It’s easy to be blasé when not eyeing one of the big five and easy to see why everything else merges into the background when not viewing these ‘stars’ of the Mara.
But if you look around the place is infested with less prominent animals which if they weren’t in the company of the ‘big beasts’ would be attractions in their own right. For every African animal is squeezed into the Mara – often sharing their territory with the ‘Big Five’.
It can be no less rewarding to watch a fish eagle dissect its catch from a nearby acacia tree or a secretary bird strut along the grass or vervet monkeys pick up seeds from the track in front of you. The smaller animals are part of the ecological system often allowing the bigger animals to thrive. And when the herds leave the Mara in October it’s often the smaller animals which remain behind.
So we’ll start with smallest to largest.
You can’t get any smaller then one of the most prevalent animals of the plains. These plains are immense and the topography of the Mara is pretty special because despite being rolling and covered in green grass you can see for miles. Any herds are immediately apparent on the horizon and the herds leave alot of dung. The dung in return attracts trillions of Mara flies Words can’t describe what an irritant they will be. You drive through a patch of plain and they literally descend on you in swarms. They try to get at the moisture in your eyes, nose and mouth (it’s much the same in Australia). We took to taking the leafy branches of nearby bushes and using them as fly whisks. They don’t tell you this in the brochure.
Next up is guinea fowl. You are so preoccupied with watching a herd of elephants you don’t realise clucking around their mighty feet are these chicken-like birds. They look juicily plump with their fat bodies and mottled feathers. You just want to scoop them up and take them back to camp for a roasting.
Looking suitably patrician are the Secretary Birds so called because of the set of quills behind each ear and that prissy walk that they have. These long legged cranes were seen in the open grassland where they would be hunting for snakes and rodents.
The biggest bird in the world is the ostrich. We used to bump into at least one a day on the plains. These long legged birds were often a mated pair and I had to ask if anything went after them as prey. Our guide said they were very hard to catch as prey due to their legs and then there are the feathers to consider.
Also we run into families of mongeese. I’d seen these in India but always on their own. Here they were in a family of about twenty and coated the track as they dashed across it. They proceeded to ransack nearby scrub so vehemently that a dozing buffalo got up and moved away.
A word must be said for the rest of the antelopes who share the plains with the zebra, wildebeest and Impala. Most prevalent is the "Thompson" and "Grants" gazelle. Very delicate pretty looking antelope they are found everywhere. Topi are a much neglected animal and are abundant in the Mara – standing on termite mounds to watch for predators. Last of all are the giraffes which have a kind of prehistoric gait. They loom above the vegetation and when they move out from behind the acacia trees you get an idea of the size of them. They move with such elegance.
We also saw the baby giraffe – probably only about two weeks old – standing watching us with curiosity. It pressed my "ain’t it cute" buttons and I found myself wishing it a long life.
A nice idea...but in the Mara it just ain’t gonna happen...