Monday, January 9, 2012

Kenya Safari Part VI continued

On Saturday I posted the first part about the cheetahs we saw in Maasai Mara. You can read about this here, if you wish. We'd been on the lookout for leopard as the only one of the Big Five that we'd not yet seen in the Mara, when, across the plain, we saw a whole fleet of tour operator busses in one spot. When you see this in a game reserve, you dash across to join them, because it means they've come across a special animal and everyone is watching, filming and/or photographing it.

And this is exactly what had happened. We drove up and when we could get a view in between the vehicles, we saw two cheetahs lying on a grassy mound, not at all bothered by the mass of humanity staring at them.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) - the fasted animal on earth

The Cheetah stands 80cm in its socks and weighs up to 50kg. So by African big cat standards, this is a small animal but its power is in its speed. The cheetah can be identified by the characterstic tearmarks and the fact that its spots are solid and not arranged in rosettes like those of the leopard.

Cheetahs often rest on mounds or fallen trees from where they locate their prey using both eyes and ears. Mara cheetahs prey especially on Thompson's Gazelle and also the young of a variety of the large buck such as wildebeest, topi and impala. They start rushing at the prey from about 100m away. As mentioned in my previous post, cheetahs can attain speeds of up to 112kph, averaging about 64kph. They're able to pursue their prey from about 300m.

Once a cheetah starts giving chase and the prey runs ahead, the faster the fleeing animal runs, the easier it is for the cheetah to knock it off balance. The cheetah brings down the gazelle by striking at the rump, thigh or sideways at the hind legs, using a downward motion with a paw, or by simply tripping it. The large dewclaw on the cheetah's front foot often helps to trip an animal.

The prey is grabbed by the throat and strangled and dragged to cover before the cheetah starts feeding. If disturbed by other predators, cheetah will abandon their kill and not return to it. Jackal, however, seldom come within 30m of a feeding cheetah  as the latter's speed makes it too dangerous to a jackal to steal scraps.

While we watched, the one cheetah yawned...
...rose from the mound...
...and sauntered off into the distance!
 Perhaps the cheetah realised there was no hope of spotting prey with all the tourists crowding around his mound!
A close-up of the tour operator vehicles with the roof which lifts to enable tourists to have a close encounter with the wildlife

The tour operators are in contact with each other and one will alert the other if he spots a predator, normally one of the big cats. I often wonder if they and the tourists in their vehicles, notice the smaller predators. Just after we'd left the place where we'd watched the cheetahs, we saw a Spotted Hyena sitting in the grass quite far off the road. I was amazed at how "dog-like" this predator is and couldn't get enough photos of it!
The Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

The Spotted Hyena stands 85cm high and weighs up to 70kg. Hyenas are very successful hunters, more than half their food consisting of their own kills. Newborn impalas are especially vulnerable and make up a large proportion of the hyena's diet. At other times they scavenge and hunt young small animals.

Hyenas detect their prey by both smell and hearing. They lie and wait for a young animals to move far enough away from its mother to make it easy prey. When hunting they run in the herd to scatter the group. They then pursue the selected animal until it's too exhausted to escape. Once they've pulled it down and bitten it, the prey usually dies within minutes. Hyenas feed noisily which often attracts other hyenas

Hyenas jaw and teeth are well adapted to splintering and crushing bones and shearing through hide and sinew. They digest bones which is why their dung is characteristically white.

In and around habitation, hyenas can wreach havoc. They will and can eat almost any object. When I worked for a missile test range in Zululand in the eighties, we'd often arrive at the airstrip ready to board the Dakota, only to find the tyres had been chewed through. They also turn over heavy-duty rubber dustbins and eat the lids and most of the recepticle!

After this sighting we drove 57 km to the Mara Triangle. We wanted to visit the banks of the Mara River, which bisects the reserve. This is the river the animals cross during the migration to Serengeti between July and October.  There are seven crossing points in the Mara.

Stopped at the boom gate into the Mara Triangle. Although we didn't have to pay anything, (we'd paid our park fees when entering the reserve on the first day) Grant had to sign many books and was issued with an official-looking receipt into this part of the park

While Grant sorted out the beaurocracy, I wandered about taking photos of birds (more about these later) and very colourful lizards.

The Mwanza flat-headed rock agama male (Agama mwanzae), which according to Mr Google, is found in the Serengeti. Here we are so close to the famous Tanzanian Game Reserve, so it stands to reason that these lizards will appear in the Mara as well

  This drab-looking lizard was on a nearby log, so I'm surmising it's the female of the species
Just around the corner behind us, is one of the migration crossings

We continued to the Mara Serena Safari Lodge where we had decided to have lunch. The day before, when we'd turned into the road leading to Keekorock Lodge, I'd asked Grant to stop as I'd seen a bird on the lodge's signpost and wanted to photograph it! He replied that it would be there when we came back and he'd stop then. When we returned he stopped at the sigbpost but as the bird had L O N G since flown! I didn't get my photo.

As we turned into the road to Mara Serena Safari Lodge, he screeched to a halt. There was a Lilac-breasted Roller (the national bird of Kenya) sitting on the sign. I took the photo and we chuckled all the way to the lodge. (I wonder if there're other couples out there who also "hear"one thing when their spouses actually means another!)

A Lilac-breasted Roller poses beautifully on the signpost

The Mara Serena Safari Lodge, which you can read about here, was all we expected and more. However, we found it very busy very modern and, dare I say, commercialised. We were doubly  glad that we were staying at Fig Tree Camp situated at the beginning of the reserve.
The view across from the Mara Serena Safari Lodge overlooking the Maasai Mara plains and a ringside view of the migration should you visit here between July and October

On our return journey to Fig Tree Camp, we spotted many, many birds: waterbirds, LBJ's and other beautiful birds. SWe also came across as well as a male Common Eland (Taurotragus oryx). The cow-like eland is the world's largest and slowest antelope. It has the endurance to maintain a trot indefinitely and can jump an 8 foot fence from a standstill. Both males and females have horns that spiral tightly, though female horns tend to be longer and thinner. 

Elands are found in grassland, mountain, subdesert, acacia savanna and miombo woodland areas.

The older the male, the more solitary its tendencies, while younger animals may form small groups. Males are also more sedentary than females, (I can just picture the male eland sitting on a sofa with the TV remote in his hand, LOL!) who may travel widely, especially during the dry season. Females and young are found in loosely cohesive groups. Calves spend a lot of time grooming and licking each other, developing bonds even stronger than those of a calf with its mother.

Elands browse more than graze, feeding in areas where shrubs and bushes provide the leaves they prefer and using their horns to bring twigs and branches into reach. They also consume certain fruits, large bulbs and tuberous roots.

Man has domesticated the eland due to its rich milk, tasty meat and useful hide. However, its need for a vast range to find sufficient browsing and its low density in number create game management problems and this new idea may not be viable in the long term.

The Common Eland  (Taurotragus oryx). Above is a lone male which we spotted in the Maasai Mara

Hope you all have a wonderful week.

Source:  (in part only) Google and the Maasai Mara Visitor's Map Guide.


  1. I love the fact that with you sharing your adventures, I'm also enjoying them as if I was there with you from the comfort of our home and without worrying that I needed to run away if ever an animal starts coming nearer me...Thank you for sharing these. Take care and God bless and protect you both wherever you go.

  2. HI Jo, I'm enjoying seeing all of your Kenya pictures. You all must have had a wonderful time. I haven't blogged this weekend since I've had company... But I did read all of your blogs. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Seeing a mother cheetah in the wild, with her little one and after her big hunt, was one of my biggest safari thrills. Your photos of the cheetah brought back those happy memories.

  4. This is another very interesting post about some of the animals you saw--lizards, cheetahs, hyenas, Lilac-breasted Roller and eland. I am learning a lot about wild animals I've read about and seen on TV thanks to the e-safari you have taken me on, Jo!

  5. Jo, what a cool experience. The Cheetah and Hyena are awesome sightings. I would have loved to see the Lilac Breasted Roller in the wild. I have seen them in the zoo's here. And the lizards are great, I love the first colorful looking lizard. Is this the time of year for the tourist? I would think one would need to slip the rainy season. Awesome post and photos.

  6. Another great post, Jo! Love taking safari from the safety of my office chair. Didn't even need to go for the mosquito repellent.

  7. Seeing the cheetah is way cool. I liked the hyena especially at night listening to them made me really feel on safari. These posts make me long to return to Africa.

  8. OMWord!!! Look at that Mwanza!! He/She's Gorgeous!!
    And that Cheetah!! Glad y'all were at a safe distance!
    LOVE the shots Jo!

  9. Very exciting to see a cheetah, and the hyenas, and that colorful lizard. All of your photos are wonderful, Jo.

  10. I know quiet a lot of people here who went on a Safari to Kenya ! What a lot of tourists ! good for the country !
    I love this colored mini crocodile, have seen seen pink and blue one, didn't even know that it exists. I only know the "normal" once, like the one in the second picture !


Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate your feedback. Jo