Sunset in the Masai Mara, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

Wildlife Galore in the Masai Mara

Natural World Safaris

Clare Hopkinson

14 Oct 2019

NWS client Clare visits the wildlife-rich plains of the Masai Mara

10th August 2019

I arrived at the Musiara Airstrip in Kenya and was welcomed by my guide Patrick and Maasai guide James. We headed straight out on safari and within five minutes I had already captured my first sighting of a female cheetah with her kill.

I then spotted many zebra and wildebeest grazing through the grass and a buffalo cooling down in the water. Next up was the first casualty of what was to be many across the Masai Mara: hyena, vultures and a rather elegant-looking marabou stork were finishing off the remains of a poor wildebeest. We then drove on and I was lucky to capture my first sighting of elephant grazing amongst the marshlands and trying to keep cool. After what had been an amazing start to my trip, Patrick then drove me to a lovely spot in the park overlooking the hippo pool. What an amazing experience to have a wonderful lunch provided by Speke’s Camp surrounded by the sound of hippos basking along the muddy banks of the river.

African elephant, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

After lunch we proceeded to Rhino Ridge, where I encountered my first sighting of the Rhino Ridge lion pride. What a memorable start to an afternoon where I was lucky enough to see a jackal, rotor bird, banded mongoose and bat-eared fox. A perfect end to the afternoon was my first ever sighting of a leopard in a tree. Whilst we were waiting to see if the leopard would descend from the tree we saw a migratory line of wildebeest heading across a small stream. This didn’t however tempt the leopard down from the tree.

We then headed back to Speke’s Camp, where I was welcomed with a refreshing drink. I was met by Gordon and introduced to my tent housekeepers, Fred and Leekie. I was provided with a wonderful meal and invited to dine with Adrian, the manager of Speke’s Camp, and a lovely family from New York. Adrian’s son and friend had just returned from a walking safari and it was really interesting to hear about their adventures in the Loita Hills.

What a special experience to go to bed surrounded by the sounds of barking hyena, with wildebeest and zebra grazing near to my tent.

Spotted hyenas, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

11th August 2019

So I headed out for my first full day of game driving. We drove out to a different part of the Mara and I spotted the magnificent Saningi-O Lion pride, including a lioness with her cub of around a year old, finishing a plentiful meal of wildebeest. I had my first sighting of giraffe munching on the trees, when my guide Patrick informed me of how to tell the difference between a male and female. Patrick then picked an idyllic spot under an acacia tree where we pitched up a picnic table, after which I was supplied with a wonderful breakfast. I watched while zebra, wildebeest and a couple of hyena passed by in the distance.

African lioness and cub, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

We then proceeded on and I was lucky to go on to spot a jackal with her cubs and a lone cheetah, which we stayed to observe for some time. Just before lunch we drove to the Marsh side of the Mara and I was lucky to see the famous Marsh pride of lions sleeping amongst the trees. With many baboon sightings along the way, we then headed back to Speke’s Camp for lunch. We drove through hundreds of parting zebra, some with foals. Patrick informed me of the difference in the colour of the mane between a male and female. I also spotted an ostrich in the distance meandering across the African plains.

Black-backed jackal pups, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

After a plentiful lunch we headed back out to the Mara again. One of the many highlights of my trip was the sighting of four female cheetahs, which I managed to capture sitting on an anthill, scanning the African plains. We then proceeded on and came across a lone tortoise amongst the grass. We headed down to the river and I saw many hippos, including a baby, which Patrick advised was probably only a day old. Further down the river James pointed out two crocodiles basking in the sun that were very well camouflaged against the rocks.

We then proceeded on to a lovely spot, overlooking the African plains with a gin and tonic in one hand, watching the sun go down amongst the acacia trees. What a perfect end to what had been another incredible day in the Mara.

Cheetahs, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

12th August 2019

So an early 4:15am start this morning, as today was my hot air balloon ride. Patrick and James drove me out to the Mara Triangle. They advised that they would meet me after the balloon ride and our game drive would focus on the Mara Triangle and the famous Mara River. Upon arrival I was met by a guide and got into a small boat, to cross to the other side of the river. A short ride, but with such tranquillity. We were all allocated a balloon number and introduced to our guide, who gave us a safety briefing and advised us where we would each be seated in the balloon. What a fantastic sight to watch six balloons being inflated and the magnificent flames light up the early-morning sky.

Balloon safari over the Masai Mara, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

We headed out just as the sun was coming up over the African plains, and what an amazing aerial view you get from skimming just above the trees. We watched as hundreds of wildebeest grazed amongst the pastures and a lone hippo made its way back to the pool for the day. The pilot safely landed us around 43 minutes later. I certainly envy him for having the best office window ever. We had a short ride to an area where long tables were set up with brightly coloured tablecloths and a loo with a view. We were greeted with a well-earned glass of champagne. The breakfast was second to none and very plentiful, with a good selection of pastries and fresh fruit. This was then followed with a full English breakfast, and it didn’t end there, with more champagne and the best freshly cooked crepes laced with golden syrup. Watch out though for the wasps who came in their many swarms to join us for breakfast.

Wildebeest and lappet-faced vulture, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

After breakfast I said goodbye to all the wonderful people that I had met and shared safari experiences with. I was driven out to meet Patrick and James. I was also accompanied by Hamish, who was the son of the manager of Speke’s Camp, gaining some further experience in preparation for the BBC’s visit in September. Along the way we encountered a bull elephant. Further along James and Hamish spotted my final member of the Big Five that I hadn’t yet seen: a black rhino, along with her baby. What a splendid sight, and to be the only vehicle initially watching these magnificent animals was very special. We spent around an hour just happily watching the mother and her baby munch their way around the bushes, before they headed in to rest for the day.

Black rhinos, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

We then proceeded out to the hippo pool to watch the hippos bathing and basking on the banks of the river in the sun. Patrick then took us to the Kburu crossing point in the Mara, where we encountered some very large crocodiles resting on the banks in the hot sun. Patrick then drove us to the main Mara River crossing point. I have never seen so many jeeps lined up watching the many zebra and wildebeest on the other side. This is what makes such a good guide: not only having the knowledge, but the patience to wait. You could be waiting for as little as three minutes to as long as all day for a crossing, and there is still no guarantee that it will happen.

Zebra and wildebeest crossing the Mara River, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

After many false starts and an hour and a half later, a brave zebra was the first to cross. This was promptly followed by further zebra and wildebeest proceeding from the other side, where we initially thought they were going to cross. What a special and nail-biting sight to see the hundreds of zebra and wildebeest who thankfully, on this occasion, made it safely across to the lush pastures on the other side of the Mara River. Feeling on top of the world, we headed out for a wonderful picnic lunch close to the Tanzania border. After lunch Patrick drove us to the actual border, where there were thousands of wildebeest grazing before they would return to Tanzania in the autumn.

En route back we saw more giraffe and a ground hornbill. I was then lucky to spot the four female cheetah again, who had travelled a great distance from where we had spotted them on the anthill the day before. We arrived back at camp and I was lucky enough to share my last evening at Speke’s Camp with some lovely guests, who shared stories on their fourth visit to this wonderful camp.

Giraffes, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

13th August 2019

Today I had to say a sad farewell to Speke’s Camp and was met by two guides from Eagle View Camp in the Naboisho Conservancy. We proceeded out to Eagle View and arrived around an hour and a half later. I was met by Christine on reception and after a refreshing drink, was shown to my tent. What a fantastic camp, with views across the savannah. After a delicious three-course lunch I had a couple of hours to relax and refresh, ready for my first game drive.

At 4:30pm we headed out with our guide Sophie, who advised that an injured lion was to be treated by the vet, after being badly injured by a male lion from the same pride. We watched as the vet anaesthetised her, treated her injury and observed as she awoke from the anaesthetic. What a special moment to see as she slowly recovered from her ordeal. The lion who attacked her came over to see that she was okay, as this is quite normal for a pride to do this. She warned the lion off and we left her to rest and recover.

We then proceeded on and ended our evening before nightfall with the sight of a lion and her cub resting by a tree. We headed back to the camp and after a lovely meal, the Maasai guide led me safely back to my tent. How unique and amazing to listen to the sounds of roaring lion across the savannah, and experience giraffe and hippo grazing close to my tent.

African lions, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

14th August

I headed out at 6:15am this morning with my new guide, Steve. What a fantastic and knowledgeable guide. Steve provided so much information and has the patience to ensure that you experience as much as possible. Our first sighting was lovely to see, with the injured lion happily walking around, unscathed from her ordeal the evening before. We then went on to see a jackal. We then spotted a lion and her cub walking across the rocks, looking for a shady place to rest for the day. We then headed back to the camp for a hearty breakfast.

Mid-morning I opted to go to the Maasai village. I joined another couple and our guide Nelson took us out. Along the way we saw elephants and baboons. We arrived at the village where we were greeted by the chief Maasai guide. The Maasai men performed three tribal dances, after which we were given what looked like a baton and were asked to join in. One of the tribal dances was to see how high the men could jump, where the one that jumps the highest gets to choose a wife from the village. We of course joined in, which was great fun.

Baboons, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

We were then taken and shown a traditional mud house, where a family of up to six sleep. It is very interesting to hear of how the Maasai live as a community and they do appear to be very happy. We were then shown how to make a fire and the Maasai ladies performed three tribal dances for us. They then showed us the amazing jewellery and bowls that they had made to purchase. We then said our goodbyes and headed back to Eagle View for lunch. En route we saw elephants, buffalo and a secretarybird.

At 4:30pm we headed out on a game drive and within 10 minutes came across a cheetah that was resting after eating a very big meal. We spent some time there, mainly due to the fact that we unfortunately had a flat tyre! After the tyre had been changed we drove on and saw some elephants munching the branches of trees. We then headed out for a gin and tonic and watched the sun go down over the African savannah. Another perfect end to a fantastic day in the Naboisho Conservancy.

African elephants, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

15th August

We set off at 6:15am and Steve took us to the area where you are more likely to see leopard. However they just didn’t want to be spotted today. The highlight of this game drive was seeing the pride of eight lions walking across the savannah, lining up at every angle in preparation to hunt a lone warthog in the distance. However, the warthog on this occasion lived to see another day. This was a really special sight to see. We headed back and watched the baboons – such fascinating animals and I never tire of seeing them.

After another hearty breakfast, I opted for a walking safari. Christine and Marion took three of us out and we were accompanied by three Maasai guides to ensure our safety. It was a very informative walk where we got to know a little about some of the plants and fauna around. We were lucky enough to see a 1-day-old baby gazelle sleeping in a small ditch, while her mother grazed nearby. We walked to the hippo pool, took our photos and promptly proceeded back to camp. I spent the rest of the morning watching the animals pass through the savannah before heading for another scrumptious lunch.

At 4:30pm we headed out for what was to be my last evening game drive. We spotted a male lion, which was a fantastic sight, and a lioness and her cub. Sadly Steve advised that this lion had two cubs and the second one hadn’t been seen for a few days. As we headed back to camp for the last evening, I left with fond memories of what had been such an amazing and memorable trip.

African lion, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

16th August 2019

My final morning in the Naboisho Conservancy and I was lucky enough to be taken on another game drive before departing the Mara. At 6:15am we headed out again and saw a pride of three lions – a male and two females happily munching away on a warthog that was sadly the victim. Waiting in the wings were some very brave jackals drawing ever closer to the lions, and some hyena that were a little more cautious. The vultures were all lined up ready for their pickings of the meal. We left them to eat in peace, as our guide had spotted a hippo walking back towards the hippo pool. What an amazing sight to see and so special to end my last game drive.

Hippo, Kenya | © Clare Hopkinson

We headed out across to the leopard area, but again they did not want to be found. On the way back we saw further baboons climbing down from the trees. We headed back to camp for my final breakfast before leaving the Nabisho Conservancy. After breakfast we departed to the Naboisho Airstrip with a game drive en route. We spotted the secretarybird, ostriches and many wildebeest.

As my plane took off across the Mara, I was both sad but so privileged to have left with such fond memories and experiences that will always stay with me.

Goodbye Masai Mara and thank you for such an amazing safari, until next time.

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