We left the small village near Lake Manyara around 8am. We had a long drive to Serengeti. We climbed the rift valley road up to the crater highlands. The road climbed steeply more through some forest to the rim of the crater. We stopped at a viewpoint of Ngorongoro crater. Tomorrow we would be exploring the crater.
We continued on from there through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), a vast area of 8000sq km. Local Masai people have been grazing their cattle here for hundreds of years. That’s why this area is a conservation area instead of a national park. There in no cattle grazing allowed in a national park. The landscape was very flat and featureless.
We took a side detour to Olduvai Gorge, 5km from the main road. Since we entered the NCA, we left the smooth tarmac for a bumpy, dusty road. The Olduvai gorge is one of the cradles of humanity. It was here a few decades ago that the Leakey’s discovered some of the oldest and most important human bones, linking our evolutionary past. There was a very informative museum and a viewpoint over the dry and inhospitable gorge. There were many other visitors here, large groups of package tourists.
After we left the gorge, we continued towards Serengeti. We stopped at the main gate which was on a forested hill. It was the only hill around. Serengeti means ‘ endless plains’ and from a viewpoint on top of the hill, it was a very appropriate name. The landscape was flat and treeless as far as I could see. It was hard to imagine that this seemingly barren landscape supported one of the largest populations of wildlife in the world.
As we entered the proper park, the weather turned cooler and it started to rain. We had the roof of the Landcruiser opened but had to close it for the rain. The rain would let up and we would open it again. It kept on like this for the rest of the afternoon, opening and closing the roof. The further on we got into the park the more the landscape slowly changed. Trees started to appear and shrubs. There were zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, thomson’s gazelle, grants, gazelle, hartebeest and topi.
Isaac got information of a leopard around with some baboons. We went to the area and saw the baboons, but no leopard. We did see a herd of elephants that were black from the mud. The earth here is all black sand which is very slippery in the rains. Most of the roads have had coarser sand with pebbles added to them for traction but sometimes we would come to a black sand stretch. Once the Landcruiser began sliding sideways, it felt like we were sliding in the snow. Isaac was an experienced driver and would let off the brake and ride it out.
It was raining hard when we saw the first of many lions. The rain makes most animals hide and is not a great time for safari driving. We watched the lions for a few minutes but they were hard to see through the fogged windows. The rain came in if the windows were open too much. We reluctantly headed to our campsite for the night in the heart of Serenget in a place called Seronera. The rain stopped when we got there and we set up our tents. I brought my own tent and saved $20 on the safari price for using my own equipment. It was called a basic camp but had running water and showers and covered eating areas.
After dinner we could hear different groups of lions calling out to each other a few km from camp. There are no fences here and it was a little unnerving knowing that there were huge predators not far from us. Isaac said sometimes they wander through camp at night, along with elephants and hyaenas. I heard hyaenas and lions calling throughout the night but still managed to sleep well. I was happy to be back in my tent.
The next morning we were all up at 6am for a small breakfast of coffee and cookies. We left on our game drive at 6.30. Giraffes and buffaloes were only a few minutes away from camp. We drove for a while seeing nothing unusual, mostly impala, warthogs, hartebeest, grant’s and thomson’s gazelle and a few topi. After a while we came across some lions. They were a bit in the distance but easy to see. Then Isaac got some information about something special and we left. I thought it must be something special in order to leave lions! We drove determinedly to the spot. We could see a few vehicles there but we had to take the road, which was a long way around. In contrast to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, drivers in Serengeti don’t go offroad. They require a special permit in order to leave the established tracks. This is good for the park to reduce erosion but not good for close up photos. You have to hope something is fairly close to the road.
We got to the spot and at first glance I thought they lions but they turned out to cheetahs! A family of 5, 4 cubs and the mother, though the cubs were almost the same size as mama. They lied around a lot but also walked around and the cubs play fought with each other. They also chased each other using a bit of their speed that can propel them up to 110km/h for short bursts and which will be essential for catching their prey. Cheetahs are fast declining in many parts of Africa. This is partly due to poaching and farmers killing them because they thought they killed their cattle but also due to the natural selection of the cheetah. Cheetahs are large cats but very slender and built for speed. They are not tough and must eat anything they catch quickly because they are often chased away from their kills by lions and hyaenas. Also take in to account that only a small percentage of their chases result in successful kills. It takes a lot of energy to reach their high speeds and an unsuccessful hunt is a substantial loss. There are only about 9000 cheetahs left in Africa with the largest populations in Namibia.
I have never seen cheetahs before and they were high on the top of my ‘wishlist’ of animals, along with wild dog and black rhino. I was hoping to see a cheetah either here in Serengeti or in Ngorongoro crater but I never expected to see 5 of them. This is better than I could have hoped. We watched them for a while and after they moved away we followed another track that let us get closer to them again. Isaac was never in a rush and we were allowed to watch any animals as long as we wanted. I really liked this. I hate to be rushed on safari.
It was getting late in the morning now and I was starving. We started driving towards camp and then saw a male and female lion together. Males and females only get together for about a week during mating. They were really close to the road, though they were fairly inactive, just lounging about. We left them after a while, only to stop 2 minutes later when we noticed the rest of the family, a female and some cubs on top of a rocky outcrop. We only stopped here for a few minutes because they soon disappeared out of view. Isaac said we would be back at camp around 10.30, we arrived at 11.30. Brunch was waiting for us, pancakes, sausage, fruit and more. We packed up camp and left at 1pm. We had to be out of the park when our 24 hour entry permit expired at 3pm but still leave enough time to stop for anything on the way.
Isaac received more information on something special and we the opposite way of the gate. They were a few vehicles parked on the road but it wasn’t apparent what they were looking at. There were only a few big trees around and nothing noticeable on the ground. We stopped and Isaac said there was a leopard in the tree. It was on the first large branch of the tree, lying in a weird position. I could see it with my binoculars and with the digital zoom of my camera. The leopard is the most elusive of the big 5 ( lion, leopard, rhino, elephant,buffalo) to see, so we were very lucky to see one. I had not expected to see a leopard, but of course hoped we would. The Serengeti was proving to be an amazing place, lions, leopard and cheetahs all in the same day. After the leopard we drove towards the gate and made it out of the park with 20 minutes to spare.
Mar 18 2009