OUT&ABOUT: A spring full of wildlife - Daily Nation

A spring full of wildlife

Friday June 15 2018

Elephants and grey-crowned cranes in Siana Swamp. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT

Elephants and grey-crowned cranes in Siana Swamp. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT 

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I am nestled in the craggy Ngama Hills, from where the springs that give the wildlife haven its name, Siana. I scan the copper-coloured bare cliffs where the leopard hides. The view of the Masai Mara from here is unbelievable.

The Siana springs drain their water into the luscious green swamp that features more grasses than usual because of the long rains. A herd of 25 elephants feast on the healthy swamp.

In the green and grey of the elephants in the swamp, a pair of Grey crowned cranes cut a colourful profile. It’s fascinating to watch these birds stomping, dipping their stately crowned heads in the grasses to pull out a frog or a snail, totally ignoring the world’s largest land mammal in their midst.

It’s a happy picture. A recent survey by Kenya Wildlife Service shows that elephant numbers in the Mara ecosystem have increased by 72 per cent since 2014. In 2014, 1,448 elephants were counted versus 2,493 in 2017.

A grey-crowned crane in Siana Swamp. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT

A grey-crowned crane in Siana Swamp. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT

But here’s one theory for the dramatic increase – many of these elephants may have wandered in from the neighbouring Serengeti to indulge in the food fiesta. I’m happy with that if the elephants are.

The Grey crowned cranes send out their signature call. In the last two decades in Kenya and Uganda, Grey crowned crane populations have spiralled down by 80 per cent with an alarming decline of nests due to human-wildlife conflict around nesting sites.

It’s tranquil; we could be the only people on earth in this beautiful place. Mike Luka, our Maasai driver-guide, points to a dozen birds and plants. Herds of impala appear in their lavish caramel coats as the sun peeps through the cloud-filled horizon. In the same sky, as the sun sets, a huge silvery-white moon appears from the eastern sky. It’s surreal.

The nightlife begins with dinner at our camp, and then a night safari drive. The Maasai guides from the Siana Conservancy, Luka and William Letura, ready with the massive infra-red torch that won’t disturb the night creatures, open the door to the safari cruiser.

Our meal at the Masai Mara. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT

Our meal at the Masai Mara. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT

Luminous eyes dart in the bushes to reveal a tiny animal with humongous eyes. It’s a bushbaby, a purely nocturnal animal. Another one darts so fast that it’s a split-second sighting.

The guides show creatures we would have missed out, like the African Scops Owl camouflaged on a branch. It could fit in the palm of my hand. The guys then turn the spotlight on the migrant kestrel hidden deep in the bushes and asleep. It doesn’t stir.

The elephants in the swamp have left and instead, it’s full of impalas. The waterbuck stirs and the grand finale is when Letura shines the torch skywards to reveal a Grey crowned crane perched on the tip of a single branch with the moon on its crest.

The deep-throated roar of the lion sounds deep in the night. It’s the spirit of the Masai Mara and in the first light of the day it’s beautiful to wake up to wide open skies and the savannah full of luscious grasses and wild flowers.