Heritage Hotels Big Cat and Migration Updates

News from the Maasai Mara, Kenya 29th September 2005

by Heritage

29 September 2005

The Maasai Mara is continuing to witness the full wild glory of a comprehensive 'second migration', as sweeping herds of wildebeest and zebra paint the plains south of the Talek River a million hues of black, white, brown and grey. The crossing points on the Mara River below Lookout Hill have been the place to be in recent days, with thousands of animals crossing westwards into the Mara Triangle, often as early as 8am. With the grazing herds have predictably come the predators: lion prides basking in a new and unexpected season of plenty. The Olkiombo pride - named for the distinctive dominant male with a black foreleg, born near Mara Explorer - has been particularly busy, hunting in the Olkinyei area in full view of our guests.

With all the action in the southern Mara, the northern section of the reserve has slipped into a quiet period, with the area around Musiara Marsh hosting only a few wildebeest and the northern Mara Triangle virtually devoid of game. Indeed, most of the herds in the Triangle have recently been crossing en masse eastwards at the Paradise Crossing points. With the plentiful grass still covering most of the southern Mara, we expect most of the herds to stay on the Kenyan side of the border at least until early November.

Predators: Intrepids and Explorer guests have been spotting cheetah on an almost daily basis for the past two weeks. With the gazelles having their fawns in large numbers, the cheetah are having a good time - particularly the new mothers, who have been seen catching young fawns and bringing them to their cubs in an effort to train them how to hunt. Leopard sightings have also greatly improved, assisted by the crew of BBC’s Big Cat Week, who have been spending a lot of time with Bella and Chui in the past few weeks - and showing us just why the world's best leopard sightings happen right on our doorstep! The lions have also been busy, with the Ridge pride killing three wildebeest near our airstrip last week, and yesterday digging out a poor warthog from its hole.

In other recent sightings, two hunting dogs were seen 9km east of Mara Intrepids on our walking trail last week. It appears this beautiful animal is making a comeback in the Mara, with some local residents recently reporting a pup in an old den used by the dogs before they disappeared from this area in the late 1980s. This and other previous reports to the east of the Mara are a good portend of the return of this critically endangered species.



News from the Maasai Mara, Kenya 13th September 2005

by Heritage

13 September 2005

As we predicted last week, the wildebeest have made a dramatic comeback over the past eight days ”“ filling the plains of the southern Mara in an amazing ‘second migration’. It appears that most of the herds have, in just over two weeks, made a complete cycle from the eastern Mara into the Mara Triangle, south into the northern Serengeti, and east from there before reentering the Mara near Sand River Gate ”“ for the second time since July! In fact, the pattern of the whole migration appears as it did at the very beginning, with the westbound herds spreading out over the Central Plains and some animals already crossing the Mara River near Lookout Hill.

A few herds are also heading north, with the first ones now just south of Mara Intrepids. At Musiara Gate, the northernmost herds have settled on the short, previously burned grass on the border of the reserve, where they are grazing side by side with the local Maasai cattle. The unseasonal rains have played a crucial role in the sprouting of the grass here. Although the crossing points around Paradise Plains have been almost empty for the past week, if what is going on in the south is anything to go by, it is just a matter of time before these crossing points come alive again.

The brief absence of migrating herds from much of the Mara had not stopped the predators from their hunting, particularly the local lion prides, which had already started to adjust to lean-period hunting tactics. However, the return of the herds has brought a period of bounty back for these and the other Big Cats. The Ridge pride has remained in its territory; two days ago, they were seen between the airstrip and Intrepids ”“ with the exception of two males, which have gone in pursuit of the females of the Olkiombo pride. This may place the Ridge pride’s cubs at risk should new males try to sneak in. Cheetah sightings were also fantastic, and Bella the leopard has also been performing like a true star, with regular appearances for most of our guests.



News from the Maasai Mara, Kenya 5th September 2005

by Heritage

5 September 2005

The migration took a dramatic new turn at the end of last week. Most of the excitement at the crossing points died out when almost all of the wildebeest herds from the eastern side of the Mara River crossed over to the west ”“ and turned south back into the northern Serengeti. It was a very speedy exit, as most of us had expected the wildebeest to stay in the Mara until November, as is usually the case.

We believe that the changing rain patterns and the burning of the grass in the northern Serengeti played a significant role in this change of events. Driving along the border showed a high concentration of animals on the recently burned plains, which last month’s rains have carpeted in nutritious new grass. Most of the central Mara is now almost empty of migrating animals, save for a few herds to the north around Musiara Marsh and to the south by Lookout Hill.

However, all is not lost! Many of the herds in the Serengeti may be bound back for the Mara, as some herds are already showing signs of returning via Sand River Gate once they have traversed the burned plains. Last Friday, in what may be the beginning of a ‘second migration’ like that witnessed in 1998, several herds crossed back into the Mara at the traditional points below Lookout Hill. However, the changes in rain patterns and the confusion brought by sporadic burning of the grass could cause yet more unexpected changes in the concentration and duration of the great migration.

Although the sudden departure of the large herbivores from most parts of the Mara has had a calming effect on the Big Cats, we have still had some good sightings in the past week. Bella the leopard and her two-year-old cub have both been witnessed several times along the Talek River, while Kike the cheetah was also sighted a few times ”“ and has been seen mating with a new male in the past two days. The Ridge and Bila Shaka lion prides, meanwhile, remain in their respective territories, where they are also undoubtedly hoping that fate will deliver a ‘second migration’”¦