Lions! More Lions, and a Hunt …

Ben Reports from the Masai Mara Migration Photo Safari:

On Monday morning we set out in search of young lion cubs that we heard about on the grapevine. On the way we came across a young male lion with a lioness. We thought they were a mating pair and although we waited for a while, they simply rested in the predawn rapidly brightening morning.

We continued our search for the cubs and to our delight we found the little three month old adorable bundles as they tumbled through grass with their mother. There was plenty of interaction between the mother and her ultra cute cubs, with ongoing vocalising as she encouraged the little ones along. The cubs played, nuzzled, groomed, licked and fell over each other while the mother nudged, groomed and cared for them as they made their slow way across the veld.

She led her little family to a thicket where they all settled down snuggled together and fell asleep within moments.

Then we heard about even younger cubs nearby. A lioness from the same pride had three week old cubs. We found them at their den in a gully under a fallen tree trunk. The little cubs were tiny, and they played, suckled, climbed all over their mother, chased small leaves and twigs, and then suckled again. One of the cubs ventured onto the tree trunk, and bravely walked unsteadily across, accompanied by plentiful oohs and aahs from our group. They are still so tiny, with blue eyes, and spots still very visible on their foreheads.

We remained with the cubs until they fell asleep. We then moved on for breakfast and after our meal we did some low angle and high key photography of buffalo and topi.

The sun was high in the sky when we found that there was a gathering of zebra along the Mara River. The zebras stared fixedly at the river but there were no attempts to approach or to cross the water.

Meanwhile we noticed four lions that watched the zebras intently. One lioness lay a little apart from the others, while the zebras remained totally oblivious about any nearby predators. What would happen, we thought. Would there be a hunt?

Suddenly and inexplicably, the zebras started to walk directly towards the lone lioness. The lioness immediately crouched, ears flattened, and waited patiently for the zebras to approach. They were almost in striking distance when she lost her nerve or misjudged their distance – and she sprang! Too soon! The zebras scattered. Had the lioness been a little more patient and waited a few seconds more she would have had more luck. But her precipitous action meant that the zebras all escaped with nothing more than a bit of alarm.

We left the area as the likelihood of a crossing was zero.

After lunch we set out through the very wet reserve. Because of the early rains, the animals do not have to migrate urgently as there is plenty of water here and new grass is already showing everywhere.

Then we heard that there was another gathering of animals close to the river and we dashed there to find wildebeest and zebra milling around the banks of the river. It looked as though they would start to cross at any moment, but a gathering storm and plenty of clouds meant that the heavily overcast conditions made the light quite dim and the wildebeest and zebra did not seem keen to actually cross the river with limited visibility.

We photographed hippos in the river while waiting for the animals to decide whenever to cross or not. We enjoyed sundowners there and then headed back to our camp. Just then we heard that animals were beginning to mass along the Mara River. They could decide to attempt the crossing at first light and our plan is to visit that spot as soon as we leave the camp in the morning …