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There she goes - Ndutu / TZ Fall 2020


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ice

disclaimer:

 

This is (for numerous reasons) not going to be a super detailed trip report. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask. Also note that most of the pictures I upload were taken with an old iPhone; on my safaris I film.

 

My last trip to Ndutu / Tanzania was originally planned for April 2020. It would have been my fourth safari there, after March 2014, February 2016 and November 2018. All of these trips were (for me) hugely successful. Concentrating solely on finding cheetah, together with my trusted guide Hamisi I saw

 

  • 2014 (migration / main season) 29 individual animals and 7 kills
  • 2016 (migration / main season) 30 individual animals and 8 kills
  • 2018 (predator / off season) 10 individual animals and 1 kill

 

One may say "only" one kill in 2018, but that was a sighting of a lifetime because the cheetah dragged the gazelle (for protection and cover) right next to our car and then spent 2 hours finishing it up to its bones (she had young cubs). I've uploaded a video of this sighting to YouTube in January 2019. It has since had over 5,1 million views and earned me a whopping 3.500 € (still counting). 

 

In addition we spotted (in 2014 and 2016 en passant)

 

  • appr. 30 individual lions in 2014
  • 28 individual lions in 2016
  • 22 individual lions in 2018

 

In fact, in 2018 we spent more time with lions than we cheetah, simply because we hardly found any of the smaller cats. 2018 was a very rough year for lions, all of the four prides we saw had either lost all their cubs or were about to.

 

 

 

 

27-08-26 Cheetah Stats.png

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ice

Obviously my hopes for 2020 were high - and then crashed when a certain virus and subsequent disease stopped all international travel for the last half year or so. Since then another 3 week trip which would have taken us to Namibia, South Africa and Botswana in June and July was also cancelled, and yet another holiday planned for October (2 weeks in ZA) will most likely be, too. In early August my daughter and I spent a week at the Cote d'Azur in southern France, but that was absolutely no compensation for all the lost time in the bush.

 

 

2020 08-04.JPG

 

 

2020 08-05.JPG

 

 

2020 08-12.JPG

Edited by ice
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ice

Although Tanzania (among with 80% of the rest of the world) is in my country still considered a high risk area for which a travel warning is issued, I decided to take my chances and throw in an intermediate trip to Ndutu (intermediate because I had re-scheduled my April 2020 bookings to February 2021, a booking that still stands).

 

The most convenient airport for Ndutu is obviously JRO. I believe since July for airlines have to started to serve JRO again: KLM, TK, ET and Qatar. When I initially began to look for their rates in mid July, TK demanded (for tickets in economy class) 3 times as much as the other three. In the end I chose KLM, mainly because it would offer nonstop flights (for us, it's a 2 1/2 h drive to Schiphol) - well, to be super-precise, on their return flight there is a stop over in Dar es Salaam, but passengers stay inside the plane. 

 

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 001.JPG

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Zubbie15

Really jealous that you got to go, I was actually looking this morning to see how long it will be until our next trip to Africa - only 522 days to go.  Haha...
 

I’ll also be interested to see how you did, last year we wanted to include a couple of days in Ndutu during our September trip but ultimately needed to cut back a couple of days and the Ndutu stop was what was cut.  

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ice

Procedure at Schiphol was like a dream: no one in front of me at the check in counter and the security check, merely two people at passport control.

 

Some people may be interested in the hygiene standards: from what I saw, most people were properly wearing masks, some were just covering their mouths and others were not wearing any masks at all. A similar impression inside the Boeing 777-200. I was surprised that the crew did hardly, if ever interfere; after all it's also about their very own health.

 

Me, I had bought FFP2 / KN95 masks. I wore them (correctly) for appr. 14 hours, without any problem. I did not feel hot.

 

The plane was probably 40% full, for the first time in I guess 30 years I had an entire 4 seats row for myself. 

 

 

 

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 008.JPG

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ice
8 minutes ago, Zubbie15 said:

I’ll also be interested to see how you did

 

what do you mean by "how I did"? You mean sighting-wise?

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ice

The flight was smooth and fast, we arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule at 19:45 pm local time. I would estimate that maybe 40 passengers left the plane at JRO, the rest continued on to Dar.

 

Getting through the crowded arrival area took longer than ever, almost one hour (might have gone slightly faster, had I obtained my visa online). There were six queues to conquer. Initially your temperature was measured and then you had to fill some health questionnaires. One guy asked me if I could present a recent negative test result, to which I answered "No, I can't", to which he only shrugged. 

 

Once outside, the usual crowd of guides, drivers and the likes were waiting for their clients, among them my guide Hamisi. It took us another hour to drive to Arusha, where I had booked a room at the Planet Lodge. A quick but delicious dinner and it was off to bed.

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ice

August 27:

 

  • left Arusha at 9:15 am
  • arrived at Karatu at 12:45 pm
  • in Karatu we got petrol, changed money and bought a local SIM card
  • arrived at Lodoare Gate at 1:45 pm

 

Side notes:

  • so far everybody seemed to be really happy about the tourists coming back, for example at all the police stops we were waived through once the cops noticed a "mzungu" was inside the vehicle
  • nowadays one pays both entrance and concession fees at the gate, in 2018 I paid my concession fees at the lodge
  • Stephen, the current manager at the lodge, had suggested that at the gate I would pay only for 4 nights, just in case something went wrong and I'd have to leave prematurely 

 

It was 2:15 pm when we passed the gate, not a lot of time to get to the Lodge before sunset. We decided to take the Endulen Track to at least have a bit of a game drive feeling. Unfortunately we did not have any memorable sightings, but God, it felt good to open that pop up roof and smell that fresh air of the African Bush.

 

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 041.JPG

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Zubbie15
52 minutes ago, ice said:

 

what do you mean by "how I did"? You mean sighting-wise?


Yes, sighting wise.

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ice
30 minutes ago, Zubbie15 said:


Yes, sighting wise.

 

 patience is a virtue ;-) but I'd say: quite successful

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Game Warden

I think @ice you'll be having a lot of people following along with this trip report :)

 

Welcome back.

 

Matt

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The Lodge

 

Ndutu Lodge is, to the best of my knowledge, the oldest lodge / camp in the entire NCAA, built in the 60s of the last century by a former British hunter (if this guy wore a pith helmet, I don't know...)

 

The appr. 35 huts are situated on both sides of a central building, which in itself consists of the dining room, a bar area, the reception and a shop. From what I understand, up to 75 guests can be accommodated simultaneously. The staff usually is 75 locals strong (men only). However, what is "usual" in these times? The last guests left the lodge in a hurry some in mid March and since then, it basically stood empty. 

 

Now, during my 9 nights stay I was the only paying guest, with the exception of one night, when a party of four French quintupled our number. Staff was reduced to 13 guys, the minimum which seems to be necessary to keep the premises from falling apart. Anyway, at times it felt a bit awkward to be the only guest, being the sole center of interest. On the other hand, I was able to pick my breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes each and every day (usually it's a mix of buffets and set menus). 

 

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 114.JPG

 

Stephen, the current manager and my guide Hamisi, having a chat before one of our morning drives

Edited by ice
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The concession

 

Those who've been there know how busy the concession can be, especially when the migration comes to town (Ndutu is where the wildebeest usually give birth in the millions). Another huge advantage: the NCAA allows off road driving. 

 

During the off season (dubbed "predator season") traffic is much reduced, at least from what I can tell from my stay in November 2018. Now, this year it was yet another totally different story: We spent appr. 80 h in the bush and saw a total of two other tourist vehicles, both of them passing through from the Serengeti to the Crater. In the end we had all of our sightings for ourselves. Sounds great, right? It was, but it also meant that we had to find pretty much all of these sightings ourselves, no friendly face to face chit chat with other guides or over the radio. Said radio stayed in the off mode the entire time.

 

I say "pretty much" because we got at least some help by one of the "lion guardians" who try to avoid (or solve) conflicts between Masai and lions. Two of the lion pride sightings I had would not have happened, had we not received the current GPS coordinates of the collars of the pride leaders.

 

The last rainy season had brought huge rainfalls to the area. Despite the progression of the dry season, Lake Ndutu was still extremely full, with pink flamingos around. However, during these rainy months Ndutu was overrun by an invasive grass species. The grass was so high that not only gazelles and cheetah disappeared in it (making it all but impossible for the latter to hunt the former) but also fully grown lions. Attached are some pictures, the first four from 2018. the rest from 2020, for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

2018 11-14.JPG

2018

2018 11-16.JPG

2018

2018 11-42.JPG

2018

2018 11-37.JPG

2018

 

 

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 040.JPG

2020

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 067.JPG

2020

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 077.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 083.JPG

Edited by ice
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The problem was recognized and dealt with, at the end of almost every day the sky was filled with huge clouds of smoke - the rangers would deliberately set the bush on fire.

 

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 071.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 112.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 065.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 066.JPG

Edited by ice
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And it worked

 

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 131.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 128.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 134.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 136.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 181.JPG

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campsafari2015

Wow, glad to see this report! But also, huge bummer about the invading grass. 

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Saturday August 19th - Morning Drive

 

  • left the lodge at the crack of dawn (6:20 am), outside temperature appr. 13°C
  • initial routing of the drive: Big Marsh - Small Marsh - Two Trees Area - Hidden Valley - Border Road
  • found our first two cheetah (female with young cub) at the northern edge of the Small Marsh, the female was obviously looking for food
  • tried to follow them but lost them within minutes, albeit in thick bushes; nevertheless a bummer, that usually never happens with my guide Hamisi; maybe his skills had become rusty, after all his last safari was six months prior
  • spotted a caracal quickly crossing the road (a third for me in the NCA after two in 2018)
  • had to break hard for a warthog jumping across the road, followed by a lioness

I've mentioned the height of the invasive species of grass before. That grass would obviously have advantages and disadvantages for both prey and predator: the latter can use it as cover when stalking, the former may disappear in it once / if it detects its stalker. And that's what happened here: the warthog hid in the high grass (we couldn't even see it from our elevated safari vehicle seats) and the lioness stayed hungry - for the moment.

 

As we all know, lionesses usually don't hunt or even walk around alone. Sure enough only minutes later the female joined with another female. Hamisi quickly identified them as Laura (mother) and Willow (daughter), for years now the sole survivors and members of the Thin Pride, a pride once documented by a BBC Crew in 2006 / 2007. Thus, Laura must now be at least 16 and Willow at least 14 years a lot. You will find them in the upper left corner of that white board pictured below.

 

 

 

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 199.JPG

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Since it was clear that the lions were still in a hunting mood, we carefully (careful as to not disturb them or alarm their possible food sources) followed them back to the western corner of the Small Marsh, close to where we had lost the cheetah earlier in the morning. There, the undergrowth is also quite thick and yet we became aware that the cats had spotted more potential prey - a sole adult wildebeest, about a kilometer away on the other side of the reedy part of the valley. Laura continued her stalk, while Willow (and us) stayed behind.

 

Laura was soon gone in the high reed. Hamisi had completely lost sight of her, I had at least a rough idea of where she was hiding.

 

In similar situations in the past I tried to film chases and kills, concentrating on my camera and its monitor - only to then, more often than not, miss chase and kill altogether. Since lioness and wildebeest were so far away, I left the camera off and simply held my binos in the (hopefully) right direction - and was (within seconds) rewarded with my second lion kill ever ("kill" defined as from stalking to overcoming and finally killing the prey)

 

While Hamisi and I obviously raced down as quickly as possible, I found it interesting that Willow was in absolutely no hurry to join her mother at the table.

 

When we finally stopped near Laura, the wildebeest was still alive but without any chance whatsoever to escape the deadly bite of the lioness.

 

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 028.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 029.JPG

 

funny sidenote: for the entire length of my stay (9 nights / +/- 80 hours out in the bush) this would remain the only wildebeest we saw (not sure, if the wildebeest would find that funny, too)

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wilddog

Fabulous sighting. 

I love the white board with the pride and individual lion names the lodge provides.

 

So good to see a current TR. Thank you @ice

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43 minutes ago, wilddog said:

I love the white board with the pride and individual lion names the lodge provides.

 

To be precise: it's Kope Lion that provides the data on the white board, a non profit organisation that tries to ensure a friendly coexistence between the lion population and the Masai that live in the NCAA (note their website info in the bottom right corner).

 

https://kopelion.org

 

As far as I know, you can also follow them on FB

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Atravelynn

Graphing your cheetah kills, now that's a safari enthusiast!

 

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6 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

Graphing your cheetah kills, now that's a safari enthusiast!

 

 

This was done for my video diaries, part of the conclusion

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Subsequent to the initial kill, I found quite a few things interesting (as in "unusual"):

  • I was expecting the Willow, the second lioness, to rush to the kill and start eating right way, instead she hardly even looked at the wildebeest
  • when the wildebeest was finally dead, within minutes both Laura and Willow wandered off (in different directions), they did not even open the carcass, just left it lying in the open

Laura later returned with two cubs (we knew that she had recently given birth because her teats were standing out. We obviously did not know if these cubs were still alive until she showed up with them; Laura and Willow have never been able to keep cubs until their adulthood. Hamisi and I were and are keeping our fingers cross that this year they will do better, because that would double the number of lions in the pride - both cubs are female).

 

Once back at the kill, Laura and Willow still kept their distance. Instead they let the cubs have the first bites (I've never seen such a behavior before). And the cubs, young as they were, knew exactly where and how to open the carcass.

 

 

 

 

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 033.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 035.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 036.JPG

Edited by ice
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Around midday another tourist car approached us - they had obviously seen our vehicle and deducted that we must have spotted something interesting. That was one of only two safari cars I saw during my entire stay.

 

Saturday August 19th - Afternoon Drive

 

We started our afternoon drive with a stopover at the nearby ranger station and had an interesting and valuable chat with the chief ranger. He was glad to hear that Laura's cubs were still alive and well and that their mother had just made a big kill, with enough meat to last them for probably a week. 

 

In the meantime said lions had pulled the carcass under the bush. The cubs, now full, reacted kind of shy towards our vehicle. No surprise, that was probably the first car they ever saw in their entire life (Hamisi estimated their age at 5-6 months)

 

On our way back to the lodge we discovered a subadult male lion. left behind in the Big Marsh. He was still too young to have been kicked out of his pride. After he got up, we noticed that he was badly limping, so there was the answer to our question.

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 040.JPG

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Sunday August 20th - Morning Drive

 

At first I was a bit reluctant when Hamisi suggested to head out to Makao Plains. In 2014 and 2016, pretty much all the cheetah sightings we had had, happened in this part of the NCA. However, during the dry season of 2018, we did not spot any cheetah there at all.

 

Well, it did indeed not take us long to spot the first cheetah, a single adult female. We spent quite a few hours with her, observed her hunting once or twice but halfheartedly and thus without success. 

 

On our way back to the Lodge we came across a single lioness, which I found remarkable: Makao Plains is just that, a flat area, with hardly any bushes and trees and therefore no cover for a predator that relies on cover for its ambush attacks. It was later determined that the lioness was part of the "Big Marsh Cousins Pride"

 

114206382_23FotosKlausTanzania062.JPG.a24723c81b2a899744ee5a3c35638894.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 064.JPG

 

23 Fotos Klaus Tanzania 072.JPG

Edited by ice
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