Observing cheetahs in the Masai Mara
The Lion Camp derives its name from the fact that The Big Cat Diary is filmed not far from the Camp, and for anyone who loves big cats, the Porini Lion Camp is a gem and seeing lions is virtually guaranteed as they are simply everywhere.
The Camp is also great for observing the wildebeest migration and sure enough there was a huge herd of wildebeest crossing the river when we were out filming. It was almost like we could see the adrenaline and fear in these animals as they were forced to cross the river, they went for a mad dash and then scrambled to get of the water as soon as possible, not only was the river infested with crocodiles but also this was a favourite area for big cats to wait for easy prey as they scrambled out of the river. The river was also host to hippos and elephants came to drink there too as they were naturally less concerned about predators. I also gained an appreciation for how much tranquillity and exclusivity the conservancy afforded, because out here by the river, which is part of the Maasai Mara National Park, other vehicles are allowed as well, and there were at least 15 other mini-vans around us. It did not bother me at the time, as it was only this particular spot, in fact I was glad I saw it because I could now really appreciate the difference when we were inside the conservancy and out of reach of the mini-vans. On top of that I was really glad we were not squeezed into a closed mini-van but had ample room in our open 4 WD vehicle. I guess that’s what the difference is between a cheap mass safari and a truly exclusive experience with knowledgeable guides, good vehicle, and comfortable accommodation inside a private park. It sure felt good to see the difference.
There is usually a highlight to every journey, one experience that stands out above all others; at the Amboseli Porini Camp it was the sheer number of Elephants and the snow-capped Kilimanjaro in the background; at the Mara Porini Camp it was filming the leopard and at the lion camp it was going to be the cheetahs. It is well known that cheetahs are among the most endangered species in Africa, which is probably due to the fact that they mostly hunt alone, and even though they are by far the fastest cats with maximum speeds of 110km/h, hunting requires a lot of energy. Not only are the cubs prey to birds but also other cats, such as leopards and lions, which will kill cheetah cubs to eliminate the competition. I was therefore simply stunned and overjoyed when we got close to a cheetah mother with 6 cubs. Not only was it a joy to observe the cheetah cubs but I also felt a real sense of privilege to be this close to these rare animals. Cubs are really interesting to look at too because they have this kind of Mohawk running across their back up to the head and one of the local guides showed me a book in the evening that compared the cheetah cubs with hyenas and indeed they looked very similar and apparently that similarity was a defence mechanism by nature as hyenas cubs are much less a target for the competitive lions and leopards. But naturally not every big cat is fooled by the disguise and my guide told me that just a couple of days ago one cub was dragged off by a leopard but apparently a lion started fighting with the leopard and a local ranger was able to retrieve the cub and return it to its mother.
It was truly a joy to observe and film the cubs frolicking around the mother, exploring and stumbling across trunks, loosing its footing and trying again. But the show wasn’t over yet because the mother was now in hunting mode and started stalking a gazelle. Naturally we remained way off in the distance not to disturb the cheetah in its hunt and scare off its prey, so I wasn’t really able to film it but we could see it way off in the distance. I was told that once they lock onto a victim they have to go for it and if there is something that interrupts the line between the cheetah and its prey it’s over. We could see how the cheetah was slowly gaining speed and finally running full throttle towards the gazelle but unfortunately something crossed its path and the gazelle was lost. The mother would have to try again the next day because for today all of its energy was spent. She settled in to let the cubs suckle and I put in a prayer for the mother and its offspring that they would survive and become permanent residents to this serene conservancy where they had a very good chance of survival because they were not constantly disturbed by vehicles and tourists.
All in all I can full-heartedly say that Gamewatchers really does its utmost to minimise the impact on the environment and maximise the benefits to the community and a case in point was a complaining and obnoxious German who felt that the service was not good enough because he could not enjoy a bath-tub full of water like in a neighbouring camp. The manager pointed out to him that Lion Camp tries to minimize the impact on the environment and carting thousands of gallons of water into the reserve and then heat it with wood is simply not environmentally sustainable. Especially just so that some overweight German can take a bath, when a shower from a hot bucket of water is more than sufficient, I thought, but kept my thoughts to myself.
So if you want an exclusive wildlife experience and have minimal impact on the environment then please do go with Gamewatchers, it’ll be the experience of a lifetime. Their website is http://www.porini.com/.