NORTH SERENGETI & NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA


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Africa » Tanzania » North » Serengeti National Park
November 27th 2016
Published: December 16th 2016
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LEAVING CENTRAL SERENGETI




We left Tumbili Campsite in the Serenera Valley stopping to fill up at the only petrol station in this part of the Serengeti National Park. With just two pumps and a small garage, workers were busy repairing tyres and fixing wheels, mainly by hand - probably a regular source of income around here. We watched the skilled workers before filled up our safari vehicle and heading on our way.





The name ‘Serengeti’ derives from the Maasai word ‘siringet’ which describes the area. It means ‘the place where the land runs on forever’ - a really apt description of this vast wilderness. It is so huge and can be geographically divided into four main areas; the Southern plains, the central Seronera Valley, the Western Corridor, and the Northern parts, extending from the Lobo Hills northward to the Masai Mara in Kenya and this is where we were heading next.







Whilst we had been in the Seronera Valley we had hardly seen any fellow campers but had come across a few people in small safari vehicles on game drives like us - most of these vehicles averaged 2 to 6 people. There was none of the bigger 12 seater overlanders that you found in Southern Africa and hardly anyone travelling independently. This southern area of Tanzania is easily accessible from Arusha and has a network of rivers to sustain its incredibly varied and stable wildlife population so it usually attracts tourist all year round and can get busy. However we had not experienced any over crowding at all during November - everyone was telling us it was the ‘quiet season’ and that things would get busier during the middle of December. We were lucky on all our Game Drives as we usually viewed the wildlife completely on our own.







We understood that Northern Tanzania was far less crowded as it was harder to get to - particularly if one was on limited time. If this was the case we probably would not see many other tourist at all!! We had included it in our itinerary as we were also hoping that we would see more of the Migration and as the landscape was completely different with rolling green hills and thickly vegetated granite outcrops we were also
SerengetiSerengetiSerengeti

Overlooking one of the watering holes
hoping to see different wildlife as well, particularly new birds that we have not seen before.







Sifuni said that on the way North we would have to call into one of their tented lodges to pick up fresh food supplies for our onward journey. The logistics of obtaining fresh food for our longer safari must have been a bit of a nightmare. Sifuni told us that we were the second longest safari that he had undertaken during his time with Duma.





On the way to pick up more supplies we spotted a pair of Verreaux Eagle-Owls perched low in a tree just off the track. Africa’s largest owl they have lovely conspicuous pink eyelids that look like they have just applied pink eyeshadow.





A while later we pulled off the track beside a herd of grazing Thompson Gazelles and a short climb over a rough track we reached Kiota Camp. Kiota is a Duma Tented Lodge, opened in 2015 which is permanently based in Central Serengeti and we could have stayed here instead of wild Camping but the cost was too much for
Verreaux's Eagle-OwlVerreaux's Eagle-OwlVerreaux's Eagle-Owl

Africa's largest Owl with its Newly applied Pink Eyeshadow
our budget this time. As we arrived at the lodge some other guests were arriving back from a game drive and the staff were ready with fresh cool towels to greet them. We thought how lucky they were, but the staff included us and it was quite refreshing to cool off - how the other half live we thought!!! The staff were very pleasant and showed us around the tented accommodation, what luxury compared to what we were experiencing but of course at a price and I am sure the guests did not get such ‘up close’ experiences as we had!!!





There was a comfortable dining tent with tables covered in crisp white tablecloths and set for what looked like a tasty meal, a lounge tent with soft furnishings, a bar (really envious now), a small library, a verandah and separate washroom facilities - there was even a small gift shop. The accommodation was in large tents with king sized beds, in room power points and adaptors, indoor and outdoor lounge chairs and ensuite bathroom with wardrobe, flush toilets and safari style bucket showers, safe, writing desk and they even had electric lights … …
Lilac-breasted RollerLilac-breasted RollerLilac-breasted Roller

A really striking bird
… maybe we would treat ourselves if we come back to this part of Tanzania. The views from the lodge down over the plains were spectacular.





Once Sifuni and Rammy had loaded our new supplies and finished chatting to the other guides we were off and waved goodbye to the friendly staff and headed further north.







NORTH SERENGETI - LOBO CAMPSITE



As mentioned above Northern Serengeti is more remote and less busy than the central Seronera area and indeed since we had left Kiota Camp we had not seen any other vehicles at all. We did see a lots of birds however including the Lilac-breasted Roller and the Eurasian Roller and colourful Little Bee-eaters, White-fronted Bee-eaters and the Eurasian Bee-eater as well as many Kori Bustards striding across the plains. These large birds prefer grassland habitats, the males have large, thick-necks that they inflate when displaying to females. The male’s call is a deep, resonant boom, reminiscent of North America’s Sage Grouse. They really are a magnificent bird and we were lucky to see them in abundance.



As we continued our journey
Warthog FamilyWarthog FamilyWarthog Family

Disney's Pumbaa
we watched a variety of wildlife from our safari vehicle. We particularly liked the strange looking Warthogs or ‘Pumbaa' if you have watched Disney’s Lion King. These wild pigs do not stand very tall and the piglets are really small. They would prefer open areas where the grass is short but unfortunately for most of the year the grass is taller than they are. When the adults run they keep their tails erect with its conspicuous tuft of hair at the tip. This enables the piglets to follow the parents, otherwise they would loose each other in the long grass. They look quite comical as they run along behind their parents trying to keep up with them … …







We crossed some very flat plains with extremely sparse wooded areas, most completely parched and many of the trees looked dead but Sifuni said they would ‘come to life’ once the area got some water. We watched a small herd of Elephants wandering the area, stripping and chewing great shreds of bark from the few trees they could find - quite a hard time for them.





Far away on
ElephantElephantElephant

En-route to Lobo Hills
the horizon we could see some spectacular rocky outcrops and as we neared they got bigger and bigger. We started to climb into the small mountains and we were surrounded by huge boulders. Perched on top of the first one we passed were a couple of Lions peering down - watching us move into their territory. It truly was a scenic area, the landscape so different to what we had seen further south. The roads however were another matter even our 4 wheel drive vehicle was struggling over this hilly and stony terrain but again Sifuni was an expert driver and got us out of some very tight situations even with our laden trailer on the back which carried most of our camping equipment.





We turned onto a very narrow track which had a sign to the campsite and another one to Lobo Lodge, of course we took the campsite track and as we did we could see a couple of Buffalo a little way off - oh no we thought and Sifuni said they could be troublesome at this camp as well as a large troop of Baboons too!





As we drove into the camping area a herd of Zebra stopped and looked at as and then moved further away - I think it should have been called Zebra Camp as it was obviously their home from the ‘pats’ they left behind in the campground and not ours … … and we still had to find a clean patch of grass to pitch our tent. There were no other campers around so we would be alone again but we had come to expect this now.











So we had finally arrived at Lobo Public Campsite - camping in Tanzania's parks is not cheap and you get very little for your money … Again there was not much in the way of facilities, no electricity anywhere, a couple of toilets, ice cold showers as well as the usual kitchen and dining hut (shelters). Of course, the toilets stank and were full of Bats and Swallows were nesting in every corner. The roof of the kitchen housed a colony of bats too as one could see from the droppings on the kitchen benches! Although there was some water in the toilets there was none in the kitchen and the cooks had to use an outside tap at the entrance to the campsite next to a large water container. A sign on a tree outside the kitchen said ‘do not get out of the campsite animals may attact (I think they mean attack) human being’ - that said it all really, again where was the boundary between us and them.





We had come to expect that these Public Campsites had no check in facility - you just turn up and camp having paid the necessary camping fee with the entrance fee at the park’s main entrance. Apart from the Public Campsites in the Serengeti NP there were also Special Campsites but these were mainly for independently travellers - these camps had no facilities whatsoever, you had to bring in everything with you including all water and food and take everything out again with you.







On the plus side, well Lobo did have something that we were so glad we did not miss - you just could not beat the views of the Serengeti savannah and the distant hills spread out
BaboonsBaboonsBaboons

Baboons also guard the campsite water source
below us - it truly felt like something straight ‘Out of Africa’ and we just stood and stared out at the lovely scenery all around us … …





Sifuni warned us that Lobo campsite was sometimes overrun with Baboons looking for unguarded food and yes we had to watch out for these clever little monkeys all the time we were there. With a large rocky outcrop behind us we could see them looking down on us and waiting to move in as soon as we arrived … High above them floating on warm thermals were a dozen Lappet-faced Vultures with livid skulls and sharp meat-hook beaks - nature’s can-openers - as well as a couple of soaring Eagles. They swooped really low that we could nearly reach out and touch them.





Paul went to try out the showers trying to avoid the ‘pats’ on the way and a little while later a ‘very mad Paul’ came back - soaking wet …… The gents did not have a sink and was more stinky than the ladies so he decided to take a shower there. As we had come to expect there
Lobo CampsiteLobo CampsiteLobo Campsite

Now chilled - its amazing what a cup of Rammy's strong coffee can do ... ...
was nowhere to hang your towel and clean clothes so he left his these outside the shower door. However the drainage was also in a bad state of repair and you can guess what happened next - all his clean clothes and towel got soaking wet as the floor completely flooded the whole block … …







Chatting to Rammy in the kitchen later he told us that he had run out of cooking gas - oh dear we were miles away from any supply source … He said that Sifuni was going to drive and see if the nearby Lodge had any spare but we could see him reversing the vehicle back along the track and then drive off again before reversing the vehicle back again. … … He told us that a couple of the Buffalo by the water container kept charging the vehicle every time he tried to move off down the track and the Baboons were stalking the area as well ... ...





He realised that they were after lifesaving ‘water’ - the Buffalo and Baboons had come to expect that when campers visited the
Lobo CampLobo CampLobo Camp

Dining area behind our tent
campsite they would turn on the 'precious water tap' which would then create a large puddle where they could get a cool drink - vital to their survival. Obviously no guests had been at the campsite for quite a while as the ground around the tap and large water tank was completely dry ... We kept watch on the animals whilst Sifuni edged towards the tap turning it on quickly before backing off toward us - sure enough within minutes the Buffalo were getting their fill of water and shortly after they wandered off to graze and let the Baboons take their fill. We kept watch whilst he raced in and managed to turn the tap off again before we flooded Lobo Hills ... ...







After all that excitement it was quite dark so Sufini gave up on trying to find some cooking gas and we had to make do with what we had. Rammy said that he could just use the charcoal fire he had lit outside the kitchen unit together with his magic cooking skills ......... The trouble with that was there was nowhere to cook undercover and yes you guessed - it started to rain, when it rains here it really does rain ........ We think we get rain in England well we certainly do not! Rammy, 'bless his heart' had a real difficult job trying to cook for the four of us that evening as the fire kept going out. I even held my little umbrella over the coals for him but got soaking wet within minutes and they insisted that I retreat to the dry kitchen. Notwithstanding the environment, Rammy is so skilled at surviving in these difficult conditions and he once again produced some delicious food - must mention here that his soup course was different every night usually with his homemade bread - just amazing.





The rain was coming down in torrents now and we all retreated to the kitchen - looking out across the plains we could see a long single file of Wildebeest heading south looking for fresh pastures, along side them in a separate line were a large herd of Zebra all following each other one by one - it was a magical sight indeed as they headed off following the rains and disappearing from our vision.
LionessLionessLioness

Heading off to hunt





Later that night we decided to move our tent into the dining hut, a little concerned that the Buffalo may come back into camp but also we had a leak in the sides of the tent when it rained hard and did not fancy soaking wet sleeping bags .… We were so glad we did as we managed to have an ‘alright’ sleep - apart that was from the rain pounding on the tin roof, Baboons scrambling around the building, Hyenas calling but at least they were a long way off, Lions roaring on the surrounding Lobo Hills and the Buffalo grunting right outside the hut - we think they were using the building as a shelter against the harsh weather - we were so glad we were not outside in the tent but tucked safely inside, still in the tent of course but completely dry.





In the morning we moved our tent back outside as you are not supposed to sleep in the facility rooms and our guides would get into trouble if caught by the parks rangers even though we felt we had really valid reason to do so
Yellow-throated LongclawYellow-throated LongclawYellow-throated Longclaw

A striking bird of the grasslands
and we were not interfering with anyone as we were the only ones in the isolated campsite. Luckily the rain had now stopped and it was eerily quiet, all the Zebra and Wildebeest had gone from the grassland all around us. All that remained were a few Hartebeest (who apparently do not migrate), the pack of Baboons and of course the Buffalo who 'owned' the land. However because they were now well and truly watered with the rain and the water tap as well they let us leave camp later on our first Game Drive in the Northern Serengeti.





Within minutes of leaving the camp we came across a group of Lions hunting a couple of Impala, using the rocky outcrops to their advantage - must have been the ones we heard in the night. They were obviously well fed as one of the lions was still chewing on a carcass whilst the others were off hunting again looking for their next meal. It was great to sit and watch them hunting together, crouching in the grass before moving closer and closer to their prey - sadly for them they were spotted and the antelope
KlipspringerKlipspringerKlipspringer

Afrikaans for 'rock jumper'
moved off.





Our guide, Sifuni said we were about 40 km from the Kenyan border here but there were no roads across the low mountains, although this did not detour the animals on their Migration as they crossed from one country to another - they did not need a road or indeed a passport!





The terrain was very rocky and the track took some negotiating but we had a great day in the Lobo Hills spotting so much wildlife and a huge array of birds that we had not seen before including the small insect eating Striped Kingfisher and the Yellow-throated Longclaw with its bright yellow throat, so distinctive. They were not afraid of us and just stayed as we approached in the safari vehicle and we were able to get really close and watch them.





We also had our first sighting of an elegant Klipspringer, a goat like antelope. Their name means ‘rock jumper’ in Afrikanns, an apt name for an antelope that occurs exclusively in mountainous areas and rocky outcrops like here at Lobo. They have a bristly speckled yellow grey coat and
LoboLoboLobo

Rammy chasing Baboons from our vehicle
are fun to watch as they hop over the rocks - as we approached on the narrow track it did not move but just looked down on us from above before hopping off.





We had not seen another vehicle all day it was like we had Tanzania all to ourselves. However when we got back to camp our first fellow campers arrived, 3 older French guys in an overland truck - one of them decided to sleep in the dining hut and soon took over the room so we decided that we would sleep in the safari vehicle that night. It was just as well we did as later in the evening another group of 4 French youngsters arrived and they also slept in the dining hut in their tents. We had a great night in the vehicle although it was a little cramped.





The next day a Ranger arrived to check out the camp and found the 5 French tourist in the dining hut. He was not happy and made them clean it all out - we were lucky that we had got away with it the night before!!
BaboonBaboonBaboon

Feeding on young Impala
Both groups all left early before us but we took a while to pack up camp - two of us keeping watch on the Baboons who kept trying to steal from our vehicle and trailer. Rammy had a catapult which he would point at them and they would charge off, only to return from another direction a while later. In the end they did manage to ‘steal’ a paper bag but luckily it was only full of rubbish which we were taking with us. You have to take everything you bring in out with you - this time though the Baboons won. Rammy said that a while ago they had run off with a female guest’s bag they took from the vehicle which contained her Passport and she never did get it back - hope she managed to get home . ……







HEADING BACK SOUTH





We left Lobo and headed back South, on the way we passed a large Baboon covered in blood and feeding on a new born antelope. In the tree above it was a very large Eagle - Sifuni thought that the Eagle had probably
Giraffe FamilyGiraffe FamilyGiraffe Family

Sadly now on the decline
killed the Impala and the Baboon had stolen its prize and it was now waiting patiently to see if it had some leftovers - its a tough life for some in Africa. Baboon eating an Impala or a Thomson's Gazelle might seem extremely violent and graphic to us, but these opportunistic animals regularly consume meat in order to get a boost of protein - they're not peaceful vegetarians at all as was the general believe for a long time! Young antelopes actually form a substantial part of a baboon's diet in this part of the world.





We watched majestic Giraffe wandering across the park and a short while later stopped at a river where a massive group of Hippopotamus were wallowing in mud and muck - it smelt awful as they kept spraying themselves with their own floating dung to try and keep cool - the water all but gone. All around the banks were extremely large Crocodiles basking in the heat of the day - they seemed to be happy living along side the hippos.





Nearby we spotted a Goliath Heron, our first and the largest we have ever
Goliath HeronGoliath HeronGoliath Heron

The world's largest Heron
seen but of course it is the world’s largest heron with slate-grey plumage, chestnut feathers and its head, crest, face back and sides of the neck are also deep chestnut. When it flies it has really slow wing beats and its legs hang down below the horizon a truly majestic bird so colourful amongst all the grey. They are the tallest of their species at five foot and they have a massive wingspan of around seven and half foot.





CENTRAL VALLEY



We arrived back in the Serenera Valley and stopped for petrol at the same garage as before and then continuing on our journey out of the park. We watched a family of Lions sleeping under a shady acacia tree. The cubs were so cute and several were feeding off one of the females. With their big eyes, little ears, massive paws and beautiful whiskers they were such fun to watch, a fitting end to our wonderful days in the Serengeti National Park - we had seen so much wildlife and indeed had seen lions within in minutes of our arrival in the park and again just as we were leaving, we were very fortunate indeed.





Sadly it has not always been easy for the Lions of the Serengeti - the first Briton entered the park in 1913 and returned again in 1920 during that time he and his companions shot 50 lions. I cannot understand why anyone would want to do this. This large scale hunting of course made these wonderful beasts really scarce within a very short time. Thankfully this led to the setting up of a partial game reserve just a year later. However it was not until 1951 that the area was established as a full national park. Sadly the only people living there at the time, the resident Maasai, were moved out to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and this is still an on-going controversial issue. The Maasai are however at liberty to live within the sprawling 2,500 square mile conservation area around the crater but do have many restrictions on their lifestyle and the area is becoming over populated. We understand that more of the area's land is going to be put aside for these nomads of Africa.







On a more positive note the Serengeti
Secretary BirdSecretary BirdSecretary Bird

Stalking the grassy plains of sub-Saharan Africa on impossibly long legs, the Secretary Bird is one of the most captivating birds of prey in the world
National Park is now believed to hold the largest population of Lions in Africa, due in part to the abundance of prey species - there are estimated to be at least a million Wildebeest and many more types of antelopes. Happily it is one of the few places in Africa where Lions are not in decline and it is estimated that there are nearly two and half thousand living and hunting in the park today.







We were so lucky to spend so many days in the park and have lots of great memories - all stored away for future reference. As we neared Naabi Hill Gate to sign out of the park, several Secretary Birds made their way softly across the plains with such elegant strides as though they owned all the grasslands. We stopped and had another picnic lunch, we had run out of fruit so it was mainly what Rammy could rustle up however the mice and birds were still there looking for ‘free’ crumbs.







NGORONGORO CRATER CONSERVATION AREA





We made our way back towards Ngorongoro this time we were going to stop and visit and we were really excited about this as it is somewhere we have always wanted to visit. The only traffic on the dirt track were a few other small safari vehicles - there were far more tall Maasai walking beside their herds along the roadsides than road traffic.







The Maasai never cultivate land as they consider it demeaning. Instead they graze cattle, which hold a god-like status in Maasai culture, and in return the cows provide almost everything necessary to live; meat, skin, milk, dung for the walls and floor of their huts, and warm blood extracted from the neck of a live cow and mixed with milk as an iron rich food.







SIMBA CAMPSITE



We turned of the red sand track and soon arrived at Simba campsite which was the best campsite we had stayed at in the area. There were a number of other tents so this time we would have a lot of company. It was a large campsite with a scenic tree in the middle of a field overlooking the crater, although
Simba CampsiteSimba CampsiteSimba Campsite

Ngorongoro Conservation Area
this was mostly shrouded by the tree line. Yes, the field was full of ‘pats’ so you had to watch where you walked and indeed pitch your tent but there was some solar power, a better kitchen and dining facility and they even had power points to charge your gadgets in the dining area. There were loos which were not that great but at least they had some lighting in them and toilet roll. The best bit however was that there was a new kitchen and dining area that had just been built but not open yet because they were waiting for electricity to reach the camp. However the new toilet block was open and they had solar heating and yes, we had a hot shower at long last. You cannot really appreciate what a hot shower means when you have not had one for 6 days. It was just pure bliss standing and letting the hot water wash over you and managing to wash ones hair was just an added bonus - I promise I will never take this luxury for granted again … … …





We walked around the campsite where there was
Long-crested EagleLong-crested EagleLong-crested Eagle

One of many varieties of Eagles we have seen
a little track but again were told not to wander off because of the wildlife - but we enjoyed the views into the crater and met a lovely young couple who had come over from India. They had left their 18 month year old baby with the grandparents and were enjoying their first safari. We chatted to them for ages and exchanged email addresses so hopefully would stay in touch and you never know we may visit their country one day.







Sifuni put up our tent, he would not let us help again, and we soon settled in. We had another great dinner cooked by Rammy in the communal dining area and chatted to some other campers - it was quite nice to have fellow dining companions after so many days on our own that we could chat to. Our fellow campers were from several nationality but again no Brits - we still had not come across any on our travels. The majority of people we met were American.





We were hoping that we would get a good night’s sleep as we thought that most of the animals
Ngorongoro CraterNgorongoro CraterNgorongoro Crater

Early morning mist
would be down in the Crater and not up on the rim where we were - of course that is not the case. It was an extremely cold night as because we were so high up it was really cold - four layers later we managed to get a little sleep but could hear animals in the crater but felt much more secure here. A little while later I was awaken to some noise outside our tent which sounded like grunting and we thought it was probably Warthogs but were not sure but did manage to get some sleep that night. We were to learn that although the area sustains a huge variety of species, not all live down in the crater. Some are better adapted to roaming the extensive conservation area surrounding the caldera and even elephants reside really close by as we saw one just off the track later.





NGORONGORO CRATER





The next morning we had an early breakfast and set off on our Game Drive down into the Crater itself. The gates were open at 0600 hours and closed at 1800 hours. The dark of night belongs
Grey-crowned CraneGrey-crowned CraneGrey-crowned Crane

The only Crane in Tanzania
to the animals, and all vehicles must leave the crater floor by sunset when the animals have the crater all to themselves. To enter the area all visitors must have a licensed guide and we waited whilst Sifuni went off to pay the sizeable park fees of around $300 and complete the necessary paperwork, whilst waiting we were able to get out of the vehicle and take some photos. Passes all obtained we started our descent down the steep crater wall, following a narrow and rather bumpy track. The view was spectacular though with the crater lit by the early morning rays and the mist from the forests rising up the steep sides - it was like a scene from Jurassic Park. It was hard to believe that the volcano was not going to erupt again, but we made it safely down and what an experience it was to below the rim itself.





The Ngorongoro Crater is the largest intact caldera in the world and the flat enclosed crater floor is one of the densest game areas in the world teeming with wildlife. A natural amphitheatre created around two million years ago when the cone
Spotted HyenaSpotted HyenaSpotted Hyena

We saw so many of these hunting in packs
of a volcano collapsed into itself, leaving a 100 square mile caldron-like deep cavity. This caldera, protected by an unbroken circular 2000 foot high rim contains everything necessary for Africa's wildlife to exist. It is believed that wildlife populated the area quickly as the crater is really unusual in that the volcano did not erupt as most do and spew out hot lava but it collapsed inwards with the top soil still intact when it finally settled thousands of feet lower down.







This 'lost world of Ngorongoro’ was now home to many animals with in minutes of making it down the steep decent we saw a group of beautiful Grey-crowned Cranes, a tall wetland crane with a golden head crest and bright red wattle. They were in large numbers spreading their wings and dancing in typical crane courtship a sight to behold. A short while later we came across a pack of Spotted Hyena, in fact there were so many in the pack we lost count, whilst many of the youngsters were playing the parents were wallowing in muddy pools. We had never seen so many Hyena all together at the same time.
Silver-backed JackalSilver-backed JackalSilver-backed Jackal

also known as the Black-backed
Hyena cubs are unusual carnivores in that they are born with fully erupted front teeth (incisors and canines) so they have serious weapons and powerful jaws from day one!





While there are no giraffes or impala just about every other animal was present and the crater is estimated to be inhabited by around 30,000 animals, of which half are zebra and wildebeest. This is the perfect situation for predators and Spotted Hyenas and Lions lord over this domain. It is said that the crater floor has one of the highest carnivore densities in the world. There are also Leopards but we were told that Cheetahs were very rare now, it is though that they have all disappeared being probably ousted by the huge packs of Spotted Hyena that seem to rule the plains. There are also three species of jackals that reside in the crater and we got our first sighting of a Golden Jackal a little while later - we had seen lots of the Silver Backed Jackal before and we were lucky see a different one here.







Tanzania's few remaining Black Rhino are regularly sighted in
HartebeestHartebeestHartebeest

It has a particularly elongated forehead and oddly shaped horns
the crater too as they were reintroduced a few years ago and we were told that there are estimated to be about 50 now contained in a Lerai forest area at the edge of the crater. Sadly not for want of looking we did not come across any as they were all well hidden in the dense undergrowth and very hard to see - we may have driven right past them and still not seen them. We did manage to spot a Woodland Kingfisher, another bird that we had not seen before but sadly no rhino this time. We were lucky though as we had seen many Black and also White Rhino on our visit to Southern Africa so were not too disappointed. We had even had the privilege of watching a mother and calf within a few feet of us in Kruger NP with our lovely guide Albert.





In the centre of the crater there was a large soda lake where we spotted a population of Lesser Flamingos but they were quite a long way away and not abundant like what we had seen in Arusha National Park a while ago. As well as the lake there were several pools and in one we saw a huge group of Hippos wallowing in a pool surrounded by a healthy population of waterbirds a really scenic area with several hundred Blacksmith Plovers and Black-winged Stilts whose long beaks probe the soft mud. Large groups of birds were nesting in the reeds and on several small floating islands - many of the hippos were covered with snowy white Cattle and Yellow-billed Egrets on their backs whilst there were also quite a large number of Night Herons as well. Every now and then the flocks would take off fly around and then come back to land on the backs of the hippos still snoozing in the pool.







It was so peaceful sitting in our vehicle watching the wildlife all around us when all of a sudden that peace was shattered …… We could hear the ‘pounding of hooves’ and watched as a pack of Spotted Hyena started stalking a herd of nearby Wildebeest. One of them single out one and started chasing it around and around until it jumped into the pool right in front of us. It struggled for a while in the mud but managed to get its grip but it neared a Hippo with a young calf. The Hippo went for the Wildebeest and in the struggle the Wildebeest sustained an injury to its stomach. After a while it managed to climb out of the pool but its stomach was hanging outside and it was of course spotted by the Hyena who gave chase again and a while later several of them managed to catch it. It was indeed horrid to watch as they started eating the Wildebeest alive, lucky for us but not for the animal they pulled it into the reeds at the edge of the pool and we did not see much more as they started to devour the animal but could hear such horrendous noises. More and more Hyenas arrived we counted at least 12 in the end - several scouring the landscape smelling the blood and following the trail of the chase but could not see the rest of the pack hidden. In the end though they all manage to sniff out the carcass and joined in the feast.





Whilst this was all happening we watched yet more
Male OstrichMale OstrichMale Ostrich

The flightless ostrich is the world’s largest bird
Hyenas give chase and another Wildebeest was singled out and again landed in the hippo pool with the Hyena splashing in after it. The Hyena took a while to crawl out and as he did so did the Wildebeest. So the chase started again and the Wildebeest returned to jump into the pool again a while later - oh dear - our lunch was beckoning so we left the wildlife to its fate and hoped that it escaped but was sure that was not the case.







Some animals do move into and out of the crater using trails from the crater rim, but most stay on the crater floor since it supplies food, water and shelter year-round, therefore the animals remain in the crater year-round and do not migrate like the animals of the surrounding Serengeti ecosystem which follow the rains and fresh grass.





Elephant herds are noticeably absent from the crater floor because the cows and calves tend to prefer the forested highlands. They sometimes appear at the crater rim but only rarely venture down into the grasslands. Only mature bull Elephants roam the crater floor carrying
Female OstrichFemale OstrichFemale Ostrich

Displaying Feathers
around some massive tusks.





Also absent from the crater are Impala, Topi and Oryx who reside more on the eastern Serengeti plains, but Grant's and Thompson's Gazelles appear in the crater in good numbers and we were to see a lot of these herds. Giraffes were also missing as they favour the umbrella acacia and wait-a-bit thorn trees found higher up.





We so enjoyed our day on the crater floor, we saw some grizzly events but the ‘survival of the fittest’ comes to mind - the phrase that originated from Darwinian evolutionary theory as a way of describing the mechanism of natural selection.



We were not looking forward to the road out of the crater as we had heard that it was really bad - however this was not the case as it was actually paved. The only paved road we had been on since we entered the park a week ago. Sifuni said that they had to pave it because at certain times, particularly after heavy rain no-one could traverse the road. We were relieved and were soon back up on the crater rim.

Fireball LilyFireball LilyFireball Lily

also known as Blood flower & Catherine wheel




RANGER RIM WALK



After another relatively calm night we met up with a local Ranger for a ‘Rim Walk. Sifuni introduced us and the Ranger said that he would carry a AK47 commonly known as a Kalashnikovs to protect us from wildlife. Well we did not come across any animals apart from a lone elephant on the side of the track although we did find many signs that they roamed the rim of the crater - recent footprints of leopards were clearly seen in the mud on the trails and signs of lions too.



The Ranger passed on to us some really interesting facts about the people, flora and fauna of the area. He pointed out the beautiful Fireball Lily flowering against all the surrounding dryness and explained the many uses of the Sodom Apple.





SODOM APPLE



The Sodom Apple is a shrub found in almost every part of Tanzania, usually next to roads and overgrazed areas. It belongs to the Solanum family the same family as the potato, tomato and eggplant.



The shrub can grow to two meters high
Sodom AppleSodom AppleSodom Apple

Good Luck Flowers
and has thorny branches and stems. The leaves are very soft to the touch, which is why some of the native tribes use it as toilet paper. When blossoming, the shrub produces purple flowers that grow into light green fruit and when ripe the fruit is bright yellow. The plant plays a very important role in indigenous communities, not only do they provide food, building material and food for livestock but most importantly, traditional medicine.



The Maasai have incredible plant knowledge, unfortunately this knowledge is not being passed down to the younger generations anymore. Elderly members are no longer around and modern medicine is easily accessible.



The fruit is used to stop bleeding or is pressed into wounds and the juice of the fruit can be used to help with toothaches. The stems are made into toothbrushes, which some tribes believe has an anti-bacterial effect. The roots of the shrub are boiled and drunk to relieve stomach pains. What about the flowers you may ask - well it is widely believed that the flowers are lucky charms …….







SAUSAGE TREE



Another useful tree in
KigeliaKigeliaKigelia

The Sausage Tree is sacred to many African communities
the area is the so called Sausage Tree its popular name being Kigelia. Tall, with smooth grey bark and beautiful, bell-shaped flowers, the tree is often cultivated ornamentally, but Tanzanian tribes have long been putting the tree’s sausage-shaped fruits, as well as its leaves and bark to all sorts of uses. Some of the myriad health problems treated with extracts from various parts of the tree include malaria, headaches, syphilis and other venereal diseases, rheumatism, inflamed spleen, ulcers, and gastro-intestinal issues (just to name a few). The fruit is known to have anti-microbial properties, and is thought to help with skin problems like eczema and psoriasis.







BACK ON THE RIM





A steep climb later along some animal trails, trying to keep up with the ranger, we passed several Maasai villagers going about their every day lives. The Maasai live in Kraals arranged in a circular fashion as we had seen on our recent visit to a village. The fence around the kraal is made of acacia thorns, which prevent lions from attacking the cattle. It is a man's responsibility to fence the kraal, while women construct the houses.
Sodom Apple Sodom Apple Sodom Apple

Yellow Fruit
A young lady walking with a couple of donkeys stopped to chat to the Ranger, whilst youngsters tending their flocks. We had to move around a huge herd of cattle heading straight for us - it was us getting out of the way not the animals. Several females were going off to fill their water buckets and the Ranger pointed out the particularly steep track they use to fetch water - sadly several women had been killed by animals whilst collecting water here. What is ironic is that if the Maasai lose any of their cattle or goats to lions they are highly compensated by the government, sadly not much is done though to protect these womenfolk.





We continued on our walk and after a steep descent we came to an area which afforded the best views we had seen over the crater even though it was a little scary being near the edge it was so worth the walk to get here - sadly I lost most of our photos of this and all the crater shots as well as my apple computer was full and even though it said they had been saved
ElandElandEland

Largest antelope found in the Serengeti NP
they had not.



What goes down usually goes up and really struggling now to keep up with this super fit Ranger we climbed higher and a short while and some heavy breathing later we saw the welcome sight of Sifuni waiting with our safari vehicle - never have I been so happy to see him as we clambered back into the vehicle.





We were going to drop the Ranger off but just as we set off we came across a truck and a bus stuck on road. A grader had just passed by churning up the sandy track and both the bus and the truck were well and truly stuck and blocking all traffic both ways. Finally the truck managed to move and pull the bus out as well and we continued our journey back to the campsite where we said goodbye to the Ranger. Rammy had packed up our tent and all the other equipment whilst we were on our rim walk so all we had to do was get ourselves into the safari vehicle - some of the cooks still at camp waved us off.




A typical road ... ...A typical road ... ...A typical road ... ...

It was great to be back on tarmac ... ...





MOVING ON



We headed back along the rim track and a while later joined the main track back down to the entrance of the park. Formalities over much quicker than when we entered we were soon on our way. The dirt track ended at the Ngorongoro Gate and it felt good to be back on tarmac again - how smooth it is compared to the roads we had been travelling on. We take our tarmac roads for granted but when you do not have them you realise what a pleasure it is to have a smooth drive.







We stopped at Nysa Campsite where we had stayed before and seen the cute Bush Babies to have lunch again the whole campsite and permanent tented sites were empty. Rammy cooked in the main lodge’s kitchen this time and we were able to sit inside with proper tables, chairs and napkins and enjoy a Chicken Salad followed by Mango and Pineapple as he had managed to pick up some fruit at the local market - we were back in the land of shops now but were heading south to Tarangire National Park so see you there … …


Additional photos below
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18th December 2016
Lions - Serengeti National Park

Incredible adventures!
What an array of wildlife--mammals, birds and flora--you got to see in their native habitats, hunting and going about their business! Fabulous guides again to lead you and to explain what you were seeing, and your photos did fabulous justice to it all. Great adventure!
18th December 2016
Lions - Serengeti National Park

Yes - just incredible ..
Thanks for so much for your comments and reading our long winded blogs but just want to get all our memories down before they get forgotten! We were so lucky to be able to experience such an adventure, would not have missed it for the world and there is still one more blog to come of our wonderful travels around Tanzania.
18th December 2016
Warthog Family

Amazing
Life on the prairie can be amazing.
18th December 2016
Warthog Family

Thanks Dave & Merry
Glad you are enjoying our blogs.

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