Predators of the Masai Mara with Penny Robartes
Photographing wildlife is exhilarating, to say the least. To be able to encourage people to feel the emotions you do for the subject in your frame, just by looking at your image, is a testament to the power of a photograph and the ability of the photographer to build that connection with the viewer to the subject.
– Penny Robartes
Kenya hosts a variety of habitats as diverse and iconic as the wildlife found specifically in each of these areas.
One such area is the Masai Mara National Reserve and the private conservancies that surround and flow into it. Many of you may have heard of the Masai Mara, famed for the Great Wildebeest and Zebra Migration that comes to its inspiring grassland plains around late June to end of October to feast on the nutrient dense grass that the rains guided them to. This is indicative, however, and the arrival of the migrating herbivores is driven by actual weather conditions and the alternation of seasons. It is highly unpredictable, but oh so rewarding to the wildlife photographer and naturalist when the beasts arrive enmass on the plains in their thousands.
But what happens in the Reserve when these herds cross over the Mara River and make their way towards the Southern Serengeti in Tanzania?
The Life of Predators commences…
November and December are typically when the Mara and surrounds receive their short rainfall. This usually consists of occasional afternoon thunderstorms that are inspiring and dramatic visually and disperse very quickly, leaving blue-grey skies in their wake while the late afternoon sun glazes the earth in gold.
With these short rainfalls rejuvenating the grass, January and February in turn are deemed the best months to witness and photograph the local herbivores giving birth. The predators may have puppies or cubs themselves and take full advantage of the vulnerability of the young prey and their mothers.
This year, as with all destinations, my private Masai Mara photo safari guests had a very different experience of the Mara and the Mara North due to the near non-stop rains that had been falling since mid-November. A very uncommon weather pattern indeed! This type of rainfall and the constancy of it usually occurs in April and May during the long rains and brings forth the long lush grass that sustains the migrating herds during the dry winter season.
What we arrived to was a landscape that was months in advance to the usual and typical look that is found in February; long green and very lush grass as far as the eye could see. The sky was a stunning, stormy colour of grey-blue which created an oh-so-perfect backdrop to the sense of “life” that was around. Some roads were inaccessible due to the drenched black cotton clay soil which can be very difficult to navigate, but there were more than enough routes for us to take and explore.
Most herbivores do not like the grass when it is this long. They do not feel safe as they cannot see what may await them in the grass or what stalks them. This resulted in a lot of the plains game moving more to the border of the Reserve and Conservancies where the local Masai’s cattle had previously grazed. When we came upon these areas it was like witnessing the Great Migration; the short-grass plains were teeming with seemingly endless herds of Zebra and Thompson’s Gazelle! Large Topi herds were found in the Reserve and the territorial males still stood handsome and tall on their mounds. They too, became meals to the stronger Lion prides while other prides showed the toll of the long grasses.
The freedom to go on off-road game drives in the Conservancies makes a huge difference to a wildlife photographer especially if the desired sighting is not near to the roads. This can be done in Conservancies as the only vehicles allowed in the different segments are those owned by the lodges/camps based in said conservancy.
Our second and most predominant part of our tour took place in the Mara North Conservancy. I chose to create the itinerary for my green season Kenya photo tour to spend more time here rather than in the Reserve due to less vehicle numbers found in the Conservancy, the utter freedom of movement as well as game drive times being extended well after sunset.
Our remaining days were filled with predators, including three sets of Lion cubs, witnessing the start and successful finish of a Cheetah hunt and kill, Hyena interacting with one another and other predators and their behaviours.
Even with the abundance of rain that fell prior to our tour and commenced once we had left, the Life of Predators Photo Tour 2020 provided spectacular wildlife sightings and photographic opportunities. We could not have asked for a better Kenya photo safari. There truly is no “best” time to visit the Masai Mara National Reserve for wildlife photography trips as it all depends on your photographic goals and what you want to see. My Life of Predators Photo Tour has been designed and crafted to offer you the best opportunities to focus on the predators of the Masai Mara during Big Cat season and to have a more intimate safari experience without the large numbers of travellers and vehicles that coincide with the Migration season.