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Serengeti 23' - My Most Successful Failure (Olakira & Namiri)


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I am very excited to share my first trip report. Bear with me, as my photos are not that great, but hopefully, there will be some improvements in every subsequent report I add in the future! Currently, I do not edit any of my photos; I have never even tried to do so. However, I’m about to download Lightroom and will start playing with it in the coming months. I have titled this report "my most successful failure" for a very simple reason: although I did not manage to achieve my original goals for the trip, it has undoubtedly been one of my very best safaris.


This trip was very special to me. On the 1st of July, I had a severe accident and broke over 10 bones in my foot – I didn’t even know I had that many bones to break, haha! The first piece of bad news was that the surgery was complicated. The second was that I was just four weeks away from a 12-night safari in Zambia, which was supposed to focus primarily on walking activities. I had to postpone the trip to 2024, and unfortunately, Robin Pope decided not to refund me or allow me to reschedule, resulting in the loss of that portion of the trip entirely. However, the silver lining was that I had 10 weeks confined to bed, giving me ample time to plan my next safari.



Given that my experience with crossings in the Maasai Mara during the first week of September last year was not very lucky, as most wildebeests were on the Serengeti side, I decided to explore areas just across the border this time. After some research and a few chats with my agent, I chose to book with Asilia. North of the Mara River is Lamai, where Asilia has the Ubuntu Migration Camp, and south of the river is Kogatende, home to Asilia’s Olakira Migration Camp. Ubuntu is a traditional mobile camp, while Olakira features tents on wooden decks. I booked three nights at each camp. One of the many reasons I picked Asilia is its excellent special offers: 25% last-minute discount, 10% long stay (5+ nights), and a 5% returning customer discount. The maximum discount available was 30%, which I was able to achieve. 

By mid-September, I was able to walk, supporting my weight with crutches, and I was undergoing as much physical therapy as possible to ensure I would be in the best possible condition to leave on the 9th of October. Around the 20th of September, I started seeing videos on social media of huge herds of wildebeests moving from the northern to central Serengeti. Timing the wildebeests is always tricky, but everyone I had talked to previously seemed confident that my dates were theoretically great for witnessing the crossings. In the following days, I monitored the situation as closely as possible and decided to reach out to some guides in the area to gather as much information as I could. After doing so, it became clear that the likelihood of seeing a crossing by the time I arrived was very slim. I called my agent, and we came up with a new plan. Namiri had always been on my bucket list, and among the big cats, cheetahs were the predators with which I had had the fewest memorable sightings in the past. For those unfamiliar, the area around Namiri had been closed for 20 years to restore the cheetah population. It is also widely considered Asilia’s flagship camp and one of the best properties in East Africa. With the wildebeests moving south, swapping one of the camps for Namiri Plains in the eastern Serengeti seemed like a no-brainer. My agent got in touch with Asilia, I paid for the upgrade, and everything was set. The only thing left was to get my doctor's approval on the 6th of October. I knew booking the trip was a risk, but I am glad to say that it paid off; my doctor gave me permission to walk without crutches on the 6th. However, he made it abundantly clear that my foot could not bear any additional weight on top of my body weight. This presented a problem, as I had to take my luggage and camera gear with me, in addition to my work stuff, which I always need access to. After a quick thought, I decided to keep one crutch to decrease the amount of weight on my foot. A few days later, off I went. I departed from Rome and had a total of four flights ahead of me. After my third flight, I landed at Kilimanjaro National Airport. I had been there previously in 2021 to climb the famous mountain, so it felt good to return to such a special place for me. As I had a two-hour layover prior to my bush flight to the Kogatende area, I managed to arrange a quick late lunch with Naftal, one of my guides from the climb, with whom I had stayed in contact over the past two years.



After a great time with Naftal, I headed to catch my last flight with a full stomach. Given the extreme heat, the flight was quite bumpy, but I made it in the end. Upon arrival, I met Daniel. I was supposed to be guided by Emmanuel Qamara, the head guide at Olakira, but he was on leave. He had recommended Daniel, and I could immediately see why. Daniel is incredibly passionate, has excellent spotting skills, and is very respectful of wildlife. There was only time for a quick game drive as we headed towards the camp. I was exhausted and in dire need of a long night's sleep, but not before having dinner. Being Italian, I often worry about food when dining in other countries, but there was no need to do so with Asilia. The sounds of lions and hyenas very close to the camp could not stop me from falling asleep within seconds of laying on my bed.

Edited by Riccardo Milesi
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Finally, after a long time, I woke up at 5:30 am and got ready for my first real game drive.




I’d like to take a moment to say that Asilia managed my foot problem exceptionally well. As you can see in the photo, I always had stairs to help me get on and off the vehicle. More importantly, when my foot became very swollen at a later stage of my stay, they managed to find an extra crutch and had it flown out to the camp within the same day.

The first game drive was among the best of the trip. Total wildebeests seen: 0. I didn’t spot a single one. However, I did manage to tick off the big 5 in a single drive, something I can’t recall ever happening before in my many safaris in Kenya or Botswana. Not even 5 minutes away from camp, we briefly stopped to take some photos of some Impalas. When we turned off the engine, we heard hyenas but couldn’t spot them. It didn’t take long for us to realize something big was happening. With a little help from some incoming vultures, we spotted one hyena, then another, and then many more. They were quite far away, but as we got closer, we saw a lioness chasing them away. Then, just behind her, a young male and an older male appeared. The older male established its dominance and started feeding on a baby impala.




After spending some time alone with the lions on a kill, another vehicle arrived, and I asked Daniel to leave the scene. I was satisfied with my time there and wanted to look for leopards. Daniel was confident we could find a female leopard he used to see quite often, not far from where we were. We must have driven less than 10 minutes and Daniel spotted her walking through the tall grass!




I’m not great at capturing animals in motion, but I feel satisfied with the photos I managed to get before she quickly disappeared among some huge koppies. Since the first time I ever saw one, there was no doubt in my mind that leopards are the most beautiful animals out there.

It was only 7 am, and I had already had the honour of witnessing two amazing sightings in complete privacy. What a great start to the trip! Daniel and I quickly discussed our next options and decided to look for a lioness with some very tiny cubs, around 1.5 months old, that he had seen the previous morning with some other guests. We went to the last known location but couldn’t find anything. After two hours of searching with no success, it was time for a bush breakfast. Northern Serengeti boasts some of the most stunning landscapes I have ever seen, and I felt blessed to be enjoying my meal amidst such beauty.

Once we finished, we continued our drive and had to stop moments later, just around the corner from some huge koppies, as there were a couple of Klipspringers perfectly positioned on top of them, bathed in the perfect light for photography.




I was very happy with these photos.

As we continued, it became clear to me that although we had already had some really good sightings, many animals, especially predators, had probably moved on with the wildebeests. As we were driving, I spotted a strange dark shape beneath a tree. Using my binoculars, I was excited to confirm it was a black rhino. It was quite far away, but from the same spot, we could also see a small herd of elephants and a solitary old and grumpy buffalo. There they were, the big 5 in one drive. Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of the buffalo as I did not want to miss my chance with the rhino.





We waited for more than an hour, hoping the rhino would come closer, but it never did. In the meantime, I enjoyed watching the elephants.




After a while, I told Daniel that I was ready to go back to camp. The bumpy road was taking its toll on my foot, and I wanted to apply some ice to it and rest a little.

Here is a photo of the room. As you can see, it is quite spacious and comfortable. Behind me was an elegant working desk, a spacious wardrobe, and a huge bathroom divided into three different ‘rooms’. Olakira is not your traditional migration camp. In fact, I would even say it is ‘too’ luxurious for my taste, but it is the perfect choice for someone on their first safari or for those who enjoy a bit of comfort.




I enjoyed my lunch and, after a siesta, was ready to head back out. My goal was to find a leopard in a tree or on the koppies while the light was still good. We drove around a lot with little luck; there were a few zebras around, but not much else. Then, we received a call from another Asilia guide about a leopard sighting. We rushed to the area and got there in time to see an injured female leopard looking for a hiding spot in a nearly dry riverbed. She was barely visible, but after moving around, I found a spot to take a few photos of her.




As I laid down my camera, I realised there was a hyena sleeping literally 2-3 metres away from her. Daniel and I were excited to see what would happen when one of them realised the other's presence. We waited. And waited. But that moment never came. After 15-20 minutes, the hyena headed off in the opposite direction, and our female leopard didn’t even raise her head; she clearly hadn’t noticed. So close... Being injured, it would not have ended well for her if the hyena had seen her.


We moved on, but there were no other sightings worth sharing. It started to rain and we called it a day.



Edited by Riccardo Milesi
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Day 2 was not nearly as exciting, but that was mostly due to a choice I made. Basically, I really like to explore different areas as much as possible. From the Mara River, there was the option to push east towards the Sand River, flowing close to the border. Daniel advised against this choice as he said it’s a great area when the wildebeests are around, but it can be very hard to find anything when they are not.

Of course, Daniel was right. On our way, we saw a small herd of Topi with a mother nursing her young one. 




I also took a photo of this bird, which I forgot the name of. I was interested in it as the prior day, during lunchtime, I saw one hunt a butterfly a few metres away from my table.




We then found a waterbuck in a very aesthetic position with a few buffaloes behind.




I really like this photo.

Following this, I finally saw a couple of wildebeests. They were the first and last of the entire trip.




I expect these to be easy prey and won’t last too long out there alone.

This was it for the area around the Sand River, so we decided to head back towards camp and the Mara River. This turned out to be the right choice. First, we saw a pride of lions sleeping in the shade, but I was not able to take a single good photo. Even better, we found two huge male lions just a few metres away from the river, sleeping under a tree. Daniel said they must have crossed the Mara, coming from the Lamai area to either look for food or to test the waters and see how the local pride reacted to their presence. These guys looked really big. Check for yourself:




This was the only decent photo as they mostly just slept under the tree. It was 11 am by that time, so we decided to head back to camp and come back later. On our way there, we saw a zebra nursing its calf.




In the afternoon, we went back to the two males, and again they really were not in the mood to do anything other than sleep. We waited pretty much the whole afternoon, had some red wine in the meantime, and felt blessed to have my aperitivo, or sundowner, in the presence of these big boys.




As the sun went down, we headed towards camp. On our way, we saw the young and old male from the first day showing some love to each other and strengthening their bond. No photo to show, but it was lovely to witness. 

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I had my bed moved under the stars for the night, and I have to say, being more exposed to the cold weather was worth it. The sky was impeccably clear, and the stars shone brightly. As per my routine, there was no wake-up call. However, I had a quick black coffee, with no sugar, brought to my room at 5:45 am, just to get that caffeine boost to help contribute to spotting wildlife.




At 6 am sharp, we headed out for my last game drive in the Northern Serengeti, with all my stuff already packed. We spent the first hour or so looking for the lioness with the little cubs, but had little luck again. We were not ready to give up, but we received a call from another guide with news that a male lion was on the move. We decided to go for it.




We hoped he would stop on a big koppie, and indeed he did. However, he was well covered by a bush and ready to sleep. We left to continue our search for the small cubs. As time went on without finding them, the time for us to head to the airstrip arrived. On our way, we saw a herd of elephants, numbering more than 20 individuals.




I have to admit that the number of elephants in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem was lower than I expected. Last year, I participated in some interesting activities with the Mara Elephant Project, which I advise anyone to do. However, it was the start of the trip and I wasn’t aware that there were so few elephants, so I did not ask for the specific reasons. I might be wrong here, and perhaps I just did not get to see them myself. However, I do feel like places such as Tsavo in Kenya and Chobe in Botswana are home to a significantly larger number of these beautiful and majestic creatures. I've mentioned that leopards are the most beautiful animals to me, but elephants have always been my favourite.


This was it for the first half of the trip. I will resume as soon as possible with sharing my stay at Namiri Plains in Eastern Serengeti. Please expect many cheetahs.

@madaboutcheetahMy guide was Moinga and when I told him this forum has been very helpful in planning a few trips he mentioned you as a recurrent guest and friend. I have to say that I now completely understand your passion for cheetahs and Namiri. I stayed only 3 nights, but could have stayed there forever.


Edited by Riccardo Milesi
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@Riccardo MilesiWhat a GREAT start to your trip.  Hope your foot is doing better.  I can't wait to hear about Namiri as we are going next September!  We decided to try it after trip reports by @madaboutcheetah

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@Riccardo Milesivery nice start, Olakira has really changed since we stayed there in 2013.  You were lucky with the rhino, I had heard they were quite scarce in the northern Serengeti lately (we saw 3 in 2013, but none on a return in 2019).  

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Thank you@TravelMore. Namiri truly is a remarkable place. Might be my favourite location visited in Africa up to now. Will go into details soon! Make sure you ask for Moinga if he is available, he is the head guide at Namiri and is absolutely outstanding. 

Thanks@Zubbie15. Do you mean the camp itself has changed? For the better or the worse? 

As per the rhino, very lucky indeed. Daniel mentioned some were reintroduced from some other areas and always monitored closely by the rangers. Hopefully in time this will allow the population to restore. Laikipia in Kenya is a perfect example that it is very much possible. 

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@Riccardo Milesi- Great report so far ..... Can't wait to hear about your experiences from Namiri.  It is a magical place and my absolute favourite part of the entire Serengeti eco-system.  Glad you met Moinga and I bet you had a super time.  Hope your foot is better and that it withstood the stress from all your travels ...... 

Was Dickson in camp?  What about the other staff? Moses, Jackson etc?? 

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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@Riccardo Milesi, you can see what the camp was like back a decade ago in this post: 

I know it has changed locations, and as you can see in the photos it had canvas floors directly on the ground. Hard to say for better or worse, I guess it might depend on tastes. 


Interesting about the rhinos be introduced, I can see how they might not want to advertise that. 

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@Zubbie15Interesting to see how much it changed as it used to be a proper mobile migration camp. It now is luxurious in every aspect, but maybe Ubuntu might share more similarities with the old Olakira. I must admit the river view did not look bad at all. I think to really evaluate its location now I'll have to go back during the crossings. 


Thanks@madaboutcheetah, my foot is now much better, but the bumpy roads were causing it some serious stress. That did not stop me from having the best time at Namiri and Moinga played a big part in that. I had so many questions ranging from topics such as animal behaviour, to commercial hunting in neighbouring conservancies and to the latest updates on the maasai being kicked out of their native homes in Loliondo. With Moinga, I finally found someone that could help me dwelve deeper in these topics. On top of this, Moinga is also a photographer. As a beginner, his tips and suggestions really improved my game. His understanding of vehicle positioning also made things much easier for me. He really just is a great guy all around and hope to be guided by him again many times in the future.  


Dickson was in camp and is clearly a great manager. He knows how to make sure everything runs smoothly and when a team performs so well, you know the manager is doing his job right. 







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What a lovely start to your trip! I'm looking forward to reading more and glad to hear that your foot is much better now. 😊

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My stay at Namiri was unbelievable. There were a number of different reasons for this, all of which played a role in making my experience there so special. First and foremost, Namiri benefits from what is widely considered the best location in the Serengeti: on its eastern side. In my opinion, there were two major reasons its location is a winning one: 1) The area had been closed for 20 years to allow the cheetah population to restore, and it is now thriving. 2) There are no other camps around. These two facts combined resulted in guests having the possibility to spend the first two hours in the morning and the last couple of hours in the afternoon in complete privacy, with the potential for an insane amount of cheetah sightings, as guests from other camps need to travel from very far away. During my 3-day stay, I saw 15+ individual cheetahs in 20+ different sightings, most of which were in complete privacy. Following its prime location, I found Moinga, an exceptional guide, who greatly impacted my experience. Moinga had an incredibly deep understanding of the area around the camp, and his cheetah spotting skills were surreal. I’m a fairly good spotter myself and usually can contribute to help my guide, especially in bushy areas. However, with Moinga and the open plains of the Serengeti, I had no chance. Finally, Namiri was also the closest camp to the territory of a coalition of 7 male lions and their pride. It used to be Bob Jr.’s territory before he got killed by these rising superstars. Most of these lions are still relatively young but are already very large. They are very much aware of their power and radiate confidence. They basically have to hunt every day as feeding 7 adult males and 7+ females is no easy endeavour. Nobody expects them to stay together in one coalition for much longer, but I would recommend doing yourself a favour and going to check out the strongest lion coalition in Africa for yourself.


I landed at Seronera Airstrip late in the morning of the 12th. As private vehicles were all booked at Namiri, I reserved the photographic vehicle which is actually very similar in price. Here is a photo of it I took later in the trip: 




As it was relatively late for lunch, Moinga suggested we head directly to camp. I really wanted to check out the Central Serengeti area, but we agreed that there would be time for that in the future. Little did I know, I would become obsessed with looking for cheetahs in the east and would only go back to Central to catch my flight back to JRO. On our two-hour drive, it was immediately clear to me why the Serengeti is considered among the best places in Africa for cats. We weren’t actively looking for them, they were just everywhere and impossible to miss. It was not the best time of day for good photos, as most were sleeping and taking advantage of the little available shade. 


A lioness on some huge koppies:




A Cheetah trying to find some protection from the burning sun in a bush:




There were more cat sightings but the photos were not good. 


I also saw this eagle and was wondering if anyone could help me figure out which exact species it is. 




The more we headed east, the flatter the plains became. I was expecting endless grassy plains, but seeing them first-hand was very significant to me. I had waited a long time before going to the Serengeti, as it was always my plan to first visit every destination in Kenya, which I had achieved last year. It felt incredibly satisfying to finally be there. I arrived at Namiri by 1:30pm and quickly left my stuff in my room before heading to lunch. Here are photos of the bed, bathroom, and lunch spot.




Namiri is incredibly luxurious. Everything, from the materials used to the level of service, was of the highest standard. If you like to end your safari in comfort, then every East African safari should conclude at Namiri Plains. The food was also very good, better than at the other Asilia camps I had been to before.

By 4pm, Moinga and I headed out for our first proper game drive. It took Moinga about 20 to 30 minutes to spot the first cheetahs. They were incredibly far away, so much so that I had trouble identifying them clearly even with my binoculars. As we got closer, we realised it was a mother with her cub, not too far from adulthood. They also looked quite hungry but did not seem very interested in getting up for the time being.


Here is a collection of my favourite photos of these two beauties: 




After spending some very special time with them, Moinga advised for us to look for more cheetahs and then maybe come back to them later. We did and It did not take us much time to find a lonely female, this time around on the move. She started posing for me and was definitely enjoying it. She looked quite hungry too, but was first determined to show all of her beauty, and I will let you guys decide whether she achieved that or not:



She was definitely looking for prey and after a while, she spotted a herd of Thomson's gazelles. We tried moving to the opposite side of the herd to be in the ideal place to enjoy the hunt attempt. It was also the perfect time for a glass of red wine and a little bite to eat, and I took full advantage of it. We waited and waited, but when the time finally came, she was spotted by the herd and it all ended before it even started. We followed her for a while longer, but it was getting dark and we called it a day. 



Edited by Riccardo Milesi
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Day 2 was not as successful as the prior day in terms of cheetah sightings. We were aware that both the mother with her cub and the lonely female would likely be hunting in the morning so our focus was to look for them. Just 5 minutes out of camp we saw a pair of owls. I don’t think I ever saw them before. The light was still quite slim and the following photo was the best I could do. 




15 minutes passed and the sun started to come out. I tried taking a few photos of the sunrise. I am still figuring out how to shoot directly at the sun during both sunrise and sunset time. 




As our quest for hunting cheetahs went on, we spotted a python on a tree branch. 




Moinga explained that if the Python was well fed, it would probably stay on top of that tree for several months. 

By 7:30am, still no sign of cheetahs, but we found two out of the seven males from the coalition that had killed Bob Jr. With them, there were also six females. The pride was split up between a zebra kill and sunbathing on a koppie. The kill was hidden in very high grass so I did not manage to take any decent photo of the lions having their breakfast.




However, I got one of the males scent marking and three females on a koppie. 




As you can see, this guy was pretty young but already very big. Based on my understanding, out of the 7 males, there are two older and larger ones and five slightly younger boys. This one seemed to be among the five ‘smaller’ ones. 

There were many hyenas lurking around, I counted almost 10. There was nothing they could do when the kings were there. These 7 boys must be terrorising every living creature around the area. 




We went back to our mission, with little luck. After 3 hours of looking around, we decided we would keep trying in the afternoon. When I got to camp, I realised my foot was very swollen and could barely touch the ground, even with the support of two crutches. I was really considering staying in for the afternoon as the pain was almost getting the best of me. I took some meds and then came up with a way to go out. The photographic vehicle had open sides. This meant that I could lay down on the floor instead of sitting on the seat. Namiri has a yoga mattress in every room, and that was very helpful to use as the car pavement was quite hard. Additionally, I tied a bag of ice to my foot. The setting worked flawlessly. Here is a picture: 




Nothing could stop us from looking for cheetahs and by 4:30, we headed out. 

We spotted a jackal in the grass soon after leaving camp, and as soon as I got ready to take a photo, he yawned for me. I really like jackals, so I was happy to get these different pictures from my past ones. 




Did I say nothing could stop our mission? Well… I had never considered the possibility of what was about to happen. We came across a hyena den, and it seemed like there were a few young cubs. As we got closer, we realised that there were many, many more. Hard to say how many, but we estimated between 20 and 30 cubs from different litters. Initially, they were quite cautious and fearful of our presence. That all changed when a little one could not get the best of his curiosity and started sniffing the car. They then all started getting closer and more and more cubs came out of the den. As that happened, I got my red wine and some food out. They could clearly smell the dried meat and got even closer. At one point, we were completely surrounded by tiny hyenas. They were sniffing the car, Moinga and I, and the food. I swear I could have reached out and grabbed one if I had wanted to. It was pure magic. 


These are some of my favourite photos from the moment. Please bear in mind that a scene as special as this one cannot be shown through a piece of glass. The intimacy we had with these animals was beyond almost every experience I had had with wildlife in the past, and I will treasure it for a very long time. 




I decided to stay the whole afternoon with them, more than two full hours. By the end of our stay, an adult hyena came back and the little ones seemed very much aware they broke many rules by getting so close to us. They rushed closer to the den to avoid punishment from mum. We decided that was our signal to leave and went back to camp. I was very happy I pushed through the pain and decided to go out anyway. The reward was definitely worth it.


Edited by Riccardo Milesi
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Absolutely INCREDIBLE! My eyes are tearing up. Not only fantastic time with the cheetah & jackals but oh, I can feel the experience with the hyena cubs. Amazing. 💕💕💕

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Thank you for the comment @TravelMore. I don't think I will ever forget those hyena cubs. I still wonder how on earth did they get so comfortable with the proximity. 

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My last full day started as well as possible, with my foot feeling much better. As per our routine, we left camp at 6 am sharp, with one goal in our minds: finding cheetahs. We gave our best, but they were nowhere to be seen.

Around 7 am, we found the big lion coalition. Six out of seven of them were very close to each other, with the last one sleeping with the females less than one kilometre away. Most were well-hidden in the tall grass, but two of them provided some nice photo opportunities.




After enjoying their majestic presence for a while in complete privacy, we decided to move, heading north-west.

There was a considerable amount of prey in the area, and we were hoping to spot some predators taking advantage of that. 


Here are some photos of a Gazelle, a Thomson Gazelle and two Masai Giraffe:




A short while after our giraffe encounter, we managed to see a cheetah in the distance. It quickly disappeared, so we moved on. The time for my bush breakfast had come, and as we were looking for the right spot. As we were doing so, we actually found a female cheetah with her two sub-adult cubs. They were very far away from the road. We decided to eat in the car as we kept an eye on the three cats. It looked like they were getting closer, but then a Serengeti Cheetah Project car approached them, and they changed their direction. When we finished our breakfast, we called the driver of the car, and he came to us. I spoke with him, asking general questions about cheetahs and more specifically about the foundation. I then asked if it was possible to participate in some kind of activity with them during the afternoon. They are very limited in what they can offer. For example, you would not be allowed in their car without an off-roading licence. I don’t want to be critical of their work, but I personally felt like they could do a lot more to raise funds and have a significant impact on the cheetah population. They had a big donor that gave them $4 million for four years, which is a great start. However, they really need to work on offering a range of revenue-generating activities to become less dependent on donations. 




We stayed an hour or so, as I just had so many questions and curiosities. One interesting thing I found out was that leopards are among the biggest causes of death for cheetahs, as they actually hunt them as prey. I never heard about that before. Moinga also confirmed that this was the case and actually showed me a video of an example he witnessed firsthand. 


We parted ways and by then the three cheetahs were long gone. We weren’t too close to camp, so we decided to go in that direction. 


On our way, we first saw three lionesses: 




Following the cats, I found this Thomson Gazelle standing on top of an anthill under the perfect light. 




And finally, very close to camp, we had an encounter with a family of ostriches with 6 or more little ones. 



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Once we arrived at camp, I asked Moinga if we could leave soon after lunch, as it was my last afternoon. We decided to meet at 2 pm. This ended up being the right choice, as I was about to leave for what was going to be one of the best game drives I ever had. Since my arrival at Namiri, we had always stayed around the eastern side of the Serengeti, but often explored slightly different areas. This time around, Moinga was told by a fellow Asilia guide, who had arrived from Ngorongoro Crater, that he had seen a mother cheetah with a small cub not far from camp in that direction. We had not been there yet and decided it was a good first stop. It did not take us much time to find the two.


As we were approaching them, we also sighted a species I had never seen before: an African wolf, or golden wolf, formerly known as the African golden jackal.



As you can see, it is quite similar to traditional Jackals but with some wolf traits and a beautiful thick and golden fur. 


I just took a few photos and then moved to the two cheetahs, probably less than 100 metres away. I have to say my time with them was probably my favourite among all my cheetah encounters up to that moment. Please forgive the many photos, but I could not pick between them:




After following them for a while, it was clear they were looking for food. Once they found a small herd of Thomson's Gazelles, Moinga positioned the vehicle on the opposite side of the herd, and we patiently waited. I was confident the hunt attempt was about to start when suddenly two vehicles off-roaded towards the two cheetahs, essentially blocking the hunt. I was shocked to see the extent to which the drivers were harassing the cats by repeatedly blocking their path with their cars, in order for their guests to take some photos with their phones. I was becoming very frustrated, even angry at one point, and said to Moinga that I wanted to go say a thing or two to them. We were waiting on the road for them to come back, but then they rushed in the opposite direction. I was faced with the decision to go after them or hope the cheetah mum would resume her hunt, and opted for the latter. Unfortunately, she got clearly stressed out by the behaviour of those tourists and did not go through with it. Moinga explained that cheetah mums being stressed out by harassing tourists is one of the primary struggles these majestic species face. When caught, such behaviour should be punished with severe fines for guests and punishment for drivers. More generally, I was left with the feeling that Tanzanian authorities are not doing a good enough job of protecting their wildlife. They have a lot to learn from Kenya. Not that the latter does not have its own issues, but I feel they have greater respect for wildlife and local tribes. 


We could have stayed longer with the two cats, but it felt wrong, and we decided to leave them alone. We stayed in the area, which is basically an endless flat grassy plain. Moinga told me it is one of the best areas to see the wildebeests when they are around, and I look forward to going back when that will be the case. As we drove around some very big koppies, Moinga thought he spotted something in a tree. He was not sure and mentioned that he had never seen a leopard in the area because it is unsuitable for them. After moving the vehicle a bit, he confirmed that it was indeed a leopard. The tree branches and leaves almost perfectly hid it. I tried to get my camera out, with very little faith that I could get any decent photo. Here is what I got:




To me, this second one is my favourite photo of the whole safari. I was actually about to delete all of the leopard’s photos before downloading them. Luckily, I decided to give them a shot before doing so.



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My afternoon was only getting better and better. We didn't spend too much time with the leopard, as the visibility was just terrible and it looked like it was about to go to sleep. Needless to say, I wanted to see more cheetahs. Off we went towards our main area of research, not too far from camp. As we were speeding quite a bit, Moinga spotted some female lionesses sleeping among the tall grass. A few seconds after stopping, we noticed a big male lion. We realised it was the one male from the big coalition that was with the females this morning. I started taking a few photos of him and he started yawning. Not once, not twice, not even three times! I could not believe the amount of opportunities this guy was giving me. Here are some of my favourites:




I love how confident this guy looks. 


We got closer to him and he stood up. 




He walked towards us and stopped between one and two metres away from me. I was laying down in the car, with the open side. He was now way too close for me to take any photos with my camera. My heart literally stopped as there was nothing between us, and if he wanted to, I would have been dead before even realising something had happened. I would be lying if I said I did not get the chills there for a second. As if that was not enough, he marked his territory just there in front of me. I dared not to move an inch. Moinga was quick enough to take a quick photo with his phone.




He then started walking again, moving towards the females. I relaxed a little but was almost shaking from the excitement. I wanted to take some photos of the females greeting him but was still in awe for the moment I just lived. 

As I calmed down, I realised we had achieved a "cat-trick" that afternoon. (Seeing all three big cats in one game drive.) However, it still was not over. The Serengeti never stops delivering I guess.

Just a few minutes following our lion encounter, Moinga saw a cheetah in the tall grass in the distance. We headed towards it, and she stopped on an anthill, giving us some good photo opportunities. My favourite of the lot:




As if that was not enough, Moinga then spotted two cheetahs in the distance. They were the mum and subadult from the first day. They looked pretty full, which was good news. We had few moments of sunlight left, and as the sun was about to set completely, Moinga tried teaching me how to take a silhouette photo. I failed miserably, but we had so much fun trying.




I probably never had so much fun on a game drive. It was just a rollercoaster of emotions from start to end. However, we were extremely late as it was almost 7pm, so we really had to get out of there. We left the two cheetahs and started speeding towards camp. On our way there, all of the amazing sightings I just had started sinking in, and I could not help but feel incredibly blessed. I basically did not reach any of the goals I had when planning the trip and yet, I don’t see how it could have been any better. As I got to camp I took a quick shower and then headed to dinner. I spent some time chatting with Moinga. We were both still incredibly excited for the afternoon we just lived. 

Edited by Riccardo Milesi
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Sounds like a great time !!!  No surprises, it's Namiri .........  From some of the images, looks like most of your drives were more in the direction of Semetu etc etc., which can get more crowded.  However, it's the dry season so there may not be much activity in places like Gol or Barafu.


Did you go towards that Yellow fever forest not far from camp?  I'm told there is a new camp being built right there.

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@madaboutcheetahYes, you are partly right. It is not the only area we visited, but it’s where we had the best sightings, hence why it might seem that way. The lions, the cheetah mum with her subadult son and both the two female cheetahs we found in that area. The three female lioness were found slightly more up north. The cheetah mum with the small cub and the leopard we found towards the Gol area towards south-east. It’s the road connecting NCAA and Namiri. A few hours distant from where Olakira is during the calving season. In fact, if using both camps I would rather have a game drive between them than flying in. 

There is a new camp not too far away from Namiri, 20km or so, and we did meet one of their vehicles twice. I assume that is the one you are referring to. I don’t remember the name of the camp but Moinga mentioned it is simple and intimate. 

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1 hour ago, Riccardo Milesi said:

@madaboutcheetahYes, you are partly right. It is not the only area we visited, but it’s where we had the best sightings, hence why it might seem that way. The lions, the cheetah mum with her subadult son and both the two female cheetahs we found in that area. The three female lioness were found slightly more up north. The cheetah mum with the small cub and the leopard we found towards the Gol area towards south-east. It’s the road connecting NCAA and Namiri. A few hours distant from where Olakira is during the calving season. In fact, if using both camps I would rather have a game drive between them than flying in. 

There is a new camp not too far away from Namiri, 20km or so, and we did meet one of their vehicles twice. I assume that is the one you are referring to. I don’t remember the name of the camp but Moinga mentioned it is simple and intimate. 


No another new one - literally down the bend from Namiri (I would think less than a couple of KMS away) .... Maybe you didn't go that way because of that camp being present now for privacy reasons. 

I am glad you made it to Gol - that's my very favourite part of the entire Mara/Serengeti eco-system.

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@madaboutcheetahThat is worrying to hear. The privacy was the leading factor in my judgement of Namiri. For most of the sightings I mentioned it was just us there. 

Moinga did say that Gol is his favourite part too when the wildebeests are there. I will try to come back soon. 

Edited by Riccardo Milesi
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My flight the following day was at 10am. This would give us enough time to have a short game drive around camp and then towards the airstrip. 


I packed all my stuff and headed to sleep. Upon waking, I enjoyed my morning coffee, said my goodbyes to the camp's staff and left by 6am. 


We knew the last location of both the lonely female and the mother with the subadult cub. Therefore, we decided to go there as quickly as possible to make the best out of the morning light. Despite having many cheetah sightings, none were under the yellowish gold morning light, so I was really hoping to find them. 


Success was achieved by 6:30 when we found the female. The following are my favourite cheetah photos of that moment and my whole stay in the Serengeti at the same time. 




She started looking for prey and there were Thomson Gazelles not too far away. She started getting closer but was quickly spotted by them. 




With her cover blown, the cheetah had no choice but to leave. We headed in the opposite direction looking for the other two cheetahs. Our search was fruitless, but we did encounter two of the seven lions from the coalition, presumably the two larger ones.


Here are two photos of each: 




We went back to look for the mum and subadult but could not find them or any other cheetah. After having a quick breakfast, we started heading towards Central Serengeti, the Seronera area.


On our way,  we spotted a cheetah leaving its kill, with vultures swooping in to finish what was left




Simultaneously, we noticed three cheetahs running towards us, pursued by a large male lion. The cheetahs initially mistook the lion's intentions, thinking it was chasing them, but it was actually heading for the kill left by the first cheetah. Once they realised they were not in danger, they kept a watchful eye on the lion from an anthill vantage point. 




Both the cheetahs and the lion were very far from the road, offering limited photo opportunities. Witnessing this entire scene unfold was still very cool.  


Closer to the airstrip, I took my last few photos. The subjects were a couple of Masai Giraffes and a Topi. 




We arrived at Seronera Airport, Moinga and I said goodbye and I boarded my flight. The Serengeti had one last surprise in store for me, a large pride of lions just a few meters from the airstrip, visible as we accelerated during takeoff. I found their proximity to such a busy and noisy airstrip puzzling.


This concludes my trip. I’ve had some of the most extraordinary sightings of my life and discovered a place that I know will draw me back to the Serengeti many times in the future. Cheetahs are a truly unique species, offering engaging encounters that are hard to replicate with lions and leopards. I'm now curious about other places in Africa that might offer similar cheetah sightings. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd be eager to explore them.


By my next trip report I will have improved my photography and will have learned how to process my photos. 


Big thanks to all of the Safaritalk community.

Edited by Riccardo Milesi
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Gorgeous trip by the look of it.

Not ignoring lovely Cheetah pics, but that last of two Giraffes is very special. Beautiful composition.


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