The Mara part 12 2016
Paul and I are well rested after our light day of activity yesterday, so even though we were disappointed that our night drive was rained out perhaps it was good for us to take it a bit easy. It is a beautiful morning and we are ready to join David and Kapen for another adventure. The deluge of rain last night left the roads sloppy with mud and we feel sorry for David as he must fight his way through a lot of slick spots and mud holes. I can’t imagine how tired his arms must get.
Not far from camp the lone cub we saw yesterday is lying among some rocks only he isn’t alone this morning. A litter mate is with him and David says that they have been together since being separated from their pride, we just didn’t see the other one yesterday. David alludes to Frank and Jesse and we ask if they are named after the James brothers. David says they are and we tell him that the James brothers were notorious outlaws that committed crimes in Kansas where we live. David looks shocked and asks us if Frank and Jesse were real people, which we confirm that indeed they were, but that the dastardly duo lived a long time ago. Evidently David thought Frank and Jesse were fictional characters. As we watch the lost cubs peering across the river for signs of their family, Paul and I lament about poor Frank and Jesse who are in their third day of being without protection or food. I can’t believe none of the pride has come back for the vulnerable cubs.
After trying to get some decent photos of the abandoned cubs in the dim light, we wish the two brothers good luck and continue on our way through the thicket lined road. Paul and I have been amused at how David warns us of thorn trees that might brush the side of the Cruiser and thus inflict scratches on a passenger if they are too close to the open window. Whenever the possibility of a thorny encounter might occur, David melodiously calls out “Watch out, prickles (thorns)”. He sounds like a conductor pleasantly calling out the next stop on a train journey! Quite often at the announcement of “prickles” we indeed need to scoot away from the windows or pull our hands back inside the truck to escape being scraped by a thorny limb.
On a hillside there is an adult giraffe and two baby giraffe browsing the thorn trees (how do they do that and not lacerate their tongue and mouth?). Since the baby giraffes are two different sizes there must be another female around somewhere. Pretty soon the calm of this scene is interrupted by a single wildebeest that is running wildly out of sheer joy I think. The odd-looking beast starts his race to our right scattering impalas and gazelle as he lowers his head and runs and bucks with reckless abandon. The stampeding wildebeest continues traveling in a semi-circle until he ends up near the trio of giraffe. The silly animal has startled the smallest giraffe that runs awkwardly for a few steps until it realizes the adult is not alarmed so the cute baby stops to stare at the wildebeest too. Another mammal has lumbered into the scene and unlike the harmless wildebeest the spotted hyena gets a different look from the female giraffe. The skulking critter stands and watches the smallest baby giraffe but seems to know a lone hyena is no match for an adult giraffe and soon it shuffles off across the grassland. We continue to observe the graceful giraffe and watch as an oxpecker lands on the back of one of the baby giraffe. The perching bird is not appreciated by the youngster who swishes its tail and twists its head back, mouth open as it appears to try to bite at the confused bird. I wonder how long it will take until this young giraffe understands that the oxpecker is its personal pest controller?
Driving across the hilltop, the sun is beginning to take the chill out of the morning air and the sky is turning a brilliant blue. We stop to watch two large male wart hogs that are butting heads very much like our bulls do when they are fighting. Again the boars seem as though they are just fooling around and not really in a knockdown, drag out fight for territory. A Thompson gazelle is watching the warthogs pushing contest and it looks as though he is refereeing the old boars fight.
David drives the Cruiser down the hill and we enter an expansive valley carpeted in knee-high grass. Because of the tallness of the grass the valley is devoid of prey animals. There are a few elephants in the valley and as we scan the far hillside something else catches my eye. I hesitantly call out “is that a cheetah?” and David brings the Cruiser to a halt. As I raise my binoculars to zoom in on the object in question, I say with disappointment ” never mind it is not a cheetah”. David on the other hand refutes me and states that it is indeed a cheetah. I quickly look at the animal on the hillside again but it definitely is not a cheetah, it is a gazelle, and I repeat my assertion that it is not a cheetah but a gazelle. David insists that it most certainly is a cheetah. We go through this no it isn’t and yes it is one more time before I ask our very eagle-eyed guide where he is looking because I am looking at the gazelle on the hillside. Oops, this is why we are so puzzled by each other’s assertions as David is looking along the edge of the valley! David has indeed found Amani across the valley, sitting in the grass, looking up at the hillside where the gazelle is grazing, actually where two gazelle are grazing. I have no idea how David found Amani so quickly once I voiced that I might see a cheetah. It takes Paul and me a while to find Amani even with direction from our two guides for crying out loud. Masa are known for their keen eyes and boy have we seen proof of their sharp eyes on this safari. David reverses the direction of the truck and we take another road that will bring us much closer to the handsome feline.
Amani appears to be seriously considering stalking the gazelle on the hillside because she is studying them carefully. Eventually the polka-dotted cat stands up and begins walking through the wet grass towards the elephants that stand between her and the gazelle. Who knows what she is thinking but Amani draws near one of the adult elephants and stands staring at the humongous beast. Since a cheetah would never consider attacking even a baby elephant, when Amani turns her head and looks back at us she seems to be saying “I was just pulling your leg”. Amani begins to walk away from the elephant who never gave her a first glance let alone a second glance and thus she also walks away from the real prey, the gazelle.
From this point we have many iconic National Geographic views of Amani. First the sinewy cat strides through the wet grass with purpose. When Amani reaches a small mound she stands with her front paws on top of it surveying the mostly empty valley. Amani then decides to sit atop the mound and relax so we enjoy looking at the cheetah in contrast to the wide valley with the elephant family in the background. Soon Amani is making her way forward again and we think she has her eye on some distant warthogs rutting up the ground in an area of short grass across the road. The porkers see the attentive cheetah long before Amani is within striking range so she gives up on having a warthog for breakfast and makes her way to a large pile of black dirt. Here the elegant cheetah walks to the top of the mound and sits down, again surveying the mostly empty landscape. Eventually Amani, her fur damp from the stroll through the wet grass, lies down on the termite mound, (I think it is anyway, although I see no vents in the mound), and she seems to be settling in for a morning rest. We spend a few more minutes with the amber-eyed cat and then decide to move on to Leopard Gorge which was our destination for the morning. We spent an enchanting hour with the elegant Amani and enjoyed every minute of our time with her.
On our way to Leopard Gorge we drive near more elephants, some on the move while others are cutting off grass and stuffing it by the trunkful into their mouths. There is a fairly young elephant with one group but the little one is mostly obscured by the long grass except for one brief moment when the elephants walk into shorter grass. There is also a single impala standing proudly at attention and why not with the set of trophy horns atop the stunning antelopes head. Farther on there are a pair of Lappet-faced vultures perched on top of a small tree, wings spread wide to dry the nights moisture from their feathers.
As we approach Leopard gorge a small herd of impalas are there to greet us near the entrance with curious stares. Although it is mid-morning and the light is growing a bit harsh the brilliant blue sky with a few puffy clouds accentuate the beauty of the narrow, rocky gorge. The gorge is not very long and in our drive through the small but beautiful ravine we see hyrax, lizards, a spotted eagle owl, and a hammerkop’s huge nest of sticks sitting on one of the chunky blocks of rock. We don’t find any leopards or other large predators but it certainly would be a great spot for them to hide or live.
It is past time for breakfast and David turns the Cruiser around to drive to the chosen site for our breakfast. As we approach the scenic place there is an enormous elephant grazing nearby with massive tusks. David and Kapen seem delighted to see the collared elephant which is named Hugo. Our guides tell us that Hugo is collared in hopes of discouraging poachers who would be tempted by the trophy tusks the old guy is carrying around. Evidently, Hugo often leaves the safe, or at least safer, areas of the park and conservancy which obviously puts the old bull in more danger of being poached.
It is nearly eleven and Paul and I are more than ready to eat breakfast! As David and Kapen set up the tables and chairs and lay out the food, Paul and I enjoy watching Hugo entwine his trunk around a wad of grass, kick it with his foot to cut off the grass, shake the dirt off, and then shove it in his mouth. Soon we have our plates full of the usual breakfast fare and the two of us are shoveling the food in our own mouths without the need to shake the dirt off:). David and Kapen are also eating breakfast but I notice that the two are keeping a wary eye on the big bull elephant. I don’t know if they are reading body language from Hugo or what but suddenly the pachyderm stops eating and start walking slowly towards us. The big bugger is a long ways from us but David suggests that we finish eating breakfast next to the Cruiser. We pick up our plates and do as our guides have asked. Now all of us are finishing our breakfast standing next to the trucks doors as we watch Hugo who continues to approach but with no signs of aggression from him. As quickly as the old bull showed interest in us picnickers, he decides we aren’t worth his time, and turns away from us. Hugo begins filling his mouth with grass again and we finish our breakfast too.
Paul has brought the photos of our ranch along and pulls the pictures out to show Kapen and David. The guides look at the photos eagerly and when they see our cows and calves their faces literally light up with delight. The questions pour out of them, are these your cows, are they for beef or dairy, your ranch looks like the Mara, you know that Masai think all cattle belong to them, how long have you been raising cattle? Paul happily answers every question that is thrown at him. Kapen jokes with us that he will come and take our cattle because since he is a Masai the cattle are really his. When Paul tells the interested Masai that we are fourth generation cattle ranchers, David exclaims “you are Masai too”! Paul agrees and then points out if we are Masai then we have the right to take Kapen and David’s cattle which makes them laugh joyfully. We end our breakfast on this fun and connective note and prepare to go back to camp.
We are waylaid a short distance from where we ate breakfast by a large herd of Cape buffalo who are slowly crossing the road. Many of the crusty bovine must stop and glare at us before they mosey on. Once we are able to safely drive on we see three fly infested buffalo rolling in a mud hole in an attempt to protect themselves from the biting insects. The fact that the buffalo are rolling in the mud is no big surprise but the fact that the mud hole is on top of the hill attests to the abundance of rain that has fallen in the Mara.
We drive back through the valley but see no sign of Amani the cheetah. Kapen does find a saddle billed stork in the distance and since they know I like birds they are determined to get closer to the big stork that from where we sit now looks like a colorful speck. David does manage to get us somewhat closer but not enough for photos. I assure our determined guides that it is ok that we can’t get closer because I have seen many saddle-billed storks before.
When David drives out of the valley back to the hilltops, Paul and I are standing, (yep, my back is good as new), scanning the area around us. I call out “what is that over there” pointing just to our left. David and Kapen look up at me and ask me to show them where I am looking so I point and say “over there”. David and Kapen look in the direction I am pointing and confirm what I was almost sure of, that what I have spotted is a cheetah. After this morning’s mistaken identity I was too timid to declare “Is that a cheetah”? Not only is it Amani but once we drive closer we see that she has made a kill! David pulls up quite close to Amani and shuts off the engine. Amani is eating as fast as she can on the Thompson gazelle. The poor cheetah is panting with exertion and because just about anything can and will steal a cheetah’s kill she must eat as fast as she can. The gulping down the meat causes Amani to appear to nearly choke several times while we are sitting there watching and listening to the cheetah munch on the unlucky gazelle. Amani stops occasionally and does a 360 degree scans to check for other predators before she continues speed eating on the carcass. The guides do their own scanning and are pleased to see that no vultures are approaching which will alert bigger predators to the fact that the vultures have found food. We spend about ten minutes watching Amani eat, semi-choke and pant not only from the chase but also from the heat, as it is quite warm by now. David knows that Paul and I would have liked to have seen the chase and the actual kill. He points out that if we hadn’t tried to get closer to the stork we probably would have arrived on the hill in time to witness the dramatic event. Paul nods in agreement and says he has already thought of that and they all look my way! Wait a minute, I never asked to try to get closer to the stork, in fact when I saw how far away the bird was I suggested that driving closer to it wasn’t necessary. I refuse to be blamed for missing out on the action! O.k. the finger-pointing was in jest, (I think), and we all laugh. When we leave all of us are happy that no vultures are circling, no jackals can be seen and especially that no lions or hyenas are in sight. Maybe Amani will get to eat her fill, after all she is eating for those little cubs she will be having any day now.
Kyle and Lara are waiting to greet us when David delivers us to the camp. The two of them ask us how our morning was and we replay “Fantastic” and proceed to fill them in on our time spent with Amani in particular. The couple is delighted that we had such a great morning drive after which they tell us that lunch will be served at one o’clock! It feels like we just ate:).
We dutifully return to the mess tent at the appointed hour but we definitely aren’t hungry. The South Carolina people that we have enjoyed getting to know since we came to Offbeat camp are leaving after lunch to go home. There are new spur of the moment arrivals to Offbeat who arrived this morning while we were on our lengthy game drive. We are waiting for them to show up for lunch and imagine our surprise when the German couple from Sosian walks into the dining tent!
The end of this day in part 13! Nancy