We’ve been to Africa twice since we last wrote a blog update, and these two adventures were entirely different.
To stick with chronology, our first trip of the year was our annual East Africa Photo Safari which was splendid as always. Prior to beginning our safari, gracious friends treated us to a memorable night’s stay at the Giraffe Manor on the outskirts of Nairobi. The old manor buildings, built in the 1930’s, reside within a sanctuary protecting a herd of endangered Rothschild giraffes. The adjacent Giraffe Center manages an ongoing breeding program that has been successfully reintroducing this rare subspecies back into the wild. Staying at the manor, meals are regularly interrupted by enormous giraffe heads popping in the window to greet visitors. Our stay there was an extraordinary and memorable experience that felt a bit like a fairy tale.
Our safari began in an unusual fashion. Typically we find lions and cheetahs, and then have to search hard to find a leopard, the stealthiest of Africa’s big cats. This year, everyone’s first cat sighting was of a big male leopard in Samburu. We then had several sightings of this gorgeous feline, before finding any of its brethren. There were many elephants around the Samburu area coming regularly to drink and bathe in the river. This year on safari we again had many wonderful encounters with young animals. In Samburu, we sighted an elephant calf that was likely only about one day old. Its ears were still wrinkled from being folded in the womb, and its attendant mother had to occasionally use her trunk to help the little feller back up on its feet.
People often ask, “How close is the wildlife?”
At Lake Nakuru, we found numerous endangered white rhinos, one with a young, yet stout-looking, calf. The Masai Mara was green with grass, and full of life. We encountered great herds of zebras drinking at waterholes, elephants in the marshes, buffalo, topi and gazelles aplenty. As always, we had fantastic views of the famous lions of the Marsh Pride.
At Little Governors Camp in the Mara, our meals were regularly interrupted by bull elephants that wandered into camp to shake fruits from the marula trees by the dining tent. Brrrrr-ump-bbbump-bump-bump, the small, round fruits came tumbling to the ground around the elephants standing by the open tent as they methodically plucked up fruits one-by-one with their trunks until satiated. The camp guards kept everyone settled quietly where we were until the elephants moved away. Often we were seated only a few yards from four mighty legs and the supple searching trunk.
From the Mara, we flew into the Serengeti in Tanzania where we encountered the great migration of wildebeest and zebras moving northwestward into the Seronera region. Every game drive from our lodge brought us into the vast herds. Thousands of zebras clogged the road, and herds of wildebeest alternately ambled or ran across the plains in seemingly endless long lines. These great herds are constantly on the move, always searching for fresh grass to graze. As a result, each year we encounter them in different areas of the southern Serengeti. This year they found lush grazing in the plains right near our lodge in the Seronera area, and we were rewarded with astounding and ever changing views day after day.
We continued on to the Lake Ndutu region. En route, we had a mother cheetah and her young cub feeding on a recently killed gazelle. Once full, the two cats then sought shade beside and even underneath our safari vehicles as they digested their meal. (All of these African animals have grown up in the presence of safari vehicles, and either ignore the vehicles or use them to their advantage). At Lake Ndutu, we had more excellent sightings of cheetahs as a coalition of three brothers patiently stalked game on the open plains. We were fortunate to also find a mother cheetah with four absolutely adorable cubs.
The bigger show near Ndutu was the large pride of lions residing around the big marsh. This pride has numerous grown females, a large male, and a gaggle of cubs ranging from just a few months to almost grown who were often playing and wrestling with each other.
One morning, a hapless hippo strolled into the area, and the adult females closed in for an attack, but they then backed off as the hippo displayed its massive teeth. The lions settled back down in the shade to wait for less challenging prey.
Our final destination was the famous Ngorongoro Crater. Although it’s an extremely popular place for tourists, it’s also very popular with lots of animals, and there’s always plenty to see and to photograph. Continuing on our young animal theme, we watched a female wildebeest give birth to a calf. Within moments of being born the wet calf was up and teetering on its wobbly legs, before doing unintended head tumbles back onto the ground, then struggling back up again. As it tried to get to its mother’s udders, she walked around it, forcing the little calf to walk on its newfound legs. By the time it was 14 minutes old (we timed it), the mother and calf went running off to rejoin the herd.
A couple of minutes later, a spotted hyena wandered over to where the calf had been born. The luck of being born before the hyena showed up, and the ability to begin running soon after birth made the difference in this little calf’s survival. During our day in the crater, we watched other young calves being chased by hungry hyenas. Each one managed to get away. One calf was saved at the last instant by its mother charging the hyena just before it caught the sprinting calf. Phew!
Africa is full of such drama, beauty, and strange miracles. It is the ultimate wildlife documentary that remains unedited as we watch its wonders unfold. Not all of the endings are happy ones like these, but the experiences are so often profound and enriching in our lives.
[Click here for the East Africa Photo Safari itinerary for 2013.]