I momentarily considered skipping the afternoon game drive in favor of more sleep, but I knew that I would be sad if I missed anything, so I dragged myself out of bed, grabbed my camera, and joined the group. Now that we had seen the Big Five as well as a ton of the Mara’s other megafauna, we focused on snapping pictures of birds: menacing-looking marabou storks, a nesting vulture, an eagle, and ostriches. Not just any ostriches, though. Mating ostriches.
It goes down like this. The male ostrich does a dance to entice the female ostrich. He turns bright pink/red to demonstrate his…excitement. If and when the female ostrich is ready, she lies down on the ground at which point the male ostrich runs towards her at full speed, mounts her, and does his thing. The male ostrich looks like he is trying to dance while simultaneously being electrocuted. There’s a whole lot of feathers flapping, and his neck jerks back, forth, and around, flailing atop his noodle-y neck. The female ostrich, however, looks like she couldn’t care less.
Upon watching the female ostrich’s seeming indifference to the whole situation, one of my group members remarked: “Wow, it looks like he is having way more fun than she is.” “No comment,” I replied, “just keep taking pictures.” A good laugh was had by all. In the end, the whole encounter was over quite quickly. The male ostrich stood up and stalked away without a backwards glance while the female ostrich calmly stood up, straightened her mussed and ruffled feathers, and nonchalantly glided off in the opposite direction. Hmm. I hope he calls her.
The rest of our last evening game drive in the Masai Mara was comparatively uneventful. We got back to the lodge in time to watch the nightly bushbaby feeding, which was a nice photo op. Finally, there was a good amount of alcohol, food, and laughter had by all before we headed to bed.
Early the following morning, we took our last game drive in the Mara. We spent much of the time watching two groups of lions: first, a mother lion that was being awakened by cubs, much to her chagrin (because they were supposed to be sleeping off the effects of a large meal–a recent kill was evidenced by the blood on the cubs’ faces); and, later, a whole pride, just lounging in the sun, the cubs running about, exploring and playing, while the adults just rested. We were quite pleased with what we had seen, but the best was yet to come.
Soon after we left the pride behind, our guide motioned towards our left: “Look, she’s giving birth.” Sure enough, just as we looked over, a baby topi fell out of its mama and onto the green grass of the Mara. We all gasped in surprise and delight at our good luck as the driver got closer so that we could take better photos. We spent the next little bit watching as the mama topi licked her baby clean. For awhile, an eagle stood by, keeping close watch. At first, I admired its commitment to serving as the mama topi’s midwife and doula. My admiration diminished sharply, however, when our guide said that the eagle was waiting for the mama topi’s afterbirth so that the eagle could have a meal. Yum. In any event, the eagle lost patience and flew away shortly before the mama topi delivered the afterbirth, so the eagle’s callous selfishness was not rewarded.
After a healthy amount of licking, the mama topi started nudging her newborn to encourage it to stand up. We probably should have been more serious about the whole situation since the baby’s ability to stand and walk quickly after birth is critical to its survival. Nevertheless, we couldn’t help laughing like crazy because the baby’s attempts to stand were hilarious in that they were abject failures. The baby kept wobbling onto its legs and then tumbling over itself in ridiculously cute ways. One member of my group got a brilliant accidental shot of the baby falling feet over head. Mama topi tirelessly continued to give encouragement; papa topi momentarily came over from his spot a few feet away to survey the goings-on, but he soon lost interest and wandered away again.
Just when we thought that the baby had successfully stood up, it fell yet again. As it turns out, it had had the bad luck of being born on a treacherous (to the baby, at least) hillock, thus complicating the baby’s efforts. We eventually had to leave to head back to the lodge, but I have faith that the baby topi soon found its feet.
On the way back to the lodge, our last sight was a large group–or, rather, a kaleidoscope–of giraffes parading across the ground in front of us. It was a fitting end to our time in the Mara. After we returned to the lodge and breakfasted, we packed up and began the long drive back to Nairobi. That evening, we had a lovely final group dinner at a nice restaurant called Tamambo. Later, a smaller group of us hung out for some drinks, said goodbye to the two group members who would not continue on with us to Tanzania, and just spent an ungodly amount of time joking and laughing loudly.
The plan had been to stay up until midnight so that we could ring in my birthday, but we all crapped out around 11:00PM (which I think was pretty epic given that our day started at around 5:00AM/6:00AM). The next day, my group members kindly gave me birthday greetings at breakfast before we headed onwards to Arusha to continue with our safari in Tanzania. After we arrived and settled into our super-posh rooms at the all-suite East African Hotel, we went out for dinner and birthday drinks again. When we got back to the hotel for a nightcap, our new guide–who would be leading us while we were in Tanzania–arranged for the hotel staff to surprise me with singing and a cake.
In short, I had gotten to see a topi being born on the day before my birthday and then celebrated my birthday with new friends in both Nairobi and Arusha. All in all, my last year in my twenties got off to an incredible start.