This was our first African safari to Tanzania and we are already planning to return. It is impossible to put into words what this trip meant to us. What an incredible privilege we felt to share time with an amazing array of animals. The moment we stepped off the short flight from Arusha to the Central Serengeti, herds of wildebeest and zebra surrounded us as they joined the great migration.
Within the hour we located an elephant herd bathing in a watering hole. Across from them a lion pride with cubs guarded a zebra kill beneath an acacia tree. Another large herd of elephants approached the lions – who scattered and regrouped as the elephants passed. We never knew what would happen moment to moment. Our guide, David, showed a deep respect for the wildlife and anticipated their behavior.
Our goal was to locate and photograph the “big cats” and their cubs. David succeeded in locating hundreds of lions, 14 cheetah and 10 leopards during our trip – and so much more. Each day we departed camp at sunrise and returned at sunset – relating the day’s adventures at camp.
Included is a selection of images but you can see all my images at: http://truettimageworks.photoshelter.com/#!/portfolio/G0000cnOfbbLxGS0
Here are a few memorable moments from our trip:
– Being serenaded by two male lions on either side of our tent one evening…followed by a voice competition held by hyenas the next evening
– Spending two days with the Sametu lion pride; watching a female lion take down a Thompson gazelle and carry it to her two cubs hiding in the tall grass
– Observing all of the adult females of the Sametu pride simultaneously stand up, turn and drive out a juvenile male lion
– Sharing an early morning with a female cheetah watching over her three active cubs as they climbed a tree and frolicked in the grass and then race across the plain to catch a gazelle
– Being watched by two curious lion cubs as their mother relaxed atop a nearby termite mound
– Encountering a creature for the first time: hyrax, mongoose, bush baby, genet, agama lizard – even the tsetse fly (ouch) – innumerable wondrous birds, from ostriches to bee eaters
– After arriving in the East Serengeti, we found smaller prides of lion and many of the kopjes were crowned with male lions perched on the highest rocks overlooking the vast plains.
– Because we decided what was important to us, we were able to spend a full day tracking another female cheetah and her three juvenile cubs from a distance as she hunted gazelle in the South Serengeti plains.
– On our way back to Lake Masek Tented Lodge, David alerted us to watch for “dangling tails” from the trees along the river; shortly thereafter, he accelerated the vehicle across the river bed and located a large male leopard draped over a branch next to his zebra kill high up in a tree. We were soon joined by other vehicles as sunset fast approached. After 20 minutes, the leopard jumped to the ground to roll on his back under an acacia shrub – seeming to ignore the attention of the photographers.
– The next morning, at the “magic hour,” we were the only vehicle to return to the same tree to photograph the leopard in the perfect morning light. If we had been on a group safari on a set schedule – we never would have had that opportunity. David frequently shared information with the other guides and when one of his friends sent word that two young leopard cubs had exited their cave atop a tall kopji, we raced across the plain to view the mother leopard with her playing cubs. It was another perfect morning we will never forget.
– At the Ngorongoro crater, we encountered cape buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, gazelle – but also black-maned male lions and black rhinos. David explained that these rhinos are guarded from poachers around the clock. The cloud-rimmed crater formed a perfect backdrop for photos.
– While driving down the rim of the crater, we narrowly missed an elephant as it burst onto the road from the trees directly in front of us and charged downhill to the crater floor. When we arrived at the bottom, a particularly large elephant with huge tusks approached our vehicle, David cautioned us to keep very still. She was merely curious.
– At our final camp, our Massai warrior guard spotted a small black mamba snake on the path enroute to dinner – which he gently nudged aside with his spear. That same evening, we were treated to a chorus of bush babies as they hopped along the tree tops.
– The elephants sightings along the vast swamps and waterholes were particularly spectacular in Tarangire.
– During our final evening, as we pulled up to the entrance of Swala camp, David spotted a young female leopard sitting on top of an impala twice her size. Everyone at camp had heard a commotion of birds in the area just 15 minutes prior and were excited to see Brendan’s photo of the young leopard, successful in her hunt. We toasted to that leopard that night – a perfect finale to our safari.
As David shared his vast knowledge of the Serengeti ecosystem and its wildlife, our appreciation for every aspect of our safari grew. We learned a great deal about the animals and their struggles for survival firsthand. Anyone lucky enough to join an Africa Dreams safari cannot help but be astounded by the diversity of wildlife and majesty of the Serengeti.
ANN R. & BRENDAN A. TRUETT