Hunters: Big cat tales from the Mara

TRAVEL & DESTINATION |

A lion seen roaming the Olare Motorogi Conservancy near Masai Mara.

A white canvas. In the absence of mains electricity, well-placed lanterns cast soft light on the surrounding vegetation.

“This is what nature is all about. Peace and tranquility in the wild,” said Erick Sadera, speaking in a soft tone, almost to himself.

Then came the roar. He must have been miles away but the sound reverberated across the valley like evening thunder on a windless night.

“That is one of them,” said Erick with a note of finality.” He was talking about one of the Fig Boys, a pair of strong male lions that had broken off from the bigger Fig Tree pride in Masai Mara National Reserve.

“He is looking for his brother, perhaps to initiate a hunt.”

I had spent a good part of the afternoon with Erick, scouring the far reaches of the conservancy, looking for the elusive cats that make this part of the world famous. Our efforts had paid off.

Three of the five lionesses of this particular pride lay on a small clearing, watching the behavior of some buffaloes grazing nearby.

Their main interest though, was not in the grazers but in fresh zebra kill a few metres from the buffaloes. Every time the lions lifted their heads, the buffaloes snorted in disgust.

Erick is a big cat whisperer and seemed to have some intimate details about these lions—and other cats—at his fingertips.

“The buffaloes are mad that they might be next in line and are just bullying the lions so they forget the kill,” said Erick. The lions, he told me, were avoiding a confrontation as it could prove fatal to the three cubs with them that are only three weeks old.

In fact, Erick said, one cub had been crashed to death by a raging buffalo a few days earlier. To the buffaloes, one dead cub means one less future killer.

“But the lions know the buffaloes will soon leave as darkness sets in.” We leave the two teams to size each other, hoping to catch up with them the following morning.

Top predators

The family of the Fig Boys is not the only group of top predators here. Lying on a branch along the seasonal Ntiakitiak River was Fig, the resident leopard on this corner of the Mara.

Unlike other leopards, Fig likes to show off, never afraid of entertaining visitors with her theatrics. I was among the fortunate few.

Fig is probably 11 years old and one of the well-known leopards in the Greater Mara, having appeared in several documentaries due to her outgoing nature.

She is now a mother of three—daughter Figlet, born in 2016, daughter Furaha, born in 2018, and another yet to be named male cub. Sadly, she lost some litter in floods last year.

But where there are celebrities, drama is never far away. The Fig leopard family is no different.

“Yesterday, mother and daughter spent the morning fighting over dominance,” says Erick.

Despite her name, Furaha is a troublemaker and behaves like that teenager seeking to establish independence but still sneaks in on her mother and steals her food before disappearing in true leopard fashion.

The family situation, according to Erick, is compounded by their absentee father, Yellow, who ought to be instilling discipline among the brood. “He only shows up to mate.” Leopard tales!

In the dying embers of the fire, Erick related to me some more frosty relations among the felines, this time between the Fig Boys and two drifters, Lekiti and Olerai, from a 22-strong Ol Dik Dik pride, now residents of Mara North Conservancy.

Lekiti means one with a petite body while Olerai is named after the yellow backed acacia due to her light beige colour.

These though, may be the only superlatives about these two.

They were born in Olare Motorogi, behind the residential tents of Olare Mara Kempinski.

Territory wars

As adults, they still remember their place of birth and make periodic forays here only to be repulsed by the Fig Boys. They fight about the territory and mating rights but always lose to the Fig Boys. Today, they only use the Fig Boys territory as a transit route to other hunting grounds.

And how did matters turn out for the three sisters and the zebra kill?

As we found out the next morning, the dead zebra had been moved to a safer location under a croton bush, and while buffaloes were gone, a pair of jackals and some hooded and Rüppell’s vultures mocked the lions, looking for an opportunity to steal a morsel.

Sharing is not in Fig Boy’s DNA, while their nemesis, the Ol Dik Dik tribe, have been observed sharing their kills with hyenas, a rare act of generosity.

The fire died out as the Fig Boys’ roars got louder.

Alex another of our party, had popped a bottle of Moet and Chandon and was going on about the number of bubbles in a glass, why champagne is a drink fit the gods.

But after Erick’s big cat tales, lesser mortals can just as well take a sip of the royal drink.    

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