by Laila Bahaa-el-din
After our luxurious stay at Bateleur Camp, Kichwa Tembo, we were wondering how we would cope with our small tents and camping food. But we needn’t have worried, as the Mara pulled some magic out of the bag and we didn’t even have time to think about food. We spent one night in the reserve and were heading towards to exit gate when we got a tip off about a lion and a leopard on the banks of the river. We rushed to the site to find many tourist cars had beaten us to it. And sure enough, on our side of the river lay a lioness, on the other side, a leopardess. We wondered what they were up to in such close proximity as lions do not usually tolerate competition from leopards.
The lioness had a kill on our side of the river. The leopard pranced around on the other bank and the lioness eventually got fed up and went a long way around to get to the other side to see off the leopard. The leopard, being more agile, just leaped across the river and tucked in to the lion’s meal. The lioness gave up and went to find shade and the leopard soon did the same. The tourist cars disappeared, but we stayed behind hoping the leopard would reappear.
I was photographing a Tawny Eagle when Simon said “let’s go.” I was rather miffed at his abruptness until I realised why the hurry. A herd of wildebeest was gathering at the river edge getting ready to cross. We knew the lioness had disappeared into bush near where they intended to cross so we got ourselves into position and barely had Simon cut the engine that I saw the lioness come tearing out of the bush and take down a wildebeest. A second lioness also appeared and tried to catch another of the panicking wildebeest but missed.
We spent some time watching these lions on the river bank until we heard that the leopard had reappeared. We found it lying under a bush surrounded by tourists, eating a small meal. Above the leopard, a young Martial Eagle sat on a branch looking distinctly peeved. It had blood, and soft grey fur on its bill and its talons and was staring at the leopard. We guessed that it was the Martial that had made the kill and the naughty leopard, not satisfied with stealing the lion’s food earlier that day, had pinched it. The leopard, having finished off the food, took off with the tourist mini buses hot on its heals. We stayed behind to photograph the Martial which came down to the ground to investigate the remains of its meals. Not much!
We left the Martial to notice a whole group of cars had gathered again at the riverbank. We shamefully couldn’t resist going to see what was going on (normally we refrain from joining the crowds) and we saw the leopard dancing around on the other bank again. The two lionesses had moved away from their recent kill and the now fat leopard was sneaking up to it. The lioness wasn’t having any of it this time, and returned to drag the kill away. Considering that leopards are usually quite shy and avoid lions and tourists, this one was nothing less than a performer!
We never did get out of the reserve that day, and made a plan to leave the next morning. Of course the morning brought more wonders with lions and lots of birds of prey. Tawny Eagles squabbled with a Bateleur over the remains of a kill, vultures loafed around in the sunshine and a Dark Chanting Goshawk hunted in the bush. But most spectacular of all was a very unusual, almost white Lappet-faced Vulture. It was stunning and we stayed watching for some time before making a run to leave the Mara.