Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Maasai Mara

This weekend was very amazing. We made our journey to the Masai Mara. We left at 6am on Friday morning. The ride was bumpy, and we didn't think we could take it much longer when we got to the bad part. 3 hours of the worse gravel road ever! We were very thankful to get there. 

I won't say much about this weekend. Words can't do it justice. Upon arriving at our luxury tent park, we had lunch and tea, and then went on our first safari. We seen cheetahs, wildebeests, antelope ( various sizes, shapes), hyenas, LIONS!!!!, 

Actually, Nolan kept a very good list of our safari.  You will have to ask him later for some of the details since it sounds sort of funny...
dead zebra
wild dog eating dead zebra
masai people 
big beak bird
wild dog
termite hills
baa baa brown sheep 
live zebra
gazelle/goat NOS 
masai warrior 
Thomson Gazelle 
Mere-cat (like Timon) 
yellow billed stork 
dead buffalo 
dead lion 
elephants  (2 + baby, far far away) 
baby donkey 
asian paparazzi (silly man in his personal car took pictures of us, we must look weird)
more elephants and baby elephants 
Lilac-breasted Roller
black-bellied Bustard bird 
Ground horn bill 
Dik-Dik, aka rabit-deer-goat 
killer leopard 
unfortunate impala 
killer hippos from whom Kevin narrowly escaped 
huge vultures 
secretary bird - partial to snakes 
African killer toilet tarantula from whom Navid narrowly escaped. 
cute little monkeys 

Africa is beautiful and we are loving it. 
Now a special Segment from Nolan...

So... in case you haven't figured out already... the above was a loose description of things we actually saw... but somewhat sensationalized. The following requires no amplification.

We were in the Mara, looking for leopards. Our Masai guide told us that generally less than half of all visitors get to see a leopard. He knew just where to take us and sure enough, before long we found a leopard. It was a beautiful animal, but saw us and headed straight for the woods behind it. We caught a couple pictures of him walking away and were a bit disappointed, but still grateful to have seen such an elusive cat.

The driver decided to move to the other side of that stand of trees, on the off chance that the leopard might come out the other side. On our way to our new vantage point, we noticed a pair of impalas, but did not give them much thought - in the mara, there is a little herd of impalas over every hill, it seems. I figured that leopard was probably sitting in the stand of trees, watching us and laughing, waiting to come out until we would leave. But I was wrong!

After maybe 30 seconds, the leopard did come sneaking out of the woods, maybe 20 meters in front of us. But as soon as he hit the clearing, he must have taken note of the impalas too - probably 100 meters away. He crouched down like he was calculating his attack. But he seemed to be a bit shy to perform for us. He relaxed a bit, still keenly watching. Then we heard what must have been a small herd of elephants - they were trumpeting, making a big ruckus, and quickly getting louder and nearer. They must have been playing or sparring - they were excited about something.

Well, that really put a chill on the leopard. He laid down and seemed to lose interest in the hunt; but he didn't leave. So, we continued to wait. I think we waited 20 to 30 minutes. 

Finally, he perked up; he seemed to be calculating again. He stood up, began slowly stalking across the road, maybe 5 meters in front of our van. It was just like a domestic cat, stalking his prey; then, in a moment, he took off in a sprint into the stand of trees on the side of the road opposite the one from which he'd come. We lost sight of him for a moment, but could see a blur intermittently through the trees.

Then the cloud of dust. The leopard tackled the impala, perhaps 30 meters in front of us. We could only half see the impact, but what came next we did not expect. A ball of leopard-impala-fury came running, tumbling, fighting toward our vehicle. They ran a curved path, and careened directly into the front bumper of the safari-van. I am sure that the location of our vehicle was far from their consideration at that moment in time, but it made for quite a view of the proceedings. And it was a bit scary too. We wondered for a moment if they would roll or jump up the hood of the vehicle, and our safety seemed compromised.

The pair continued struggling and came to a stop about 5 meters in front of the vehicle. After some further struggling, the leopard prevailed. We were overwhelmed by the situation. The strength of the leopard, the flight of the impala, the proximity of the fight, and the good fortune which found us in the right place at the right time.

I happened to be in the best spot of the safari-van. I caught nearly the entire scene on video. Upon returning to our lodging, we were excited to show this video to the Masai warriors working there. They were very excited and told us that they do not know anyone who has seen a leopard kill in the Mara. Every time a group of Masai saw the video, a few minutes later another group had heard and came to watch. One appeared to be in his sixties and also had never heard of people witnessing such a scene. 

Although it was a violent thing to see, we felt like we were lucky to have been there. When we are able, we hope to upload said video to YouTube, but it is rather large and this may take some time.

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