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Photographing the Wildlife of Kenya’s Masai Mara

From the 20th to 16th February 2022, I led a private photo tour for a family of four to two iconic & private wildlife areas in Kenya’s Masa Mara; the Mara North Conservancy & Naibosho Conservancy.

The Conservancies surrounding the Reserve are by far my preferred areas of choice for photo safaris when guests are looking to stay and photograph the wildlife in the Masai Mara outside of the Migration season. The main reasons are that the Conservancies are only open to guests whom stay at the camps situated in the specific conservancy, we can depart on a game drive as early as we like, and return to camp as late as we want for during the evening game drive activity, and the cream on the top of the cake is the ability to off-road drive. This freedom allows us greater access to wildlife sightings as well as the ability to work the scene to ensure we achieve the best possible viewing of our intended subjects.

Our safari started off with a wonderful welcome party of wildlife! Female giraffe & her calf, warthogs showing us their rear-end with tails up before turning around to give us a curious look, African Fish Eagle, a female Cheetah & her cub on a kill, and a sleepy Lion pride; the Serian Pride. This and more, was all seen on our short way from the Mara North Airstrip to our camp; Alex Walker’s Ngare Serian Camp.

February is a month known for producing near-daily short & dramatic rains and thunderstorms which generally clear as quickly as they start, leaving dramatic clouds in their wake. This year has been different however, as the Mara first experienced a very serious drought from November to January, with February’s weather making up for the lack of rain in those months! The land was absolutely saturated and at times, we felt we were traversing in Botswana’s Okavango Delta! Not that we were complaining though. It is what it is, and oh, did we make the most of every situation we had! Knowing that a storm was approaching, we left early for our afternoon game drive to capitalise on the soft light we had available to us. We went straight to where we had left the Serian Pride only a few hours prior, to find the Lionesses and their mixed-aged cubs lying in the grass and getting active and alert. They were hungry and the Lionesses were definitely keeping and eye out on the surroundings for prey.

The wind changed. We felt the coolness of the pending storm on our skins and the fresh scent in the air. In a moment of seconds, heavy rain fell accompanied by an intense hail storm! Large pieces of hail fell and the cats retreated back to the cover of the nearby bushes. We waited it out, telling my guests that this poses is a wonderful opportunity to photograph cats in the rain and get them shacking off the water from their bodies. As the hail ended, leaving soft but constant rainfall, the Lionesses started coming out from the bushes and back into the open. It was beautiful to see and yes, my guests got the shots of the Lions shaking the rain from themselves!

Once the rain finally ended, the Lionesses and cubs were on the move to which we reposition our vehicle in order to get head-on images as well as side-on shots. Out of the pending darkness, one of the dominant males from the Pride appeared, and oh, was he a gorgeous male. We spent some time with him and although the sun was long behind the clouds and the light fast-fading, we found a beautiful tree to have sundowners at and celebrate my guests return to the Mara and the beautiful day we had.

The next two days were spent exploring the Mara North in overcast weather with soft light and absolutely wonderful wildlife sightings! From the biggest mammals to the smallest, the biggest birds to the smallest, fastest to slowest (you get the idea), we explored different creative and technical settings and shooting styles. With a vehicle to ourselves, which we always have, this allowed my guests to determine how long they wanted to spend at certain sightings, when they wanted to stop, move on etc without having to worry about the needs of other guests. This safari is just about them, their goals & experiences!

Our send off from the Mara North on Day 4 was a morning with the Serian Pride on a Hippo carcass. A first for my guests, and what a sighting it was! A massive change in behaviour to each other from the loving, playful cubs and Lionesses to snarling and snapping cats. A visual and sound-filled experience!

Our send off from the Mara North on Day 4 was a morning with the Serian Pride on a Hippo carcass. A first for my guests, and what a sighting it was! A massive change in behaviour to each other from the loving, playful cubs and Lionesses to snarling and snapping cats. A visual and sound-filled experience!

Day 4 had us arriving at our next private conservancy in the Masai Mara; the Naibosho Conservancy. We spent 3 nights here as well, and each day presented new & different photographic experiences and learnings for my guests. As well as wildlife sightings and interactions!

Cheetah with sub-adult cubs, resident Lion pride with 3 big males, sub-adult cubs, two younger cubs, and a female with 3 small cubs that were not old enough to feed on meat yet.

Our first afternoon to evening was spent with a few members of this pride. 2 of the males were seen, with one wanting to couple with one of the females. He never strayed far from her, nor let her stray far from him! The Lioness with the 3 small cubs had her grown daughter with her, who ended up becomes the playground for the cubs as they jumped all over her, bit her tail, and pretty much used her as their personal jungle gym! We spent the rest of the quickly dimming light (yes, weather was still raining and overcast for most of the day and evening) with this family before heading to camp for a delicious dinner and wonderful conversations.

We never travelled far from camp as there was so much happening around us! Cheetah and Lion were daily sightings for us as well as large family groups of Zebra, semi-relaxed Eland, Elephant, Hyaena, Vultures, Jackal and the list really goes on.

The only predator that we hadn’t seen yet were the truly elusive Leopard. Although I have seen them at various times and on various photo tours to the Mara, I never truly bank on seeing them, so I had made peace with this lack.

As quickly as it had begun, it was our last afternoon and evening in the Mara, and our last night on safari. How did we spend it? The Lion pride had killed a Zebra in the late morning, and they were still eating it! Out on the open plains, soft stormy light removing all shadows, sub-adults and cubs with 2 large males and females around, it was a visual splendour occurring before our eyes! We lined my guests up at the sighting and spent quality time with these cats, looking at & photographing behaviours between individuals and the group, exploring compositions to make images evoke stronger story-telling…it was great and my guests were very pleased with where we were and how our last night on safari came to an end.

Our last morning arrived. With our luggage packed up and waiting at camp to be taken in a separate vehicle to the airstrip, we said our farewells to the camp team and headed off on our last game drive with a packed breakfast. Our final destination would be the airstrip with our flight taking us back to Nairobi. I had heard Baboons and Guinea Fowl alarm calling in the early hours of the morning, and I couldn’t help the fastened beat of my heart at the thought that maybe the resident Leopard has come back to visit. After speaking to our local guide, we worked the drainage area and forest thicket where our camp is situated, but it is very thick and we didn’t see any sign or sight of the female Leopard and her cub. So what did we go? Nearby we found the female Cheetah with her two sub-adult cubs and spent some time with them. Not much time had passed when our local guide excitedly announced, that “the sub-adult Leopard cub has been spotted, and not too far from camp!” Well, we positively zoomed off, in a mindful way of our surroundings and wildlife of course, and there in a beautiful Acacia tree lay the male cub. We managed to find a peep-hole sighting and captured some dreamy environmental shots. But oh! “There’s the mother walking away!” Our local guide and my one guest exclaimed. Positioning ourselves to obtain head-on images of her, we waited and it paid off. She moved quickly to a hill opposite camp and one that is inaccessible, but my guests got some precious moments with her as well as different photographic angles. We couldn’t have thought of a better way to have our safari come to an end and round up a rather action-packed, exquisite photo safari to the Mara North and Naibosho Conservancy.

The Mara truly gave us an incredible photographic and safari experience that left my guests thrilled at what we had seen and experienced, and of course, the images that they had taken.

To join me on a private photo tour, email [email protected] and we will design and craft a photo safari tailored to your specific goals and objectives.

To join me on a scheduled group photo tour, click here.

Stay passionate!

Penny Robartes

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