Day and Night Visitors on the Masai Mara
I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.—Ernest Hemingway (American author and journalist)
I wave my flashlight out the door flap of my tent at Governor’s Camp and in a few seconds a security guard armed with a stick and his own flashlight comes to escort me to dinner. With him are three of our group.
He turns towards the path that goes along the back of all the tents and we meet another small group, also going to dinner. The guards speak little English, so they motion for us to follow them away from the dining hall a short distance.
As we cluster together on the path, one guard shines his flashlight into the vegetation next to us. At first, I see a “hollow” in the thick brush, large enough for a crouching human to hide in, but nothing else. When most of the group moves on, I step up to see if there’s anything else.
The guard again shines his light into the hollow and I see two warthogs, side by side. Apparently, this is their night sanctuary. The guard steps back towards me, as if to leave, and as I turn to leave, two warthogs burst from the brush like they have been shot out of a cannon!
The guards get a big kick out of my “OH!” I suspect it’s something they pull on guests frequently.
The next morning, shortly after 6 o’clock, I open the tent flaps to wave my flashlight out the door and see a light approaching. The guard “picks me up” and escorts me to the safari vehicles. He does not take the short cut I take during the daylight hours, but makes the full half-circle around the parking area.
At one point, he pauses and shines the light on the ground. I see a number of small green balls on the ground among brown clusters that definitely look like dung.
“Giraffe,” he says.
“Giraffe,” he says.
I have to laugh. Those undigested green things look like the unripe fruit of the marula tree. A luscious cream liqueur called Amarula is made from the ripened fruit, and every evening five of us take turns hosting a round of Amarula for our group. I just hope it’s the fruit before being ingested by giraffes or elephants.
My fellow safari photographers recount hearing the fuss during the night as the guards shooed the giraffe away from our tents, as well as an elephant that objected loudly to the same treatment.
Add to that the nightly hippos lumbering past the dining hall and the little genet that inspects the buffet area at 8:30 PM, staying at the unfenced Governor’s Camp is a kick, assuming you mind the escort rule and don’t venture out on your own.
We’re free to walk around on our own during the day, but there are boundaries—especially along the Mara river bank—that must be minded.
I am quite thankful that the river is far below our tents, perhaps thirty feet. The path provides close access to a steep precipice that overlooks the hippos and crocodiles and various birds. During our post-lunch breaks, I spend a lot of time walking along the fence line and photographing whatever is in the river or in the trees.
|Unlike this photographer, hippos know to get out of the noontime sun.|
|Two hippos and a yellow-billed stork.|
A daily visit from a hammerkopf is my favorite. The small stork stands absolutely still in the riffles, waiting for something appetizing to appear in the water. It is frequently joined by a gray headed heron, and the two seem to get along.
The hammerkopf and the heron have similar hunting methods, preferring the wait and lunge method. Occasionally the hammerkopf will flap its wings as if lunging, but the point is to frighten hidden prey into moving out where the hammerkopf can see it.
On another day, several black-crowned night herons lurk almost directly below me. They are extremely shy and fly across the river to perch in trees when they see me.
A couple of yellow-billed storks invade the territory claimed by the hammerkopf and the result is not friendly.
The storks chase the hammerkopf from its favorite spot, and it is ruffled. It raises the head feathers that give it its name.
During the day, mongoose join the buffet line, but the fussy chefs shoo it away.
A vervet tries another approach, sitting politely at a dining table and hoping for a meal.
And then there are the birds.
|And another bee eater.|
But my absolute favorite has to be dining with giraffes.
|Two giraffes dine in the background, watched carefully by a security guard (with a white hat just to the right of the green bush).|
All in all, my tent along the Mara river provides a great spot for an in-camp safari walk.
But, can you imagine walking the camp at night, armed with a stick and a flashlight, not knowing what animal you might run into?