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Kenya Nov 2018 - Part 4 (Maasai Mara and Olare Motorogi)


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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY - big cats, little cats (i.e., cubs), a couple crossings, large ugly birds, and a mystery guest.





INTRODUCTION - I had visited the Porini Lion Camp in November 2017, so I knew what to expect.  Lion Camp is situated within the 33,000-acre private Olare Motorogi Conservancy and is conveniently close to the northern boundary of the Maasai Mara National Reserve.  It is not quite as intimate as some of the smaller Porini camps in Kenya, haing 10 guest tents here and correspondingly more guests around the dinner table at night.  I hoped that my friends Dick and Kathy would enjoy this location as much as I had, and would appreciate Meshack, my favorite guide for photography at Lion Camp.  Because we had previously stayed at Porini Mara Camp, transportation to Lion Camp was a straightforward drive of several hours rather than another safari flight.  I was pretty good about posting Parts 1 and 2 of this trip report upon my return from Africa, but as I explained in Part 3, not so good at getting these last two parts onto Safaritalk.



BIG CATS - Lion Camp is aptly named, as lions were seen just about every game drive.  This magnificent male lion with the scarred nose first caught my attention.  I am not real good on the names of individual lions, but I think this one is Olerai; I expect some of our ST fans will recognize him. The livingwithlions.org database of lions did not list a lion named Olerai with this distinctive nose scar. 



















































Surveying his kingdom (or eyeing his lunch menu).




These females and subadults of the Moniko pride are feeding on a topi carcass.




Despite its name, Lion Camp's claim to fame in recent years is due to the presence of an international media star, Fig the leopard. She seems to hang out in the area just outside the entrance into Lion Camp, and I was looking forward to seeing Fig again.  It would be good to see her again, hoping she was as healthy as she was the previous year. But before we saw Fig herself, we found Figlet, her daughter who is now approximately 1-1/2  years old.  I thought that the young ones lose that blue eye color after several months, but Figlet seems to have retained a distinctive bluish tint to her eyes.






Is this Fig or Figlet?  The answer to that question is YES - if I had taken better notes, I could tell you which one.




These next photos are of mama Fig herself, sporting some serious whiskers.  






And confirming that cats of all shapes and sizes do not like to get wet.




Along with several other of the vehicles from Lion Camp, we watched Fig late into the dusk one evening as she seemed to be in hunting mode, but never managed to separate out an individual animal from the larger mixed herd.  This all happened literally right outside the entrance to Lion Camp (and in tantalizing view of the dining tent).  Early the next morning, our guide found Fig in the same general location, but she had obviously been successful taking a young impala, either late the previous evening or early this morning.








Later that same day, we came across a solitary female lion struggling to drag a zebra carcass, which we assumed she had killed by herself, out of the sun and up into the shade of some acacia trees.  It was pretty clear how much effort it took to drag the carcass, as she took frequent breaks (and occasional snacks of zebra) to keep up her energy.








When we were planning this trip, my friend Dick had expressed some skepticism about how close you can get to animals in the wild, especially to the large predators like lions.  By the end of our visits to Amboseli Camp, Mara Camp, and now Lion Camp, I think he now understood that you can get pretty darn close, especially in the private conservancies.  On the very last morning of this trip, our guides found us a group of lions drinking at a small water source before resuming their slow amble across the savanna.  Both the humans and the lions were enjoying a relaxing morning,







And then one large female lion decided to settle down in the shade right in front of our vehicle.  Our driver and guide were in the front row of seats, Dick and Kathy sitting in the second row, and I was in the last row.  The lioness was settled down and relaxed but only mildly curious about us.  I held my cellphone out the side to capture this image.




I am not sure what triggered the change, but her attitude shifted from mild curiosity to intense interest.  We were very quiet, but there was some natural shifting around to see the lion better, and that might have stimulated her interest in us.  There is an old saying that you can see the light change in a wild animal's eyes, and that happened here.  




There is probably some biological explanation such as the pupils contracting so you see more of the color of the iris, but there is no question her eyes took on that intense golden color as she was contemplating our fate.  And let there be no doubt, we were contemplating the very same thing.  I am pretty sure that Dick must have wondered if his life insurance payments were current as he considered his imminent demise.  Very possibly Kathy was also thinking about Dick's life insurance at that same moment.  It was a nice and dramatic ending to our safari together, and it put to rest any doubts Dick might have had about getting close enough to big  cats in Kenya.  After a short time, our lioness ambled off with the rest of her pride, and we breathed a sigh of relief, with all but one of us in agreement that Dick would have been the human sacrifice if necessary, and we laughed about our experience . . . eventually.


Before we leave the lions, I want to end with a few more photos of my favorite male lion (Olerai?) with his majestic mane. 









CUBS - I did promise you some cubs, and given the lion cubs we saw during our stay at Mara Camp, you might have assumed more lion cubs were on the agenda for Lion Camp.  Nope.  Fig the leopard had new cubs, now only five weeks old and according to Meshack, this was the first they had been seen out in the open.  Well, as with the lion cubs at Mara Camp, "in the open" is a relative term, as one is still photographing the little cubs in the midst of lots of leaves and branches, so getting a clear view is the exception rather than the norm.  










I know, too many leopard cub photos.  So her is a reminder of what mama Fig looks like.




Okay, enough of the adult leopard, here  are more photos of her cubs (two of them).  















CROSSINGS - The most interesting crossing that we witnessed was on our second full day at Lion Camp, when we had driven into the Mara Reserve for the full day.  Meshack located a promising crossing place on the river (which I believe wssd the Talek River), and we watched a small mixed group of zebra and wildebeest work their way across the river.  We did spot maybe half a dozen crocodiles, most of which swam closer to the crossing animals.  There were likely more crocodiles in the water that we did not see, but it appeared that the crossing went off without a hitch.  














Well, not entirely without a hitch.  Not all of the animals crossed, maybe because the crocodiles in the water were coming too close.  Among the animals that remained on the starting bank of the river were several young zebras that did not cross with their mothers.  The mother zebras began incessant calling from the far bank.



But the young zebras refused to cross the river, so two of the mother zebras braved the crocodile-laden waters to cross BACK to be with their young.  Interesting to watch (and for the mama zebras, it definitely counts as two crossings).




We also witnessed a small group of elephants come down to the river in a different location (also a location with a couple crocodiles nearby), and after drinking at the far edge for a while, slowly followed one of the adults across the river.  No drama, just a slow and stately procession.











THE USUAL SUSPECTS - I am including a handful of photos of some of the more common Mara inhabitants.  Not necessarily doing something unusual, just a few personal favorites.  First up, a black-backed jackal. Somehow these animals are not shy about looking you directly in the eye (and now we know that neither are hungry female lions).




Usually the Cape buffalo that I have seen were covered with flies or oxpeckers, or both.  This one had neither visible, nothing but buffalo.




When seen head-on like this, I realized how slender are the bodies of wildebeest.  Still capable of kicking up a little dust though.








This lovely Maasai giraffe is a telephoto shot but is not cropped significantly, except to change the format from 3:2 to 1:1.  I don't remember being so close, but obviously we were.




Impressive horns on this pair of male impala (I am guessing they may be young males or they would not be standing peacefully so close to each other).




The epitome of mammalian comfort.




Well, this young one looks even more comfortable.  Reminds me of a tired puppy resting its snout on its front paws as it sleeps the day away.




At least this young impala is not sleeping the day away.  Go ahead, I dare you to picture a hippo trying this.




Alright, this common warthog with two little ones is not doing anything extraordinary, just the adult looking humorous and the little ones looking cute.




And an adult hyena with what I think was a young impala, mostly inferred from the presence of other impala in the area.





BIRDS - Readers of my previous trip reports from Kenya know I am a sucker for small colorful birds, starting with everyone's favorite, the lilac-breasted roller.  Something about these little birds compels a photographer to stop and linger (don't worry, Dick and Kathy already registered their disagreement with that theory).  








Starlings are somewhat under-rated, but in the right light can be rather spectacular.  First, a Ruppell's long-tailed starling, followed by a superb starling.






An African wattled lapwing, with curious facial adornments (sorry, the wattles just don't do it for me).




Eagles are majestic in flight, but also pretty darn imposing at rest.  This one is a steppe eagle.






Then we get into some of the uglier avian varieties, not particularly attractive on the ground or in flight.  The first is the primitive-looking marabou stork, and then a southern ground hornbill. 






Probably one of the least attractive birds for most people are the vultures, partly because of their primitive appearance but also because of their scavenger lifestyle.  True, when they pull some bloody entrails out of an animal carcass, they are not the most appealing of creatures, and they look awkward when resting.  






But in flight they metamorphose into something rather magnificent.  First up are two examples of the African white-backed vulture in flight.  The
high wings and underslung body and head remind me of old aircraft, something like a PBY Catalina from WWII.  






The color of the head of the lappett-faced vulture looks bloody even when it hasn't been eating lately.  The bare head makes it unappealing on the ground, but
it is quite impressive in flight.




I believe this specimen is a Ruppell's griffon vulture, probably an adolescent.  Note that I am using Stevenson and Fanshawe's Birds of East Africa for my bird IDs, coupled with what the guides told us.  Feel free to correct any incorrect  identifications on my part.




Every safari for me seems to have a couple very memorable non-photographic moments, and one of those happened with a mixed group (i.e., all three of the species mentioned above) of several dozen vultures feeding on an old lion kill.  Most of the time they were squabbling with each other as they competed for morsels from the carcass, but every couple minutes their sounds merged into some weird synchrony, rising and falling in chorus with each other.  It was spooky, sounded like the soundtrack from a horror movie intended to freak out the audience.  It worked.





NIGHT DRIVE - Having had some success on night drives at the other camps on this trip, I insisted that we try one here as well.  Meschack did not take us very far from Lion Camp before spotting this little fellow, which my notes indicate as a scrub hare.  Illuminated only by the red-filtered spotlight, this is as good as I can restore any semblance of natural color balance in Adobe Lightroom.




And then we stumbled onto our mystery guest, the first time I have ever seen one of these in the wild - a serval.  Medium in size, and relatively long-legged when it gets up to move.  Elegant.




IN SUMMARY - All four parts of this trip were good in different ways, and each location offered some unexpected pleasures.  While Saruni Samburu was exceptionally nice, I came away from this trip more convinced than ever that the Porini camps in the private conservancies in Kenya really are perfect for my tastes and budget.  I hope that my friends from Minnesota, Dick and Kathy, enjoyed Lion Camp and this entire safari trip as much as I did.  Thank you to them, and to all the other guests I encountered for making it so enjoyable.  And thanks to all the hard-working guides and drivers and camp staff who made it all go like clockwork.  Asante sana for your patience and interest in these trip reports.



Edited by KCAZ
Had shift key down so Part 4 mistakenly typed as Part $
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Ahhhhhmazing photos, thanks for sharing! What month did you go?

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Thanks for the kind words, xyz99.  I was there from November 17-30 last year.

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Yes, Kevin ~ Dick and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip from beginning to end. Thank you so much for inspiring us to go to Kenya, deciding to go with us, helping plan all the best camps, taking fantastic photos, and now documenting everything in such detail.  When people ask if I would go again, I answer that I would love to but probably won’t because it was SO PERFECT I wouldn’t want to be disappointed.  But we’ll see...

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I think the leopards win the award, but it's a tough choice.  The 5-week old cubs and the leopard leaping the pond make this species the winner.  Were the guides hoping and waiting for Fig to appear with her new cubs or was it a surprise while you were there.


Scary lion encounter as you detected the marked change in behavior.  I've seen that happen just a couple of times for no real reason.  I remember grabbing the guide's arm and urging him to leave quickly when I was getting that "your are prey" stare and that was in a closed vehicle. 


How long were you there?

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Hey KathyinMN, glad you enjoyed it.  Maybe someday we can go again (and have another shot at Dick's life insurance money)!  :D


Hello again, Atravelynn.  Kathy can correct me if I am wrong, but I suspect the guide Meshack and driver Julius probably knew that Fig was there and that she had cubs already.  The first time we spotted her and the two cubs, they were pretty deep in a brush pile, so maybe the critical phrase is that this was the first time the cubs were spotted relatively out from under all that cover.  Fig is so close to Lion Camp that I would not be surprised if the guides check in on her every day.  If understand correctly, she had cubs the previous season but had lost them both.  You have it right, we were on the receiving end of that "you are prey" look.  Definitely unnerving.  We stayed at Lion Camp for three nights, which was about right, though another day would have allowed for more time down in the Mara Reserve, or a venture over to the adjacent Mara North conservancy.  The boundaries are so ill-defined to us visitors that we might we have been in Mara North and not known it.

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Spectacular leopard cubs and serval photos! Reminds me why I really want to go to the Mara private reserves.

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Fantastic photos - will be there (Main reserve and Olare Motorogi) first week of November and looking forward to it!

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@KCAZ...thanks for sharing, especially the photos of the leopard cubs!

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Ive been to OMC twice and I've still not seen Fig yet! so thanks for the tip, next time, I'll have to stay in Porini Lion camp.....


beautiful images of Fig and her children. 

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Oh my!  I would love to see leopard cubs.  I have always wanted to visit Lion Camp, but traveling solo makes it prohibitively expensive.  Your photos have tempted me to see if I could change my Ol Kenyei visit in 3 weeks to Olare Motorogi. 

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Thanks all for the nice comments.  Seeing leopards and especially leopard cubs is a real treat, and I am fortunate to have encountered both Fig and Figlet during the past two years visiting Lion Camp.  My guess is that the presence of cubs this past fall might have something to do with plentiful rainfall earlier in the year.  Hopefully these latest cubs of Fig have survived and are expanding the local leopard population.  I am sure the Gamewatchers/Porini could tell you the latest status of leopard sightings, for those of you who plan to visit there in the near future.  And I do wish they would get rid of the single supplement in the off-season, as it does add to the cost for single travellers (and Lion Camp starts out a bit more expensive than the other Porini camps).  

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Stunning photo's to say the least. The leopard jumping over the water is a great shot.

The Male lion is a true king - what a splendid mane he has.

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Wow! Great photos. I really enjoyed seeing Fig's cubs.  That must not have been easy to shoot.  I also really like the different vulture in flight.  I'm a sucker for BIF photos.

I am going to the Mara for the first time next February, but I'll be at Offbeat Mara in MNC.  I'll seriously look at Porini camps for a next trip.  Thanks for a wonderful trip report.

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Now this lovely, easy reading report, and stunning photos, is making me count the days and not the weeks to my next trip. 1st October - off to Porini Rhino, Cheetah and Lion camps. Just about time to start packing!

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Thanks so much for sharing these amazing photos! You are SO lucky to have seen those adorable leopard cubs! I have been lucky to have some excellent leopard sightings but never really young cubs like you got on this trip. That's why we have to keep going back to Africa--so much to see!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Great photos and report from Porini Lion @KCAZ.  It is very cool to see photos of Figs cubs when they were so small and cute.  When we were there in Feb 2019, only one cub remained but it was still really cute and a definite highlight of our stay.



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