Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Migration News from Governors Camp

News from Governor's Camp in the Masai Mara (4 September 2012):

Weather and grasslands
This month saw hot and dusty days with little rain although each day began with gorgeous pastel sunrises. Early morning temperatures averaged 17°C with some mornings being as low as 12°C, midday was a warm 25°C and evenings temperatures were around 23°C. The grasslands are drying out rapidly and have been grazed down with the many wildebeest and zebra that have passed through, mid month there were an estimated 500,000 wildebeest strewn over the Bila Shaka, Musiara and northern Masai conservation areas. The Mara River has been at a steady flow. There was little rainfall with 63.5mm for the month at Little Governors and 72.5mm at Governors Camp, on the 27th there was a good shower of rain of 30mm which brought the water up by two feet.

General game
Large numbers of wildebeest came through within the 1st week of the month and many zebra have been seen in and around the Musiara Marsh and Plains areas, on the 28th many of the wildebeest had moved out except the small scattered herds. Elephant have been crossing the Mara River of late.

Wildebeest migration
There have phenomenal river crossings this month!!! At 6.00pm on the 8th at the main crossing points at paradise an estimated 2,000 Zebra and 500 wildebeest crossed the Mara River towards the Mara triangle. Many zebra and wildebeest that had crossed the sand river then came across the Burrangat and Posse plains; they then crossed via the Talek River towards Musiara and Paradise Plains. There were large numbers of wildebeest in the Bila Shaka and Musiara Plains. Since the first week there have been daily river crossings with large numbers of wildebeest and a few zebra taking the plunge. Crocodile in the river have been active, depending where they cross there is often many wildebeest killed from sheer concentrated numbers congregating into narrow exits, resulting in floating bodies, which is a tragic waste of life. On the 11th, 15th, 16th, 17th 19th large numbers of Wildebeest crossed at what the guides call mortuary, on the 17th at 11.00am there were an estimated 250 or so animals that were trampled on by one another and floated down. On the 23rd a large crossing of wildebeest at the main crossing point took place at 11.00am with an estimated 3,000-5,000 of them crossing. Large plumes of dust were kicked up as they all suddenly lurched forward in a seething mass. Many more herds of Wildebeest have recently come down from the conservation areas in the north east and are scattered all over Rhino ridge. The many wildebeest that crossed from mid month onwards are in the 'Lookout' area in the south of the Reserve. On the 31st in the morning and afternoon there was a large build up of wildebeest at the main crossing point, they made numerous attempts to cross and the final straw in the afternoon was a vulture flying into alight onto a dead carcass that was in the river, this spooked them and they all retreated back to a few hundred meters of the river. Guides from the Transmara reporting back late in the evening say that there was a small crossing near the Mara bridge of an estimated 500 wildebeest and a few zebra. Topi in good numbers can be seen on Topi Plains, Musiara Marsh, Paradise and in the conservation areas to the East of the reserve. Many female Topi have given birth earlier than usual; with young calves being seen.

Elephant have crossed the Mara River again. There are some very young calves; we have seen calves crossing the river with the assistance of their mothers. Midday is still a good time to see elephant crossing the river. Cokes Hartebeest also have calves which is the same story as Topi; being earlier than usual. Warthog with more piglets are being seen, the resident lion are taking note and have taken many young piglets already. Lion will dig warthog out of their bolt holes if the ground surface is not too hard. The breeding herd of buffalo is being seen within the Marsh and Bila Shaka, lately they have moved to the eastern side of the Marsh. Some of the breeding bulls have been fighting and one bull had a split 'boss' which indicates a severe head on contact, it is not unusual to see a bull lift another literally off the ground. Large troops of Olive Baboons with many infants are on the roadside verges and also in the woodland fringes. At birth they are black in colour, at six weeks old they will start to ride 'jockey' on their mothers backs. Both male and female olive baboons hunt. In the relatively richer forest environments where they are found, olive baboons rely heavily on fruits compared to seeds and grasses consumed by savannah-living baboons. Male Baboons will actively hunt small antelopes; it requires active searching and stalking or chasing of the prey with Thomson's gazelles making up 30 +% of the prey eaten by olive baboons.

Thomson Gazelles fawns are being seen more frequently, with cheetah and Black Backed Jackals feeding of them. Good numbers of Grants Gazelles can be seen in Marsh Grasslands, Defassa waterbuck and impala are still regulars within the woodlands and grassland areas between the camps. Many giraffe are being seen with many differing coat patterns in the woodlands and in between the camps they are prominent browsers with more sightings of mainly males feeding off the Warburgia leaves (African pepper tree) these leaves are very spicy. Giraffe have a unique skin pattern in which the white patches are sites for complex blood vessel systems and large sweat glands which serve as a window to dissipate heat, similar to that of zebra each individual giraffe has a unique coat pattern. Giraffe are certainly not aromatic and it is said that their hair may serve as a chemical defense, as it is full of parasite repellents that gives the animal a characteristic scent, we often think that certain leaves and herbs can induce this effect, generally speaking males have a stronger odor than females, it is also thought that this odor has a sexual function.Their horns, which are more prominent on the males are not actually horns but formed from ossified cartilage and are called 'ossicones'. These solid bone protrusions (ossicones) are covered in skin. Some hippos have been seen more out of the water latterly on their way back from grazing and this could be from the sheer presence of Wildebeest. All hippos leave the water or marsh waterways in the late evening or hours of darkness; they crop grass with a horny layer on their lips and process this grass with their molars, the large sized canines they possess are weapons of defense only. When they have finished grazing they then slip back into the water in the early hours of the morning. Like other aquatic mammals, the hippo has very little hair so is sensitive to Ultraviolet light with this they secrete a substance through pores in their skin called 'hipposudoric acid'. This secretion is initially colourless and turns red-orange within minutes, eventually becoming brown. An interesting note: two distinct pigments have been identified in the secretions, one red and one orange. The two pigments are highly acidic compounds. They are known as red pigment-hipposudoric acid and orange pigment-norhipposudoric acid. The red pigment was found to inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria, lending belief and theory that the secretion has an antibiotic effect. The light absorption of both pigments peaks in the ultraviolet range, creating a sunscreen effect. All hippos, even those with different diets secrete the pigments, so it does not appear that food is the source of the pigments. There is one young male hippo at Il Moran Camp on the opposite bank and is called 'Socks' due to pink pigments on his feet.


Lion Marsh Pride - Bibi left her one cub to Siena who had two of her own, later in the month another younger lioness had three cubs. Siena's three joined up so all six were seen together. On the 15th and 16th Siena was seen mating with Sikio and Bibi at the same time was with Hunter, although now she is spending more time with the lioness and the six cubs again. The four males are seen throughout Bila Shaka. The other three females including Modomo have been seen between Bila Shaka and Topi plains. Modomo's lip ulcers seem to have disappeared with only a slight scram to indicate where they were. Scar and Morani were last seen near the top end east of Bila Shaka. They have been feeding off warthog, zebra and wildebeest. Charm is seen often now on her own and she was last seen on the East side of the Marsh. Notch and the four males have been in Hammerkop area of Ongata posse which is west of The Talek region; there are many wildebeest here having crossed the Mara river. During hard times of drought or rain when most ungulates disperse these large male lion will opt for larger prey and hippo even large adult males were taken regularly. Notch is suffering from Sarcoptic mange and has lost much hair around his lower stomach region, some hair from his dark mane has also fallen out, he is well over 12 years old now and this mange is relatively common with old male lion. The Lioness Nyota and her male cub Moja who is 8 months old has been seen between Rhino Ridge and Topi Plains, there are many wildebeest here that have come down from the Masai conservation areas and across the Talek River. Joy and her 3 male sub adults that are 16 months old are being seen regularly near the windmill area of the Marsh or just within in the conservation area. They have been feeding off wildebeest and warthog piglets. On the 27th in the afternoon they dug out three piglets. Joy herself has been seen mating with Scar. One of the male cubs was scratched up by the four males but is healing well, on the 29th Joy was seen near the west side of the Marsh with only two male cubs. The Olkiombo lion pride of 12 including their 2 cubs which are 10 months old, 8 females and 2 males which are 2-3 years old, are in the open plains area near Fig tree camp in the riverine woodlands. They have been feeding off wildebeest and zebra.

Malaika and her one cub that is approximately four months old are still very active; she has been feeding off Thomson Gazelles and their fawns, she is being seen more frequently near Topi plains. The female cheetah with one male cub who is estimated at 12 months old have moved out form the Mara North conservancy and are being seen at Bila Shaka and Rhino Ridge. On the 25th they had killed a Thomson Gazelle between Rhino and Bila Shaka; they ate about 50% of this kill before being run off by spotted Hyena. Another female Cheetah with two cubs that are estimated at two months old are frequently being seen in the Paradise and Bila Shaka plains area, again Thomson Gazelles are on the menu. They were harassed by two Jackal a dog and bitch who were baiting them for some time, the female cheetah gave chase and saw off the jackal pair, it is not uncommon to witness Jackal running off cheetah from their kill.

Olive and her one cub that is 12 weeks old have been seen near the Ntiaktiak and Talek river area and also recently in the croton thickets above Rekero camp. She has been seen feeding off Bush Buck and impala. The male leopard of Paradise Plains has been near the mortuary crossing point on the Mara River this month. On the 22nd in the evening after a large crossing had passed through he was seen being chased by six large male Olive Baboons. The female leopard on the rocky hill close to the Serena pump house on the Mara River with her one male cub that is approximately 10 months old is being seen regularly. She has been seen feeding of Impala recently, good sightings of her was seen on the 19th, 22nd and 23rd where she frequents a well used Warburgia tree. The large male Leopard of Paradise can be seen in and around the main crossing points; on the 30th at 10.30am at the main crossing point he was seen crossing the open ground with a young male behind it.

Walking in the Mara North Conservancy
Grasslands were still long and are now showing signs of drying out. The open plains below the fly over grasses are still long and dense although pockets of zebra and some wildebeest that have come through have made an impact here. Large herds of wildebeest started coming thorough in the second week of the month. The majority of these wildebeest moved on down in a southern direction towards the Musiara and Bila Shaka areas and then onto the main crossing points on the Mara River. On the 31st there were still some good sized herds in the North and East of the conservancy. Good numbers of zebra had come through earlier and moved on south although a few herds remained in the open grassland plains. Hyena and lion have preyed on these wildebeest and zebra. On the 23rd a herd of zebra was spooked perhaps by lion when suddenly one of them a stallion dropped dead, we were not sure what the problem was apart from the fact that it was an old Stallion. A zebras stripes are believed to play a role in social interactions, with variations of the pattern allowing the animals to distinguish between individuals, like a human finger print. Common zebras and plains zebras live in groups, known as 'harems', consisting of one stallion with up to six mares and their foals. Bachelor males either live alone or with groups of other bachelors until they are old enough to challenge a breeding stallion. Elephant have been seen in the acacia woodlands mainly in the eastern corridor, signs of elephant damage can be seen on the acacia Gerrardii trees, most of the dung shows grass is the main item in their diet; it appears that when large numbers of wildebeest or cattle prevail the elephant tend to stay longer in the acacia woodlands, or move on down to the reserve. The Buffalo herd has been seen near the salt lick and also on the open grasslands plains on the opposite side to the rocky croton hill. The Acacia lion pride have three little cubs; the lioness gave birth in the riverbed near the white highlands ridge. She was seen later in the month for some time in the croton thickets on the 'Fly over'. Topi with young calves can be seen on the shorter grass plains in the east and southern areas of the conservancy, small herds of cokes hartebeest in the east. Good sized herds of impala in the acacia woodlands. A lioness has three cubs that are two months old; on the 30th at 7.00am in the croton thickets near to the horse camp the lioness and her three cubs, the three other lionesses and their six cubs were all seen together; they had earlier that morning killed and eaten a wildebeest near the Olare Orok River.

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