger Douglas why the trees were so scattered and not growing in groves and he told us that the Giraffe and other herbivores destroy almost all of the new saplings. The next image shows the scattered trees at last light looking west towards the Oloololo escarpment.
The “spotted plains” become more apparent in the evening light.
As a potential Cheetah hunt slowly dissipated in front of us, while the sun was setting over the Oloololo Hills, there was a minute to two when this Impala ram stood silhouetted in the fading light. This is one of those magic moments which photographers love to capture and which, in hindsight, become strong emotional hooks. When I look at this image I am transported back to that moment.
In the Masai Mara Reserve down near the Mara river in the marshy area, where you can easily get stuck in the black cotton clay, we came upon this breeding herd of Elephants. The adults were very protective around the calves. You can see the haze in the background.
One afternoon, we travelled south in the Masai Mara reserve looking for a new pride of Lions. We found them close to Figtree crossing on the Mara river and this was the scene looking south west from there. There is something very soothing for the soul when you look out over these vast natural places.
In the tree line along the river there is a good chance of seeing Leopard. They are elusive but they are there. This was the Leopardess who had lost her cub to the Lion pride when it was wandering through the trees on the edge of the grasslands.
The vast grass plains are ideal for Cheetah. They operate during the day to reduce conflict with other predators such as Lion and Hyaenas. There is plenty of room for these speedsters to open up and use their advantage to catch their prey. This was one of a coalition of two Cheetah males who were hunting on the conservancy.
Camouflage, vigilance and patience are vital attributes in the open.
Later in the afternoon of the day we spent with the Cheetah males, for some inexplicable reason, they left the game filled grassland of the conservancy to move to higher ground closer to the Oloololo escarpment. The terrain was more difficult for them to hunt on, though the grass was longer allowing them to stalk closer to their prey. We could only assume there were too many Lions and Hyaenas on the conservancy at that time making it too risky for them to hunt in the open.
When the moisture haze allowed, the sun cast its spell and the light was captivating.
Hopefully I have given you a sense of scenery in which you can immerse your senses. All the images were taken in the Masai Mara Reserve and the adjacent “& Beyond” conservancy in front of the Kitchwa Tembo camp.
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable we can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.