Front row seat for a life and death battle in Kenya
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Front row seat for a life and death battle in Kenya

IT DOESN’T get more “life and death” than this. Four lions cubs are feasting on fresh kill - one of the many wildebeest that are unsuccessful in making the return journey during Kenya‘s annual migration.

As the brunette-coloured cubs eat, their mother sits in the not-too-far distance, watching.

Our 4WD, the first on the scene, stops no more that 10m from the lions. I am sitting on the side closest to them. The 4WD has no windows, no bars, so I’m feeling vulnerable and edge toward the middle of the seat. Jack, who is sitting on my right, tries to push me in the other direction so he can get a better view. He knows he’s not the one likely to get eaten first.

A cub, the one enjoying the wildebeest’s nose (apparently it’s a salty delicacy), looks up and seemingly stares deeply into my eyes. “No need to worry, there is no anguish on its face,” our guide says. “It can’t see you. It just sees the car as one big thing. Too big for it to worry about. You are safe.”

I wonder if the lion cub can see the anguish on my face though. This is too close for comfort. It is frightening yet compelling at the same time.

The cub eating the nose doesn’t move from its spot. And as time goes by I start to feel more relaxed in the surroundings and decide it is safe to draw my camera from its bag and starting shooting. The other cubs rip at the beast but eventually lose interest and playtime starts. These animals are not hungry. Four-legged food is plentiful at migration time.

Today’s kill was probably a lesson their mother needed to teach them. A lesson about life and death, something that is very real in the Masai Mara. The best estimate is that there are somewhere between 500 and a thousand lions in this area. They take little notice of the vehicles that daily invade their territory.

The cubs wrestle and roll about, giant paws thumping into each other in the same way domestic kittens do. Except this family of cats has grown past the cute and cuddly stage and, if any of us were stupid enough to set out from the 4WD, then we would also be the ones being taught a lesson.

Our driver says it is time to search for some live wildebeest and we head off through the savannah.

Our Abercrombie & Kent itinerary says the Masai Mara is the “crescendo to which your African safari has been building”. This area is the Kenyan portion of the Serengeti ecosystem and the concentration of animals here is astounding. The annual wildebeest migration is one of Kenya‘s biggest tourism attractions. The wildebeest’s closest relation is a goat.

Honestly, you would be kind to describe them as the ugly relative.

Every year between May and June hundreds of thousands of them head northwards to the Mara in search of wet, green grass. They eventually head back to the Serengeti in October.

The crossing of the Mara River is one of the most dramatic parts of this journey. Here the wildebeest must dodge not only themselves but also crocodiles, lions and the spotted hyenas who prey on the young. Only one in three of the young born each year make it back to the Serengeti.

It takes just minutes for our driver to find wildebeest. From a distance it looks like a black tide moving across the land. Our driver heads into the middle of this fast-moving herd. The animals buck and screech as they charge into the distance.

With the sun setting, we head back to our luxury tents at Sanctuary Olonana, along our own private stretch of the Mara River.
It is hard to call these 14 rooms tents. Technically they are, but in reality it is as comfortable here as any 5-star resort in the world. The tents have parquet floors, four-poster beds, and private balconies that look out over the Mara River. Each tent has a butler who escorts you to and from the main dining complex. The camp area has a library, pool, African-themed spa with Thalgo products, and an organic garden that produces much of the food that is offered for dining here.

The campsite puts eco-friendly practices first wherever possible and A&K Philanthropy has been leading a massive tree-planting project in the Masai Mara with funding from the A&K Climate Change Challenge. ...

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