Sunday, 9 October 2016

safariLIVE: Cats of the Mara Triangle

After the epic Mara adventure WE have just had, it seems that a breakdown of all our new cat characters is in order!


The Majority of the week was spent with the Kichwa Tembo pride. A collection of cats including four adult lionesses and two young subadult males. This pride had recently undergone a territorial takeover from a new coalition of two young and fit males. Initially it was believed these golden-locked, young lads had their origins in the world famous Marsh Pride. A global favourite made famous by BBC’s Big Cat Diary. Yet after a little more investigation it turns out no-one is exactly sure where these Blonde usurpers came from. One thing that is known, is that they came into the area with the intention of staying!


On our very first day WE were able to track down these two young male lions with one of the Kichwa Tembo lionesses. These six year old Blonde Usurpers had killed seven cubs and it seemed this brave lioness had gone forth to start making peace between her pride and the new top coalition. The cats didn’t do much on that first night, save for treating us all to their thunderous roars as the sun began to set over the Oloololo escarpment.


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(Kichwa Tembo pride lioness licking her lips, Screenshot Credit: Linda McCaslin‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)
Day two brought with it its own surprises. After an afternoon spent at Mara River observing the harrowing crossings made by wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle alike, it was time to catch up with the cats. All hopes were high for a hunt once darkness had settled across the open plains. Sure enough, once the darkness was firmly ensconced for the evening the lions were up and on the prowl. Rain teamed as bolts of lightning tore open the ominous skies, the lions moved stealthily across the plains, their foot falls drowned by the rain and softened by the thick carpet of yellowing grasses.


The cool, wet weather seemed to excite the lions as they bounded and played with each other, until they found themselves in some very real trouble indeed. The lions had mistakenly run across an active hyaena den, excited giggles, whoops and growls penetrated the din of the rain, the lions huddled together facing the hyaena head on. The spotted scavengers surrounded the lions calling to their clan mates to amass. Slowly and painfully the Kichwa Tembo pride edged away from the den while they kept a careful watch on the gleaming eyes and teeth of the spotted hyaena. Eventually one of the young subadult males made a break for it drawing some of the hyaena’s attention. The rest of the pride was then able to slink away unharmed but shaken up.


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(Kichwa Tembo pride hunker down while growling at a clan of hyaena, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)


Just when WE thought the action was over the lionesses burst forth at great speed, their well-muscled legs propelled them over the flat wide plains, gaining momentum with each bound. This chase ended in a collision with a young zebra, by the time James had caught up, the zebra was long deceased and all six of the hungry cats were feeding hungrily. Unlike the lions WE see regularly in South Africa, the Kichwa Tembo pride fed like a ravenous pack of wild dogs, barely taking breath between each mouthful. The reason for this then became clear as 40 hyaena stormed into the sighting out of the darkness and from all directions! The lions kept their ranks tight and closed around the zebra carcass and continued to feed as though their lives depended on it. The hyaena sniffed around the outskirts of the kill with their feather duster like tails stiff and erect with excitement. Once the lions had consumed almost all of the kill they relaxed and began dozing near the carcass. The odd brave hyaena would dash in every now and again to steal a small scrap or discarded bone. The lions barely paid any attention to their arch nemesis once the feast was over, and eventually the scene calmed.


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(Kichwa Tembo pride feed in a hurry as hyaena start to arrive, Screenshot Credit: Debra W. Baudoin‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)


Day three in the Mara Triangle presented yet another amazing adventure for the safariLIVE crew. WE kicked off with one of the most recognised animals on the planet, a massively impressive male lion known as Scarface. A fight with another male lion left his right eye mangled and blackened, hence his name sake. Scarface is part of a four lion strong collective and what used to be the dominant coalition in the area. Two of his brothers, Hunter and Sikio, have not been seen in some time and rumor has it they have crossed the Mara River to the south. His third brother, Morani, seemed to have betrayed Scarface by joining forces with the new Blonde Usurpers. When WE found the magnificent beast he was walking intently across the open plains as an equally impressive herd of cape buffalo followed him closely. The buffalo slowly chased him across wide open space while he cast unconcerned looks over his shoulder making sure he was just out of harm’s way. Eventually both he and the buffalo came to a gentleman’s agreement, both eventually satisfied that there was enough space between them to negate any danger. Scarface then lay down in the long yellow grass that hypnotically swayed in the afternoon breeze.


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(Scarface moving away from a herd of buffalo, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)


Once Scarface went flat for the day it was time to move on to the Kichwa Tembo pride. Hopes once again were high that another hunt would be on the cards for the evening. But alas the lions had other plans. When we first caught up with them one lioness seemed determined to catch something. Initially she stalked a lonesome Thomson’s gazelle ram yet her hunt was foiled and the gazelle pronked away with loud snorts of disgust. The young lioness then returned to her unhelpful pride mates and spent the rest of the daylight hours fast asleep.  


Night fell and the lions were once again up and on the prowl. They wandered the plains bounding and playing as they went. They climbed trees, they pounced on each other and they gave James the runaround until eventually they went flatter than flat but despite this WE hoped a hunt was imminent. It wasn’t. Once the lion’s did eventually rouse themselves from a two hour nap they ambled slowly into the darkness.


WE managed to stay hot on their tails, again they played with reckless abandon. That was until a large herd of wildebeest appeared on the horizon, hearts began racing and stomachs twisted in knots as the young lioness flatted her lean tawy body to the ground and began stalking ever closer. Again, her pride could not have been less helpful, it seemed the other five lions enjoyed watching their lone pride mate chase down prey on her own. She charged forward but the wildebeest simply pranced away and out of her reach. She then returned to her pride mate yet again and the lions decided it was best to sleep the night away.


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(Eager Kichwa Tembo lioness on the lookout for prey, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)


Day four was a field day for the lions of the Mara Triangle! The cats had been killing and feeding left, right and centre. The best action took place at the perilous crossing points on the banks of the rushing Mara river. After having escaped the heaving jaws of countless crocodiles the wildebeest clambered up the northern banks, in both a state of terror and relief. Yet it was not over, concealed in the long swaying grasses was a single lioness, reportedly from the Paradise Plains Pride.


It seemed the lioness was casually waiting for the best target to run past. She made a half hearted attempt at a glistening subadult yet after getting her claws a little stuck in she seemed to just let the wildebeest go, clearly this one was not up to her obviously high standards of wildebeest meat. She lay in coiled tension waiting with her eyes trained upon the never ending flow of prey. She then effortlessly pounced on a slightly smaller herd member and easily pulled it’s struggling body away from the teeming mass. It was all over in a matter of seconds once she had clamped her vice-like jaws in a fatal throat hold. Two more lionesses then made their way over to join their pride mate at the beest-y feast. But the lions, who had been carrying around rotund bellies, then lay near their kill and barely touched it! Clearly they had been feeding well over the past few days and were in no rush to expand their waist lines any further.


As for the Kichwa Tembo pride, it had been reported that they had taken down yet another young zebra some distance away from the river. Yet even they fed reluctantly, without the pressure of ancient and highly populated hyaena clan the lions finally had an opportunity to recuperate before digging into the next set of meals.


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(Full to bursting Paradise Plains lioness, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)


As the sun set over the western horizon the time came to check on two male lions who had recently made their home on the plains, the Blonde Usurpers. As expected the cats were flat, full and happy as they rested their growing mass on the soft long Mara grasses. They yawned and stretched, eventually setting out across the great expanse of open land. They scent marked and rubbed heads every now and then but before long they were off back to sleep after an exhausting five minute stroll.


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(Blonde Usurper resting his tired legs, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)


WE then made the decision to move on and see what other surprises the night had in store. Soon enough a favourite spotted cat made an appearance. This did not however, come in the form of a new leopard, but rather a very relaxed female serval. The gorgeous and sleek feline groomed her damp paws and prowled in a ditch next to the road before heading off into the darkness. Yet with our special thermal imaging camera WE were able to watch her for quite some time even after she had disappeared from infrared light range. WE watched as she made a bee-line straight towards a few glowing white spots on a distant plain, once there it became apparent that she was tending to her litter of serval kittens! What a special way to end off yet another incredible Mara adventure!


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(Female serval on the prowl, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)


The final day of our epic Mara adventure flew past in a blur of excitement and mystery. WE met up with a new pride on the plains, aptly named the “Out of Africa” pride. This collection of fantastic feline comprised of four lionesses, these incredibly beautiful huntresses of the Mara had also lost their cubs to the marauding activities of the new Blonde Usurpers. Yet life in the wild does not slow down for any family upset and so the lionesses of the Out of Africa pride moved on with it. WE caught up with the stunning pride as they lay in sunlit radiance against the backdrop of yet another looming thunderstorm building in the distance. Their precision focus was pinpointed on a distant black and white striped lump lying motionless in the thick golden-green grasses.


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(Out of Africa lioness walking towards a zebra carcass, Screenshot Credit: Marieke van Nistelrooij‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)


A herd of zebra were grazing nearby and the lionesses seemed reluctant to approach the carcass. Once the herd had moved off the lions moved in, closer inspection revealed a dead zebra, lying spread eagled in the middle of the plains. Initially it was thought the lions had made the kill and were chased off by the angry herd. In contrast to this, earlier reports stated that a zebra had been wounded during a river crossing and later perished as a result of the wounds. It seemed the mysterious death of this zebra had been solved. Once the lions had arrived the youngest of the pride set about “playing” with the carcass. She grabbed the deceased zebra by the throat, pounced on it and nibbled it’s nose before she took a few big mouthfuls. The lions then became bored and lay within a few meters for the rest of the afternoon. Once the sun had set however it seemed appetites were on the rise and the lions tucked into the stripy dinner once again.


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(Young Out of Africa pride lioness plays with zebra carcass, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)


The lions however seemed rather unimpressed at the unappetising, crocodile chewed zebra and soon had their sights set on something a little fresher. Once under the cover of darkness the lions edged towards a large and completely oblivious wildebeest herd. The four formidable lionesses flattened their tawny bodies to the ground, their thick and padded paws silenced each careful and silent step towards their prey. Hearts thumped with anticipation as the lions crept ever closer, the wildebeest still totally unawares. After a few more moments of tense patience the lions were off, they exploded forth from the grass like muscular canon balls as they raced towards the herd. But wildebeest are sharper than that and the great mass of gnu’s galloped away with ease as their alarm calls rung out the demise of the hunt. The lionesses flicked their tails in frustration and loped off in disappointment.


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(Out of Africa lioness stretches before moving off, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain‎, safariLIVE, Mara Triangle)


This did not last long however, distant roars alerted the pride to the presence of some new intrusion. Soon they were off towards a large thicket of nearby trees. Once there, the lionesses scent marked and called out their territorial dominance before heading off into the thicket and out of sight.


But the magical Mara expedition has ended for now and it’s time to get back to our favourite cat characters in South Africa. WE want to thank you all for coming on this epic adventure with us. WE look forward to having you all along on the next one!

Update, as of 01 October:

WE received some sad news from The Mara Triangle - a young lioness from Kichwa Tembo airstrip area started showing severe neurological sign. She circled the same area continuously for two days before she became completely paralyzed. We feared the possibility of canine distemper virus (CDV) or rabies infection but the lab result from Kenya Wildlife Service confirmed that the animal had suffered severe Babesia infection (a tick borne disease).


(“It was sad to lose a beautiful lioness but we are relieved that it did not have highly contagious disease such as CDV which could have had a devastating effect to all the carnivores in the area.” - The Mara Triangle)

1 comment:

Dragonlady said...

Thank you for this incredible post. It was awesome to see a lot of it on the safari drives ....
I can't wait for the next adventure!