Oct-Dec 2001


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December 2001

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Rain


Unusual rains fell in the Serengeti at the end of August 2001 triggering the migratory herds that were in Kenya's Masai Mara to head back southwards. Soon afterwards the rain stopped. The "Vuli", or the short rainy season, of October / November offered erratic and scattered rains. The migration has therefore remained in Central Serengeti.

(The above two updates are reproduced with the kind permission of Ultimate Africa Safaris)


LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Rain


We had 50 mm of rain in the beginning of November, which has given the area a green flush, especially the burnt areas where the September bush fire passed through. Itís starting to dry out now, but the rain clouds are still building so, fingers crossed, weíll soon get the heavy showers that will attract the large herds.

Wildebeest near Two TreesNevertheless there are quite a lot of wildebeest and zebra at the place we call Two Trees, itís actually 3 trees but looks like two at a distance. These huge old trees are grand landmarks, as they stand alone in the middle of the plain. Large numbers of Thomson gazelles have also been attracted here by the green flush. There are lots of tiny fawns at this time of year, which naturally attracts predators like cheetahs. Researchers have found that when the gazelles give birth in large numbers, cheetah switch their attention to this easy source of prey and as much as 36 % of their diet consists of gazelle fawns at this time. We often see a cheetah sitting upright staring out across the plains at distant groups of gazelles, waiting patiently to catch a glimpse of a fawn. Once sighted it then heads off into a seemingly empty quarter of the plain at a low crouching walk, only to speed up at the very last moment when a hidden fawn springs out of the grass. The cheetah success rate is very high at 81 %, but they always have to be aware of hyenas which steal approximately 1 out of every 10 kills. Apparently this behaviour by other predators is called kleptoparasitism.

People in the UK may have seen the powerful Savannah television program in the highly acclaimed series, Wild Africa, shown this month and filmed by Owen Newman and Amanda Barrett for the BBC Natural History Unit. Owen and Amanda were based at Ndutu for over a year while filming this epic program. Some people may also have seen the short 10-minute film called Under Serengeti Stars, which was also shown this month and showed how Owen and Amanda filmed the stunning night sequences of aardvarks featured in the film.

Thereís a nice shot of the Ndutu Lodge workshop as our mechanic, Leonard, straightens out Amandaís steering rod for about the third time after she had accidentally driven into yet another aardvark hole. Over ninety percent of the film was filmed here at Ndutu. November's edition of the BBC Wildlife magazine also features an article written by Amanda about the Ndutu elephants, accompanied with photographs by Owen. They were so impressed by Ndutu that theyíve returned to make another film and again will be based at Ndutu. Their new film will be about the lives of the small cats, the caracal, serval and wildcat. Suckers for punishment, most of this program will be filmed at night with infra-red so as not to disturb the animals. Anyone who has ever been on safari will know that to find any of the small cats is easier said than done, let alone film them.

The night sky at the moment is fantastic with Cassiopeia, the giant M, lying low in the North. Guests coming from the north may be surprised as itís a giant W in the Northern hemisphere. Rising in the East behind Taurus the bull is Saturn and, at about nine thirty, the planet, Jupiter, follows them both. November is the month of shooting stars and we are being treated to some wonderful displays as the Leonids meteorite showers pass overhead this month.

One of our new roomsWith only a few weeks to go before high season, the staff are busy trying to finish all the improvements we have made this year. Returning guests will see some changes this year as we have built four new rooms to replace some of the older style rooms. We also have a new look dining room and have started to build toilets adjacent to the bar. So far from town, community spirit is the key to life here so all this work is carried out by our own staff and in the low season months everybody helps out with maintenance and improvements.

Wilbrod the cook, is an excellent carpenter, Erasto the waiter is a first class painter and everybody helps to dig sand from a dry riverbed 50 miles away as well as helping to mix cement. Mirando, a room steward, and Safari Sarime a cook, re-thatch the roofs with palm thatch and our tailor, also called Safari makes all the staff uniforms, curtains, cushion covers and seat covers for the cars. Heís a great asset to Ndutu as he can run up a shirt or a pair of trousers in no time, heís also a plumber and helps out in the kitchen in high season.

Being out in the bush, maintenance is a never-ending activity as the wind carries the thatch away, the sun kills the paintwork and fades the fabrics, termites eat the wooden posts and earth tremors (gentle, hardly discernible shakes which last about ten seconds,about once a year) crack the cement. Not to mention the hyenas, which will chew anything left out at night. I remember once when somebody forgot to close a bathroom door in the staff quarters, only for a hyena to go in and pull the wash basin off the wall, taps, plumbing and all, before dragging it off into the bush and biting a chunk out of it. We have dozens of tales of elephants and giraffes causing mayhem. And then there's the porcupine, which has learnt to open the taps on the water tanks to obtain a drink, but never mastered the art of closing it to avoid the inevitable flood in the morning. I guess this is what makes life so much fun in the bush, although it doesnít always seem so at the time. However when living in the one of the most beautiful places on earth, I guess you have to be a little tolerant of the residents.

(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).


LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Mainly dry with a few scattered showers


It is the strangest feeling to be sitting around the camp-fire in front of the Lodge in the evening with a large part of the world in turmoil after the horrific events in America! We did not have many cancellations, despite these sad happenings and are so lucky to live here, far removed from these world-threatening incidents!

Well into the Dry Season, guests have enjoyed good sightings of all six species of cats and several encounters with striped hyena! Another "special" was a huge python, which had obviously caught something and resided in a small area for several days, basking in the early morning sun, its beautifully marked body encircling the base of a tree .

One young spotted hyena has decided to use Ndutu as a base! It sleeps next to the garage every night and at dusk wanders around the lodge, often coming very close to the bar area and the fireplace. I have encountered it several times too, while on my exercise rounds late afternoon. At first we were alarmed it might be sick, but after three weeks here maybe it just likes the area! Nevertheless, our night watchmen keep a close eye, when they do their rounds, just in case!

Truly, this September month could be named the month of wings and feathers! There are feathers everywhere... first of all meet Mr and Mrs martial eagle!! Martial eagles are large crested eagles with long, broad wings and a short tail. Clever and capable, they are formidable hunters and their prey ranges from large birds to small- sized mammals! Well, the couple has decided to take up residence in a large Acacia near the lodge and are enjoying a feast of easy pickings!!!

Thousands of doves visit the little water-hole in front of the lodge daily, but especially during early morning and late afternoons; flocks of beautifully coloured fischer's lovebirds festoon the trees as well and below the helmeted guinea-fowl till the soil by scraping in search of insects. The entire spectacle is observed from above by different raptors, and when the eagles attack in a blitz swoop, there are alarm shrieks and birds escaping in every direction, often seeking refuge under the guest-verandahs! The many "feather-spots" are silent witnesses of some very successful birds of prey!

Further away, the queleas are still residing near the Big Marsh. Although their numbers have dwindled a bit since August, they still pose an amazing sight when late morning they return to drink at the Marsh and move around in great brown clouds! And of course, all kinds of small birds visit the birdbath in front of the Lodge at the moment, allowing keen 'birders' to capture these on film or add to their birdlist numbers!

There have been unusually early and scattered rain showers resulting in a mosaic of greens and browns on the surrounding plains and woodland of Ndutu. Early in the month, a bushfire from the east lit up the night sky for over a week and in order to save the woodland around Lake Masek we went out several days running to either backburn or directly put out the flames in nearby areas... With the lorry loaded with drums of water and staff armed with gunnybags we managed to control the fire eventually!

It rained soon after and already new green grass shoots are coming up, and small herds of impala and dikdiks are feasting on the fresh food in the area.

Very significantly, the magnificent scadoxus multiflorus lily, more popularly called "fire ball" lily, has started to appear everywhere. As these beautiful lilies always flower at the onset of the early rains, we hope the Rain Gods continue to smile on Ndutu! If it is up to the pair of toads, that presently live in our herb garden next to the kitchen, their constant croaking surely is a sign of rain to come!!

A few days ago, two Maasai friends arrived, having walked from the Gol Mountains, a range of high hills to the east of Ndutu. To come here they needed to cross a 40 km wide short-grass plain and another 10 km of woodland. Just a few km from Ndutu they were lucky to stumble upon one of our cars and staff working on the road into the Lodge. One of them had a badly swollen foot as they had to run for their lives when they encountered an elephant just inside the woodland border and had to climb a tree!!! Having left their home at two o'clock in the morning, they were very tired when they arrived and so grateful for a chance to shower and food and water. Sometime ago, they had announced that they would come to Ndutu as they were very keen to watch wildlife videos!!!! And so for two days these two Maasai, clad in their red shukas, sat in the video room by themselves and looked at scenes of the Serengeti. I know where their home is and it is a stunningly beautiful out there. More beautiful than any wildlife film or video could ever show!

Where cultures cross paths and a world in turmoil, life in Serengeti follows its natural course. With the rains about to arrive, the dry and dormant earth will soon once again transform the short-grass plains and woodlands of Ndutu and welcome the vast herds from the north!

(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).

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Email Tim at mailto:TimClark@wildlifetravel.net.




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