Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Cauldron of life - the African Safari (continued)

From the previous post: "Also to unfold in front of my eyes, was a spectacle that was so rare which even Abombe had never seen in his 12 year career as a wildlife guide."

The cauldron of life

The sound of a thousand hooves drumming on the floor of a crater, is sweet music to most predators. To me, it signified life within the cauldron. An entire life lived in 260 square kilometres area. As a human, I feel privileged to have experienced life beyond just the immediate circle.

Today's agenda was simply to scour the Ngorongoro crater to sight as much wildlife as possible for half a day and then it was an late afternoon drive back to Arusha. So, it was an early morning wake up. Misty and chilly breeze. Almost everybody I saw out there were looking like Arctic explorers - with their stuffed jackets, woollen caps and footwear. And here I was walking around in joggers, jeans and a linen shirt. I think, unobtrusively everyone was looking at me, as being slightly off hinged in the brain. All I could think was, what a nice brandy it had been the previous night, the warmth still continues!

Finally, Abombe, the girls and I were off in our trusty box on wheels. A few hundred metres on the dirt track and a site that even today leaves me in a trance. An open veld with rolling hills interspersed with acacia clumps. A picture, such that mere words cannot do justice. Further enhanced by a family of giraffes who were out for breakfast.

Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)
Immensely tall, but gentle and fragile, these beautiful beasts were a sight to watch whether grazing on the top leaves of a thorny acacia or running. Incredibly they have a heart, measuring an amazing 2 feet long and weighing 10 kilos. Their blood pressure is approximately double of any other large mammal.

Entering the crater was through a steep rutted road, giving very good views of the space. Finally made it to the floor level, and the drive started. First among the spotted creatures was one of the world's heaviest birds - the Kori Bustard.

Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori)
When I saw the bird, I was reminded of one of my marketing campaigns which started with the headline - "Bustard is not a bad word...".

And after all this while of looking out for some sign of the Wildebeest herds, which had mostly migrated in search of greener pastures, got to see a smallish herd. Antelopes, they may be, but strange looking beasts with rather well developed muzzles. Also known as Gnu. More than half a million of these beasts go in a circulatory migration path across the Serengeti in search of nutrient rich grass. Watch any channel dedicated to wildlife and chances are you are likely to see the migration at some point of time.

Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)
One popular term that is used often in the safari circuits in Africa is - the big 5. We had seen all the big guys except the double horned rhinoceros. Abombe informed us that there are some in the Ngorongoro crater and we were hoping to catch a sight. Sadly that did not happen.

However, what did happen was something that even our elderly guide had not seen in his 12 years of guide service. That it was a rare sight was further knocked in, when I described the event to Achmed, our tour operator, whom we met later in the night at Arusha.


The Ostrich is one of the large birds in Africa. A flightless bird, which almost all of us have seen/heard of. Even terms like, hiding your head in the sand like an Ostrich is used to signify a negative trait among people refusing to accept reality. The truth is, stranger than fiction. Always. That day was no exception. Just as we turned a corner and reached a large patch of grass land, we arrived in time to watch a male Ostrich complete his mating ritual dance and mount the female. Abombe explained to us that the Ostrich, once done with this will need time to 'recover'.

Something, probably instinct, told me not to move from the spot. After having done with the lady, the guy featured in the picture, had started walking. I saw another lady of the same ilk, was hanging around at some distance. He smartly walked up to her, and started his mating ritual again. It is a sort of dance, where he raises his feathered wings and tail to form a larger plumage and then actually shakes his body and bobs his bald head in a dance. Incredibly, the second female Ostrich accepted his performance and allowed him to do the job! Two mating acts, one immediately after the other, is something that is rather rare to observe.

After all this excitement, we went off for lunch. Apart from all the other travellers for the day, who had stopped by the same designated picnic lunch spot, there were teams of kites out there, all trying to grab a bite - by hook or claw. Equally interesting was to observe the Helmeted Guinea fowl calmly walking by, pecking at whatever they could get on the ground.

Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris)
Having done the tour of the place, and missed seeing any rhinos, it was time to return to the camp. Had a bit of free time and then off back to Arusha.

At this point, I remembered something that Achmed had told us during the briefing. He mentioned about an old tusker who liked to stay close to the camp site of the Ngorongoro. In his words, "It is an accident waiting to happen". Essentially, the elephant was down to its last molars. Therefore it was looking for easy food to eat and an accessible water source. The large tank at the camp site, was his 'watering hole' and the green shoots of the plants and leaves nearby assuaged his hunger.

But what most visitors forget is that this is a wild creature. Not a tame domesticated animal. People try to go close, take pictures of him, especially with their camera flash on. This irritates the old man a lot. Irrespective of his age, all this behemoth needs to do is swing his trunk and from photographer to a flying corpse could be a grim reality. This was even more pronounced to me, when he turned suddenly and did a short snorting charge at one of the men, who had dared to go past him.

Taking a circuitous route, I went to the men's toilet. As I was doing what nature makes us do, right in front of me was a window. Guess what I saw through the window? Talk about feeling puny! This was, by far, the closest I have ever been to a wild pachyderm.

It was time to leave. All things and people packed back into the land cruiser. On the way down, stopped over at a bunch of shops that were specifically in the business of selling products for visitors to take away. Being the designated negotiator, managed to get a range of things for a relatively low cost. Then on, it was back to Arusha. One more night stay at the beautiful Oasis resort.

Next day morning, Abombe would be dropping us off at the airport from where we would be flying to laid back Zanzibar. The final days of this magnificent journey were upon us.

Continued in the next and final post in this series.


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  1. humm...gud photos..and a nice experience it might have been.

  2. Thank you Chitra, it was indeed a great experience, which I'd be happy to re-live.

  3. Anish, I think you should create a FB page, people will find it very useful. Nice post, If I ever travel to these places, I will read your post once again...


  4. Thank you for the suggestion, Saru.


Your comments are welcome. I am all ears.

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