By Adam Bannister
Right on que the short rains have arrived. In a matter of days, the grasslands have transformed from a harsh dry brown to a hue of verdant green and gold. Over the course of the day the storm clouds build to the north. Take a deep breath and you can smell the rain approaching. The smell of Africa. By the late afternoon the heavens open. Out here rain is considered a blessing. There is nothing quite like being out in the wilds of the Maasai Mara during a powerful thunderstorm.
The rain brings with it a sense of joy and relief. It’s a natural cycle that life depends on. Whilst much of Kenya battles through a terrible drought, we are fortunate enough to see the natural rhythms continue. The animals prance and pronk, they jump, and they delight.
The sky is full of drama, the lighting is magnificent. The roads are slushy and mud sprays everywhere. The car dances along the black-cotton soil and there is a high chance you may get stuck. Laughter bellows out of safari vehicles out on the plains. It’s one of the most fun times to be out on safari.
Despite the rain that comes some days, the sightings are fantastic. The best thing, however, is that the numbers of visitors to the area is low at this time – and so you can have the most extraordinary experiences without having to share the animals with many other cars.
The only thing better than time with the four Sankai Males is being alone with them…without a single other car. For almost an hour we sat transfixed. Four massive males, in their prime, marching confidently through the golden grass, manes puffed up and blowing in the wind. I have spent thousands of hours with lions in the Mara, but this hour ranks among one of my best.
These Sankai males continue to be pushed north by the four Lemek Males. Meanwhile, the Lemek Males continue to mate and spread their lineage towards the south. The result: a very exciting set of lion dynamics in the Northern Mara Conservancies – the photographer in me revels in the anticipation. Cubs, cubs, cubs…
The other morning, we saw six different cheetahs (over a period of 3 hours), consisting of 3 separate sightings – and only one of these sightings was shared with a single other car. The other sightings were completely private. For wildlife enthusiasts these moments spent alone with cats are golden.
Kisaru, and her two sub-adult cubs, had a close call and run -in with a lioness a few days ago. A lioness stalked her and charged. It was my first time to experience the bravery of Kisaru as she retaliated with a charge of her own. She bought her two cubs enough time for them to split up and get a start on the bloodthirsty lioness. Cats scattered in all directions. Luckily, a half hour later, Kisaru was reunited with her family. They have provided wonderful moments each day since.
Not far south of us, down in the Mara Triangle, there are still a good number of wildebeest and zebras – remnants of the ‘Great Migration’. Who would have thought that in mid-November you could still capture scenes like this? And what’s fun is that we can get the best of the conservancies, and then drive a little extra to get into the heart of the herds. The perfect combination and the recipe to a fascinating and rewarding safari.