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The Circle of Life in Just 9 Days, Tanzania Mid-Feb


Atravelynn

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Atravelynn

Cue Elton John

 

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This zebra foal is minutes old

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Itinerary, booked with The Wild Source, using Guide George Mbwambo

1 night Manyara at Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge + 7 nights Ndutu at Wild Frontier Camp = 8 nights, 9 days on safari.

 

2014

Feb 12 Depart Chicago 4:25 pm on KLM Flight 0612 to Amsterdam, then KLM Flight 0571 to Kilimanjaro.

 

Feb 13 Arrive Kilimanjaro at 8:50 pm and o/nt KIA Lodge, 5 minutes from airport on hotel shuttle.

 

Feb 14 Depart KIA Lodge, Kilimanjaro 7:30 am and arrive Lake Manyara 11:15 am, 30 minutes of stops enroute. Game drive from arrival until 6:00 pm, boxed lunch. O/nt Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge.

 

Feb 15 Depart Wildlife Lodge about 7:00 am after breakfast, morning game drive in Lake Manyara until 11:00 am. Arrive at Ngorongoro Conservation Area Lodoare gate at 12:00* noon. Box lunch and arrive at Wild Frontier Camp in Ndutu 6:15 pm, game drive enroute.

 

Feb 16 – 21 Ndutu. Depart Wild Frontier Camp at 6:30 am with breakfast and lunch boxes, return to Wild Frontier Camp between 5:55 and 6:25 pm. One mid-morning until afternoon excursion (4.5 hours round trip) to the plains at the foot of Gol Mountains.

 

Feb 22 Depart Wild Frontier Camp at 6:30 am with breakfast and lunch boxes, arrive at Ngorongoro Conservation Area Lodoare gate at 11:45 am.* Back in Kilmanjaro about 4:15 pm after a 25 minute stop in Arusha. KLM Flight 0569 at 9:50 pm to Amsterdam, then KLM Flight 0611 to Chicago.

 

Feb 23 Arrive Chicago 2:25 pm.

 

* To avoid paying for another day in the park ($50 I think it is) you need to arrive back at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Lodoare gate no later than the hour you entered. Park permits are in 24 hour increments. A short grace period is sometimes granted, especially during the rainy season when vehicles get stuck and delayed.

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Wildebeest calf being born

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Cue Elton John   This zebra foal is minutes old   Itinerary, booked with The Wild Source, using Guide George Mbwambo 1 night Manyara at Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge + 7 nights Ndutu at Wil

Africa through a raindrop. Now there's a rainy season slogan!   Your questions are welcome @@FlyTraveler.   Thanks for all of the kind and gracious comments, everybody.   Planning, timing, taki

Warthogs in the foreground. Mid Feb vs Mid March in Ndutu Feb 15-22 in 2014 vs. March 15-20 in 2013 – exactly one month apart. In 2013 rains were somewhat late, but then were sufficient. In 2014 r

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Atravelynn

Why these dates?

Last year I went in mid-March, also a great time. Comparison of Feb vs March will follow. This year I was hoping to see a wildebeest birth and calving traditionally peaks mid-February. Fortunately tradition prevailed in 2014, after unusual rains/migration patterns in Feb of 2011 and 2012. In case the full moon theory--which states a full moon prompts calving--was accurate, I arrived in Ndutu the day after the Valentine’s full moon, Feb 15. However, I did not find much of a correlation between the moon and wildebeest births.

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Hidden Valley in Ndutu, me in the middle

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Lion disperses the herds and wildebeest check him out, Hidden Valley in Ndutu

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THE ADAPTER

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The prong configuration throughout Tanzania. The adapter. Photo taken in The Wild Source vehicle.

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Kitsafari

amazing photos of the births. the photos suggest an action-packed trip and i can't wait to hear about it.

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Atravelynn

Thank you @@Kitsafari. George had me where the action was.

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Small Marsh Pride

 

Weather

14th Manyara: High around 80 F, mostly cloudy, rain for 2 hours in afternoon

15th Ndutu: Early morning around 68, high around 75 F, mostly cloudy, 1.5 hours of rain

16th Ndutu: Early morning around 68 F, high around 75 F. Partly cloudy, 2 15-minutes sessions of rain.

17th Ndutu: Early morning around 68 F, high around 80 F. Sunny all day

18th Ndutu: Early morning around 68 F, high around 75 F. Partly cloudy all day, no rain.

19th Ndutu: Early morning, around 68 F, high around 75 F. Cloudy most of the day, no rain, but back at camp it rained buckets.

20th Ndutu: Rained most of the night, early morning around 60 F, high around 72 F. Rain most of the day.

21st Ndutu: Early morning around 68 F, High around 80. F Mostly sunny, no rain.

22nd Ndutu: Early morning around 68 F, no rain.

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During our day of rain, we curled up "with" a couple of wet cheetahs. Very cozy. When an assertive young wildebeest approached there was even some excitement. This was a mother and nearly adult son.

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Atravelynn

Timing the trip for the wildebeest calving

Counting ahead from when rutting takes place to determine calving does not work because the pregnant wildes can control within several weeks when they will give birth and their choice depends on rains. Unless a Ndutu visit spanning several weeks from late Jan to Mid-March is the plan (yeah right), I’d suggest the following to increase the odds of seeing a wildebeest birth:

 

1. as many days as possible in Ndutu in mid-February—a week is good because weather conditions need to be right and they might not be for a stretch of 3-4 days.

2. a flexible safari program that permits hours for daily searches of wildes in labor.

3. a private vehicle because random vehicle mates may not be enthused about #2.

4. a talented guide who can spot the signs of a wildebeest in labor.

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I had asked George about the moon’s effect on birthing last year and he discounted the connection. Indeed, there was not a mass dropping of calves after the Feb 14 full moon. Rather than lunar cycles, George insisted that births revolve around the rain. My experience, based on two green season trips, backs up the rain theory, which in general goes like this but is prone to exceptions as wildebeest have a mind of their own (or sometimes a definite lack of mind it seems):

 

After a day and especially after a night of sufficient rain, if the rain halts by morning, the pregnant females may decide to give birth. The birthing continues until approximately 11 am. After about noon, they tend to hold off until another day, rather than give birth in the afternoon. Our afternoons were never spent looking for births.

 

Heavy rains can induce birthing for a couple of mornings once the showers have ceased. But once the rain halts for several consecutive days, so do the births--until the next rain. Interestingly, births do not typically occur during the actual rainfall, only when it stops. On the day it rained continuously, no placentas were seen on the ground and we saw no newborn calves or births.

 

Females traveling in the same herd tend to give birth around the same timeframe. On the way to Ndutu in the Oldupai area, the endless wilde herds looked like every female had a calf. I was beginning to think that all babies had already been born. Once we got to Ndutu, though, we saw herds with nary a calf—and I don’t mean the bachelor herds. George’s estimate was that by Feb 15 of this season, no more than half the pregnant females had given birth.

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Each morning we’d locate a big herd, which could require some driving around and searching. We would patrol through the herd for signs of wildebeests in labor. On dry mornings when there had been no rain for over 48 hours, there were almost no placentas on the ground, indicating no calving. We saw only one single newborn during the dry spells. On these dry mornings we usually cut our maternity patrol short and headed out in search of something else.

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The mornings when rain had been plentiful in the previous hours/days but had ceased by sunrise were the best days for calving; and it was those conditions that produced the three births I saw and most of the newborns. Even when we were not finding any newborns or births after good rains, the ground was littered with placentas, making it obvious that births were taking place, whether we witnessed them or not.

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There are two keys to finding wildebeests in labor. One is to look for a wildebeest that is lying down, especially on her side. This is tricky because they often lie sideways for just a few minutes of the birthing process, which lasts only about 15 minutes or less from start to finish. For a good part of that short labor they may just be sitting. In a relaxed herd, 20% of them can be sitting. The other key is to look at the posteriors for shininess or wetness (water breaking), blood, or a speck of white sticking out—which would be the calf’s tiny hooves.

 

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The calf's hooves are protruding slightly as the female is still grazing 4 minutes later the birthing begins another 3 minutes and the calf is emerging

 

 

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forequarters are out head is out almost completely out

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Made it! 13 minutes after the hooves were protruding from the walking mother First steps 2 minutes after the "almost completely out" photo, above First meal

 

The most likely place for calving is the open plains because predators cannot hide, making it a safe area and an ideal environment to observe calving without obstructions. Of the three births we saw, two were in the plains and one in the woodland. One of the plains births was photographable from a distance of probably 45 meters; the other was visible from about 60 meters but not photographable, due to high grass and a rock.

 

The one woodland birth began in an open, grassy area, but when the herd meandered into the trees, the birthing mother got up (calf hooves protruding) and followed. She showed no sign of distress as she galloped effortlessly with the other wildes up an incline into the thicket.

 

We took a less direct route into the woodlands so as not to disturb the herd and because wildes can go where cars cannot. When we rejoined the bulk of the herd, mother wilde with her new calf sitting at her side, were about 100 meters from the rear of the herd. We saw the calf stand and take its first steps. For that birth, the time elapsed from the first sign of protruding hooves to when the calf was running with its mother to join the others. was only 9 minutes. Even by wilde standards that was fast.

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he average time from birth to walking is 3-7 minutes. We watched several newborns being nuzzled and licked by their mothers for at least 15 minutes before they marched off together. When there was no threat present and the herd was not on the move, there was no rush to become mobile in 3-7 minutes.

 

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Finding recently born calves, all wet, and placentas still hanging from the mother, was a little easier than seeing an actual birth. (Placentas usually remain visible for an hour or so after the birth.) We saw at least 8 newborns in contrast to seeing 3 births. Witnessing those first wilde caresses and nuzzlings, followed by baby steps, then the very swift progress of the calves turning into running antelope was touching.

 

The other hoofed species were hardly touched by the calving going on around them and they went on about their business of grazing or playing galloping games, occasionally glancing at the laboring mother and her new arrival.

 

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Zebras galloping around a newborn and mother wildebeest & No privacy in the maternity ward

 

I saw no predation of newborns. A little earlier in the birthing season tends to coincide with more active, hungry predators. By mid Feb, since the calving had been occurring for a couple of weeks, predators’ stomachs were full. Even placentas were shriveling and rotting on the ground, uneaten by satiated scavengers.

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A sad scene of a mother wildebeest on the right, the remains of her newborn calf on the left, and a Marabou Stork A happier, playful encounter by calves about a week old

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SafariChick

Terrific already! Looking forward to another Lynn report - they are always so enjoyable.

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twaffle

What incredible sightings which you planned for exceptionally well. I am looking forward very much for the rest of this report.

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Zim Girl

What an amazing set of wildebeest pictures - fascinating to see the calving process from start to finish and with timing details thrown in!

Also loved the lion montage at the top.

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FlyTraveler

@@Atravelynn, amazing safari and photos - you nailed the wildebeest calving! The careful preparation paid off, thanks for sharing the useful details about the factors which influence calving and ways to enhance the probability of seeing it. Great idea to stay in Ndutu area for most of the time. Will search on the Internet for the safari company and the camp and will write in case I have questions (if you don't mind).

 

Thanks for sharing this fabulous experience and looking forward to the next installment!

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Soukous

love the furry little cheetahs in #2

it looks as though your timing was spot on and you were rewarded with some lovely sightings.

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Sangeeta

Another exceptionally timed safari! I remember your tortoise egg laying stories and how I had thought that the timing on that one was brilliant too. Same with the flowers in Liuwa and your India & south America sightings...

 

You need to write a book too, you know. Something along the lines of AAC's safari timing calendar that you often quote, but yours would be for nature travel everywhere. Seriously, it would fund all your future safaris!

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graceland

Africa through a raindrop is quite mesmerizing.

 

Your photos capture it perfectly; and we are all

so looking forward to more!

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wilddog

Fascinating and informative TR. Thanks @@Atravelynn really enjoying this.

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Big_Dog

Glad I caught this - looking forward to more and the epic photos of birth and predation already are stunning.
You have also done spectacularly at making the ungainly and common wildebeest very photogenic with such dramatic shots!

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Atravelynn

Africa through a raindrop is quite mesmerizing.

Africa through a raindrop. Now there's a rainy season slogan!

 

Your questions are welcome @@FlyTraveler.

 

Thanks for all of the kind and gracious comments, everybody.

 

Planning, timing, taking control of what we can (like a good guide and a reputable safari provider) are all important. But there is a paradox to planning and timing and being rewarded by nature. Our plans can up our odds but ultimately we are not in control. I think that's part of the excitement of safari-type nature trips. Almost like gambling.

 

Those "furry little cheetahs" that @@Soukous mentions are the perfect example of sheer luck, but tipped to my advantage by using a company and guide that routinely stays out for the day. Chatting with members of another vehicle in Ndutu's Hidden Valley area, which borders the Serengeti, all of a sudden a cheetah is racing toward us with two little skunk-like creatures bounding along behind. We later found out from others that while the cheetahs had been feeding, a lion came along and tried to kill the pair of 2-month old cubs. So the cheetahs fled for their lives, leaving the lion behind. These photos show the mother's nose covered with blood, matter, and flies from feeding on prey, because she was forced to flee in the middle of eating. At least by the looks of her stomach, she had eaten quite a bit.

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Fleeing a lion who tried to kill the 2-month old cubs, the mother cheetah looks back warily in fear the lion might be following. But the lion had given up the chase.

A few seconds of inattentiveness and instead of ooh-ing and ah-ing over these fuzzy bundles, they'd be carcasses. Good awareness by the mother was good luck for me and especially for her young family. That's one circle of life I would prefer not witness in 360 degrees.

 

Once she was sure the lion was no longer a threat, the mother carefully selected a thicket in which to hide the cubs and allow them to catch their breath and recover from their ordeal. They remained hidden for an hour or so. We sat vigil outside the brush, occasionally joined by other vehicles. Our flexible schedule meant we did not have to abandon the hiding place and could wait to see if mother and cubs would emerge. We caught some adorable glimpses here and there.

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We even had an episode of mother under the vehicle. Then mother emerged, chirped to summon her cubs to join her, and all three went under the vehicle. When the cubs went under, George and I agreed that encouraging them to leave that spot would be best, so we started banging on the doors and the floor of the vehicle, softly then escalating. They ignored us and did not move. Then George and gave the ignition just the first little bit of a turn, lasting a second or less. Nothing loud or scary, but it did the job and they all emerged. I was glad to see they appeared only annoyed and not frightened.

 

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Finding shade under the vehicle, which we gently discouraged with success.

 

Back to the protection of the thicket.

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Eventually, they were rested, washed, and ready to move. Mom was intent on putting the lion incident even further behind them. We followed them, with no other vehicles in sight, until they reached the Serengeti border, at which point off roading was forbidden. We watched them depart. How fortunate we had been to cross their paths after a potential deadly encounter and before they headed to an inaccessible part of the Serengeti. How glad I was that I had a company like The Wild Source and a guide like George that enabled me to take full advantage of this chance encounter.

 

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Heading to the Serengeti after a near fatal lion encounter. Mother cheetah and pair of 2-month old cubs. Note the mother has cleaned off her face.

 

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Heading into the Serengeti

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graceland

I think these are the cutest little cheetahs I've EVER seen; and what a terrific mom. (Actually I've never seen cheetah cubs, only leopard..and now I HAVE to)

 

One of the best captured incidents ever. How fortunate to be able to stay out, follow the continuing story, and then have them come to you in the car! I'd be so high....George would not be able get me off my cloud. No matter how good he is!

 

BTW, how did you come to know of George? I have canceled two planned Serengeti trips because I just had bad vibes on the guides...I like GREAT recommendations ~ as everyone knows the guide makes the trip...and our upcoming Sept safari I am pretty darn sure of our guide! (Thanks to ST members)

 

They are so worth the effort and money to find.

 

I have always thought Green Season would be lovely on the Serengeti. You are proving it YET AGAIN.

 

 

And why we all read ST reports :D

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Atravelynn

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Salivating Grant's Gazelle in front of Lake Ndutu Floral Gnu

George 3.0

This was my third safari with George. Previous comments I’ve made about George include:

 

On my first trip with George as my guide I had stated, “At the end of our time together I think no one saw more than we did during our time in Tarangire. I’d bet money on it!” Same sentiments for my second trip with George but I had some proof for my wager. After watching a leopard in a tree along the Seronera River, the cars all departed as the leopard descended and disappeared into the grass. But not George. He directed my attention to the remaining cub, well camouflaged on a limb. Only one other vehicle remained with us to observe the elusive leopard cub. Whether an owl perched on an inner leafy tree branch or three cheetahs dotting a distant hillside, George spotted them all.

 

This last trip proved that George’s expertise extends to wildebeest obstetrics. He could look over a herd and tell if there was a wildebeest soon to give birth.

 

Something else that impressed me: we were about to cross a river near Small Marsh. As we neared the entry point, George noticed a turtle in the water. So as not to disturb it, we drove around to find a different place to cross.

 

Once again, George’s talents, work ethic, patience, and flexibility (we were out about 12 hours each day) helped make this an outstanding safari; along with unlimited mileage, and Bill’s willingness to use economical accommodations.

 

After two safaris in a row that combined the unique and flourishing habitat of Ndutu with the exceptional guiding skills of George, I have set the bar very high for trips that follow. Oh dear!

 

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These two photos are compliments of George who suggested I turn around and look behind me.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Atravelynn

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From “Grilling Predator” to Booking Him

Years back, Bill Given, owner of The Wild Source, used the screen name “Predator” on another travel forum. I respected his knowledge as a biologist and sought his advice on green season travel, based on his plans for a group he was taking to Tanzania in February. Some of our exchange from my post entitled “Grilling Predator” is shown here in italics, as it may be helpful for others. Fast forward to today where I have just completed my second green season Tanzania safari and Bill operates the reputable company, The Wild Source, which I used for my recent fantastic Tanzanian green season safari.

 

Predator Bill’s itinerary back in 2008 on which I “grilled” him with questions:

17-Feb-08 Arusha Hotel or Kibo Palace
18-Feb-08 Fly out at 8 a.m. to Mahale –Overnight Greystoke Camp.
19-Feb-08 Greystoke Camp.
20-Feb-08 Greystoke Camp
21-Feb-08 Fly from Greystoke to Lake Manyara, overnight at Kirurumu Tented Camp
22-Feb-08 Lake Manyara in a.m. and Ngorongoro Crater in p.m. overnight Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
23-Feb-08 Morning drive in Ngorongoro Crater. Afternoon drive/overnight Suyan Camp.
24-Feb-08 Suyan Camp.
25-Feb-08 Olakira Camp.
26-Feb-08 Olakira Camp.
27-Feb-08 Olakira Camp.
28-Feb-08 Olakira Camp
.

 

If your whole trip were one week earlier, would that have changed any of your accommodation choices?

Accommodation would be the same a week earlier. The obvious focus is to see the migration and hopefully be lucky enough to catch it during the irruptive birthing period which could very well be occurring the week prior to our trip.

Why did you choose Kirurumu in Manyara?

We chose Kirurumu because we wanted to minimize time in the large hotel style operations such as the (L. Manyara Hotel and Serena). L. Manyara Tree Lodge appears to be wonderful but costs almost 3 times as much as Kirurumu and our group wanted to focus their budget on the wildlife experience but we were not worried about over the top luxury.


If time and budget permitted, do you think 8 nights in the Serengeti in a couple of Southern locations is too much in Feb? For example, do the tse tses just become too tedious after a while?

Hopefully someone else will chime in as this will be my first time in the Serengeti but I do not think I would hesitate to stay 8 nights in the southern area if I had the time and budget. There is no doubt that is where the action should be in February and based on your viewing interests (and mine) I would think there is plenty to see and everyday will be different so why not stay on if you can.

You did not include any time at Ndutu Lodge. Could you explain why?

Olakira Camp will be located somewhere relatively close to Ndutu Lodge and thus we will be traversing the same area of the NCA and the southern portion of the National Park. Our dream way of visiting the Serengeti is to experience it intimately under canvas so we prefer the 5 tent camp to the large lodge style accommodation. If staying for more than 4 days, like the above mentioned 8 it might be nice to try both styles of accommodation but tents are just more my preference.

Did you keep tabs on the recent wildebeest rut before finalizing this trip? Is it possible to tell when the majority of millions of wildebeest are mating and then count forward the gestation period to see approximately when the babies will be born? I know this won’t tell you where the bulk of the herds will be, but wouldn’t it give a clue on the timing of the births? Or am I futilely thinking it is possible to micromanage the Serengeti when such projections are preposterous?

 

That’s a good thought and I believe the rut will occur sometime in June and gestation is supposed to be 8 to 8.5 months, but considering a two week variance on the rut and gestation you still get a fairly wide window, percentages would suggest late January to late February but of course the birthing came in early March this year. My guess is the herd can delay birthing for some short period for the correct conditions. Some people believe that the birthing is somehow tied to the full moon (not sure why) but interestingly this year the full moon was Feb. 2nd and then again on March 3rd, a couple of days after which the birthing irrupted. For 2008 the full moon will be February 21 with us arriving in the Serengeti system on Feb. 24th, so I rolled dice with that as my best guess to time things right –I have no idea if that will get us there at the perfect time but we will enjoy the migration with or without the calves knowing we tried our best.

 

End of our conversation from years back. George guided Bill’s safari, making for a Circle of Life in trip and guide terms.

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Atravelynn

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The Wild Source Summary

A combination of these factors offered by The Wild Source for a great wildlife experience that focuses on “what’s out there.”

 

- Exceptional guiding, such as that offered by George Mbwambo.

-The ability to remain out for the full day if the client wishes. Seeing a leopard kill and two young cheetah cubs were possible because we were out during midday, waiting patiently for nature to unfold.

-Vehicles with big roll down windows instead of the sliding ones that open half way. Right now 3 of the Wild Source vehicles have roll downs. The other will be going in soon for conversion and any new vehicles acquired, due to their expansion. will have roll downs.

-Offering lodging that is reasonably priced and well located.

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Atravelynn

I think these are the cutest little cheetahs I've EVER seen; and what a terrific mom. (Actually I've never seen cheetah cubs, only leopard..and now I HAVE to)

 

One of the best captured incidents ever. How fortunate to be able to stay out, follow the continuing story, and then have them come to you in the car! I'd be so high....George would not be able get me off my cloud. No matter how good he is!

 

BTW, how did you come to know of George? I have canceled two planned Serengeti trips because I just had bad vibes on the guides...I like GREAT recommendations ~ as everyone knows the guide makes the trip...and our upcoming Sept safari I am pretty darn sure of our guide! (Thanks to ST members)

 

They are so worth the effort and money to find.

 

I have always thought Green Season would be lovely on the Serengeti. You are proving it YET AGAIN.

 

 

And why we all read ST reports :D

Thank you Graceland. I was just assigned George for Tarangire by Eben Schoeman Signature Safaris when I had Eben help me book a Tanzania Flycatchers trip in 2011. I added Tarangire on to the Flycatchers part for 3 nights and George was the guide. Then I specifically requested him again in March 2013 for Ndutu. George is now with The Wild Source.

 

Let me echo your "Thanks to ST members" comment. I got some help here on photographing moving subjects before I left. Those cubs were almost in constant motion (they were running for their lives for much of the time after all!) and without that help I think many of the cheetah cub shots would have been fluffy blurs.

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Soukous

Those little cheetahs are ADORABLE - I've never seen any that young in the wild.

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pault

Lemon Lynn and the Circle of Life! Great stuff and great focus on those wildebeest births. Excellent reading - I love a bit of theorizing based on observation (and some facts, although those are less interesting, albeit essential). Thanks for the daily weather report too - another great first (I think) by you. Cool.

 

And those cheetah cubs - so long since I've seen cubs that small, and they really do look to be terrified. I hope there is lots more. I know you and George are going to find us something good - you always do.

 

I'd make a joke about the "sponsored message" but it would probably fall flat, causing me To trip over my clown shoes and land face first in a bath full of custard.

 

You know my pupils dilated slightly when I saw "roll down windows".

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Safaridude

Wow, lots of gory stuff Lynn. Great zebra reflecction shots.

 

I am planning on a Feb Serengeti safari, and I will take many of your recommendations.

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bettel

What an outstanding safari! Before I read the report, I was pretty sure that my next African trip should be to Laikipia and Olare Motogori, but now I start to think that maybe it should be Ndutu :)

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Soukous

Wow, lots of gory stuff Lynn. Great zebra reflecction shots.

 

I am planning on a Feb Serengeti safari, and I will take many of your recommendations.

 

Would that be 2015 @@Safaridude?

I'm also looking at Serengeti for mid-late Feb 2015.

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