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R&R in Ruaha


pault
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You can safely leave this for a little while. It won't be going anywhere fast and there are other good Ruaha reports on the go now. Save me* for a cold night with a cup of cocoa! :)

 

*The report is talking here!

 

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Well after the great Uganda workout (http://safaritalk.net/topic/13193-the-uganda-workout-kibale-qenp-and-nkuringo/) and all that dense cloud and ever-threatening rain, I was really ready for a boring, relaxing few days pottering around Ruaha in an open Landcruiser and snapping a few shots in that beautiful Ruaha light. It didn't really work out like that though, and although we had a few thrills for once the perfect camp in the perfect park didn't add up to the perfect safari experience.

 

Firstly, I am cursed. I admitted back in 2009 that I actually liked cloud and rain on safari because it meant you could shoot all day, provided some amnazing skies, and was just generally more interesting. Who wants unbroken blue skies? Well, since then wherever I go and whenever I go there, the clouds come with me. Sometimes they are mostly puffy things that build up over the morning until the horizon is full of them, like in Northern Tanzania in 2012, and sometimes they fill the sky and roll in low, bringing some heavy showers, like in Meru last year. But wherever we are, they ratrely clear for more than a day and there are always storms coming that never actually come. I feel like the sun has banished me to a kind of cloud purgatory where it's neither wet nor dry, neither clear nor spectacularly murky, sunsets are flat and boring and the red light of morning and evening is withheld in favor of a blander light that can be sustained until mid-morning. Occasionally I get a little teaser of classic African safari weather - blue skies, red dawns, amazing sunsets - but never too much. I am cursed

 

So I hereby announce in public "Sun... you are glorious and anybody who does not want to see you from dawn to dusk and dream of you all night until your first rays kiss our feet as we sleep has severe issues for which he should apologise immediately."

 

I hope that works.

 

Secondly, I am cursed. I boasted not many months ago that I had never had vehicle mates I could not handle (well there was one, but she was simply the exception to prove the rule). I will never make such a claim again because the gods were offended by my pride and threw down a metaphorical thunderbolt into Kigelia Camp, Ruaha. I was compeltely stumped and the only answer was murder (of either guests or camp manager) but they were all so nice I couldn't even do that.

 

Since Bush Dog and Fly Traveler are already writing fine reports covering all the ground we covered in Ruaha (apart form a bit near to Kigelia Camp) so I will leave the day by day stuff to them. Linear time will feature in my report, but only when needed. Miostly "one day" or "one afternoon" might be better.

 

You may debate on whether I have actually started the trip report yet. Don't forgert to think in terms of non-linear narrative.

 

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Nothing happened for days and then the sky just freaked out (with a little help from me).

 

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Edited by pault
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I do like your b&w rendition of the baobab, very striking. I'd say that was a great start to any safari.

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As for me, the last picture, with the sunbeams piercing through the clouds, is a good start!

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All kinds of stuff happens in Ruaha. When I was in my early teens I remember there was a series of advertis for some bath salts or something. "Things happen after a Badedas bath" was the slogan. (and the fact they featured naked women was doubtless why they caught my attention at that age, rather than a desire to be clean.) Well Ruaha is just like that, but instead of a handsome stufd arriving in 19th century costume it will be a lesser and greater kudu browsing within 20 meters of each other, a leopard strolling down the road towards you, A little Scops Owl camofalged agsinst a tree followed by a pair of Giant Eagle Owls feeding, and then a little later a pair of Verraux's Eagle Owls. A mad jackal kicking like a zebra. 50 hornbills in a Baobab tree. Two leopards treed (same tree) by three lions. A huge herd of buffaloes crossing the Ruaha River. Then there is nothing for a while, andf then you look more closely and you see there is a lion walking through that small herd of elephants in the distance, or maybe it's jsut one of those Ruaha scenes where you look from left to right and count over a dozen animal or bird species. Then it might be back to nothing again - or maybe not quite nothing. You know there are sable and roan and pangolins and all sorts out there, because it makes perfect sense that there would be. The longer you are out the more you will see - so simple.And the harder you look too - no easy thing to spot everything at once in the long yellow grass, or against the oange earth, or hiding between bushes. And the landscape is just so speckled anyway that even if something smaller is in the open you might not see it unless it moves. How often here are you looking at one thing and then you see something else.Usually it's just an impala, but it might be something more interesting so you always keep your eyes open.

 

Or maybe it is just that the scenery is so interesting, lovely and varied itself that it diostracts you?

 

 

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Anyway, it's one of those parks that everyone will like, but some (a sizable some) will love. I am in the latter category. I think about going there every year. I rarely do, but I think about it.

 

 

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But it's not all roses. Here we are with a beautiful forest of Baobab trees, a magnificent kopje and ..... a big radio mast! it is a wild, wild place but the roads are well graded, there are signposts and there are patrols. The ranger station is huge - like a small miliary camp. Guides behave.

 

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Do you see? Or are you destracted by that massive Baobab or the beautifully graded road?

 

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And the B&W giraffes and the "Do you see ?" a good continuation. Concerning the text, I wish I could also have so much inspiration.

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And the B&W giraffes and the "Do you see ?" a good continuation. Concerning the text, I wish I could also have so much inspiration.

Thanks! With two trip reports full of great sightings and photographs from the same areas of the same park, I think it is a case of "necessity is the mother of inspiration."

 

But seriously, this is perfect for me because a couple of negative things happened and I was either mad or sad for part of my stay. By writing like this I can mention those things but give a very positive impression about the whole experience - which is how I truly feel about it. If I started at the beginning, the first day was bad and it would be a terrible start.

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Ohh, @@pault, finally you started your Ruaha NP report, which I waited for so long. Your Uganda workout was one of the best TR-s that I have ever read and the photographs were (and still are) one of the best that I have seen (really liked the B&W-s of people and activities, except the wildlife images, of course).

 

Love the irony about the clouds curse, would be interested about the issues with the vehicle mates (if it's all right to share them). Following our game drives in Sabi Sand and Khwai concession in Botswana in May / June last year, I started having doubts about myself being a nice person, but no issues with vehicle mates at all during the Ruaha safari - I and my wife were alone with the guide. :)

 

I am really looking forward to seeing the continuation of this report and I am sure that it will be at least as great, as your previous ones.

Edited by FlyTraveler
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@@pault

 

Well you know well I always love a Pault TR; and this is no different. You creatively weave a spell and no matter there are other Ruaha Tr's floating about (and very good ones we all know!) -

 

But truly, with your prose and pics, how could we not want more. :rolleyes:

 

Even the bad vehicle mates. One thing we quit dealing with by going private. (so less trips, but more quality)

 

It can be quite irksome, even if you are a generally affable couple. Why go so far to be in the frame of mind to "accidentally" push one out of the vehicle. ;)

Been there for sure. Actually I think I did lean a bit into someone as we turned a corner hoping a spill might occur.

 

You might even want to give Moli a call next time Ruaha speaks to you. I think you'd absolutely have a time with he and Noelle. He has some fancy gadget as well, where you can sit out in the sand bed all night and feel as if you are walking on one of the planets swirling above. And then a lion roars close by.

 

Looking forward!

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At least your skills as a photographer have not been cursed. Beautiful start.

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Thank you for some very kind comments.

 

@Fly Traveler I will talk about issues with vehicle mates, in some way. Censorship won't be necessary because I thought our vehicle mates were very nice people, and so was the camp manager. How could I say no after such flattering comments!!! Funny you mentioned Sabi Sands, because it is where I might have expected this kind of issue - not on "home turf" in East Africa.

 

@@graceland.... Moli's number is in my little black book.

 

 

I see the attraction ofd writing a trip report like this. I can just sit down, open my album and see what the pictures tell me to write about.... or just write and then look for a few pictures to go with the text. Interesting experience!

 

To return momentarily to linear time, all the pictures so far and below were taken on the first two full days of a six night stay at the beginning of September 2014.

 

Some memorable Ruaha moments from those first two days:

 

First morning out we headed straight for the Mwagusi River (a sand river in early September with a few pools of water, mostly where elephants had performed some excavations, but also in a couple of spots where perhaps the water table was a bit higher).

 

The Mwagusi River at its wettest.

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As we prepared to cross, on the far bank we saw a Greater Kudu, with beautiful horns. I wish the light had been a bit better and he had been a little closer, as he was clealry quite comfortable with us being on the other side of the river (quite narrow at the point we were at). But there was a lot of shade and in any case the sun was not really getting through the clouds.

 

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We were about to move on when, about 20-30 meters to the right of the Greater Kudu a group of three Lesser Kudu appeared, browsing quite happily. Lesser left, Greater right (our left!). Watch and compare. A fine way to start the day.

 

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I don't know whether it is because this time we were in a different area this time (Kigelia is located a few km north east of Mwagusi I think - really very much in a similar area in terms of game drives, although because the area called Little Serengeti was desperately dry and even burnt in places, part of the common area driven by the two camps was not very rewarrding - we still drove it as an alternative route out of or back to camp, but Mwagusi vehicles probably headed the other way) but animals seemed more habituated in Ruaha this time. They might not let you come close but they seemed very calm in general. Of course that varied, and not necessarily how you would expect - as in you might find some relaxed kudus and then some very skittish jackals and nervous baboons.

 

Shy adult and bold calf

 

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Signalling calf

 

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Bold warthogs

 

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Shy impala (we were not particularly close - this shot is at 600mm ++ equivalent!)

 

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The unpredicatability is really nice and means it never feels like things are too easy. You appreciate the habituated animals if you are not sure how the next one will behave.

 

However, in the end everybody has to come down for water and so every animal will eventually be within sighting distance.

 

 

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Love the textures on the skin of the signalling eliie calf.

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"I see the attraction ofd writing a trip report like this. I can just sit down, open my album and see what the pictures tell me to write about.... or just write and then look for a few pictures to go with the text. Interesting experience!"

 

 

You mean there is another way to write a trip report? All these years later, someone is finally telling me!!

I ALWAYS write; find a picture that might not be out of focus, or have terrible lighting...and don't even get me on how to frame and add it in.

 

Well there you go, the reason I have more words than pics in my reports.

 

Love the Kudu; they were quite beautiful in Ruaha, and even more so when we got to Zim (Ruaha began my total appreciation of them as Moli was an enthusiastic Kudu follower)

 

And, of course those elies in Ruaha with babies no less!

 

I like your new way of reporting :)

Edited by graceland
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@@pault - been waiting for this report ...... Loved every word and image so far!

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I am familiar with the R&R acronym. <_< Unlike some previous ones you've employed. :rolleyes:

 

What an interesting and odd shot: Shy Impala.

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For the first few days we couldn't stop seeing leopards. I thought we had come to South Luangwa by mistake. Six in three days, and not all the same individual or in the same location either. Between Mwagusi Camp and Kigelia Camp seems to be a leopard hotspot at the moment, although all sightings except one were at dusk or in the very early morning. The one that was in at least partial daylight was not the leopards' intention. Two of them were up the same tree and there were a couple of lions under same tree. Whether the lions had been the cause of the leopards being in the tree, or whether the leopards had woken from a snooze to find snoozing lions under the tree I am not sure. Anyway, the lions weren't going up or going away, and it didn't seem like the leopards were coming down so it seemed to be an indefinitely prolonged sighting. But I use the word "seemed" carefully because with all that long grass the leopards had the advantage and one of them spotted a chance to sneak away and did so.calmly. methodically and of course completely silently.

 

Sneaking down

 

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And after putting some distance between it and the lions in the long grass, it very carefully crossed the road behind us and disappeared.

 

 

Look left, look right, look left again... no lions!

 

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The other leopard (could have been her daughter as certainly younger but the two stayed far apart in the -very big - tree) looked a bit nervous at first - she had definitely not arrived on this branch to rest.

 

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But she settled fdown after the other leopard left (support for the possibility that they were not related and had met in the tree - wish I had seen that) and remained where she was, high up in the baobab with a view for miles.

 

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One of the lions came after the leopard that had descended, but she was way off the pace.

 

Where'd it go?

 

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One evening we were finishing off a very pleasant (we had been alone) but fairly uneventful game drive when our guide spotted a leopard in the Mwagusi River bed, just strolling along scouting the river banks (very high at that point) for dik diks and other delicacies. He didn't find anything and when he climbed up out of the river (sand river remember) he went away from the road, and we had to leave him quite soon after.

 

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And sated by the experience we drove back towards camp in near darkness, came over the brow of a rise and what was there? Another leopard! Too dark now to bother with a shot.

 

 

Next evening it was nearly dark and we had not had any luck with leopard hunting and it was getting chilly (still warm outside, but getting very cold in the vehicle). But a nice leopard sighting warmed up at least the front row before dinner.

 

Same sighting as "do you see?" in my first post..

 

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And there is another very good leopard sighting to describe, but since it is part of another story, I will lleave it for now. Leopards everywhere!

 

 

Have they gone yet?

 

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Talking about birdlife in Ruaha results in a slight quickening of my pulse as images flash before my eyes.

 

They are not of the lovely Ruaha Hornbill

 

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And they do not feature Helmeted Guineafowl

 

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I don't even think of goshwaks perched on baobab trees against a rare blue sky.

 

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We have a few more very positive posts to get through before it is time to tell you what images do flash in front of me, but there should be a little cloud every now and again to remind you that it wasn't all roses. It most certainly wasn't all roses.....

Edited by pault
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Leopards are always such a prized sighting and the sightings you've shared with us were certainly gems. The male looking for dikdiks looked a little hungry, I hope he found something to eat soon. Funny, I didn't picture such a leopard hotspot in Ruaha so either you were lucky at this at least, or I'm not reading all the Ruaha reports properly.

 

I like the goshawk in the tree very much.

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I am enjoying your reflections about the nature of the park, and your photos of course are great. I'm intrigued about what bird "visions" you are having...we will see...

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@@pault - in your opinion, what would be the ideal month for a Ruaha visit? Not just blue skies, but, good light and reasonably good viewing? ......... I know I'm asking for everything .......

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@@madaboutcheetah It should have been when I was there!! Since I cannot say that when I went is the best time (although it should be good) then late July or August (still some water and best chance of limited cloud cover) or October (very limited water but the risk of dust, fire, etc. and clouds if there are some early rains around) but you ideally want to be there when the buffaloes are accessible, and I don't think that can be fully predicted. Stokeygirl's trip report has some discussion on time of year and I'd add that burning is a factor to consider - both times I have been in September a recent burn has cleared a large area near my chosen camp of wildlife. On the plus side for later,the main rivers have to be visited by the animals. There will likely be no water accessible in the smaller rivers and streams. But cats can of course drink at night and they may prefer to hunt then too. Might see a lot of flat ones.

 

I think you just have to take your chances. I would go early to mid-August - it'll be a bit busier, but not busy and it really should be too early for any rains (but who knows nowadays) and the weather should be cooler (for the cats, not for me). If you must have sightings to yourself, late September or early October or take a punt on early July (risk of long, long grass and maybe even still scattered animals).

 

If you are thinking of Kwihala or Mwagusi ask Pietro or Chris - they both know far, far more on this topic than anyone here could.

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@@pault

Beautiful pictures of leopards, great writing. And all positive looking so far....

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Hi Pault

 

Fantastic photos, you are a good photographer and knows how to process the pics. I really love the photos of the leopards. This first one is amazing.

 

TFS/ Gregor

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Thank you @@TonyQ and @@Gregor. and @@twaffle (I am sure the leopard would have found some food - jsut adjusting to the effects of the burn on wildlife in his territory probably - in fact I think that might be the same leopard feasting on a bushbuck under the bridge in @@Bush dog's report but am lazy to count spots - suspect the location of our sighting was next to the same bridge)..

 

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Time for another chapter, although I fear I am short on inspiration and this one may go nowhere interesting or cover ground covered before.

 

You are stopped at a viewpoint above the Great Ruaha River one day. It seems to be very quiet. Nothing really to see, although the view would be pretty if it wasn;t 10.20 am and hazy already. Then your guide finally resolves what made him stop in his binoculars and you are told to take a look. A pride male chasing some young males out of the pride? A stranger taking on two pride females? Sexing is difficult at this distance and there is no context. The three lions just run across the river and then a minute later disappear into the bush. No possibility of following them or even of ever finding them again. A snapshot of pride dynamics with no explanation and no resolution. I like the open-ended stuff, even if I can't possibly get a decent picture.

 

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We really thought he was going to catch them, but they picked up the pace immediately after this.

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The only thing really predictable when we left camp in the morning was that we would see elephants, baboons, Lilac-breasted Rollers and Red-billed Hornbills, Impala were also highly likely and so were giraffes. There are probably another couple of birds that we saw every drive (Pale Chanting Goshawks and drongos perhaps?) but everything else (and I include warthogs, gazelles and even starlings or shrikes) would depend on where we went and what happened to be there. Of course if we had stayed near the Ruaha River we would have been able to add considerably to that list of sure sightings. And others who weren’t where we were may not have all that I have on my list - I would be surprised if not, though.

 

 

Lions we saw on nearly half our game drives.(a relatively low return for Ruaha, but not exactly bad) and I've mentioned leopards already (in response to twaffle, this is very good leopard country and sightings are frequent). Cheetahs avoided us, even though we were in a good area for them (there had been a cheetah kill next to camp a few days before we arrived, so those guests wore out the camp luck. We saw kudus more often than lions, with a preference for Greater Kudu, and it would be rare that we didn’t see a number of giraffes. Birds of prey are common, and relatively diverse. You always had to look very carefully to see what something was, even if it wasn't a juvenile (the likes of crested eagles and fish eagles excepted of course!).For those who know one and not the other, this is all rather like what Meru National Park in Kenya was (and is slowly getting back to) and of course it's no coincidence that is another place that I really like The buffaloes waited until the second to last day to make an appearance, after which of course they would have been a daily sighting until they moved on. warthogs, Jackals, dik-diks and bushbucks are all there in decent numbers, but not seen as often as elsewhere. Hyena are not commonly seen. Zebras and gazelles were only around in very small numbers (one gazelle!!) but this may partially be because of the burning around Little Serengeti, which would be the ideal place for them. Looking down or up, you'll see some rock hyraxes and mongooses (banded and dwarf usually, but slender appear common). Strange to say but I don't think we saw any vultures. This was neither the time nor place in Ruaha for sable, roan or wild dogs. Parrots were for me slightly unexpected, but they are fairly common here, as are Fischer’s Lovebirds.

 

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Stop, look... do you see?

 

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Of course if we had gone further afield, my list would be much longer, but we didn't in the end get any further than the Ruaha River. On the plus side our little circuits were very quiet and we rarely had any other vehicles at a sighting.

 

Around the Mwagusi River the elephants were very calm and very plentiful. It was nothing to see three herds on a single drive. They would usually be grazing or digging for water, and generally barely even glanced at us while they went about this. Youngsters would wave their ears, and sometimes adults would do it too, but they were usually very calm and just keeping up appearances. I really didn't plan to take any elephant close-up shots this trip – a bit bored with them - but I ended up taking some anyway just because opportunities kept presenting themselves.

 

 

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Not all elephants were relaxed, and they are elephants. It really is wise to be cautious, especially in an area where there has been some hunting and poaching in the recent past. Some elephants were clearly not too comfortable and here in 2009 was the closest we have been to getting tipped over by an elephant – only some fast reflexes and gear changes worthy of a racing driver by our driver saved us from what would have been a very bracing contact.

 

 

Anyway, this is all very different to places where you pretty much know what you are likely to see (and it’s why you go there). When you have a quiet day in Ruaha it can be very, very quiet. Just take a wrong turn and there appears to be almost nothing for miles. But when you have a good day, it is fantastic.

 

Pault reacts to the thought of another trip to Ruaha

 

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Please feel free to spot silly omissions to my list (Vervet Monkeys would be one, but which park doesn’t have them?). Frequency of sightings will vary with location and, like our game drives, I am focusing on a very small part of the park, and avoiding the Great Ruaha River - because once you get there you might see anything, as everything must drink.

 

 

Still only half the story told.....

 

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Edited by pault
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I'm really enjoying this TR @@pault

A question for you.... one of the things which has made trips to Ruaha interesting is that some of the lions there have started specialising in giraffe as their chosen prey.

Did you see any evidence of this?

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