Jan-April 2003

 

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April 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry 

DETAILS

What a dramatic season itís been and such a season of contrasts with such a wet December contrasting sharply from the very dry April we are having at the moment.

The last week of February saw record numbers of wildebeest and zebra in the Masek woodlands. Tens of thousands of animals came down to drink at the lake Masek. It made some super photographic opportunities as the herds moved away from the Lake in the evening and, by good positioning, it was possible to get some wonderful backlit pictures of wildebeest and zebra with plumes of dust and a golden sunset. I spent a very amusing half hour watching a zebra foal chasing guinea fowl around the woodland. Well, actually chasing one particular guinea fowl around and around a small bush. It was a great sight as he tried to nip a feather from the unfortunate bird, although he never really stood much of a chance as this comical spotted bird could always have taken to the air if it thought if was really in any danger.

There seems to be a baby boom with our small population of hippos in Lake Masek. The three tiny babies born this season make their numbers up to ten and the group can be seen at the Eastern end of the lake.

Exciting news on the lion front this month. There has been a take over by three new handsome blond mane lions of the Masek pride. We should have guessed something was amiss when there was so many mating lions to be seen at Masek just after Christmas. Also the lack of any cubs this year points to a take over, as new incoming lions will kill any other unrelated maleís cubs. The lionesses soon come into estrus again and after a gestation period of around 3 months they will give birth to the new males cubs. It will take about two years for the cubs to reach adult hood. In the meantime the males will have to guard and maintain their territory and keep other males out while constantly patrolling and marking their boundaries, itís a very hard life and most male lions die young. Three months has now past, so we should be seeing lots of young lion cubs gamboling around sometime soon and thatís when the hard work really begins. Itís easy to find food now, when thereís so much game around. By the end of the dry season they have to eke out a living trying to catch fleet footed impala or the dangerous Cape buffalo, even porcupines and hares feature in their diet. Itís not surprising, that few make it to adulthood.

Other interesting sightings this past month include: striped hyenas catching a wildebeest calf, good views of side striped jackals, large groups of eland in the woodlands, and three species of whydahs in the lodge bird bath, all in breeding plumage, including straw tailed, pin tailed and the striking steel blue. Great leopard sightings include a mother with two small cubs that have been seen a number of times. Large numbers of giraffe can be seen in and around the lodge at the moment with groups of over forty moving through the acacia woodlands.

After a very successful season we will be carrying on with our refurbishments. Four more of the older style rooms will be changed for the new stone cottages. Ndutu has been voted the best place in Africa to see cheetah by Brian Jackman in a recent article in the Telegraph. The BBCís Owen Newman and Amanda Barrett have returned to Ndutu to make another wildlife film after the success of their last film Cats under Serengeti Stars and have again chosen Ndutu Safari Lodge as their base this year.

April is also a time when we start our maintenance program. The wind carries the thatch away, the sun dulls the paintwork, the soda water fades the fabrics, the termites eat all the external woodwork and elephants stand on the plumbing pipes, so thereís always much to do. Our carpenters are busy making new beds; the masons are tiling the staff bathrooms and Safari, our in-house tailor will soon start making new staff uniforms. Everyone helps out with all this work so his first job will be to make new sets of overalls and patch up old ones. Mirando, who is our headroom steward, and another staff member also called Safari, who is one of our cooks, does the roof thatching. The outside roofs are thatched with palm fronds and for the internal thatch in the bar and dining room, we use banana leaves.

People often ask if we ever get bored living in the middle of nowhere, but thereís no chance. Thereís always something to do and today, I hear a honey badger broke into the staff quarters last night, so thereís another bit of carpentry to be done.

Iíve been getting regular updates about the whereabouts of the wildebeest migration from guests. The huge numbers of animals at Two Trees and the Makao plains have amazed people this week. I went out to have a look for myself yesterday and I was completely stunned by what I saw. It was as thick with wildebeest as Iíve ever seen it in the past five years. They stretched out like ants on the plain in every direction as far as the eye could see. There must have been well over half a million animals there that day. So many animals can never stay still for long and constantly move and sometimes they can be spread out over huge distances. But sometimes, like yesterday, they gather to make one of those sights you will never forget, no matter how many times youíve been to Africa, Serengeti, or even how many times youíve seen wildebeest.

(This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

30 March 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Wet 

DETAILS

Here is a report from Gary Strand who runs a private safari concession on the border of Tanzania's famed Serengeti National Park:

The thunderheads from the east finally swelled beyond the clouds limitations blackening the sky with lightning streaked weather fronts, giving way to a tropical deluge normally associated with coastal storms.

The Ngaroi is green again! I'm sat looking across the kopjes of the Alamana Camp where just a few days ago the same vista included a family grouping of 30 or so elephants browsing happily amongst the Drapanalobium Acacia as they steadily moved towards the Alamana River.

Alamana is always an exciting place for us to be, with seemingly endless game sighting opportunities, vistas and cultural interplay with the Masai the remoteness of the camp and exclusivity of the area create a haven of exotic experiences.

Last evening at the end of our night game drive we returned to camp eye shining nocturnal creatures around the kopjes and acacia woodland when at the base of the main camp-fire kopje one set of eyes didn't quite fit in with the impala, dik-dik or bush babies that are normally resident within the rock outcroppings.

As we approached closer a large male leopard stood up from the grass, looked at us lazily from his hidden vantage point where he was almost certainly weighing up a small family group of impala seeking refuge close to camp.

The sightings this season from the Alamana Camp highlight the positive effect our continued seasonal presence and conservation policies are having on the resident and non-resident game of The Ngaroi and it is with some pride that our persistence with an exclusive approach to tourism in this community is resulting in such a high quality game and cultural experience.

Here is a letter from Gordy Bartow with reflections on how he perceived his safari experience.

To everyone- From the startling sounds of silence to the roar of the lion, the thunder of thousands of zebra migrating through the golden grass plains of Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. Vistas that go on forever, the red skies of dawn and the vermilion of sunsets. All this and more is Tanzania.

The people are magnificent. Never have we met people so kind with such a refreshing outlook on life: always caring and so happy that we have come here. The wonderful Masai who protect us at night with razor sharp spears. They greet us with their smile and soft 'sopa' or 'jambo', which means hello. The kindness and fellowship shown by people who have very little of what we call the treasures of life, in truth really have more.

Our wilderness camp is truly that. Gary Strand has a community conservation project with the Masai that allows him exclusive use of approximately 300 square kilometers of game rich land bordering the Serengeti National Park, giving us a breathtaking chance to experience the real Africa.

We have seen real beauty and have witnessed crocodiles attacking and killing a zebra forty paces from where we stood on the banks of the Grumeti River. All this is dangerously wild. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time or being careless can cost you your life.

Gary Strand, our "Bwana" and his two guides are everything your imagination can expect. Our Guide Naiman has the sharpest eyes and the greatest knowledge of every living animal, bird and plant in Tanzania. Our other guide Godfrey, who calls me "Bwana" and I call him the same, is a great hulk of a guy who has a heart of gold, who believes in God and his family, and tells us he sends his love to you too.

Gary doesn't like roads, if there might happen to be any he just drives off road so we can get the feel of the real Africa.

Just a note about the incredible "wilderness camp"-we have all the luxuries of home! The days start early, around 6AM to 2PM driving and walking in the wild game viewing as we wish with lunches served after. We drive in the evening or walk to a kopje for sundowners returning around 8:30PM for a five course dinner served by candlelight followed by drinks around a roaring campfire then falling into our beds exhausted! Please know that we send our love to all of you and hope that someday you will have a personal experience in this special place, the birthplace of mankindÖLove Mom and Dad.

The short were weak this year and the migratory herds flooded into the long grasslands around Moru Kopjes at the beginning of March, lining up and down the slightly magadi waters of Lagaja and the seasonal rivers emanating from the kopjes.

With such bare grasslands around Ndutu the vast herds were faced with impossible choices for good grass selection ending up split between the hills and valleys of Moru and the Hidden Valley depression.

One lion kill was particularly dramatic with the hunt unfolding at last light as the sun dipped into the hills at the back of Moru. A single lioness stalked an abandoned wildebeest calf along the banks of the Loiyangalani River timing her finale perfectly as the sun, lion and wildebeest calf's reflected images shimmered in the still river waters.

Crocodile action came on the Grumeti River in the western corridor of the Serengeti, a particular favorite inclusion on my safaris since spending many a day with filmmakers Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone during the filming of 'There be Dragons' and 'Tides of Kirawira'.

This particular kill involved a zebra and 20 to 30 Crocodiles! Careful positioning allowed us to sit in the shade of a small group of trees within meters of the action, adrenaline pumping, cameras whirring as the zebra dispatch unfolded in front of us! Spinning, tearing bodies churned the muddy waters of the Grumeti as the distribution of zebra and dominance displays created a behavioral feast (excuse the pun) With that under our belts some ninety minutes after the initial attack we headed back to our tents for cold beers and lunch, genuinely in awe how Mother Africa could keep blessing us with these unique glimpses of life in the bush.

27 February 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry 

DETAILS

The Ndutu woodlands and the lakes are currently jam packed with
wildebeest and zebra. It has become quite dry out on the plains so
there are now massive concentrations around the available water
sources. It's an incredibly sight as you look out from your verandah, you can see wildebeest in all directions. There have been quite a
few lake crossings and along with that the associated dramas. It is
building up for rain again so we expect that as soon as it does the
wildebeest will head back out on to the plains again but for the time
being all of us here are enjoying having the migration right on our
doorstep!

(This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

February 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry 

DETAILS

After the very wet December (194mm), the wettest for sixteen years, the stage was set for a very exciting January. With all the green vegetation the huge herds of wildebeest and zebra poured into the area, passing right through the Lodge grounds on many occasions. At one point just after Christmas there were 3 pairs of mating lions on the road at the causeway, which was a great welcome for arriving guests. The elephants are back in numbers and have been visiting the lodge water hole most days, with up to fifty elephants at a time and as I write this, I can actually see some from my window. DT the cantankerous bull elephant has arrived to drink daily since the 2nd of January.

DT at the end of January 2003

One day he took exception to Augustine, the barman putting out the camp chairs in preparation for the evening campfire, and he was quite persuasive, with his repeated trumpets and mock charges, he did not want too see the camp chairs that day. Augustine just takes these things in his stride and left a heap of chairs on the ground and muttering under his breath, just let the elephant get on with it. The elephant soon forgot and carried peacefully on his way, providing us with some great photographic opportunities.

Guests are getting the chance to take some great pictures this month. There has been no rain for the past two weeks and the seasonal water holes on the plains are temporarily drying up. The herds are coming to drink at the Big Marsh and Long Gulley, where hundreds on thousands of animals can be seen throughout the day.

Itís not just the sheer numbers of animals that is special but the noise of thundering hoofs, barking zebra and of course the sound of the wildebeest.

Cheetah and Wildebeest - January 2003

Add to this all the dust kicked up by their hoofs and itís an unforgettable experience. The rain clouds are building up again and once we get a shower of rain theyíll move out to the plains again and this situation will be over. Guests who went out on early morning game drives this morning are already reporting long lines of wildebeest heading out in the direction of the Makao plains and it hasnít actually rained yet, so it should be action packed these next few days.

One of the most dramatic events of the year started this month, the annual wildebeest calving. With thousands of tiny tan coloured calves being born daily, it must be one of the most spectacular sights in nature. Sadly in all the confusion of moving from the plains into the woodlands, many calves have become separated from their mothers. Itís a truly heart retching sight to see these little calves desperately trying to follow anything which they hope could be their mother, including vehicles. They will happily follow any wildebeest but only their mothers will allow them to suckle, they even follow the males or zebra and sadly sometimes even lions. Although the experts tell me that many calves do actually meet up with their mothers, so you can never interfere as there must sometimes be happy endings.

Lake Masek

Other interesting sightings this month include the crocodile at Lake Masek. The lake completely dried out in October and only filled up again at the end of December. So naturally we were a little concerned about the croc, but no worries, because after the first rain he/she was seen basking on the little sandbar in the middle of the lake. People have also seen lions up trees, including some big males. Leopards were seen mating this week by some eagle eyed guests and somebody witnessed a secretary bird chasing a honey badger, which is very odd behaviour.

Last night, while we were enjoying the campfire and a fabulous star filled night dominated by the planet Jupiter, which is unmistakable at the moment.
Lions at the Causeway
We heard lions calling from the causeway, which is about a kilometre from here, It was then followed by another group on the Lakeshore, which were a little closer. Suddenly, there was a roar from about 100 metres away from a male and a female lion. We watched them move even closer in our torch light as they plonked themselves down under an acacia tree, not more than 60 metres away from where we sat, by the fire. We were then treated to a great display as the lions roared every 20 minutes or so throughout the night. The lions at the causeway started to call first, followed by the ones on the lakeshore, and after a while we learned to brace ourselves for the thunderous roar from the pair under the tree. It was so loud you could feel it vibrate on your chest as we watched them in our torch light. I think for guests lucky enough to have been here last night it must have been a highlight of their safari and something they will never forget.

Fair numbers of European and Abdims storks can be seen on the plains this month. The storks are roosting on the Lake at Ndutu, and itís the most wonderful sight as they fly over each evening. One of the most interesting things to happen last month was something that we saw ourselves. It was two impala males, which had locked horns together in a test of strength, only they couldnít part themselves, as their horns truly had locked together. When we first saw them they were already joined and we watched them struggle, pushing and shoving trying to release themselves as the horns dug into their faces. It was only when one collapsed from exhaustion after about fifty minutes, that the other in desperation summoned all his strength threw the other right over his back, which released the pressure and they parted. Iím not sure whose heart was beating faster theirs or ours. They both stood around, while getting their strength back before moving off; us, we went home for a beer.

(This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

20 January 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Rain 

DETAILS

The first wildebeest calf was seen on the 13th January 2003, hopefully premature and not an indication that the teeming herds of wildebeest assume that the good rains have finished.

Gazelles, zebra, wildebeest and lion young are in abundance across the plains making for an exciting time amongst predators and prey so with the main herds settling into the familiar pattern of the symphony of life!

The main herds of migrating wildebeest have moved south and so far seem settled on the short grass plains around the Ndutu woodland however, as we all know the slightest shower will draw the lush grass dependant herds to wherever it falls.

(This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ultimate Africa Safaris)

16 January 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Rain 

DETAILS

After having a wet December - a total of 194mm, the Ndutu area is alive with wildlife.Huge herds of wildebeest and zebra are everywhere, the largest concentrations being out on the Makau Road and towards Twin Hills.

January so far has had 55mm of rain, but the last 3 days have been dry and sunny. With the lodge water-hole full, elephants are wandering through to take a drink and a bath. Six lions up a tree where spotted close to the lodge yesterday and with regular cheetah sightings as well, Ndutu really is the place to be!

(This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti).