Saturday, May 2, 2009

Our Trip To Tanzania

On April 12th Marjie and I left on our second visit to East Africa. On this trip our good friends and neighbors, Bob and Vivian Bousquet, traveled with us. We visited the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park and the Lake Manyara National Park, all in Tanzania. The combined area of these parks is equal to about four times the area of Yellowstone National Park. Our first trip to East Africa was three years ago with a tour through National Geographic. This time we went with Africa Dream Safaris. The ADS experience was much better than what we experienced with NG. The four of us had our own Toyota Land Cruiser with a driver/guide, Wilfred Fue. With Wilfred's help we designed our own safari and did what we wanted, when we wanted, without worrying about other members of a tour.


After a 20-hour flying day from home, we landed in Arusha, Tanzania and early the next morning flew in a small plane to Ndutu in the Southern Serengeti. Wilfred was there at the gravel airstrip to meet us. After a short briefing we were on our way. He is a very knowlegeable, highly motivated, articulate person and a walking encyclopedia on the flora and fauna of East Africa.

By the end of the first day's game drive I had seen two of the three species I was most interested in seeing on this trip--the Secretary Bird and the Grey-Crowned Crane--and we had 11 days left! The third, the leopard, we saw a couple days later. I had a feeling that we were in for a very good time. Wilfred just seemed to know where to find the animals.

Secretary Bird

Grey-Crown Crane

We spent our first three nights at Ndutu Lodge where the accommodations were very nice and the food great. None of the places we stayed were fenced and the wild animals came and went as they pleased, especially at night. After dark we couldn't leave our cabin without an escort.

Most mornings we were off bright and early on a game drive. Early morning is when most of the animals are out moving around and Wilfred was very anxious to get us going early, like 6:00 - 6:30 am. The time we left and came back was up to us so we went early and stayed late. On the days we left before 7:30 the lodge packed us a picnic breakfast and every day we carried a picnic lunch. As I manned the camera Marjie kept a running journal of where we went and what we saw. According to her records we saw 55 lions, 15 cheetahs and 3 leopards, in addition to the thousands of other animals. Most people are very interested in seeing the big cats and we saw many.

Someone has to be "king".

Because we were visiting at the end of the rainy season there were many babies and young animals present. The lion cubs were some of Marjie's favorites. These cubs were about a month and a half old.

These cubs were members of a pride which had 4 adult females, 2 males and 8 cubs. These cubs were about 4 months old. The average litter is 4 cubs and only 1 in 4 will survive to adulthood. The males with this pride must have been brothers or they would not have tollerated each other in the pride.

Wilfred seemed to have an uncanny ability to spot animals while driving and talking. He could read the animals' behavior and knew when and how to approach and when not to. We were rewarded with some very close views of many different species.

The main roads in the entire area were no more than good gravel roads and the side roads, like this one, were just dirt trails. We spent a lot of time not on a road at all. Wilfred would just take off across the plain dodging the hyaena's holes and termite mounds looking for something interesting. In the 12 days we were there I never once saw him look at a map.

We came upon this mother cheetah and her four one-month-old cubs. Only about 1 in every 20 cheetah cubs survive to adulthood. She was a little skittish so we gave her some room, but still got a good look.

Later that day we spotted this mother cheetah and her two 3-month-old cubs hunting a Grant's Gazelle. We got in position and watched the stalk for about 20 minutes until the mother suddenly turned and headed off. Wilfred said something was wrong and then Bob spotted two Spotted Hyaenas approaching from our side. The mother cheetah had spotted the Hyaenas long before we did and because they were a threat to her cubs she called off lunch and headed for the trees. We interceded with nature a little and held the Hyaenas at bay with our Land Cruiser until the cheetahs reached safety. Maybe we helped a cub survive for another day. Not sure if Marjie was up to see a gazelle eaten for lunch anyway!!

A couple brothers out for a walk in the park.

Picnic breakfast and lunch on the Serengeti were fun and very filling. Always more than we could eat.

We usually just found a spot under a tree in the shade and with a view.

No one else for as far as the eye could see. We very rarely saw another rig all day until we got back towards the lodge.

The wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, and eland make up the large herds that migrate continuously around the Serengeti following the rain and new grass.

The sheer number of animals in these herds is almost unbelievable. It just wasn't possible to get the size of these herds in a photo. I tried!!

The wildebeest is not a very attractive animal but with a rather long flowing gait it can run for hours. Calves only a few hours old can keep up with the herd. Wilfred estimated their numbers at 1.8-2.0 million!

All four species tend to migrate together in very large mixed herds.

The guys were usually fighting over a group of ladies. Sound familiar?

There are two species of gazelles. The larger Grant's Gazelle shown here in the background and the smaller Thompson's Gazelle with it's racing stripe. They number in the hundreds of thousands and are the main prey food for the cheetah.

This is the normal view we had of the Eland. They are the largest of the antelope family and didn't stick around much once they spotted us.

Once in a while one would stay for a longer look.

As we moved from the southern Serengeti north towards the Western Corridor the grass got higher and the plains gave way to low rolling hills covered with woodlands. Along the edge of the plains were small rock outcroppings called Kopjes.
These were favorite spots for the large predators to lay and watch the parade of prey animals pass by. Sort of like a moving smorgasbord.

The vast grasslands must have been what our Midwest looked like before we plowed it all up.

In the Western Corridor we stayed at the Mbalageti Tented Lodge. This tented lodge is only 3 years old and every "tent" looks out over the valley where we saw zebra, cape buffalo, giraffe, impala, baboons, wart hogs, etc. from our deck. Our "tent" had two bedrooms, one king and one with two twins, two complete tiled bathrooms, a dining room, a sitting room and a marvelous deck. We were in the "executive suite tent".

Not a bad view in the house.
The view from the restaurant wasn't bad either and the food was great.

Not all the animals we saw were big or had sharp teeth. This Dik Dik and the Klipspringer below are about the size of a medium-sized dog. They are very fast for a short distance and can see and smell very well.

Speaking of dogs, we saw several Black Backed and Common Jackals (below). The Jackals always seemed to be near a dead carcass of some type. In addition to scavaging they also feed on small rodents.

We were very lucky to see a Serval, pictured here, and an African Wild Cat. Both are small very wary cats and usually hunt only at night. Another score for Wilfred.

Elephants were always fun to see. Many of the cows had small calves and gathered in tight family groups of females and young bulls. As the bulls get to be 13 - 14 years old the older cows drive they away from the group. They form into bachelor groups.
A bull will stay with a bachelor group until he is big and strong enough to challenge a herd bull, usually around 25 years of age.

These two bulls were busy breaking down Acacia trees and eating the tops. Wilfred didn't turn off the motor as we watched them. Bachelor bulls can sometimes cause trouble.

This old guy was probably around 60 years old and will spend the rest of his days mostly alone.

I have to throw in a couple more pictures of the 150+ species of birds we saw and identified. Many we couldn't identify. This is a Hoopoe.

A Lilac-breasted Roller

A Little bee-eater

A White-headed Buffalo Weaver

A Pale Chanting Goshawk (with lunch)

A Purple Grenadier

Greater and Lesser Flamingos over Lake Magadi in Ngorongoro Crater.

Along the way, whenever Wilfred spotted something interesting he thought we should see, he would stop and give us a lesson. He has a secondary education teaching degree and said we were his students. Here we are learning about the Whistling Acacia.

Lunch stops were always filled with information.

Our next stop was Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp in the central Serengeti. This camp was actually more like a tent camp but we did have tile floors. We were really roughing it!! During the night we could hear lions and hyaenas roar and zebra call. We did spot a lion laying on a rock not 100 yards from our tent. Needless to say, we stayed home after dark.

There were many Hippo pools along the rivers and we enjoyed watching them fight for position in the water. These guys can really make a ruckus when they get upset over something.

Seems like someone always has their mouth open.
We saw the last of the three big cats on about our 5th day. This was one of three Leopards we saw. They are between the lion and cheetah in size and spend a great deal of their day in a tree like this one.

Must be tough laying on a branch all day. Leopards usually hunt at night and, unlike other cats, drag their kill up in a tree to feed.

Looked like these guys were getting lined up for a parade.

I have been in a few traffic jams, but never one like this before. Marjie started to keep tract of the numbers of giraffes and elephants we saw but after a couple days lost count. Many, many, many!!

The Spotted Hyaena is probably the Rodney Dangerfield of the African Plains. They really do play a vital role in the ecosystem and this mother and cub really don't look all that bad.

They are a little more menacing when they are hunting. The Hyaena has very strong jaws and teeth and can crush and digest bone.

Another of the unsung heros in the Serengeti is the dung beetle. I couldn't resist this shot of Marjie and Bob resting by a couple large models of this very important insect. If it weren't for the dung beetle the Serengeti would smell like a very big barnyard. They clean up behind the migrating herds burying everything that's left behind.

Hartebeest. A member of the antelope family.

Topi. Yet another member of the Antelope family.

Dominant male Impalas will gather large harems of females together during the breeding season. The harem may number from a dozen or so to as many as 40 or 50 females. The male will defend his harem from other males for as long as he is able. After a few weeks of fighting he begins to weaken and another male will take over.

Groups of bachelor males constantly move around the harem and watch for a sign of weakness in the dominant male. Soon one of the strong males from the bachelor herd will take over part or all of the harem and the story goes on.

Defassa Waterbuck. We also saw the Common Waterbuck.
We saw many monkeys including the Black-faced Vervet and the Blue. This is the Black and White Colobus Monkey which is quite rare and hard to see. Wilfred found us a small troop and we were able to get a few fair pictures.

The Black and White Colobus has long white hair on it's back and face and a long tail with a very bushy white end. It is really quite a striking animal.
At the Ngorongoro Crater we stayed at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. The cabins looked like a series of little hobbit homes from the "Lord of the Rings". This is a first class lodge, six-star by our account, with wonderful food, service and a view to die for.
We would arrive back at the lodge about 4:00 after a full day's game drive and a "hot bubble bath" would be ready. Majie always said it was hers. The tub had rose petals lining the rim and 5 dozen long-stemed roses along side (Marjie counted them). And what a view. I thnk Marjie would go back!!

The Ngorongoro Crater is quite a place. It is about 15 miles in diameter and the rim is about 2000 feet above the crater floor. There is a resident population of most of the animals which live on the Serengeti present in the crater. Some do climb out of the crater on occasion, but most live there.

The Ngorongoro Crater is very special. Many animals there have became accustomed to visitors.

Cape Buffalo are present in large numbers and always seem to be on guard for something or someone to cross their path.

Wouldn't want to be on foot and run into this guy!!

Among other things the Crater is famous for it's population of the rare Black Rhinoceros. When looking at one of these Rhinos I have the same feeling I get when looking at a Cape Buffalo. Not quite sure what he is thinking or what he is about to do.

Black Rhinoceros. Mother and young.

As you can tell we had a wonderful time. These are only a few of the 2994 photos I took while we were in Tanzania. We saw more animals and birds than we had ever dreamed of. The weather and company were great, the food delicious, the accommodations top-notch and the guide outstanding. We couldn't have asked for more!!


Eastbay Sarah said...

Wow, what a great summary of your trip. I enjoyed the beautiful close-ups of the many animals. My favorites were the lion, the cheetahs & cubs,and the birds--especially the purple forget-his-name. Thanks for taking the time to share about your trip.

Anonymous said...

Incredible photos! I really enjoyed the narrative also. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Very impressive! What an incredible trip you had. I just can't imagine. Thank you for sharing your fantastic pictures and interesting/ educational narrative. Whre to next?

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