We’re bumping up and down in the back seat of a safari vehicle, bones rattling, as we fly through a field of grass. From the excited tone of the voice of our guide, who is jabbering away in Swahili, it looks like there’s a predator around the area. After a couple of days of seeing lions, we’ve been driving around the Masai Mara in search of cheetahs.
The Masai Mara National Reserve is one of the best places in the world to see cheetahs in the wild. But so far, the cheetahs have been elusive. With 1510sqkm of grasslands it’s sometimes difficult to get a good eyeful of the world’s fastest land animal.
Today, we’re in luck. We arrive at a scene to see three cheetahs and there’s a bonus. There’s a pack of hyenas and jackals as well. We’re just in time to get a photo of a hyena staring defiantly at the cheetahs with a baby gazelle hanging from its mouth. In the distance are Thompson’s gazelles and impalas watching with interest.
Our guide beats on the steering wheel in frustration. When he calms down, he tells us the three cheetahs are young males out on one of their first kills. As the hyena has stolen their food, this could mean that the cheetahs could go hungry for the rest of the day.
The cheetahs were cubs of a female cheetah that died in an accident while being tranquilised. The community was devastated. But there was an even bigger problem. Her cubs were only nine months old and had not yet been taught to hunt. The rangers were afraid that the cubs wouldn’t survive in the wild on their own.
As cheetahs are rapidly becoming an endangered species, the rangers would keep an eye on the cubs to help them along. The alternative would have been a cheetah orphanage.
The cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal. They can run fast (up to 112kph) but they have weak jaws and small teeth, which means they’re not that well equipped to fight larger predators. Due to poaching and loss of habitat through farming, the species is endangered.
Massai Mara Great Migration
We’re a little too early to catch the annual migration. This is a bucket list event when millions of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles cross the Mara River from Tanzania’s Serengeti. During the migration, the plains are a sea of wildlife. But even though we’re a couple of months too early, there’s still plenty of wildlife to see.
Our daily safaris while staying in luxury at Olonana safari camp bring us a Noah’s Ark of creatures. We see herds of African buffaloes, with impressive curled horns. White cattle egrets are small birds that hop on and off the backs of these buffaloes, picking at insects.
Seeing so many animals in the wild soon becomes the norm and it’s easy to take it all for granted. But it’s good to remember you’re in the wild and anything can happen.
Buffaloes can be extremely dangerous and our guide tells us about a near-fatal accident with one. A guest decided to hop out of the vehicle and answer the call of nature behind a bush. A buffalo came out of nowhere and charged straight at the bush. The guide jumped out to rescue the guest and found himself on his back facing an angry buffalo. He was lucky to escape with a wounded leg.
Lions are kings
One of the more amazing sights is a lioness dragging a freshly killed topi by the neck while a pride of male lions sleep some distance away.
Another highlight is seeing a Martial eagle perched on a mound. The eagle has just killed an Egyptian goose and is looking mighty pleased.
There are more cheetah sightings; three female cheetahs. The mother and her two daughters run and jump playfully. Mother cheetah watches a family of warthogs (African wild pigs) walking through the plains. The adult cheetah springs into action when the warthogs come close to her cubs and chases them away.
Each day brings more animal sightings, such as Thompson’s gazelles wagging their tails, giraffes grazing on tree tops and serval cats darting among the grass. There are so many elephants and already there are flocks of wilderbeests.
Our guide shows us a half-eaten carcass of a gazelle wedged in the high branches of an Acacia tree. It’s a leopard’s dinner but the leopard is nowhere in sight.
One afternoon, we come across two young lions. The lions are surrounded by game-viewing vehicles. At first, the lions ignore the sightseers and roll over on their backs. We hang around for awhile and one of the lions walks right up to the rear wheel of our 4WD and rubs its back against the tyre.
The lions are so used to seeing vehicles they usually ignore them. According to our guide, they see the vehicles as large friendly beasts. Although, there was one crazy lion that liked to jump through the open vehicles.
A visit to the Masai Mara wouldn’t be complete without visiting a Maasai village. Most camps have relationships with the Maasai. And even though some of the villages can be a bit touristy, it’s still worth going to one. If you want to avoid the tourist traps then visit a school and you’ll be delighted by the Maasai children.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of South African Airways and Abercrombie & Kent.
South African Airways flies to Johannesburg and has the most comprehensive airline network on the African continent.