After the thrill of the Great Migration, we arose early the following day to set off into the savannah in the hopes of catching sight of a leopard. They are notoriously elusive despite their healthy population levels, and I did not hold out much hope of seeing one as I felt we had used up all of our good luck on the previous day’s escapades. I felt that nothing could top the craziness of the monumental migration but I was to be proved wrong.
Within half an hour of leaving our camp site, we had spotted a leopard. He was however, rapidly trotting away and appeared to be in no mood to pose for us. We watched him briefly but left him to seek cover as more and more vehicles were drawn to the scene. He was magnificent, his sleek coat glistening in the rising sun and despite his keenness to escape us and the other vehicles arriving at the site, he provided us with an early morning thrill.
As the vehicle snaked its way through the mighty Maasai Mara, we ambled alongside the river and took in the sights and smells of the hippos, basking in the water soaking up the sunshine as the rays burst through the morning clouds.
We stopped at one point to take in the scenery, and this we were informed was on the banks of the Talek river. The mighty Mara river originates from the Mau escarpment and drains into Lake Victoria, but it is also the Talek river which alongside the Mara is vitally important to the ecosystem within the Maasai Mara. The basins of four tributaries to the Mara including the Talek, the Engare river, the Sand and the Engito rivers are all also located within the Maasai Mara. The hippo’s are plentiful and were happily basking in the mud, grunting and snorting away to each other probably with some early morning greetings.
The vehicle moved off and as we trundled across the vast plains, we bore witness to the many creatures that litter the landscape – zebras, impala, gazelle, buffalo, topi, warthog and the thousands of wildebeest which are of course, what the Maasai Mara is famed for.
We spied a hyena having breakfast and feasting on a dead wildebeest, along side a vulture, both scavengers clearly comfortable in each other’s presence. The hyena eventually went on its way and we could see other hyenas jaunting over to join in the feast. We even saw a warthog eating a dead baby gazelle. This was an education for me as I had never expected a warthog to be a meat eater. Warthog as it turns out, are omnivorous and their diet consists of grass, roots, berries and fruits, bark, fungi, insects, eggs and carrion. Maybe Pumba is not quite as cute as I had initially thought!
As we drove on, we happened across a magnificent sight. A large black maned male lion enjoying a hearty meal of wildebeest, with numerous hyenas and jackals waiting in the wings for when the king of the jungle had finished devouring his kill! Mr Nomad and I were dumbstruck at this epic sight. We soaked up the sights before us and watched in stunned silence as the lion finished his meal, and the hyenas immediately moved in to finish off.
The differences in the eating habits of these creatures was noticeable – the lion although massive and terrifying in his stature was almost delicate as he stripped the flesh off the bones but the hyenas were frenzied in their feeding, crunching the bones, ripping furiously at the limp limbs and all the while baying and cackling like excitable children, leaping over the corpse of the unfortunate gnu to swap sides and jostling amongst each other. We could actually hear the gnarly teeth of the hyena grinding down the bones as they furiously ate away at the carcass. A tenaciously brave jackal kept pushing his way in, grabbing a morsel where he could in between the vicious hyenas squabbling away over every mouth full. It was stomach churning and gruesome but mesmerising.
As we were transfixed by this meal time, the huge lion sauntered past us coming within touching distance of the car. The lion was injured and was non-weight bearing on a hind leg and it was rather uncomfortable to watch him struggling along in pain. He eventually collapsed into the nearby bushes to rest himself after his sumptuous feast, and to shelter in the shade from the relentless African sun beating down on us making for a scorching day.
We were amazed by the sights within the Maasai Mara. At every turn, there was something to see. We drove on through the savannah to find a spot to have breakfast and in crossing a stream, saw a huge crocodile soaking up the morning sun, and a rather glorious Monitor lizard, the biggest specimen I have ever seen. The reptiles are just as fascinating as the mammals, as is the bird life.
There were both small and large feathery friends flitting everywhere, from the Pied kingfisher at the stream, accompanied by Hamerkop and Egyptian geese to the larger Martial eagles, black chested snake eagle, Sooty falcon, African Fish eagle and the eerie shadows cast by the immense Lappet Faced vultures and White Backed vultures, to name just a few of the magnificent birds that fly over the Maasai Mara.
We sought out a spot on the rocks of a river bank and we were treated to breakfast in the bush. We were still basking in awe at the animals we had seen and all before we had had our own breakfast. After stuffing ourselves with sausage, bacon, eggs and muffins, we set off on a gentle ride back to camp where we were able to relax before a final safari in the afternoon.
As we embarked upon the last safari of the trip, we sought out a suitable place to have sundowners – a great finish to what had been an amazing journey. As we drove to a suitable and safe area, we were lucky enough to spot another leopard. This leopard was like the other one, a beautiful and graceful creature. He was majestically strutting through the long grass and getting decidedly more grumpy at the arrival of numerous safari vehicles who were all vying for a prime position, to observe the leopard as closely as possible.
We were in awe of such a stunning creature and we attempted to keep out of his way, to leave him alone in his ventures so we moved off and went to settle ourselves at a spot where firstly, it would be safe for us to exit the vehicle and second, where we could suck up the fantastic landscape as the sun went down. Mr Nomad and I were in awe of the beauty of the Maasai Mara and as we watched the sun setting over the African plains, we recounted the amazing things we had seen to each other and counted our blessings at how lucky we were.
The world had gone crazy but we had been able to find peace and tranquillity in a fabulous part of that world, and we considered ourselves to be lucky in that we were now reunited once more and could continue exploring and take in all that this marvellous planet has to offer.
The Maasai Mara and other parts of Kenya have been seriously affected by the significant drop in tourism but the stunning landscapes and rugged wilderness remains, with vehicular destruction being minimal and the animals may well have actually prospered from the lack of human interference. I have no doubt that the world will recover and the tourism industry will be resurrected, and when travel is proved to be safe again, I cannot recommend a visit to the Maasai Mara highly enough. It is a magical land and compares to nothing else on earth, and will hopefully be around for many years to come along with its rich bounty of wild life.