We're a bit more than half-way through our
safari, and we've already seen so much that our brains and eyeballs
are bursting! Words pretty much fail when trying to describe the
experience of seeing animals on safari, but we’ll make a
vain attempt at communicating some of the many highlights:
at Ngorongoro Crater
The trees & landscapes: The
clouds and sky are surreal. The plains seem endless. And some
of the trees take your breath away. Our favorites are the Baobab
trees at Tarangire (shown in the banner above) and the wide variety
of Acacia trees.
Animal abundance: Tarangire
was the first stop on our safari, and within 5 minutes of entering
the park, we saw elephants, zebras, and a couple varieties of
antelope. It was simply amazing to see them roaming freely (but
near enough to the road that we could easily see them with binoculars).
We weren’t prepared for such immediate gratification, and
to be fair, many of the upcoming days would require considerably
more patience, but it was a wonderful way to begin our safari.
Elephants at the watering hole: While
in Tarangire, we waited by the river one day until the elephants
showed up for their afternoon drink. Fortunately, this didn’t
entail too much waiting due to the expertise of our guide, Thomas.
We had seen a good number of elephants already in Tarangire, but
when they arrived at the water, it was a special treat. First
they drink (a lot) and then they wash. And then the little ones
play, which is great to watch.
Cheetahs: We were scheduled
to leave Tarangire for Lake Manyara first thing on the morning
of Dec 21, but Thomas got a tip over the radio from another guide.
We drove for about half an hour and then, in the middle of nowhere
(with no other cars nearby), Thomas spotted the cheetahs. There
were 3 young cheetahs, about 15 months old. Mothers kick juvenile
cheetahs out at about 18 months, so these were almost ready to
fend for themselves. They look more like small adults than cubs
at this point. Cheetahs tend to have litters of about 5 or 6,
but only 10% of cubs survive, so it was a special treat to see
3 of them together. They were very active, chasing each other,
hiding in the brush, wrestling, etc.
Lions mating: Later that same
day, we were lucky enough to see another rare big cat sight: lions
mating! When the female is in heat, lions mate for a period of
about 5 days. At first, they copulate every 20 minutes or so,
but we caught them on their fourth day (Thomas estimated), so
it was down to every 40 minutes. We waited around for it to happen,
and it did, but it only took about 5 seconds. Then they both went
back to resting. But hey, give the guy a break; he’s gotta’
do it more than once per hour for 5 days!
Elephant encounter: In Lake
Manyara, we were trying for one of our Lego-people-in-a-strange-land
shots. (To give a bit of background here, Grace collects Lego
so we put a tiny Lego bride and groom on our wedding cake, so
we carry them around with us and snap a shot of them in an interesting
place now and then). We were leaning out of the back of the Land
Cruiser, Susan holding the Lego people and Grace trying to compose
a picture that included a nearby elephant. Then the elephant started
to amble a bit closer. This was good since it meant that we could
more easily get the shot. And closer. And then it flared its ears
and picked up a bit of speed. At this point Thomas, who is always
paying close attention, started the engine. He was mumbling something
about elephants sometimes chasing the vehicles and this one was
getting too close. And sure enough, it was getting too close!
We shrunk back into the car, wondering if Thomas would get us
moving before or after the elephant reached us. It was a bit like
Jurassic Park - the elephant lumbering toward us making a deep
trumpet noise, and we could feel the ground shaking. Fortunately,
Thomas got us out of there with a few feet to spare!
at Ngorongoro Crater
Black rhino: This animal is
endangered; poaching has brought them to the edge of extinction.
18 of them live in Ngorongoro Crater, and that’s by far
the easiest place to spot them since the crater is a confined
area. But the park rangers close off many of the roads inside
the crater to protect the rhino’s habitat (as well they
should), so it’s not as easy to see them as it used to be.
We were lucky enough to see two of them, one on each of our days
in the crater. They were at quite a distance, and they move fairly
quickly, but it was incredible to get even a short glimpse of
this amazing animal.
Comfortable lions: We stopped
our vehicle near to a group of lions to watch them. This time,
unfortunately, there were several other vehicles present, so it
felt a bit crowded. To our surprise, however, the lions didn’t
seem to care as long as the people stayed inside the vehicles.
The big male actually approached and lay down in the shade of
the vehicle next to us. Some of the other adult lions slowly walked
right through the small cluster of safari trucks. Thomas said
that lions only do this when they’re very comfortable with
cars, like in Ngorongoro Crater (they basically grow up with them).
It felt somewhat strange since the lions were so acclimated to
people and cars, but it was interesting to see them so close.
Hippo on land: Hippos spend
most of their time in the water, but they do venture out from
time to time, so it was neat to see this one in the Central Serengeti
(and her baby, too, briefly) meandering through the grass.
the Central Serengeti
Leopard: One animal that we
really wanted to see, but were having difficulty finding, was
a leopard. Thomas told us that this was sometimes a difficult
animal to spot since they often spend their days hidden in the
high branches of a tree. If they’re not near a road, then
it’s very unlikely that you’ll spot one. (Interesting
leopard fact: unlike other big cats, they usually drag their kills
up into a tree so that they don’t have to fend off scavengers.)
The edge of Ngorongoro Crater has a forest area near the rim,
so Thomas took us slowly through this part of the park several
times, looking for the elusive leopard, but no luck. Then finally,
when we were in the Central Serengeti, we found one! What a beautiful
There are many more highlights - too many to
discuss them all in detail. To hear about them in brief and see
more complete pictures of the above, check out tanzania:
safari gallery. And don't miss the next entry: tanzania:
a view to a kill.