Early wake up call at 5.30 a.m.. I wanted to shoot a sunrise. We were up quickly and off into the park. Paul had a tree in mind which would make a perfect picture with the sunrise in the back. We were racing. The sun came up quickly. And there was the tree. One of those beautiful umbrella trees set out as dots on the big planes of the Mara. While racing there I had mounted the camera on the tripod and was ready to shoot when we got there. It was awesome. This gracious tree in the golden light. I was happy. It was a good start of the day.
While getting back into the vehicle we heard a lion roaring. We thought immediately of the pride of lions we had left the previous night and headed towards the area. Unfortunately when we got there we only had to follow a trail of vehicles. The lions had settled around a mount. The females and males were lying around in the shade of bushes. The cubs were climbing the mount with their full tummies. They must have had a kill.
It should have been ideal for photography. Blue sky, sun, a pride of lion with playing cubs, but it was hectic. Many vehicles were there and made a half circle around the pride. But when more vehicles arrived the circle became close to a full circle and this is not the background for the lions you want. Some vehicles arrived and drove through the whole scene, the drivers were sometimes very close to drive over a lion’s tail, but it didn’t look like the lion were irritated by that. Maybe we were a sighting for them and they were amazed what a competition was going on in front of their eyes.
In sight a few hundred meters away, another group of vehicles was watching something. The group was growing, so we assumed it must be a cat and they were all looking at a tree, so it must be a leopard. We left the crowded lion sighting and drove over to the tree. Yes, there was a leopard in the tree, but the sighting gave only space for two vehicles and the visual was 2 out of 5. Nonetheless there were six vehicles fighting for a good view on the leopard. It was ridiculous and we decided to come back later and drove back to the lion. We were not the only one to drive back and forward between the lion and the leopard. It was an absurd scene of vehicles racing between the two sightings trying to get in a good position. The whole scene felt like it was all about the humans and their competition and not about experiencing the beauty of wildlife. After a last attempt to get to see the leopard we left. A vehicle had parked in front of the animal, blocking the space for another one, people sitting on the roof and moving constantly, so that parking in second row made no sense too. I had enough.
We heard that three cheetah males had been seen and we went there. It was in a different area and a bit of a drive. Another vehicle followed us. It was a guy on his own cruising around in his Land Rover. He asked Paul to stop and talked to him in Swahili. After that we carried on and he tailed us. I asked Paul what this is about and he told me that the guy doesn’t know the way to the cheetahs and asked him to guide him there. I stopped the car, stepped out, walked towards the Land Rover and stopped him. What did he think speaking sneaky in Swahili to Paul and using a guide I had paid for to get to the sighting. I wouldn’t mind, but ask me too. Obviously the piled up anger from the vehicle sighting race of the morning came onto that guy. I apologized, but since then he kept his distance.
The cheetah were in rough territory. Rocks were lying everywhere and access was difficult. Also there the same story. The sighting gave space for two vehicles and one was blocking it. Sometimes I’m not sure if the drivers just don’t know how to handle a sighting. This one felt like that. The cheetah were beautiful, but my photographs were not. I guess the emotions of the morning distracted me and I wasn’t focused, but the animals were awesome.
We drove back to the camp to have lunch and a rest. That would be the chance to reset for the afternoon game drive. And it did. The lunch was nice and I had a shower and a nap. I was ready to go out again.
The strategy for the afternoon was to go back to the lion and to see what more is coming on the way. Rain came and the light went bluish and soft. The lion were still wide spread around the mount. We decided not to go anywhere else. Just to stand our ground and see what’s going to happen (there was enough space for about twenty more vehicles). It was lovely. The cubs were playing with their mums, some of the females were taking position on the mount to scan the area for prey and the male lion were lying in the bushes. And then the rain started again. I loved to watch one female who was on the top of the mount, trying to hide her head between her paws against the rain. She closed her eyes, waiting the rain to stop. She was beautiful.
We too closed our “eye”, the hatch and went back to the camp, were leaking tents needed attention and Alex was waiting with dinner.
Ute Sonnenberg for www.rohoyachui.com