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Tanzania Take Three - Time for an Intervention


Zubbie15

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Zubbie15

At that point, and with the light not being great due to the sun falling further behind the dust, we decided to start making our way to camp.  However, our plans were thwarted when we came across two cheetah brothers right by the Seronera River.

 

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They were attempting to cross the river, but it seemed like the only location in the area that would work for them was near a bush, but they were looking quite warily at that location.

 

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Although we couldn't see anything in that location ourselves, Mussa hypothesized that there were some lions resting in the bushes.

 

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Eventually they headed off in the opposite direction, having decided that it wasn't worth going in that direction.  They headed off in some deep bushes.

 

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By then, it was after 6, and we still had a good amount of road to go, so we headed off, arriving in camp in the early evening gloom.  

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My wife and I traveled, for our third trip, back to Northern Tanzania in September of 2019 (after September 2013 and February 2016).  I’ve posted reports from our previous two trips on SafariTalk, whi

One of the cooler sightings we had for the entire safari came on our first day on the Ranch, where we found this snake catch a mouse, eventually consume it after a bit of a struggle, and then go back

That certainly made up for the earlier frustrations, but it wasn't all that we'd get that evening. The route back to camp took us right by the entrance to the river loop where we'd had the good views

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Zubbie15

The next morning, we left camp fairly early (although, as seems to be usual for us, slightly later than planned!).  We were staying at Kubu Kubu, which I'll talk about later.  The area was full of Topi, Zebra, and various gazelles.  We didn't really stop for them, because we had plans for the day and needed to get going.

 

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Our first goal was to head toward a kopje where a mother leopard, and her ~6 month old cub, had been showing well pretty much since the cub was born.  This was over near the Seronera River, and we couldn't help ourselves but stop for a quick shot of a hippo pool.

 

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We could see in the distance, where we were headed, a pretty big congregation of vehicles - the Central Serengeti can certainly be very productive, but in the core area you can certainly get a lot of vehicles at major sightings.  We got in line, and looked in the direction everyone else was looking, and there was mother with a kill up in the tree, with her cub in a lower branch.   Unfortunately they were relatively far from the road, so things were not ideal photographically.  These photos are pretty heavily cropped.

 

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The cub was pretty adventurous, and after a while left mom to eat while he or she headed off to a tree roughly 100 meters away.  She climbed the tree, and eventually settled down.

 

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Both mom and cub seemed to be pretty relaxed at this point, and we wanted to head out further East, so we left them.  And we ended up covering a pretty large swath of land, as the maps show:

 

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Caracal

Continuing to enjoy this TR @Zubbie15 and your photo of the leopard cub descending the tree really caught my attention 'cos only the other day I read that unlike other cats the leopard always comes down trees head first.

 

 

 

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Zubbie15

Once we got out of the traffic jam around the leopards (there must have been 30 vehicles there, the clear downside to the core Seronera area), we headed East. We had actually considered reshuffling our itinerary to stay out in the East, but it hadn't made sense.  We'd gone to the East in our last trip, in 2016, and not really seen much - I remember @madaboutcheetah commenting how unlikely that was.  This day would prove that our previous trip must have been an aberration, as this day absolutely rocked.

 

Not long after leaving the core area, we came across a male and female lion together, right by the road.  Just traveling this little distance made a huge difference, there were only 3 vehicles at this sighting which felt much better.

 

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The male was acting very nervous, and definitely glaring at the vehicles in the area.

 

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The female seemed to be doing her best job to keep him distracted.  

 

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We had a discussion with Mussa about why this might be, as they were clearly acting differently from any lions we'd seen in the area before. Certainly, it would be surprising for a lion in the Central Serengeti to be uncomfortable around vehicles!

 

Mussa hypothesized that the male (and perhaps others in a coalition) had recently taken over the pride, and that he wasn't yet settled and comfortable.  This seemed to be confirmed when we drove about 50 meters down the road, and found 3 relatively young lion cubs.

 

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These cubs were gazing longingly over at the adults - we assumed the female was their mother, and she was trying to distract the male from going after the youngsters.

 

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We felt bad that these youngsters were going to have, at best, a tough time surviving, and so decided after a few minutes with them that we would move on.  

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BRACQUENE

@Zubbie15

 

Thanks for those absolutely stunning lion pictures in what is without a doubt a great TR but honestly those traffic congestion’s around animals which you clearly don’t like either are one of the reasons I largely prefer remote places far from the crowds !

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marg

@Zubbie15...thanks for the great trip report!

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Zubbie15

This is going to be an appropriate post for today, happy mother's day to any mother reading this post. 

 

Thanks @marg and @BRACQUENE for the kind words.  @BRACQUENE, I would say that I'm not generally put off by traffic that is well-behaved, as I'm typically able to shut that out, but it's when drivers are acting badly that I have an issue.  I should clarify that while there were a lot of people at the leopards, things were generally calm and courteous, so that was fine - I'll have some stories about misbehaving guides later in my report, though. 

 

Once we were satisfied with the lions, and felt it was best to move along and give them some space, we continued to the East.  Not long after, we crossed paths with a jeep coming the other way, who told us there was a cheetah under a bush just ahead.  Well, there was only one bush, so it was pretty obvious where to look.  This was a female, who had obviously just eaten as she had a distended belly and blood still around her mouth. Unfortunately she was deep in the bush, and we didn't even bother to take a record shot before leaving.   

 

Over a hill we went, and there was a jeep parked near one of the few trees in the area.  What might we have here?  Well, some much more obliging cheetahs, in this case a mother and two cubs. 

 

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They would alternate between struggling to stay awake, and cleaning each other.  

 

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Our typical view was of a jumble of cheetahs.

 

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However, at one point they must have heard something, and they all stood up to look around.  This allowed for a couple of quick "pensive cheetah" shots. 

 

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They pretty quickly decided it was nothing, and laid back down in the shade, which seemed to be a good cue for us to head on.

 

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BRACQUENE

@Zubbie15 

 

Like  @Biko I particularly love the last one : Not the smoothest one but what an expression !

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Caracal
49 minutes ago, Zubbie15 said:

Our typical view was of a jumble of cheetahs.

 

Hope you haven't got a copyright on "jumble of cheetahs" @Zubbie15 - great expression and I hope that one day I might be able to utilise it myself !

Love the jumble photo along with the others.

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michael-ibk
On 4/27/2020 at 7:44 PM, Zubbie15 said:

except for a stop in Mto wa Mbu for red bananas

 

Ah, I still remember the taste of Red Bananas we also had in that area. :D

 

Gorgeous photos and sightings of Cheetah and Leopards, continuing to enjoy your report a lot!

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@Zubbie15 Your photographs are wonderful!  I am really enjoying this report.

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madaboutcheetah

Loving the report @Zubbie15 - 

 

I was also under the impression that Manyara Ranch had good Aardvark sightings ...... alas, those are tough to see i guess! Never seen one!!

 

I've not been to Tarangire - so, i will have to get there one day ....... Your report and the images are superb!!! 

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Zubbie15
23 hours ago, BRACQUENE said:

Like  @Biko I particularly love the last one

 

23 hours ago, Biko said:

@Zubbie15 I love the last one, more please

 

Thanks guys, a few more cheetah to come. :D

 

22 hours ago, Caracal said:

 

Hope you haven't got a copyright on "jumble of cheetahs" @Zubbie15 - great expression and I hope that one day I might be able to utilise it myself !

Love the jumble photo along with the others.

 

You're welcome to use it, glad to have coined a new phrase.  I don't think I was so happy at the time with the jumble though, it was a challenge not to just get a photo of a ball of fur.

 

17 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

I still remember the taste of Red Bananas

 

Thanks Michael.  I'm generally not a banana eater at home, but I have to say the red bananas are a different beast entirely.

 

17 hours ago, Ginny said:

@Zubbie15 Your photographs are wonderful!  I am really enjoying this report.

 

Thanks @Ginny!.

 

5 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

I've not been to Tarangire - so, i will have to get there one day ....... Your report and the images are superb!!!

 

Thanks for the kind words about the photos Hari, it certainly means a lot coming from someone who takes such amazing photos.  You'll definitely have to detour from the Serengeti to Tarangire someday, I haven't stayed there myself yet but I think Oliver's Camp (or Little Oliver's) in Tarangire would be somewhere that fits with the type of place you typically stay at.  

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Zubbie15

Continuing on from the cheetahs, we came across a lone spotted hyena who was on a mission, only giving us time for a record shot.

 

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The concentration of predators means that there is obviously a big concentration of herbivores to eat. We made a quick stop to watch these two Tommys battling.

 

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Continuing along, we headed for some distant kopjes to have our lunch (it was approaching 1PM at this point, so a very productive morning!).  We pulled up, only to find this fellow dozing away.

 

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He was, in my mind, the most impressive male lion I've seen in my safaris.  We ate our lunch while keeping an eye on him, and we had a bit of excitement when he stood up to stretch for a second.

 

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But he pretty quickly put his head back down and fell asleep.

 

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We gave him a few minutes after we finished eating, contenting ourselves with photographing the agama lizards that were in the trees.

 

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But after a while, we decided we were better off continuing our exploration, rather than waiting for him to move. 

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Zubbie15

So, was it a good idea to leave? Well, I guess we never know what the male lion ended up doing, but we were fairly happy.  Not long after leaving the kopje, we ran into one of the few vehicles we'd seen in several hours.  A brief chat ensued in Swahili - Mussa was clearly telling the guide about our male lion, while the other guide was describing something they'd seen. It turned out they had recently left a pair of cheetah brothers, and gave rough directions to where they had decided to rest.  We headed off where they said, and looked around carefully, but couldn't find them.  We had essentially given up, and were on our way out of the area, when I spotted (;)) some spots under a bush, which were only visible because I was standing up.  The two brothers were huddled together under the bush, but shortly one decided to get up.

 

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Might they start moving?  Well, this one clearly wanted to head off, and started to scan around.

 

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He seemed to have a bit of a wonky right eye, it was always narrowed and slightly closed.   They were in fairly dense, if short, bushes, but luckily they spent a decent amount of time near the road.

 

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As mentioned, while this brother wanted to head off, his sibling clearly did not, and so we didn't really get too many pictures of the second one. The first brother would wander off a bit, and then look back to his brother, as if to say "where are you?"

 

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The other brother eventually got up, but seemed to prefer to stay more distant from us.

 

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With his brother up, the other cheetah started to move off, and eventually they both headed off in a direction that we couldn't follow.

 

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AKR1

Wow, exceptional cheetah close ups.  Particularly like the yawning cheetah portraiture. 

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Zubbie15

Thanks @AKR1, they were fun to hang out with.  :)

 

Once the cheetahs had been swallowed up by the grasses, we decided it was probably worth starting to head back toward camp, as we'd ventured quite far.  There was a mini-tower of giraffes (3 animals) trying to get some meager pickings off the bushes growing in a kopje; it was an interesting sighting, because there weren't many trees visible in the area, so not sure where they wandered in from.  But they weren't really photogenic, so we continued on.  I'd been intrigued by the colors and textures of the grasses, and thought attempting a slow-shutter speed shot while we were driving could be interesting.  Well, all of the bouncing around made it more difficult than expected, but even so I rather like this shot.

 

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After a few bruises though, I gave up on trying some more.  

 

We drove along, and at one point from my standing point of view I noticed a log lying right by the road.  My brain said to me "huh, that's a weird spot for a log."  It took me a couple of seconds, and 30-40 meters down the road, for me to yell out "stop."  It had clicked in my mind that it was actually a lion's leg, up in the air.  Since everyone here is an expert spotter, I'm sure you can see it in this photo.

 

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With a bit of luck, a bit of patience, and a bit of time, we were able to grab a couple of portraits of the lionesses when they would pop up for a brief look around.

 

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This sighting was special for us, because it was also the only time on the trip where the conditions (time, wireless connection, sighting) allowed us to video chat back home while with something "interesting."  We were able to show our two young kids the lions, and they were very excited to see them.    

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Caracal

What a magnificent mane on that lion superbly captured and then followed up shortly after by that amazing cheetah yawn.

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Zubbie15

Thanks @Caracal, the Eastern Serengeti is definitely a cat heaven!

 

We continued along, for a while not seeing too much.  As you may have noticed, this part of the park was much less dusty compared to the central part, and the landscapes were somewhat clearer.

 

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But as we got closer, the dust began to make an appearance.

 

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We had time to head along a track that follows the river, and came across a group of vehicles parked at one point.  Mussa asked another guide, and apparently there were lions with a kill in some bushes.  We couldn't see them, but the humans weren't the only ones interested in the kill.

 

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I really enjoyed how the setting sun gave the hyenas some nice rim light.

 

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Things seemed pretty quiet though, so we moved along, shortly coming across this Dik-Dik near the road.  I'd had a hard time getting photos of these guys this trip, for some reason they seemed more skittish, but this one was rather calm.

 

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Calm of course meant he stayed still for 30 seconds. So once he moved off, so did we, slowly heading back to camp.  However, at one point I saw in the distance something that looked interesting, if relatively fall off, and shouted out to stop. With magnification, we could see a nice male lion, staring off into the sunset.

 

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I was pretty proud to have spotted this - on the day, I had spotted the cheetah brothers and two separate lions, which seemed pretty good.  

 

This would have been sufficient for us to be satisfied, but the Serengeti had one last gift for us.  One of the best sunsets I've ever seen, helped along a lot by the dust in the air.

 

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By then we were really late, as we had a ways to go to get to camp.  We arrived in the dark, after a long and fulfilling day.  :)

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Zubbie15

I'll continue with a quick diversion about where we stayed in the Central Serengeti, which was Kubu Kubu.  I think this is a location that probably wouldn't appeal to most of the people here - it's a permanent tented camp, that's larger (25 rooms), and the tents were somewhat close together.  Having said that, we actually quite liked the camp, and especially thought it would be good with children.  The tents were large, the outdoor shower was certainly cool, and the balcony had a nice view over the Serengeti.  In any case, we were satisfied, and thought it was a reasonable stop that also helped our budget. Oh, and the view was pretty nice!

 

Taken while getting our breakfast boxes, second morning.

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Zubbie15

This was our second, and last, morning in the Central Serengeti - as always we seem to short-change this part of the country, probably due to its reputation for being so busy, but next time we definitely need to spend more time in the area.  Even though we were driving North, the plan was to spend the early part of the day in the Center, and make our way up during midday while things were likely to be quieter.  

 

Despite only spending part of the day, we still managed to move around a little, as shown by the map below.

 

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Our first stop was to look back where the lions and hyenas had been the night before.  Things had quieted down, and the lions were doing what they do best.

 

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We did get a very brief view of a two young lion cubs moving around, but they got lost in the grasses pretty quickly.

 

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Not much further along, we found a large baboon troop.   It was quite interesting to watch a mother discipline her youngster, who knows what it did!

 

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We continued along, and I saw a leopard very briefly pop it's head up about 50 meters from the road.  However, after staring at the patch below for a good 10 minutes, no more movement was seen so we decided to move on.

 

There's a leopard hiding in the shade there, somewhere...

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Zubbie15

Once we gave up on the leopard, we decided to head over to a nearby picnic site for a pit-stop and for our boxed breakfast.  While there, Mussa heard from some guides that there were some more lions a little further down the road, so we decided to head in that direction.  Of course, all the guides knew about these lions, so there was definitely a bit of a gathering near them.  We actually stopped short, and after looking at the scene through the binoculars, it seemed like the lions were sleeping in some bushes.  Given the lack of lion activity, and the high level of human activity, we decided there to turn around rather than getting any closer.  So, no photos...

 

Actually this was a very fortuitous decision.  On our way back, we were not too far behind another vehicle. I was standing, as I normally do on game drives, and say a small animal pass in front of the vehicle in front of us.  They stopped, and we pulled up behind them - it was a serval.  I was pretty excited by this, we'd seen one previously, but quite distantly.  This one was certainly much closer, although it wasn't always easy to follow in the long grasses.

 

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Getting clear views wasn't always easy...

 

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And it would move back and forth, so that we'd lose sight of it for a few minutes only for it to reappear somewhere far away.

 

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But with patience we did get some decent views.

 

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It was clearly in hunting mode, but unfortunately neither of us was positioned properly for the one pounce we saw well...

 

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We ultimately got to spend about 35 minutes with this animal, which was great. I was surprised at how many vehicles, returning from the direction of the lions, would come up, ask us what we saw, and after a few seconds of looking at the serval they'd just motor off.  

 

Gradually it drifted off into an area where there weren't any roads, and we thought it would be good to start slowly heading to the North.

 

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AKR1

The sunrise landscape shot over the Central Serengeti and the beautiful Acacia tree sunset photos are both stunning. Good luck with not just seeing but spending time observing a Serval. I actually like the elusive hunting shot of the hindquarters of the cat! Gives a good sense of how difficult they are to photograph. 

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Zubbie15

Thanks @AKR1, the conditions really came together well for both the sunrise and sunset.  And the serval was great fun, if a challenge. 

 

Leaving the Serval behind, I asked Mussa if we could head past the lions we'd seen earlier in the day, in case any cubs had come out and were visible.   They hadn't, but a fair amount of the pride was now out and lying in the shade.

 

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tanzania2019-301.jpg.bc93e8d1ac75eb1f4c805cb43e9a55f3.jpg

 

They weren't particularly easy to photograph, there was a lot of contrast between the shade and the sun, and it was quite hot and hazy too.  

 

Gradually, the ones we could see started heading off into the bushes.  

 

tanzania2019-300.jpg.51306b744fb5a2ca86f3e944679b6153.jpg

 

Word came over the radio that the other members of this pride were gathered near the river about 100 meters away, and some zebra were coming for a drink. We decided to head there to see if anything would happen, and have an early boxed lunch at the same time.  The zebra however seemed to be pretty aware of the lions, and there wasn't any action while we were there.

 

tanzania2019-305.jpg.bd07dd6cbc4bf1f74b3dbe54a02ace5a.jpg

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