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A Double-Double in the NCA - Ndutu in February 2021


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michael-ibk

Great sightings @ice, thanks for a super trip report so far. Ah Striped Hyena - never seen one, very cool that it´s just denning next to your lodge!

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LarsS

Wow! A kill by itself is already special, but a double kill with cheetah and jackall involved, that sure is a one in a million sighting! I'm already excited just reading about it, can only imagine how you felt.

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ice
4 hours ago, LarsS said:

Wow! A kill by itself is already special, but a double kill with cheetah and jackall involved, that sure is a one in a million sighting! I'm already excited just reading about it, can only imagine how you felt.

 

Wait until I upload the video to my channel. I am currently checking out some professional native speakers as narrators.

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ice

Friday February 26th

 

is the first day we dare to return to Makao Plains. And we are not alone: the big herds are slowly but surely coming back, too. 

 

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The antelopes had to wait until the water, which stood initially, after the rain at the beginning of the week, centimeters high, had seeped into the ground; otherwise they would have risked moisture penetrating the porous structure of their hooves, which potentially could lead to deformations, splintering or the formation of abscesses.

 

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At 7:45 we finally spot our first cheetah, another female. This is our sixth safari day and only the third cheetah.

 

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Potential prey is there: young zebras, young wildebeest and plenty gazelles. However, every move and step of the cheetah is observed by enemies. "Too many fisi", Hamisi will later comment, too many hyenas. 

 

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At the end of this morning drive, we will have followed the cat for four hours, all the way back to Kusini Plains, too no avail: a single hunting attempt, abruptly stopped when the cheetah spotted yet another hyena.

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ice

Hamisi did of course save the GPS position of the cheetah but when we return in the afternoon, the female is nowhere to be found. Instead, we meet some old acquaintances: Cassandra, Diana, Juno and Vesta, the four females of the Marsh Pride. But today, they are not alone: Lodgi, the last survivor of the L-Gang has joined them. 

 

The L-Gang originally consisted of four male lions, that wandered from the Crater into the lowlands sometime in 2018. In their prime they dominated three of the four resident prides. Now Lodgi is the only one left, his three companions were either killed or fled.

 

The lions are extremely lazy, they hardly look up, even when around 5 pm a small herd of zebras including foals is in striking distance

 

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Less than a kilometer away other guides have found a coalition of two cheetah brothers - finally our first male cheetah. Unfortunately, these cats are just as slothful as their bigger relatives to the east.

 

The rest of the afternoon we shuttle between these two groups, but nothing really happens.

 

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JayRon

I read your previous trip report from Ndutu, which I very much enjoyed.  And again it is incredible that you are seeing so many cats... And even an striped hyena, never seen one. I have spent 7-8 months on safari( most on self drive) and never seen a kill, but in Ndutu it looks like it is pretty common thing, which is amazing . Looking forward to more :) 

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ice
Posted (edited)
12 minutes ago, JayRon said:

I have spent 7-8 months on safari( most on self drive) and never seen a kill, but in Ndutu it looks like it is pretty common thing, which is amazing

 

I certainly agree - without revealing too much: as of now I have witnessed 

  • 22 cheetah kills
  • 5 lion kills
  • 1 leopard kill

plus a few wild dog kills and that jackal kill. Of these 28 cat kills, 25 took place around Ndutu, the others in Kruger Park (2) and in Kgalagadi (1). However, I am just as sure that you need a great local guide; as a self driver it's more or less a matter of luck (which I had twice, in Kruger and in Kgalagadi).

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JayRon
6 hours ago, ice said:

 

I certainly agree - without revealing too much: as of now I have witnessed 

  • 22 cheetah kills
  • 5 lion kills
  • 1 leopard kill

plus a few wild dog kills and that jackal kill. Of these 28 cat kills, 25 took place around Ndutu, the others in Kruger Park (2) and in Kgalagadi (1). However, I am just as sure that you need a great local guide; as a self driver it's more or less a matter of luck (which I had twice, in Kruger and in Kgalagadi).

 

That is just an insane statistic :)

 

 I seen failed cheetah hunts in Ngorongoro, failed lion hunts in Serengeti (with a guide) and just missed a cheetah killing a young wildebeest in Kgalagadi, but I will keep on trying ;) The reason I do selfdrive is it keep costs down and when you travel with a wife and 2 kids you need that .... :) 

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ice

Saturday February 27th

 

Our first destination on this morning drive is Kusini Plains. Unfortunately, the two cheetah brothers have wandered off overnight. Hamisi later hears over the radio that around the time we were looking for them, the cats killed a gnu calf just a few kilometers away. Well, maybe we'll have better luck here and now in the Makao Plains. 

 

After sixty hours without precipitation, today for the first time Hamisi is not the only guide who has steered his Landcruiser to this southern part of the Conservation Area. 

 

During the last 24 h the number of zebras and wildebeest seems to have doubled again - however, no cheetah to be found, so back to Kusini Plains. There, we see a group of cars in the distance. The radio tells us that Hamisi's colleagues have gathered around a cheetah that has just killed a hare. Hamisi has already turned his vehicle to join the other guides, when I spot yet another cheetah, right behind us, with a lone gazelle almost in striking distance.

 

However, the cat takes its time - too much time. 45 minutes later the gazelle has picked up on her enemy. Another 45 minutes later the cheetah gets another chance: a small herd of thommies. This time it does not hesitate but starts to hunt in full speed - and misses.

 

Our morning drive ends with the third (and final) sighting of the striped hyena.

 

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More luck in the afternoon: I have heard about her before, now for the first time I film and photograph her: a cheetah mum with three cubs. 

 

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it is of course still too early to draw a conclusion about this trip. But one thing strikes me already now, slightly later than half time: it took us seven days to find an adult female cheetah with offspring. During the green season safaris in 2014 and 2016 it was completely different, at that time adult animals without youngsters were the exception.

 

For Hamisi and me, there is only one possible explanation: this decrease is a direct result of the just as obviously increasing number of spotted hyenas. Whether these spotted hyenas “only” drive away the female cheetahs or actually kill their cubs is of secondary importance (for me as a tourist). And we are definitely not the only ones who fear similar conditions for the Conservation Area as for the Ngorongoro Crater: there, because of the unhealthy large number of spotted hyenas, cheetahs have not been not sighted for ages.

 

We spend the entire afternoon with the cats. No action to be reported but I don't care, just watching the cubs play and practice their skills is fun and joy enough.

 

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Sunday February 28th

 

sees us back in Kusini Plains. Unfortunately cheetah mum has made use of the still rather full and has left the area. Happy is the man who has a guide like Hamisi. It takes him an hour but then he spots not one but two alternatives: two females, one of whom we already met yesterday. What follows is some nice interaction between two cats who obviously do not really know what to make of each other.

 

 

 

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After a brief discussion we decide to follow the older female; after all, yesterday she proved that she at least intends to hunt. Unfortunately, gazelles cannot be seen far and wide.

 

Two hours later, we give up - we still haven't found any gazelles and the female cheetah has been lying lazily in a bush for quite some time now. What makes the decision to leave the cheetah a little easier: Hamisi was informed via radio that one of his colleagues has found six lions at the eastern end of the Kusini Plains.

 

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Just like us humans the lions have a hard time fighting off all those flies. Flies that at this time of the year are lured to the NCA by the smell of the milk that the wildebeest mares are producing.

 

The strategy of the lions: bury yourself in high grass. My strategy:

 

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It's another mystery pride: three adult females and three subadults of different sex; a constitution that does not fit to any of the four resident prides.

 

Our morning drive ends above the Lake, where some of the cubs of the Masek Pride use yet another approach to deal with the flies:

 

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For the first time in days Brenda and her tiny cub have joined the rest of her family.

 

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Edited by ice
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I have lost my drive (at least for today) to look for cheetahs and (if the search is successful) to wait until the animals will be so kind as to get up and (try to) hunt (or not). Therefore, our afternoon drive begins at Hidden Valley, the very same  Hidden Valley that was the destination of our drive on Wednesday. A destination chosen with care: Lodge manager Rob and lion researcher Ingela encountered another “Mystery Pride” here only a few days ago. “Mystery Pride”, because this group, just like their relatives this morning, migrated into the NCA; the animals belong neither to the Marsh nor to the Thin nor to the Masek or the Twin Hills Pride.

 

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We count a total of ten lions, six adult females and four adolescents of different ages. The cats seem to be doing well here, their bellies are full, there is enough water to quench their thirst, for the time being, a cooling breeze blows, and for the annoying flies Hidden Valley has apparently remained largely...hidden.

 

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One hour later, at the Lake, business as usual:

 

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The lions of the Masek Pride have sought refuge in the treetops. Now would be a good time for us to return to the Lodge, as most other guides and their guests already have.

 

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However and rather abruptly, "business as usual" stops: the cats have discovered a small herd of zebras. 

 

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And unlike the females and males of the Marsh Prides last Friday, behind whose backs a couple of zebras were also walking past, Babs, Brenda, Bessy and Nosikitok are definitely showing interest. While a few of the little ones are still sucking blissfully, their mothers have long since switched to stalking mode. One after the other disappears into the thick undergrowth, while we (have to) stay behind: we don't want to ruin their chances by starting the engine and thereby possibly alarm the zebras.

 

Fifteen minutes it becomes obvious that the lions failed nevertheless - another missed chance, both for them and for us.

 

 

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Monday March 1st

 

My original plan was to go back to Makao Plains to look for cheetahs again, but with a little detour along the lake shore. I really wanted to know if Nosikitok and the rest of her pride have finally killed a zebra under the cover of darkness. However, the lions have changed their location during the night, now the north-eastern lakeshore is just as deserted as the acacia forest looming behind it.

 

Yet, we still don't reach Makao Plains - along the Makao Track, I notice a small herd of gazelles: the animals have interrupted their breakfast feeding and instead stare nervously to the east. We just have to follow their gaze and soon find the first cheetah of the day, possibly one of the females I have filmed before.

 

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We follow her for an hour. However, keeping up becomes more and more difficult, since the cheetah seems to want to cross the woodlands with its thick vegetation. We decide to leave her for the time being and continue south to Makao Plains.

 

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A long drive which produces nothing more than the usual suspects: plenty of wildebeest and zebras, way too many hyenas and thus no cheetah. 

 

Our afternoon is slightly more productive: we stay around the Lake and the Marshes where we are rewarded with some cats we have not seen for a week now: the Thin Pride, Laura and Willow plus Laura's two cubs.

 

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Not for away from them, Lamarsi and Loseyay, the two males dominating the Thin and the Masek Pride, do what lions do best:

 

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Last but not least, at the other end of the Small Marsh, we find the four females of the Marsh Pride. I am sure the two prides can see each other, but for now they can't be bothered to discuss details about the borders of their respective borders.

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Tuesday March 2nd

 

It's 7 o'clock in the morning and Hamisi has already drawn out his notebook. That can only mean one thing: we've encountered the first lions of the day.

 

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It's the Marsh Pride, still minus Aphrodite and Vesta. Over night they have left the Small Marsh and wandered to Kusini Plains - not necessarily a place where we would expect lions, flat and bare of trees and bushes as it is.

 

Unlike the females, Lamarsi and Loseyay have stayed where they went to bed yesterday evening - at the Junction.

 

 

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We continue our drive in a northern direction, towards the Triangle, another area where we can't really hope to find cheetah or even other predators (except of course the omnipresent spotted hyenas). On a normal day we would rather head towards Makao Plains or spend more time in Kusini Plains. However, today is not a normal day, today is the day I am going to get tested for Covid 19 at the Seronera Testing Site. From Ndutu, that's probably a 2 1/2 hours trip which means our morning drive has to be cut short.

 

When I started planning this safari in September 2020, the entry and return conditions for trips abroad as well as the classification of various risk areas were of course completely different from now, in spring 2021; Terms like “high incidence area” or “virus variant area” had last autumn yet to be invented, so I had to "hope for the best, plan for the worst", as Lee Child's Jack Reacher would say.

 

Of course, last fall the Serengeti Testing Site did not exist, so I basically had two choices: waste an entire safari day to drive to Karatu and do a test there, or have a doctor and a nurse come to us and have the swab taken at the Lodge, a treat that would probably have cost me 350 USD - still less than a safari day, so the decision was easy.

 

However, as the day of my departure drew closer, it became obvious that I would visit the country during a time of ease: Tanzania did not (yet) demand me to arrive with a test certificate and Germany did not (yet) want me to return with one.

 

It was around that time (end of January) that I first heard of the Seronera Testing Site. By then I had been tested thrice at home but never in a foreign country and certainly not in Africa. Now that sounded like an interesting experience and so booked an appointment, although I was sure I would never need it.

 

Our first stop on the way to Seronera: the Ndutu Serengeti Gate, this is where we should normally pay our entrance fees to the Serengeti. “Normally” is of course a rather flexible term, especially in Africa.

 

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I obviously don't understand a word that is spoken, but I don't have to, either: the faces of the three men speak a universally understandable language. For some reason even Hamisi doesn't understand, the rangers don't accept cash or credit cards; the money must be wired by a bank. I believe is has something to do with the fact than I am neither travelling as part of group nor as a "true" self driver. Be that as it may, Hamisi and I have no choice but to drive back to the lodge and try to solve our problem from there.

 

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Our first (and only) point of contact: Benjamin, the lodge's accountant. When the cellular connection is finally stable enough, the first thing he does is ring his accountant colleague in Arusha, but the lady is currently on break. Unfortunately we are on a tight schedule, as far as I know the test site closes at 1 pm.

 

In the end, Hamisi has the saving idea: he calls a friend in Karatu; this guy should run to Hamisi's house, get cash from a drawer there and then deposit it at a bank to have it wired. No sooner said than done, back to the Entry Gate, which we can now indeed pass without any problems.

 

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However, it is now twelve o'clock, and there are still almost 70 km ahead of us. I certainly don't want to drive all that way, only to then be stopped by closed fences. But the ranger reassures me: "In truth, the test station is open until five o'clock, so you still have more than enough time" 

 

Halfway through the rest of the way, we have to go through more entry formalities at Naabi Hill, but shortly after 2 o'clock the Landcruiser finally parks in front of a small group of tents near the Seronera Airstrip.

 

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However, what is that - the smaller of this two wooden plates propagates "Working hours from 08:00 - 13:00". All this stress - in vain? Do we have endure it all over again and come back tomorrow?

 

 

But Africa would not be Africa if problems like this could not be solved in a...let's say "Hakuna matata" fashion. With a few friendly words on my part, supplemented by a few more resolute comments from Hamisi, we succeed in convincing the gentlemen who have stayed at the test station although one o'clock is long gone, to take yet another sample of mucus and saliva .

 

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I am being told that my probe will be flown to Arusha tomorrow and that I should expect my results Thursday afternoon, 48 h from now and 48 before my return flight home.

 

 

Our trip to the Serengeti ends with a late picnic lunch at the Visitor and Information Center. While Hamisi starts to dig into his lunch box, I stroll towards the small exhibition hall to pay tribute to the man who was instrumental in the proclamation of the national park more than 60 years ago: Dr. Bernhard Grzimek.

 

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Finally, at a quarter to four, we set off home to the lodge. Back at Ndutu Gate, Hamisi insists on a final discussion with the ranger, who had told us at noon that the test station would be open until five o'clock.

 

And now this experience becomes really crazy! The ranger tells us that, shortly after we had left his gate behind us, as a precaution, he called the test station again, inquired there and then, when becoming aware of his mistake, reacted with lightning speed. Under no circumstances should the doctors finish work at one o'clock today, because he (the ranger) had just sent a group of twelve tourists on their way; in truth, of course, there was only one tourist on the road, namely me.

 

At some point (but luckily long after we had already left again) the doctor confronted the ranger on the phone "Where is that group of twelve you announced?". Good for him, the ranger got off the hook with some lazy excuses.

 

Well, that's Africa for you, too! I am convinced that in Europe or America no one would have risked disciplinary measures for a lone foreign tourist like me, so once again and from 7.000 km away: Asante sana, unknown ranger

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Wednesday March 3rd

 

Back on Kusini Plains we are reunited with the cheetah mum and her three cubs, the little family we spent the entire Saturday afternoon with. The cats intently stare to some focal point in the distance.

 

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Us humans, we have to get out our binoculars but then it becomes clear to us, too: a lone male lion is crossing the Plains.

 

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I suggest to leave the cheetah for the time being and instead follow the lion, assuming that the cheetah family will not move until their enemy has disappeared while the lion, on the other hand, is walking towards and could eventually cross the border to the Serengeti and then be out of range of my camera. 

 

Hamisi and I briefly discuss if we have met this lion before. I later find out that it indeed was a nomad.

 

Half an hour later the distance between the lion and the cheetah looks large enough, so we turn around again. Although he earlier did save their position with his GPS device, it takes a while until Hamisi has found the cheetahs again.

 

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Around 9:30 mother cheetah also realizes that the air is clear again: the lion has disappeared and so have the hyenas, but who knows for how long. We hope that the female will therefore seize the opportunity and go hunting, especially since a small herd of gazelles has stayed near her. The premises are actually almost perfect: they are smaller Thomson and not Grant Gazelles (Grants are the almost twice as large and therefore for a single cheetah much more difficult to bring down); a few of these Thommies even have laid down to chew the cud and turned their backs on the cats ... and last but not least, the grasses and shrubs in this part of the Kusini Plains are quite tall; the cheetah can therefore sneak up out of cover. 

 

To make a longer story short: she succeeds - Hamisi and I witness our third cheetah kill of this safari.

 

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A kill the cheetah had to work for pretty hard, again one of the longest chases I have ever seen. More than once the female had to change direction while in full speed.

 

The cubs must have been starving, they start eating before the poor gazelle is dead.

 

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On our way back for lunch we once again cross paths with the lions of the Masek Pride.

 

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In the afternoon we set out to find the two cheetah brothers again, but to no avail. Instead we spot another group of lions. I count three, Hamisi is convinced they are four. Too bad for us: there is a huge crevice in front of our vehicle, preventing us from driving closer. 

 

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Unfortunately, today is the penultimate day that I can spend in the Conservation Area from morning to evening; my journey home to Germany begins on Friday; and I have to say: if I review these past ten days, then I am a little disappointed. If the Marsh Pride on last Friday, or maybe the Masek Pride on Sunday, had used their chances and snatched one of the zebras trotting past them, then yes, this would be the ultimate, the best of my five Ndutu safaris so far. But the lions didn't and therefore Ndutu 2021 lands at the end of that list.

 

Of course I am whining at high level: close to 60 different lions, three cheetah kills, among them the double kill with the jackals, and yet I feel that my ranking is accurate - that gives you an idea just how great these other four NCA trips were.

 

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