Every river crossing has its own element of drama, but one crossing this week took the drama to another level. Warning – this may not be for the faint of heart.
I write this from the incredibly privileged position of being able to live full-time in Kenya’s famous Maasai Mara. Almost every day I venture out into Africa’s greatest and most exciting safari destination in search of animal sightings and encounters. Armed with a small arsenal of cameras, I drive around in search of fresh content – the intention: to share the magic with all of you across the globe and to build a visual diary and image bank that we can look back on in years to come. Every day here is special, and every passing week different to the next. But some weeks are just remarkable. And this was one of them. Enjoy This Week At Angama. It may be my most memorable yet.
The Migration has reached fever pitch here in the Mara, particularly in the Triangle as rains continue to lure them deeper into Kenya. This is my third Migration season and I have no hesitation in saying that it is the biggest.
Had you asked anyone based in the Mara a few months ago, whilst we were in the middle of the heaviest rainfall in history, we would have predicted that this year’s Migration would be late and smaller than normal – how wonderful it is to be proven wrong.
Despite the very late, and unprecedented rainfall, the herds have marched across the grasslands and are now spread out across the plains. Like ants they move. Currently they sit right on Angama Mara’s doorstep.
Zebra have moved in too, although their numbers don’t come close to the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest dotted across the plains. Panning is always a photographic challenge, but the results, if done correctly, can really go a long way towards showing movement, emotion and energy.
As a photographer I always get excited when I watch zebra moving towards watering holes for a drink. You just know that there is bound to be something interesting to capture. A time of excitement, social gatherings and playtime. On this particular scene it was the contrasting colours of the water-lilies which caught my eye.
Elephant behaviour changes rather dramatically during this peak Migration time. Their numbers are still high, but they move out of the park as they look to distance themselves from the herds. They still move into the swampy waterlogged areas to feed during the daytime, heading up the escarpment at night. This week I have already had elephants visiting my garden at the lodge no less than three times.
This week we have had afternoon rain showers most days. Although this is to be expected to some degree, the amount of rain we have had in a short time is rather unusual. At times the rain has been incredibly heavy, leaving the animals with little option but to sit it out. The benefit of this rain, however, is that because the Migration is largely rain-controlled, the wildebeest are moving further and further north. I remember two years ago it was only in late October that the wildebeest got to where they are already this year. And last year they didn’t even get here. This rain may just be a major factor in the outstanding Migration we are in the midst of.
One of the reasons I have such an affinity to lion is the social structure – perfectly shown by these sisters as they walk together in the pouring rain.
Identifying, and focusing on the zebra in amongst this herd, gives it a unique perspective. You may think a shot like this is common, but in my three years of Migrations this is only the third time I have been able to create an image like this.
Returning to the great migration I simply cannot do justice to how outrageously exciting and good it has been this week. I have seen densely packed, extensive herds, unlike I have ever seen before and river action that has kept me captivated. On one occasion I spent eight hours without moving the car.
Of all the crossings that unfolded this week, there is one that stands out as probably the most exciting, and devastating of all – it was in many ways tragic. For some reason the wildebeest decided that they should cross the Mara River at a point with very steep sand cliffs. They do not normally cross here, as it is simply too dangerous and difficult, but this week they did. It was carnage. I had heard of this happening a handful of times over the last 20 years and had seen some haunting images of it, but I have never seen anything like it. Hundreds of bodies piled up on top of each other. Like lemmings the wildebeest had plunged over the cliff to their death. A heaving mass of bodies, many still alive but unable to move – and all whilst they were fighting for their lives, the herds continued to cross back and forth.
Over the course of that day, I watched over 10 crossings at this specific point, saw crocodiles kill 14 wildebeest and witnessed hundreds jump to their death. There are no words to describe the mixture of emotions that raced through my head, and I just hope that these images partly convey how dramatic, and tragic this specific crossing was. I grappled for a long time about if I should even show many of the images I took, but at the end of the day decided that it was nature – this crossing was by no means influenced by humans, and it was ultimately their decision to cross here. * Not for sensitive viewers.
THIS WEEK AT ANGAMA | ADAM BANNISTER
Scientists in Madagascar have discovered a new species of mouse lemur in northeastern Madagascar but warn that it may already be threatened by deforestation and habitat loss. The little primate was discovered during a lengthy survey on different communities of mouse lemurs and is now known as Johan’s mouse lemur (Microcebus johani).
Over nine years, from 2008 to 2017, the team captured some 117 mouse lemurs, either using traps or by hand during nocturnal surveys. The lemurs were extensively measured and observed, and small biopsies were taken from their ears for DNA purposes before they were released back into the wild where they were captured. While the status of some mouse lemurs has been contested in the past, in this case, the biologists were able to show both sufficient genetic diversity as well as distinctive morphology (physical characteristics) to justify concluding that M. johani should be considered to be a distinct species.
The new species of mouse lemur is among the larger mouse lemur species and has a prominent white stripe running down its nose, with reddish-brown fur and the typical large eyes of this nocturnal genus. It measures around 26cm from the tip of its nose to its tail and weighs on average 60 grams. It was named for Professor Jonah Ratsimbazafy, a respected Malagasy primatologist, who according to the study, “serves as an inspirational role model for young Malagasy students and scientists”.
There are over 100 species of lemur endemic to Madagascar, which translates as some 20% of all primate species on the planet. However, the full extent of their species diversity is still being researched. Mouse lemurs (Microcebus) are the smallest of all primates. New species have been regularly discovered and described since the 1990s, the most recent additions (before Johan’s mouse lemur) being described in 2016 based on genetic evidence from mitochondrial DNA.
Yet almost as fast as they are being described, the conservation status of primates in Madagascar becomes more precarious. In a recent announcement, the IUCN revealed that 31% of all lemur species in Madagascar are now listed as critically endangered, and 98% of them as threatened, primarily due to deforestation and bushmeat hunting in Madagascar. Newly listed as critically endangered are the Verreaux’s Sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi) and Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae), which is the smallest primate species in the world. Madagascar has lost nearly half of its forests in the last 60 years.
“Alarmingly”, reads the study, “lowland rainforest habitats have disappeared from most of the east coast, and our study region is no exception. Under these circumstances, population declines are unavoidable”. This accelerating loss of habitat will most likely impact Johan’s mouse lemur (and probably already has), given that it seems to be found only in Mananara‐Nord National Park, which is already isolated from surrounding forests.
Dominik Schüßler, one of the lead authors of the study, told Africa Geographic that “although it is only a tiny lemur species that we recently described, it is a symbol for the situation of nature conservation in Madagascar.” Professor Ute Radespiel of the Institute of Zoology, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, explained further that “this study with the description of a new mouse lemur species demonstrates that the unique biodiversity of Madagascar is far from being understood. Many of the recently described species have only small distributions, which puts them at high risk, since the remaining forests of the island are under acute pressure from habitat destruction and fragmentation. Major and immediate conservation efforts will be needed to ensure their long-term survival during this critical period.”
In the latest announcement from the South Africa Government on Saturday night 15th August, the hospitality industry breathed a sigh of relief when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that inter-provincial travel would now be allowed. This means South Africans are free to travel for leisure purposes to any province or accommodation type within South Africa. Leisure travel and accommodation restrictions have been in place since the initial lockdown on 26th March.
Over the last few months, Kapama Private Game Reserve has patiently been awaiting the return of Safari guests from around the world. With inter-provincial travel officially open within South Africa, we are one step closer. We are ready to welcome our South African guests!
During the lockdown period, the Kapama team has been hard at work on the Reserve. Roads have been prepared to ensure a smoother and more comfortable game drive, and our entire fleet has been cleaned and sanitized. This will be done before and after each safari.
We have also made over 2000 face masks for all staff members and their families.
We have been enhancing our cleaning protocols within our rooms, public areas and dining halls. All cleaning protocols are in strict adherence to the WHO standards including sanitizing all surfaces. We are taking all necessary precautions to ensure you feel as safe and comfortable in our rooms as you do in your own home.
Our Spa and Wellness Centres are ready to welcome guests back. Nothing makes us more excited than to reopen and pamper guests once again. We have enhanced our hygiene protocols at the Spas to align with the WHO protocols to ensure guests receive a safe yet relaxing treatment.
Kapama has also achieved the compliance badge and certificate from the Tourism Business Council of South Africa. Just another way we are providing a safe tourism destination and dining experience for our guests and to show our compliance with industry standards.
It’s time to renew your soul in the African bush, we are ready to welcome you back and give you an experience to last a lifetime!