May-Aug 2003

 

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23 August 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry 

DETAILS

Dry season is now upon us; its golden grasses and deep red sunsets making it quintessential Africa. The Lodge birdbath is full lovebirds, canaries, waxbills, weavers, babblers and doves. Sand grouse drink at the Big Marsh along with elephants, while flamingoes trawl the alkaline waters of Lakes Ndutu and Masek. One of the Ndutu haresDry season is, for me, a special time that I enjoy very much. The resident herds of impala seem to be in the lodge much of the time these days eating the fallen acacia pods with a sound like somebody eating burnt toast. They make a welcome addition to the lodge wildlife along with dik diks and the incredibly tame hares, which hop around under your feet.

The first weeks of July still saw the big musth male elephants around Lake Masek. During March 2002, we lost our most magnificent bull elephant to unknown causes. He was a grand looking animal with huge evenly matched tusks. I guess he was probably responsible for about 50% of the matings in and around Ndutu so I was quite sure another large male would have to come in and fill his slot as the dominant bull. Enter Bowmore!

Bowmore, as we call him, is an equally huge and magnificent animal. Weve seen him a few times in the past but only very occasionally. However this year weve seen him regularly all through the wet season. This is his musth period when he is actively seeking out oestrus females and constantly, criss-crossing the area looking for them. The cow elephants much prefer these older bulls with proven genes who have survived for so long to become the huge males weighing up to 6 tonnes and that are prepared to fight for the chance to mate.

Bowmore was recently seen in action when he squared up to Aragorn, another large bull in his mid thirties. They clashed with such force it was frightening to behold. In the second clash Aragorn was knocked to the ground and would surely have been killed by Bowmores tusks but, luckily for him, he quickly scrambled to his feet and moved away. Bowmore chased him for over 3 kilometers before we lost them both in thick vegetation. Now we think that maybe this was how our old bull died, perhaps in a dominance fight with another large male. Perhaps it was even Bowmore?

Now that the grasses have dried out these large bulls have all returned to their bachelor bull areas to regain their strength for their next musth period. Im quite sure that Bowmores bull area is the Ngorongoro Crater, about 40 kilometres from here.

Lions killed a hyena in the lodge car park recently, which was a bit disturbing. Although they never eat them, lions will readily kill hyenas as theyre competition for the prey thats far more limited in the dry season. Many an old lion probably ends its days to hyenas, so theres certainly no love lost between the two species.

The Masek pride could be seen this week sunning themselves on the Lakeshore. Having eaten an entire buffalo between them, they looked very uncomfortable. Their bellies, grossly extended, almost dragged the ground. They were so stuffed they could hardly move and lay there digesting, for almost two days.

The two lionesses of the small Marsh pride have six tiny cubs, seen by guests this week. Also seen at the Marsh was a crocodile moving through the water. This was the first time that wed seen the croc for some months and we were surprised to notice how much it had grown, presuming it is indeed the same crocodile. It must have been at least 2.5 to 3 metres long although Im told it gets bigger every time I tell this story.

The planet Mars is unmistakable this month being the brightest object in the night sky. Experts say this will be the closest Mars passes to the earth in our lifetime. Well something like for the next 60,000 years or so although I thought they said that the last time we saw Mars clearly a few years ago? Nevertheless its very special, especially sitting outside around a campfire in the African bush, paradise!

(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). 

17 August 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti/Masai Mara

WEATHER     Dry 

DETAILS

Gibbs Farm Safaris are a quality tour operator in northern Tanzania. Here is a write up from one of their recent safaris:

We've just returned from the Gol Mountains in the heart of Maasai Land where we had an excellent time walking with our Maasai friends. In the Olkarien area we watched as Maasai herded their cows into the gorge every morning; digging wells in the dry sandy river bottom to sustain the needs of both cattle and people. Day hikes provided views from the ridgeline tops out over the Angata Kiti Plain and Loliondo, straight to the Kenya border. Oldonyo Lengai, the sacred mountain of the Maasai, was a silent and strong presence. On safari our days were limitless; game driving and exploring for hours on end, returning to our comfortable camp with ever attentive staff waiting with hot showers and big smiles eager to hear about the day's adventure. Around the campfire we marvelled at Mars rising behind Lengai and hanging red and clear in the evening sky, the polar caps clearly visible through our telescope. Later when the moon set the stars were an absolute wonder, illuminating the night on their own.

We saw plenty of wildlife from a group of four cheetah to a massive herd of eland (we estimated over 100 individuals). There were endless giraffe and we also found jackal, ostrich, hyena, klipspringer, bat eared fox and more; plus beautiful birds of prey including a spectacular encounter with a Verreaux's eagle-owl that flew straight down the gorge just a few feet above our heads. We fell asleep to the woop-woop of hyena echoing eerily through the gorge. Olkarien is truly one of the most magical places in Africa.

Earlier we had visited the Ndutu area where we enjoyed the good food and hospitality of Ndutu Safari Lodge. The genets provided evening entertainment and at night we also were mesmerized by the African sky as shy dik dik hovered just outside the glow of the campfire. We cruised the marshes and were rewarded with plenty of antelope and gazelle, we also saw jackal, eland, ground hornbill, bat eared fox, giraffe, cheetah, hyena and elephant. The birdlife around Ndutu is always exceptional. Award winning wildlife film maker Owen Newman was also at Ndutu this month on holiday with his children. They had the privilege of watching a striped hyena cavort and preen for quite some time, very relaxed with their presence - a special treat.

Here is an update from Pro Guide Nigel Perks, who guides for Gibbs Farm Safaris:

Again this year we had wonderful late rains which kept the gnus on the short grass plains right through until the middle of June! I always love my late May/early June safaris when we camp out in the very green Gol Mountains. The plains are full of animals and the abundance of predators is staggering. On my last safari we saw a total of 26 different cheetah (including cubs) over a period of 4 nights camping at Nasera. Our days were spent watching cheetah hunting, cheetah eating and some fantastic cheetah cub fun and games. It was a great way to finish our Serengeti green season safaris. And finally, a word from our clients: "Nigel and Andrew pull out all of the stops and each time it is better than the last. And each time we come away saying they can't top that but they do. I guess that is the reason we keep returning and returning. All of the wonderful people we meet, the pull of Gibb's Farm and Ndutu and the Gol Mountains - what an unbeatable combination. It's hard for people to understand about all of this when we try to explain, it is like coming home each time we return to Tanzania." Pat Garcia, USA

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

 

3 August 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti/Masai Mara

WEATHER     Dry 

DETAILS

The much-anticipated migration of wildebeest into Kenya's Masai Mara is finally starting, though still at the initial stages. The Loita population of wildebeest and zebra have arrived in split herds. One herd of mainly zebra is just to the north of Mara Intrepids and the other Between Keekorok Lodge and Talek.

However, the main migration from the south is now around sand river area. Their movement might be slowed northward due to the amount of grass on their way. They are still a long way from the Mara River which many people come to see them cross.

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

13 July 2003

LOCATION    Lake Manyara/Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry 

DETAILS

Hoopoe Safaris is an east African tour operator. Here is their latest update:

Hoopoe's third community based tourism project (CBT) has commenced in Silela, just north of Tanzania's Lake Manyara on the way to Lake Natron. This beautiful forest is an important elephant corridor into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCAA).

The partnership was a joint effort between Hoopoe, the Silela village community, and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). Silela joins Olmolog in West Kilimanjaro and Oloipiri in the far northeastern Serengeti (Loliondo) as villages in partnership with Hoopoe in eco-tourism projects. In all three cases, the villages give concessionary terms to their extensive land to Hoopoe to develop for tourism. In Loliondo and West Kilimanjaro, this has taken the form of a semi-permanent, luxury tented camps. Community based tourism earnings are becoming very important for the communities we and others have engaged.

Silela is an easy add on to almost any safari that takes in the Rift Valley area. The key activity here is walking in the thick ground water forest along elephant trails. Most of the forest can be walked in a day and more often than not this is combined with fly camping either just above the forest or alternatively at the top of the rift valley wall. Over a two-day itinerary clients can also visit local Maasai bomas and extend the walking as well as combine mountain biking or horse riding back to Kirurumu or even onto Gibb's farm, towards Ngorongoro Crater.

The African Wildlife Foundation is active in working with communities with regards to conservation. One project seeks to secure wildlife dispersal areas and an elephant migration corridor from Amboseli in Kenya to Kilimanjaro and Arusha National parks in Tanzania.

Our small seasonal tented camp (10 beds) has been a great success and walks to see the magnificent tuskers (elephants) in the area have become the hallmark of West Kili. Gerenuks in herds of up to 12 individuals are frequently seen, with a few sightings of the elusive lesser kudu. Recently a leopard walked close to camp in broad daylight and lion are becoming more and more evident.

Loliondo Camp in the northeastern Serengeti is becoming increasingly popular. Lion have been sighted both from vehicles and on foot and some magnificent nomadic male lions from the Lobo area have been roaming the area. A lioness gave birth to cubs in a cave close to camp where she stayed until the cubs were big enough to join the pride. Walking and night game drives and observing the nearby hippo pool have been the most popular activities. Cheetah and leopard sightings are on the increase.

A background to Community Based Tourism and its context in Tanzania's development is important to understand. CBT gives local people the chance to engage directly in tourism and unlock new communal and individual opportunities from a potentially powerful growth sector of the national economy.

75% of the Tanzania population live in rural areas and therefore natural resource management is fundamentally important to economic growth and poverty reduction. Environmental management is determined by the ability of the government through various institutions to control and manage natural resources. Historically this has not been a people driven process and a colonial heritage saw the beginning of the alienation of large tracts of land for parks and game reserves at the expense of the local residents who were often translocated or displaced to less favorable areas. In the 1970's during the socialist era, laws governing wildlife were firmly entrenched with few provisions for community participation or benefit.

In the early 1990's the government started working on new policies that were supposed to change the direction of Wildlife and Natural resource policies by giving the people more secure rights to land and wildlife and natural resources.

"It is essential to the future of wildlife conservation in Tanzania that local communities who live amongst the wildlife should derive direct benefit from it." Wildlife Sector Review Task Force, Ministry of Tourism, Natural Resources and Environment, 1995.

However an inordinate amount of time has passed without any change in the status quo. At this point it is useful to chart the last three decades whilst remembering that although very large areas of Tanzania are given over to conservation of wildlife and that parks have been very successful in conserving most animals there has been an underlying weakness in Government policy as the human population of the country expands and competition for natural resources has intensified. Large tracts of land outside the National parks and protected areas are vital to the long- term survival of wildlife as they act as dispersal areas and migration corridors. These areas are populated and villagers have benefited little from being the de facto custodians of wildlife on their lands. The Government has managed wildlife outside parks taking trophy hunting fees and deciding how wildlife should be utilized without considering the villager as the primary stakeholder and beneficiary of wildlife resources.

The 1970's and the 1980's witnessed the wholesale slaughter of once huge elephant and rhino populations and the carnage swept the country both within and without the protected areas and often the people on the ground entrusted with conserving wildlife aided and abetted and profited from the slaughter. The last decade has seen wildlife come under more intense pressure than ever before although the elephant population has made a remarkable recovery after the success of the CITES agreement banning world-wide trade in ivory.

The larger mammal population in the Northern Tanzania rangelands has become greatly depleted and in some areas by as much as 80%. This is adequate demonstration that there is a serious conservation problem with many facets to it. These include widespread bush meat poaching an trade, poorly controlled resident hunting & habitat loss to an ever-expanding human population. People are pursuing agriculture in marginal semi-arid areas. The division of existing hunting blocks in Game Controlled Areas which effectively almost doubled the number of hunting blocks for sport hunting since the 1980's may be a contributing factor. Legal hunting takes place on village land but the benefits accruing to the villagers are minimal.

The migratory herbivores such as zebra, wildebeest and eland in the Tarangire eco-system have reduced by at least 30% or more, and possibly 50% in the last decade. One of the main culprits is the uncontrolled bush meat trade that feeds the Tanzanite mines of Mererani on the edge of the Maasai steppe and the urban areas such as Arusha. Habitat loss has seen a loss of 30% of the Tarangire rangelands to agriculture as population growth and pressure from migrants from the crowded Arusha area move to the Simanjaro area. To add insult to injury easy access to the Simanjaro area from urban areas such as Arusha means that resident hunters are taking a large toll of wildlife. Licences are issued at District level to the wealthy urbanites who have the mobility to reach these areas. The licences are so cheap that a buffalo license can be purchased for about US $6 for a Tanzanian and US $27 for a non citizen resident. A buffalo could earn the hunter US $500 or more for the meat sold (illegal but not easy to monitor) and an eland carcass would fetch not much less than a buffalo. Not surprisingly eland and buffalo outside the national parks and protected areas in Northern Tanzania have been drastically reduced in numbers. If any one should benefit from resident hunting it should be the local community. However the rural poor could never afford a hunting license however cheap, so resident hunting is the preserve of the wealthy urbanite. Licenses issued in Districts where most large mammals have been extirpated should not be issued at all but the hunters acquire the licenses anyway then hunt illegally in a neighboring district with impunity.

The local district councils and the district game officers do not have the resources to police a huge area and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute Conservation Information Monitoring Unit (CIMU)has little capacity to do proper monitoring. Therefore hunting is not conducted at sustainable levels and off take that should be 2-5% to be sustainable is clearly being exceeded. The Department of Wildlife is equally under-resourced and does not control sport hunting in game controlled areas properly and its officers are susceptible to being bribed when offences are committed. Game officers are poorly paid.

The picture is a grim one and each community we deal with complains bitterly that game is disappearing faster than ever before and they do not feel in control of the situation and in the long term they see themselves as the losers or are tempted to give up a pastoral way of life for alternative means of living like agriculture.

The Government has responded to the prevailing situation by introducing The Wildlife Management Areas in the Wildlife Policy of Tanzania wherein Wildlife Management Areas are described in the Policy as areas "set aside by the village government for the purpose of biological natural resources conservation" and declared by the Minister to be so.

Wildlife Management Areas (WMA's) are a strategy of the Policy to deal with the problems of lack of involvement of rural communities in wildlife management. The Policy defines the role of local communities in implementing the Policy as follows: "The local communities living adjacent to PAS [protected areas] or in areas with viable populations of wildlife have a role of managing and benefiting from wildlife on their own lands, by creating WMAs."

However up to the end of 2002 the reality is that despite the rhetoric the situation on the ground has remained little changed and the existing laws governing village land rights often conflict with one another. In the mean time local people have been caught in a web of spiraling poverty rather than being able to strengthen and diversify their livelihoods.

In December 2002 new legislation has allowed for the creation of 13 pilot Wildlife Management areas or WMA's on village lands whereby community- based -organizations or CBO's will take over the management of village wildlife resources but the procedure is very complex and it could be said that the new law is designed to fail. But hopefully not.

This could be a defining moment and possibly the last chance for Tanzania to save its wildlife and natural resource heritage outside the Parks to almost certain destruction leaving relatively small islands of genetically isolated populations of wildlife in National parks and protected areas.

So what hope is there? There is a ray of hope and perhaps light at the end of the tunnel. As stated above CBT earnings in the Loliondo area for example have in a relatively short time become significant. The same pattern is being repeated in the eastern boundary of Tarangire where a de facto buffer zone is developing as more safari camps and lodges are established on village lands outside the park. In West Kilimanjaro there are now two seasonal tented camps and one Tented Lodge established.

However these benefits have been hard won and despite the Government not because of it. They are not the outcome of an empowering environment created by the authorities. CBT over the past few years has been dogged by the harassment of non consumptive tour companies, a court case, & threat of court cases as non consumptive and consumptive (hunting) interests have clashed. Perhaps the pilot WMA's will be a turning point and hopefully signal a change. We feel that the future of wildlife lies with the communities living in wildlife dispersal areas and corridors and that if the Government is sincere and gets behind the policy changes that will allow local people to benefit from conserving animals and at the same time help to secure the national heritage for future generations. The Government must make a reality out of well meaning reforms and create a genuine enabling environment and must overcome stiff resistance from vested central interests. Then all stakeholders need to be singing of the same song sheet if Tanzania hopes to remain one of the premiere wildlife destinations in the world.

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

May/June 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry 

DETAILS

MAY/JUNE NEWSLETTER, 2003.

May was the most beautiful month to be at Ndutu. The profusion of wild flowers brought on by the late rains at the end of April transformed the plains and woodlands and turned the African bush into a giant alpine meadow. The covering of yellow, red, white and purple flowers made grand opportunities to take photographs of wild animals standing amongst a carpet of colour. But hard perhaps to convince your friends at home that you really were in the Serengeti. The late rains also kept the wildebeest migration on the surrounding plains to the end of May, which meant that we witnessed the spectacular annual wildebeest rut for the second year running.

A striped hyena was seen troubling a cheetah mother with three small cubs one evening. Concerned guests went out early the next morning to search for the cheetah and were rewarded with great views of her and the 3 young cubs so obviously the hyena must have lost interest in them. It was probably looking to see if they had killed anything, which might be worth stealing rather than trying to attack the cheetahs themselves. Very little is known about striped hyenas compared to their larger cousin the spotted hyena. It's possible to count over a hundred spotted hyenas on a morning game drive during the wet season around Ndutu but to catch a glimpse of a striped hyena is quite unusual. However with a little luck it is possible to get good sightings of striped hyena here and is another reason why Ndutu is so special. Spotted hyenas killed a wildebeest behind  room number nine last month, which caused quite a stir especially for the guests staying there. They probably didn't get too much sleep as it was, putting it mildly, quite noisy.

Buffalo have been seen at Lake Masek recently. Ndutu is not known as good buffalo country, so the herd, which number about 120 are always a welcome addition to the variety of wildlife around the lodge. There have been many good sightings of serval cats this month and even I managed to photograph one as he stalked  through the grass one evening. Other interesting things this month are the flocks of red-billed quelea crossing the plains. They look like clouds of smoke from afar but are in fact thousands of tightly packed birds flying in tight flocks. How they don't crash into each other is one of nature's many secrets. Porcupines, lion cubs and even a zorilla have been seen running through the lodge recently. The zorilla must have been frightened by something and panicked as it's very rare to see them in the day-time. If you were wondering what a zorilla looks like, it's a bit like a skunk and is related to the weasel family.

During the last week of April a very forlorn looking elephant was seen in one of the small valleys running into Lake Ndutu. We went out to look and found a young female elephant in a small pool of water, constantly spraying herself with the brown liquid. Her ear was hanging down, having been very badly torn. I wondered what could have caused such a terrible injury but on further observations it was noticed she had wire trailing behind her. She had been caught in a steel wire snare. Elephants wander huge distances and very often out of protected areas. In certain places some people set snares to catch antelopes and buffalo for their meat. This type of poaching is highly illegal and the authorities work hard to stop it. Unfortunately, it's also a very cruel and indiscriminate way of hunting. Whoever set the snare wasn't trying to catch an elephant, probably a buffalo which is why the snare loop must have been so huge to be big enough for a small elephant to pass her head through. Having pulled herself free by snapping the branch/tree the snare was tied to and tightening the snare in the process, she must have headed to safety. This was when we found her, by which time the wire had cut deep into her neck and virtually severed her ear. We called the veterinary department from the Serengeti National Park. They came down immediately, and had to tranquilize the elephant before the snare could be removed. The snare was cut off, but the wire was so thick and so deeply embedded into her neck that it took over half an hour to do so. She was given antibiotics, painkillers and the antidote to the tranquilizer and was soon on her way. I saw her the next day and was surprised how relaxed she was. She was in the same place, and still constantly spraying the wound with water. She took no notice of us, not even bothering to look up, so she was obviously none the worse for the stressful experience of the previous day. I haven't seen her again, but we've done all we can and can only hope she will be all right.

Researchers from the Serengeti cheetah project have been staying with us this week. Ndutu is part of their study area in a long-term project spanning over 25 years. While here they found the cheetah known as Cinnamon around the Big Marsh and with her were two tiny cubs not much more than two months old. We know Cinnamon because her mother, called Chablis, is regularly seen around the Ndutu woodlands. Cinnamon was part of a litter of three born in 2000. Her two brothers, called Cardamom and Nutmeg were last seen in January 2002. Being just over three years old this is certainly her first litter.  She was seen again yesterday in the same place but this time there was a large male lion snooping around close by. It all sounds rather stressful for the people watching because if he had found the cubs, he would almost certainly have killed them. Luckily he moved off but the cubs are going to need all the luck they can get if they are to reach adulthood, so fingers crossed!

(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). 

June 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry 

DETAILS

The vast herds of wildebeest are currently in the Moru area of the Serengeti in Tanzania and are heading west and north.

Wildebeest numbers this year are said to be the highest in decades and have been estimated at 1.5 million. Serengeti Balloon Safaris operate in the Seronera Valley in the center of the park, and the huge herds are expected to be in this area within a few days. Since the Seronera River offers permanent water, the wildebeest are likely to be here for several weeks and afford visitors the wildlife viewing experience of a lifetime.

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