Lions and Vultures (Maasai Mara stories – 2)

Sighting of predators like tigers and leopards isn’t common in India. You are considered lucky to really spot one, and people like to tell stories of how many years they went before they saw their first Tiger. This was a similar expectation we had with Maasai Mara, but looking at the topography we thought we might be luckier.

Unlike our forests, Maasai Mara is mostly open ground with the odd tree and valleys between the undulating terrain which usually house some water holes and bushes, which is where the predators live, away from plain sight of their prey.
Eland herd
The very first evening we went up a plain hill and saw a couple of lions resting. One of them was awake, keeping an eye on the vehicle traffic, while the one next to her was sleeping.
Some 20 ft away a couple more were in a similar state, one watching, the other sleeping. The male of the pride wasn’t visible.
Lions, more of the pride

The next day we did an all-day safari with packed lunch, all the way to the Mara river. On the way back, we came across one solitary lion. We didn’t know if she had separated from her pride, or was just sleeping farther away. She seemed well-fed though and we left her to her devices and moved on.
Relaxing lion

We had no clue what we were to see the next morning. As we drove along, we saw one solitary vehicle standing on a hill, likely the same spot where we had spotted that pride the first time. The driver flashed at us inviting us and other approaching vehicles to come over. He had seen something. As we drove closer, we saw a huge bird perched on a tree stump, and our first guess was that that was the main attraction. Within moments the picture fell in place. This was a Nubian vulture, waiting, while a lion sat there feeding on its kill.

As we got closer we saw that there were two of them, one further behind, having had her fill, and the one eating was taking her time with it.
Lion with Eland kill
We got close to her, stopped some 10 ft away and got clicking, and watching. It was a full grown Eland that had been killed, and the lion was taking her time with it. Apparently, the rest of the pride had eaten and moved on.
Lion enjoying breakfast
As with the cheetah kill, the vultures turned up one after the other, swooping down from all over the place. We hoped some hyenas would turn up, we hadn’t seen them in the 1.5 days we had spent there. We never got to spot them.
Some distance away, a couple of jackals had turned up, and were waiting for the lion to finish, keeping a very wary distance, well behind the vultures.
Vultures waiting
The lion got up, went around the kill, found bits from other sides of the body to eat.
She seemed to be getting done by now. Unlike the cheetahs, which after finishing took a run at the much closer vultures before going their ways to rest, the lion got up, marked her territory and sat down sphinx-like 20 ft from the kill and watched. The vultures were not going to have their feast here.
Marks her territory
Lion, kill and vultures

You can watch the lion feeding here:

We drove down, trying to spot the rest of the pride, but saw only the other lion which had moved into the bushes and seemed to be searching for the rest of the pride too.
The other lion meanwhile
A jackal was scurrying along, hoping for something to eat from the kill.
A jackal hurries to the kill

We left the place and continued our drive. The topography meant that we could see all those vehicles assembling and circling the bushes from really far.

We had reached another hill when we spotted a large-ish eagle on a tree and got the guide to stop the vehicle. As we tried taking photos of the darkish eagle, he swooped down, and got really close to us. Only then did we realise that there was yet another Eland carcass nearby, this one killed by another lion pride which had moved up the hill into the bush there.
LSE near Eland kill
The eagle was a lesser spotted eagle which is also seen in India. He plucked some pieces from the carcass and was enjoying himself, when we saw that vultures arriving from the other kill.
Lesser spotted eagle
He took one piece from the carcass and moved on.
Lesser spotted eagle takes of
The vultures then began assembling here. They’d arrive and wait. Some would arrive and peck a waiting one, and have a mini-row. But they waited. There were no lions in sight, but they waited. They dared not touch that carcass.
Vultures turn up, wary of lions
Rüpell's Griffon vulture and white backed vulture

You can watch the vultures arriving here:

The guide said that this was fear of the lions. They knew it was lions that had killed the animal and were not going to touch it easily. They probably were going to wait for a while before going for it, making sure no lions would interrupt their meal.

We left soon as enough vehicles had started piling up.

That evening, our guide got us to that spot to check if the kill had been cleaned up. And it was!
Eland carcass from the morning, cleaned up by vultures
This time we also ran into another pride which had a male sitting in the bush. We saw his majestic face, but before we could shoot any pics the lion walked in as vehicles got too close to it. We circled back to the other side of the bush, and this time we experienced the protocol the vehicles follow in tricky situations. They all waited some 100 meters away, and only two vehicles would make an advance to the bush, spot the lion, take photos for 10-20 seconds, and go back so that others could take a look. It was almost like doing Darshana in a crowded temple while in a queue, minus the jarugandi.
Lion, male!
The rest of the pride was giving us good photo-ops, sitting close to vehicles and not caring.
More lions of the same pride

We left the next day, happy at the glimpses we got of the amazing wildlife of this beautiful continent.


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