Serengeti National Park
We finally reached the Serengeti gateway – a photo op that couldn’t be missed! Shortly after driving through the seemingly endless Serengeti Plains, we reached our home for the next two nights; the Hyani Campsite. After watching James pitch the tent and enduring ten minutes of gloating about what a storming job he’d done, we settled in for our first evening camping in the Serengeti. An experience I am not likely to forget!
So…. Our first night sleeping in the Serengeti went as follows:
9pm: Fell asleep.
11pm: Woken up by Hyaenas attacking the campsite bin. Slightly scared at this point, but managed to get back off to sleep!
1am: Woken up by a male Lion roaring ferociously just metres away from our tent. Fear level raised to ‘petrified’, I lay awake with no chance of sleep until…
6am: When our alarm went off!
I can’t really explain the adrenaline that was pumping through my body, to know that a wild lion was outside our tent, roaring to his pride. I won’t lie, I was terrified, but looking back it was also extremely exciting!
So, we survived the night, and weren’t mauled to death by the local Simba, which was a bonus!
A strong cup of Tanzanian coffee is a sure cure for any sleepless night, and before we knew it we were off on our game drive around the Serengeti. We only had one full day here, and I would definitely suggest going for two or more if you have the time, due to the sheer size of the park. If the migration is what you want to see, then to be honest, you need maybe a week in the park to track the Wildebeest, and it remains pot luck as to whether you get to watch them cross the famous Maasai River. Apparently end of July, early August is when this usually occurs, but it can be anytime during a three week window.
The Serengeti is vast, with a size of nearly 15,000 square kilometres. It just goes on for as far as the eye can see. What amazed me was the mix of land biometes throughout the plains, from Marshy forests with dense wildlife to dry grasslands where only the strongest will survive. Words can’t really explain just how astounding the Serengeti is, and no documentary can do it justice. You have to see it for yourself.
I couldn’t pinpoint a highlight of my day, as there were so many. My eyes were so dry by the end of that first afternoon, because I dared not blink and risk missing something. Every corner was something new, and their was certainly no shortage of animals, even in the long summer grass. From Leopards in trees guarding their kill to 200 hippos lying on top of each other in what could only be described as the filthiest bath you will ever see. I would be here for days if I listed everything we saw, so I will let the photos speak for themselves…
After the day we’d had, I didn’t think it could really get any better. We had seen four of ‘The Big Five’ – Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, and Leopard – with only the elusive Rhino left. The Black Rhino is extinct in the Serengeti, and globally there are only 800 left in the wild. Only in a few places in Africa can they be spotted in the wild, and our guide had told us that around 30 were residing in the Ngorongoro Crater, which happened to be the last destination of our safari. Despite their presence, we were told that we would be very lucky to spot one. A beautiful sun set ended our incredible day and with an alarm set for 5am, it was an early night again.
Supposedly, some of the best animal spotting happens at dawn when the cool temperatures create a more comfortable environment for the predators to hunt in, and the early morning light enhances their chances of spotting and catching prey. So, where the animals went – we went; and that happened to take us down to the banks of the river! By 6am we were parked up by the water’s edge, hoping to see some action. It was slow to start and it seemed only a gang of hyenas were up and about for an early morning scavenge. However as the spectacular sun rise transformed the sky into a spectrum of blues, purples, oranges, and reds, the Serengeti came alive for another day!
Leading up to our trip to Tanzania I had watched a few safari documentaries. It definitely made me more aware of the struggle that predators have in the wild, due to seasonal change and the ever adapting climate. It is definitely worthwhile doing some initial research about African wildlife before leaving for safari, not only is it a nice way to get excited about your trip, but it also gives you an idea of what to expect. Documentaries like the BBC’s ‘Planet Earth’ or ‘Africa’ take months of filming to catch a single successful hunt on tape, so I wasn’t expecting to see much in a few hours!
However, we did manage to spot a pride of eight lionesses, with a herd of brave, if slightly stupid, gazelles near by. I could just imagine the dulcet tones of David Attenborough giving a running commentary. The lionesses crept slowly into position, surrounding the herd of gazelles and using the long brown and yellow grass as camouflage. A certain Beyonce once said that ‘girls run the world’, and this is certainly the case in the Serengeti where the lionesses do all the hunting for the pride. They are quicker and lighter that their male counterparts, and their teamwork and communication is amazing to watch.
You can see in the photo below how the lions move into position, like a wild game of chess, attempting to ‘checkmate’ their prey. Fortunately for the gazelles, they caught sight of the lions and made a swift exit before the predators could make their first move. After their first unsuccessful attempt, the lionesses returned to their cubs to wait for another opportunity to arise.
Later that morning the males demonstrated just why the girls run the roost out there with regards to the hunting duties. While two adolescent brothers stalked their prey from the grass, the remaining sibling sprang the trap too early. He found himself chasing down four enormous buffalo with no back-up – something he quickly realised before giving up the chase and sheepishly walking down to the river for a drink… but not before posing for a few photos!
Our amazing stay in the Serengeti had come to an end, and sad as we were to leave, there was still the excitement for the final chapter of our five-day safari, and the opportunity of completing the Big Five!
If you can afford it, take a extra long lens for your DSLR camera. I used a 75-300mm, and at times this wasn’t powerful enough! Also, a good pair of binoculars are essential for the animals that you are unable to get close to!
Look out for the final installment of my Tanzanian Safari, ‘The Edge of the Rift Valley’!