Masai Mara – this is lion country

I was fortunate enough to spend a magical six days in the Masai Mara in western Kenya in mid-October 2021. This trip which was planned for October 2020 but Covid restrictions forced its postponement. I spent six days in the Masai Mara with Wild Eye and stayed at their bush camp along the Mara river which is located about a kilometre up river from the Purungat bridge.

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of the living.” ~ Miriam Beard

Our group of about ten photographers were hosted by guides Andrew Danckwerts, Mike Appalsamy and Wild Eye CEO Jono Buffy. Much fun, good photography and earnest discussions around the camp fire next to the Mara river were had by all.

“One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are.” ~ Edith Wharton

I really like that time of the year because of the reduced crowds. Also, the weather was building up for the short rains from October to December. This meant the sky was filled with cumulus and cumulonimbus cloud formations making dramatic backgrounds.

“If I have ever seen magic, it has been in Africa.” ~ John Hemmingway

Mid-October was the low season because of the rains in the Mara but there was still plenty of migrating herbivores and of course the ever present lions, hyaenas, leopards and cheetahs. Both the Masai Mara and the Serengeti are wonderful areas for lions.

The lions shown in this post were seen in the first two days in the Mara Triangle. In future posts I will show many more lion images and we were privileged to even see a large male lion cross the Mara river – a crossing of a very different sort.

This young male had killed a wildebeest next to the main road a few kilometres up from the ranger’s station at Purungat bridge. He was resting when we arrived. He had probably been feeding in the early part of the pre-dawn morning. His face was covered in flies as was the carcass.

After a short while he got up and went back to feed on the carcass. He was feeding alone on the wildebeest carcass which he probably had pulled down the night before as there were no other lions around. Often lions use the storm water gully on the side of the road to ambush their prey. This tactic seemed effective as we saw a few kills next to the road.

We found this male lion around 8h30 and stayed with him for about an hour with no other vehicles around. He was watching the vultures which had already caught early thermals in the warm, slightly overcast morning.

After a full meal of wildebeest he got up and stretched and walked a short distance away from the carcass to lie down. There were no trees under which to find shade, so he just lay in the grass in the open.

When a lion relaxes it does it properly and sometimes can be seen lying on its back with legs open – probably spreading the load on such a full belly.

The following day we were travelling north west along the main road a few kilometres from the Serena airstrip when we came across a coalition of three male lions, two of which were lying in the road. The two largest and oldest males were lying in the road. This coalition looked battle hardened. The male lying down in the next image looked to be the oldest and coalition leader. He was a huge battle-worn warrior.

The high number of lions in the Mara Triangle dictate that there are frequent territorial clashes and numerous nomads looking for a home of their own. The younger of the two males lying in the road got up and proceeded to walk down the road towards us. He looked to be around five or six years old – a fully mature male lion.

“The lion is an emblem of a dream of absolute power – and, as a wild animal, he belongs to a world outside the realm of society and culture.” ~ Charles H Hinnat

The oldest male in the coalition continued to lie own the road for a while. He was huge with enormously powerful looking shoulders and a dark mane.

When he looked up you could see his aged face which was surprisingly unscarred. He was covered with irritating and ubiquitous flies. His canines were still in reasonably good condition so we guessed he must have been around seven years old.

“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.” ~ Karen Blixen

He had a full belly and looked to be in good condition. His front paws were huge.

The younger of the two males which had been lying in the road continued to walk towards us as he was on his way to a pool of rainwater which had collected next to the section road behind us. There were many zebra drinking from this pool which no doubt was an added attraction although he was he was going to drink, not hunt.

The third male in the coalition of three had found a rock to cuddle. He was out for the count and I just had to take a picture of him spread out next to the rock with one paw against it.

We travelled around the Mara Triangle and having the camp positioned close to the Purungat bridge in south of the Greater Masai Mara we were able to traverse both the Mara Triangle and the Masai Mara National Reserve, the two largest of the eight conservancies which make up the Greater Masai Mara.

Lions are obviously a huge attraction in the Mara but after the main migration had passed in August and September there were still a surprising large number of wildebeest and zebra both sides of the Mara river and especially on the north side which still had to cross on their way down into the Serengeti and Ndutu to calve in following February. With all the game around we had numerous wonderful sightings of lions which I will share in the next few posts.

“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it? How can you explain the fascination of this vast, dusty continent, whose oldest roads are elephant paths? Could it be because Africa is the place of all our beginnings, the cradle of mankind, where our species first stood upright on the savannahs of long ago?” ~ Brian Jackman

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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