Saturday, March 15, 2014

There's Something About Malaika - East Africa (D14/15)

Even in November when the big herds had all but moved on down to Serengeti, the density of game here in Masai Mara was still extraordinary. We saw plenty in the first afternoon game drive - little wonder why it is one of the top game parks in Africa. Mara is one of the smaller game parks (approx. 1510 sq km) that I have visited but it is still more than twice the size of my home country and it has one of the highest density of lions in Africa. It did not take long for us to find them too - two big male lions sleeping away. Immediately I noticed the manes on them were conspicuously thicker and darker than those in Selous and Ruaha, presumably due to the cooler year round climate here. Our guide then brought us to a two day old hippo carcass. It was a lion kill and only vultures and a couple of black-backed jackals were left feeding on it. Interesting spectacle but when the wind shifted, the stench and flies became almost unbearable. There were also many first sightings for me like the topi and Thompson gazelle on that drive. A lone young lioness laid in wait on a herd of zebras but she was hopelessly open and expose and didn't stand a chance. On the way back to camp, we drove by to see the two male lions again. They hardly moved at all since we left them. It was a good first game drive with much less vehicle traffic than expected. I stayed at the Mara Explorer Camp, a small camp owned by a chain. Set within the Masai Mara NP by the Talek River, it was atmospheric and rather luxurious compared to the other camps on this trip.

mind blowing experience
We set out in search of cheetahs and leopards next morning. An hour or so into the morning drive, we found two cheetahs - a mother known locally as Malaika and its nine month old cub. It was my first sighting of this elegant cat and it also turned out to be the most mind blowing experience! Our guide shut off the engine and Malaika approached our 4X4. Then like she had done it many times before, she leaped onto the bonnet and went on to climb and sit right above me on the roof frame. Our guide had earlier mentioned that cheetahs here sometimes use stationary vehicles as vantage points. By now, the cub was hissing and seemingly frustrated for unable to climb up to join its mother. For almost 45 minutes, Malaika sat there hardly moving except to switch sides several times. Time flew by and Malaika jumped off just as suddenly as the manner she got up and went back into the bush with its cub. Because Malaika was probably looking to hunt earlier, we went back after breakfast hoping to catch her in action. We found them but they were not alone. A hyena was loitering around and when it wandered too close, Malaika charged and it ran away. Bold move by Malaika especially when she is no match for a hyena. Cheetahs will not hunt in the presence of hyenas so we moved on. At a leopard sighting, there was already five vehicles ahead of us and we could not get close enough or a proper angle for any photos.

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