Our three days in the Maasai Mara enjoyed incredible game viewing that amazed even me, and proved that the Mara – despite its congestion – is a phenomenal way to end a safari.
Except for the much shorter December holidays, this is the end of the heaviest booked season in the Mara. American families had already left, but our Governor’s Camp was still full with many Europeans and Americans without school-age children.
The veld was crowded compared to our Tanzanian experience. I couldn’t help but thinking of the Gary Larson Far Side cartoon of the “migration” : minibuses in a line jumping into the Mara river!
But I hasten to add that it didn’t seem to matter all that much, especially because our safari had experienced in Ndutu and Tarangire a vast wilderness that at times we had all to ourselves.
There are things magical about the Mara. Its grassland plains are more hilly than further south in the Serengeti, so there is more definition to the landscape under the big, endless skies. The river was up, near normal, (and so radically different from my safaris just 6 weeks ago), and it is beautiful river filled with wildlife and wrapped in thick forests.
And there was no drought. It was dry, probably dryer than normal, but not terribly so. When it’s normal, the Mara is the wettest place on the East African circuit. This is the reason there are so many animals, so densely packed, and one of the reasons that off-road driving is still allowed despite such heavy use. The wetness provides a foundation for relatively quick topographical regeneration that a normally dry Amboseli or seasonal Serengeti lacks.
The highlight of our time here for a few of us was a migration river crossing at what Governor’s staff call “the main crossing point.” It’s not far from camp, down river within view of Serena Lodge on the opposite side.
Gene Antonacci got an incredible series of photographs, including the labored take-down of a full grown wilde, and its near successful struggle to free itself from 3 or 4 crocs that ultimately won the battle. We also watched two easy take-downs of yearlings. It was interesting to note that the yearling take-downs, which happened first, didn’t slow the race across the river at all.
Whenever the line of wilde was interrupted by crocs’ open jaws, they simply jumped over them. The crocs didn’t seem to be very good at the hunt, actually. Several times it seemed that wilde were actually trampling a croc underwater.
The crossing had gone on for about 12-15 minutes when the full grown wilde was taken. Just a few moments later, the crossing stopped as the wilde hesitated then retreated. I can only think it had to do with the vocalization of the full-grown wilde in its struggle to free itself, something that didn’t happen with the quick take-down of the younger ones.
In addition to Gene’s fabulous series, video master Dave Koncal got it all, adding to his remarkable earlier scenes of the lion jumping into the air capturing a vulture, the big tusker that poked its way through crater hippo, the several great elephant encounters in Tarangire, and also in the Mara, the unrequited battle between the marsh lion pride and a large family of buffalo.
That to-and-fro between the lions and the buffalo was great fun to watch! Irritated by a young male lion that dared challenge them, the buffalo charged the lion pride, and the pride retreated. When the buf stopped the assault, the lions turned around and charged them back, and then the buffalo retreated for a short time, before regrouping and recharging the lions! The comic to-and-fro ended when the lion pride ran onto the slightly dry marsh – enough to support them but a sure trap the buffalo understood and had to avoid.
There was so much to the Mara: elephants with really small ones, and warthogs with day-old piglets running all over the place! We saw hyaena that had just robbed an abashed cheetah of its gazelle, and beautiful eland up close. Zoo director, Steve Taylor, estimated that we saw more than 35 lion in our three days, here, and his wife, Sarah, told the group it was the best game viewing she had ever had (on her ten safaris).
Yes, in the season the Mara is crowded. But as you get drawn into these remarkable wildlife encounters that just don’t seem to be effected by the tourists watching, it doesn’t seem to matter at all. So ending here was the icing on the cake of a fabulous safari! (Yes, it was Jeannie Antonacci’s birthday our last night!)