Thursday, September 12, 2013

African Safari - Masai Mara 1 - Lions and Zebras

It was 6:30 in the morning and we were on our morning game drive. Barely a kilometer outside our resort, we saw a vehicle stopped on the road. When we looked in that direction, we saw a pair of lions sitting in the grass, a hundred meters away. There it was - the King of the Jungle, the Pride of Africa. Just like that, without working too hard we had seen not one but 2 lions and that was not all. Our driver/guide, Dedan paused for a few seconds and said "These are too far. This is supposed to be a group of 4, so let's drive a little and look for the other two and come back". Wait a minute here....we see Lions and we are DRIVING AWAY and since when did 100 meters qualify as "far" ? If I were in an Indian jungle and seen a cat , I would be taking a crappy cell phone picture and posting it all over social media and be swollen with pride at all the oooohs and aaaahs and OMGs and other such slang's, kids are using to murder English language.  Anyway, I was in Masai Mara, Kenya where you apparently drive away from lions when they are far and by far, they mean they are not close enough to glare at you with their cold yellow eyes. (Believe me, one look without those eyes is enough to give you the heebie-jeebies). We drove around a little bit, but the grass was golden and even if the lion was next to us we would have driven right by it. So we went back to the original spot. By now, one of the lions stood up and started walking intently towards something. I was looking through my binoculars, Saru was looking through his zoom lens and we combed the area, but could not see any prey. The lion got into a crouching position which meant he was in a hunting mode. He moved very cautiously with his knees bent for a little bit and then BOOM! Without any warning he charged ahead. Two Impalas leap in the air and take off at a lightning speed. The lion chased after them. The impalas ran for their dear lives. The lion gave them a good chase. The second lion which was sitting and watching the spectacle until now got up and started running towards the Impalas. It was a half-ass attempt to help his brother because clearly, the nimble-footed Impalas had a head start and they disappeared into the bushes. 

Lion in the golden morning light (the lazy brother)



Impala ready to leap



Impala leaps
An African Safari was always on the wish list. In fact, it was supposed to be our tenth anniversary gift to ourselves. But when we moved to India, Saru insisted that we first visit the national parks in India before going to Africa. There are not many times I say this and as I am saying this I realize this is going to bite me in the ass but what the heck - " Saru was absolutely right" and more importantly "I was wrong". Indian jungles teach you patience. We don't have the abundance of the African Plains, so when we are out there in the jungle, the odds of being at the exact same spot as a tiger or leopard is as low as winning a lottery. Yet you go out, from time to time to test your luck. When you don't see big cats, you learn to appreciate their ecosystem - the grasslands and the beautiful Sal tree forests of Corbett, the white bark ghost trees of Pench and Tadoba, the bamboo forests of Bandipur etc. You start appreciating birds and other mammals. You learn that there are no timetables in nature and what you see and don't see is completely up to it. With Africa, lot of people think sightings are very easy. Let me tell you something - Going to Africa is not like walking into a National Geographic channel set. We spent about 6 hours a day, for 4 days in Masai Mara, so a total of 24 hours in the wilderness. I didn't count, but I am sure we saw nothing but the vast plains for at least half of the time.



The quintessential Masai Mara sight - Zebras grazing on never ending plains
 Our very first safari in Africa, excitement was very high. As soon as we got out into the plains, we were greeted with herds of zebras and wildebeest. The zebras are a funny lot. To us,  the stripes look silly and make them stick out like a sore thumb but those very patterns work as camouflage against their main predator, the lion. Colours don't matter because the lion is colour blind and their wavy lines blend in with the grass or if they are in a herd, their patterns blend in with each other and they look like one giant striped mass.  Case in point are some pictures below. For some reason, every time we looked at a herd, the closest zebras had their butts towards us. At first we took some butt shots just for the sport and then it became a thing - "Oh look - 3 zebra butts, stop the jeep - there are 4 butts here". And for the rest of the trip, we took pictures of butts of lions, cheetahs, elephants, topis, impalas and rhinos. I was going to create a folder and very cheekily call it "But..but....Butt".  And if you must know....nothing fills a camera frame better than the buttocks of a rhino

2-in-one Zebra


But...but...butt

August being the middle of the peak season, the wildebeest were everywhere. It is a peculiar looking (because calling an animal ugly is not politically correct) animal. It looks like a part-antelope-part-buffalo-part-horse and I don't mean the impressive parts from any of those animals. They were peacefully grazing for most part, but suddenly, as if on a cue, they would retreat into the interiors in a single straight line.



Wildebeest grazing and us gazing

We spent so much time watching the zebras and wildebeest that it was almost time to go back when we saw a Masai Giraffe at a distance. As we were driving in that direction, Thomas and Dedan spotted a mating pair of lions. This was our first lion sighting and we were thrilled. They were sitting behind some bushes next to a water body sniffing each other. The lioness decided to take matters into her hands and started the mating dance. She stood up, stretched for what seemed like a long time, gave the lion a hard look and walked away and sat at another spot. The lion pretended to not care at first, but then stood up and started sniffing, presumably to smell if the lioness was ready. He then growled and made some sounds and started walking towards the female. At the last minute, he changed direction and went and sat about 50 meters behind the lioness. Seeing no reaction from the lioness, he got up again after some time, strutted his stuff and walked towards the lioness, and sat 50 meters short of her. All the while, the lion was sniffing and salivating and growling. It was a fun mating dance to watch and the play of setting sun offered many photo opportunities.



The Lioness gets up


Lion plays it cool, but gives a look


Lion growls
Bored with the antics and yawns


Goes back to giving looks



Lion continues to glare with his yellow eyes


Photographing the Photographer



18 comments:

  1. Wow! How amazing clicks.
    Fantastic.

    Will visit again.
    I am here
    Thanks

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  2. Phenomenal pictures, engaging description Vamsee. Now I cannot watch the Discovery channel without thinking "Butt Butt butt..."
    Looking forward to the next episode.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Bhaskar and sorry for that image of butts:)

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  3. Awesome! Just today I heard about a society for protecting 'ugly' animals and apparently a fish was nominated or something like that. So, you don't have to worry about being politically correct :)

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    1. ha ha. I read about that ugly blobfish. I actually think it looks comical. Ugly or not, these wildebeest are a very essential part of the ecosystem in the area. They eat most of the day and that helps trim the grass in the plains and also jump-starts its regrowth. They are also known for their collective intelligence.

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  4. lovely post! and so good to see you back to writing about your travels! the photos are wonderful!! i love the clicks of the Impala about to jump. and of course the lions too!! and u are so right about indian jungles teaching us patience..... have yet to see a tiger in the wild :(

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Anu. Seeing a tiger in the Indian jungles involves a lot of luck and some patience. In some ways though...I thought the Indian jungles were more active. We always hear alarm calls when the tiger or leopard is on the prowl. In the Mara, a lion could be metres away, but you hardly hear a sound. It felt very weird.

      The Impalas are very nervous animals. They take off at every little disturbance. All it required was parking the car near a herd and wait for some to get rattled.

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  5. First, good to see you back to writing.
    All photos are good, I guess Saru has clicked most of them. I liked the 2 in 1 Zebra one, just for its uniqueness. Otherwise growling Lion is my favourite. :)

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    1. Nisha - I am very lazy person. I only write when I feel like it. Once I loose interest, it is hard from me to get back. Yes, Saru handled the camera most of the time leaving me to enjoy the scenery and hold the daughter:) I love the 2-in-1 Zebra picture too.

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  6. What an awesome blog...and Saru has done a fantastic job with the pictures. Please buy him that zoom lens again. When we visited the zoo, Maya kept asking if the lion was ever going to growl..she is going to love these pics :)

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    1. Thanks Kala. Saru was totally in his element there, taking these pictures. I barely handled the camera. It was fun to watch the lion and its behavior. I only wish I heard it roar:)

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  8. Great wildlife collection, I have ever seen before but while I have analyzed your blog and got little bit same photographic that which is already shown on the Discovery Channel. Overall seemed good but try to do something attractive. Thanks for share!!!

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  10. It is quite dangerous job dear, but you did well. Its not an easy task to take the images of lions.

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  11. lovely post and very difficult job capture images..

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