First Day on the Mara

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Today would mark our first full day exploring Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. It’s relatively small compared to other African parks, but still an impressive 580 square miles. Famous for its large cats and impressive herds, the Mara is a photographer’s paradise. If I wasn’t already in heaven I would soon be closer. Filming on the Mara was a dream come true…

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Staying at Ilkeliani was a lot different than Elsamere on Lake Naivasha. For one you are in a tent. The sounds of Africa seem to come even more alive. The hyenas were exceptionally loud. Whoop. Whoop. Whoop! You could hear them across the river and to my left.

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One of the best times to view wildlife is in the early morning. So it was no wonder we were in are safari vehicles at 6:15 a.m. AIS (as in seat). Approaching the giant gate I was overwhelmed with so much excitement. All the months, days, hours, and minutes counting…I was finally here. I had made it to the Masai Mara.

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Seconds after entering the reserve we came across our first animals. These brown antelope are called Topi.

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Soil-horning is a common occurrence in males. By rubbing their horns in the mud, it makes the horns look more impressive.

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We even saw a mother and her calf. Female Topi are noted for being extremely protective mothers.

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Everyone’s goal when you enter the Mara is to find “The Big Five.” This term originates from many years ago when white hunters came to Africa in search of the most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt. It is comprised of the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. Just minutes in we were able to check one off our list! This buffalo was lying right by the side of the road.

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If you know me then you know I am obsessed with hyenas! This was my first glimpse of a wild hyena. Note the exceptionally tall red oat grass. This made it difficult to get a good shot.

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You cannot watch an African Documentary without seeing one of these guys! Thomson’s Gazelles or Tommies are a lot smaller in person.

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This is a Kori Bustard and her chick.

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Can you see my excitement? I was on cloud nine spotting African wildlife.

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Making their way closer and closer to our vehicle was a small family group of African Elephants.

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There is something about seeing a wild elephant that words cannot explain. The Mara is one of the last few places on earth you can still see healthy populations.

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This young calf will stay with its mother for several years.

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With two of the “Big Five” successfully checked off our list, we off once again to try to find the other three.

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The Big Five wasn’t the only thing we were after. Birds of Prey like this Lappet-faced Vulture were also on our list.

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Due to poisoning, habitat loss, and increased civilization, vulture numbers in the Mara have plummeted by more than 60%.

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This Lilac-breasted Roller has to be one of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen.

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One of the few times you can get out of your vehicle is when you stop for breakfast or lunch. This gave me a great opportunity to film in the tall red oat grass. I felt as if I was standing in the middle of a wheat field in Kansas.

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Minutes after breakfast, our driver spotted this lone hippo making its way to the river. It is unusual to see hippos far from water during the day and this one happened to be limping.

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We stopped at a particular point in the Talek River to observe a pod of hippos.

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This large bull had to have been over 6,000lbs.

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Once again I was on cloud nine filming!

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Near noon we found our first wild cat. This cheetah was escaping the rising afternoon temperatures. What you don’t see are five to six safari vehicles full of tourists snapping photos. The majority of animals in the Masai Mara are habituated to vehicles. Without tourists bringing in income, the Mara’s biodiversity would be lost forever.

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If anything I was determined to see a leopard in the Mara. They are extremely elusive and with the exception of the rhino, the most difficult animal to see. There is a leopard named “Olive” that is famous in the Mara for being comfortable around vehicles. Here we are scanning her territory.

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Ironically enough there is an airstrip located right in the middle of Olive’s territory.

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Talk about a dangerous road block! Buffalo are extremely aggressive animals and are equipped with 48 inch long horns.

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Everyone in the Mara was on the lookout for lions or “Simba.” The Mara has one of the highest lion densities in Africa and not seeing one is bad luck. But where in the world were they? The tall oat grass didn’t help either.

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This was a real treat: Spotting an Eland. This is East Africa’s largest and slowest antelope species. They rarely come near vehicles and fear humans.

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Here’s my bird! The Secretary Bird is one of the only Birds of Prey that hunt terrestrially.

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We were lucky enough to run into another group of elephants. They flap their ears back in forth to keep cool.

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Due to poaching, elephant populations have plummeted by more than 80% since 1981.

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As the sun set and the temperatures began to cool, we spotted three Bat-Eared foxes. Oddly enough, insects make up the majority of their diet.

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As I watched an elephant graze in the dwindling daylight, we headed back to camp. We didn’t find any lions or leopards but we were not giving up hope. We still had a full day left in the Mara. What I didn’t know at the time was that the next day would change my life forever… ***To watch the footage visit this link: http://www.kivitv.com/goodmorninglive/146982695.html