December in the Masai Mara

Kenya

The Masai Mara

Governors’ Guide to December in Masai Mara

Following the short rains in November, the grasslands now look green and begin to grow again. This dense new carpet of green growth contains many nutrients for the plains game; white tissue paper flowers (Cycnium tubulosum) grow across the plains. The baboons love to feed on these flowers. Early mornings are around 18 degrees Celsius, midday around 30 degrees Celsius and evenings are a balmy 26 degrees Celsius. We can expect scattered bursts of rain in the afternoons, settling the dust and cooling off the day.

With the wildebeests gone, families of elephants return, crossing the Mara River on a daily basis and fanning out in the Marsh areas to feed. Watermarks on their bodies show the river levels with the youngsters having to swim across. They are frequent visitors to camp feeding in the forests.

The majority of the plains game from impalas, gazelles, topis to the warthog have had their young and now the process of rutting has started. Males are busy re-establishing their territories especially after a shower of rain, as their scent markings will fade. The impalas are the most raucous as the males chase each other around, white tails fluffed out, heads held high in the air and letting out a loud series of grunts. This serves to assert their dominance as well as impress the does. The females, already in season, will not relent or be impressed so easily; they will make sure their male suitor has stamina.

Thomson’s gazelles will run miles in pursuit of a female.  It will be another six to eight months before we see the offspring, which will tie in well with the lush grass brought about by the long rains in April and May. Warthogs are busy defending their young; families graze close to their burrows ready to dart back down at the first sign of danger. Giraffes are plentiful passing through the woodlands and campgrounds.

Hippo pods are dispersed within the Mara River with some young calves being seen.

Sightings of serval cats increase in December. In the early mornings we see bat-eared foxes and their pups foraging for termites near their mounds and on occasion, we might catch an aardvark on his way back to his burrow after a night spent digging for termites. Some of the termite funnels have small mushrooms growing on them.

The Marsh Pride of lions are seen throughout the Musiara Marsh, the woodlands and the plains close to Governors’ Camp. They hunt warthogs, waterbuck, buffalos and Grant’s gazelles and there are often cubs within the pride. Leopard sightings are frequent in the forest between our Mara camps. With the explosion of young antelopes on the plains, the cheetahs will hunt well.

December is an interesting month for birding with a few flocks of migratory birds passing through the Mara, including black storks, white storks and spoon-billed storks and the rufous-bellied herons who are back in the marshes after a long absence. Double-toothed barbets nest in the trees around camp. As the Teclea nobilis trees fruit, common bulbuls and black-and-white-casqued hornbills are seen more readily.