The Magic of Masai Mara – Bucket list adventure

<strong>The Magic of Masai Mara – Bucket list adventure</strong>
This was part of a 12 day trip. Will write about the full trip later.

Day 0: Reach Nairobi.  Get a briefing from Shashank Birla from Wilderlust expeditions –Naturalist and Photojournalist on what to expect and a brief outline of our plan for the next 4 days.

Day 1: Reaching the Camp and a short evening Game Drive.

At 0830 hours we headed to Masai Mara camp – a 4–5-hour drive from Nairobi with Shashank, Henry- our local guide and driver, and a group of 6. Had a brief stopover at the Great Rift Valley viewpoint to appreciate the rift’s vastness. Great Rift Valley is 8600 km long and spreads across Africa dividing the continent into 2 portions. We entered the Masai Mara reserve via the Sekenani gate and reached our Camp Enkorok near the Oloolaimutia gate around lunchtime. After checking into the camp, we went for our first game drive at 1600 hours (game drives are allowed only till 1830 hours). We did a short drive in the afternoon- got lucky and spotted 1 lion and 2 lionesses on day 1. The day was also our first learning of the various antelopes in the Masai Mara and we could successfully differentiate between Impalas, Thomson’s gazelles, Grants gazelle, Wildebeest, Hartebeest, Topi, and Eland by the end of the day. The most exciting for me was to learn the behavior of Impalas – where a single male heads a family or harem of 30-50 female impalas. There is a constant fight for control of the females and the loser males form a Separate group called the bachelor herd or a loser’s group. Sighting of Waterbucks and Dik-Dik was to happen later.

Day 2: Objective of sighting  Big cats and River crossing

We left our camp at 0630 hours. We were told a big herd of Wildebeests has been seen at the Mara triangle, close to the Mara River which was a 60-75 mins drive from our camp. We started by focusing on Big cats and got a wonderful sighting of a leopard coming out from a creek.  On reaching the Mara River around 11 am – we saw a big herd of Wildebeest close to the river but in no mood to cross the river. With too many Cruisers on our side – we decided to head to the Mara triangle side (45-60min drive) to get a better view. On our way to Mara river – we saw some activity close to a big herd of Cape buffalo. A calf had fallen in a creek and was not able to come out whereas the mother was standing on the edge of the creek anxiously. The mother had taken an aggressive stance and was worried about predators. After 20-30 mins of drama – the mother finally descended into the creek and guided the calf to safety. The radios then caught some chatter of a possible sighting of a cheetah and we took a detour and were lucky to sight a Cheetah with 4 cubs. After that, we reached the Mara triangle around 2 pm and had our packed lunches. On seeing inactivity in wildebeests, we positioned ourselves towards the zebras which were keen to cross. We witnessed 2 small groups of zebras crossing from a vantage point and multiple failed attempts – owing to the visible presence of crocodiles in the rivers. On the return, we saw a small group of elephants with a calf which was alert owing to a hyena presence close by. We returned to our camp by 1900 hours and were served vegetarian food on request.

River crossing of Zebras
Calf of a cape buffalo stuck in a creek

Day 3: Last day to catch river crossing

Left camp at 0630 hours with the same objective of river crossing and big cat sighting. Within 2 hours we had a wonderful sighting of a male lion with a fresh kill of a zebra. The lion then moved the remaining hunt to the safety of the bushes. After some time – we spotted a leopard in the open savannah (rare – as they stay in bushes), we could catch a 300–400m walk of the leopard to the bushes. By noon, we reached the Mara River and were surprised to see the big herds of wildebeests seen the previous day were nowhere to be seen. There was a small group of wildebeests and zebras – which were trying to cross but had 2 failed attempts. It was wonderful to see the sudden movement and lining of wildebeests and zebras. The wilderness is always unpredictable and one has to be always attentive. While trying to get a river crossing – we ended up seeing a herd of 15 elephants crossing the Mara River. After that around 1500hours, we headed back to our camp and had 2 sightings of lion pride. The total count of lions was 21 at the end of the day. We also watched a few hyenas feasting on a carcass of an elephant and a courting ritual by the ostrich.

lions pride and elephant river crossing
Zebras and Wildebeest attempts to cross

Day 4: A Cheetah hunt. What more can one expect?

Left camp at 0700 hours with our bags for a half-day game drive and then back to Nairobi. As soon we entered the reserve, we had a sighting of a cheetah in the open licking its sharp wound on its leg. Then we headed to a lioness kill sighting. Where a lioness had killed a wildebeest and finished eating half of it. The lioness then went on to drag the remaining food to the bushes around 200-300m, to the safety of the bushes. The lioness passed right next to our cruises dragging the wildebeests. Almost all of us got selfies with the lioness and the kill. We had had 28 lion sightings by then. After that, we headed back to the Sekenani gate for our exit and happened to see an active cheetah in the open savanna. Looking at the activeness of the cheetah – our guide Shashank hinted at the possibility of a hunt. There was a herd of Thomson’s gazelle close by. The cheetah went and positioned itself at a distance hiding in the grass but continuously looking at the gazelles. We waited for 30-45 mins anxiously to witness a hunt. We were not disappointed as the cheetah made a dash to the gazelles but failed in its attempt. The cheetah made slow losers walk of shame from there to the shade of bushes. My personal objective for the trip was to watch the cheetah and to get a vantage point viewing a cheetah hunt was absolute bliss. At noon – we exited the Masai Mara and reached the Nairobi hotel at 1730 hours. The return journey and dinner were all about trying to tell each other our favorite moments and making future plans for safari.

Lion with a Zebra kill

Whiles, it’s easy to decide the Success of a safari – based on actual sightings. I personally loved the entire planning and approach to a safari. Also, watching a river crossing is amazing – the failed attempts is river crossing or catching prey are equally insightful into animal behavior. We were lucky to have an Ace driver and local guide Henry – who was always ahead in terms of anticipating wildlife moves and helped us in getting most of the sights from the best possible points. Shashank has unlimited knowledge of wildlife and one has to be aware of his own limitations in absorbing the details he shares. One thing I will never forget is Shashank trying to identify the right species of eagles by the shape of their nostrils.   This trip has ignited the spark of wildlife in me and I hope I can continue doing more of these trips.

At Masai Mara – points to note:

  • I recommend using a land cruiser for the Safaris. All Safari vehicles are fitted with radios so that local guides can inform each other of sightings.
  • The weather is completely unpredictable. Wear layers as it’s chilly in the mornings and warm during noon – short showers are also frequent.
  • If you are a vegetarian, always carry a backup of theplas and khakras.  
  • Iphones are not good for wildlife photography, so enjoy the sightings or carry DSLR cameras.
  • Pre-reading a bit on migration and wildlife in Kenya will help.
  • Limited options to answer the call of nature during the safari, so eat light.

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