On the morning of our fifth day in the Maasai Mara during this most recent trip, we woke at 5am as usual to prepare for an early start, with the intention of engaging in some landscape photography at dawn.
Unfortunately, for the fifth day in a row, the sky was terrible, and was visibly hopeless even in the darkness as we huddled around the camp fire. The notion was quickly aborted, and once we boarded the 4WD, we headed south towards the Offbeat area.
About half-way there, we spotted an elephant in the distance. Unusually, we had seen very few elephants during this trip. Unlike the last trip, these giants were just not around. We did not stop for photography, instead continuing further south.
We did not know this at the time, but we were about to experience a special sighting. I suspect Francis already knew ahead of time, but we were none the wiser.
Around 30 minutes later, we arrived at a dramatic scene of the Offbeat Pride of lions feasting on a buffalo!
Three or four other vehicles were also at the scene as the lions gorged themselves. Much of the kill had been devoured, but there was still plenty of food for the pride.
While it is not highly unusual for experienced lions to take down buffalo, it is quite a dangerous task, as buffalo are large, aggressive and armed with horns which could seriously injure or kill a lion. The two species are eternal enemies, and buffalo will launch attacks on vulnerable lions, particularly cubs.
Feasting on the carcass were a several lionesses, a large pride male and several cubs.
Here is one of the many images I captured as the feast played out in front of us:
Here, the large pride male feasts, while one of the females snarls as she contends to get her share.
Naturally, the lions were not alone, as a few jackals were also lurking nearby, hoping for a piece of the action.
We spent nearly 45 minutes watching, photographing and filming as the lions consumed their meal. I captured a lot of video footage of the lions feasting, from which I will eventually produce a video (or maybe more than one) of this trip.
During the feast, the male lion was very patient and tolerant of the cubs, only snarling and snapping once as another lion got too close.
Soon enough, the the pride male finished, and stood up. Mario, knowing lion behaviour well, knew that the male would wander off for a drink and a rest.
Our next step was clear: we had to hastily depart the scene, get ahead of the lion and place ourselves where he would be likely to find water so that we would be able to photograph him drinking.
Within a few seconds, Francis sped off in a westerly direction, where a short distance away, there was a creek. It was a rush, both literally and metaphorically, as we had very little time to beat the lion to his destination so that we could capture images that nobody else would capture.
The other vehicles all stayed at the kill scene. The inhabitants of the other vehicles were probably wondering why we would suddenly race away from the scene of a pride feasting on a kill, but they did not have the Dream Team of Mario and Francis, who knew what the male lion would do, and where he would go.
Only five or six minutes after the pride male departed the kill scene, we were positioned on the western side of the creek, which runs from the Olare Orok River to the south.
All of a sudden, we saw the impressive male lion arrive on the scene, and begin drinking from the creek.
After he had lapped up some water, he decided to cross. Francis had done an excellent job of positioning the vehicle so that we were looking straight down a slope the lion would climb. He would be heading straight towards us. And he did!
Here is a tight portrait I captured of the pride male as he ascended the bank, looking straight at us:
Very noticeable is an injury to his nose. I am not sure if he was injured during the kill, or if this was an older injury and he happens to have some of his meal still on his face. Either way, it was fantastic to have this large pride male heading straight towards us.
Xenedette captured a fantastic video of this lion crossing the water, climbing the bank, heading straight towards us and then veering off to his right, only one or two metres from the 4WD.
The pride male headed off to find a resting place, high on a ridge. We then raced back to the kill scene, where a lioness and three cubs were still feasting. We captured more images and video footage from a different angle.
Sure enough, it was time for the female and the cubs to depart in search for water, so again, Francis raced back towards the creek so that we could intercept the lions and photograph them drinking and crossing the creek.
Rather than attempting to cross the creek where the pride male had crossed a short time ago, the lioness and her cubs ventured a little further north, trying to find a suitable crossing point.
We had the opportunity to see the lions drinking, and caught a few glimpses as they were out in the open on a grassy bank.
Eventually they crossed, and the female headed further west, about half-way between the creek and the ridge, where she rested under an acacia bush.
Soon she was joined by a very handsome male cub, where I captured this image of the two lions planning their next move.
Planning the Next Move
The lions had by now probably spotted the male high on the ridge to the west, and set off to join him.
The cute male cub ventured into the open, where I captured him in the warmth of the morning sun.
Heading Towards Mummy
On this morning, I had decided that I needed some down time back at camp, so we had earlier arranged for a private breakfast back at camp.
After a wonderful morning spent with the Offbeat Pride of lions feasting on a buffalo, drinking and crossing the creek, we made our way north back to camp for a nice outdoor breakfast and some time to rest and take care of the image transfer and backup housekeeping I regularly do while on safari.
After some highly needed down time, we joined the other guests for lunch, and then had some afternoon drinks and spent some time processing images before it was time to head back out into the field.
For afternoon drive, we headed north towards Mara North Airstrip, and within a short period of time stumbled upon some action.
We encountered a clan of hyenas feasting on a topi. Earlier, probably while we were back at camp, two sibling male cheetahs had killed a topi and quickly lost their kill to the hyenas.
Unfortunately, a high percentage of kills made by cheetahs, usually of antelopes such as Thomson’s gazelle, impala and less commonly, topi, are stolen by hyenas.
As hyenas are powerful and aggressive predators, cheetahs often flee rather than trying to defend their kills. In this case, the hyenas had won.
In the distance, we spotted Mbili and Milele, who are two sons of a female cheetah called Kiraposhe. They were heading east, away from their stolen lunch.
Mbili and Milele roam freely between the Mara North Conservancy, Lemek Conservancy and Olare Motorogi Conservancy.
As the brothers were heading eastward, we did the same, getting ahead of Mbili and Milele so that we could intercept them and photograph and video them coming towards us.
Here is an image I captured of one of the siblings.
The look on this cheetah‘s face says it all: defeated.
His head is down, his ears are flat, and his demeanour is forlorn.
With numerous hyenas on the kill scene, Mbili and Milele had no choice but to depart, and they moved quite quickly towards Lemek Conservancy.
For us, it was a matter of racing ahead, capturing images, and then moving off again to continually track them from the direction in which they were ultimately heading.
Further east, the cheetahs were out in the open, and I had the opportunity to capture this image of Mbili:
Mbili on a Mission
We continued tracking the cheetahs further eastward, until we landed at Mara North Conservancy Headquarters. This marks the boundary between Mara North Conservancy and Lemek Conservancy.
We could not enter Lemek Conservancy, as no reciprocal entry agreement exists between the two conservancies; so we had no choice but to leave Mbili and Milele to continue on their journey into Lemek Conservancy.
We headed north-west, and in less than 20 minutes, encountered the Cheli Pride of lions. As always, it was fantastic to see the Cheli Pride.
This time, the pride was located in and near a tributary running from the Mara River. We first spotted a lioness resting on a mound out in the open.
Cheli Pride at Rest
We quickly discovered that there were other lions nearby, taking shelter down the ravine. After venturing around to the other side of the tributary, we saw a wildebeest kill down the ravine.
Amongst the pride were some very young cubs, and as the late afternoon progressed, the cubs became more active, coming out from their hiding place to explore.
One of the cubs came right out into the open, and was soon joined by a sibling. An opportunity to capture a clean image of two very cute lion cubs in the open is not one to be missed!
After spending some very pleasant time in the company of the Cheli Pride, we headed off to look for a landscape photography opportunity.
When we are on safari, we anticipate and look for landscape photography opportunities during every dawn/sunrise and sunset/dusk.
We headed south to look for some interesting acacia trees to capture in silhouette at sunset. Along the way, Mario spotted some giraffes, and was keen to photograph those against the western sky; but I was determined that we continue our pursuit for some pleasing landscape photography images, as so far we had not been rewarded with favourable conditions.
Soon enough we spotted three acacia trees which looked viable. I had my eye on one, but Mario had his eye on another, and we went with his choice.
Once again, the sky in the west was looking decidedly terrible, but as every keen landscape photographer knows, it always pays to look in every direction.
While the western sky was a non-event, to the north and east were some ominous clouds. As the sun descended, we were greeted with an intense, brilliant golden hour.
Facing the acacia tree with our backs to the sun, we were able to capture rich golden colours on the Mara plains as a dark, brooding, rain-laden sky served as the backdrop.
Here is one of the earlier images I captured:
I love the richness of the beautiful light. Late afternoon light looks most dramatic when the sun has a clear path towards a dark sky in the east.
While I was on the south-western side of this Mario was north of me, shooting a very different image of a ranger’s hut which was nearby. He was excited about the hut, but I found it ugly and wanted to focus on the acacia tree instead.
The light was changing very rapidly, so we both scrambled around, changing positions and even lenses to capture some different views of the same subject.
I ran north-east, and borrowing Mario‘s Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, I opted for a vertical composition of the acacia tree from further back, positioned right near the ugly hut Mario had been photographing.
Here is the resulting image:
The light was falling, so I did something I was never intending to do, and photographed the ugly hut!
The Ugly Hut
Africa is a land of contrasts.
This is a man-made shelter, used by rangers or farmers during the day.
It is an ugly, thrown-together, metal shed with nothing inside and no purpose other than to provide temporary shelter for people needing it when out on the expansive plains.
It looks wrong in such a land of beauty. It completely contrasts with the natural beauty which exists in the form of the acacia tree, the plains and the dramatic sky to the east.
We photographed it anyway, if for nothing else than to show something different, and highlight the contrast that exists between man and nature in the Maasai Mara.
This was my final shot of the day before we headed back to camp for pre-dinner drinks and a communal dinner with the other guests.
What a day was Wednesday, 5th of June, 2019. We experienced a fantastic sighting of the Offbeat Pride of lions feasting on a buffalo, photographed the large pride male drinking and crossing a creek (followed by a lioness and cubs a short while later); experienced a new cheetah encounter, during which we saw and followed Kiraposhe’s sons Mbili and Milele, who had lost their lunch to hyenas; enjoyed another encounter with the Cheli Pride in the late afternoon, and finished the day with some rewarding landscape photography in beautiful golden hour light.
The big cats had truly been the stars of the show on this day. We still had not found a leopard, but we had a few more drives before the trip was to conclude, so there would be more opportunities.
Stay tuned for our adventures on day six.