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Hanging With the Big Cats

Kicheche Bush Camp and Mara Camp, Masai Mara, Kenya

sunny 19 °C

We only spent five nights in the Masai Mara, but it was undoubtedly the experience of a lifetime. We’re back in Nairobi this evening, with only a few hours to enjoy endless showers, catch up on laundry and email and update the blog before we head off to Zambia early tomorrow morning. It’s hard to pick just a handful of photos for the site from the two thousand (!!) or so we have taken over the last five days. So, we’ve focused on the ‘Big Five’ and added cheetahs which we just loved. Here are some of our best experiences on safari:

Lion. Lions are very common – almost a guaranteed sight – in the Masai Mara. On our last evening, we saw two prides within ten minutes: one with eight lions, and another with fourteen! On a way back from a long day’s game drive, we spotted a particularly regal lioness resting up a tree, which is apparently quite unusual. Generally, lions here prefer to rest in the golden long grass, where they are very well disguised. Our most lively encounter of the safari was with a pair of lions……
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Leopard. This is the most elusive of the Big Five in the Masai Mara, and we were very lucky to see a leopard up a tree with freshly killed gazelle on our very first full day. We couldn’t actually see much of the leopard as she enjoyed her lunch, but we could hear bones crunching and flesh being torn. On second thought, maybe it’s a good thing we couldn’t see it! Anyway, after lunch, the leopard moved to a lower branch of the tree, and spent the next twenty minutes or so posing for photos for the numerous safari vehicles that had rushed to experience this rare animal at work.
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Rhino. OK, so we cheated for this one. Very close to the Kicheche Main camp is a Rhino Sanctuary where we were able to round off our Big Five. Rhinos have been hunted for their horns almost to extinction here, so the Sanctuary was established to protect several White Rhinos donated by the South African government.
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Cheetah. Definitely a highlight of the trip! We enjoyed almost an hour early one morning with a cheetah and her two five month old cubs. One of the cubs struggled onto the front of our land cruiser – apparently for the first time! – and snarled at its own reflection before becoming very curious about the three humans behind the shield of glass! I got some very cute close up shots, but was distinctly less comfortable when the mother jumped up on the bonnet with ease. She showed interest in climbing INTO the back of the open-topped truck where Lloyd and I were taking piccies, but our guide started the engine which prompted her back to the two cubs.
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If anyone is thinking of a safari in the Masai Mara, we’d highly recommend the Kicheche Bush Camp. It’s a small, six-tent operation run with an extraordinary attention to detail. Every need or concern was anticipated and executed flawlessly. The camp is unfenced which means the local life can – and does! – move freely around the camp. Our first night there, I awoke at about 4am to the most frightening sounds imaginable. Protected only by canvas, I sat in the dark while lions killed a zebra only 30 meters or so from our tent. For the next hour, hyenas tried to intimidate the lions into surrendering their kill and eventually formed a group of twenty or so which was apparently enough to encourage the lions to leave. Lloyd awoke at about 5.45am to find me sitting bolt upright in the bed. It honestly didn’t occur to me to wake him. I didn’t know exactly what was going on (the details were filled in later by the camp director) but I knew something had been killed. I remember sitting there holding my breath as the tent flapped in the breeze, convinced that I was next on the breakfast menu. As you would expect in that kind of environment, we had a walkie talkie by the bed to summon help if needed, but as it was our first night, I just thought that maybe it was normal and didn’t want to reveal my terror!

Anyway, I should probably reassure my mother at this point that we were perfectly safe inside the tent. Guests are walked to and from their tents by local Masai Askari (Warrior or guard) during the hours of darkness. And just before the wake up calls at 6am, they drove around the camp to scare away any remaining hyenas. Quite an adventure which perfectly set the stage for our safari experiences.

There is so much more to say, and so many pictures (literally thousands) that you will just need to tune in later for updates and thoughts after we have been able to digest this experience. For now, enjoy!

Posted by jacquiedro 20:52 Archived in Kenya Tagged round_the_world

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