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Mara Moments
Munir Virani — in East Africa Project    Share

I have just returned from a visit to the Masai Mara where I had gone to help Corinne Kendall (see Tracking Mara’s Vultures) tag and release some more vultures. Corinne has now been in the Mara for two and a half months and has been working incredibly hard on her transects and carcass watches. Last week, with the help of her field assistant, Wilson Masek, she managed to trap and attach two more GSM units on Lappet-faced Vultures, the largest and heaviest of the vultures in Africa. The reason for my trip to the Mara was to carry a newly designed unit that Corinne will test that has been kindly donated by Henrick Rasmussen, from Savannah Tracking Ltd (a company based in Nairobi that makes telemetry equipment).

In addition, Corinne also needed some equipment from Nairobi and I had to meet with the Senior Warden of the Masai Mara National Reserve, plus other people in the Mara to invite and finalize plans for an upcoming workshop on vultures that Corinne and I are organizing at Basecamp Explorer Camp next week on the 7th of May.

Masai Mara landscape
Masai Mara landscape

The Mara was quite green and wet and the grass very high, making it difficult to make observations, let alone place carcasses. One of the difficulties that Corinne had been experiencing at her carcass traps was the arrival of unwanted Jackals and Hyenas.
A venue of vultures by the carcass trap
A venue of vultures by the carcass trap
We were constantly on the look out for these uninvited visitors and as soon as one was spotted heading towards the carcass, we would drive our vehicles to deter them from getting close to the traps. This happened when we placed our first carcass and then had to move to another site that afternoon. We had at least thirty vultures come down but ended up catching a Tawny Eagle, which we released.
Corinne and Wilson release a Tawny Eagle
Corinne and Wilson release a Tawny Eagle
Tawny Eagles are usually the first of the scavengers (along with Bateleurs) that arrive at a carcass. According to Corinne’s observations, it is this frenzy of first-arriving Tawnys and Bateleurs that attract the larger Vultures to a carcass and subsequently the Jackals and the Hyenas.

Although we never trapped another vulture whilst I was there, there was never a dull moment. We witnessed an aerial fight between a Bateleur and a Tawny, plus saw a Black-chested Snake Eagle swallow a snake in mid air. Then there was a gorgeous juvenile Martial Eagle that practically modeled for us whilst we took pictures.

Juvenile Martial Eagle in flight
Juvenile Martial Eagle in flight

On the last afternoon, when we placed a carcass near Rhino Ridge, we observed a pride of seven lions that walked very close to where we were. The pride comprised mainly females and cubs heading out toward a herd of Topi. It became evident that they were after a dead Topi that had been killed by Hyenas. About 15 minutes later, a huge male appeared very close to our cars and suddenly turned back towards us where he decided to chase two massive buffaloes. Because of the presence of the huge male lion, we decided to move our carcass trap to another site.
Male lion keeps watch on vulture biologists
Male lion keeps watch on vulture biologists
It was getting late in the afternoon and we knew that the chances of trapping some vultures were quite slim. It is much easier trapping vultures when over a million wildebeest visit the Masai Mara from July onwards.
I will certainly be back to help Corinne, but in the meantime, my thoughts wandered towards the big Vulture workshop next week, and then I got distracted again as I watched a Martial Eagle swoop down in an attempt to pounce on a banded mongoose.

Find more articles about Bateleur, Lappet-faced Vulture, Tawny Eagle, Africa

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