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Mara trip report - April / May 2011


loafer247
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Apologies for this being late

 

Background -

 

I have posted a couple of brief trip reports on Fodors in the past 3 years so some of you may remember me. I was born in Kenya but moved to London 9 years ago to study at university and then work in the City. I go back to Kenya at least once a year and always go on safari. I've now done at least 50 different trips in my life.

 

I recently took a three month break from work and realised a life long dream of going to the Mara for a safari greater than 3 days - I went for 2 weeks in April with my brother and then took my Mum and Dad for 4 days in May after they saw my photos from my first trip which convinced them to come.

 

Camp -

 

I stayed at the Mara Intrepids on both trips. In my opinion it is in the best location in the Mara and I found no faults with the camp. The camp has 32 luxury tents which have some of the nicest beds and bed linen I have ever slept on! The quality of service was great and as I stayed there for long everyone knew me by name and treated me almost as family. I even used to play football with the staff at the football pitch outside of camp (which is unfenced!)

 

Food -

 

Not that this is particularly important to me, but just to mention that I was doing a sugar allergy which required me not to even touch sugar for the time I was in Camp. The chefs were amazing and ensured that the entire vegetarian buffet was sugar-free to the extent that they made sugar free bread rolls especially for me.

 

Animals -

 

As some of you may know, April/May is not always the best time to go to the Mara due to the long rains / length of grass / lack of migration etc... but there are other factors as described later which for me makes this a great time to be there. Also, any time in the Mara can be great if you have a good guide and some luck, which we did!

 

I am a cats person so here is a summary of what we saw (I'll give names where possible in case anyone is interested):

 

1st trip (2 weeks):

Lions - 90 different lions (most seen on numerous occasions) including the Marsh pride, Ridge Pride, Paradise Pride, Notch & Sons, Double Crossing Pride, Ol Kiombo Pride and some satellite males and females.

Cheetahs - 15 different cheetahs (most seen more than once) including Honey's boys, Saba and cub, and Alama and 2 cubs

Leopards - 5 different leopards including Olive (seen about 8 times), Olives 2 older cubs Paja and Nkayoni, a 6 month old cub on Paradise Plains, and a shy Leopard near Serena Pumphouse.

 

2nd trip (4 nights):

Lions - 63 different lions, Marsh Pride (16), Paradise Pride (21), Notch's Sons (3), Ol Kiombo Pride (23)

Cheetahs - 2 females

Leopards - 3, Olive, her older male cub Nkayoni and her 7 month old female cub

 

Observations:

 

2 weeks at one camp - I had the most amazing time of life in these 2 weeks. There was no pressure to see animals on any one game drive. We got to follow individual animals over the 2 trips and see how they interact with others, where their territory is, and their struggles to get food. We also got to build a great rapport with the guide to the extent that now he emails me every couple of days to let me know about my favorite cats.

 

The Mara in April/May is beautiful - The lack of cars in the Mara at this time, makes it in my opinion an amazing time to visit especially if the Migration is not of great importance to you. Especially on our second trip, there were whole game drives where we would see a maximum of 1-2 cars. Even popular areas such as the Marsh, Paradise and the Talek area around Intrepids had very few cars. This made it more difficult to see the cats as there were less cars looking for them but sightings were so much more rewarding.

 

Your guide is very important to the overall experience - Our guide Dominic was amazing. While not the oldest and most experienced guide at camp he was by far the most enthusiastic and willing to go the extra mile, We would always be the 1st car to leave and the last car back at camp and he was willing to drive to places that other guides may not be willing to. Because of this, we saw some things I have not seen in my previous 50 safaris.

 

Pack a picnic breakfast - We did this every day and even thought we left camp at 6-15, this gave us a chance to stay out till 12-1 if there was anything interesting out there. This also allowed us to travel long distances to seek our own game or try out new areas. Through this we saw some cheetah kills by staying patient and being out there.

 

Patience (and luck) is key - Staying with the same animal for hours is so rewarding if you have the time. We got to observe hunting behaviour, kills, interaction with other pride members in the case of lions, feeding behaviour, and other things that you would not otherwise notice. We stayed with a mother cheetah and her 2 hungry cubs for 4 hours and witnessed her stalk once unsuccessfully, stalk and kill on her next chase, finish eating their kill, chase the vultures away, go for a drink and then find a place to rest because we were patient and had a picnic preakfast and stayed with her.

 

Intrepids for leopards - In my opinion, Mara Intrepids has the best location in the Mara, especially for leopards. Olive (the famous leopard from Big Cat Diary) has her territory right there and she has three cubs of different ages.

 

Animal Highlights - numerous but will concentrate on the ones that touched me

 

Olive - Those who know of this leopard will know that she is a special leopard. She has 2 male cubs aged approx. 20 months and a younger female cub aged approx. 7 months. She is unique in that she interacts with both sets of cubs. She is also not concerned about cars in the slightest. She is the 1st leopard that I have spent significant time with as she lets you into her life if you don't disturb her. We saw her on numerous occasions, mostly within 5 minutes of camp. In fact we once saw her whilst having a drink at the camp bar walking on the other side of the river. Spending this much time with a leopard and her cubs in the absence of numerous cars was a special privelage. Check the photos and videos if I can get them up and you will see what I mean.

 

3 kills - I have never seen a chase let alone a kill in all my safaris so to see many chases and 3 kills was a great experience. Again see photos and videos. In particular, 1 cheetah kill which I described above was out of this world. The cheetah mother actually dragged the kill to the front tire of our car and ate there with her cubs. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

 

Male lions - At the moment there is a bit of upheaval amongst the lion prides in the Western Mara due to Notch and his sons who make up a dominant coalition of 5 lions. From my knowledge they control about 5 prides now having kicked out the previous pride males and killed the cubs. They are magnificent lions and basically go where they want and do what they want in the Mara. Despite this, we still saw about 18 mature male lions which is an amazing count. A once in a lifetime experience was seeing 3 of Notch's sons stalk, and chase a lion from the Ridge Pride. we saw the whole scene from the begining and believe it or not a hippo saved the Ridge male from certain death. The sounds were incredible. I have all of this on video so will share with you.

 

Rhinos - We saw rhinos 6 times across the 2 trips. I believe they are getting easier to spot.

 

 

Any other questions -

I'd be happy to answer any questions about the camp, guides, animals, Mara, weather etc... or if you have any questions once I've uploaded photos and videos then please just ask.

 

All in all an incredible experience

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Welcome to Safaritalk loafer247, and thankyou for this trip report: I look forward to your future input here. I'd like to focus on one issue if I may:

 

I've now done at least 50 different trips in my life

Better get writing some more trip reports then ;)

 

Photos and videos soon please.

 

Matt.

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My memory isn't good enough to give a day by day account but will share a few stories or pictures of specific cats.

 

First up is Olive:

 

(Sorry I have had to edit your post, please see my reasons below. Matt)

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Loafer247, please don't upload such gigantic image files to Safaritalk as the server will soon run out of space: for further help on uploading and creating galleries here on Safaritalk to help illustrate your posts, please refer to the instructions in my signature line.

 

Thanks, Matt.

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Sorry Matt, this is the first time i'm uploading pictures. Will figure out how to compress them and upload them later.

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This is very interesting. It's been 10 years since I last visited the Mara- all my more recent trips have been to less visited bits of Africa. I've been thinking recently I should give the Mara another chance but have been put off by reports of overcrowding. However, it sounds like you have had excellent sightings in what (in theory) should be the worst time of year- you're not the first person I have heard this from, either.

 

Any idea what other months have similarly low visitor numbers? How about Nov to Feb, for example? Except Xmas, which I'm sure is busy.

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stokeygirl

 

In my opinion, unless you go during migration time (say Mid-July to End of October), you can have a great experience in the Mara. If you, like me, are put off by over-crowding, then here's a few tips:

 

1. Location is key - I would avoid the eastern Mara at all times. This will get you away from the minivan brigade. Camps such as Mara Intrepids, Rekero etc... are ideally located. They are smack bang in the middle of the Mara and depending on the rains you can pretty much get to anywhere. I would also think about the newly formed conservencies bordering the Mara. There are limits on the no. of cars that can enter them and the game viewing is as good as in the Mara.

 

2. You need a guide who is willing to go the extra mile and not always followed the crowd. Our guides on this trip were reccomended to us by a friend who regularly visits the Mara. We usually just asked him to switch the radio off and go off in a direction away from the other cars. To me, half the fun is in tracking and finding the animals.

 

3. Always take a picnic breakfast. Even in the 'busier' parts of the mara (e.g Musiara Marsh), you'll be shocked at the alone-time you can get after 9 AM when most tourists are back at camp. In fact we had some of our most memorable experiences at about 11 AM (including 2 cheetah kills).

 

4. Stay for longer than 2-3 nights. This will take the pressure off both you and your guides to see animals.

 

I am planning on another 2 week stay next March/April. Happy to share my plans with you if you have further interest.

 

Dhruv

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Warm welcome, Dhruv!

Great start (hoping you have lots more to share from your 50 trips ;) )! Great no. of sightings you had, very good strategy of staying longer and enjoying the place without pressure, though it maybe hard on the pockets. The cheetah hunt sounds very exciting.

Look forward to seeing the pictures and videos.

 

Shreyas

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I hope you don't mind questions about organisation and finances - did you book the 2 weeks directly with the camp or with an operator? how much did you have to pay?

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ice - I have contacts at Mara Intrepids so I got a pretty ridiculous rate for the two weeks (c. 2000 USD). I would try contact them directly first before going to an operator.

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Your contacts make me green with envy. I don't really have any questions as I understand what you did and why you did it and it seems you got your reward. I also look forward to seeing - have you got the "how to" of picture posting sorted yet?

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I've posted some pictures on the following link:

 

http://www.kodakgallery.co.uk/ShareLanding.action?c=diqifpsp.35igbfx3t&x=0&y=-w7589v&localeid=en_GB

 

I've also got some videos on my youtube channel - will be posting more over time.

 

http://www.youtube.com/user/loafer247?feature=mhee

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I've posted some pictures on the following link:

 

http://www.kodakgallery.co.uk/ShareLanding.action?c=diqifpsp.35igbfx3t&x=0&y=-w7589v&localeid=en_GB

 

I've also got some videos on my youtube channel - will be posting more over time.

 

http://www.youtube.com/user/loafer247?feature=mhee

 

Hi Loafer,

 

the Mara never fails to deliver. Thanks for the report, pics and videos.

 

Great to see good old Clawed (one of the Marsh Pride males) still being around and he is looking in good condition. Many have written him off more than a year ago already.

 

With regards to the male lions you have sighted. Have you seen the 3 Olkiombo Males? And if yes, do you have any pics of them?

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Peter,

 

Yes I saw the 3 Olkiombo males a few times. They have actually left the Olkiombo pride for the last year (maybe due to Notch's sons)and have take over pride further east near Maji ya Fasi. They are doing well as the pride is about 27 strong. Everytime we saw them they were on a kill.

 

I don't think I took any photos of them but I'm sure I took some videos. I'll dig them out for you and put them on my youtube page

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Just posted a couple of videos of the Olkiombo pride on a buffalo kill. You can see two of the three males - they are massive!

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Peter,

 

Yes I saw the 3 Olkiombo males a few times. They have actually left the Olkiombo pride for the last year (maybe due to Notch's sons)and have take over pride further east near Maji ya Fasi. They are doing well as the pride is about 27 strong. Everytime we saw them they were on a kill.

 

I don't think I took any photos of them but I'm sure I took some videos. I'll dig them out for you and put them on my youtube page

 

Thanks Loafer,

 

yes, the 3 big boys have taken over the Mayi Ya Fisi Pride, but one fraction of the Olkiombo girls moved with them. They still seem to have contact to other members of the Olkiombo Pride females have have sired new cubs with them. Last week I got a report that the some of the Notches have sadly killed two of them. And there was no report about the 3 Males since quite some time. Great you saw them and they are still going strong.

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I'm green with envy over those contacts too!! I enjoyed this report very much on F, and if you could upload the actual photos into the report itself, that would be a real treat for the reader. I believe the YouTube videos can also be embedded directly into the report.

 

Mara in the off- season is such an alluring destination!

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Peter,

 

There are a few females in the Olkiombo area right now who don't really have any pride males since the three males left for Maji ya Fisi... The cubs that were recently killed by Notch's sons were apparently fathered by a couple of males from the Ridge Pride. The 3 Olkiombo males apparently have not ventured into Olkiombo territory for the last few months, fearful of the Notch boys.

 

Check out this video of Notch's sons attacking and nearly killing one of the Ridge Pride males. Interestingly, this happened in the Olkiombo area just across the Olare Orok river. The ridge pride male saved himself by jumping into and across the Olare Orok river and when Notch's sons tried to follow they were charged and attacked by hippos! The video is shaky as we were moving fast but it was incredible!

 

I'll post the links to the video in the next post once they're uploaded

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Sangeeta - I still have to figure out how to embed photos into the report!!

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  • 4 weeks later...

You make this low-season time of travel very enticing. You certainly had good luck!

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  • 2 months later...

Hi there,

 

Thanks for the trip report !

I'm thinking myself of going to the mara in may, I'm a bit hesitating as i found mara entrepid is quite a big camp, how was the bed occupation the period you went?

 

kind regards !

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oh man some amazing views..with those green grass around...guess my next trip to mara will be in off season !...btw that leopard on mound pic is out of the world..is she olive ?

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  • 4 weeks later...

Bushfire - sorry for the late reply.

 

You are tight in saying that Intrepids is a big camp, but in April / May, other than on some weekends occupancy was in the region of 10-20%. Some days there were only about 10 tourists in camp. I never found it to be a problem especially as my focus was on being out in the reserve for as long as possible.

 

I went with a couple of good friends of mine, and we have since set up a business where they are now professional photographers based out of Intrepids. Please check out their website:

 

http://www.aapatelphotography.com/

 

If you are aiming to improve your photography skills, or simply want the flexibility of having a private vehicle with guides who know the Mara inside out, then you may want to think about going on safari with them. I am going to be there in the 1st two weeks of April myself. We can guarantee you the best rates at Intrepids, and you would have your own car and guides which means that you can be out in the reserve all day if you want. Plus their photography skills are amazing.

 

I don't mean for this to sound like an advert but jusdging from my expereince, and the improvement in my photos and learning about the animals etc... it's worth thinking about.

 

Let me know if you're interested and I can put you in touch with them.

 

Dhruv

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Bushbaby - Yep that's Olive. She is pregnant again and should have cubs around late February. Happy to let you have the original print if you want

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