And then hyenas ransacked our campsite...

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Africa » Tanzania » North » Serengeti National Park
June 12th 2011
Published: June 21st 2011
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Simply put the Serengeti is both amazing and awesome… on a list of amazing places, the Serengeti would be an amazing place amongst amazing places. The park is the holy grail of wildlife viewing opportunities and most of the wildlife documentaries you have seen were most likely filmed here. The park itself is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut (14,763 sq km) and is home to an amazing concentration of predator and prey who call the park home. On top of the resident animal population, the park also hosts an annual migration of a million plus wildebeest and zebra who follow the seasonal rains in a clockwise circle visiting both Northern Tanzania and southern Kenya.

The park is the ancestral home of the Masai people, who were removed when the park was created and still reside just outside the park’s boundaries and are readily seen on the roadside as you approach the park. The Masai are easily distinguishable by their (usually) bright red and/or purple garb as they tend their herds and continue living (largely) in the traditional fashion that have enjoyed for centuries… the confluence of amazing wildlife and cultural richness make Northern Tanzania a great place to visit and worth the time you will spend in transit, visiting provides a truly unique experience and unparalleled game viewing… if you get the chance and that kind of thing floats your boat it’s worth the price of admission.

Amazing wildlife
To say that we enjoyed our game drives in the Serengeti is an understatement… some highlights you ask… no problem. Spotting our first lion within 15 minutes of entering the park (I don’t know that it’s possible to go a day without seeing lion here)… within our first 2 hours encountering about 6 lions facing off against a herd of buffalo… seeing two cheetah together lounging and looking for game… viewing the wildebeest migration and seeing an endless supply of animals passing us by… seeing a female leopard and her two young… seeing that same leopard all but posing like she was on the park’s payroll to the gratification of those lucky enough to be roadside. On our best day there we saw (gonna sound like I’m making this up) over 20 different lions and 4 leopards (2 young, one with two kills in a tree) along with the standard herbavores. The day culminated with a leopard posing against the backdrop of an African sunset and we would have stayed until there was no light left but we had to get back to your campsites by 6:30 pm. As we were leaving a hyena walked past our vehicle opposite the leopard… had I known then what I know now I would have thrown a rock at him as payment for the anguish and emotional distress his friends were about to cause us…

And then hyenas ransacked our campsite…
We had been camping in Serengeti for 3 nights prior to our “best day” and I guess it makes sense that our “best day” was followed by our worst night. When camping in the Serengeti your guide will tell you in all seriousness to stay in your tent after nightfall. Campsites are not fenced and animals visit your campsites regularly… as I cannot sleep so well in such situations I was getting minimal sleep nightly as I ended up sleeping intermittently between nighttime visitors. Our campsite was visited nightly by what seemed to be a resident pack of hyenas and about 10pm you could hear their calls go around the surrounding woodline as they converged and make their rounds for the night. For our first 3 nights there had been about 15 – 20 other tents in our campsite and tents were lumped together which helped give the feeling of safety in numbers and (I believe) help discourage some visitors. However, after our “best day” we returned to camp to find only 3 tents, 1 was our guides which was located at the front of the campsite… then there was a 40 yard gap or so and our tent, which was located right behind the only other tent still at the campsite…. things weren’t looking so good and when we came back we actually took the step of introducing ourselves to the neighbors (Belgian couple) just in case anything happened.

We ended up eating dinner at the “cafeteria” area which is a cement structure with metal bar windows and closeable metal locking doors (guess that tells you something) and retired to our tent. Shortly after settling in for the night the resident hyenas began calling and converging on the campsite… unnerving to hear hyenas walk outside your tent… but not the end of the world right… but then all hell broke loose and we were in for
Hyena aftermath at dusk...Hyena aftermath at dusk...Hyena aftermath at dusk...

Our 2 tents huddled together with what was left of the hyenas late night snack..
the longest night ever. All of a sudden there was a loud banging sound and commotion near the front of the campsite as some hyenas knocked over the campsites trash cans and began fighting over the scraps (we stayed in the tent obviously so some of this was pieced together the following morning). By sheer misfortune some of the hyenas grabbed a bunch of trash and leftover food and dragged it to about 15 feet away from our tent and began brawling over the scraps just outside our tent… it sounded like about 6 or 7 pitbulls fighting right beside you… except I guess you could substitute pit bulls for an even stronger and more vicious animal that travels in packs and will fight lions, leopards and anyone else you can bring with you for food.

It was surreal… we were trapped in our tent not knowing if one might run into the tent trying to escape the brawl or try to get into the tent for some reason and we would have to make a run for the cement/metal eating enclosure. We just sat there and kind of stared into space as it all set in but we couldn’t move and didn’t want to make a noise… which left us there to take in the fighting,bone crunching and audible footsteps of our new neighbors. After the initial outburst the intensity of the fighting died down but you could still hear them beside the tent fighting sporadically, chewing on their loot and walking around… in the lull Venny looked at me and motioned to see what time it was… 1 am (aint that some ish) which left about 5 hours till daylight. At about 1:30 or so the hyenas made their way back to the front of the campsite and the cooks (behind the cement/metal bar cooking enclosure) began banging metal on metal to scare them away and I thought I heard our Belgian neighbor unzip his tent flap. I sat up to see if we would make a group exit (safety in numbers) but as I sat up I looked out the tent’s ventilation flap and saw a hyena just lying there about 10 feet away and decided to stay put. At this point I just began rationalizing that there was an inside world and an outside world and as long as the two didn’t cross there shouldn’t be a problem… they didn’t seem intent on coming inside… so we shouldn’t go outside… no matter how many times it sounded like they had gone (only to reappear later).

After a while I thought that maybe our driver might get to the land cruiser and drive back to rescue us but as that didn’t happen it became apparent that we would have to wait for daylight and try to catch winks inbetween visits from our neighbors. In the end, the cooks moved from their gated room to the eating area and turned on the lights at about 5 am and I mustered the courage to unzip the tent a little and peer out with a flashlight… coast was clear (except for some trash still strewn about) and we made a quick break for the enclosed eating area which capped the longest night of my life (knock on wood). Throughout the night something a friend of mine said kept ringing in my ears… I aint going to sub Saharan Africa until I’m older… there’s too many things there that can kill you (DAM)… that guy gets a wedgie next time I see him… I could just seem him at my funeral like… I tried to tell’em.

Moral of the story… insist that you stay at a campsite with at least 10 other tents, or pay more and stay at a lodge with electricity, television and hot water and solid doors.

Additional photos below
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21st June 2011's been pretty exciting here too! are an absolute nut and that's why we miss you! Just try to stay alive girl! Dang...checking out your blog is more exciting than most tv shows! Lucky,crazy you!

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