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A Tale of Two Countries - Travels through Kenya and Tanzania during the Pandemic - Part II


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Sangeeta

Apologies to all of you, dear friends, for the vanishing act. Hari’s beautiful photo TR, as well as Ice's & Kilopascal's lovely reports have finally prodded me into getting mine completed as well :D. Despite all the trials and tribulations of this trip, there is nowhere in the world I'd rather be, especially in the midst of a pandemic, and in case you're wondering, the rest of the trip was a chirpy breeze - we were like Crickets on the Hearth - and endured no more bumps on the road. Since this trip though, lots has changed in Tanzania. As you all know, the new President takes Covid much more seriously than her predecessor ever did, and Tanzania now follows all the usual Covid protocols that all other countries do - so the usual negative RT-PCR test is now mandatory, as is an extra Rapid Antigen test ($25) on landing in Tanzania.

 

Portraits of Ndutu...

 

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Olakira Camp, Southern Serengeti – The Battle of Life

 

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As we circled low over the Ndutu plains in late March, we could see that the babies had been born already and that the herds were getting ready to make their way to central Serengeti on their long and hazardous journey north. They were forming impossibly long lines over on that ridge and in that valley, but there were enough of them still dotting the plains that the predators looked fat and happy.

 

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One such lot of happy & healthy predators are the Marsh pride, a very large pride of lions, consisting of at least 5 huge and beautiful sub-adult males (they will soon be a force to reckon with in the Serengeti) and numerous beautiful females.

 

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This is the story of one of those females, an inexperienced hunter, but not lacking in either enthusiasm or energy. She, along with her pride mates, spent most of her day snoozing in the rushes by a couple of waterholes and waiting for her meal to come right up to her. And if ever there was any doubt that the beasties have no institutional memory at all, then this trip proved that point beyond any reasonable doubt :D

 

As we sat in the vehicle watching a long line of wildebeest grunting and gnuing, they shook their manes and headed with purpose and determination towards the very same waterhole where our young Marsh pride lioness was hiding in the papyrus, waiting to ambush them. They got closer and closer, the hooves, the dust and the cacophony of the herd effectively masking the lioness. Suddenly, she shot out like an arrow from a tautly strung bow – the image of grace and precision. There were so many animals hovering in and around the waterhole that surely, she would catch one of them, right? Wrong. When the dust had subsided enough for us to see beyond the mayhem & fleeing animals, all the wildies had managed to escape, and the lioness could be seen slinking back into ambush position, looking a bit sheepish.

 

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Coming up to the waterhole...

 

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Predator waiting...

 

 

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The line gets impossibly long...

 

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Wildies at the waterhole at last 

 

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Full attack, but no cigar!

 

Hmmm...

 

Would she go hide by the other waterhole now? Now that the wildies know where she is, she is going to need to change her hiding place, isn’t she? But no, strangely enough, the lioness went straight back into the same clump of rushes and got back into the exact same position. And no more than 5 minutes later, what do we see but the long line of grunting and gnuing wildebeest reconstituted, as they shook their manes and headed with purpose and determination towards the very same waterhole where our young Marsh pride lioness was hiding in the papyrus, waiting to ambush them… seriously?

 

Sure enough, here they are, milling around the waterhole, the dust and the cacophony of the herd effectively masking the lioness. And there she goes again, doing her graceful bow and arrow number, and there she is, once again slinking back into ambush position, looking very embarrassed at failed hunt number 2. And there are the wildies running for their lives, but hey, there are yet more clueless ones right behind.

 

 

 

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I am sure all of you have seen that wonderful meme of the 2 wildies by the edge of the Mara river, wondering if what they see is a log or a croc? Haha, that’s exactly what happens to them in real life too. You’d think that having narrowly escaped the jaws of a predator, the back of the line would take heed and run away too? But no, the wildebeest lines are so long that a few animals after the last panicked beastie is seen running for its life, it becomes all cream and sugar and teatime again, nary a worry, and the line moves lugubriously onward, straight into the lion’s den.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgCoxzh2T-0

 

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You guessed it. The lioness hid again the very same spot. The wildie line formed again and the back of the line soon became the front of the line, and toc toc, is that a log or a croc? A log. The lioness shot out again, and missed again! Honestly, it was hilarious animal behavior, both on the wildie end and on the lioness end. Not one of her pride mates came to her assistance as they occasionally cracked open their eyes and looked at the comedy spectacle unfolding in front of them.

 

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This was our crazy day of watching 6 failed hunts – 3 by an inexperienced cheetah on the Makao plains and 3 by this young Marsh pride lioness further south. We probably spent 10 hours that day, moving from lion to cheetah to lion to cheetah to lion to cheetah, but it was a lucky day for the herbivores :)Nina and I went up to Namiri the following day, and Dave headed off to Kusini, but he later told us that she had finally managed to catch herself a young eland 2 days and at least 6-7 attempts later.

 

Unsuccessful cheetah hunts on the Makao Plains

 

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Asilia’s Olakira Camp had a lovely campsite very close to the lakes and the Ndutu woodlands. In addition to the beautiful herds of zebras, wildies, tommies and eland, I had been crossing my fingers for a striped hyena, and sure enough, on the very first evening, we saw 2 Stripeys as they watched a herd of zebra go by. Unfortunately, my photo is nothing like @KitSafari ‘s beautiful one from her Laikipia trip report, but that was my first African striped hyena and what a thrill that was. I see that @Ice saw them too, so this definitely proves that the Ndutu woodlands are a good place to look for them.

 

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We had only 3 nights at Olakira, but they were each one of them, action-packed days, and layered on beautifully to the Laikipia days we had experienced just prior. This is a combination I will recommend again to people – the sheer diversity of wildlife on this trip was astonishing.

 

A word about barn swallows…

 

Many years ago (and perhaps on a report right here on Safaritalk), I had read someone’s beautiful description of a carmine ballet – where the birds followed along closely with vehicles, swooping and circling around them to pick off the insects that were thrown up by the moving vehicle. Sadly, I’ve not seen a carmine ballet myself, but on this trip, I saw barn swallows pirouetting and swooping and repeating that exact same behavior. We saw this in Laikipia as well as at both camps in the Serengeti as well. You will notice little birds in flight in some of the pictures I have posted here- they are all barn swallows, hundreds and thousands of them, that followed us everywhere. Perhaps other birds also do the same thing (certainly cattle egrets do, when they walk alongside eles etc.), but they were a sight to behold, darting around and displaying flashes of metallic blue as they picked off all manner of insects on the wing. This i will be one of my lasting memories from this trip.

 

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Some images I cannot seem to delete: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by Sangeeta
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Sangeeta
Posted (edited)

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Nina and I went up to Namiri the following day, whereas Dave headed south to Kusini for a few days. If there were all kinds of failed hunts at Ndutu, he seems to have done nothing but photographed hunts and kills there! I had posted his eland kill sequence in the Kenya section but they should have been here rightfully - here are a few more hunts from Kusini. All Dave's images and these are his words too...

 

We got extremely lucky in Kusini, with the wildebeest and zebra herds making a huge move to Maswa GP the night we drove down there. It was as if pretty much every wildebeest and zebra from the Ndutu and the Kakessio area had decided to move onto Maswa. The result being massive numbers of animals moving thru the Kusini plains. We stopped at one small gully, on the first full day, as literally tens of thousands of animals crossed per hour. It was as crazy as any actual river crossing I have seen. Every animal running, the dust,the noise, the total chaos. It was totally crazy, one of few times I have seen Wildebeest-Zebra act that way away from an actual river crossing, although I guess in their minds it was no different. We watched for over an hour and I’m sure this went on for hours. Maybe 100,000-200,000 crossed in that area. We also had a great sighting of Wildebeest in total panic as the sun was just coming up on the horizon. Thousands of Wildebeest running in all directions, tons of dust and chaos. Turns out a lioness was in the middle of the herd chasing thousands of animals around. Unfortunately she was extremely skittish and took off running when she saw us. And yes, we were basically the only vehicle in the whole Kusini area for much of the time.

 

That eland kill sequence (re-posting here) was at the edge of Maswa and Kusini.

 

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This sequence of photos involved a female Leopard and primarily one of her two 6-7 month old cubs. All three Leopards had been spending a day or two in an Acacia tree along a small drainage. The female had already made three baby wildebeest kills over the previous 1-2 days,which had been placed into the same tree. Literally tens of thousands of wildebeest had been migrating thru the area the previous I-2 days on their way to Maswa GR . So, no surprise that a baby wildebeest had become separated and lost from its mother and wandered into the area below the tree the Leopards had been using. The female Leopard had briefly left to drink, however,one of the cubs spotted the wildebeest calf and came down the tree to investigate. Instinctively the cub immediately started stalking the calf. At which point the calf immediately took the offensive and charged the cub several times very aggressively. At one point the calf charged the cub and missed, hitting a tree stump just in front of the cub. In the process the calf had broken one of its small horns off.

After taking a humiliating beating by the calf, the leopard cub finally realized who the aggressor was supposed to be and quickly reversed roles, aggressively going after the calf. This probably was the cubs first kill, so not one for the record books, but never the less did everything right and ended up killing the calf. The female Leopard did come back at one point and dragged the dead calf off into the bushes, with the young Leopard still attached to the calf by a choke hold. 

 

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Leopard kill 2:

 

It was super cloudy up until the actual sequence started. The mid-day sun came out and I ended up being way over-exposed. This wildebeest calf had probably been lost for at least a couple of days. So by the time it came walking [barely] thru the area, it was already very weak and walking very slowly.It was probably markedly dehydrated and hypoglycemic from not eating or drinking. The leopard saw the calf from the tree she was in and came down to check the calf out.Initially she was doing the usual Leopard stalking, but became quite baffled by the lack of activity of the calf and failure to run when the Leopard got really close. After several minutes of assessing the situation,the Leopard went ahead and went for the kill. The calf did not put up much of a fight. The Leopard dragged the dead calf into a thicket of bushes and weeds.Her young cub was actually close by in an Acacia tree. Because of the thick cover in the tree and crappy light.

 

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Kusini Lions butting heads with a baby wildie :o

 

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And let's end this post with an avian predator :o

 

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Edited by Sangeeta
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Caracal

Loving this report @Sangeetaand the images.

Thank you.

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Kitsafari

awesome shots  of the hunts from Dave and you! that seems a lot happening in Tanzania. 

and brilliant  - 2 striped hyenas!

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gatoratlarge

Extraordinary shots!!  This was worth the wait and the eland hunt was just as good the second time around!  Thanks very much!  What a safari!!!

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marg

Thank you!

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Atdahl

Wow, awesome shots and the hunting sequences are extraordinary!

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ElenaH

WOW! Fascinating photos, @SangeetaI love sequences (especially that one with lion - never saw something like that, the poses!) and leopard pictures are gorgeous!

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