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About ten weeks ago it was my time to return to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in general and Ndutu Lodge in particular, my sixth trip since 2014. 

 

As I am slightly running of time (in three weeks I shall leave for Namibia) this will once again not a very detailed and thorough trip report, I instead plan to summarize my sightings and thoughts with key word, sprinkled by the odd photo and (sometime later in summer) half a dozen YouTube clips. Feel free to ask questions, though.

 

Speaking about which: the money I spend on my gear is almost exclusively invested in video and filming equipment, so those photos I will upload were shot with an old iPhone 8 or an even older Canon DSLR. No extensive post production on them, either.

 

 

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Edited by ice
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Friday, April 8th

  • road transfer to Amsterdam - I find it more convenient to drive to Schiphol (+/- 2,5 h from where I live) than to fly (although flying would in fact be cheaper)
  • had dinner with one of the co-owners of Ndutu Lodge and then spent the night in a hotel close to the airport

 

Saturday, April 9th

  • unfortunately Schiphol was extremely busy on that morning, so much so that I did not have enough time for an early lunch in one of the restaurants, instead I was "forced" to rely on the food they served on board

 

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Saturday, April 10th

  • on time departure at AMS and on time arrival in JRO
  • unlike in 2021, this year I'd estimate 90% left the plane, only 10% continued on to Dar
  • sat smack in the middle of the plane was bad luck, since the exit stairs were positioned at the front and at the rear of the plane. In the end it took me almost an hour to pass all those queues. 

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  • my guide Hamisi was waiting outside the terminal. Together we drove to Arusha where I spent the night at a small lodge while he crashed with relatives.

 

Sunday, April 11th

  • 8:30 am departure, arrival in Karatu at 11:15 am
  • got a cash and bought a local SIM card
  • met the local Lodge manager Stephen who was on leave for lunch while Hamisi had a minor problem with his vehicle fixed

 

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Being a returning guest has a lot of advantages. For me, I can buy the soft drinks I drink at the lodge in bulk and thus cheap in Karatu and then store them behind the bar. Saves me about 100 USD, money that at the end of the trip goes straight into the tip box of the Lodge.

 

 

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  • it took us until 17:30 to reach the Concourse, where Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek meet. That night, we had the first of many sightings of the Masek Pride.
  • For me, I was happy to see that all the cubs I had last observed in 2021 had survived the thirteen months since my last visit.
  • That evening the teenage males showed enough courage to stalk some elephants with babies, but to no avail.

 

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Monday, April 11th - Morning Drive

  • mating pair #1 of lions close to the western shore of Lake Ndutu, lions that were named Lamarsi and Bessy
  • mating pair #2 of lions slightly north of the Lake, the male has yet to be identified, the female was daughter of the Marsh Pride, born in 2019

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Monday, April 11th - Morning Drive (con'td)

  • our first (of half a dozen) sightings of a lone male lion named Liangata; a crippled male lion who lost a big part of one of his hind legs, most likely when trying to escape a poacher's snare
  • the kill he was with was (we assume) stolen from hyenas; Hamisi had seen him stealing another carcass from hyenas two weeks earlier. 

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  • finally our first cheetahs for this trip, a pair of adult males. They were unfortunately trodding through dense woodland, so it didn't make sense to follow them or even take their GPS position

Monday, April 11th - Afternoon Drive

  • Cassandra, leader of the Marsh Pride and with 14 years of age one of the oldest lionesses in the NCA, on a wildebeest kill, together with another female lion teenager of her pride, also born in 2019

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  • a cheetah mum with three cubs appr. six months old

the little family had full bellies so the chances that they would go out hunting again today were slim. Nevertheless we spent the rest of the afternoon with them and then saved their GPS position before we returned to the lodge for the night.

 

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Tuesday, April 12th - Morning Drive

  • back to Makao Plains where we were glad to find out that the cheetah family had barely moved over night

And today they were most certainly hungry again. We followed them for two hours and were then rewarded with the first kill of our trip. That was the 23rd time I witnessed a cheetah kill in the NCA and yet that one was special. As far as I remember all the other cheetahs we observed would rely on the element of surprise. Obviously a lot of times they were noticed before they were close enough to give it a try. In this case, they would (naturally) stop their endeaveours.

 

Not so this lady. She had targeted two Thompson Gazelles and seemed out of luck when those gazelles spotted her. However, instead of turning around and at least pretend to have lost interest she set out to run - a full speed chase that lasted nearly 30 seconds and ended with one of the gazelles down. 

 

 

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Africalover

Looking forward to the rest of the TR, how was driving conditions in and after the rain season?

Thanks for sharing.

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Tuesday, April 12th - Morning Drive (cont'd)

  • second sighting of the second mating pair from yesterday

Tuesday, April 12th - Afternoon Drive

  • Masek Pride in full force at the Concourse, the younger cats munching away on a wildebeest kill

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  • first sighting of a female leopard called Half Tail

Later that night, back at the lodge, I was allowed into the recreation room of the staff and the guides since this is the only place that has power after 10 pm and also a feed to Satellite TV. Back in Europe it was Champion's League time and despite the slight time difference I wanted to witness how my team would perform (unfortunately not to well...)

 

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4 minutes ago, Africalover said:

Looking forward to the rest of the TR, how was driving conditions in and after the rain season?

Thanks for sharing.

 

We never had any problem. It was mostly dry, just once there was heavy rain. 

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Wednesday, April 13th - Morning Drive

  • subadult lioness, seeking shade right next to our car

Wednesday, April 13th - Afternoon Drive

  • Masek Pride near Lake Masek

 

Lake Masek is (just like Lake Ndutu) filled with saltwater. However, as a result of the first rains of the season pools of fresh water had accumulated in little dips right next to the shore; fresh water that around 17:00 drew the attention of a small family of zebras, including the odd youngster.

 

Too bad that five of the six lions were fast asleep, only Brenda, one of the adult lionesses took notice - and went immediately into stalking mode. Hamisi and I became quite excited, after all it was the very same Brenda who about a year ago took down another zebra in Hugo's Valley, one of two major sightings of my Ndutu 2021 Safari.

 

Unfortunately and very much to our disappointment, Brenda missed the right moment to complete her hunt - the lioness was spotted by the zebras before she was close enough to attack.

 

Thursday, April 14th - Morning Drive

  • back to Makao Plains, still looking for cheetah but instead finding the three legged lion Liangata again

 

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notice the red spots between the legs - that is the at that time still not fully healed leg wound

 

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With the lion passing within meters of our vehicle Hamis and I were musing about his future. Liangata's first entry into the database of the local lion researchers dates back to 2016, his last from 2019, before Hamisi saw him again after a three year absence about two weeks ago, so obviously the cat had despite its crippled leg survived at least these last three weeks. Back in March he had stolen a carcass from a clan of hyenas, so that might be the way to survival: solely concentrating on feeding on what others have killed. Liangata might even be able to join one or more nomadic lionesses, offering protection in exchange for his share of their kills.

 

 

 

 

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With Liangata limping in westerly direction Hamisi was already busy searching for our next sighting - and discovered a male adult cheetah that was well aware of the presence of the lion.

 

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Half an hour later (in the meantime Liangata had disappeared behind the horizon) all of a sudden two lone wildebeest calves caught our attention - and that of the cheetah. Old enough to survive without the milk of their mothers, they were still way too young to survive without the protection of a herd. What followed was the most straightforward cheetah hunt I ever saw: no prolonged stalking and (after bringing the calf down) no extended playing with the prey - eight minutes later the wildebeest was dead.

 

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Just like the cheetah kill on Tuesday we had this sighting to ourselves as well. When half an hour later the first other vehicle approached I decided that this was a good time to leave. The morning was still young and the Plains usually have a lot to offer.

 

Around 10:00 the excited calls of a large flock of wattled starlings drew our attention - a lone adult lioness had pulled a wildebeest carcass underneath the trees where the birds had their nests. On closer inspection we noticed that this cat was injured, too: a small puncture on her belly, still slightly bleeding and thus most likely inflicted while fighting with the wildebeest. More seriously, one of her eyes was milky-grey.

 

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I hope the milky eye lioness recovers.  Living with one milky eye is not that uncommon, but don't know the extent of the other injuries.  On another topic--that avatar is mind-blowing.

Edited by Atravelynn
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10 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

I hope the milky eye lioness recovers.  Living with one milky eye is not that uncommon, but don't know the extent of the other injuries.  On another topic--that avatar is mind-blowing.

 

Well, I'm not so sure about her chances. She's alone and obviously rather old. That kill we saw her with, was quickly stolen by the three-legged male. She would neither stand a chance against a klan of hyenas. Last but not least I suspect that losing one eye has impaired her hunting abilities - more about that to follow. But yes, I hope against the odds, too.

 

Interestingly enough, despite her age, local researchers were not able to identify this female, seems like she must have migrated from quite far away.

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The female lion had occupied the very same island three-legged Liangata had called his home until the day before. Him (Liangata) we found less than a mile away from the island and the lioness.

 

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On closer inspection we noticed that he not only had lost part of his right leg, but also that he was infested with ticks - and that at (for a male) very sensitive body parts.

 

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I was then and still am more than ever convinced that he lost the leg in the sling of a poacher. However, if you look at the stump, it looks as if it was / is healing nicely.

 

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We mused that the watery eye lioness and the three-legged Liangata would make a perfect match. And who knew, being less than a mile apart, maybe they would find each other?

 

Our morning drive ended with the male cheetah. With a full belly he had left his wildebeest kill behind and sought shelter in high grass.

 

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Tuesday April 14th - Afternoon Drive

 

On our fifth day in the NCA I felt the time was right for a change, so instead of driving to one of the usual suspect places we headed north to Hidden Valley - as it turned out, in vain: nothing there, not even a hyena.

 

Luck somewhat changed on our way back to the lodge - we found two nomadic male lions later aptly named Kidonda and Masikio, meaning "Head" and "Wound" respectively. I was particularly interested in Kidonda. Another guest at the lodge had showed me pictures of his open skull wound, a wound as big as a man's fist, with parts of his brain clearly visible.

 

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That night, during our first encounter with these two, I was concentrating on getting my video shots. Better and clearer photos are to follow.

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Really enjoying this report @ice, I'm doing to be there next February! A quick note, kidonda is the word that means wound, masikio means ears. 

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10 minutes ago, Zubbie15 said:

Really enjoying this report @ice, I'm doing to be there next February! A quick note, kidonda is the word that means wound, masikio means ears. 

 

yeah, I just noticed that too when checking my personal notes. Guess I still have to work on my Swahili skills :ph34r: Masikio got his name because he has a crumpled right ear and Kidonda...well, I explained.

Edited by ice
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"Another guest at the lodge had showed me pictures of his open skull wound, a wound as big as a man's fist, with parts of his brain clearly visible."  Was this from the past?  Was the poor animal walking around like that now?  Your lion shot does not show an injury but maybe other photos will.  I have seen that kind of wound in a wild dog and it was managing.

 

You have somewhat of an emergency ward of lion injuries.  I like the thought that these wounded beasts might find each other and live happily ever after, anthropomorphic as it may be.

 

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2 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

"Another guest at the lodge had showed me pictures of his open skull wound, a wound as big as a man's fist, with parts of his brain clearly visible."  Was this from the past?  Was the poor animal walking around like that now?  Your lion shot does not show an injury but maybe other photos will. 

 

It was a very fresh wound and if you look carefully at the head of the younger lion sitting on the right, you will notice that his mohawk is a bit scrubby - that's where the skull is open. Bare with me and you'll get much better images from the front.

 

Yes, he was walking around like nothing had happened, absolutely no signs of impairment - tough beasts. 

 

Remember we saw three mating pairs: two on April 11th and one on April 12th. Until yesterday I thought that the second lioness from April 11th was mating with the same lion on April 12th. However, last night the local researcher finally found the time to work with the photos I sent her and these are her results:

 

April 11th: Lamarsi and Bessy (both from Masek Pride)

April 11th: Leboo and BIM60 (BIM = Big Marsh Pride)

April 12th: Masikio and BIM60

 

Now we were the very first people to spot Leboo. Until that day Lamarsi (and his companion) Loseyay were dominating not only the Masek but also the Big Marsh Pride. However, Loseyay has not been seen for months, so maybe he died or wandered off and left Lamarsi on his own. Coincidence or not, but since then both Leboo and Kidonda with Masikio showed up in their territory and BIM60 was mating with both, which is seen as a sign that either might take over the Big Marsh Pride from Lamarsi and Loseyay.

 

On April 12th, another guide told us that Masikio had been fighting with another lion minutes before we arrived at the scene. Now logic tells me that this could have been Loseyay (extremely unlikely because we never spotted him during my 12 nights stay), Lamarsi (trying to uphold his dominance), Leboo (fighting for his newly acclaimed leadership) or...Kidonda, wanting his share in mating time. 

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April 15th - Morning Drive

 

Over night three-legged Liangata has been rather busy - while we had been secretly "advising" him to sweet-talk to the lone lioness with the watery eye, he had done the exact opposite: stolen her kill.

 

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One hour later we found our first cheetah of the day - an adult female. For the next hour and a half we followed her all over the plains. She was obviously hungry and there were some opportunities too but in the end she did not even try to hunt, let alone have success, so maybe a) she was less hungry than we thought, b) she was still unexperienced or c) there were too many hyenas around for her liking.

 

April 15th - Afternoon Drive

 

During our lunch break the female cheetah had unfortunately wandered off from where we had left her. We spent rest of the afternoon with Liangata who was still happily munching away on what was left of the wildebeest and later with the Masek Pride at the Concourse.

 

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Half an hour before sunset we received word that two leopards had been spotted mating, not far from where we were parked. Wow, that would have been a lifer for me: I have seen dozens of lions mating, even cheetah but never leopards.

 

By the time we got to the respective tree, the male had unfortunately disappeared. Male leopards seem (at least in the areas I visit) to be more shy than females. Another guide told us that a few tourists had been talking too loud and that spooked the male away. 

 

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Hamisi was able to identify the female as Half Tail, the same cat we had come across a few days before. We waited until long after sunset but the male never returned.

 

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Atravelynn
8 hours ago, ice said:

 

It was a very fresh wound and if you look carefully at the head of the younger lion sitting on the right, you will notice that his mohawk is a bit scrubby - that's where the skull is open. I did notice the scrubby mohawk but who am I to judge hairstyles? Bare with me and you'll get much better images from the front. right-o

 

 

 

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