Day 3

 

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DAY 3 

Thursday 6 February 2003

 

Today we make our customary 6.30am start by looking for the lions that had been heard roaring to the east of the lodge an hour earlier.  But having woken us up they do not have the decency to hang around and be seen.  So we head out to the descriptively named ‘Two Tits’ hills (these are two hills, or one hill with two summits, which from a distance look like – well you guessed it…). They are apparently one of only three or four landmarks that drivers can use in the generally flat southern Serengeti area to orientate themselves when going off road.  The first twenty kilometres or so of this drive are through beautiful Acacia woodland and after fifteen minutes an alarmed Grants gazelle alerts us to the presence of a beautiful Serval cat, stepping delicately through the undergrowth.  We also see several herds of eland.  The heaviest of the antelope – and unbelievably as heavy if not heavier than buffalo – they are incredibly shy in these parts and will disappear if you approach even within 200 metres of them.  Steven says this is down to the fact that they were, for years, hunted for bush meat.  We then drive out on the plains around the Matiti area. Here again the short grass plains extend without deviation of gradient or vegetation to the far distance. 

Normally the enormous migratory herds seen yesterday on the plains northwest of Ndutu towards the hidden valley area would be here at this time of year. However, as it hasn’t rained for the past couple of weeks the herds have moved further north again.  Nevertheless there are still good numbers of wildebeest and Thomsons and Grants gazelles, together with an enormous variety of bird life – given that there are few trees on the plains.  We have the good fortune of finding a hyena’s underground den and seeing three of four hyenas appearing out of the entrance before loping away. They look obviously well fed and unconcerned at the temporary absence of the rains. 

On the way back to the lodge as we pass the marsh area we witness an interesting piece of animal behaviour.  I notice a zebra standing next to its foal which is lying prostrate in the dust.  A couple of times the mother tries to rouse its offspring so that they can move off with the rest of the herd, but without success.  ‘Injured or sick?’ I ask Steven. ‘Asleep’ he replies.  Still I want to investigate as I can see the mother is frustrated at not being able to move its foal so we approach slowly.  As we move towards the pair the mother again tries to rouse the foal, but still without success, and eventually she trots away reluctantly. It is not until we pull alongside the foal that it suddenly springs to its feet, blinking furiously – it had been asleep. Relieved, we expect it to return to its mother, a couple of aunts and what we take to be its father, who are all standing about twenty metres away.  Instead the foal moves right up to the passenger door of the vehicle and looks through the window.  Its parents start calling to it but even though it whinnies back still the foal does not move.  I suppose it must be the confusion of it all - it goes to sleep with its black and white striped mother by its side and wakes up from a deep sleep to find a black and white Toyota Landcruiser there instead, and maybe it mistakes us, for a few moments anyway, for its mother.  Fortunately it is not too long before the family is reunited and the foal is suckling its mother.  I do wonder however what would have happened had we been an approaching lion. 

In the afternoon we drive through yet more herds of wildebeest and zebra on the way to the ‘Three Trees’ area, on the boundary of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation area.  Here we observe countless regimented columns of wildebeest marching towards the hidden valley – their direction, as ever, dictated by the need for water and fresh pasture. In Ndutu at the moment they have the former but not the latter – lake Ndutu has evaporated lately and is quite salty, and the small puddles that are still left in the shallow depression between from the lake and the marsh are undrinkable.  As the wildebeest have to drink every two days it means they are on the move at the moment.  It is a cool drive in terms of temperature as the clouds are building and rain was in the air. Steven tells us it is already raining back in the Seronera area and we can see precipitation and spectacular lightning in the distance as we transverse the plains.  It looks like it will rain in Ndutu tonight and I’m sure the animals, not to mention the lodge guests will be happy. 

On our drive back to the lodge, and as the shadows are lengthening, we see the same pride of lions we watched yesterday, lying on their backs and looking bloated.  Three hyenas however have the temerity to approach this picture of tranquillity and contentment, and one begins to scent mark, provocatively.  Fortunately for the hyenas there are no adult males with the pride, as the situation could have quickly turned nasty, and the females just ignore them. I want to stay to see if anything will 'happen' later but it is getting dark and the rules state that all vehicles have to be off the road by 6.30pm, so we leave.  Rules are rules – even on the endless plains!