Home' Travel News : June-July 2015 Contents 18 travel news June-July 2015
June-July 2015 travel news 19
It was mid-April and for the past two week the sky had darkened each afternoon as
towering thunderclouds brewed up a storm that shut out the sunlight and transformed
the landscape in to a brooding sweep of inky grey. A herd of buffalos three hundred
strong marched towards a sculpted Balanites tree, the beautiful desert date that looks
like an acacia with its flat topped crown neatly trimmed below by giraffe and elephants.
Balanites are best seen in the Mara Triangle - that part of the Masai Mara lying to the
west of the river where the trees stipple the plains close to the escarpment.
Splashes of white caught my eye, marking the spot where cattle egrets fluttered like
giant butterflies around the black army of buffaloes as these wild cattle kicked up frogs
and crickets hidden among the long grass. One final stop to scoop up a party of visitors
from Serena Lodge, its arc of loaf shaped rooms mirroring the traditional dung coloured
dwelling places of the Maasai pastoralists, who roamed the Mara long before it found
fame as Kenya’s finest game sanctuary. Perched like an eagle’s nest on a hilltop, the
Serena overlooks one of the wildebeests’ favourite river crossing sites at the southern
edge of Paradise Plain.
The river crossings are places that Angie and I revisit each dry season in the hope of
witnessing what is surely the most dramatic and exciting wildlife spectacle on earth
when thousands of wildebeest and zebras leap into the Mara River in their endeavour
to reach fresh grazing. Lions and leopards lie in wait among the thickets while giant
crocodiles up to 5-metres long lounge along the muddy banks or submerge mid-stream,
only their beady eyes and bulbous snout visible, as they wait for the annual feast to
I continued my reverie as we headed east, simply glorying in the Mara’s visage. The
open country gave way to patches of acacia woodland painting a dappled texture (Mara
means ‘spotted’ in the Maa language of the Maasai people) to the places where giraffe
browsed tender green leaves from among the white-barbed whistling thorn. These are
the kind of places where I spend the hour before dawn searching for the secretive
leopard that has been my obsession since childhood, places where the ‘night walker’
can lie up during daytime, keeping watch with piercing golden eyes from the edges of
the thickets for the possibility of an easy meal.
The surrounding plains were flecked with white blossoms – tiny semi-parasitic flowering
plants called Cycnium that draw nourishment from the roots of the grasses. These
‘wastepaper’ plants look like confetti tossed aimlessly over the grasslands in joyful
celebration at the onset of the rainy season, tasty morsels to nibble on for parties of
Egyptian geese and troops of Olive baboons. Like the rest of Kenya, the Mara had
been waiting for the life-giving moisture that all life depends on, praying for the onset
of the Long Rains that should begin in earnest in late March and continue through to
Here in Africa rains are a blessing not a curse. They breathe fresh life in to the wilting
plains, sending the Thomson’s gazelles and plum-thighed topi antelopes skittering and
pronking across the damp earth as the thunder storms release their gift to man and
beast. I knew, despite the throb of the aircraft’s engines, that the hippos would be
chortling and blowing sharp bursts of spray from their nostrils as they wallowed and
rolled on their backs in the river, scattering their dung into the muddy water, replenishing
Come rain or drought the Mara’s famous lions rarely go hungry. The rains bring a surge
in births among the prey animals: wildebeest calves and zebra foals are born during
the Long Rains - and wart hogs, topis, gazelles and impala fawns in September and
October at the onset of the Short Rains. When drought strikes it quickly takes its toll
on the heavyweights among the herbivores, with the buffalos and hippos first to lose
condition making it easier for the prides of lions to pull them down.
Lions then are resilient cats. They can repopulate an area quickly given the chance.
What they need is real estate - a place with adequate cover for them to hide young cubs
and to lie up during daytime, somewhere with sufficient prey to ambush, and where
they can find water. Scientists believe that this intense competition over territory is the
reason why lions became social, unlike the other 35-species of cats that live a primarily
solitary life. The biggest problem for lions is that people covet the same resources.
The Great Migration - crossing the Mara River
Links Archive April-May 2015 August-September 2015 Navigation Previous Page Next Page