Today was our full day adventure in the Maasai Mara game park – with a leisurely departure at 8am! Writing this having returned from this day, we are all not sure whether anything can prepare you for the majesty and the complete confrontation that Mother Nature decided to offer us today.First call was to check on the spotted hyena, a favourite that Emma had been hunting for s few days. We decided that they actually were quite good looking despite their bad reputation.
Next stop was to a couple of cars looking up a tree and yes, there was a leopard high in the tree and with the remains of what was a small gazelle with him. He stashed that for later, climbed down and meet his mate on the ground and we watched them walk away.
Third stop was to see a cheetah mum and her 2 almost grown cubs, finishing their meal of a small gnu. Their stomachs were remarkably fat and they apparently won’t need to hunt again for a few days – we’re not surprised. We watched them bask in the sun before the vultures and jackels moved in for their share of the carcass.
We then drove across the plains among the seemingly endless herds of gnu and zebra on their annual migration into the park from Tanzania. They move as mass herds in almost single file, and at one stage almost as far as the eye could see were these herds on the move, from the left horizon to the right. We then came to a small stream to watch them cross, drinking on the way but hundreds of animals moving from one side to the other.
After a quick stop at the viewpoint we then departed to the Talek river to see if we could see a herd crossing an larger river. And we were not disappointed. We stopped at a larger waterhole in the river to observe a herd of hippos, including a few walking around out of the river. On the opposite side appeared the large herd of gnu, waiting, watching and working out where to cross. Charles (our guide) was very confident they would cross, despite us watching the herd move up and down the other bank.
The gnu had a choice of many crossing sites, but the herd was crowding in on the top of quite a steep sand cliff down to the river. We are talking 10 meters high. And whether by accident (as in the first gnu falling down the cliff) or a purposeful decision, this is where the crossing started. So we were watching the herd literally jump 10 meters onto a sand bank, and then dashing across the river. It was completely mesmerising but at the same time quite tragic. We could hear the beasts landing, rolling on their backs, doing somersaults, falling onto their knees and then dashing across the river. By the time they realised this was suicidal, about 100-200 had crossed but the cost was high. One dead at the base of the cliff, 3 remained in the river unable to climb due to broken limbs and another 3-4 hobbled with the herd on clearly broken legs.
The bulk of the herd then moved a few hundred meters downstream to a more sensible crossing (as in a flatter approach) but these led to disasters of another form. In a splash of white water, a crocodile (we estimate 15-20 meters) attacked the crossing herd. Eventually he singled out one large gnu and latched onto his hind quarters with his jaws. Meanwhile the rest of the herd had crossed the river, but disaster, as they couldn’t find an exit to the plains on the other side and were trapped. So they were forced to return across the river to the original side!
Meanwhile the battle between croc and gnu had just started! The gnu was able to stand in the river, and fought the Croc for over an hour (we know because we watched). Clearly the croc had chosen a beast a little large to bring down easily, but equally clearly the gnu’s only chance was to drag the croc onto land and try to escape. Unfortunately, with a vice like grip and patience there was only going to be one winner in this battle. No way the gnu could drag something that big and heavy onto land. We watched until the gnu was clearly exhausted and the end was nigh (we didn’t want to stay to the very end). It was also odd that except for a few noises at the start the gnu utter almost no sounds and seemed resigned to his/her eventual fate.
All a bit confrontational and like a national geographic documentary being filmed right in front of us. And probably why you don’t bring young children on safari!
After a packed lunch we headed back to the camp, still posting game on the way. We found a hyena den, complete with mum and youngster basking in the warm sun. Then a herd of elephants crossing the plains. Finally a pair of lions ready to mate, on front of the tourists despite Charles telling us it was bound to happen!