For the last six days I have been trying to work out how to answer the inevitable question that would await my return to South Africa “So, how was your trip to the Masai Mara?”. For anyone who has been to this beautiful place, you will know exactly why I was struggling to find the words to describe the experience.
Luckily for me, I had one of the most incredible days that I have ever spent in the bush and rather than harping on about the wide open spaces, sheer numbers of wildlife, ecological diversity and abundance of predators, it takes a brief summary of a single morning drive to put it all into context. The penultimate day of our seven night stay in the magical Masai Mara was here and has the majority of the group headed out for their hot air balloon trip and champagne breakfast, 2 vehicles set out at 6:30am on what would be the game drive of a lifetime.
The Kiboko camp is located in one of the most central locations in terms of viewing wildebeest crossing the Mara river. The previous days had seen more and more wildebeest pour in from the southeast and gather on the open plains on the northern banks of the river. A later group had already started to congregate less than 500m from our camp and as we approached, continued to grow in size as more and more wildebeest made their way hastily towards the riverbanks.
Sitting and waiting patiently for what appeared to be shaping up into a fantastic crossing, our groups attention was drawn away by a female leopard moving along the near bank. In the preceding nights we had heard this female and male mating in camp. She moved secretively along the rivers edge before being spotted by the wildebeest on the opposite bank. This obviously startled the herd, now numbering in the thousands, and forced many individuals to move away from the river and back onto the open plains.
As we pre-empted the movement of the leopard and waited for her to re-appear further down stream, our attention was grabbed by a beautiful male lion that appeared on the far bank. After a short while, an adult female joined him to investigate what the comotion was all about. Their steady gaze gave away the leopards exact position and we continued to move further downstream, hoping to catch a glimpse of this beautiful creature as she climbed back up the steep riverbanks.
Our plan could not have come together any better as we caught some movement in the adjacent bush before stopping and waiting for her to pop out onto the open. She cautiously moved over the open ground before disappearing back down the banks of the river, giving us only a couple of seconds to rattle off some frames.
What a start to the morning! A potential crossing, leopard and lions all within 500m of one another, the Mara was really delivering.
Now that the predators had moved off, the wildebeest continued to build in numbers along the northern banks of the Mara River. No sooner had we come down from the high of our fantastic leopard sighting before the first wildebeest took the plunge into the river! We sat and watched as a couple of thousand wildebeest followed suite and made their way into the Mara Triangle.
Having witnessed our 5th crossing of the trip, both vehicles opted to head further south in search of a cheetah and her cubs, which we had seen on a number of occasions in the previous days. The cubs were still very young and the female was intent on hiding them in the long grass. We had had fantastic sightings but not many photographic opportunities. Riding our wave of luck, we spotted her way out in the middle of a large grassy plain as she scanned the horizon in search of her next meal.
The plains were extremely sparse, apart from a couple of zebra and Topi and we watched as she made her way back to the cubs, stopping to perch on termite mounds at regular intervals to search the plains below. As she mad her way back up the hill where she had hidden the cubs, we were presented with the perfect photographic opportunity.
It was now 9:30 and after the incredible morning we had had we decided it was time for breakfast. Our guide, Lerali pulled up next to a lone Acacia tree which gave us a fantastic view over the herds that were gathering in the northern banks. After half an hour we kicked off the second part of our drive and headed down to an isolated peninsula to check on the progress of a large gathering. Most vehicles had raced further up stream to catch another crossing which had just started, leaving only our two vehicles in the area – something which is pretty rare in the Masai Mara.
Initially, the herd was milling around in the thickets and there was not much energy or anticipation of a crossing in the air. Suddenly, masses of wildebeest poured into the thickets and the group worked up into a frenzy. A crossing was now imminent, we could feel it in the air and so could the wildebeest.
A small group cautiously approached the waters edge before the frantic herd gave them the last bit of courage to take the plunge, and as they did, 18000 followed suite over a period of 57 minutes. The sheer numbers of wildebeest that continued to pour in from the plains was incredible.
All in all, we sat watching what turned out to be one of the most spectacular crossings of the week. It was now 11:00 and after the morning we had experienced, it was time to crack open an ice cold Tusker and take in the magic of the Mara.
So, how was my trip to the Masai Mara?