13 months
Oct 22:
safari 101
Oct 26:
a view to a kill
Oct 29:
Oct 30:
the low down
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baobab trees
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania; Oct 20, 2004

highlights so far

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:

Acacia trees 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 Tarangire

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.

cheetah juveniles at Tarangire

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!

a narrow escape!

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!

black rhino 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.

leopard in 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 creature!

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.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


Letting the elephants see you were travelling in the company of a couple of Lego people was a very dangerous and foolish thing to do! No doubt the elephant felt threatened by their powerful and intimidating presence. I thought by now EVERYBODY knew about elephants and Lego people... *sigh*

--Ivan (Istanbul, Turkey); Nov 17, 2005

You're absolutely right... we really didn't consider the intimidation factor - just naivete on our part. We won't make that mistake again. Thanks for the sage advice.

--Grace; Aug 23, 2005