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Ndutu 11/2018 - Cats and Dust


ice

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I usually refrain from writing trip reports, for quite a few reasons. However, no rule without exceptions. For starters, the NCA does not seem to be as popular a destination (among STs) as say Mana Pools, South Luangwa, Hwange or Serengeti and Masai Mara. Secondly, those folks who do venture there are likely to visit during the wet season, starting now and lasting usually until late March. I myself did so during my first two stays in Feb. 2014 and Feb. 2016.

 

However, since my last visit the NCA has imposed a new park or concession fee, bringing the total up to appr. 120 USD per day. At the same time, Ndutu Lodge (my preferred base in the NCA) has also raised their rates. Last but not least the exchange rate between the Dollar and the Euro has taken a slump (for those who are fortunate enough not to be governed by that clown with the orange hair). Good reasons to try a trip in the dry season.

 

Getting there

 

Not too many airlines service Kilimanjaro Airport. TK is one of them. I was a bit hesitant to book with them, though, since in 2015 I missed my connection (then to Nairobi) due to their incoming flight being late. I ended up being stuck in Istanbul for 24 h. However, this year everything went smooth and easy, 3 of my 4 flights even landed before schedule.

 

Arriving at KIA at 6 am in the morning, I had decided to spend a day in Arusha, catching up some of that lost sleep. Safariland Cottages was my place of choice. No regrets here.

 

I am not a big fan of bush flights, whenever there is a chance for a road transfer, I take it. With my guide Hamisi I left Arusha the following morning at 8 am. It took us about 3 hours to get to the gate and another 3 1/2 hours until we settled at the lodge.

 

Ndutu Lodge

 

Ndutu Lodge is perhaps the oldest lodge / camp in the NCA, initially built in 1964, I believe. Since then ownership and management has shifted quite a few times. Only a few months ago it changed once again. The new managing couple, Andrew from Australia and his wife Stephanie from my home country, took over in July and have already implemented a few welcome changes and have some more promising ideas for the future.

 

The Lodge consists of 34 cottages, lined up in two rows, with a view towards Lake Ndutu and the main / common area in the middle. During my 10 nights stay never were more than 5 cottages occupied. One night I was even the sole guest. Quite business like this has its merits: the staff picks up your name rather quickly and the cook starts to prepare you preferred dishes, for instance. 

 

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Being a regular visitor of South Africa's Kgalagadi Park for more than 12 years now, I've had my share of good sightings of African Wild Cats. However, on another early morning venture we came across

Landscape and Temperature   The highest temperatures during my stay hopped around 30°C but obviously it was a dry heat, so easily bearable. In the mornings it would have cooled down to about

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Glad to see this report. We visited Ndutu Lodge on one of our first African trips...before we were "brave" enough to stay in tented camps ;) and we loved it. Had incredible cheetah sightings there...I believe at least 15 individuals in just four days (this was in February though.) And of course the genets in the dining room are always a hit :) I'll be curious to hear about the recent changes...I still get their newsletter and knew about the departure of Ainslie et al. and the new management Hope it hasn't changed too much!

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like I said, the changes they apllied so far were for the better (at least imho):

 

You can now have a "proper" (aka: full) breakfast before you go out on a game drive; meaning you can stay out as long as you want, without having to deal with these rather dull breakfast or lunch boxes (or picnic breakfasts). Also, they have started to refurbish the cottages, especially the somewhat dated bathrooms. 

 

In the medium-run they are planning to go solar completely. Once that is accomplished, they will be able to offer power in the rooms 24/7. Last but not least Andrew is hoping to convince the NCA to allow proper walking safaris (maybe even multi-days) and proper night drives, but that will need a lot of convincing and is at the moment rather wishful thinking.

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I am also glad to see this report. I have come across a few reports covering Feb and Mar. I am interested to see how it works out for you during Nov.

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My guide

 

My guide, Hamisi Masawe, has started his career at Ndutu Lodge more than 20 years ago. He began as a handyman, doing mostly maintenance, then became a room steward and soon after a driver, thus getting to know the area around the lodge very well. Finally he took the necessary classes to become a guide. Thanks to a generous present by one of his best clients who bought him a safari landrover about two years he was finally able to leave the lodge and join the team of a company called "Amazing Tanzania".

Since my last visit to the NCA in Feb. 2016 I've stayed in touch with Hamisi, mostly via What's App, with the odd phone call sprinkled in. I negotiated with him directly and ended up paying him about 10 % more of what he initially asked for his services, basically the same rate the lodge had charged me in 2014 and 2016 when he was still working for them. 

 

 

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Edited by ice
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Disclaimer

 

While travelling I spent a lot of time filming of what I see and experience. In fact, my equipment (including 4 different cameras, 3 different microphones, a zoom lens, and last but not least an 8 kg tripod) has become so heavy I don't even bring a photo camera to my trips anynmore. All the pictures I have posted and will post were shot either with my iPhone, my video or my GoPro camera. Secondly, I don't have the time to edit my photos. What you see is what came from my SD Cards, no post-processing etc. 

 

Past Experiences

 

Up until my recent trips to the Khwai Concession in July 2017 and July 2018 I rated my two prior Ndutu experiences (both 10 nights stays, just like this year)  as my best safaris ever. In 2014 we saw 27 different cheetahs, a lot of them more than once. In 2016 this number raised to 30 different cheetahs. In 2014 I witnessed 7 cheetah different kills, two years later even 8 (and each year twice as many hunting attempts). We saw cheetahs mating, a mother with cubs interacting with a young male, another mother teaching her cubs how to bring down a baby gazelle, three youngsters making their first kill without the help of their mother, and much much more. In addition we came across roughly 20 different lions each year. In 2016 then I also witnessed 3 wildebeest cows giving birth. (The following photos are from 2014 and 2016)

 

 

 

 

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Zubbie15

Really looking forward to this report @ice - I had hoped to include a few days in Ndutu during our safari next September, but ended up having to cut a few days due to work and that stay was part of what got cut.  It'll be interesting to see your experience during the non-peak time.  

 

Some interesting changes happening, and proposed, for NSL.  Given that it isn't in the national park, it would seem there should be a way to have night drives and walking safaris, hopefully they can make that happen. 

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Well, in theory they already offer walking safaris (you can read so at the R&R board at the airstrip). However, I don't think any of the TAs or the lordge/camp managers properly advertises them. 

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My expectations for 2018

 

I was of course well aware that I had been extremely lucky with my sightings in 2014 and 2016 and that to have such luck could certainly not be expected for this year's trip, especially since it was to start at the end of the dry season. Nevertheless, I was hoping to at least see some cheetah action. Had I not read somewhere that most cheetahs (just like lions) remain in their territories, even when their prey migrates? Well, be as it may, somebody forgot to tell that to Ndutu's cheetah, as I had to find out.

 

I was looking forward to a much less crowded place, compared to the height of migration in Feb./March; one wish that was going to be fulfilled. However, even in 2014 and especially in 2016 we were usually also able to stay away from the crowds: we would leave the lodge 10 or 15 min earlier than the all the other guides, drive the first few kilometers without any lights (so that nobody was able to follow us) and then head to less popular places, like the woodlands near Twin Hills. There we parked the green car under a green tree, a camouflage that helped to hardly ever be spotted by other people. Also, back then Hamisi's radio was only connected to the lodge, meaning his colleagues could not reach him.

 

 

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Our typical safari day

 

My typical safari day started a few minutes before 6 am. The Staff was ready to serve a proper breakgast, which in my case consisted of a choice of eggs, bacon, muffins, toasted bread and juice. We left the left the lodge usually at 6:15 am, something like 15 min before the regular guests (an old habit of us, stemming from 2014 and 2016, when we felt we needed to leave early, so that we could not be followed by other guides). No such need this year, as far as I know there were never more than two other groups staying with me at the lodge. And yet I still prefer to be out in the bush as early as posible.

 

 

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Back in 2014 and 2016 I'd stay out the entire day, not returning to the lodge before dinner time. There was just so much to see and witness. Sometimes we would park the vehicle on one of the planes, pick up our binos, make a 360 turn and instantly spot 3 different cheetahs / cheetah families. We'd drive up to them, check if it was a mother with cubs, with whom the chances of witnessing a hunt was usually high, or "merely" a male, perhaps even with a full belly and then we'd decide which one we'd take our chances with.

 

This year on our very first drive (which lasted only a 2 1/2 h, though), we did not see a single cheetah (a first for me in Ndutu). On the second day we were luckier, coming across a mother with a subadult cub. We spent an hour with them, but there was absolutely no prey in sight, not even a tiny gazelle. Wating was easy in 2014 and 2016, with some much stuff happening around us. This year it was tough on me and that's why I finally decided to head back to the lodge (another first for me in Ndutu). 

 

 

 

 

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To make a longer story short: That became the routine for the rest of my 2018 stay: leave the lodge around 6:15 am, return between 11:00 and 12:30, then head out again between 14:30 and 15:00. Official rules state that cars in the NCA ought to be back at their base no later than 18:30 but that rule is not really enforced. We'd usually return between 18:00 and 19:00, with dinner starting at 19:30.

 

 

 

 

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Zubbie15
On 11/18/2018 at 11:26 PM, ice said:

Had I not read somewhere that most cheetahs (just like lions) remain in their territories, even when their prey migrates? Well, be as it may, somebody forgot to tell that to Ndutu's cheetah, as I had to find out.

 

I've read similar information about cheetahs and lions not migrating, but anecdotally I can say that when we were in Ndutu in February of 2016 our guide saw a lioness with a distinctive scar that he said normally lived in the Seronera area.  I  imagine the cats must follow the prey, at least to some extent.

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1 hour ago, Zubbie15 said:

 

I've read similar information about cheetahs and lions not migrating, but anecdotally I can say that when we were in Ndutu in February of 2016 our guide saw a lioness with a distinctive scar that he said normally lived in the Seronera area.  I  imagine the cats must follow the prey, at least to some extent.

 

Well, I guess there is a difference between lions and cheetahs: You mention that your guide saw one lioness. Not sure if she was part of a pride but if not, she was a nomad. Nomadic lions obviously have no territory and therefore they are bound to wander around, even if there is plenty of prey, such as not to risk to bump into the resident pride(s). I'll get back to that subject later on in my report.

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Leaving so early in the morning meant that we sometimes were lucky enough to catch animals that usually withdraw back into their dens once the sun comes up.

 

 

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Being a regular visitor of South Africa's Kgalagadi Park for more than 12 years now, I've had my share of good sightings of African Wild Cats. However, on another early morning venture we came across a mother with three kittens - a first for me.

 

 

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Edited by ice
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Landscape and Temperature

 

The highest temperatures during my stay hopped around 30°C but obviously it was a dry heat, so easily bearable. In the mornings it would have cooled down to about 18°C, nothing one could not stand when wearing a beanie to protect the ears and a sweater or a jacket and long trousers for the rest of the body below the head. A cool breeze was usually blowing and the massive concrete and brick construction of the cottages at the lodge provided a natural temperature regulation system: not too cold in the mornings and not too hot for a midday nap.

 

I had of course seen both pictures and documentaries about what the Serengeti-Masai Mara-Ecosystem looks like during the dry season. And I had visited other African parks during their dry seasons, too. And yet, seeing it with my own eyes was an experience in its own: I simply could not believe how different areas like Makao, Hidden Valley or Twin Hills look like in the wet and in the dry months. Here, in the vast, almost tree- and bushless plains the disparity is much starker than in places like Kruger or Kgalagadi. Look at the following pictures and you'll see what I mean:

 

 

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Where is the rest of this trip report @ice ?  I really want to know whether my impression about this area in the dry season -  that it is quiet but will reward the patient - is correct. 

 

I always understood that Cheetahs do travel quite long distances - even females sometimes. My understanding is that you could say they just have bigger territories when it is necessary, with favoured areas. 

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13 minutes ago, pault said:

Where is the rest of this trip report @ice ?  I really want to know whether my impression about this area in the dry season -  that it is quiet but will reward the patient - is correct. 

 

I always understood that Cheetahs do travel quite long distances - even females sometimes. My understanding is that you could say they just have bigger territories when it is necessary, with favoured areas. 

 

These past weeks I have been extremely busy with editing my video diary but I am hopeful to find some time to wrap this up between X-Mas and New Year's.

 

Thanks for all the likes, btw. From Asia I was usually dissed, until a member of this community whose name shall not come over our lips anymore recently left us to cry somewhere else. 

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ok, where was I?

 

The Cats

 

According to Estes' "Behaviour Guide to African Mammals" there are six different cat species to be found in Tanzania: african wild cat, serval, caracal, cheetah, leopards and lions. Over my current span of 10 nights I was lucky enough to see all of them; a feat I have never in my 30+ safaris mastered before, not even in cat rich parks like Kruger or Kgalagadi:

 

1 serval

4 AWC

2 caracal

1 leopard

10 cheetahs

21 lions

 

and since the NCA does not allow night drives, all of these were spotted during daylight hours

 

Some other interesting facts:

  • my last daytime sighting of a serval (around 10 am) dates from 2006, on the other side of the border (Masai Mara NP)
  • my previous three caracal sightings were limited to Kgalagadi
  • to see a leopard in the NCA seems to be very rare; this was only my 3rd leopard sighting over the 30 nights of 2014, 2016 and 2018
  • in fact, when the news of a leopard sleeping in a tree less than a mile away spread like fire over the lodge, Andrew, the new manager, picked up Emanuel, a member of the staff and took him with him to have a look at the cat - in his 10 plus years working in the NCA Emanuel had never seen a leopard before
  • 5 different cat species (all except caracal) were spotted over the course of one single morning drive

Cheetah sightings were spread as follows:

  • one mother with a sub adult male (6 different sightings)
  • one singe female with mange in the Frontier Forest (1 sighting)
  • one single male in Hidden Valley (1 sighting)
  • one highly pregnant female at Makao Plains  (1 sighting)
  • one single male  at Makao Plains  (1 sighting)
  • one mother with 3 new borns cubs (7 different sightings)

Lion sightings were spread as follows:

  • Lodgi, Lope and Loton (3 males of a coalition of 4, also called the "L-Gang") 
  • Nemeju (single nomad male)
  • Aphrodite, Diana, Juno and Cassandra (Marsh Pride)
  • Laura, Willow and 3 cubs (Thin Pride)
  • Lucie Manette and MAT 10 (Matiti Pride)
  • Venus and Vesta (Marsh Pride)
  • Nosikitok, Babs, Bessy and Brenda (Masek Pride)

All lions except Lucie Manette and MAT 10 were seen more than once, especially the cats of the Thin Pride.

 

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since I was busy filming and all the three sightings were rather short, I have decided to upload a few clips of the first caracal and the serval sighting at youtube

 

 

Edited by ice
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Edited by ice
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