The Masai Mara   1 comment

May 8-10, 2009

Mara left

Travel to Fig Tree Camp

The Masai Mara is a large wildlife sanctuary at the southern border of Kenya.  Inhabited by the Masai people, the mara is the northern aspect of the massive Serengeti that extends deep into Tanzania.  Joining me on this trip were Chelsea, Marcie, Justina, Ester, Mandy.  Our drivers were named Erick and Victor.  The drive to the Masai Mara is a brutal 7 hour trek over some of the worst roads in Kenya.  We eventually reached the Fig Tree Camp which turned out to be well worth the trip.  Fig Tree is a beautiful compound in the heart of the mara.  The rooms are a mixture of a cabin and a canvas tent with western bathrooms and covered porches.  The canopied beds were hung with mosquito nets and looked out over the river where we could see crocodiles and hippos.  Small monkeys played around the tents and pool and watched to see if we would drop anything for them.  Meals were served in a large open dining room by our wonderful waiter Paul.  A troop of Masai would enter the hall nightly to demonstrate their guttural chanting song and display their jumping prowess which is used to determine the quality of wives they will be granted.  Nights at Fig Tree were peaceful and quiet apart from the grunting of a hippopotamus, the bark of a hyena, and the occasional anti-malarial induced psychotic nightmare (Marcie had a rough night).  Before sunrise each morning, we were awoken by a guard rapping on our tent door so we could explore the mara at first light.

       

The Cats of the Masai Mara

Soon after entering the park on the first day, we came upon a cheetah and her cubs feasting on a freshly killed impala.  While we did not see the kill, we were told that the parents will often wound the animal and slow it down enough to allow the young to practice their hunting skills.  The animals took turns eating pieces of their prey while the others stood guard on the perimeter.  They, like many animals in the park, were accustomed to large trucks and were not frightened despite our close approach.  The young cheetahs had a mane of fluffy fur making them look harmless, but their bloody snouts suggested otherwise.

 

On several occasions, we visited a pride of lions that had taken down a Cape (water) buffalo.  There were several males (brothers of the alpha male), females and cubs gathered around the carcass.  In the matter of two days, the buffalo was reduced to bones and the lions rested lazily in the shade digesting their enormous meal.  The lions were extremely watchful and often had scouts hidden in the bush many meters from their gathering place.  At one point, we turned a corner in the road and passed within 2 meters of a female that none of us had seen until we were right on top of her.  Without the protection of our vehicle, we would have been an easy kill.  100 meters from the group of cats, we found several Masai men crouched in the grass cutting bundles of straw for their roofs.  We warned them of the nearby lions, but they were not in the least bit worried and continued on with their work.  The Masai and the lion share a balance of power on the mara and both seem to have a healthy respect for each other.  Recent poisonings of the lions by the Masai have been harshly condemned and the practice has been largely abandoned.

  

  

 

The most elusive cats in the Masai Mara are leopards.  Many groups travel through the park for a week without seeing one of these secretive animals.  On our last night in the park, Justina spotted a dark shadow in the trees far in the distance that she thought she saw move.  We drove slowly into the wooded grove and saw the female leopard high in a tree protecting a warthog that she had killed.  She seemed skittish and we soon learned why.  A large male leopard bolted up the tree and with teeth bared and claws exposed, challenging the female for her meal.  Before we could take any pictures, our driver slammed the vehicle in reverse and ordered us to close the roof.  “Battling leopards are VERY unpredictable and we can’t be near them when they’re fighting!”  The roar of the engine scared off the large male who slunk into the trees and out of site.  We occasionally saw movement in the distance, but for the time being, he had left the female to her prey.  We cautiously moved back towards the tree and tried to catch another glimpse of the cat.  We briefly opened the roof and by leaning out on the roof of the car, I was able to see her through a break in the leaves.  We counted ourselves fortunate to have seen a leopard and left the grove to explore other parts of the park.

  

The African Elephants

Elephants in the mara travel in troops led by the eldest female.  The Masai Mara was once home to thousands of these massive animals, but their numbers have dwindled to the point where it is a rare site to see more than 10 of them at a time.  After crossing a small river and barely making it up the bank in our vehicle, we came across a small troop of six elephants including a small baby lazily grazing on dried grass.  We stood admiring the peaceful animals for a good while.  The matriarch would frequently blow trunk-fulls of dust onto her back to cool off and brush away flies.  The baby stayed close to its mother occasionally taking drinks of milk to wash down the dry grass.  When our driver changed positions and moved too close for their comfort, the elephants reacted quickly forming a tight ring around the baby.  The largest male moved forward and began to grunt loudly.  The agitated male appeared to be ready to charge and we urged our driver to leave before things got out of hand.  We left the elephants to enjoy their grass lunch in peace.

     

Mara Wildlife

While the cats and elephants are certainly the highlight of a trip to the Masai Mara, there are many other fantastic things to see.  Giraffes are in abundance and were often seen far in the distance walking in a line on the horizon.  Flocks of impalas are composed of a harem of females led by a single male who, according to our guide Victor, “has to take care of all that.”  Hippos seem clumsy and harmless wading in the rivers or lumbering across the plains, but kill more humans than any other animal in the mara.  Several varieties of vultures sit in dead tree branches waiting for the cats to leave them scraps of meat.   Hot air balloons leave at sunrise every morning taking tourists who can afford the trip on a quiet flight over the mara.  Zebras and exotic birds cover the plains watching for predators.  Throughout the territory, the Masai men and boys walk their territory draped in red or orange cloth.  Sadly, these proud warriors are often reduced to begging for money or rushing towards cars to sell trinkets.  The poor Kenyan economy does not spare even the Masai people.
  

  

 

On our last drive out of the park, we drove through a herd of Cape buffalo lazily grazing in the open fields.  They kept a watchful eye for predators and many of them eyed us intently as we drove through their ranks.  Small birds referred to as ‘buffalo peckers’ jumped from animal to animal cleaning off small insects.  Cape buffalo can also be extremely dangerous to a person walking on the mara and must be approached with caution.

 

All in all, the trip to the Masai Mara was the trip of a lifetime.  The land is beautiful, seeming to stretch forever in all directions.  Despite being almost flat, there are rolling hills that offer the animals plenty of places to hide and hunt.  This place is home to some of the most fascinating animals in the world.  Hopefully the Kenyan and Tanzanian people will continue to keep it safe for generations to come.

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Posted May 15, 2009 by chrislux in Photography, Travel

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One response to “The Masai Mara

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  1. Such BEAUTIFUL pictures Chris. I cannot wait to visit these places. Your writing too is making the urge to travel increase even more…. The next week couldn’t come sooner!

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