Memoirs of Tanzania, Part 3 – A morning to remember in the Serengeti

As the pandemic rages on in present day and the lockdowns keep getting extended all over the world. These photos and memories from my older trips keep me motivated and eagerly looking forward to a day when the world is safe to move about once again. Till then this is as good as it gets!

This post is a continuation of a series describing my trip to the Northern Parks of Tanzania almost the decade ago. We had started in the Lake Manyara National Park (Memoirs of Tanzania, Part 1 – Lake Manyara National Park) where we had spent a day and were now based in the famous Serengeti National Park (Memoirs of Tanzania, Part 2 – First taste of the Serengeti). The first evening safari in the Serengeti had been a sighting rich one and we were eagerly looking forward to the two full days we had in this park.

We were based in the Serena Serengeti Lodge inside the park boundaries so the safari started as soon as we were out of the hotel gates. This is a big advantage as you get the area around your lodge to yourself for some time before the vehicles from outside enter. So you get to see the smaller antelopes like the adorable little Dik Dik we saw as soon as we left the hotel gates. This tiny antelope is no bigger than a house cat and seen only in the early mornings before it retreats in the tall grass. So it was an auspicious start to the day for us!

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A Dik Dik just outside the hotel gates

As the sun came up we came across a couple of Masai Giraffe enjoying a stroll and a breakfast. As I have mentioned earlier this was the short rainy season in Tanzania so when there were just a few wispy clouds in the sky it meant a rain free day & that is always good news on safari. The Giraffe were kind enough to pose in a coordinated manner and give me some great photos in perfect light.

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Coordinated posing by Masai Giraffe
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A Portrait of a Masai Giraffe

After a lot of photos we thanked the giraffes and the weather and moved on. Next sighting was our first sighting of the biggest bird in the world – a pair of Ostrich. This pair was just strutting across the grasslands at a leisurely pace. The more striking male with its jet black feathers was in the lead and was followed in the distance by its dull coloured female partner. They crossed the road just in front of our vehicle and went on their merry way across the endless plains.

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A Male Ostrich at the Serengeti
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The female Ostrich follows the male
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The Ostrich on their merry way in the Serengeti

We then came across a small dried stream on the banks of which were sitting a group of the ugliest species of Storks I have ever seen. The Marabou Storks are usually seen near cities and landfills in Africa where they are the main scavengers. The bald head and beak is an adaptation to this habit as otherwise the head feathers would be caked with the fluids of the carcasses they are feeding off (Like vultures). So Hadji said there might be a carcass nearby which they might have stripped.

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A Marabou Stork at a dry stream

We left the storks and moved ahead to see where the kill or carcass might be as there may be other predators lurking around in the area too. We had no luck there but in our search we came across a herd of Zebras. The Serengetiis well known for its endless mixed herds of Zebras and Wildebeest, but this was a relatively small herd of only Zebras painting a pretty picture in the typical African Savannah. There were a couple standing a bit separate from the rest as if inviting me to take a photo, I gladly obliged.

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A small herd of Zebras at the Serengeti
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A couple stands separate for a photo

All safari vehicles in the Northern Parks have a walkie talkie system that drivers use to communicate with others for spreading the word of a good sighting & also for emergencies. Hadji told us that there was chatter of 2 sightings, one of a pride of Lions resting on a fallen tree trunk and the other of a solo Cheetah a small distance away. I left the choice to Hadji as by now I knew to trust his instincts better, he said that the lions will in all probability stay there for the rest of the morning whereas the cheetah would keep moving so we should try to see the cheetah first. I was keen to see a cheetah anyway so we moved in the direction of the cheetah.

We reached the spot and found the cheetah sitting on a termite mound and scanning the area. It made for another pretty frame to show the wildlife and the vastness of the Serengeti itself. We waited for the cheetah to move but he was in no mood to oblige. He settled nicely on the mound after some time and we had to be content with our long distance sighting for now. Infact the cheetah was so relaxed that a Secretary bird strutted across right in front of his mound and he didn’t even bother to move. That was an indication for us to push off.

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A Cheetah on a mound scans the territory
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A Secretary bird struts on towards the resting cheetah

We then started our journey towards where the pride of lions were supposed to be resting. On the way we crossed a Warthog that seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere and never stopped even for a second the entire time that we had him in sight.

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A Warthog on a mission

It wouldn’t be the Serengeti if you didn’t cross a huge herd of Zebra and Wildebeest after some time. But every time we stopped and watched this natural wonder in front of us and took a few photos. While most people remember the big cats what amazed me the most is the sheer number of grazers that populated the park.

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Huge herds of Zebra & Wildebeest on the plains

Finally we reached the said tree with the lions and Hadji as usual had been correct. The lions were still there and enjoying their late morning siesta. There was no Male in sight but there were a group of females and their cubs all sprawled in various positions on a fallen tree trunk. As expected there were a lot of vehicles at the sighting. But as we had taken a detour that lasted almost an hour to see the Cheetah most of the vehicles were leaving by the time we reached. So it all worked out very well for us.

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A Lion cub enjoying his rest
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Tangled mass of lions on a tree trunk in the Serengeti

Among the tangled mass of lions what was most photogenic were two cubs who were awake and curious about the vehicles gathered around them. We stayed around the pride for a good half an hour and the most photos I have are of these two cubs and their mother between them.

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Two curious cubs and a sleeping mother

As more vehicles started moving off the mother also woke up at the sound of the revving engines showing how alert they are and even more so with kids around.

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The mom wakes up at the sound of revving engines

Then came a photo that I loved so much that I got it printed and framed. The cub in the front gave an almighty yawn and I was lucky enough to capture it for posterity. It still hangs at my house till this day.

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A yawning lion cub – A frame to remember

Then another female woke up and went and perched herself up on the trunk. She had a scar on her nose that showed that even these apex predators of the land don’t have it easy.

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A lioness with an old scar on her nose

After almost half an hour with the resting lions and with a lot of photos on the camera we said goodbye to the pride and left them to complete their nap. There was a good reason why the lions were camped in this region. It had the most herds of Zebras and Wildebeest. We had just crossed one before seeing the lions and now we were going in the opposite direction and we came across another. This one was much closer to the track & I got a frame that I won’t have again unless I visit the Serengeti another time. A photo where almost 90% of the frame is filled with animals with no background to be seen.

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Zebras and Wildebeest cover almost the entire frame

The herd was on both sides of the track and I also took a few videos of the wildebeest galloping across the track to join the rest of the herd. We waited for them to pass and once they were all across we resumed our safari across the plains. The plains have a lot of streams in the rains & we were lucky enough to see the largest Heron species, the aptly named Goliath Heron at the edge of one of such streams. As an added bonus there was also a saddle billed stork on the opposite bank. Both species I hadn’t seen till then, so it’s not just the animals even the birding is great in the Serengeti.

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A goliath heron at the edge of a stream in the Serengeti
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A Saddle billed stork on the opposite bank

Also the grass and shrubs start to flower once the rains fall and the landscape is a lot greener. The peak season for the Serengeti is in the dry season when the grass is almost gone and all the wildlife is concentrated near the water and more visible. We had no choice when it came to when we visited the Serengeti, but if I ever get a chance to go again it would still be just at the beginning of the short rains. The green continuous grasslands are much more pleasing to the eye and the wildlife sighting is still unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

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Flowering shrubs in the Serengeti
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A vervet monkey strikes a pose against the lush green grass in the short rains
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The wildlife sightings are still amazing in the short rains

The herbivores in the Serengeti are not just restricted to the Zebras & Wildebeest. There are also herds of Grant’s and Thomson’s Gazelles. Although not as populous as the Zebras and Gnus these herds are seen throughout the Serengeti. We came across a small herd of Thomson’s Gazelle and one of them was standing watch close to the track making for a pretty picture.

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A Thomson’s Gazelle stands guard over the rest of the herd 

We were just admiring the agility of the gazelles when Hadji turned and smiled and said that we were in luck. A cheetah was spotted resting in a shrub very close to the track. So we went to the spot and as reported lying there oblivious to the fuss that surrounded it was a beautiful cheetah. We waited and waited for it to show us its pretty face and this time the gods were with us. It finally got up and turned to look what the fuss was all about and we got our look at the speed racer of the Serengeti. The Serengeti is such as vast place that even with the walkie talkie system there are enough sightings around to prevent overcrowding of vehicles around a sighting. But then again this was low season, I am sure it gets much worse in the high season.

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Finally a close look at a Cheetah

With that sighting we started our way back to the lodge for lunch. We again passed some Warthogs, this time another and three piglets. Once again they appeared in some hurry to get somewhere and I only got photos of the 4 of them prancing away with their tails held high like an antenna.

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Warthogs on their merry way. 

Hadji asked us if we wanted to stop at a rest stop on the way. He also said that there are usually hyraxes seen at that stop. We needed no further incentive, hyraxes are extremely cute and photogenic creatures that are native to only Africa and the Middle East. So we headed to the rest stop and sure enough there were hyraxes there. Not just hyraxes, we also got sightings of the African masked weaver and a dwarf mongoose which is otherwise impossible to spot in the open plains,

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A Rock Hyrax at the rest stop in the Serengeti
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A Masked Weaver at the rest stop
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Another Hyrax strikes a pose
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A dwarf mongoose makes a rare appearance

With that eventful rest stop which was just for the sightings rather than for the rest as we were returning to the Serena Serengeti Lodge for our lunch and a short siesta before we started again on our evening Safari.

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At the Serena Serengeti lodge 

It had been a great morning safari in the Serengeti, to come to think of it we never had a safari in the Serengeti which was unremarkable such is the diversity and richness of wildlife here. What the evening safari held in store for us is the topic for another post. Some other time, Some other day.

Till then,

Bye.

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