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Published: December 24th 2011
They hide behind the trees or each other
We've been in northern Tanzania less than a week, and seen so many animals we thought were only "maybes", or that we might not see until later in our trip: many elephants, lions, a leopard, and my favourite, the striking giraffes and zebras by the hundreds. But it's the "animal events
" that have truly impressed me.
Wildebeest can be thought of as a bit boring in the Pantheon of African wildlife. They look a bit dopey with their beards and skinny legs. And each time one runs to get out of the way of the safari jeep, you wonder whether it will trip over its own shadow. But when you look out over the southern Serengeti plain, along the "road" from Ndutu to the Naabi Hill, and can see thousands of them dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see, forming their own bumpy horizon, you realize they must have found some trick in the game of species survival. For now.
I am a very junior naturalist, but I have tried to be observant of things outside of the obvious. Our guide Edwin is very good at pointing out things that we would not otherwise have seen.
How acid is this lake?
On the occasions when there are 3 or 4 safari vans (or more) crowding around the "must see" happenings, such as vultures digging in to the latest lion-killed wildebeest, I take an interest and the mandatory photos, but I also try to look in the other direction, away from where everyone is staring, to see what we might be missing.
Around each of the lion kills we have seen there have been a pair of jackals (black or silver backed, like small foxes with bushy tails) hanging back. They might get left-overs after the larger or more aggressive animals have their fill. They seem to be quite shy. As we approached one lion eating his breakfast under a tree they were about a hundred yards away. But as the van moved closer and parked, they moved a few hundred yards further away. And they appeared to consciously "hide" behind a line of low bushes. Most other animals take no notice of us, or stare at us without much fear. But the jackals were only shyly raising their heads at intervals to see what was happening.
You have to turn away from the main event and pan around the
On the move with their zebra pals
rest of the wilderness behind you. Sometimes with binoculars, sometimes with the naked eye. I watch for some different movement, or differeent colour, that would otherwise seem out of place. Heaven knows it doesn't always pay off, and I have stared at many tree trunks thinking they were a majestic bird just getting ready to take off, or that a lumpy termite hill might be an elephant. But occasionally you can catch something very worthwhile. The giraffe, for example, are great at camouflaging themselves behind a single tree.
But the most dramatic event I witnessed two days ago was the mini "wildebeest migration". We were on a typical afternoon "game drive" from the Ndutu lodge and had asked the guide to see more water animals. We were admiring a large flock of pink flamingos (they become redder as the water they forage in is more salty or acidic) in the shallows of the lake when I noticed some movement to the side. We were at one end of a long narrow lake, with a lightly forested slope on the other side. There were a smattering of wildebeest on the slope, along with the few zebras with which they tend
Moving in every direction at once
to share space.
A few of the wildebeest started crossing the shallows of the lake towards our side, but some distance away. Then more, and faster. Then there were dozens coming over the far hill and through the trees into the water. Then the zebra started running as well. Then there were a few thousand in a seemingly endless wave. I pointed it out to Edwin and he moved the van closer. When he turned off the engine we could hear the thunder of their hoofs. They moved past us, getting closer as they made their sometimes unpredictable curves to avoid some unseen (to us) obstacle. They continued to rush past us in the hundreds, and then 15 minutes later it was all over and the calm of the late afternoon was restored. It made us wonder what gets the first one started on what is eventually a very predictable movement of millions of animals over hundreds of miles...
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