15 June 2009

Serengeti National Park

At breakfast on Monday morning we were hoping to be able to watch the sunrise over the Ngorongoro Crater but the cloud came in during the night and spoilt the view somewhat.

Although the Ngorongoro and Serengeti Parks boarder each other we still had a bit of a jaunt, another 145km, to get to our accomodation at Seroneta in the middle of the Serengeti. We had arranged to stay in the Serengeti for 2 nights to enable us to see more of the park and the animals.

Serengeti is a Masai word which means endless plain and as you enter the park you can see how it got its name.

The wildlife that we saw just driving through to our lodge was pretty stunning. The highlight being a huge male lion that we spotted sunning himself on a rock.

The setting of the hotel, Serengeti Wildlife Lodge, was again really stunning. The building was constructed into and around a rock out-crop over the Serengeti plain. Even the swimming pool was made in a fissure between some of the boulders.

There were plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities without having to leave the confines of the lodge. The view from our bedroom window included elephants.

Thats when the monkeys weren't in the way.
Stick that one in your pipe Mr Fawlty! In the grounds we also saw loads of these cute little fellas.

They are called hyrax, and despite looking like a gerbil on steroids, are actually more closely related to the elephant. They're also surprisingly nimble and could often be seen perched right in the tops of trees munching the leaves.

We saw quite a few mongoose (should that be mongeese?) which also looked quite cute.

But could turn nasty.

There was also a variety of lizards sunning themselves on the rocks around the hotel, including this rather fetching purple and red one.

Out on safari on the plains it was the turn of the larger animals. We had hoped to try and time our arrival in the Serengeti with the annual migration when up to 2 million animals make the crossing of the Grumeti River on their way to the Masai Mara. The migration usually happens sometime between May and July but unfortunately we're a little early this year as the animals were still massing on the plain. However this allowed us to see some absolutly huge herds of zebra and wildebeest.

We also got to see, at fairly close quarters, the 3 different types of big cat that are found in Tanzania. Apart from the afore mentioned sun bathing lion we also saw a few of the rare tree climbing lions which are endemic to this part of Africa.

We were able to get incredibly close to a cheetah which sat a couple of feet from our jeep eyeing up the impala across the plain.

We thought we were about to see it race off for the kill but in the end it just slinked off into the long grass and disappeared. We also saw a several leopards snoozing or gnawing bits of kill in the branches of trees.

Whilst we were looking at the one in the picture above our guide noticed that we had a flat tyre on our jeep. We tried to drive a bit further away but the tyre was coming off the rim and we risked ruining the alloy wheel on the rubble road. There was no option other than for me and our guide, Eric, to get out and change the wheel whilst Liz kept a pair of eyes on the predator a few meters away in the tree. Thankfully the big cat looked too sleepy to be bothered with us.
We had another scary animal encounter when we were threatened by a 6 ton bull elephant. We were parked up at the roadside watching a big herd of elephants that had a large number of babies in it.

When some of the baby elephants wandered a little too close to our jeep the big bull decided he didn't like it. He gave a loud trumpet and started to charge us. Thankfully it was just a warning and he stopped the charge after a few heart pounding paces.

Liz had only been reading in a book the week before about some people who got charged by elephants in Tanzania. Apparently, if you're lucky, they give you a single warning before they charge for proper and flatten you. Not wanting to risk the wrath of 6 tons of elephant we decided to make a swift reverse back down the road to put some space between us and the babies.

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