Friday, 23 September 2011

The enchanting African Safari (Tarangire)

From the previous post: "...Dozing off to sleep was easy, given how tired I was. Plus, the thought that tomorrow will be more magnificent creatures to be spotted was exciting..."

It is a new day in Africa

Irrespective of the onset of summer, waking up in mildly breezy and cool morning was made all the more exhilarating when the thought streaked through my mind, 'hey, I am actually in Africa!' and nothing could be more poignant at that time, than hearing the beautiful songs being rendered by the bards of nature - birds.

Get ready, have breakfast, pack up everything including the picnic lunch. It was all a blur, as the heart and mind were already inside the forest. Off we trudged into the trusty land cruiser with the reliable Abombe ready to show us more magical beings.

Today we were going to further explore Tarangire for a bit, before driving off to the world famous Serengeti with a stop over at the cradle of civilization. Talk about intrigue! One more thing that I do need to mention here, is that the land cruiser had a top that could be easily raised, so not only did we get more protection from the sun, we would also be in a position of height, enabling us to see more of the place. So happily, back in our vehicle, we started traversing the African wilderness.

Started with a high cuteness quotient this time. At least for a carnivore. Just saw the little fellow peeking out from a hollow log. Introducing the Common Dwarf Mongoose.

Common Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula)
Moving on, it sort of felt like the world was a bit different in that you look almost anywhere and you are likely to see all sorts of animals, birds, trees, undulating landscapes - the sheer variety is staggering. It would take a huge journal to describe every bit of the experience, so am limiting myself to some of the ones that I found interesting enough to squarely embed in the recesses of my brain.

Also spotted quite a few White Headed Buffalo Weavers. It is a specie that is native to East Africa. The buffalo part of its name is derived from its habit of following the bovine footsteps of the African Buffalo and feeding on disturbed insects like beetles and butterflies.

White Headed Buffalo Weaver (Dimenellia dinemelli)
As we drove onward, suddenly started hearing shouts. Go away. Go away. I was flummoxed. I mean, what could be the reason? Couldn't see or feel any danger. Then realisation struck. Right now, we, in the rumbling box were the danger to the folks in the forest and who else but the nattily dressed caped crusader, the aptly named Crested White bellied Go-away bird, was making all the noise.

Crested White bellied Go-away bird ( Corythaixoides leucogaster)
While I understand and accept, that an angry elephant is probably the most dangerous (to humans) animal out there in the wild anywhere, the sight of a full grown lion near you makes you still shiver. Maybe it was our ancestral anthropoid remnant genes. Have you ever thought, why most humans start shouting and screaming at the sight of perceived danger or that grouping and attempting to fight off or kill the intruder is the most common counter mechanism to date? Just look at any current set of monkeys and you get the answer. We are not that different, after all, on many counts from the simians.

The lions of Tarangire

Coming back to the lion, it was the first sighting in Africa and I was sincerely thankful for the vehicular protection, and the keen eyes of our guide. Take a look at the picture below. So well camouflaged and silent is this giant cat, it would have been difficult to spot until you are a few feet away. Not knowing the mood of this fellow, it may be a good idea to maintain your distance, if perchance you are not in your protective cage on wheels.

Lion (Panthera leo)
The real close brush with the Lions of Tanzania was to happen later. Meantime, as we are watching, in trot a bunch of zebras. While there is silence, mostly, except for the shutter clicks, a collective slightly audible sigh went up from the human females around in different safari vehicles, which had clustered by now. Why? Simple, the lion decided to stalk and attack his food on hooves. On this occasion, being neither smart nor a long distance runner, the lion made a rather short and foolish attempt to get some fresh food. Result: Cat-0, Zebras-1. For now. Factually, more than 70% of hunts do not succeed for the big cats.

It would be important to note, this chap was not alone. His female partner and the main hunter was also around. And smartly, she had not bothered to waste any energy going after the zebras.

Finally, having watched the lion's antics and unsurprisingly aware that nothing worthy would be happening, the lady decided to slink off to a nearby tree. Amazingly, Tanzania is one of the few places in the world, where lions climb on trees. It essentially gives them a high vantage view, which is essential to determine where the next meal is.

The male having given up on his predatory behaviour, decided to follow the lady and rest beneath the tree on which she was keeping vigil.

Moving a bit further on, we saw a small herd of elephants cavorting with their young ones by the depleted Tarangire river.

Now the time had come to move on. Having gotten out of the Tarangire park, we were back on the tarmac, smoothly proceeding to the Serengeti. Abombe, our guide/driver, explained to us that we would be passing by well known UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ngorongoro located in the crater highlands of Tanzania, about 180 kilometres from Arusha.

As we ascended the heights, markedly the greenery started showing up. The plan was to drive by the top of the Ngorongoro crater, bypassing it on the way to Oldupai Gorge. And from there on to the Seregenti plains.

The picnic lunch spot that Abombe had brought us to, was indeed beautiful. He was also caring enough to warn us, to consume our food under the branches of a nearby tree, rather than in the open - where it was extremely pleasant to sit as the temperature had markedly gone down at least 10 degrees Celsius lower, if not more.

Why the warning? The answer was soon visible and audible. We were not the only people who had decided to stop there and have our lunch. Other travellers had arrived. One lady decided to sit on the grass, lean against the bole of a tree, enjoy the beautiful weather and have her lunch, only to shriek out in consternation as a lithe, silent figure swooped, clutched her sandwich and made off. All this, in one smooth motion, as we were watching, beside a smiling Abombe. The culprit was none other than the Tanzanian Yellow-billed Kite. While the kites are general sky borne thermal gliding predators elsewhere, at this particular picnic site, they had specialised in stealing sandwiches out of travellers' lunch boxes!

Yellow-billed Kite (Milvus aegyptius)
Done with the cold but tasty lunch, it was time to leave the picnic spot and drive on to the Serengeti, via the Oldupai Gorge. A point rather sorely remembered here, was the tarmac road ended a few kilometres away. Thus began some of the roughest, bone-jarring, teeth-chattering, dusty stretches across Tanzania. Slowing down was not an option, as the shaking would only get worse. The only prayer was not to get trapped behind another similar vehicle on the designated dirt road, as all the dust raised by the wheels ahead would only smother us.

As we drove through, the vistas were simply breath taking. Mostly empty mountain ranges, interspersed with a rare Masai village and their cattle. You could see far enough into the horizon and make out the dust columns being raised by similar land cruisers far away. The intrigue of visiting the 'cradle of civilization' kept the mood high.

The adventure continues in the next post...


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  1. i loved your detailed description on the Tanzanian lion safari, never knew lions can climb to scan for prey. Good post Anish Kumarswamy. One request pl remove word verification.

  2. Thank you Deguide. I value your feedback. Removed word verification from comments.


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