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Back to the Masai Mara and our best Leopard Sighting Yet

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It’s fair to say I love wildlife photography. So you can imagine how excited I was to get the opportunity to host a tour to Kenya and Uganda with Melbourne-based travel company – Twos a Crowd. Not only host, but host as a photographer. Let’s just say I didn’t take any convincing.

I was even more excited when I received the itinerary for the tour, it was put together by RAW Africa Ecotours, based in Yarraville Melbourne, our “on the ground” tour operator in Kenya. It was a fantastic blend of wildlife, community and culture. It not only included the “must see” Masai Mara, but several unique cultural, community based encounters in the Mt Kenya region. I knew this was going to be uniquely different from other tours I had taken in East Africa. But for now the Mara.

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After an overnight stop in Nairobi our group of five intrepid travellers, our guide Jaros and myself hit the road. After several hours, we were still hitting the road. Actually I think we were still in Nairobi.

It’s tough going in the traffic. But our group was pumped. We were off to the Masai Mara – the “Mara” is the Kenyan section of an eco system that is continuous with the Serengetti (in Tanzania). It is the site of the annual wildebeest migration and of all the places I have been the best place to view wildlife.

After another hour or two, we were exhausted. Like a mirage Narok appeared and it was time for lunch. Well rested we hit the road again. Narok is about the half way mark. But now the road gets rough – ahh the Masai massage. It’s a tough drive to the Mara, but well worth it. If you’re cashed up you can take a charter flight and avoid the drive. But where’s the challenge in that?

It was late afternoon and we were getting close to the lodge, when Jaros yelled out “look over to the left”. A female lion with two cubs was relaxing in the grass. We weren’t even in the Mara yet. By the time we got to our lodge (actually a selection of luxury permanent tents) we were ready for a shower and a cold beer. But we were finally here.

The view from the dining area was spectacular. It took in the Mara river, with herds of hippo wallowing and giraffe wandering along the banks. It was breath-taking. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, dinner was served. After three courses a couple of beers and a glass of red, it was time for bed.

We were up early the next day for a full day in the Mara.

As we drove through the conservancy toward the Mara it was a Masai Giraffe to the left a Hyena to the right. In the distance, wading in the marsh a large elephant. The morning saw us observe a large herd of elephant, mongoose, lion, buffalo, crocodile, hippo and baboon. So that’s three of the big five, and a whole lot more.

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The wildlife viewing took a turn for the worse when our exit path was blocked by another vehicle while waiting for a possible wildebeest crossing of the Mara river. Our plan B had us ‘leaf spring deep’ in a warthog hole. After trying two high-lift jacks, to no avail, we were snatch strapped out. Only to land the whole axle in the warthog hole. More snatch strapping and we were out again – just. It had been a big morning and was time for lunch.

After lunch there was more waiting for a potential crossing, which still never happened. I must be cursed with wildebeest crossings. However, while driving back to our ‘spot’ on the Mara river, we had spied a fresh carcass in a tree. A sure sign of leopard. After waiting for quite some time at the river, we decided it wasn’t going to happen. Plus it was getting late.

We opted to head back to the tree we had seen dinner in and wait. By this time the tree had about 15 cars around it waiting, so we took a spot, crossed our fingers and waited. It actually wasn’t long until the leopard appeared, walked up to the base of the tree, posed and climbed up to the carcass. I was blown away. Leopards, while not rare, are really good at not being seen. So this was just amazing. But wait, there was another leopard. Turned out, the first one was a cub (almost full grown), the second the mother. Just amazing to see them greet each other. The cub disappeared back up the tree, while mum did a quick last minute scout of the area, then followed. You couldn’t wipe the smile of my face.

Yep, gotta love the Masai Mara.

Fast Facts

I hosted the tour for Two’s a Crowd – a company providing travel adventures for solo adult travelers. Our on the ground tour operator was RAW Africa Ecotours.

Was it long enough? – Lets be honest, as a photographer you never have long enough in the Mara, we had 2 nights, three would be better. The next tour run by Twos a Crowd has added another night and full day in the Mara pre-tour Kenya extension.

We stayed at Tangulia Mara eco lodge. It was spectacular. Like I said the only thing I’d add is another night.

Highlights – definitely the leopard sighting. But also the lions on the way to the lodge. Huge herds of elephant at the Mara river, and the crocs. The crocs were amazing.

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