Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Mara Expereince

Posted by Luanne

Of the BIG FIVE - we have seen the Rhinos (white and black), Lions, Cape Buffalos, and Elephants and were only missing the Leopard. Susan has been searching the tops of trees the last few days on "tail watch" as we know they spend a lot of day time in the trees. The best we could hope for was a sighting by seeing a black tail hanging from a high limb or on our one night game drive where we understand we will primarily see predators in action - I don't think you can get too close when that happens.

Eric saw some vehicles parked a few hundred yards from us - as we approached the driver in another car signaled him to go the other way. He then heard the report that a leopard was sighted and we could see "something" in the field of tall grass - we were hoping to get a glimpse and maybe a photo of it before he disappeared. As you can imagine we were stunned when we saw him, he was coming SLOWLY toward the van. He walked in front of our vehicle and then within 2 feet the length of it before sauntering off into the grass and then deeper brush. WOW - Eric said that was very rare and it was only because he was a juvenile that we saw him so openly; they are usually very shy animals.

You would think that would be enough to call it the best day - BUT no, we knew this area was best known for the migration of the Wildebeest across the Mara River. As we passed over the river yesterday, it was obvious that the river flow was not a fraction of what it had been as the water was so low and were we told the Wildebeest hardly had to swim, mostly walk across the river. But you may recall having seen the National Geographic or other depictions of how they line up in herds waiting for one to take the lead and they follow in lines down a steep cliff where they leap into the water and swim across. After seeing the leopard we drove to the side of the river and saw rows of safari tour vehicles with standing guests intently studying the scene through binoculars and we saw masses of black animals on the other side - but were all a good way back and could not see the river. But thinking of all those animals running down the embankment so quickly would be exciting. The anticipation was building, but there would be no way of knowing if this would all begin in days or hours. After waiting about 40 minutes someone yelled there that one had started and sure enough the dust began to fly and we could see the animals headed down. What we were not expecting was that all the drivers would take off (quickly) at the same time in what appeared to be a race to get a much closer view - what a wild and bumpy ride as we were all trying to balance the cameras and keep our footing while standing up (we usually only stand when we are in one place observing the animals).

When we stopped and grasped what we were seeing, it was exhilarating - they started to come down from different paths and there were some Zebras mixed in with the Wildebeest. Soon we could hear some braying that was coming from our side of the river. Eric said they were offering encouragement to the others. I was able to get video and photos of the event and am glad I won't have to rely on my memory. It was amazing sight of enormous proportions. On the way back Eric spotted some lions (yawn) and eagles for us - we had yet to come down from the clouds with thoughts of the wildebeest herds - thousands and thousands within 20 - 30 minutes.

Bets and Susan opted out of the afternoon ride in favor of relaxing and reading. We went along different promontories overlooking the river to find more crocodiles than I ever imagined - they were huge and very well camouflaged and blended in this the sandy shore and in the water. We also saw the first sighing of Hippos who stay in the water all day where they can regulate their temperature and come out at night to graze. They live peacefully alongside the crocs because they both have such big mouths and teeth! We also saw a lone wildebeest that was limping and left behind during the river crossing. It was very sad to realize that he would be someone’s dinner.

On the way back we stopped to see the lion and lioness we had seen earlier. They were laid out sleeping, oblivious to the fact that two vehicles were parked within five feet of them. It’s a great photographic moment when one lifts its head and yawn, but this developed into several yawns and them slowly waking up. Within a matter of seconds we witnessed the mating ritual which is performed after the male and female stray away from the group for their week spent together, during which they are sexual y active 250 times (yes you heard that right). That was a stunning number until we witnessed the process which did not last more than 20 seconds, immediately after which, both of them promptly lie down and went to right back to sleep.

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