Sunday 9 February 2003
Today is our final full day at Ndutu Lodge so we decide to pay our park fees and cross over into the Serengeti and follow the migration which has slowly been leaving the area over the past two to three days in search of water. Before we cross the park boundary we still have time to see another Serval cat high-stepping through the undergrowth in the Acacia woodland near the lodge.
Our ultimate destination is the hidden valley – a bowl shaped area in which rainwater collects and which holds one of the main sources of freshwater in the area. As we traverse the plains we see an exceptionally healthy pride of lions walking purposefully in single file. As they pass the small herds of wildebeest in this area they cause pandemonium, but they are too full to hunt. However, when we pull alongside them, it is interesting to see their instinct take over as they immediately change direction, using our vehicle as cover, to move closer to the wildebeest. They are not really serious though and soon carry on in their previous direction. As on every other day, we see many hyenas and judging from their fat bellies and the large numbers of wildebeest calf carcasses being picked clean by vultures they continue to prosper. On one occasion we see three bloated and bloodied hyenas sitting fifty metres away from a huge writhing mass of vultures. As we approach closer we see that the hyenas had killed both a wildebeest mother and its calf.
It is incredibly sad to see a loan wildebeest calf, separated from its mother, all alone on the plains. Although they will follow other wildebeest (and even other animals) only its mother will allow a calf to suckle and so a lost calf will soon die of starvation and fatigue – that is if it is not eaten first. Sometimes they even follow a safari vehicle - indeed I myself am adopted by such a calf when I take the opportunity of relieving myself on the plains. Fortunately, on this occasion, the mother is still around and pair are reunited once I have stepped back into the vehicle.
When we finally arrive at the hidden valley we observe an incredible number of wildebeest and zebra filing down from the surrounding plains to drink in the temporary lake there. The water is so shallow that virtually every square foot of it is taken up by drinking animals. A resting hyena is ‘playing’ with the drinking herds by every now again jumping to its feet at the water’s edge and causing a stampede of animals through the water. Maybe it is hoping a calf will be drowned in the commotion – although the water is scarcely deep enough for this. As we enjoy our picnic breakfast overlooking this seething mass of life, more and more animals arrive to drink until Steven estimates that, in total, there must have been some three to four hundred thousand wildebeest and zebra either in or surrounding the water.
I suspect we would have enjoyed our breakfast a little less, however, had we noticed the dead (but largely uneaten) wildebeest calf less than ten metres from the back of the land cruiser together with its entrails barely five metres from the rear passenger door.
That evening, back at the lodge, and as the sun is setting, we watch from the safety of the bar a herd of elephant drinking at the lodge water hole, a family of five giraffe browsing from the nearby Acacia trees, and some wildebeest in the distance walking along the edge of Lake Ndutu. When it gets dark I shine my torch out onto the edge of the cut grass and see a pair of dik-diks warily grazing and an African hare hopping lazily out of the long grass. I turn round to take my seat for supper and there on the rafters are four genets. Is there anywhere better, at this very moment in time, to be in the world?