A month ago when we left there were encouraging signs that the drought was over. Rain had greened-up lots of plains in the Mara, especially the North West. Hardly a drop fell since we left, and the Olare Orok Conservacy is very dry - but there is still good drinking water, so plenty of healthy looking zebras, wildedbeeste, topi and gazelles are hanging around. And there are also plenty of dead cows in various states of decomposition. Many of cattle herds here have been weakened by long treks from other areas in Kenya, where the drought was still having a huge effect. Yesterday, heavy rain hit Nairobi and surrounds, while rain was visible to us over the Northern Serengeti. Hopefully the drought is finally over.
What effect the dryness, all these cattle and accompanying people are having on the lions is hard to say. There have been spearings as well as poisonings, and everyone reports fewer lions in areas where they were common.
The day before yesterday we set off north to Maternity Plain with the help of Sara and Emma Blackburn of the Mara Predator Project to find The Group of Seven; one 3 year old male born in that area, one adult female of unknown provenance, her four 18 month old cubs, 2 boys 2 girls, as well as a smaller adopted cub. This kind of pride doesn’t fit the normal stable lion pride stereotype, but seems to be more common here at the moment, and mature males are thin on the ground.
The Group of Seven set off to towards wildebeeste herds at dusk, and the daughters didn’t disappoint, randomly chasing anything that moved, while mum held back as if to teach them the lesson of patience. The group spread out, chased all the animals away, then reformed for another go. Second time round, the 2 girls produced the same result and all the wildlife legged it.
The night was moonless and partly cloudy, conditions in which neither prey nor lions can see very far, and sound and scent become more important. The lions roughly locate some prey by sound and spread out in that direction. This time, mum decided that playtime was over and had to show the cubs how it was actually done. She knew more or less where the cubs were, and where a sitting herd of wildebeest was quitely chewing its collective cud. Mum made a huge loop around to the other side, careful to keep her footfalls silent, still not sure exactly where the wildebeeste were.
Now the wildebeeste were between her and the cubs who appeared to be waiting for something to happen. Mum charged straight into the middle of the panicking herd, and downed an adult, cheetah-style with a flick to the back legs. It was practically dead by the time the first cub arrived. An hour later, the Group of Seven had devoured the lot, with surprisingly little fighting.
Let’s hope that in time, despite living in a heavily grazed and human inhabited area, the Group of Seven can become a stable and successful pride.