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By this Author: Hawkson

Diary of a Safari - Day 4. The Prey

semi-overcast 26 °C

This post is about the millions of prey animals in the national parks of Tanzania, but we can't resist starting with this handsome creature...
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We saw thirty one lions today along with cheetahs and leopards. There are simply hordes of animals for the predators to choose from, but for the prey there is nothing safer than playing the numbers game. No need to outrun the predators - just keep ahead of the herd. And when it comes to safety in numbers, nothing beats the wildebeest. More than a million of these large herbivores constantly migrate around the Serengeti and the Great Rift Valley as they follow the annual rains through Kenya and Tanzania in search of fresh grazing. One of Africa's most incredible spectacles is the mass migration of wildebeest, but you have to be in exactly the right place at the right time...
Today, as we drove across the Serengeti, (a Maasai word meaning land without end), the entire horizon was blackened by a moving wall that slowly morphed into a fast moving river of wildebeest flanked by zebra outriders...
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The seemingly endless living tsunami was pouring across the road just ahead of us and seemed to be blindly following the herd irrespective of obstacles...
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“How do we get past?” we asked Charles and he said “Hakuma Matata” (meaning 'no problem' in Swahili) and just kept driving. At the very last minute there was a biblical parting of the seas as the tide of fast moving flesh and bones turned back to let us through. To see hundreds of thousands of migrating wildebeest on the run was an exhilarating experience but when we returned the next morning for a second look it was all over. The wildebeest were calmly grazing on the fresh grass. Timing is all...
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Another creature playing the numbers game on the Serengeti is the cape buffalo...
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These huge animals, weighing upwards of a ton and armed with massive horns, make a formidable fortress as they stand shoulder to shoulder. However, size doesn't always ensure safety. Young hippopotamus can be a tasty treat for the many Nile crocodiles here and the fact that their massive parents have powerful jaws and an aggressive disposition doesn't always ensure safety. Even a giant crocodile caught between the jaws of these three ton monsters would have a bad day...
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The numerous giraffes are gentle giants and are usually above the fray...
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However, even giraffes have to come down to earth to sleep and that's when the predators can attack. The giraffe's long legs can deliver a lethal kick to any would be predator. - but only when they are standing and running.
Speed is the preferred method of escape for many of the Serengetti's herbivores. These zebras are fast, they also have good eyesight and their stripes are designed to confuse any would be attacker.
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Perhaps the fastest prey animals are the various antelopes and gazelles. These young impala have an impressive turn of speed when in danger...
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All young animals, even the offspring of predators, are at risk, and tomorrow we will show you some of the many cute babies we've encountered on our safari in the Serengeti.

Posted by Hawkson 08:00 Archived in Tanzania Comments (3)

Diary of a Safari - Day 3. The Predators.

Death in the afternoon.

rain 23 °C

As with so many things in life – timing is all, and we have often been fortunate to witness scenes and events that most others have missed. Today was no exception. In fact, we witnessed a scene that our guide, Charles, has only seen once before in his entire seven year career. More of that later, but first - one of the most elusive creatures on our safari bucket list – the leopard. Leopards are solitary hunters and their success lies in their camouflage and their ability to move stealthily through the undergrowth. They are very rarely seen by man or prey. However, this male had just made a kill and was being suitably rewarded by a passionate female...
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The pair of them were naturally shy but thanks to the sharp eyes of our guide we
had a grandstand, though distant, view.
With such an abundance of prey it's not surprising that there are many predators here – both on land and in the air. This is a spotted hyena...
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And this African fish eagle was happy to let us watch as he enjoyed a fish lunch on an island in Lake Manyara...
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These white pelicans at Lake Manyara had had their fill for the morning and were drying off in the warm breeze...
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Vultures are really scavengers, not predators, but they certainly make short work of any leftover meat. However they are dwarfed by the equally voracious maribu storks. We saw these two heavyweight storks muscling in on the remains of a baby wildebeest....
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Baboons and other primates also like a bit of meat with their fruit and veg and this troupe leader was taking his pack on a the hunt as he slipped across the road ahead of us...
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However, it is the lions who are the kings of the beasts in this neck of the woods and we had already followed a couple of lionesses as they unsuccessfully stalked herds of zebras. Only the lionesses hunt and then the much bigger males barge in and take their fill. The dominant males also get the pick of the harem when it comes to mating and we caught this big guy in the act on the Serengeti plain...
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Lions are the biggest and heaviest of the African cats and, unlike most other felines, do not usually climb trees. However, we read that around Lake Manyara, in The Great Rift Valley of Northern Tanzania, a few lions had mastered the ability and on very rare occasions could be seen in the trees. Charles had only once seen a lion in a tree in more than 7 years so we weren't hopeful as we set out for our morning drive. After a morning filled with hippos, giraffes and elephants we were running a little late for lunch and the sky was beginning to darken when Charles decided that we should visit the hot springs some 30 kilometres away. We almost said, “No,” but he seemed so keen and, just as we approached the springs this is what we saw....
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Not just one – but two lions resting in one tree.. An incredibly rare sight.
And then the heavens opened with a spectacular tropical storm and we fled back to our lodge for lunch.

Posted by Hawkson 07:25 Archived in Tanzania Comments (9)

Diary of a Safari - Day 2. Up Close and Personal

semi-overcast 27 °C

Fearing that our Lumix compact camera wouldn't get us close to the action. and would leave us with camera envy. we had seriously considered buying some flashy equipment with telephoto lenses for this trip. In the end we stuck with our little compact rather than lug around a monster and just hoped we could get close enough to a few of the animals for some captivating shots... . Then this happened...
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Whoa – a bit too close for comfort. A whole herd of elephants, including a week old calf, just 15 feet away. Let's step back a bit. That's better...
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But it wasn't just the elephants that got within spitting distance. What about this lioness with her four cubs? ...
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This fabulous feline was no more than 20 feet away from us and posed proudly as we took photo after photo from the safety of our safari jeep. Then there was this little chap...
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This adorable little Kirk's dik-dik – the smallest member of the antelope family – wasn't the least bit scared of us and we could have reached out and touched him and his mate.
Herds of impala surrounded us from time to time and, although a little skittish, were often within a few yards of us...
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The eland is the largest of all the African antelopes and this elegant fella with spiralled horns was quite happy just to stand a few yards away to pose for a lengthy photo shoot...
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Cape buffaloes are some of the largest, most formidable and unpredictable, of all the animals here and an adult male would have no difficulty knocking over our jeep with his massive horns and armour plated head. This big guy probably weighed at least a ton and thankfully showed no interest in anything but his lunch...
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Zebras are a dime a dozen, (that would be a shilling a dozen in Tanzanian money), and we could have taken a thousand close-ups of them as they made little effort to get away from us. (Actually we probably did take a thousand photos). This one was particularly curious...
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While the big animals are easy to spot it is the babies that are most adorable. This little vervet monkey was just a few days old when we saw him playing in the grass by the side of the road...
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While he was cute enough to cuddle, the rest of his troupe kept a close eye and would have soon seen us off.
Now we have moved from Tarangire to the Great Rift Valley and today we were incredibly lucky to witness one of the rarest sights in sub-Saharan Africa. We look forward to letting you in on our big surprise tomorrow.
Tutaonana Baadae

Posted by Hawkson 07:12 Archived in Tanzania Comments (6)

Diary of a Safari - Day 1. Excellent Beginnings.

semi-overcast 27 °C

A clear equatorial moon shines a path from the restaurant to our suite at the Tarangire Sopa Lodge when a guard steps out of the shadows and announces that he will escort us. “There are lights...” we protest so he swings his torch to show that we are surrounded by wild zebra, water buck, dik-dik, monkeys and rock hyrax. “The animals come for the green grass and then the lions come for dinner,” he explains. We know there are lions here. We earlier saw this one hunting a herd of zebra so we eagerly accept his offer...
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The grounds of Sopa Lodge can be pretty wild – even dangerous to some – but there's nothing rustic about the interior or the service...
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We may be in the wilderness of East Africa where life hangs on a thread for multitudes of wild creatures, but for us there is nothing but haute cuisine, soft beds and swimming pools...
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Our first day is ending and we have seen more wild animals than we dared hope to see during the entire nine day safari. However, the day did not start well. Torrential rain followed us from Arusha to the gates of Tarangire National Park. The rain eased as we ate a picnic lunch and a cheeky vervet monkey hid in the bushes and prepared to snatch a bite for himself...
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Charles, our driver and guide, was quick to shoo him away so he leaped on another table and made off with an apple. This is Charles...
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Yes – those are zebra in the background. Zebras are everywhere here. We have seen many hundreds. This is a zebra crossing...
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Much is made of the worldwide depletion of wildlife due to climate change and poaching, but since Tarangire National Park was founded in 1970, and the poachers deterred, animal life has thrived. Here are a few of today's catch to whet your appetite, (not that any of these creatures are for eating)...
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And now to sleep peacefully after our first amazing day – thankful that the lioness did not catch the zebra as we watched, but sad to think her cubs may have missed supper. C'est la vie!

Posted by Hawkson 08:52 Archived in Tanzania Comments (5)

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

semi-overcast 26 °C

Our flight from the Tanzanian capital to Arusha in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro was on a plane small enough to have flown inside an Airbus A380...
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However, we had left behind the hot humid air of Dar-es-Salaam and were rewarded with fresh mountain air and vistas of blossoming bougainvillea and jacaranda...
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It is always summer in this tropical land and the trees are laden with bananas, mangoes and all manner of fragrant blossoms. In contrast, the streets of Arusha are dusty and potholed and the numerous minibus drivers seem to rely on God to get them and their passengers safely to their destinations...
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Although Arusha is Tanzania's third largest city, and centre of its lucrative tourist industry, the veneer of modernity is spread thinly over its crumbling streets.
There are some recently built stores and banks, and many expensive hotels, but much of the commerce takes place in the chaotic Central Market that has changed little from pre-colonial days. The shoe sellers still hang out their wares under the banyan trees...
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The women still spend their days selling local fruits and vegetables under colourful umbrellas...
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And the main market is crammed with all manner of goods. However, most foreigners here are like us – tourists on safari or trekkers heading up Mt. Kilimanjaro – so vendors have little chance of selling us baskets of dried fish or household wares...
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Away from the city centre the modern buildings quickly dissolve into a mish-mash of humble adobe homes where, apart from cellphones and satellite TVs life carries on much has it has done for generations...
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Arusha market has probably changed little since Ernest Hemingway came here in 1936
and wrote “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”. In the book, his main character, Harry, attempts to put his life back on track after living a life of sloth and luxury. A safari is supposed to bring him back to the virtues of hard work. We, on the other hand, are going on safari for the opposite reason - we are rewarding ourselves with a little sloth and luxury after a life of hard work. Harry had an accident, contracted gangrene and died – and that seems a very good reason for us not to follow his path.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Tanzania so far is its people.
This was our first sighting of handsome Maasai warriors in flowing robes as they strode purposefully through Arusha...
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And we met this statuesque young woman as we walked back to our hotel on the edge of the city...
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Reda has a face and physique that would catapault her to the pages of Vogue and have her gracing the catwalk at any Parisian fashion show Yet here, in the shadow of Kilimanjaro, she is just a young unemployed women with dreams.

Posted by Hawkson 08:57 Archived in Tanzania Comments (3)

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