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Leaping Leopards! Another Kenya Trip Report -- November 2018


amybatt

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amybatt

Day Five -- Mara North Conservancy -- half day with Offbeat

 

At Offbeat, I’d be with David and Kappen again, as I requested.  There is a honeymooning couple from the UK here as well as an older gentleman who turns out to be a photographer I follow on Facebook.  He and I will be sharing David and Kappen!  Small world.

 

Lunch was good, a chickpea, zucchini and tomato salad, iceberg salad and corn salad with pineapple for dessert.  I washed it down with a glass of rose.  Jesse the manager is no longer here but Chania is along with two other managers.  The mess area got washed away in the floods earlier this year and has been expanded and rebuilt to include a back deck, a bar and a fireplace.  I’m curious to see how this experience stacks up against last time and in the wake of my epic-ness with Ping.

 

The story I referred to earlier about the flood was that on the same day that the flooded river washed away the cheetah Malaika, the river behind Offbeat's camp overflowed its banks in the middle of the night.  As Chania tells it, the water outside the staff quarters went from knee- to hip-high in less than a minute.  She was washed downstream, holding a flashlight and her phone.  She managed to grab a tree, but as time wore on realized she needed to hold on to the tree more tightly, and threw both away into the water.  The staff spent 6 hours assuming she was gone.  Jesse, the former camp manager, went out at sun-up and found her clinging to the tree.  A rescue team came in and helicopter-lifted her to safety.  The entire staff quarters and kitchen at the camp was washed out, but that was nothing; at least no life was lost and Chania was fine.  Offbeat rebuilt quite quickly (6 weeks maybe?) and since I've been have improved on the common area, adding a fireplace and a bar as well as a nice back deck over the river for lunches.

 

I took a quick siesta and welcomed the rest.  I’d essentially had 5 days of non-stop game drive and/or travel and I think I was starting to feel the effects.  I had just started to doze when the alarm woke me. 

 

As I came to, I kept hearing what I learned from Ping was an impala alarm call, a very distinct “cluck”.  I looked out the opening of the tent, which had the flaps tied up so was wide open, and saw two impala and an eland all at alert staring to my left.  Surely, I thought, I wouldn’t have the tent flaps wide open if there was any danger.  But those animals looked and sounded on alert.

 

View from my tent, with the flaps rolled up

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It wasn’t until I was on the game drive that I learned that a lioness had passed across the front of my tent just at that time and encountered a staff member outside the staff tent to my left.  So I wasn’t crazy.  Or dead yet.

 

I met in the mess tent for tea at 4:00.  It was great to see David and Kappen again.  I’m glad I have them and am eager to see what they can conjure up.

 

We headed out at 4:30 and very quickly found ourselves with Leah and Lucinda, two of the remaining Offbeat Pride females.  There are now only 7 Offbeat members left after Frank and Jesse, the pride males when I was last here, have been chased out.  There are 4 new pride males, who have also taken over Acacia Pride and have their eyes on a pride in Olare Motorogi, the next conservancy over.  Lucinda and Leah the lionesses (who were here when I was last here) each have an adorable 7 month old cub.  There were eight and these are the only two left.  We spent some time with them but they were just lying there dozing, so there wasn’t much to see.

 

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Apparently the resident female leopard Nalangu here has been mating the last 2 days with an unknown male here. David, Kappen and my vehicle mate Richard saw them last night.  Our next goal was to find them.  We drove to where they were, where they might be and even where they might not be.  It wasn’t until we had headed back for home that Kappen, who by now was standing on the seat with his head out the roof, heard the growl of leopards mating.  David heard it to, but swore it came from the opposite direction from where Kappen heard it.  We drove around a bit more and never found it, sacrificing our sundowner in the process.

 

Kappen still has eyes of steel.  He made David stop driving suddenly and spent about 7 minutes pointing out a springbok to me.  There are only 2 in the area, and he'd managed to find one, high up on a sheer cliff.  More miraculously he managed to get me to see it too.  A very underexposed, for proof only, photo of it:

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The best news of all is the report on Lucky, the lion cub we came to know on our safari here in 2017.  There is a lone male lion living near the salt lick that the guides are pretty certain is Lucky.  They say he is big and powerful and doing well against all the odds and the turmoil among Mara North's prides.  Chania the camp manager told me a story that on one kill when he was still little, the pride males wanted to eat without the cubs.  One of them growled and all but one cub scampered for cover.  It was Lucky who growled back and continued to eat with them.  

 

Popped back to the tent and had a quick shower then a dawa and roasted chickpeas before dinner.  The meal tonight was good, with corn risotto as a starter, then a stuffed pepper (I remember those being delicious), broccoli, peapods and couscous.  For dessert a custard tart.  All in all an excellent day.

 

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Edited by amybatt
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amybatt

Day Six -- Mara North Conservancy, Offbeat Mara Camp

 

As much as I absolutely adored my game drives the last three days, being out all day with no break is a killer.  We’d leave at 6:15 a.m. and come in close to 7:00 p.m.  I loved every minute of it but last night I was nodding off during dinner.  I excused myself at the first opportunity I got and went to bed at 9:30.  I woke a little before 4 a.m. feeling fine but then drifted off again until 5:30 when I woke just before the alarm clock went off.  There was next to no noise here to keep me awake so I probably slept more soundly than I did at Ping’s camp.  I heard lions but quite a ways off in the distance a few times but not close enough to wake me or keep me awake.


Pretty quickly after setting out, Kappen spotted a lone lioness walking through some tall grass.  She seemed to be vocalizing and at first they thought that this was either Leah or Lucinda (Offbeat females) and that she was calling to her cubs.  She seemed fat and happily fed.  Nearby we spotted the cubs running toward her, but she growled and ran from them, settling near us and hiding from them.  She definitely did not want any part of these cubs.  It turns out that she was a sub-adult of the Offbeat Pride, so she would have been one of the cubs I saw here in February 2017.  The cubs continued on running, looking for their mom.  Through the binos I could see that they had round bellies and blood on their faces, so they too had eaten recently.  They went off to hide in some bushes.  Other guests here told me that they were reunited with their mothers later.  

 

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What? I am not their mother!

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We headed out and first checked on the dense bush where the guides had seen newborn lion cubs last week.  They didn’t see them there yesterday and now not today (we checked twice) so we’re convinced now that the lioness moved them.  We’re also more convinced that the lioness that passed my tent yesterday is that one and the cubs are between my tent and the staff quarters.  I’m more than happy to babysit should the need arise....

 

Next up was looking for the leopards that we didn’t find last night.  It wasn’t long before the other vehicle out of camp spotted them and let us know.  This is resident female leopard Nalangu and an unknown male.  (Nalangu is the mother of Rana, the leopard treed by lions the last time I was here). It was right around where we thought they were last night, so we were not far off.  They weren’t actively mating but were walking across the valley towards some thick undergrowth and an attractive-to-leopards acacia tree.  The light was the perfect golden hour and at one point both leopards were walking right at me.  The grass is a bit of a challenge but I’m happy enough with what I got.

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It appeared as if we'd come across a dead hippo in one of the only watering holes with water still in it.  We waited long enough to determine it was breathing and alive.

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We saw a couple of lionesses off in the hills hunting on their own, but not close enough to pursue.  The big, cohesive prides just don’t exist here any more.  Since Frank and Jesse were kicked out, other males have spread themselves too thin across the remaining prides, and I guess one of those pride males recently died so that leaves more work for the one remaining.  What was the River Pride when I was last here left the area.  The Acacia Pride then split and formed a new River Pride in the same territory.  All of the prides are in such small numbers, single-digits even.  It seems like a very unstable situation with no sign of it ending.
 
Driving along, David spotted a hyena chasing a mother topi and her baby.  They were going at top speed and the mother was doing well keeping between the hyena and the baby.  They were really moving!  Finally the mother led the baby over near some shepherds and a flock of sheep.  They figured they’d be safe there, and for the moment, they were.  The hyena retreated back down the hill toward us.  Then the shepherds’ dogs started to chase the topi and baby.  So another chase ensued.  This time the dogs drove the topi pair right into the path of the hyena.  With that, there is one less baby topi in the world.
 
Further on, we were looking in River Pride territory hoping to see some of those lions.  David got a tip from Kicheche guide and followed it, getting us to a dense area of tall grass with short acacias.  Five lionesses and one cub were split up and sleeping under a few of the acacias.  Even sleeping, they’re not cohesive at all.  Apparently yesterday there were two cubs but one was killed somehow during the night.

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After the lion sighting we were traveling along and found an elderly female elephant and a calf of maybe 5 years old I’d say, browsing in the shade.  We pulled up next to them to watch and both mother and calf came right over to the vehicle.  I recorded a minutes’ worth of video of the calf browsing right next to me. It was both slightly anxiety-producing and soothing at the same time.  To be so close to an amazing creature is a gift but also potentially harrowing.  The female seemed distressed and very thin.  David thinks she’s had a run in with humans of some sort and is very anxious now. The calf seemed better in temperament.  That’s the second time on this trip I’ve seen elephants that are upset by an encounter with humans.

 

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More elephants at a crossing near Offbeat

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A monitor lizard crossing the stream

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Breakfast this morning was out on the savannah, with coffee, eggy bread (French toast) and a great vegetable fritter that they made for me.  I also had yogurt and some granola and a hard boiled egg.  This at 9:45 and we had lunch at 1:00!  That was good too, vegetable kabobs, tomato and avocado salad and beet and mandarin orange salad.  Banana cream pie for dessert.  They’re spoiling me here.
 
The afternoon game drive got underway after I took a 40 minute nap.  I can see I’m settling into the siesta routine nicely.  We weren’t more than 90 seconds outside of camp when a young bull elephant caught our eye so we stopped to watch him.  Behind him, however, was a herd of topi all with laser sharp focus in one direction, which begs investigating.  So off we went.  Kappen went up through the roof, so I knew he meant business.  There were no tell-tale signs of large cats, so David thought perhaps it was a serval, which had me salivating since I’ve never seen one.  We looked for a while, hoping to see something to confirm or deny through the tall grass, and came up empty.  
 
We carried on for a while, turning out attentions back to finding the cheetah brothers who have been spotted here and are believed to be Malaika’s last cubs.  They had been here for a while but moved out of the conservancy but David heard from a ranger that they are back.  He stopped at one point to question a little boy shepherding a bunch of goats and the boy said he’d just seen two cheetah, so David decided that what the topi saw just outside of camp was the cheetah pair, since it was close by and in that direction.  All this taking place in front of my tent!
 
The rest of the drive was productive only in that we found another Offbeat sub-adult lioness who was calling out to the others.  David heard from another guide that the males who’d been ruling Offbeat were back in the area, so we tried hard to find them and came up short.  After a gin and tonic sundowner we headed back to camp, spotting two bull elephants sparring just as we got within view of camp.
 
I had a dawa at the bar with the young honeymoon couple from England.  We were talking with one of the managers, Steven.  Dinner tonight was butternut squash soup, some sort of spicy vegetable dish with spinach, mushrooms and zucchini, warm beet salad and mashed potatoes (the meat eaters had pork).  Dessert, though, was the best part: sticky toffee pudding!  It was so good.  I had amarula for an after-dinner drink.  I’m comfortably full now and feeling fine. 

 

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Edited by amybatt
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mapumbo

@amybatt Fantastic, what a tremendous first few days.  We saw leopards mating on our first safari but across the river in Samburu.  

NNP is certainly an overlooked gem.  

Since our recent safari with The Wild Source in Tanzania, going with Ping in Kenya is high on our list.

Looking forward to reading about your time at Offbeat Mara with Kappen and David.

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Zubbie15

What a fabulous start to this safari @amybatt it feels like each day is better than the next. Like you I’ve been tempted by the direct JFK to Nairobi flight.  Your trip makes me consider it even more.  Looking  forward to the rest.

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shouldbewriting

Absolutely breathtaking! Thank you so much!

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What a great report @amybatt!  It really has me excited for our first trip to Kenya in February.

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amybatt

Correction to post #26, that rare antelope Kappen spotted high up is a klipspringer.  There is a pair living on that ridge, and those are the only two they've seen in Mara North.

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amybatt

Day Seven -- Mara North Conservancy -- Offbeat Mara

 

Another solid night’s sleep.  Nothing woke me except the need to pee at 2:45 a.m.  I sat and listened to the Mara for a while but it gave me no reason to stay awake.  I woke again at 5:30 ready to start the day.

 

David and I headed out at 6:30 as Kappen was taking my vehicle mate from the first two days to the airstrip.  We started by looking for the cheetah brothers which we think are now nearby again.  It was slow going for a while, so I started paying attention to the plains game more.  While there are enormous numbers of wildebeest left from the migration which was very wonky this year, there are also large numbers of topi and especially baby topi.  It’s very surprising how many there are.  Coke’s hartebeest are on the decline, however, and that really shows in their numbers.

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amybatt

Day Seven -- Mara North Conservancy -- Offbeat Mara

 

Another solid night’s sleep.  Nothing woke me except the need to use the loo at 2:45 a.m.  I sat and listened to the Mara for a while but it gave me no reason to stay awake.  I woke again at 5:30 ready to start the day.

 

David and I headed out at 6:30 as Kappen was taking my vehicle mate from the first two days to the airstrip.  We started by looking for the cheetah brothers which we think are now nearby again.  It was slow going for a while, so I started paying attention to the plains game more.  While there are enormous numbers of wildebeest left from the migration which was very wonky this year, there are also large numbers of topi and especially baby topi.  It’s very surprising how many there are.  Coke’s hartebeest are on the decline, however, and that really shows in their numbers.

 

Some vultures to start the day

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Finally we came upon two of the new Offbeat males with an Acacia lioness.  David says that the four Offbeat males are starting to spread themselves too thin and leaving the Offbeat Pride alone runs the risk of having that pride taken over by nomad males when they’re not looking.  Nevertheless, these two lions were in early honeymoon phase where the male is still playing hard to get.  The lesser dominant male was just snoozing nearby.

 

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I thought maybe we’d have a David Attenborough moment when all of a sudden a hippo was approaching the trio.  I don’t think the hippo saw the lion until it was quite close, but the lion saw the hippo...and didn’t budge.  The distance between them was no more than three vehicle lengths, which was incredibly close.  None of the lions were at all bothered, the lioness stayed asleep in fact.  So any hopes I had of capturing some sort of interaction were scuppered when the hippo went face forward into a bush and stayed there.  David said with the lack of water in any of the watering holes, this was the hippos best chance to stay cool during the hot midday hours.

 

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We moved on from there to the area along the river where David said the River Pride used to be found all the time.  Now that it’s without a male (the Offbeat boy’s chased it off) it seems that the pride is scattered and confused.  We drove in and out of nooks and crannies around the riverbed and then I got the spot, two young cubs lying on the side of the river.  We pulled up and David said they are about 6 weeks old and quite thin.  His hunch was that they’d been abandoned by the mother.  Possibly either Cape buffalo or male lions threatened the pride and the adults fled.  The mother of these two likely thinks they didn’t survive.  David said either a buffalo or a Marshall eagle will get to them if the mother doesn’t come back for them.  It is sad but it’s also survival of the fittest.  If the mother doesn’t have the skills or the willpower to instill survival skills into these guys, they likely won’t grow up to be strong independent lions.  David was going to call a ranger but I’m not sure the right thing to do would be to help them, as much as that is my initial impulse.  I found out after the fact that these two didn't survive; I didn't find out exact cause of death

 

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The ubiquitous roller:

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Bee-eater, I believe?

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Our next sighting wasn’t that far off, it was more of the River Pride, 5 lionesses and 6 cubs between 3 and 6 months.  They seemed to be coexisting nicely as they slept among the short bushes.  One lioness was apart from the rest and David thought that is the mother of the two cubs we just saw.  I wanted to poke her and tell her to go get her babies.  Anyway, we watched the lions interact a bit.  One lioness groomed another but for the most part they just slept, so we moved on.  Although there's nothing more chill than watching cats groom each other, I see it in my own cats regularly.

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Our last sighting was very similar to the first of the day, the other two Offbeat males and an Aacacia female, another early honeymooning pair.   These two were about as snoozy as the first pair, so we left them with a thought to come back later to see if they are mating.

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I talked to David about perhaps staying out midday to try to find the cheetah.  He didn’t seem keen on it but I would have if he did.  Instead we’re going to skip tea at 4 and head straight out.  I hope that gives us a good amount of time to see what we can find before sundowners.  I’ll be alone with them on tonight’s drive before other guests join tomorrow.

 

Lunch today was all vegetarian: homemade linguini with sauce, a bean salad, roasted veggies and watermelon with mint for dessert.  I washed it down with a Stoney Tangawizi and a glass of rose.  I could get used to this!

 

More shots from today, I love the topi on the termite mound images!

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Edited by amybatt
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Amy, excellent trip report. I’m very glad Ping & Bill’s camp now appears to never ironed out some of the early issues reported on another TR. Ping’s exceptional guiding skills appear to be intact. I will never forgot how he got us to two leopards entirely by listening for alarm calls from several miles away. I have never seen mating leopards and you were indeed fortunate to see that. Your pictures capturing that were superb. Look forward to more and thanks for sharing this. 

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amybatt

Sorry for the dupe posts above.  My first upload of the last post appeared to have failed, so I redid.  Ooops.

 

@AKR1 Ping really does have an amazing sense as a guide.  The things he knows and can tell just by ear really are incredible.

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amybatt

I won't repost all the photos from the second half of the previous day, but here's the context to go with them...

 

The afternoon drive was successful in that we saw lions.  We checked on both sets of almost-mating Offbeat males and their Acacia females.  The first one was definitely not interested in mating yet and were sound asleep. The second pair was more awake but that was more due to the wind picking up and the temperature dropping as a very light rain set in (it lasted all of 2 minutes, for all its hellacious looking clouds!). The male sniffed the female’s rear and decided he wasn’t yet interested and she wasn’t showing any flirtation so maybe she wasn’t ready yet either.  Eventually she set off into the field in hunting mode where we left her.  She had her eyes on wildebeest and topi originally but several vehicles following her closely blew her cover.  David thought she would just hunker down in the tall grass until night fell.

 

It’s interesting to hear how the Maasai (like David and Kappen) predict weather.  They’ve been saying for 2 days now that the weather is going to change.  It’s that the clouds are getting thick, or that the wind is picking up or that the animals are sitting down more.  In any event, rain is coming according to them, although they always says tomorrow, and it hasn’t really happened yet.  I just hope it holds out one more day so I can get some good drives in before I leave.  I know they need the rain but I want to finish this safari strong!

 

The honeymooners were off having a bush dinner, so I was with the family that came in yesterday for dinner tonight.  It ended up being a lively conversation mostly about politics, but it was cathartic in that we at least shared the same political views.  That’s enough to unite anyone.

 

Dinner tonight was really good. The starter was roasted eggplant on toast with a feta/yogurt/mint side.  The main was eggplant stuffed with spinach and parmesan, couscous, carrots and zucchini.  Dessert was an Amarula panna cotta, which was wonderful.  And me with a dawa pre-dinner drink, rose with dinner and Amarula after dinner drink.  This is truly life.

 

My favorite of all the shots above was this one...the depth of field and "hidden" lion interested me.

 

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amybatt

Day Seven -- Mara sunset

 

This sunset deserves a post of its own.  It stopped me in my tracks, literally. We'd just driven away from the lone female in the tall grass.  The sky had looked threatening.  About a mile away something made me look back.  What I saw had me yell to David to stop.  I've seen lots of great sunsets, but this took the cake.  It was just spectacular.

 

 

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amybatt

Day Eight -- Mara North Conservancy -- Offbeat Mara

 

The last full day...

 

Yet another peaceful night in the Mara.  I heard next to nothing all night.  The lions had gotten quite close during dinner but after that, nothing.  I woke just before 2:00 for the bathroom and then again at 5:00 ready for the day.  We weren’t headed out until 6:30 but I figured maybe if I headed out early, we’d go early.

 

I sat on my front porch with my coffee and admired the sunrise and the clusters of animals that had gathered here to start their day.  I love this tent, how remote it is and how it fronts the plain and all its wildness.

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The honeymooners had to be fetched when they were 10 minutes late (remember: 10 minutes, it comes into play shortly).  They were suitably apologetic but the entire time I was waiting I kept seeing minute by minute of the golden hour slipping away.

 

6:45 and we were finally underway.  We headed toward where we left the lioness hunting last night.  Right off the bat we saw a handful of vehicles off in the distance and a bunch of wildebeest scurrying.  Kappen thought at first it was the lioness, then as we drew closer he realized it was the cheetah brothers, Malaika’s sons, returned after being away from the conservancy for 5 days.  And they'd just made a kill...which we’d just seen happen from about 1/2 mile away (that’s why the wildes were scurrying).  Had we been 10 minutes earlier....arrrrrggggh.

 

I’ve been really fortunate when I’ve had to share a vehicle so I really shouldn’t complain.  Yet I think this sort of set me off on a bit of a bad mood, that combined with the fact that I knew this was my last morning game drive and that I have to leave tomorrow.  I was sort of grouchy after that for a while.

 

Anyway, a single hyena quickly took the kill from the cheetahs and they withdrew to some nearby bushes.  For whatever reason, David chose to pull up next to the kill and the hyena rather than follow the cheetahs we’d been waiting on for four days.  I let that sit for a few minutes then asked “Where did the brothers go?”, a couple times until I finally asked “can we go see the cats?”  To that point we’d only seen them from a distance and I didn’t really think the priority would be to sit and watch a group of scavengers on the kill.  Finally off we went.

 

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The brothers were lying side by side on a log cleaning up the mess their bodies had become after a short meal on a baby wildebeest kill.  They stayed put for a bit before they quickly spotted topi off in the distance.  And off they went.DSC04957.JPG

 

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There's a bit of disagreement over which male cheetahs these were.  David and Kappen and the camp managers were certain they were Malaika's last cubs, but the photographer I was sharing a vehicle with earlier in the trip posted them to a cheetah group on Facebook and was told they are Kiraposhe's 2 sons called Mbili and Milele.  I'm by no means an expert, so maybe somewhere here can break the tie.  I've posted a bunch of different angles for spot comparison purposes.

 

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The rare two-headed cheetah:

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We followed them around the area as they tried.  The first attempt was very premature and half-hearted but as the morning wore on, each attempt seemed to have more intention to it.  In all we saw them attempt to hunt 4 times.  The last was the most serious.  They situated themselves first under an acacia tree in the shade up an embankment from the only watering hole in the area that’s not dried up.  There, most of the plains game could easily see them.  On one attempt to hunt, they both retreated to a thick bush and just watched.  We had to have sat through 90 minutes of waiting on this one attempt, as more and more plains game came in from all directions around us.  Once they’d tried and failed on a hunt, we sat patiently and waited for more naive game to come to the watering hole, knowing that they didn’t know where the cheetahs were, but we did. 

 

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A bit of brotherly roughhousing:

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David and Kappen did a lot of guessing about which animal was their target as various groups of game cycled through the watering hole area.  The cheetah really prefer topi, but it would have to be a sub-adult as a full-grown adult was too big.  There were some warthog piglets, but the parents with their tusks are too dangerous.  So many possible candidates warily passed by that very bush and we thought sure many of them would be the target.  Finally there was a youngish zebra that seemed quite perfect, and we noticed that the cheetah noticed that too as the one we could still see in the bush was staring at it intently.  The little group that zebra was a part of slowly grazed up the embankment and closer and closer to the bush where the cheetahs were.  They were so ridiculously close we couldn’t believe it; it was almost within paw’s length!  And then, the game was finally up when both cheetahs lunged at a zebra, only each went for a different one! It’s as if there was no plan here at all, they each had a different target!  Hunt was blown in the blink of an eye.  We decided to leave them then, after 5 3/4 hours and go have lunch.  This wouldn’t be my first failed hunt and certainly won’t be my last, but it’s exactly what keeps me coming back.

 

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Day Eight -- Mara North Conservancy -- Offbeat Mara

 

Bush breakfast was mid-morning nearby the cheetahs, from where we could keep an eye on the vehicles sitting around them when they first retreated from their initial kill.  We had to retreat ourselves when a family of elephants started working its way through the wooded area we were parked in!

 

Lunch today was a bush lunch, in a pretty, secluded spot near camp.  We had vegetable quiche, potato salad, chickpea salad and iceberg salad.  And of course rose to wash it down.

 

The afternoon drive was with a newly arrived older couple from England.  This was their first safari so we were stopping every 5 feet for an impala, a warthog, a giraffe.  I just wanted to get to cats.  I tried to be patient and put the camera down for most of the drive, just looking at the landscape without the lens for the last time.  I enjoyed being out but wish we’d seen more cats.  We finally found the new mother lioness who just had cubs.  She has moved them to a new hiding spot and we found her with a warthog she’d just killed.  It’s good that she’s hunting on her own and eating, as she has some cubs to raise.  This girl was one of the 7 month old cubs I saw in 2017 and this is her first litter. I hope for the best for her, as she’s raising the future of the Offbeat Pride.

 

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We saw the klipspringer again too.  In better light this time, but still quite high up.

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We went for a group sundowner on the plain.  There wasn’t much of a sunset but an impressive display of rainstorms going on all around us, that never actually hit us.  I chatted with the new Brits and the honeymooners and then we all headed back to shower before dinner.   I forget what dinner was, since we all ended up sitting by the fire and drinking until the wee hours.  I know there was tree tomato crumble for dessert.  This ended up being a fun group of people.  I just wished none of us had to leave tomorrow!  Especially me.

 

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Day Nine -- Regretfully leaving the Mara, again

 

It is probably a good thing that none of us had a morning game drive this morning, as I think we all woke a little worse for wear.  I got the most sleep but the rest of the fireplace gang last night stayed up until 3:00 a.m.  There’s no way I’d have been able to function, not to mention alcohol-related dehydration!

 

I had a nice breakfast at camp within morning with their homemade museli and yogurt and scrambled eggs.  It was served out on the deck behind the common area.  It was my first breakfast not eaten out in the bush since I left Nairobi.  Most everyone was sleeping in except for me and the male honeymooner.  It was a quiet morning.

 

David and Kappen took the honeymooners, Mike the intern manager and me to the airstrip at 9.  We said goodbye to Chania and Steve and the dog Nyara and off we went.  It was a somewhat uneventful game drive to the airstrip, except we did pull over to see one of the Offbeat males with his near-mating Acacia lioness nearby.  That was a nice send-off.

 

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Mr. Honeymooner made us all laugh when he said “let’s all agree that if we see two lions fighting two cheetahs we’ll stay and watch and not go home.” I liked his thinking, no matter how unlikely it was.

 

We hung around waiting for Safarilink in the hot sun.  The airstrip had no facilities and no shade so other than sitting in the shade of our vehicle, we were out of luck.  I tried to soak it up since this will likely be the last I’m outdoors until spring!

 

Finally the time came to bid David and Kappen goodbye.  I thanked Kappen for the bracelet that his wife made.  Hugs all around and we boarded.  As usual, I was a soggy mess when we took off, but it made me smile to see the two of them jumping and waving from the side of the airstrip.  It’s a heart-wrenching feeling for me to leave, since I absolutely love being there and the excitement of every day being different.

 

The flight was late arriving in Mara North but it was only 40 minutes so we ended up on time.  Sammy from Emakoko met me and took me there just in time for lunch, which as usual was wonderful.  The starter was an avocado salad.  The main was butternut squash ravioli and salad with homemade mustard vinaigrette.  Dessert was lemon mousse.  After lunch I headed up to my room on the hill (I’ve always been at reception level) which was over 100 steps up!  I have no idea how the folks who work there do that all the time!  The view up there was nice, so I opened the balcony doors and sat out there to catch up on my blog, some email and social media.

 

Something caught my attention just off the deck and I looked and it was a Sykes monkey climbing the tree closest to the deck.  He looked innocent enough, but I remembered the staffer who took me to the room saying to leave the doors closed when I’m not there in case of monkeys.  Now I understood.  He let me approach him for photos but when I sat back down again, he was eyeing the open doors behind me.  I got up to close them and I could see his eyes going to the open windows.  I made it to the last open one just in time for him to be one foot into it.  I barked no at him and clapped and off he went.  I found out later that the night before he’d made it into another room and trashed it while the guest was at dinner.  Perhaps it’s a sign of experience on these trips that I’m not bothered by the hyrax or the monkey and just dealing with them myself.  6 years ago I would have been shrieking like a girl.

 

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Around 3:30 a knock on the door and I was asked if I was going to do the game drive in the park.  I didn’t know this was part of the day room package, but gladly took them up on it.  Sammy was our driver.

 

We headed out and another guest requested that we find white rhinos.  I had no expectations or desires out of this, just trying to maximize the game drives.  We didn’t see much more than plains game for the most part but then we came across four rhinos.  Coincidentally enough, it was an adult male, two adult females and a small calf.  I asked Sammy if he’d talked to Rashid about what we saw with the rhinos last Sunday when the male was going after the baby.  He said yes, and that these were the same rhinos.  My last sighting was coming full circle and finding out that he survived that at least.  One of the females was poking at him, but not in the violent, distressful way that the male was.  For now, the calf is alright.  

 

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It rained on and off again around us and over us all the while the sun kept popping through.  We saw a rainbow at the end of the drive which made me smile.

 

Back to the Emakoko and up those 100 steps again for a shower and change and repack.  I decided then I’m leaving my bags up there and not coming back for them after dinner.  No way was I doing the steps again!  Dinner was quite good, as usual.  The starter was halluti cheese in a light pastry, baked veggie balls (like meatballs) with mashed potato and green beans and carrots.  Dessert was passion fruit ice cream.  I had my last Dawa made by Lawrence.  I told him his are truly the best out there.  I’ll have to figure out how to make them myself (and I did!).

 

 

 

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The Journey Home...

 

This is all just tying up loose ends, so feel free to skip it.  When I arrived at Emakoko and checked email, I found out that I got the Business Class upgrade going home.  This ended up being an enormous help in the end.  We'd decided that to make it to the airport by 8:30 (three hours before departure), I'd have to leave at 8:00 p.m.  Anthony, the owner of Emakoko, ate dinner with me and we got to talking and next thing I know, it was 8:30, when I was supposed to be at the airport for my flight!  Yikes!  It took 50 minutes to get there and then the web of security checks started.  First, the one outside the airport grounds where I have to get out of the car and walk through metal detectors while the car gets scanned.  Then the metal detectors to get into the terminal, which at this point was a couple city blocks long.  I spied with my little eye a Kenya Airways Sky Priority door that I decide to try (hey, I had Sky Priority via Business Class seats!) and I breezed right through.  Then I got shuffled around to a couple of different desks before I got checked in, got my new boarding pass and was offered priority passport control access.  Then through another security check to get to the departure gates.  Finally, the last security check at the gate.  In all I took my shoes on/off 4 times.  A bit of overkill but better safe than sorry, I suppose.  Unfortunately I had no time for the lounge since I got through all that at exactly 10:25, which was time to board.  If I hadn’t had all the priority access I’m not sure I would have made it.  Silly me for not paying attention, but I completely lost track of time at dinner.

 

For those taking this flight...as I walked past other gates on the way to mine, I noticed that none had that last security check before boarding.  I thought I could take water aboard that I'd bought air-side.  Wrong.  The bottles I bought were confiscated at that gate security check.  Just so you're aware.

 

The flight left an hour late.  I noticed that every Economy passenger was getting a full security search going through the gate security check.  They were patted down and scanned and their carry-ons were opened and searched.  Not so for Business Class.  There didn't seem to be any other reason why the flight left late.

 

I stayed awake long enough to see what the first meal was, ate only the dessert of it, and then fell asleep.  First time I woke up we had just under 4 hours left, so I watched a movie and ate breakfast and the flight was over!  The late departure, though, only gave me 50 minutes to get to my JetBlue flight back to Boston at JFK.  First off the plane, first through Global Entry and a sprint and Air Train one terminal over got me to my gate at exactly boarding time.  Somehow I transferred in 47 minutes!  It's all a jetlagged, miserable-to-be-home blur.

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Post-script

 

I'd like to say that I went into the safari with no hopes and expectations, but I did.  I really did want to see the Fast Five and Amani with her newest litter.  However, no one understands Mother Nature better than I do and that she often has different plans in mind (hello, 45 degree Amazon vacation).  If you'd told me before this safari that I'd see seven leopards (including a threesome and two mating pairs at that), an intra-pride lion fight, mating lions, my first lion kill, a newborn baby rhino that squeaked at me, 6 hours of cheetah hunting, giraffes necking and the usual 60+ lions, I'd have told you that you're off your head.  The hand I was dealt still makes me shake my head in total disbelief.  Last night I wrote my vehicle-mates at Enaidura Camp and told them they have no idea how incredible their first safari was, and she replied "oh yes, we knew, we felt it in you."

 

By now you know that I'm not done with the Mara, any more than it's done with me.  There's no getting it out of my system.  Maybe there never will be.

 

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Great report @amybatt what wonderful sightings you had!

 

I now have a visit to Ping and his camp on my ever growing bucket list!

 

Thanks for sharing your adventure with us, much appreciated!

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So glad you loved Einadura and had such an amazing safari with Ping! He is the best! As you know we will be back with him in February. If I see half of what you did, I'll be happy. Well, okay, I want to see mating leopards too! LOL unlikely but one can hope.  And fingers crossed to see the Five Musketeers (who you call the Fast Five, but I've always seen them referred to as the 5 Musketeers.)

 

By the way, one reason Ping is so great with photographers is that he has guided, through Wild Source, many safaris with pro photographer Andy Biggs. I know that he learned a tremendous amount from Andy.

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Amy, I have been waiting for this report and just finished it in one read! you are one of the reasons I went on safari in Kenya and I cannot thank you enough. Kenya was the reason we returned for our second and after reading this, I want to return for a third but need to save for kid's college tuitions!

 

You always recommend the conservancies but your sightings seemed amazing in the reserve-leopard mating! We have only seen the ostrich mating ceremony-so close to seeing lions mating and giraffe too, but no cigar. I loved the kill pics too. WE have seen a kill on each safari, and some very exciting near kills so I could feel your excitement and energy from your writing. I am amazed how you can remember all the names of the animals.

 

On our last safari, we had Mica at Kicheche Valley Camp. He was the most fantastic guide we ever had. He had great respect for every animal and is worthy of his nickname, the professor. He is going for is gold this month. We learned so much about the animal behaviors, and that is what makes you keep returning to safari. Now maybe we might consider the reserve but that awful behavior that you witnessed is the reason I am hesitant.

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amybatt
2 hours ago, janzin said:

So glad you loved Einadura and had such an amazing safari with Ping! He is the best! As you know we will be back with him in February. If I see half of what you did, I'll be happy. Well, okay, I want to see mating leopards too! LOL unlikely but one can hope.  And fingers crossed to see the Five Musketeers (who you call the Fast Five, but I've always seen them referred to as the 5 Musketeers.)

 

By the way, one reason Ping is so great with photographers is that he has guided, through Wild Source, many safaris with pro photographer Andy Biggs. I know that he learned a tremendous amount from Andy.

 

A couple times I called them the 5 Muskateers and was corrected (by others, not Ping).  There is also some discrepancy about the maternity of the 5.  Ping said they are from two mothers, the guides and managers at Offbeat said 3 or 4.  I tend to go with Ping on it, since he's man on the ground in the Reserve, but who knows really.

 

What is remarkable about Ping is that I really felt like my experience was his top priority, more so than with any other guide.  I've heard and read about how other guides will want a better position for himself for photos or will shush clients to keep their voices off video, etc. My personal pet peeve is when a guide will pull up to a sighting and pull up next to another vehicle so they can chat with other guides while I'm waiting to see the sighting.  It drives me NUTS.  Not so at all for Ping.  On every single sighting, I had the best light given how the animals were sitting, the best position, the best angle.  If I didn't, he'd move.  And it's not like he wasn't taking photos too, he just knew how to get his shots around me getting mine.  I also loved how when it was a really good sighting, he's look at me and just say "wow".  It only happened twice but made me realize how much he still gets a charge out of this despite so many years doing it.  And I dare say, I might have found someone who likes the cats more than I do.  There's something to be said for being with someone that really loves what they do, and with him you can see that.

 

53 minutes ago, plambers said:

 

On our last safari, we had Mica at Kicheche Valley Camp. He was the most fantastic guide we ever had. He had great respect for every animal and is worthy of his nickname, the professor. He is going for is gold this month. We learned so much about the animal behaviors, and that is what makes you keep returning to safari. Now maybe we might consider the reserve but that awful behavior that you witnessed is the reason I am hesitant.

 

Thanks, @plambers I think my most significant take-away from this is that your Reserve experience is dependent on the guide and how well he can find things without just following with the pack.  Maybe that's the difference between conservancy-based guides and those native in the Reserve? Meaning, maybe conservancy guides are just out of their element in the Reserve? I think back to so many sightings in the Reserve where we were alone or with just a couple other vehicles and it was really just that one morning with the female leopard hunting that it was that crowded and crazy.  My overall experience went against everything I'd believed about the Reserve.  I think that was why he was hesitant to go looking for the Fast 5 or Amani and her cubs, because there were dozens of vehicles on them all the time, and indeed, when we saw the vehicles streaming away from where the 5 had been, there had to be at least 20 coming in our direction.  If your guide knows how and where to find quality sightings otherwise, they won't need to follow the human herd.

 

Long story short: when I return to the Mara, if I can get Ping, it'll be a week with him, period.  I'm that convinced.

 

One other thing I noticed this time that makes a big difference is at Offbeat, they "strongly encourage" the midday siesta.  That means that you're really limited as to how far afield you can go before you have to head back for lunch, even if you leave at 6 a.m.  I imagine it's like this at other conservancy-camps that have the midday break.  Unlike with Ping, if you mapped how far we went (one day from Enaidura, up over Lookout and down to Keekerok where we found the mating leopards), there's no way we could have covered all that and been back for lunch.  At Offbeat I started to recognize loops out from camp:  one loop out to look for lions, another for leopards, another for cheetah.  That explains why I'd not seen some of the areas of Mara North others have talked about.  I'm certain if I pressed I could have gone out all day and further afield (I did once and David balked a bit so I let it go).  This is not necessarily a negative about Offbeat, because I had some awesome sightings just by driving these loops last year, but it was something that became apparent when I followed up my Enaidura experience immediately with a stay at Offbeat.

 

One other thing I alluded to a few times that I think effected the sightings this year is the pride takeovers that are in progress.  It seems like both in the Reserve (Paradise, Ridge and Marsh prides) and Mara North (Offbeat, River and Acacia prides) there is a lot of uncertainty with the pride males being threatened or forced out and some instability resulting from the new males.  David and Kappen listed off the last few times this has happened and said that the prides always survive, it just takes a while for it to settle out.  It seems to be every 4-5 years or so.  What will happen in MNC remains to be seen though, because only 4 males are trying to takeover all three prides plus one in OMC, and they've spread themselves too thin, leaving some of the lionesses unprotected.  It will be interesting to see it play out but may take some time.  It seems like what's left as this plays out are splinter groups of nervous females and lots of cubs being killed.  Definitely not the well-defined cohesive units with large numbers of cats that I saw just last year.

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Thank you for a great report. Wonderful sightings, superb photos and engaging writing.

I can see you will be back soon!

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michael-ibk

And thanks from me too Amy, you really had terrific sightings, mating Leopards probably being the most special one - would love to see that one day. Ping really sounds like a wonderful guide, you´ve convinced me to try to get him for the next time in the Mara. And let´s face it - for most of us there will be a next time in the Mara. There´s a reason why it´s one of the most beloved safari destinations anywhere, and your trip report made that reason very very clear. Abundance of wildlife, especially predators!

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@amybatt Despite having lived in Kenya for almost six years I am embarrassed to say that I have been to the Mara only twice.I often have gone to places like Gonorezhou, Zakouma, Gambella and Omo in Ethiopia which had to be arranged long in advance. This is true next year with my upcoming safaris to Gabon, the Central African Republic and even to Tsavo East in Umani Springs and Ithumba Hills since one can only go there basically  on a self catering basis. I will also be booking my planned safaris to Zakouma for the second time in combination with Ennedi and Kgalagadi. I will undoubtedly want to make another trip to the Central African Republic and am I'm delighted that @Sangeetais already talking about it and I am sure my friend @Kitsafari and  other Safaritalkers would be interested in it.

 

Obviously I will visit the Masai Mara again. It's one place that one can never get enough of especially since all the concessions are so different. I think that your trip report is just outstanding in every way, shape and form. 

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