The wild Serengeti

Thu, 7 Feb 2002 06:04:41 +0800

Last week I went on a 6 day tour consisting of Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti National Park, and Ngorongoro Crater. All are in Tanzania, in case you didn't know.

Price was $85/day. That's noticeably more than I paid in Kenya but about as cheap as it gets in Tanzania, at least as far as I could tell.

There were 4 of us, myself + 2 older Danish guys and another America who looked to be around 40. As one might expect, this wasn't a fun a group as the 20 somethings, roughly equal male/female sets I had experienced so far. 2 were hard core bird people and I was the only one with a telephoto lens.

The first day was in Tarangire. We arrived in late morning and proceeded through late afternoon, stopping for a short time for lunch in between. It was hot and, frankly, we didn't see a whole lot. Generally mid-day is a bad time for game drives. I'm not sure why it was set up this way.

The second day was in Lake Manyara NP. We started off early but no where near as early as we should have IMHO. The first part was through a heavily forested area. Generally, I'm pretty tolerant but, in this case, I think we missed out because of all the stopping to look at what turned out to be very common birds. By the time we got into the clearing, it was hot, and we were behind schedule. The driver was going rather faster than is useful if you are looking for wildlife. And amongst all the checking for new birds, I barely got a couple of photos of the only blue monkeys seen on the whole trip.

Day 3 was a long drive to the Serengeti followed by a game drive in the evening. In all there were 4 game drives in the Serengeti, the last being in the morning of day 5. There were not many animals present in the Serengeti that I had not already seen in Masai Mara. However, the big herds of wildebeest and zebra were present and that meant a lot of predator and scavenger activity. One day we barely missed a kill by a female cheetah and her nearly grown cubs. Hyenas, barely seen at all in Masai Mara were all over the place in the Serengeti. We saw a few lions, though not nearly as many as in Masai Mara.

Jackals were common and active. I have some really good photos of one jackal defending a zebra carcass from a flock of vultures. What I don't have on film, unfortunately is where the jackal defecated on carcase. Very strange behavior. Alas, I had reached the end of the roll a few moments before. The camera was still rewinding when the event occurred.

At one point, a large bull elephant was attempting to cross the road at right angles. The driver kept pulling forward to give us a better look. The elephant played along for a while before getting visibly annoyed. Thinking the the elephant may want to have a go at the truck, the driver hit the gas and we pulled away, leaving the elephant in peace.

The camp site in the Serengeti was very basic. No toilets, no running water. Normally, the tour company uses a different camp near the center of the park but, right now, all the animals are concentrated at the south end. Given a choice between animals and comfort, we chose animals.

In the afternoon on day 5 we drove to the rim of Ngorongoro Crater. Still a pretty basic camp, but at least there were showers and toilets. Early in the morning of day 6, we decided into Ngorongoro Crater. This is the remains of ancient volcano, once much larger than Kilimanjaro. The animals generally don't migrate. On the crater floor, were are able to see black rhinos at moderate range. There were also many newborn wildebeests. Hippos were in several lakes and even ambled up onto the shore to graze. Those are probably the only usable shots I have of hippos out of the water. There were many very large and placid bull elephants. No females. They don't come into the crater.

In early afternoon, we climbed back to rim for a quick lunch before heading back to Arusha.