We were in a bit of a quandary.
We had spent 7-8 days looking at the wildlife across different spots in Kenya. We were due to reach Nairobi the next evening and fly out the day after.
The travel agency wanted us to leave early morning, meet another driver outside the Mara who will drive us to Nairobi and Gabriel will then be free to handle another group.
On one hand, if we reach early we could roam around Nairobi a bit and do a bit of shopping. Everything closes latest by 6 pm so the earlier we go the better.
On the other hand…..we still hadn’t seen a male lion up close and no leopard either. And…the magic of the Mara, who would not want one last round soaking in that beauty !
Resisting not so subtle pressures from everyone concerned it was decided that we will do the morning game drive and aim to leave by mid morning which might give us a shot to do some shopping too.
Yeah, I don’t think the agency was very happy but after all it had to be our decision and not anyone else’s !
In this background, we set off as always by 6.15 in the morning.
With clear objectives – male lions and leopards.
As the sun peeped out we could see the glow from the first of the hot air balloons about to fly. That was one activity that we had missed out on, mainly owing to my pig headedness in not booking it before we left. Next time, I guess.
Hot air balloons taking off…its a lovely scene to see the glow in the distant skies as they start taking off
The male lion. Such a majestic creature and I badly wanted to take a close up pic of one, shaggy mane and all, with every single detail very clear. All the male lions we had seen were dozing off and trust me, nothing can wake them up. Even if they do wake up, in a jiffy they will just plonk back on to mother earth, snoring away.
The only time we saw it up on its feet for a few minutes was when on our first day, it woke up from its slumber, woke up the lioness next to him and indulged in a quick mating session. It all happened so suddenly that I got no satisfactory picture.
The only pic I could get of lions mating. Should have hung around for more
When the lioness is in heat, the lion will be with her constantly. The actual mating will last around a minute at most, but they will mate very frequently. Once every 15 to 30 minutes. We should have stayed back and maybe angled for a better position to get a pic but for whatever reason we didn’t.
So. No male lion pic.
It was still very early in the day and the best time to see lions cos they would be out hunting. Once the sun climbs up it’s a futile search. They will be snoozing away somewhere.
Leopards, on the other hand can be best found resting on a branch of any tree. We had come rather close to seeing a couple of them on a few occasions but these creatures are notoriously shy and more than that, I have had terrible luck in finding them even in leopard territory so I was convinced that my luck was solely instrumental in our inability to spot one.
We were doing our customary roaming around. Gabriel’s ears ready to get any useful info on the radio and I standing up, feeling the cool air against my face. Everyone was keenly watching every tree around us and keeping an eye out for the tell tale sign of vehicles gathered around any place.
Gazelles. Zebras. Giraffes. Hyenas. All to be ignored today.
We had rushed to a place. Just three vehicles were parked there. They were parked there all the while as we raced to the spot
Only…now they were moving away 😦
As we reached them and as they passed us, we heard the all too distressingly familiar news. A male lion had was sitting outside but had wandered into the thicket.
The usual million dollar question. Do we wait ? Or do we continue searching ?
Interestingly, as we pondered over this difficult question, Gabriel noticed something moving really far away.
Quickly grabbing the binoculars he zoomed in and pronounced : Male lion.
We did a quick reverse and then he stopped.
That male lion was also moving in the direction of another thicket.
We could be either happy that we are in the vicinity of two male lions or feel despondent that both of them might have retired into the shade for the rest of the day !
This really is the toughest decision in the wild. When to wait and when to move. Many of the other vehicles were speeding towards the lion on the far side. They will definitely not make it.
Till date, the rest of the family blames me for taking the call to move away when there was a leopard up a tree. The fact that the tree was a mile away and that even if the leopard had descended we might not have got a clear view was immaterial.
Unless there is a logic behind the move.
Gabriel announced that we will stay put. “We are close to both the lions. We will wait here and see which one moves and then accordingly act.”
Decision taken. Simple.
“ There’s something there”.
Frantic scrambling for different binoculars happens inside the vehicle.
This was deep in the grass. Not close to either thicket where the two lions were. Quite far away. And far away from any track our vehicle was allowed to go on. Even if we had circled around, we wouldn’t have been closer.
Another male lion. Wow !
In the middle of a rather busy mating time. Every 15 odd minutes, we could see the male stand up, look around imperiously and then we could see the outline of a lioness next to him and they will march off into another spot to mate.
Very far away. Absolutely impossible to get any detail. But somehow, strangely I felt quite satisfied with the pic I got. After all I wanted to avoid the clichéd close ups.
The King of all he surveys
This did look a different one and one that captured the King in the vastness of its territory.
Considering that we didn’t have much time, it was a bit odd that none of us felt any hurry to move. We spent a good 45 minutes hoping that the pair of love birds will move closer to us. They didn’t. Instead each time the male surveyed the horizon, he only took the lioness deeper into the grasslands.
“ Possibly trying to keep a good distance from the other males in his pride,” observed Gabriel.
It was getting closer to our exit time and we decided to meander around closer to the exit gate.
And….another group of vehicles. And this time… a huge huge group. There definitely was something there !
We would have spent possibly just around 15-20 minutes there. But what an unforgettable period. What a magical few minutes !
One by one, one gorgeous creature after the other, the lionesses kept coming out of the grass.
Pausing. Framed against the brilliant grass which looked as if on fire with the bright sunlight falling on it.
The first head pops out
That intent stare….
The shimmering grass, the tawny skin….such beauty !
They just kept coming. Adults. Sub adults. Cubs. It was a procession and I was cursing that there were simply too many of them coming from all directions !!
It was almost a never ending procession …around 10-15 lions in this pride !
Plus, they were coming too close for my lens to capture them ! So, I had better get the right pics when I could.
Aww…the poor kid is sleepy in the middle of this needless walking around !
Got some absolutely lovely ones. I have no idea what I missed out on but there were some that made me quite delighted !
This would be in my top three pics of the trip…just loved it 🙂
The entire pride…some 10-14 of them, walked past us, in between the long line of vehicles, cubs bunched around an adult and they walked away.
Seemed a befitting last pic for us to take as we headed back home
It was time for us too to head out.
We headed back to the resort in a very satisfied mood.
We didn’t get a close up of a male. We didn’t get to see even a shadow of a leopard. But we were fortunate that we got to witness some magical moments.
That’s the unpredictable way of the wild.