Serengeti National Park (Part Two)
Northern Circuit, Tanzania
This morning I hear the frightening news that both Richard and Danny heard a lion roaring nearby in the middle of the night. Richard says that lion calls can travel several kilometres, but thinks this one might have been only a single kilometre away. Danny had put off a toilet run for a long time during the night, and was relieved when daylight eventually appeared.
There were clear skies overnight, creating cold conditions in the morning. I am reluctant to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. How am I going to survive on Kilimanjaro?
After breakfast, we hit the road for another full day in the Serengeti. The wind blowing into the car is so cold I have to pull out my borrowed puffy jacket, which I was adamant I wouldn’t need on this trip. Lucky I listened to the experts.
Due to last night’s soundtrack, Richard sets out looking for lions. Within 300m he identifies lion paw prints on the road, heading towards our campsite. In the adjacent grass is a bloody patch, probably a late-night snack. A hyena lurked nearby, picking up leftovers. I don’t ask how many humans have been attacked by lions here, but the thought runs through my mind repeatedly.
Wildlife sightings are frequent in our first hour of driving, before the numbers begin to dwindle. I wonder if this is because animals are more active in the morning, or because we start in the central, more populated area before heading to the less dense regions. This morning’s tally:
Buffalo. Right by the side of the road, our first close-up view.
Baboons. Watching the babies ride upright on their mother’s back is adorable.
Elephants. A huge herd, eating as usual. The massive beasts need eat up to 300kg per day to fulfill their energy requirements, requiring them to eat almost continuously.
Zebra, impala, topi and wildebeest having a social catch-up. They are all petrified of cars, and run when they hear us coming.
Vultures and maribu storks, a sizeable flock feasting on a wildebeest carcass.
Waterbuck. As the name suggests, waterbuck are always be found near water, as they need to drink around 60 litres per day. They must pee non--stop.
Ostrich. Still nowhere near the road.
Grey lumps (hippos).
I’d say it was a successful morning of wildlife viewing.
As we drive west we pass through a greener, slightly hilly, tree-filled area, where it’s hard to spot the animals. I'm happy with the variation in scenery, but before we know it we are out the other side and back to the plains. There’s a bit of traffic on the main road, but it’s mostly rangers and other workers. As tourists we feel like an anomaly, whereas I’m sure it’s the other way around in normal years.
Out in this western corridor we see herds of wildebeest and little else. It takes some time but we finally come across what we set out for: the great wildebeest migration, one of the highlights of the park. Crossing the road right in front of us is the longest line of wildebeest you can possibly imagine. Thousands upon thousands of the large antelopes are lined up in single or double file, the ends of which stretch off towards the horizon. When there’s a slight pause in the procession we think that this must be it, but then another herd starts up.
When I first heard about the migration, I pictured massive packs of animals, dozens across, stampeding across the plains, leaving plumes of dust in its wake. This clearly isn’t how it works, and in this regard it is a little bit of a letdown. Overall, though, I’m glad I have the opportunity to witness the spectacle.
It would take all day to wait for them to pass. We give them 15 minutes before pushing our way through.
Not much further down the road we look over at another mammoth file of wildebeest, running across the land beside us. It is unfathomable how many of them there are, the line spreading out over many kilometres. And this is only one quick glimpse in one tiny section of one park in Africa - imagine how many wildebeest exist across the continent. We see more wildebeest here than all other animals over the week combined.
Lunch is eaten at an airstrip, where black vervet monkeys are confidently checking out our food and our transport. More than once they creep up close, waiting for any lapse in concentration by us to steal our food. They also pile on the car, and would happily crawl in if there was an open window or roof.
Our lunch spot is roughly 100km from where we started, but we are only halfway through the western corridor. After eating we start the return leg, making a loop to bring us back us to the main road. Almost immediately we cross over a river that is filled with wildlife. Vultures and maribu stork sit on the upper banks, a monitor lizard lounges on a log and crocodiles occupy the sandy edges. Hippos are found both in and out of the water, and slowly plod through the scrub to splash their way into the river. A wildebeest carcass floats nearby, no doubt adding to the stink that fills the air.
It is a fast drive back to the centre, zooming past zebra, wildebeest, warthogs, impala and baboons. We don’t stand up in the open roof for this trip - the resulting windburn wouldn't be worth it. Richard slows down once we are nearer to camp, signaling the start of serious animal hunting. We spy more zebra, monkeys, hippos lying on top of each other in a pond, and a sizeable family of elephants spread out across the road.
The greatest excitement comes with seeing four lions and a cub lying under a tree. Three of the lions suddenly stand up and walk off, and we soon discover why. A buffalo has wandered over, and the lions are ready to take it on. That is until they catch sight of a second buffalo, not far behind the first. The lions retreat quickly, but then start fanning out around the buffaloes to encircle them. A few moves forwards and backwards are made by both parties, until everyone gives up and returns to where they came from. I’m secretly glad it isn't a vicious, bloody affair.