Safari to Tanzania – July and August 2008

I’m back! Back from my most recent research safari in Tanzania. And what a fantastic journey it has been! Of course each research safari to Tanzania has the traditional “work stuff” one might expect with work related travel, such as inspecting properties, meeting with property managers, taking notes, etc. But it is also an opportunity to reconnect with the wilderness that fuels my passion for this incredible country and my desire to share it with other people. I always come back from Tanzania brimming with new stories and images that I could never have conjured up on my own, chatting away about it all non-stop to anyone willing to listen! On that happy note, I’ve included a few brief highlights of my trip below to share with you! My first stop in Tanzania was none other than the magnificent Serengeti. I could barely contain my excitement as our plane descended through the cloud cover that separated the views of the blue sky above from the magnificent wilderness below. As we descended through the clouds the ground opened up beneath us, and I could see long columns of wildebeest threading their way through the varied patchwork of trees and plains below that make up the Northern extension. The aircraft soared low, banking right over the Mara River which contained a large group of hippos, the tops of their wet bodies glinting in the morning sunlight. After the plane landed I stepped out and inhaled the smell of earth and grass. There was a familiar comfort that enveloped me immediately, like coming home.  In spite of it being the “dry season”, the landscape was still quite green here in the North Serengeti. We started our first game drive immediately, and right from the beginning it was non-stop action! As our vehicle meandered through the woodlands, large herds of impala exploded like tawny fireworks from hidden thickets and handfuls of wildebeest galloped past us on their way to join the big group near the river. Within 10 minutes of landing we were greeted by a massive bull elephant on the far bank of the Mara river, as well as a myriad of other animals including giraffe, hippo, and crocodile.    Eventually our guide pointed out a large cloud of dust on the distant horizon… “the herd is on the move” we heard him say, and within the sentence we were down the road at top speed. An endless stream of wildebeest started crossing the Mara river and we were right in the middle of it!   The scene that played out before us was simply astonishing. Thousands upon thousands of animals plunged their bodies into the river, fighting through the river current, and each other, in a desperate attempt to reach the other side before crocodiles arrived. It was almost like each wildebeest had temporarily ceased being an individual and instead had joined forces with a single living mass of pure energy that poured itself across the river. The sound of chaotic bleating, the vibration of the thundering hooves, and the haze of choking dust overwhelmed the senses. Amazingly, a second stream of animals broke away from the masses behind us and started to pour into the river on the opposite side of our vehicle. We were truly surrounded now! It seemed like hours, but the whole event was probably over within 30 minutes. It was something I will never forget. During the crossing we saw a giant crocodile take down one of the wildebeest! This crocodile looked like an unearthly monster, he was so grotesquely huge in size. He latched onto the wildebeest with his enormous jaws, and over the course of a full hour we watched the two animals embraced in a life and death struggle. Just when we were sure the crocodile had triumphed over his prey, he settled into a complacent grip. The wildebeest gained footing on the riverbed and surged to freedom. However, the poor animal was so badly injured that I doubt he could have survived. We left the scene emotionally drained, quietly acknowledging that we must accept Mother Nature in her entirety, even though at times she seems as harsh as she is beautiful.  The rest of the trip was no less spectacular.  In addition to visiting the magnificent Serengeti we also visited the Ngorongoro Crater, LakeManyara, and Tarangire. I could go on and on about all the wildlife sightings, but I’ll condense it to a few safari highlights which include spotting a leopard less than 10 meters away from the vehicle, witnessing 2 cheetah brothers defending a kill against a second coalition of 3 cheetah brothers, watching elephants drinking and playing in the river, listening to lions roaring in the night, seeing hippos fight, watching lion cubs play, and observing a “giraffe nursery” of young giraffe being guarded by a single giraffe “babysitter”. On one occasion we watched breathless as a pride of lions stalked a herd of topi that were coming to drink at a nearby waterhole, although the topi caught wind of the lions just in time and ran away before the hunt could begin. We also had the opportunity to watch a leopard stalking an impala; although this hunt was also unsuccessful it was still a joy to watch this supple cat in action. In total we saw 111 lions, 4 leopards, 16 cheetahs, and a rhino. We also saw countless elephants, gazelle, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, hyenas, birds, jackals, crocodiles, hippos, buffalo, monkeys and other animals. Whew!

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