Mara Big Cat Update:11th April 2005

Here’s what has been happening to your favourite felines since Heritage Hotels’ last wildlife update from the Cradle of Humanity (and Big Cats) back in early March:

With the onset of the eagerly-awaited long rains, lion sightings are expected to decline across the Mara, as the herbivores head en masse for areas of short grass. However, through March, lion sightings remained good for Intrepids and Explorer guests, including several exciting daylight hunts. With many cubs to feed, the pride females are having to work very hard to feed them. Some of the cubs have also begun to experiment with stalking the local zebras, creating some particularly amusing (and disproportionate) spectacles!
The Ridge Pride continues to roam the same territory to the east of Rhino Ridge and around the ‘Double Crossing’ area. There is still plenty of game in this area, including zebra and a few wildebeest from the remaining Loita population. The pride is expected to remain here for the foreseeable future, as the western end of their extensive territory is empty of food.
The Olkiombo Pride, meanwhile, has begun to regroup along the Talek River near the ‘Kichaka ya round’ bush east of Mara Explorer, where they have been seizing the opportunity for a few last ‘big meals’ before the end of the season of plenty. The heavy downpours that fell on the Mara Plains in mid-March raised the levels of the Talek River, effectively cutting off these lions from the south banks ”“ to our guests’ great delight!

Our predictions for declining leopard sightings this month were happily proved wrong, as our beautiful spotted stars continued to come out in force. Despite the longer grass making it harder to spot these elusive creatures, we were blessed with sightings of both of Bella’s daughters, Ntito and Olareorok, who now occupy different territories. Bella meanwhile ventured far from her territory past the Olareorok River, where she succeeded in making a kill but ”“ alas! ”“ was held hostage up a tree by some crafty lionesses from the Ridge Pride. This was not the only time Bella came up against stiff opposition; on another game drive, our guests were treated to the rare sight of her fighting with a pack of hyenas over a reedbuck she had killed near Mara Explorer. With the help of her almost fully-grown son, Chui, she managed to claim at least half of the spoils and haul it up a nearby tree. Chui’s uniquely long bond with his mother has now reached 20 months, surpassing any other relationship that we have known between a male cub and his mother. However, we believe that when a new suitor arrives ”“ as is inevitable ”“ Chui will eventually have to go his own way. On March 30th, Chui again proved his mettle, fighting off another pack of hyenas and warding off a second male leopard trying to move in on his latest kill.

Although cheetah sightings were generally also good during March, we have not been seeing so much of our biggest TV superstar, Kike. Some of our guests did see her just west of Rhino Ridge earlier in the month, but with the decline of game, we have not been frequenting this area very much ”“ leaving, we hope, the few gazelles and other small antelopes in the area all for the cheetahs!
Honey, our other star, has been much more in evidence, appearing at least every other day on the Topi Plains north of Rhino Ridge. Together with her sub-adult cubs, Honey has made several successful hunts in the area. She has also treated our guests to some spectacles that we more sensitive humans would call ‘cruel’ ”“ catching gazelle fawns and letting her cubs play with them as a training tool. Sometimes this may go on for as long as 30 minutes, which is traumatising not only to the poor gazelle but also to the more tender-hearted guests in attendance. But this is nature, and it will happen whether we are around or not.
Kike’s two cubs are still living and hunting together, although at two years of age we think it won’t be long before they go their separate ways. They are currently to the east of Mara Explorer on the north bank of the Talek, and, with the high water levels, we believe they will hang around here for some time to come.

Other Big Sightings
One of our favourite female rhinos has just given birth to a healthy calf between Mara Intrepids and Lookout Hill. We know this rhino quite well as she charged and slightly dented one of our vehicles back in December! A family staying at Mara Explorer last week enjoyed a particularly rare sighting when they chanced upon a pair of serval cats mating. Proof, we think, that Explorer remains one of the most romantic settings in Africa!