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Northern Serengeti, Tanzania

9 September 2007

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The drive north from Olakira to Sayari Camp was quite interesting as we left the Serengeti by the Grumetti Gate and then drove north via a number of villages before re-entering the National Park. On the way to Sayari I already had the opportunity to see three more species – including two first, Oribi and Klipspringer.

The next three days were spent with Nicholas, an excellent Tanzanian-Greek guide who even took out the first row of seats in the vehicle so that I could more easily use the tripod. Sayari is located on the Mara River so the main draw at that time of year is the massive Wildebeast crossings, on their way to the greener grass of the Masai Mara in Kenya. But as in so many safaris, that which you most want to see often passes you by, and so it was in this case. Despite spending out time at the coalface we had no luck, just watching huge herds massing on the northern side of the Mara (the opposite of what would have been expected) but none having the courage to be the first to cross. Part of the problem was the unseasonable torrential rainfall the area had been experiencing (including during my time there), which meant that there was more than enough green grass on our side of the river, thus deterring the gnus from the hazardous passage across the river.

Nevertheless there were some great sightings, including my third Serval, a pair of mating lions and a close-up of a Verreaux’s Eagle-owl (also called a Giant Eagle-owl). But the main two experiences were a crocodile feast and two cheetah brothers amidst the massive herds. We came upon the crocs at a bend of the Mara River that Nicholas had never before visited. Given the number of Wildebeast corpses, there had clearly been a crossing some days previously and the vultures and marabou storks were in full attendance. Up to that point of the trip the only crocodiles I had seen were fairly modest but now we had to see a number of absolute monsters, at least two of which were approximately 15-feet in length. The big boys often kill multiple gnus during any given crossing but tend to wait until the corpses are soft before they choose to feed. And after half an hour of viewing we were fortunate to see on of the big monsters surface with a bloated Wildebeast, and then all hell broke loose. The next 20 minutes were an orgy of pf thrashing and chomping and swallowing as at least eight of the beasts reduced the corpse to absolutely nothing. Fascinating if repulsive – with a healthy dose of fear and dread thrown in.

The Cheetah boys were altogether different, more urbane and serene – though that probably had much to do with the fact that they had clearly fed well the evening before. Given the lack of crossings Nicholas had decided we need to cross the Mara river ourselves and head into the Lamai Wedge just abutting the Kenyan border, an area that was officially closed due to the supposed perilous nature of the bridge. But go we did. The first spectacle in the perfect morning light were the tremendous herds of Wildebeast. It is one thing to read about it, but to see it is another matter – animals in every direction stretching to the horizon. (all the estimates that I have heard put the total Wildebeast population in the whole Serengeti ecosystem at between 1.5m and 1.8m individuals, but Nicholas was adamant that there are now over 3.5m beast due to the increased conservation over the years). Driving through the thronging plains, we suddenly saw a wedge of Wildebeast snorting and honking at what appeared to be cats. And two cheetah brothers they proved to be. Sated as they were, they had no interest in their potential prey, but the next hour proved to be sublime as they casually strolled by the alarmed herd, drank their share, and cavorted in the grass before nodding off for a siesta.

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1 comment so far (post your own)

absolutely inspiring, look forward to joining in!!
thanks for the update.

Posted by Brian on
Sunday, 09.30.07 @ 21:53pm | #4684