October 2003

 

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October 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Hot with scattered showers

DETAILS

These past two months have seen a flurry of building activities! I believe Paul already mentioned some of the ongoing renovations. Guests have been very forgiving when occasionally confronted with some banging, sawing and fitting sounds! Actually, not only are guest cottages built but also the laundry room, some of the workshop and store facilities (these dated from 1987 and in dire need of renewal) were completely rebuilt and a bigger main water pipe put underground from our Water Tower. The dining room extension (in October 2003)This will hopefully increase the volume and flow which sometimes during High Season ran down to a trickle on the far end of the Lodge! We also finalized complete renovations on the staff and drivers rooms, and everything is looking fresh, crisp and attractive! A new type of warm water boiler, using less firewood and in the future also able to serve as a holding tank for solar panels - yet to be fitted - is in the make, all done in our own workshop! When our real High Season starts in mid-December, we will be able to switch over to an entire new water system!

At this time of the year our bird and animal “Residents”, the white- crowned shrikes, babblers, spurfowls, our very tame African hares, the dikdiks, and the herd of impalas really seem to get habituated to the on-goings in and around the Lodge! The hares were in love for 2 weeks it seemed, and every late afternoon one could watch 4 or 5 out in the open, chasing each other around and around, then meet up, nuzzle, followed by a vertical jumps into the air!

The birdbath remains is a magnet for many birds, particularly the Fisher’s lovebirds that descend in great flocks just in front of the dining room…a wonderful attraction for the guests and a chance to photograph these colourful and noisy birds from close by! This is the first year that I have seen the helmeted guinea-fowl come right to the birdbath in the mornings too, and the other day I counted 45 birds!

Talking of birds: three weeks ago I managed to save a grey-headed sparrow’s life! Someone had put an old tin under the leaking tap of one of our building water tanks, normally a very sensible thing to do in a place where there is no water at all! Unfortunately, the tin was half filled with water and a little sparrow trying to drink had fallen in and could not get out…. When I walked past it was already floating face down in the water, making only feeble attempts with its wings. It seemed too late when I picked it out of the water. …. it was breathing heavily and fast and I must say I did not give it much of a chance. … In my house I tried to dry it by changing paper napkins and cupping it in my hand. Just then the sun came out and I sat down on my front porch for more than an hour. The feathers gradually dried while I watched it struggle back to life. These days I talk to birds (probably a worrying sign of old age!) but I did chat away to this little ball of fluff trying to urge it on and miraculously after an hour or so, it started to move and I put it on the ledge under the window in the sun. It sat there another hour and finally, after 2 hours flew away…!

During the past 6 weeks we have seen cheetah and lion from the front of the Lodge; serval and wildcat are often spotted during drives in the area and the elephants are never far away but only visited us twice, they probably knew Paul and Louise were on leave! There have been many sightings of striped hyena and occasionally guests have found leopards. Although this is truly Dry Season, there is always something of interest to find and see.

This year the Maasai arrived late June in the area, their normal grazing grounds between Ndutu, Olduvai and the Ngorongoro crater having dried out early. Great numbers of goats, sheep and cows are herded mostly along the course of the Olduvai from Lake Masek downwards. There is quite a serious food shortage in the area this year so we decided to bring some sacks of maize meal on our supply lorries coming out. The Maasai elders then bring their mules and fit the sacks on their backs and wander back to their bomas some five kms away!

We also had to do an “emergency” trip to take a wounded Maasai morani to the nearest hospital in Endulen, some 45 km away; the Morani had stuck his spear in the ground under a tree and climbed up to collect honey and fallen out, on top of his spear! It had gone straight into his thigh and hit the femur…. Only two days after this accident happened were we asked for help with transport - tough people – and we were happy to hear later that he survived!

On the Met front we are experiencing some unusually hot tides! Normally July and August are our ‘winter’ months, pleasant warm days and cold nights. The temperatures before the end of August were already into the 30 C before midday in the shade! And since the beginning of October it feels as if one wanders around in a giant hothouse all the time…. Luckily two good rainstorms at the end of September and beginning of October, helped fill up our empty building water tanks and made our tea and coffee meet world standards again!

Fireball LilyI should not have doubted Nature as sure enough, prior to these rain showers the Scadoxus lilies were flowering everywhere! I have never yet seen a ’Fireball’ lily before the end of August, but they were accurate as always! Because of the unusual weather we have managed to serve dinner for almost a month now without rolling down the blinds in the dining room; there are no insects, there is no wind and it is so nice to have dinner with the little campfire visible and burning away just outside! The guests enjoyed watching the full moon rise between the acacia trees while tasting the tomato soup with croutons!

Those magnificent, clear night skies! The heavens above showed my favorite constellation Scorpio touching the Milky Way with its sting! Mars remained a regular companion overhead, although its brightness is waning a bit now… the months of Meteorites are here and we hope to witness a few special spectacles! With luck the Orionids, the Taurids, the Leonids and in December the Geminids will cast their spell and shower us with some spectacular and colourful“ shooting stars”!!!


Ndutu sunset - October 2003

 

(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). 

31 October 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Scattered showers

DETAILS

October has seen a  few scattered rain showers around the Serengeti, wildebeest are already on the move and a few hundred were seen just 40km away from Ndutu. We usually see the first arrivals around December time but if the predictions are correct and the rain comes early then just after a couple of good showers the  wildebeest will be on our doorstep. Even when the vast herds are not here there is always something exciting to see or do. Apart from game viewing, as we are situated in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, walking is
possible. The NCAA organise the walks and they can be booked on arrival at Ndutu.

(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). 

19 October 2003

LOCATION    Tarangire

WEATHER     Dry 

DETAILS

Oliver's Camp - Tarangire Update, October 19 2003

Oliver's Camp is located adjacent to Tanzania's Tarangire National Park. Here is the camp's latest update:

Great news for the lions of Southern Tarangire - the Tarangire Lion Project has in the last month been able to fit radio collars on two females in the area near to Oliver's Camp which will contribute enormously to our understanding of lion movements on and near to the eastern side of the park. The area immediately adjacent to the park is a hunting block and during the wet season lions follow migrating wildlife out of the National Park where the males are vulnerable to being hunted. Trophy hunters seek out the larger animals and it is these individuals that are often 'pride males' who control one or more prides in and around the park. When they are shot the prides they control are taken over by other, usually younger males whose first act is to pursue and kill any cubs within the pride.

The Tarangire Lion Project (TLP) aims to monitor movement of lions in and around the borders of the park with the goal of collecting data that will help to inform management decisions affecting both TANAPA, responsible for Tarangire National Park, and the Game Department, who are responsible for the hunting blocks in Lolkisale Game Controlled Area.

The TLP has recently come under the broader jurisdiction of the Serengeti Lion Project overseen by Dr. Craig Packer. Alessandra Soresina from the University of Milan is the principal researcher for the TLP and it was she and Dr. Packer who came out to camp in late August with the aim of collaring two females in the area. They found one lioness some way to the north of camp on the first afternoon and put a collar on her, and the following morning they set off in search of a second. Very soon Alessandra found one of the local females on the road near to camp.

Oliver's Camp Director Marc Baker set off to observe the collaring process. He records the unfolding drama: "Using a specially adapted rifle, the vet from Tanzania National Parks fired a dart into the hindquarters of the lioness. These darts contain a measured amount of Ketamine (based on animal body weight), which is then harmlessly and automatically injected into the lioness following contact of the dart. We continued to follow her until the drug started to have an effect and once she was clearly immobile the research team began. Apart from fitting the radio-collar, the research team took this chance to measure this females biometrics (body measurements), by doing this it is possible to then compare this female with similar aged females in different areas of the country. Interestingly enough Craig Packer immediately noticed that this young Tarangire female was indeed larger than the average Serengeti females, clear evidence that we still know very little about these big cats. During the operation the lioness could still see and hear and for this reason great care was taken to stay out of her field of view and a small towel was placed over her head. Due to the transmission of disease from her to us, the vet wore medical gloves and although the rest of us were allow to touch her we all had to wash our hands in situ. Once the collar was on it was just a matter of time and while waiting for the lioness to stir, we all took the opportunity to ask Craig all those curious lion questions.

One of the questions I asked was why this lactating female had almost no ectoparasites (ticks etc.), which are often a common problem for lions, especially around the ears. Craig went on to explain that new research has shown that lactating females produce a form of internal 'acracide' which causes them to lose ticks and thus reduce the possible ill effects of a high parasite load during such an important period in which a lioness needs to be in full health. An interesting evolutionary approach to what is clearly a major problem for all animals in these environments (including Homo sapiens for those who have been walking in Tarangire!!).

After 20 minutes the effects of the Ketamine began to wear off and Jonathan employed a subtle tactic to test her awareness, simply flicking the hair on the inside of her ears. Her reaction was to move slightly, however the experienced vet muttered in Swahili something about her tail. Before I had the time to understand what he meant he trod onto the lioness' tail causing an instant reaction. She sprang to her feet emitting a low guttural growl. I have never seen a group of people move so fast; Albert actually managed to leap into the back of the Landrover without opening any doors, quite an impressive feat… At this point we all made a swift exit while she sloped away looking rather confused, for her benefit rather than ours we then left her to come around in peace from the effects of the drugs." This lioness has since been named 'Racquel', or 'Rachel' by the researchers and appears at the top of the newsletter.

August and September at Oliver's Camp Tarangire has seen the yearly transformation of the park from a thickly vegetated wooded savannah to a dry, crowded, trampled rangeland for thousands of migratory herbivores and their attendant predators. A few kilometers from the camp Silale Swamp remains a green swathe in an otherwise parched landscape, and as the weeks passed animals have been inexorably drawn to it from the surrounding woodlands. Huge numbers of zebra, and smaller numbers of wildebeest make up the majority of animals, but one of the truly spectacular sights at this time of year are the enormous herds of buffalo gingerly making their way down to drink early in the morning, or sometimes grazing in a black mass far out in the middle of the swamp in relative safety. On the rare occasions that we have come across them away from the swamp in the open they have been extremely nervous and skittish and will not tolerate the vehicles approaching them. The bigger the group, the more nervously they behave. This herd response to threat reflects the buffalo's unenviable position as a favourite on the menu for lions, and this is born out by the number of buffalo carcasses that we have been finding during walks and game drives. On one particular walk in September one guide and his clients came across a pride of 18 lions eating a recently killed bull buffalo by the Tarangire River, while on another walk we found the same pride having killed two buffalo at once!

Many guests enjoyed watching 'Raphaeli', the young male leopard who entertained us during July, and we are pleased to relate that he has remained on the western edge of Silale Swamp for the greater part of August and September. For a week period in September he spent nearly every day within a couple of hundred meter section of the swamp edge where he was regularly seen resting in acacia trees, or wandering around on the ground after porcupines, guinea fowl and francolins. He was seen once with a most intriguing prey item, a Savannah Monitor lizard that he had stowed up one of his trees and whose skin was carefully left uneaten and draped over a branch. Another possibly unique sighting during one walk was an ostrich carcass found wedged in the upper branches of a tree. Spread over an area of at least 100 meters from the tree were black and white ostrich feathers suggesting a huge fight between the bird and its attacker. Was the assassin a leopard, or did the leopard simply find the bird already dead (killed by a lion perhaps) and subsequently carried up the tree by a leopard? If it was killed by a leopard this represents an amazing feat of predation and I would be interested to hear from anyone who has heard of a similar incident.

Walks have been truly spectacular this season, with many guests enjoying thrilling and memorable experiences in the big game country between Silale and the Tarangire River. Buffalos, elephants and lions have been seen regularly, as well as precious sights of Lesser Kudu in the thickets a little distance away from the river. During one walk our guests were treated to good views of 11 Lesser Kudus, 7 of them magnificent and elegant bulls glistening brown gray in the morning sun. In our gully system behind camp Eland are frequent visitors to where they seek our the fallen flowers and fruits of the sausage trees, and Paul was privileged enough to find a sleeping leopard on one walk who remained blissfully unaware of Paul and his clients are they crept up to his tree! October looks set to be a minor classic as well.

Stop Press: Sad news for our resident pride - during the final week of September Rachel, the collared lioness was seen regularly, but her 5 cubs were nowhere to be found. She was seen often by the waterhole in the swamp, and on other occasions on the ridge above the swamp where she had killed hartebeest or zebra. At the same time a large male lion appeared in the vicinity of the waterhole who neither Alessandra, the lion researcher, nor we had seen before in the park, and his arrival coincided with a sudden absence of the two young pride males, one of whom was the cubs' father. On Sunday (28th Sept) we found him consorting with Rachel showing signs of wanting to mate with him, a behaviour that can only mean that she had lost her cubs. The most likely culprit is the large male who is almost certain to have killed the cubs as soon as he arrived on the scene, an act that causes the bereaved mother to come into breeding condition immediately. It is poignant to remember that the last time we saw Rachel alone she had killed a hartebeest along with her hours old calf.

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