Masai Mara – male lion crossing the Mara river

This was one of the more unusual sightings in the Masai Mara during my trip with Wild Eye in October last year. October is usually the tail end of the major herbivore migration. Despite the timing I was fortunate enough to see several dramatic Mara river crossings.

“Being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it.”~ Bear Grylls

The crossing described in this post was the most unusual of them all. It was around 6h00 and we were out early as we had seen the wildebeest massing on the east side of the Mara river the evening before. It is unusual for wildebeest or zebra to cross the river at night. The crossing looks terrifying enough in the daylight without trying it at night.

“Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” ~ Maya Angelou.

The terror is instilled by the fast moving current and the huge Nile crocodiles which lie in wait for their prey to cross. This particular morning the wildebeest and zebra had been progressively moving down Lookout hill toward the Mara river. The river was flowing fast and was a rich muddy colour.

“Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” ~Winston Churchill

By this time, Scar, the iconic leader of his four member coalition with Morani, Sikio and Hunter, had died. We caught sight of a large male on the other side of the river at around 6h00. The sun was still behind Lookout hill. I am not sure which of the “musketeers” he was, possibly Silko. He was walking along the east bank of the Mara river when he caught sight of two lionesses lying in the wet grass about 100 metres away from the river on the west side of the Mara river.

He immediately decided to cross the river to meet up with them. He walked along the bank until he found a gully to climb down to the edge of the river. That would have been the only way to get down to the edge of the Mara river because the banks were so steep and deep.

The bank on the east side of the Mara river, in fact on both sides, is steep and must be around 20 to 30 metres deep.

Having successfully descended the steep side of the Mara river, he walked a short distance at the foot of the steep bank until he found a suitable crossing point.

“The river has great wisdom and whispers its secrets to the hearts of men.” ~Mark Twain

The snarling face showed he was quite well aware of the danger that lurked in that fast flowing muddy water. Despite the danger, with little hesitation, he stepped into the water.

The wake in the water created by him entering water showed how fast the water was flowing.

He was clearly a powerful swimmer but the fast flowing current forced him to swim diagonally down from his point of entry.

“Rivers flow not past, but through us; tingling, vibrating, exciting every cell and fiber in our bodies, making them sing and glide.“ ~John Muir

It is hard to imagine the amount of adrenaline that must be have been coursing through his veins as he swam across the river knowing only too well the danger that lurked below the surface of the water. He had the advantage of being solitary and silent.

He eventually found purchase on the river bed on the east side of the river. Even that meant he was not out of danger. In that depth of water a large croc could easily have attacked him.

As he walked out of the river on the west side he looked around constantly assessing whether there were crocs advancing towards him.

“A river is water is its loveliest form, rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart.” ~Roderick Haig-Brown

Having climbed up to the top of the western bank he stopped to assess whether there were any other males around.

You can see from his wide eyes that he was wary.

“Have the courage to take your own thoughts seriously, for they will shape you.” ~Albert Einstein

He eventually walked up to the two females who seemed to know him but did not seem over joyed to see him.

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.” ~ Helen Keller

His flehmen grimace signalled that he was assessing the condition of the females and whether either was in oestrus.

The flehmen grimace is where the lion opens his mouth to draw in the air over the Jacobson’s organ in the roof of his mouth. Jacobson’s organ, also called vomeronasal organ, is an organ of chemoreception that is part of the olfactory system of amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. It is a patch of sensory cells within the main nasal chamber that detects heavy moisture-borne odour particles. The Jacobson’s organ enable’s him to perceive certain scents and pheromones. The vomeronasal (VNO) organ is named for its closeness to the vomer and nasal bones, and is particularly well developed in animals such as cats and horses. The vomer is one of the unpaired facial bones of the skull. VNO is found at the base of the nasal cavity.

This male continued to perform his flehmen grimace for a few minutes with little interest from the females.

“Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.” ~ Patrick Süskind

Having decided the swim was all for nothing, he eventually lay down a few metres from the females and tried to get rid of the flies on his face.

It was unique sighting to see a male lion crossing the Mara river on his own.

“We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.” ~ Albert Einstein

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

Have fun, Mike

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