I visited the Masai Mara in early November last year. I have never been to the Mara at that time of the year. Most of the wildbeest migration had passed and the rains had begun so that time had the potential to deliver low productivity, difficult photography. The one thing that I was sure of was I would witness the circle of life.
“Your soul awakens your mind. Your mind makes your choices. Your choices manifest your life. Your life is your lesson. Your lessons create wisdom. Your wisdom enriches your soul.”
~ Karen A. Baquiran
I was particularly interested to see the Mara with dark thunderstorm skies as backgrounds against verdent green plains and hills of the Oloololo escarpment. I was also intrigued to see how the predators, especially the lion prides, were doing after the main migration had passed through two months before. I was very pleasantly surprised on both counts.
“Returning to the same place can bring new insights, new awareness and greater depth of understanding and appreciation. When wandering with nature everything is always changing providing new opportunities to learn.” ~ Mike Haworth
I joined several other enthusiastic photographers from all around the world at Wild Eye’s Mara bush camp located on the Mara Triangle bank of the Mara river. The bush camp is located in the croton grove about a kilometre up the river from the Purungat bridge and district gate, right in the south east corner of the Mara triangle.
To see active lions you need to be out and about in the Mara by 6h00 as the lions are ususally looking for some shade and a place to rest and sleep for the day between 7h00 and 8h00. Given that most of the zebra and wildebeest had already moved on down into the Serengeti on their journey through Tanzania towards Ndutu in the south where the wildebeest calve on mass around February each year.
The good rains, before we arrived, had transformed the Mara into a blaze of verdant green. Most of the wildebeest and zebra had moved on, though surprisingly there were still several large herds around. The lion prides had scattered, moving away from the river to follow the grazers. The rain had filled up many of the seasonal drainage gullies, called luggas, and created numerous small ponds which meant the grazers had plenty of places to drink in this vast space.
This first image is of one of Scar’s coalition partners, “Bob Marley”. He was also a massive male lion in his prime but had an easily identifiable growth on his top lip just below his nose. I have never seen this on a lion before and never got to find out what caused it.
Even though we were out on the Mara at 6h00, the time we allowed out of camp, by the time we found Bob Marley and his two lioness on a zebra kill it was mostly eaten. The lionesses must have killed the zebra during the previous night. Bob Marley’s stomach shows he got his lion’s share.
A couple of cubs were clearly impressed with their father but he remained aloof despite advances by the cub to solicit some fatherly affection.
Bob Marley wandered down to the lugga at the bottom of the hill to where there was shade and water leaving the lionesses and cubs to sort themselves out.
One of the two lionesses lay next to the zebra kill while her growing son was still getting stuck in.
This young male looked like he took more than his fair share of the zebra, judging from the size of his belly.
Full belly or not, this young male full of blood and mud was having great fun chasing off vultures.
One lioness was the last to reluctantly leave the zebra carcass even though there was little left. The next phase of diners were waiting all around. Two pairs of Black backed jackal and a variety of vultures including White backed, Lappet-faced, Griffon, and Hooded.
Once the jackals and vultures finally managed to get access to the zebra kill, it was a free-for-all brawl. In the midst of the squabbling vultures was a pair of Black backed jackals. These jackals did not seem too concerned about the larger vultures such as Lappet-faced and Griffon vultures. Success favours the bold.
“The devil whispers ‘You can not withstand the storm’. The warrior replies ‘I am the storm'”.
Late in the afternoon, we moved down to the Mara river to find more lion activity. It was almost dark when we had found Scar, and Ziggy close to where we had left them sleeping in the shade next to the river in the morning, so we knew the rough area they were likely to be in. I used a flash because of the low light. Even with full power and a MagMod Magbeam flash extender I could not effectively light up Scar because of his distance from us.
“The greatest fear in the world is the opinion of others, and the moment you are unafraid of the crowd, you are no longer a sheep you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom.” ~ Osho
When we arrived, we found Scar aggressively marshalling two of the young males in his pride. He exerted his dominance in no uncertain terms. After he had sorted out his sons, he wandered down to the edge of the Mara river and began to roar. Even the hippos kept their distance.
It was clear the lionesses and cubs were scared of him. Once Scar began to teach his sons who was boss the lionesses and cubs quickly moved out of the way.
Scar has a marked limp on his rear right leg. Apparently his leg tendons were damaged in a tangle with a buffalo. The damage has not stopped him and he has held onto his dominant rank in the pride.
We left Scar lying on the bare sand bank next to the Mara river because it was getting too dark to photograph and we had to be back in camp by 19h00.
Current estimates for lion populations suggest there are as few as 20,000 lions left in the wild, with less than 2,000 left in Kenya. Their numbers have dropped by nearly half in the last two decades.
“To hear a male lion roar as the light fades at dusk will send shivers down your spine. A prime memory is awakened welling deep from our genetic past. That gut-wrenching roar will resonate like thunder in your chest leaving you feeling breathless. Through the power and intonation the message is clear and the shiver reminds you that the darkness favours this warrior.” ~ Mike Haworth
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike