Thursday, 29 December 2011

... Tanzania: Pole Pole (Slowly Slowly)

At a "measly" 14769 sq km, the Serengeti is renowned for providing visitors with one of the greatest wildlife experiences on the planet as, pardon the corny pun, the "circle of life" plays itself out again and again and again. And not at all Disney-like. This is raw, this is powerful, this is primeval survival! You don't come here expecting to see lion cubs singing "Hakuna Matata" with a warthog & a meerkat.

The area where we would be spending two nights camping was in the Seronera area of the national park, which is in the southeast. The area is simply so vast that there is no way I could see it all in the time I had but I didn't mind, the area we were in was plenty big enough. It took us the rest of yesterday after the Maasai family visit driving to get to it too. A drive through the Ngorongoro conservation area, along the rim of the crater and down onto the plains afforded you with an introduction to the sheer vastness of this acacia-dotted savanna. Even en route I began to get a taste of what was going to be on offer. Imagine tens of thousands of hooved animals moving constantly in search of fresh grasslands. More than a million wildebeests inhabit the area and are famous for their annual migration. Not doing too shabby of a job in terms of numbers are about 200000 zebras. Many of these animals which we saw were heavily pregnant with calving/foaling season only a couple of months away. Interestingly, only about 60% of the 8000 wildebeest born daily survive beyond 4 months. Photographing large herds of giraffes, elephants, Thomson's & Grant's gazelles, elands, impalas with their harems & "bachelor groups", klipspringers, buffaloes, hippos and warthogs never grew tiresome during the game drives we went out on. Then there was the fascinating birdlife which included mean looking vultures, haughty secretary birds and birds that looked like they belonged in a tropical paradise. Fan-bloody-tastic!

Then of course there were the predators, of which I most wanted to see were the cats. Fil had an amazing eye, as though he had telescopic eyesight, and so you can imagine my delight when by the end of today I had been mere meters away from a pride of lazy sun basking lions, had two leopard sightings under my belt on two separate days, photographed a bunch of tree-sleeping lions. The Serengeti was providing me with the most amazing and wonderful canvass to such amazing & majestic wildlife. The leopards were devastatingly beautiful creatures and neither seemed to care that we were there staring at them as they lazed in their trees. Interestingly, many of the lions have collars with transmitters fitted so their movements can be studied. I was fortunate to see a lioness stalking a young impala only to be thwarted by a stretch of water. The impala likely doesn't realize how lucky it was. After 3 game drives I was well on the way to sighting the Big 5: the lion, African elephant, cape buffalo and leopard, with just the rhinoceros left to see. The members of the Big Five were chosen for the difficulty in hunting them and the degree of danger involved, rather than their size. I even had the Ugly 5 (yes this list exists) under my belt: the wildebeest, warthog, spotted hyena, Marabou stork and the vulture. Their title, I'm sure, needs no explanation! On top of that there were so many more animals sighted including Nile crocodiles, jackals, bat-eared foxes, mongoose and dik-diks to name but a few.

For a second night I get to sleep under the stars with things quite literally howling, laughing, snorting, roaring and going bump in the night. You learn that patience is a virtue - the wildlife is on its schedule not yours - and that "pole pole" applies here too not just on Kilimanjaro. You also learn to a). watch where you are stepping because buffalo poo is a right royal pain in the arse to clean off your shoes and b). bring everything into your tent because the hyenas will take off with it, often just one of your shoes making life rather awkward for you I'm sure.

I had found my paradise.

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