Wildlife watching in beautiful Northern Serengeti
Perhaps the world’s most famous wildlife habitat, the name Serengeti conjures up images of vast open plains with flat top Acacia trees, large herds of migrating animals and the big cats that hunt them confidently wandering the landscape. Ever since James Earl Jones’ deep voice introduced the Serengeti in the famous 1994 documentary, it had been a dream for Asle especially to visit this unique place. Now, as we drove further north from Lake Natron, climbing steadily up the hills of the Rift Valley towards the northern gate of the Serengeti, the dream was about to come true.
Tanzanian Safari – Day 5-6
We left the camp at Lake Natron in the morning, and drove for a while along the dusty and bumpy track past it’s southern shores. As we turned northwest and began to climb higher, we could see the expansive view of the lake from above, still huge despite the dry season. The landscape changed from the grayish flat of the valley, to steep hills and deep canyons coloured red by clay, burnt from the lava of ancient volcanoes. The surrounding mountains, mounds and craters added to the wild and beautiful scenery around us. After a few hours, a lunch brake in a village along the way, and we approached the northern entrance to the Serengeti, Klein’s Gate where Abbas took us into the park.
As we drove in, a wide view of endless plains and rolling hills opened up around us. The low afternoon sun cast long shadows on the green hillsides, and the scattered clouds painted beautiful patterns of light and shadow on the yellow grassy plains. Wildebeest and zebra were all over the place, dotting the land in huge numbers. Some seemed to be posing for us as we drove by them, others would stand grazing right in front of us, before realising the potential danger and jumping away at the last minute. Herds of gazelle and hartebeest filled the open grasslands, looking curiously up at us as we came by, and in the distance vultures circled in the air, perhaps scouting a possible meal below.
Driving through this beautiful and almost surreal landscape, standing out of the open roof of the Land Cruiser, was almost as if through an ancient world, where the wildlife rule and our presence is merely as temporary guests. Asle started humming the theme from the movie Jurassic Park, half expecting a dinosaur to appear any minute. It was a magnificent sight, and we were filled with a sense of awe and wonder that you normally only hear described by the deeply religious or deeply drugged. Only this was not any supernatural or chemically induced hallucination, but a very real experience of some of the most magnificent natural beauty this planet has produced. The scale of the landscape and the mind boggling count and variety of the wildlife that we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by, practically had us both in tears. After a while we could see a small campsite in the distance, perfectly situated on a hill overlooking the plains, and we thought, wow – if this is were we are going to stay, we’re in for a treat. “This is going to be our home for tonight”, Rama said.
We ran out of the car looking for a spot for our tent, as usual one a bit away from the others and with a good view. As we sat there later, enjoying the sunset while buffalo and zebra grazed calmly in front of us, we observed an interesting example of human behaviour. A girl travelling with her boyfriend had bought new, wheeled suitcases for their safari, the expensive hardshell kind. Good for a weekend shopping-trip to Paris, perhaps, but hopelessly useless on an African camping safari. However, the next observation would really have us struggling to conceal our giggles. After they put up the tent, the girl got a piece of cloth and water, and started cleaning the cases with great vigour and determination. The fact that out here, in the open and dusty wilderness, they would be just as dirty again by morning, did not seem to discourage her one bit. While she wasted her time vainly polishing her luggage, we watched the setting sun creating a glorious spectacle over the hills behind her.
Suddenly we realised we put our tent right next to the tall grass at the edge of the campsite, and we worried for a moment about lions and snakes that might be hiding there. During dinner we heard lions roaring as if they were right next to the camp.
As the sun set, it started to get colder. We had to put on some more clothes. And then some more, and more! At this altitude, temperatures can drop drastically at night, and with the scorching sun in the daytime, the contrast is remarkable. It felt more like Norway on an autumn night than Africa, and although we had brought warm clothes, we really hadn’t expected they would become so useful this quick. As we were eating dinner we overheard another guide talking to his clients about looking out for something when they step out of their tents in the morning; buffalo droppings.
The buffalo like to come up to the camp to the short grass at night, to be safer from lions hunting them. Suddenly we realised we put our tent right next to the tall grass at the edge of the campsite, and we worried for a moment about lions and snakes that might be hiding there. During dinner we heard lions roaring as if they were right next to the camp. But their voice can carry over long distances, and Abbas assured us that they were probably far away. Still, we had a good night sleep, with all our clothes on, and woke up the next morning looking out of the tent into a stunning sunrise view.
After driving around some more, we saw a couple of other cars around a tree. They must have spotted something interesting. More lions? No. “Cheetahs”, Abbas said. A surge of excitement rushed through us.
A quick breakfast, and it was back in the car for a long full day game drive. And what a day we would have. We set out onto the plains again, heading north towards the Mara river. Now we could see the landscape of northern Serengeti in it’s full grandeur, green plains and rolling hills that revealed a totally new view at each turn. Again, thousands of zebra, buffalo and antelopes surrounded us, but the first thing that made us stop the car was a beautiful giraffe, standing with it’s back to us, neck stretched and it’s tail slowly swinging from side to side. A moment later, two male giraffe in a stand off. They stand side-by-side facing each other, judging who is the strongest. Then they swing their long necks down to deliver a blow to the opponent’s body. Mostly these fights end without bloodshed, but sometimes, especially when fighting over a female, they may end in serious injury or death.
We drove on, and the landscape changed into open, yellow grassland, only sparsely mixed with beautiful Acacia trees. We stumbled upon a big male lion, with a large impressive mane, this time lying in the sun. Next to him lay a female, stretched out. As we sat there watching them, the female got up and started walking towards the shade of a tree. Now it became clear the male was badly wounded, a deep cut on his leg, probably sustained while defending his lioness. He tried to get up and walk, but the front paw was hurt so bad he could not walk on it. He limped his way towards the tree while expressing his pain with a long, muted growl. A final deep loud growl, and he lay down next to the female. Abbas said he would probably be fine. The female will do all the hunting for him, and he will not starve. He was lucky to be shacking up with her!
After driving around some more, we saw a couple of other cars around a tree. They must have spotted something interesting. More lions? No. “Cheetahs”, Abbas said. A surge of excitement rushed through us. We could not believe it! But when we got close we could see it with our own eyes: a mother cheetah and her cub. Wow! Lying next to each other, relaxing in the shadow of the tree, it was a breathtaking sight. The mother sniffed the air towards a group of wildebeest, perhaps contemplating hunting a baby wildebeest nearby. Would we actually get to see her hunt too? It was unlikely in this midday heat. But it didn’t matter to us, we could watch them just lay there for hours, our first sighting of one of the most beautiful creatures on earth in our opinion. It seemed almost like a dream.
We drove up to the Mara, stopped the car at a good viewpoint and ate our lunch on the car roof. Wildebeest as far as the eye could see where moving along the river shore on the opposite side. Sometimes they would move to the water to drink, and every time they did there was a chance that one would decide to cross. They carefully have to check the crossing point first, to make sure crocodiles aren’t waiting for them in the river. They have no leader, but if one starts crossing the others will follow automatically in a frenzied stampede. Likewise, when one panics, perhaps at the sight of movement in the water, and jumps up again, everyone else will follow. We sat there for a while, enjoying the view of marching wildebeest behind lazing hippos in the water and sun bathing crocodiles on the rocks. After a couple of hours we had to leave if we were to reach the campsite before sundown.
We didn’t get to see the wildebeest cross, but it was no matter to us. Just being there, watching them moving in vast numbers along the shore, while spotting huge crocodiles on the banks and hippos grunting in the water, was a fantastic spectacle nonetheless. Now we looked forward to the long drive back to the camp in the warm evening light. On the way we would check back with some of the lions and the cheetah we encountered earlier, and meet a large herd of elephants moving along the flat horizon. We stopped to watch a large female elephant and her cub walking together. They passed right next to our car, paying us no attention. The image of the mother elephant, guiding her little offspring across the plains, is unforgettable. As we came closer to the campsite, dark clouds gathered in the sky as the sun came closer to the horizon, and a bright rainbow formed above the green plains, perfectly ending our long day in the northern Serengeti.
The Serengeti ecosystem is a geographical region located in north Tanzania and extends to south-western Kenya. It spans approximately 30,000 km2. The Kenyan part of the Serengeti is known as Maasai Mara. The Serengeti hosts the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world, which helps secure it as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa and one of the ten natural travel wonders of the world.
The Serengeti is also renowned for its large lion population and is one of the best places to observe prides in their natural environment. The region contains the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and several game reserves. Approximately 70 larger mammal and 500 avifauna species are found there. This high diversity is a function of diverse habitats, including riverine forests, swamps, kopjes, grasslands, and woodlands. Blue wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, and buffalos are some of the commonly found large mammals in the region.