Sunday, August 3, 2014

AFRICA: OUR FIRST FORAY INTO THE MAASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE (KENYA)

GAME SIGHTINGS
(First day--two game drives)
Elephants
Giraffes
Waterbucks
Zebras
Hyenas
Cheetah
Thomson's gazelle
Topis
Wildebeests
Lions
Cape buffalo
Hippos
Warthogs

The Maasai Mara region of Africa is named for the native Maasai tribe who inhabit it. "Maa" is the language they speak. "Mara" means "spotted" in the Maasai language, and refers to the trees, bushes, and cloud shadows that dot the flat landscape. The word "mara" is often used by itself to refer to this area. ("The Mara")
It is beautiful country, seemingly untouched by industry and technology. It can't look much different than it did hundreds of years ago, except for, perhaps, better-defined and maintained roads.
Well, okay, there is also the occasion funny-looking tree:

Close-up view:

The 580-square mile Maasai Mara Reserve flows into the Serengeti to the south. It's through this region that the famous and very dramatic wildebeest migration occurs each year from July to October, along with zebra and gazelle migrations. I wish we could have seen this spectacle, caught on video by CCTV Africa:


While wildebeests are the dominant population in the Mara, there are plenty of other animals. This elephant herd was one of the largest we saw on this trip:
Later in the day we saw another herd in completely different terrain:

Caution: Waterbuck crossing!

They wanted to join their zebra friends:
Photo taken through vehicle window, causing distorted colors
One of our most exciting moments in the Mara was spotting (no pun intended) this cheetah slouching along a short distance from the road, stalking a Thomson's gazelle:
Note the herd of zebra looky-loos in the background, observing the action. They seemed to know what the cheetah was after, and since it wasn't one of them, they just stayed put and watched. It was like some version of bizarre rubber-necking at a freeway accident, except the accident hadn't happened yet. 

The cheetah had to actually turn in their direction before they started to move. Silly zebras, don't you know that a cheetah can run 60 mph, but a zebra can only run 40 mph?
Photo by J. Mirau
 Mr. C. also took at look at us but didn't seem particularly interested:
Powerful front haunches and long back legs help this cat go from 0 to 60 in a few seconds.
A cheetah is the Ferrari of the animal world.
He quickly shifted his focus back to his prowling:
Later in the day we returned to this site and found our cheetah (or perhaps another one) feasting not on a gazelle but on a young waterbuck. Five or six land cruisers had encircled the dining cheetah, who once again paid all of us no mind. 
Mama waterbuck stood just outside the circle of vans, watching her child be devoured. It was heartbreaking.
Photo by Bob
A hyena, the despised scavenger of Africa, waited in the wings for any morsels that might be left behind by the cheetah. Mama waterbuck ignored him completely, bizarrely focused on the gruesome scene in front of her.
Photo by S. Shuel
The cheetah would put his head down and tear away at his catch, which was obscured by the long grass. Every now and then he would raise his head, his mouth and nose stained with blood. It was a National Geographic moment that was almost too hard to watch.
Time to move on.

It was on the Mara that we first encountered a rather strange antelope species: topis. They don't look like they are built for speed as cheetahs or even gazelles are, but they are one of the swiftest antelopes of Africa, able to run as fast as 50 mph. They have a weird penchant for standing on mounds of dirt as if they are sentries on top of a tower. We saw quite a few topis posed like this:

This classic Maasai Mara shot is one of my favorite photos: ominous clouds hang heavily in a turquoise sky, rich amber-colored grass carpets the ground for miles in all directions, and always there is game, here two giraffes far way on the horizon:
It is impossible to adequately describe the rich, saturated colors of the savanna, but these photos give a sampling of the intensity of pattern, tone, and contrast:

Photo by S. Shuel
The clouds we had been watching all day finally decided to release their heavy burden, dumping cool, heavy rain on the Mara. Since we were on our way back to the lodge, we enjoyed the experience. Rain always cleanses the air, but it's especially refreshing in Africa!

Next Up: Lions, Lions Everywhere! 

4 comments:

  1. There are so many beautiful pictures in this post-- it must be amazing to see things in person.

    I always hated those National Geographic films of big cats catching/eating prey. Circle of life, blah, blah, blah, but it always makes me cringe.

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  2. I'm with Chrisjones on the eating thing. Totally agree. Call me a wimp.

    I love your photo of the savanna with the two giraffes in the distance--such a stunning shot, and so beautiful and evocative of what you'd been seeing that day. Beautiful post; I loved reading it.

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  3. Watching momma waterbuck watching her baby get devoured was one of the most sad experiences of the trip. One of a number of experiences that helped me to better view the animals as individuals with feelings and not just as a walking meal-on-legs for the predators.

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  4. Wow! There are so many beautiful pictures in this post, it must be amazing to see things in person. thank you very m much for sharing it. keep posting and keep sharing.
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    ReplyDelete

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