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Diary of a Safari - Day 7. A Land of Plenty

sunny 27 °C

The Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania covers nearly six thousand square miles. It is home to millions of animals and has an incredibly diverse eco-system. While much of the park is a vast semi-arid savanna, there are oases and acacia forests. Many animals escape from the midday sun by sheltering under the aptly named umbrella trees that are scattered across parts of the landscape. This is a typical scene...
However, the wide open grasslands are preferred by many herds of prey animals, despite the poor vegetation, as it offers little cover for the predators. These three lionesses were part of a pride of nineteen on the prowl in the long grass as they stalked a herd of zebra...
The Serengeti is just 2 degrees south of the equator so temperatures remain fairly constant throughout the year. However, there are long periods of drought followed by torrential tropical rains. Wildebeest and zebra constantly migrate to take advantage of the new growth when a drought breaks, while resident animals and plants have devised survival strategies to see them through prolonged dry periods...
This giant baobab tree, (known as the upside-down tree because its branches resemble roots), can store up to a hundred thousand litres of water in its sponge-like trunk and can live a thousand years. Thirsty elephants rip off the bark and smash their way into the trunks of baobabs to get water during droughts.

Giraffes are able to withstand droughts because of their ability to eat the lofty leaves of acacia trees. The leaves are protected by long thorns, but the giraffe has evolved a specialised tongue which protects it from the needle like spikes...
Another variety of acacia is known as the umbrella tree because of its shape. Its leaves are the favourite of elephants, but its horizontal branches are great places for leopards to use as lookout points to spot their prey...
The yellow acacias are tall trees that make great perches for birds of prey and scavengers like this maribu stork...
Another creature that uses the acacia tree is the weaver bird. There are numerous varieties of weavers here and the males make elaborate nests out of a thousand or more strands of grass...
Once the nest is complete the male bird uses it to attract a female. If the female thinks it is up to snuff she moves in and quickly produces eggs.

One of the most unusual trees here is the sausage tree...
The sausage-like fruit are about a metre long and weigh upwards of 10lbs. Elephants love the fruit and it is said that it's a bad idea to rest under a sausage tree. If a falling sausage doesn't kill you an elephant will as it stampedes to get the fruit.

Christmas is coming and while we go to great lengths to decorate our trees, the Tanzanians let nature do it for them...
This is a flame tree (a.k.a. The Tanzanian Xmas Tree). It is a member of the pea family and survives here because it is drought resistant.

Now we are on the move again. Our final safari stop will be the world's largest complete volcanic caldera - the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 07:14 Archived in Tanzania Comments (5)

Diary of a Safari. Day 6. Flying High

semi-overcast 26 °C

Tanzania is a nation of world record breakers when it comes to land animals. For example: the African bush elephant can weigh up to 6,000 kilograms (6 tonnes); the giraffes of the Serengeti can reach a lofty 9 metres (19 feet) in height and the world's fastest land animals are the cheetahs: they can reach speeds in excess of 120 kilometres an hour. We have been lucky enough to see all of these creatures here – in fact we have seen many examples of each and have seen all of them in a single day. However, not content with hosting the biggest, tallest and fastest land animals Tanzania also is the place to see the creatures that rule the skies. This is a Ruppell's Griffon Vulture...
This vulture is the world's highest flying bird and can attain heights in excess of 37,000 feet – the same cruising height as a modern airliner. It can spend 6-7 hours per day in the air and lives 40-50 years. It is a critically endangered species and we were very lucky to see this one.
Vultures of all kinds, together with giant maribu storks, are never far away when there are leftovers, and this black-backed jackal didn't get a look in on a dead zebra when thirty or more vultures and storks came for breakfast...
Black-backed jackals are only found in southern and eastern Africa and the two habitats are separated by 900 kms. They are the world's oldest canine species.
Another record breaker found here is the kori bustard...
This elegant, even haughty, bird is the heaviest creature capable of flight in the world and can weigh up to 40 lbs. However, it prefers to spend its time hunting small game on the ground.
But, when it comes to size, nothing comes close to the enormous male ostrich - the world's largest flightless bird....
The ostrich's powerful long legs are used as weapons capable of killing a human or lion with a powerful kick, and don't even think about running away – it can sprint at 70 km per hour. Unfortunately the ostriches' nests are easily found on the ground and young Maasai boys steal the massive eggs in order to sell them to passing tourists.
Another fast mover on the ground is the secretary bird...
This elegant creature has the longest legs of any bird of prey and gets it name from the crest of long quill feathers which gives it the appearance of a secretary in the 1800s. Although secretary birds can fly they spend much of their time on the ground.
Many of the larger birds stick to the ground unless escaping predators and this southern ground hornbill is no exception...
These are the largest of the hornbill species and they live on snakes, tortoises, lizards and small birds. Hornbills can live up to 70 years and are one of the longest living birds, however they only have two chicks every 9 years and only one of them will survive.
Another hornbill found in the Serengeti is the Von der Decken's hornbill, named after the German explorer...
These birds can live up to 20 years and survive on small animals, eggs and fruit.

This yellow billed stork was keeping a healthy distance from a 12 foot Nile crocodile on the banks of a hippos bathing pool.
These storks use one foot to stir up water and flush out prey. They have very quick muscular reflexes which enable them to catch the food and, presumable, to keep clear of the crocodile's jaws,
This is a pretty brown headed kingfisher. Although part of the kingfisher family it is a bit of an imposter. It doesn't usually eat fish and is not dependant on water. It lives on insects, spiders, small reptiles and even birds.

Another pretty bird is the stunningly coloured greater blue eared starling...
This one joined us in the restaurant for breakfast one morning. Male and female look alike to us but the birds have four colour sensitive cones in their retina as opposed to our paltry three. The additional cone enables them to spot the difference between a competitor and a mate at a glance.

That's all for today. The sun is shining and we are going hunting for one of the biggest, and rarest, of the big game. We will let you know if we bag one.

Posted by Hawkson 06:56 Archived in Tanzania Comments (3)

Diary of a Safari - Day 5. Kindergarten in the Serengeti.

semi-overcast 26 °C

As this post is all about the baby animals which we have seen in the Serengeti you may wonder why we are starting with this picture of a cheetah...
The answer is that we saw four of these beautiful animals today and just couldn't wait to show you one of them.
Now back to the babies. While it isn't in our nature to anthropomorphize wild animals we couldn't help wondering what these young creatures were saying and thinking as we took their photos. What about this baby baboon...
"Look Mum - I'm riding sidesaddle one-handed."
Seconds after we took this picture the baby fell off - Lesson learned - Don't show off to the humans, you will only get hurt.

Adult topi are not the most photogenic of the antelope family but their offspring are cute. This calf was saying,
"Just pretend you didn't hear him say that Mum. I think you're lovely."

This mother and baby hippo were in a stagnant pool along with twenty other hippos.
Mother, "Yes dear, I know the water is full of poo but just close your nose and dive. You'll get used to it."

These rock hyraxes are the size of large rodents...
Baby hyrax,"Mum, that man said I looked like a rat." Mother, "Take no notice son. Just remember your cousin is an elephant."

Giraffes are easy to spot on the plains but we only saw one young baby so just had to get a photo...
Baby giraffe, "Mum. Can you see from up there if that man is taking my picture?"

Vervet monkeys are mischievous little creatures. One of them stole a yoghurt from the breakfast table this morning - however, it was a banana yoghurt. The Mbuzi Mawe Safari restaurant is the only 5 star restaurant we have eaten in where the waiters carry catapaults to fend off the monkeys. We wondered what this protective mother was saying...
"Oy. If you shoot my kid I'll bite."

We have seen an incredible number of lions - some as close as five feet away from our vehicle. This lioness had four cubs of varying ages and would have to be a skillful hunter to feed them all.
Lioness, "Right. Stay here you lot and keep quiet. I think I've just spotted lunch."

Whereas this impala calf is saying...
"Mum, there's a lion over there giving me a very funny look."

This baby elephant was only a few days old when we saw it in Tarangire National Park.
" Slow down Mum. I've only got little legs."

O.K. Folks. That's all today. We hope you will join us again tomorrow when we will bring you more amazing scenes from the Serengeti.

Posted by Hawkson 07:16 Archived in Tanzania Comments (5)

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...
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...
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...
“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...
Another creature playing the numbers game on the Serengeti is the cape buffalo...
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...
The numerous giraffes are gentle giants and are usually above the fray...
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.
Perhaps the fastest prey animals are the various antelopes and gazelles. These young impala have an impressive turn of speed when in danger...
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...
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...
And this African fish eagle was happy to let us watch as he enjoyed a fish lunch on an island in Lake Manyara...
These white pelicans at Lake Manyara had had their fill for the morning and were drying off in the warm breeze...
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....
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...
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...
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....
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)

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