"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Kenya Journals, Ch. 21: Life and Death on the Masai Mara


Chapter Twenty-One:
Life and Death on the Masai Mara

You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”
Karen Blixen, Out of Africa

I stare down at the huge white skull at my feet, marveling at both its size and honeycomb structure.  I remark with surprise about the anatomy of the elephant’s skull and Moses asks me to imagine how heavy the head would be if the bone were solid.   I can’t even budge this skull.

The lower mandible, or jaw.

The cranium and upper mandible

It lies in a pleasant, sun-dappled copse of trees and brush where tourists seldom venture, though it is remarkably close to Governor’s Camp.

Solomon.   Note how the cranium is honeycombed, rather than solid bone.

I am also apprehensive about why it is here, fearing poachers had massacred this elephant for the rich, but illegal, trophy of its ivory.  It is impossible for those of us who love and respect wild animals to deal with the slaughter of elephants for ivory, rhinos for their horns.  On the other hand, an elephant tusk will bring more money than a man will earn in a lifetime and, depending on the country of the crime, poachers can often bribe their way out of prison.

In the Mara, rangers patrol the vast area and anti-poaching teams are concealed in brush.  In some African countries, special teams are assigned to guard specific animals to prevent poachers from taking them.

 I finally ask.

“Old age,” replies Moses, and I believe him.  I see no damage to the part of the skull where the tusks would emerge.   And, of course, there are no tusks here.

Nonetheless, there is something quite moving about seeing the bones of one of the massive, iconic animals of Africa.   For myself, I admit to a feeling of reverence in that pleasant wood.

On all our drives, we have seen bleached bones and skulls.   We’ve seen the custodians of the Mara—the vultures and hyenas and flesh-eating Maribou stork—consuming the decaying corpse of a hippopotamus.

A vulture and a Maribou stork on a hippopotamus carcass.

A pride of lions caught and killed a wildebeest almost before our eyes.   When we drove to the other side of a small hill, the lions were already eating their prey right next to the bones of another wildebeest.

Note the wildebeest rib cage of a past kill above the lion on the right.

Another pride, also with a fallen wildebeest, were sated with meat and sleeping in the light of a rising sun while two cubs gnawed on the bones.   

A short distance away, black-backed jackals yapped for the lions to go away so they could scavenge scraps.

This jackal was particularly cheeky to the lions.

A cheetah hauled her dinner to a shady spot after recovering from the chase.

Moses turns the safari vehicle around and when we emerge onto the savannah, the white skull of a wildebeest lies in the grass.

A short distance away, we encounter baboons heading into the forest as they do every evening.   A female stops and sits, holding her infant close to her.   When very young, a baboon carries her infant under her belly.   

Imagine watching the world upside down the first months of your life.

When it is older, the infant rides on the mother’s back.

At left, riding the mother's back.   At right, upside down under the mother's belly.

Another skeleton, this one a Cape buffalo, lies on the far side of the marsh.

Though we have seen the bleached bones of animals on all our drives, we have also seen many pregnant animals and many with young.  

Zebra often rest their heads on another's back.   This youngster is a little too short yet.

But it tries.

This afternoon, as the sun lowers in the sky, the lions of the marsh pride seem to form a protective barrier of auntie lions as a tiny cub, its eyes barely open, stumbles from its leafy cradle into the daylight.

We can barely see the little cub through the lionesses and leaves.

One cub seems to be fascinated with the newest additions to the pride and repeatedly goes into the den to be with the cubs.   The mother lioness allows this one, but snarls at another cub, which leaves.

When the new cub emerges, the ten-week-old cub inspects it carefully, and at one point tries to pull it back from venturing farther into the world.

 How I wish I could be here on the Mara when these new cubs are old enough to play with the older cubs.   What a sight that will be.

A lioness goes to nudge a lion that was slumbering with the pride, and he gets up and walks away.   Two of the cubs follow him, as do some of the lionesses.  

When she was about six to eight feet from me, she looked me right in the eyes.   That is a very humbling feeling.  I realized that in an instant she could be in my lap.

She is so close, I catch part of the safari vehicle in the photo.   I am in the back row and she walks right behind me.

One cub is sound asleep and a lioness remains nearby, as does the mother with her cubs in the bushes.  

The departing lions look back when an elephant approaches the little copse, but move on when the elephants turn in a different direction.

Then, all the lions suddenly sense the approach of Cape buffalo.   That is extreme danger on four hooves.  Lions kill buffalo calves and sometimes adults, and buffalo kill lions when they can.   Some of the lionesses turn back to protect the others.

The cub awakes as the buffalo near it.  It's mother is close by.

Several lionesses start to return to the copse.  The buffalo might take on a single lion, but not several.

 The two cubs wait at a distance, but are fixated on the silent drama occurring before them.

The buffalo move on in the same direction as the elephants a few minutes earlier.  The mother lion and her cubs are safe for the moment.

Once again, the pride joins together for safety and companionship.

And this little sleepyhead is safe.


  1. It can be a cruel world out there in the Kenya wilds ... but, with these cub pictures, it shows us there can also be love and gentleness! Smiles and thanks for the visit with the cubs!! Patti and Cap

  2. Amazing and fascinating. Wonderful. Cap and Patti.