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Ndutu 11/2018 - Cats and Dust


ice

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One of the sightings of a lifetime I could have had was the lion kill I have mentioned before.

 

When we found that weak lion cub left behind by its pride Hamisi called the rangers over his radio. Sure enough, ten minutes later two vehicles stood next to our landcruiser. Chief Edward decided that he also wanted to have a look at the rest of the pride which we had left behind less than a mile away. He asked us to stay with the cub.

 

Looking back I am not sure if this was an order which we had to obey (on what grounds, though) or just a polite request, from a ranger to a guide and a tourist. I'd lie if I now claimed that I would not have stayed with the cub, had Edward not asked / ordered us to do so. However, when he and his colleague drove off, I wondered why they had not split up: one of them could have stayed with the cub while the other one headed off to the pride.

 

Anyway, it took Edward much longer to return than the initially predicted "few minutes". No surprise, since the pride had made a much needed kill in the meantime.

 

 

Like I said, to be honest, I am not sure if we would have returned to the pride earlier than we finally did, had Edward not been around, Nevertheless, I would have loved to see the entire kill.

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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

2016    

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Another sighting I wish I had been around for happended a few days dater:

 

The cheetah we spent most time with was a mother with three tiny cubs. On that particular morning we had found her again in the woodland south of the Big Marsh. We shared the sighting with two or three other vehicles which was rather unsual for this trip. 

 

Anyway, a few minutes after we had arrived the little family started to move off. Had we been alone, Hamisi and I would have followed them. However, the other guides were more than willing to pick up that task. So I suggested that we leave the cheetah for the time being - lions had been spotted less than a mile away. I was sure that if I decided that I'd want to return to the cheetah family, we could always radio the other guides and ask for theiir position.

 

Sure enough, we found the lions without any problems - it was Nosikitok and the other females of the Masek Pride, plus a male from the L-Gang. Up on the hilltop, though the other resident pride (Laura and Willow) stumbled across the cheetah mum and her cubs - and obviously decided that they'd want to kill the cheetah babies. The mother frantically charged the lions, trying to distract them from her cubs which had fled into a thicket. At the same time the guides tried to push the lions away with their vehicles. The combined efforts proved successful: mother and cubs survived without any injuries.

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Purists among you will now argue that the guides should never have interfered, that they should have let nature take its course. Others may remember a similiar incident not far away a few weeks earlier: the story goes that other guides tried to protect a rhino calf at the bottom of the Crater against a lion attack.

 

I have spoken both to guides and to the Ingela, the manager of Kope Lion. The guides I talked to all claimed that they would have acted just like their colleagues did. Ingela raised the (valid) question that maybe the guides were responsible for separating the rhino calf from its mother in the first place.

 

Me, I am pretty much undecided. I certainly do not believe that under no circumstances should the guides have interfered. Simply by being there we already interfere, if we like / want it or not. 

 

Definitely, though I would have liked to be part of that sighting.

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  • 2 weeks later...

A quick look back and you will notice / remember that this section of my trip report was / is called "Sightings of a Lifetime - Missed and Had". So far I have only talked about the missed opportunities, now, almost at the end of this blog, it is time to tell you about the one incident we were a (big) part of (I have already uploaded a few pictures at the "Your best wild life moment in 2018" thread).

 

It was my 8th day in the park. Until then we had seen a decent amount of cheetah and lions, but no hunts (not even hunting attempts) and certainly no kills. On that particular morning we discovered a single cheetah in an area called "Frontier Forest".

 

By the time we first saw her she had started to stalk a mixed herd of Thompson and Grant Gazelles. Initially the species kept their distance from each other which was ideal for the cheetah because was solely concentrating on the smaller thommies. However, when the cat was finally close enough to dare an attack thommies and grants had mingled. The cheetah decided to wait it out - and so had we.

 

Another 20 minutes later she started to stalk again - only to then abandon the hunt entirely. "Something must have spooked her", we were certain. And true enough, with the cheetah leaving the area behind our car, we took a closer look and found a lone hyena. It didn't make any sense for the cheetah to spend all that time and energy on a hunt, only to then risk loosing its fruits to a sponger.

 

Puh, we (and of course, the cheetah) had just wasted an hour and a half. We followed the cat which had already spotted another small herd of gazelles in the other direction. Nevertheless, I was sure it would take her ages to get close enough again. Little did I know - and that's where this video clip starts.

 

 

 

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Notes from the Editor, Part 1

 

This video is almost 8 min long - and thus 8 times as long as the attention span of your average youtube viewer. However, I do hope that most of us here in this community have more patience than this average youtube viewer. Also, I take some pride in the fact that my uploads are not your typical one-shot-one-pespective-shaky-cell-phone-clips. This sequence was shot with two different cameras over a period of pretty much exactly two hours. And last but not least, another youtube upload of mine which shows three lions eating a warthog alive has now passed the 2 million views mark, although it is also almost 7 minutes long.

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Notes from the Editor, Part 2

 

After the cheetah had made its kill, we initially kept our distance, as to not disturb the animal while feeding. However, as you by now might have seen, the cat had something else in mind: as there were no trees within the next mile or so and the sun was already burning down, she dragged the gazelle to the only shady area near her: under the footboard of our landcruiser. I am sure that if the two former members of this community who have recently left us were around, they would raise their ethical fingers and tell me / us in hindsight we should have driven off nonetheless, as to not interfere in favour of the cheetah. Well, that's another reason why I am happy that they are gone, because my answer to them would most likely have led to another debate about manners.

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Notes from the Editor, Part 3

 

This edit that I uploaded is exactly the same edit that I will use in my (much longer) video diary of the entire trip. However, the original edit contains both narration and a musical score. For the youtube version, I have left out both: German narration will only irritate most viewers and the music I chose would cause publishing rights problems, if I uploaded it publicly.

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If you look closely at these pictures you will notice that the cheetah moved with the wandering sun: the closer we came to high noon, the more she crawled under the car.

21 Fotos Klaus 076.JPG

21 Fotos Klaus 090.JPG

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21 Fotos Klaus 098.JPG

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Epilogue:

 

We left the cheetah around 12:20 pm. When we came back four hours later, the cat was just getting up - and we were able to her teats. It was the mother with three cubs we had seen quite a few times before. We followed her for more than two hours back to the Big Marsh where she had most likely hidden her cubs.

 

Little more than 24 h later she killed again - this time a much bigger grant gazelle.

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Tom Kellie

~ @ice

 

What a way to begin 2019!

 

Now I've seen everything!

 

Thank you so much for posting the extraordinary cheetah kill images.

 

Tom K.

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Conclusion

 

As I pointed out at the start of this report, after two high season visits in 2014 and 2016 this past November marked the first time I had booked a Ndutu / NCA Safari for the dry season. I was certainly expecting some differences but in the end these differences were much bigger than I could have guessed.

 

Looking at the mere numbers, 2018 comes up way short of 2014 and 2016:

 

  • 10 different cheetahs in 2018, 30 different cheetahs in 2016 and 27 different cheetahs in 2014
  • 1 cheetah kill in 2018, 8 cheetah kills in 2016 and 7 cheetah kills in 2014

 

and even with this one kill in 2018, I missed the chase and the catch.

 

A slightly better picture when I look at the numbers of lions we saw: 24 individuals cats in 2018, and 28 in 2016. But in 2016 we were, unlike last year, never purposefully looking for them, finding them was sort of a "by-product" when we drove around searching for cheetah.

 

The lack of predators is one part of the story. However, I was even more surprised by the lack of hoofed animals. Yes, I knew that wildebeest, zebras and most of the gazelles are part of the big migration. And yet, I have visited the Mara outside their migration season and we always found resident wildebeest and zebras. No such thing in the NCA: during the entire 10 days I spotted less than 10 zebras and only one small elephant family but not one single gnu and no buffalos, either.

 

But, as we all know, it's not only about quantity but also about quality. Most details of the cheetah kills I witnessed in 2014 and 2016 I have since forgotten - the memory of that one kill right next to our car will certainly stay with me for the rest of my life. And then there were the small cats, an AWC with three kittens, a serval and, best of all, two caracals - sightings I did not have in 2014 and 2016. Seeing five different cat species during one drive and all six different species of one park / concession are also feats I had not mastered before.

 

Last but not least, the quiteness and emptiness. I think we never saw more than 4 cars at one sighting. At most of the (good) sightings we were completely alone. During high season we would never ever have been able to spend so much quality time with lions or cheetahs.

 

So would I do it again - or advise others to dare a Ndutu trip during the dry season? Me, I would, but next time at the start and not at the end of the dry season (for Ndutu Lodge, that means April). The grass will still be green and with a bit of luck at least part of the big herds will not have left the area. At the same time the number of visitors / cars should have dwindled considerably, especially after the steep rise in park and concession fees.

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Amylovescritters

I will be in Ndutu at Njozi Camp with The Wild Source for 3 nights soon (April 4-6). I cannnot wait. This report is helping to tide me over ;)

Fascinating read/watch. Heartbreaking the lion cubs ?

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thanks @Amylovescritters I am pretty sure you will enjoy Ndutu. Next to Khwai it's my favourite place in Africa. In fact, I am already thinking about a 4th trip; for april 2020

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wilddog

What a wonderful, interesting report @ice. Thanks for sharing.

 

and what an honour to be able to name a lion :)

 

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thanks @wilddog

 

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gatoratlarge

When you say NCA---is this within the Serengeti NP, I know there's an Nduti Camp I think---just trying to pinpoint the location :D

 

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NCA is short for Ngorongoro Conservation Area which is not within but adjacent to Serengeti. That means if you want to cross from one to the other you'll have to pass through a gate and pay different fees. Another big difference: in the NCA off road driving is generally allowed but strictly prohibited in Serengeti NP. 

 

 

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cheetah80

Very interesting report, I have always wondered how it was to visit this area in the dry season, not very often documented!  Your patience paid off and you had wonderful sightings especially the small cats!  And the honor to name a lion - how cool is that!  Thanks for sharing with us, I really enjoyed it.   

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  • 2 months later...
Atravelynn
On 12/19/2018 at 7:44 AM, ice said:

Thanks. Sometimes I spent ten minutes or more to try and find a fitting piece of music for my video clips.

You chose well. A bit hard to watch, but well done.

It may have been dusty, but lotsa cats!  Thanks for the info on this time of year in Ndutu.

 

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  • 4 months later...
jeremie

@Ice: it's a very interesting post. thank you very much for sharing.

How far are Hidden valley, Makao Plains and Twin Hills from Ndutu Lodge in the dry season?

We expect to go there in next April, this will be the end of the rainy season. How long would that take to go there in that case? How are the tracks during the rainy seasons? and Main road from Arusha to Ndutu?

 

Thanks!

 

 

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The main road from Arusha to Ndutu should be fine but apart from that, you will obviously never know. I've been to Ndutu in the rainy season twice, though earlier . Personally, we never got stuck but I saw others that did. All part of the adventure and the experience, if you ask me. In fact, I'll be there next April, too.

 

Hidden Valley, Makao Plains and Twin Hills?`Depends on where you are staying, if you take the direct routes or not and how much (or little) game you see while driving there. Regular driving time should be 30 - 45 minutes, I guess.

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jeremie
9 hours ago, ice said:

The main road from Arusha to Ndutu should be fine but apart from that, you will obviously never know. I've been to Ndutu in the rainy season twice, though earlier . Personally, we never got stuck but I saw others that did. All part of the adventure and the experience, if you ask me. In fact, I'll be there next April, too.

 

Hidden Valley, Makao Plains and Twin Hills?`Depends on where you are staying, if you take the direct routes or not and how much (or little) game you see while driving there. Regular driving time should be 30 - 45 minutes, I guess.

 

Thank you very much @Ice. I would assume that these jeeps got stuck in the last part of the road, close to Ndutu, not on the main road to the gate of Serengeti National Park. Is this correct?

 

We will try for April 2020!

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actually, the only cars that I saw that were stuck were inside the concession, driving off road, not on the main road

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