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Pole to Pole

Day 98: The Masai Mara

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleI feel as though I've done a day's work, but it's not yet ten o'clock as a pale sun at last begins to warm the grassland and the indefatigable Wendy leads us off on another grand nature ramble.

We return to the donga, which is the Swahili word for a small overgrown creek, where yesterday we saw the two lions conspicuously not mating. Today things have changed. Same lioness, different lion - probably the brother of the failed suitor. This time they are obviously interested in the same thing. They sit eyeing each other until, as yesterday, the female gets up and strolls off. As if on an invisible lead her partner follows and waits for such time as she squats down. This is the signal for him to settle on top. They couple for no more than twenty-five seconds, to an accompaniment of low growling and neck-biting. Then the male stands back and the female rolls over onto her back. After a decent interval of nine or ten minutes the whole thing starts again.

Then, from down in the undergrowth, another lioness appears, leading four very young cubs. (Wendy estimates them to be about six weeks old, and probably out in the open for the first time.) One stays close to his mother but looks bright and adventurous, two others follow a little further behind, but number four is clearly the runt of the litter, unable to keep up. Meanwhile, up on the low hill, uncle and aunt are at it again. They all seem quite oblivious of each other and of the intrusion of a half-dozen telephoto lenses. More distressingly, it seems at one point that the mother is oblivious to her fourth cub who is floundering way behind in the long grass, but just as we thought she'd forgotten, she raises her head, turns, pads slowly back down the hill, picks the runt up in her mouth and carries it back to the family. It's mesmerizing activity and we remain absorbed for the best part of an hour. By which time, as I calculate it, the happy couple have mated six more times.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 98
  • Country/sea: Kenya
  • Place: Mara River
  • Book page no: 217

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