Sunday, August 28, 2011

THE MAASAI MARA'S WONDER WOMAN

In a perfect world I find myself on a safari vehicle camera in hand, the wind gently moving the air to take the bite out of the relentless sun while the bush is alive with all sorts of wondrous activity.  Each day presents something new and exhilarating and each night the stars fill the heavens. And I am at peace!
The reality, of course, is much different and I find myself at the keyboard of a computer instead. The words do not flow easily and as I search the recesses of my brain to express myself I have to be content with the consolation prize that is the bank of photographs that represents my travels. Each journey unlocks new experiences and secrets that the bush shares only with the patient, vigilant and knowledgeable.
One of the downsides of Wildlife Photography is that each day spent away from the bush represents another day of undiscovered mysteries and stories that cannot be told. However, in the little time that I am afforded to share in the magic, one story worth the telling has played itself out on the plains of the Masai Mara. It all unfolds towards the end of 2010’s Wildebeest Migration in the Masai Mara. A mere three weeks after my visit to the Mara in September photographs emerge of a Cheetah female with six cubs in tow. For the Mara this is not a recordbreaking figure as it appears there was a Cheetah who produced eight cubs. But, as Cheetah's go, the normal litter is three to four cubs. Therefore, six cubs makes for an exceptional story.
copyright Isak Pretorius
The first photographs I see belong to a fellow photographer Isak Pretorius who had been leading a C4 Images Safari in the Mara. My jaundiced eye views these extraordinarily emotive images and I instantly fly into action to book a trip back to the Mara but this is only possible a long nine months later.
copyright Isak Pretorius
In the subsequent months I have to be content with social media to feed my curiosity. From this it becomes evident that Shingo and her six cubs are not only surviving the perils of nature, they are thriving. As I touch down on the runway at Olkiombo in the Mara my first thoughts are of this amazing Cheetah and her offspring. A perfunctory enquiry to our guide, Samy, produces the right answers. Yes, she is still doing well along with her six cubs.
Its 3pm and our first drive starts out with the normal Mara conditions. More animals than can be counted surrounding us at every turn. We make a beeline for where we believe Shingo is hanging out for the day. The reward comes fast. This efficient predator of the African Plains has produced dinner for her offspring.


I would like to take a moment here to reflect on the magnificence and resilience of what must surely be the most admirable of the African big cats. By comparison to the Lion who has a whole pride to provide and care for three to four cubs at a time and the Leopard who seldom produces more than two offspring at any one time this delicate big cat single-handedly manages to raise her offspring.  Granted at 70km/h top running speed she has an advantage that is difficult to beat, but considering that she would weigh no more than 40 to 50kgs it is indeed a feat of note to consider that any single animal would be able to be responsible for the care and sustenance of 6 cubs.
In our second encounter with the Resilient Seven we witness some Mara Behaviour started by a Cheetah female Amber, who until 2011 it would seem, was the only Cat to use the game drive vehicles to her advantage. Now, it would seem, some of the Shingo crew are going to follow suit. Their curiosity, it seems, knows no bounds and as the group must be so accustomed to the moving “rocks” that accompany them each day on their wanderings, what can be better than to perch on the highest vantage point around. From reports on the day it appears that it is not the first time a vehicle has been explored by one of the Resilient Seven but it makes yet another day like no other on the plains of Africa.
Hopefully, we will be able to track the lives of these seven remarkable individuals for many moons to come.
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