I am not a wildlife photographer, but my few times seeing wild animals in their habitat have been both emotional and illuminating. So, as the world at large, and my country, in particular, are still struggling with the pandemic, I figured that hanging out with animals may be a somewhat safe, soothing activity and a way to forget momentarily the various crises the world is engulfed in.
And, this happens to be the time of the year for the Great Migration in Kenya, the world’s largest migration of wildlife where 2 million animals (primarily wildebeests but also zebras) travel from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. So, this looked like the perfect opportunity for my first trip abroad in a long time.
Though the Great Migration was supposed to be the highlight of this journey, the various felines we encountered undoubtedly made an impression on me. Somehow, seeing them playing, eating, and, yes, mating made them feel like humans, the species that I am most comfortable photographing. So, I decided to share my images of the Kenya cats first; the hordes of wildebeests, though impressive as well, will have to wait for a later post.
The lions were everywhere. Maybe the appeal of an easy wildebeest’s catch made them more likely to hang out, but prides of lions were prowling in the open almost every morning. In fact, one morning, we caught up with a group of lionesses and their youngsters finishing their delicious meal of what looks to be a tasty antelope.
Another exciting moment was when we came across pairs of lions mating. I found it interesting to learn that in the wild, the female is the one who takes the initiative when she is receptive to mating (i.e., she does not have a headache). After advertising her readiness, she heads out on her own, and the male quickly follows her, sometimes playfully pulling on her tail. She then lies down, and after gripping her neck, the male performs his duties rather quickly, in less than 30 seconds. In the end, the male roars loudly, and the lioness reacts as well, but I am told they she mostly experiences pain. If you miss the whole thing because it went too quickly, no worries, it is repeated 10-15 minutes later, again and again, up to 50 times in a day, probably for 7 days!!!
All in all, the most touching leonine moment was coming across an older lion, his face and skin clearly showing the signs of age. This magnificent animal walked on its own for some time and ended up meeting another old lion. After spending time warmly greeting one another, the two walked together like two old reunited brothers. Their posture clearly reflected their status as kings of the jungle, though possibly with emeritus status.
The always elegant cheetahs were a treat to see as well. First, we discovered a small group, including few youngsters finishing a “bloody” meal. But the highlight was the mother who took her oh so charming little ones on a long walk, probably to their new home. These cubs were as fluffy as anything I had seen before and very well-behaved. Mom also treated us to a display of her extreme gracefulness and speed while jumping across a small river in a chase for her next meal.
During this journey, the last feline species I saw was the serval cat, a female with her kitten. The serval cat is also a graceful animal with tremendous jumping skills. This kitten was undoubtedly ready to play and seemingly determined to get mom involved in his games.
And last but not least, an imposing leopard made a few appearances, entirely ignoring us, quite appropriately.
I am grateful to these beautiful felines for providing me with a distraction, albeit a brief one, from our crazy world. Hope it did the same to you.
I will be back soon with a post on the non-feline habitants of the Maasai Mara.