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Tarangire National Park Serengeti

25th February 2013

The Vast Serengeti with its Huge Migrating Herds, and Dan Charged by a Bull Elephant

Dawn View From Havennature Safari Camp      (please use scroll bar)

    The evening breeze turned into a howling gale. I found it soothing and let it lull me to sleep.
    Around 05:30, Dan stirred and headed off to the washrooms. The sky was rapidly turning from an inky black, through a leaden grey, and there were now delicate blue and pink tints behind the distant mountains. The great vault over our heads was gradually filled with clarity like a glass of wine. Suddenly, the summits of the hills caught the first sunlight and blushed. And slowly, as the earth leaned towards the sun, the grassy slopes at the foot of the mountains turned to a delicate gold, with the tops of the tall trees in the forest blushing like copper. Cockerels had already been crowing for a while, but now I heard a most sonorous and beautiful dawn chorus. I'd noticed that birds tend to chill out during the heat of the day, and only endeavour to out chirp each other at dawn and dusk.
    The wind had died down to a gentle breeze, and it was now a warm start to a whole new day. I took my seat at the breakfast table, and sipped coffee whilst I waited for the others to join me. Feeling a slight tickling sensation on my bare leg, I checked it out and discovered an eight centimetre long furry caterpillar crawling up my leg. I casually brushed it off and thought nothing more of it. I mentioned it to Sally when she turned up. "Dad! Some of those can give you a nasty bite and some are also poisonous!" she exclaimed. I lived to fight another day. Erasto did us proud again with a splendid breakfast.
Our First View of Ngorongoro Crater      (please use scroll bar)

View Down Outside from Ngorongoro Crater Rim      (please use scroll bar)

Eating Cropped Acacia Covered in Black Ants
    Soon we were heading in the direction of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, traversing the rolling Mbulu Plateau, rich farming country tilled by the Mbulu people (more properly the Iraqw). Taking a pit stop at the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Park, poor Dan discovered he had chewing gum stuck to his shorts. How it got there heaven knows; he was not a happy bunny. The information centre at the entrance was very informative, and anyone passing through should take time out to take some of it in.
Secretary Bird
    A steady climb followed up the steep, thickly, forested side of the Ngorongoro Crater, the trees changing as we gained height, and then, all of a sudden we were confronted with a vista overlooking the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater. From the crater rim, at about 2400m, we looked down upon the near-circular crater floor, an expanse of flat, open grassland, forest and lake 14km across. Around it stands a ring of extinct volcanoes with poetic Maasai names, and within the beautiful irregularity of the bowl, something like 20,000 large or moderately large animals live out their lives. The crater (more accurately caldera) is a natural amphitheatre which properly takes its place as one of the essential highlights of East Africa.
    After soaking up the spectacular view, we skirted a section of the rim of the crater before heading off towards the Serengeti, passing through vast plains and broad valleys containing grasslands dotted with circular enkangs, the small villages where the Maasai live. An enkang is a collection of huts built by the women from materials found in the local area, such as mud from the river, saplings and waterproof coverings of cow-dung. They are traditionally divided, by a screen, into two rooms, with a convoluted entrance hall between. Calves or goats are sometimes housed in this hallway at night. A thick thorny hedge of euphorbia is usually built around the enkang to keep out dangerous animals such as lions and leopards, and the cattle in. The Maasai bring their animals into the centre of their villages at night, through narrow alleyways which were blocked up at night. The women of the village collect sticks for the fire and water for drinking and cooking. They also make beautiful jewellery to sell. The men look after and guard the animals.
Nubian Vulture
Ruppell's Griffon Vultures Waiting for Scraps
Entrance to the Serengeti
    Herds of cattle peppered the vast landscape, and within these wide open spaces, small and almost insignificant in comparison, solitary individuals or groups of Maasai were walking phenomenal distances to tend to their herds or reach other settlements.
    We passed a tower of giraffes, turning their delicate heads from one side to the other, as if they were surprised. They were proud and innocent creatures, gentle amblers of the great plains, possessing long slim necks with graceful, patient, smokey-eyed heads. This particular group were cropping a stand of stunted acacia trees, some of which were covered in black ants. What is special about this type of tree is that it has a symbiotic relationship with ants. The plant provides shelter and food for the ants, and it now seems that the ants protect the plant from elephants which tend to strip bark from them. The elephants seem to be wary of getting bitten on the soft undersides of their trunks, and so avoid ant covered trees. Other large herbivores, especially giraffes, will eat the plants, probably because they are not as bothered by the ants.
Kepha and Erasto
Father, Son & Daughter in Southern Short Grass Plains
    When we reached the crossing point between Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti, the terrain had changed to Southern Short Grass Plains. Along our way through the seemingly endless grasslands, we came across a large Nubian Vulture tearing apart a small creature in its claws, while a gabble of Ruppell's Griffon Vultures hovered around, hoping for a tasty morsel.
    The first European to set foot in the Serengeti was the German explorer and naturalist Dr. Oscar Baumann. In 1913 the first hunters arrived to discover the wildlife plentiful, especially the lions. Great stretches of Africa were still unknown to the white man when Stewart Edward White, an American hunter, set out from Nairobi. Pushing south, he recorded: "We walked for miles over burnt out country... Then I saw the green trees of the river, walked two miles more and found myself in paradise." He had found Serengeti. In the years since White's excursion under "the high noble arc of the cloudless African sky," Serengeti has come to symbolize paradise to many. The Maasai, who had grazed their cattle on the vast grassy plains for millennia had always thought so. To them it was Siringitu - "the place where the land moves on forever."
    In 1929, 228,600 hectares of central Serengeti was declared a game reserve, and it has been a protected area since 1940. National Park status was achieved in 1951, with extensive boundary modifications in 1959. It was included with the adjoining Maswa Game Reserve as part of Serengeti-Ngorongoro Biosphere Reserve, and accepted as part of a World Heritage Site in 1979.
    Serengeti is contiguous with Ngorongoro Conservation Unit, an area of 528,000 hectares, but even the combined Serengeti-Ngorongoro ecosystem of some 2 million hectares does not include the entire ecosystem. It is felt that the Serengeti National Park is sufficiently large to ensure the survival of all the species contained therein if it is maintained as at present, but that it does not by itself ensure the protection of the entire migratory ecosystem.
Wildebeest Hanging Out
Zebra Hanging Out
    We were now sailing across an endless sea of grass, the long grass running and fleeing like sea-waves before the wind. Occasionally elephants and giraffes were spotted, but what dominated the wild life scene here were zebras and wildebeest, interspersed with groups of Thompson Gazelles, small, delicate creatures, and impala with their high-strung voice. Huge herds stretched from horizon to horizon, with thousands of the beasts slowly migrating from east to west, sensing the light rains from afar. This spectacle had an overwhelming visual and emotional impact upon my senses. The annual migration is essentially the movement of thousands of animals across the grassy plains of East Africa in search of food and water as the seasons change. There is no start or finish as such but it is commonly said that the migration goes from the Serengeti Plains in a north-westerly direction towards the famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve. The exact timing and route of the migration changes from year to year, depending on the rains.
    Kepha explained that zebras have an acute sense of smell, and can sniff far off rains, or use far off lightening, to navigate during the migration period. "How many zebras and wildebeest migrate each year?" I asked him. "Around 2.5M wildebeest and 1.8M zebras," he replied.
View Across the Southern Short Grass Plains From Naabi Hill      (please use scroll bar)

Agama Lizard
    The huge expansive sea of grasslands, dotted with clouds of dust from the 4x4s speeding across it, stretched monotonously below the azure blue sky. Then, as a welcome relief, a rocky island appeared, Naabi Hill. Such outcrops, resembling Devonshire Tors, are called kopje. Kopje is a Dutch word meaning small hill. The Serengeti kopjes consist of old granite rock, broken and worn by constant expansion and contraction due to abrupt temperature changes. Like oceanic islands, they have their own range of vegetation and wildlife. Naabi Hill, marks the major gate of the Serengeti, commanding the most beautiful acacia and short-grass savannah, the plains sweeping away on every hand as if to challenge the concept of the horizon. We stopped off for a picnic lunch on this oasis for travellers, a haven for many groups from around the world, all picnicking, and all united by their common desire to explore this Serengeti animal kingdom in its natural state.
Leopard in Tree - Clever Camouflage

    The ever hopeful Superb Starlings hopped from table to table scooping up crumbs. Large Marabou Storks slowly and earnestly marched about with a pompous air about them, searching for larger crumbs. Seeing them close up, they did seem rather intimidating.
    We climbed up to the highest point on the kopje for a photo session, disturbing an Agama Lizard, a charming wee fellow in his blue/pink uniform on the way. From the summit we were afforded a splendid vista, adding a third dimension to the monotonous two dimensional world we have travelled through getting here.
    Leaving Naabi Hill behind us, we soon parted from the main trail and found ourselves totally off the beaten track, though Kepha seemed to have an inbuilt navigational system inside his brain through which he knew exactly where we were. The Serengeti landscape is covered in a lacework of dirt tracks, all invisible behind the long grass until we were on top of them. We twisted and turned along these tracks for miles and miles, targeting kopjes where we hoped to find lions - simbas. Kepha informed us that each pride of lions would normally patrol 125 square kilometres. Other 4x4s could be spotted across the plains, also searching for wildlife.
Two Ton Bull Just Before He Charged Dan
    The terrain was now changing to savannah, featuring longer grasses and acacia trees. Trees no longer grew in bows or cupolas, but had horizontal layers of light, delicate foliage. Our search seemed to be fruitless, only the odd group of elephants and giraffes were spotted. Then in the distance we saw a group of 4x4s parked up, a sure sign that something had been spotted. Kepha soon homed in on them, and we settled down to watch a leopard lying 6m up a tree, oblivious to the world, a marvellous sight.
    A short while later we came across a group of elephants: a mother with two babies on one side of the track, the two ton bull on the other side. He was swinging a front leg back and forth to cut the grass with his rough thick nails, and swiftly wrapping it up with a curling movement of his trunk, and depositing it inside his mouth. This heavy, wise, majestic bearer of the ivory, deep in his own thought, wanted to be left to himself. Dan was taking a photo of the bull as he was walking by, about 4m away from us. The bull kept a wary eye on him, and then without warning, the big fellow suddenly turned around and lunged as if to charge. The effect this had on Dan was amazing, he immediately shot down into his seat, struck by terror. Sally also suffered a minor panic attack. Kepha and Erasto burst into fits of laughter. The bull turned away and carried on walking, no doubt tittering away to himself.
    We had no more encounters along the way, and soon we were parked up at one of the Serengeti campsites. This was real camping - we had to erect our own tents, and I cleverly managed to take a chunk out of one of my fingers in the process. Amenities consisted of a couple of stand-up cubicles for the gents, and I guess the same for the ladies, and just one shower for the whole campsite. There was a 1-year old communal dining area, and a communal kitchen where Erasto prepared his wonders.

    We dined at dusk. Darkness was gathering fast as the warm red landscape sank into a deep purple gloom. The loud chattering of birds heralded the approaching silence of the night. Rats scurried along the dining hall walls and beneath our tables. The lighting in the dining area was dismal, just two LED bulbs. Kepha explained that the site was run from solar power and batteries. The water was delivered by water trucks.
Thomson's Gazelle
    He advised us that we would hear lions through the night, usually just emitting a low grunt as they marked out their territory. Sally had got used to that in Kenya. Kepha also mentioned that hyenas often entered the campsite during the night scavenging for food. Hmmm ....... a bit disconcerting that the camp was in the middle of the Serengeti, and there was no fence around the campsite to keep the wild animal out. There was a lot of black humour circulating about the chances of occupants of tents pitched on the extremity of the site. In case you are wondering that the lack of fences is just a wind up, I can assure you that it is perfectly true. The premise in the Serengeti is that the whole park is for the benefit of the wildlife, and they should not be constrained from entering any area in which they wish to enter; hence no fences. The system must work otherwise the practice would not be permitted.
    At this point Kepha told us the story of one of his clients who had been camping at the Havennature Safari Camp. The German chap was a fanatical jogger, and insisted on doing his usual distance down the trail leading up to the camp. Kepha advised him not to, but the bloke was adamant that he would shift quickly along the route, and would be back before any wildlife noticed him. He set off, but reappeared 15 minutes later at a hell of a pace and totally whacked out. He had come across a lion. Then there was the couple he had been guiding, who split up en route, and insisted on carrying on with the safari in different vehicles, and staying at different campsites. They cancelled the extension to their holiday in Zanzibar, and had insisted on being driven to different airports for their return back to the U.K. Crikey, some people live complicated lives.
    During the course of the evening I got chatting to a middle-aged chap who had a strong American accent. I was amazed to find he hailed from Germany, but he admitted he had worked in the States for a period. He had tagged onto a group of three younger folk, who I gather he could do without, but it helped share the costs.
    I also fell into conversation with a couple who I had first encountered at the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area; we seemed to bump into people time and time again. The chap was sipping coffee, and the lady was busying herself grinding coffee beans. She explained they loved decent coffee, and she was grinding Ethiopian coffee beans. It transpired that the couple hailed from the Vancouver area, and dealt in coffee, importing and distributing African coffee. They had been to a coffee conference in Lampala, Uganda, and were now enjoying a three day safari before spending some time in Zanzibar.
    We settled down for the night as a milky full moon turned the landscape silver. Sadly thin cloud cover prevented a decent view of the heavens.
Our Tents in the Serengeti Campsite Where Animals Are Free to Roam

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Tarangire National Park Serengeti
Last updated 1.4.2013