This is the third in a series of missives about the most recent Debonair Kenya Photo Tour
Fairmont Mara Safari Club – Masai Mara, Kenya
Tuesday, September 26th
The Masai Mara is the Kenyan extension of the Serengeti in Tanzania. This time the tents are
all-canvas, although the insides are still pretty nice. We’re in the heart of the Mara National
Park at the edge of an embankment overlooking the Mara River, where hippopotami frolic in the
brown water. You see dark backs, then they lift their massive heads with pink piggy ears,
periscope eyes and blow-hole nostrils. They spend much of their time submerged, eating grass
on the river bottom, but come up to breathe, snorting and grunting all the while. They are not
the cute creatures of “The Hippopotamus Song”. Peter says 300 people were killed last year by
hippos in Kenya alone.
Our all-day outing through the Mara began with the spectacle of twenty-five giraffes striding
along the horizon, spaced out more or less evenly. Occasionally, one would turn around to look
back, as if to check that the others were coming. Some were the golden brown we’re used to,
others were much darker.
I’m starting to confuse my lion sightings: a single female standing on a ridge next to a water
hole, stretching, then lying down; a female was standing on a termite hill, looking into the
distance, perhaps searching for prey, her sister lying under a nearby tree; a pride of nine
females sleeping under a tree, one on her back, her giant paws in the air. Peter says this pride
had probably eaten the previous night, and so were totally at leisure to snooze. It’s fun to watch
these big cats behaving just like our cats at home. Of course, there is a difference in size and in
the do-or-die nature of their lives.
We caught a glimpse of two leopards, one stretched out in a tree, the other lying on the ground.
Peter says that, since leopards are solitary, it was probably a mother and child. There was a
ranger overseeing the land cruiser viewings, limiting us to ten minutes. Apparently, things can
get out of hand with vehicles. I read in the Mara Monthly, which was posted at the ranger
station, that things had gotten out-of-control chaotic at the migration crossing, with 300 vehicles
jockeying for position. Peter says, “probably Chinese”.
Others of notice – giant ostriches, topis, a grazer which likes to perch atop termite hills, dik diks,
the smallest of the antelopes, about the size of a dog, and the weird-looking secretary bird –
elongated tail, head with pointy beak for picking bones and feathers sticking up from the back of
the head, like a crown.
Speaking of bones, we passed through a cemetery of sorts, with bones of many different
grazing animals and some whole skeletons. I guess few animals out here die of old age; when
they get weak, they become dinner.
I should give zebras their due. Neglecting them is easy to do, since they are so plentiful.
Observing them closely, one can see that their tails look braided, so definite are their markings.
Also, the black and white striping goes right up into their manes. They are the sentinels for all
the grazers, catching the scent of potential predators and staring in the direction of the danger.
They often gather together, some resting their heads on the backs of others. When a little one
gets tired and lies down on its side, mom keeps a close watch. Peter says they are totally
On our last drive, we saw the last two white rhinos in the Masai Mara – Queen Elizabeth and
Khofi Annan. They have to be watched over 24/7 by a team from the conservancy and two
machine-gun-armed soldiers, because poachers kill them for their horns, which the Chinese
prize as an aphrodisiac. The conservancy is trying to mate them, but Khofi is young and not
sure of how to go about it, and QE is a grouchy older lady.
We also saw a cheetah, lying switching his tail, before rising and heading for the bushes.
Our last sighting was a dead giraffe. Peter says it had probably been brought down by lions a
few days ago. After the lions had had their fill, the hyenas moved in. Not far off, a swarm of
buzzards was awaiting its turn. It was sad and kind of disgusting watching the hyenas go right
into the giraffe’s belly, and the smell was terrible, but it’s the Circle of Life.