The Masai Mara is a grassy savannah that has some forested areas, but is mostly dotted with scrubby bushes. It is the best known of Kenya's game reserves. It is the northern extension of Tanzania's famous Serengeti National Park and the animals travel freely back and forth; no passport required. Masai Mara's name comes from the Masai people, known for their long and lanky physiques, and the Mara River, which bisects the park. Everyone has seen video of the game migration through this area, when zebra and antelope ford the Mara and fall into the waiting jaws of the crocodiles. In the 1980's a game officials counted over a million wildebeest and over 200,000 zebra here. One would guess that there are fewer today because of climate change and the encroachment of man, but we still saw enough today to knock our socks off. There is a resident population of animals that stays here year round and doesn't participate in the migration. Climate change has caused drought and the local Masai sneak their cows in to graze when their grasslands are depleted. And then there isn't enough for the wild animals to eat. It isn't unusual to see a Masai "enkang" on the skyline close to where a herd of elephants are chomping their way through the high grass. Both the animals and the people are wary of crossing each other's paths. We've missed the migration here, but may catch up to it later in our tour. I would rather see the crocodiles as we did today, sunning themselves on the banks of the river with the herds of zebra and antelope calming grazing a few miles away.
We spent the entire day on a game drive driving about sixty miles, lurching and bouncing and getting stuck in the mud. In South Africa we did drives early in the morning or late in the day, but here it's easy to see animals all day long if they aren't hidden by the tall grass. Having guides who knew where to go was more efficient than wandering around on our own as we did in the south. However, in the south once we found an animal, we could stay to watch it as long as we wanted. Nevertheless, I took over 500 photos today. Just as in the south, the animals totally ignored us no matter how close we were. It is forbidden to drive off the roads, such as they are, although we did cheat once to see a regal male lion basking under a bush. The drivers communicated with one another by radio and except for a near miss on the rhino sighting, we saw every animal one would expect to see here. Sadly it became easy to feel blasé about yet another zebra or eland. Those big cats - I can't get enough of them!
We had some planned rest stops including a "tea and pee;" girls on one side of the jeep, guys on the other. It was supposed to be under a certain tree, but when we got there, we saw two lions had beat us to it. Later the guides set up a picnic in another lion-free zone.
The trees are especially striking here. They are few and far between and have a unique Chinese coolie hat shaped top. That's really not how they would look if left unmolested. Giraffes and elephants nibble off their branches as far as they can reach. The acacia is covered with two inch long thorns, but burst into foliage 24 hours after it rains.
We drive past skeletal remains of meals and semi devoured carcasses fairly regularly. There's a pecking order here: the big cats eat first, the leopard drags his up into a tree and the cheetah eats as fast as possible before a lion moves in to steal it. Then come the hyenas and the vultures. We saw about twenty of them going to town, snapping and snarling at each other as they ripped at the flesh. Pleasant creatures. It's troubling to realize that everything here will be eaten someday soon. The circle of life.