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Lions By The Mara River

We headed down to the Mara River having seen the Rongai Pride earlier in the day. Hoping to see the famous wildebeest crossing as they make their way from Tanzania's Serengeti National Park searching for the lush grass found in the Masai Mara. We drove along the Mara river, a paradise hidden from the plains by its tall banks with the river flowing at the bottom. Storks flew through the rivers passage passing Nile Crocodiles basking in the sun with pods of hippos resting in the shallows together in the heat of the day. We continued along to one of the popular crossing points to see if we could see anyone wildebeest crossing. To our surprise we saw a small herd of around 20 waiting to cross. It just took one to cross and the others joined in, swimming and grunting nervously as they made their way through the water, each of them running happily once they had reached the soft ground. One by one they made their way to the open plain and started grazing once again.

As we continued on our journey through the plains we encountered many species, hundreds of wildebeest, zebra and topi as well as a huge herd of cape buffalo, numbering at least 500. As we drove along the plain we saw a small circle of bush surrounded by trucks, clearly there was something in the there worth stopping for.

First we saw three lions, and then four, and then eventually a total of six together in amongst the bush. One of them was resting right next to a zebra carcass, the head still completely intact pointing out of the bush but its belly and hind legs were beyond recognition. The lions had clearly been gorging and were busy resting after their first fill. Some were lay flat clearly exhausted after the enormity of their meal, while others were panting heavily clearly starting to suffer as the sun became its hottest.

Together I counted three fully grown adult lionesses and a trio of cubs that I estimated were around eighteen months old. They were at the age were they can still benefit from the security of their mothers but if forced they could just make it to independence. I think that at least one was male, maybe two. Judging from the cubs seeming to be all of the same age and size I am confident that they would all be from the same litter. Perhaps any cubs born at the same time from the other two mothers have either left the pride already or are spending more and more time away from their mothers or didn't make it to adulthood. Seeing lions in much smaller groups like this really did make me realise how flexible these lion prides are and how the core group of females are made from a much closer knit community which can only really be achieved in a smaller group, most commonly sisters. With the cubs reaching an older age I estimate that within the next year or so this pride will be due an influx of cubs if all three adult females become pregnant, more if the young female stays with her mother and remains a permanent member of the pride.

Just like the previous sighting of a seemingly stable group of lions there was no sign of a male lion around, even more interesting when there was food available, it is at this time or when the females are in season that the males are more likely to join the others. With food available in two points it is clear that the males have a very important job to do and were probably in another part of their territory spending a lot of time patrolling and defending with their other male companions.

As we searched the Mara for more wildlife throughout the afternoon we had a very special sighting. We headed to one of the quieter, more forested parts of the Mara and we were rewarded by a leopard sighting. A mother leopard with a cub estimated to be about eighteen months old. The female was missing her bottom left canine, a clear indicator of old age. This will most likely by one of her last offspring she will raise. They had a wildebeest carcass at the base of a tree which had likely been killed overnight. We left the two leopards as they disappeared into the green undergrowth, truly magical.

The trip the National Reserve was an incredible experience. There was wildlife on every corner and here it is given a safe haven in which to flourish. There is naturally problems but all in all the principle of a protected area offers the best chance for the wildlife to remain most natural we just have to make sure that they have the best resources possible to stay protected.

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