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Survival of the Fittest

Survival of the Fittest
 
 

WE DROVE down the hill along a rough road passing the occasional mud puddle where zebra were wallowing and drinking from the pools of water or licking the salt from the dried cracked mud. It was a bit slow going with passing through the slightly boggy ford, but soon we were in clear ground again starting to cross the small plain where I had seen the huge numbers of wildebeest.

Lion resting
Lion resting

We were only part way across the small plain when we stopped again. To our right lay a small pride of lions resting under some scrubby bushes. There were five in all, led by a young male whose mane had not fully formed. The other lions were all female. They were watching a huge herd of wildebeest grazing on the vast plain of grass.

They didn’t seem to be in the mood for hunting today. I guessed this was mainly due to them being nocturnal like all cat varieties. They slept during the day and hunted at night.

Lion passing between the vans
Lion passing between the vans

One of the females sat on a large black salt pan trying to warm itself under the sun which was not yet successful in poking through the clouds. The tip of its long tail was sitting in the muddy water perhaps as a measure to cool itself. It was lightly panting even though it was still quite cold. Perhaps it was tired after last night’s hunt.

Another lion sat in the ruts of where vehicles had passed through recently. There were now two similar vans to ours parked nearby. They weren’t muddy, so they would have been based somewhere along the main road overnight. Each van was rather crowded with five people in each with their heads popping out like meerkats with their little credit card sized cameras. I’m sure they envied our van with just me and my giant camera. A lion walked past the other two vans, though not showing any interest in it. I’m sure the lions here see humans every day and think nothing of them. After all the humans are encased in these huge metal objects that would (hopefully) be impenetrable to them.

Lion watching the wildebeest
Lion watching the wildebeest

The wildebeest were maintaining a good distance on the lions. They were obviously aware of each other. I thought being only two hundred metres apart seemed to be pretty close. I guess though that’s what they were used to. One lion sat directly in my field of view towards the wildebeest making an excellent shot.

The lion had a lot of fleas on its face, but strangely it didn’t seem to be perturbed by them. It started panting as it watched the wildebeest even though the temperature wasn’t hot yet.

Most of the other lions were sitting under some very untidy scrub seeking shade perhaps even though the sun wasn’t out. They didn’t move much, though the male lion roared ferociously at one of the females who he suddenly decided was sitting too close to him.

A short distance from the lions was a group of seven resting vultures. These are scavengers. They never hunt, but instead wait for the predators to kill an animal and eat whatever meat it feels like eating. Once the predators have finished eating the animal, the vultures and hyenas move in and continue eating the remains until all the flesh has been picked off.

Vultures
Vultures

Joseph continued driving up the dirt track, which fortunately wasn’t muddy after the overnight rain. A couple of wildebeest crossed the road in front of us just in time. About a minute later we saw two lions eating the remains of a wildebeest. I could only tell what it was due to the hind leg sticking up in the air. Otherwise all the internal organs were showing from where the lions had torn the torso apart and eaten the meat. No wonder there were so many vultures nearby.

Lions eating a kill
Lions eating a kill

The two female lions were content in their meal which they had obviously killed just hours before. Their mouths were bright red with the blood of their kill.

Joseph continued driving up a low hill. Here the grass was short almost as if it had been mown. Obviously many thousands of animals have grazed this area in recent weeks keeping the grass down.

Towards the top of the hill was a male lion with a large pot belly, obviously evidence of having eaten a very large meal overnight, perhaps the same kill I had seen a minute ago. Its face was covered in fleas yet again the lion didn’t seem to be worried about it. There were numerous flies buzzing around attracted to the smell of the dead meat it hadn’t been able to wash off its face or front paws even though they did appear fairly clean.

Lion resting after a big meal
Lion resting after a big meal

Another male lion sat in amongst the scrub nearby. Both lions were asleep after what had perhaps been a big night for them hunting.

I had only been photographing the two lions for a couple of minutes when Joseph told me there was a herd of elephants nearby. We headed across the top of the hill and started descending the other side where the grass was still relatively short.

I spotted the herd of elephants in the distance near the bottom of a shallow gully. We quickly drove over to where they were, following the road. We parked very close to them and watched as these giants slowly walked across the plain. They looked placid, but I knew these can easily kill if they wanted to. Having seen yesterday what they can do with uprooting large trees, I realised they could do some serious damage to the van.

Elephant amongst the zebras
Elephant amongst the zebras

I have seen elephants before in South East Asia, but the African elephants were different. These were a lot larger with longer legs and perhaps a little slimmer than their Asian counterparts. They had long ivory tusks. There was a group of zebra nearby. Unlike most of the other animals here, the elephants evade predators by their sheer size. The older ones had wrinkled skin showing the scars of age. Some of them were eating foliage from the bushes, whilst others were just walking. They were mostly adults.

Elephant
Elephant

The elephants where walking into the scrub, so they were completely gone after about ten minutes. We then returned up the hill to where the two male lions were resting. We stayed there for a few minutes watching it resting in the middle of the paddock, perhaps satisfied from a large feed overnight. It was a huge animal, and very beautiful.

The lion lying out in the open was awake now, licking its paws and washing its face just like a domestic cat. Once washed, it decided to stay awake and it held its head up to look between me and two other vans that had parked here. It looked around licking its lips just like any regular domestic cat. Then it lay down on its side with its pot belly poking up.

Elephant walking by
Elephant walking by

The haze was starting to clear a little revealing the soft outlines of blue mountains in the distance under the purple clouds. There were no signs the sun was going to come out today. This will make photographing the animals easy. Overcast skies diffuse the light allowing you to photograph animals from any direction. In the absence of clouds the sun casts strong shadows meaning that you need to angle yourself perfectly in relation to the sun. This is very difficult and you certainly can’t ask animals to move around or get the van to park at the same angle every time. Of course if the angle was perfect, then the result would be far better than on any overcast day, but the probability of a shot coming out successful is very low. The conditions today were therefore very good, and the haze created an interesting backdrop of diffuse mountains in the distance.

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Date:

 

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Latitude: Longitude: Altitude:

11 August 2011

 

Masai Mara

Kenya

 

1°35'S
35°15'E
1850 - 1900m ASL

 

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