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Ndutu - through Serengeti - Kogatende

A long but very exciting day

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View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

A beautiful sunrise greeted us this morning, reflecting in Lake Ndutu as we left the lodge. I would have liked to spend some more time here, but we have a lot of distance to cover today as we make our way right through the 30,000 km² Serengeti National Park to its far north west corner.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Northern White Crowned Shrike

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Secretary bird

Dickson was heading for a marshy area not far from the lodge this morning, hoping to see some cats. And we did.

WARNING: CONTAINS IMAGES SOME PEOPLE MAY FIND DISTURBING

Three cheetahs – a mother and two sub-adult cubs - were pretending to be chilling on the plains, watching a few impala grazing in the distance. Cheetahs are never found in dense forests, they inhabit open savannah and semi desert areas. To avoid competition for food with other big cats who primarily hunt during the hours of darkness, the cheetah has developed a strategy whereby it hunts by day, and rather than using smell or sound to locate prey, it utilises its excellent eyesight to spot its next dinner.

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We decided to take our chances and stayed to watch for a while to see if anything would develop from it. For a long while it looked as if the cheetahs were far too comfortable to even contemplate going out for breakfast.

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After about ten minutes, mum gets up and starts walking towards the impala.

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She turns round towards her cubs as if to say “are you guys with me or not?” but still doesn't look too bothered about doing any hunting this morning.

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Suddenly it is all Go! Go! Go! By this time the impala have headed into the shrubs to our right, and the cheetah sets off in a fast sprint in that direction.

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The cubs follow in a slightly more leisurely fashion.

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They seem to have lost sight of both mum and the impala, who are now completely hidden by the long grass.

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Suddenly they – and we – spot mum who is giving chase to a couple of young impala who have become separated from the others.

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The impala twist and turn to try and shake off the predator, racing back out onto the open plains, zigzagging and splitting up to confuse the cheetah.

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One of the impala turns left, making the biggest mistake of its life. The cheetah follows in hot pursuit. Unfortunately for the impala, a cheetah can run faster than any other land animal — up to 75 miles per hour in short bursts.

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She closes in on the poor antelope, as we hold our breaths, excited about the chase, terrified for the impala.

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As the cubs join in the hunt, cutting off the prey's escape route, the impala uses its unique leap in a bid to get away. When alarmed, an impala can run at very high speeds and "explode" in spectacular jumps to heights of 10ft, zigzagging over bushes and even other impala or as here, the predator itself, covering distances of up to 30ft.

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The impala looks like it is gaining some ground from the cheetah...

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Twisting again, running for its life.

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The impala runs out of luck.

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While the cheetah catches her breath, thinking that breakfast has been sorted, the impala makes a desperate attempt at getting up and again.

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But to no avail. The cheetah is hungry and is not about to let go that easily.

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While mum keeps a firm grip on the impala, the cubs join her for the final act of killing the prey. Mum is probably quite worn out right now – apparently half of cheetah chases are unsuccessful because the predators are too exhausted to finish off the prey.

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One of the cubs goes for the final suffocating bite to the neck and it's all over for the female impala.

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Breakfast is served!

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When the cheetah have had their fill, we bid them goodbye and make our way towards the Serengeti.

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The Ndutu area is a great place for wildlife, and we soon came across a couple of elephants and a another cheetah – probably hiding young cubs in the long grass.

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Unfortunately we had no time to find out, but Dickson radioed the other cars (there were three of us around the cheetah kill) so they could go and check it out.

Spotted Hyena
I somehow dislike these animals – I find them ugly and sinister-looking and they give me the heebe jeebees with their heavily built forequarters, sloping back and large head. There are three main hyena species in Africa – spotted (by far the most common and the only one we have encountered), brown and striped.

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Grant's Gazelles
The only relatively long-lasting relationship in gazelle society is that of a mother and her most recent offspring. Grant's are gregarious and form the usual social groupings of small herds of females with their offspring, territorial males and all-male bachelor groups. Membership in these groups is temporary.

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Hartebeest
One of the many problems with the dusty tracks through the national parks is that as soon as you stop the vehicle, the dust catches up with you and by the time it has cleared enough to take a relatively clear photo, the animals have often moved on.

These hartebeest were fairly close to the car when we stopped, then moved away as soon as we arrived. The baby is probably only about one or two days old.

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Serengeti National Park

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Known locally as ‘Siringitu’ – the place where the land runs on forever – Tanzania’s oldest park was created to preserve the path of the world’s largest migration circuit. The Serengeti National Park is one of the most celebrated wildlife reserves in the world and a UNESCO Heritage Site. This phenomenal National Park covers an absolutely vast area of pristine East African savannah.

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Thankfully, outside pressure has persuaded the Tanzanian government to cancel their plans of making a tarmaced highway right through the centre of the park. The proposed road was estimated to carry 800 vehicles a day by 2015 (one every two minutes) and 3,000 a day by 2035 (one every 30 seconds). Collisions between people and wildlife would have been inevitable. Wildlife experts had warned that paving and expanding the route would have severed a critical corridor for the annual migration. At the moment we have to put up with the dust generated by the huge trucks, but that is better than putting the animals at risk.

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We turn off the main road and head for the Simba Kopje. It seems to be a little less dusty and slightly greener here.

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Kopjes
A kopje is an isolated granite rock formation that rises abruptly from the surrounding plain. Kopjes provide, among other things, protection from grass-fires, more water in the ground around them, holes, cracks, and caves for animals, and a vantage point for hunters of all kinds.

The kopjes are over 550million years old, and the surrounding rock through which they protrude far, far older still - over 1200 million years in much of Serengeti

The word “kopje” - pronounced “car-pee” - comes from a Dutch word meaning “little head”.

Serval
Dickson got very excited to spot a serval – a nocturnal wild African cat rarely seen during the day. Servals have long legs which enable them to run fast (though not as fast as the cheetah). Normally they pounce on their prey, but they can also probe into crevices for rodents and grab them and pull them out, hence being seen near the kopje.

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The serval left its relatively safe hiding place in the shadow of the rocks, to cross the road into the long grass the other side, where it disappeared.

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Next we came across a male lion close to a dead zebra. It is most likely that a female made the kill last night and the male came and chased her away.

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Central Serengeti is a great place to spot animals any time of year, even outside the migration season.

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Elephants and zebra

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Huge zeals of zebra which have obviously decided not to migrate this year with the fresh grass after recent rains. Everywhere you look there are stripes!

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More lions resting under a tree

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A dozen or more each of lions and elephants are causing quite a traffic jam near the river.

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Sometimes you are lucky enough to get a whole pride of lions to yourself, such as we did yesterday in Ndutu, other times you have to be prepared to share.....

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This is NOT the place to get a flat tyre

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Moving away from the circus...

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Tawny Eagle

Hyrax
Although the hyrax, also called rock rabbit or dassie, are similar to the guinea pig in looks, its closest living relative is the elephant! They are present throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, and in some places they can become quite unafraid of humans and are considered a pest! I love seeing these little creatures sunbathe on the rocks late in the afternoon where the sun has warmed the stone during the day, or in crevices hiding from predators. These were on the walls and trees near the toilets in the Visitors Centre.

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Tree Hyrax

Fossil remains indicate there were once hyraxes the size of oxen. This may explain its gestation period of 7 or 8 months, unusually long for an animal of its size.

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Rock Hyrax

Northern Serengeti
As we head into Northern Serengeti, the topography and landscape changes drastically from the wide open plains, to more undulating terrain, with numerous kopjes and wooded areas. The dry, parched earth has been replaced with fresh green grass. It's like being in a different season.

Topi
A very similar looking antelope to the hartebeest, is the gregarious topi, with the difference being that the topi have a darker colouration and lack sharply angled horns. The topi are nowhere near as widespread and common as the hartebeest, as they prefer certain grasslands in arid and savanna biomes, eating only grass, avoiding both mature leaves and very young shoots. Fussy eaters in other words.

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They prefer flat lowlands, and can go without water for long periods of time only if they have access to green pastures.

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Eland
Eland are herbivorous browsers who can survive for long periods of time on the moisture they extract from their food. Their favourite food are the leaves from the acacia tree. When this is unavailable they will eat grasses and fruits, and occasionally dig for roots and bulbs with their hooves.
Eland horns are long and twisted, with the female's being longer and thinner than the males, being able to grow up to 1.2m long. These horns are often used to help bring twigs and branches closer for feeding. Eland have a dewlap (a fold of loose skin) under the throat. This helps assist with cooling by increasing the surface area of the skin.

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The giant eland is Africa's largest antelope. Massive yet elegant, these powerful antelopes have been known to gracefully leap fences over 10 feet tall. Male elands can weigh up to 1000kg - it's difficult to appreciate their immense size unless they are seen grazing next to a 250kg wildebeest or a 25kg gazelle. Even here, alongside a zebra, it gives you some idea of its enormous size.

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Hunted throughout Africa for their meat, elands can be very skittish and difficult to approach closely. All my previous photographs of eland have been of them running away, so I got really excited about seeing them grazing peacefully this time. Despite their size, being timid creatures, they easily fall prey to predators.

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There was the cutest little elephant having a bath in a small mud pool!

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Steenbok
This is said to be the most frequently seen of the so-called dwarf antelopes, but we have only encountered them a couple of times before. Steenbok tend to be most active during the day, although when temperatures peak at midday they may seek refuge in shade. They live in monogamous pairs and are renowned for their very large ears. Only the males have horns. They are unique amongst the antelopes in that they defecate and urinate in shallow scrapes which are dug by the front hoofs and then covered again. A bit like a cat I suppose.....

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The weather is much less predictable up here than in Central Serengeti – it can rain one minute, with the sun coming out again the next. The skies start to darken, and there is obviously a storm on the way....

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As we reach Bologonja Springs near the Kenyan border, it starts to rain. It doesn't seem to bother this Reedbuck though.

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Wildebeest Migration
We start seeing increasing numbers of wildebeest as we get further north, and we are beginning to realise that this is in fact the famous “migration”. From August through to October the herds are in this part of the Northern Serengeti as well as in Kenya’s Masai Mara. Given that the herds are simply following local rainfall, some move north, some move south… and many move in both directions in the same day.

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Klipspringer
A small antelope which we have only seen once – in South Africa in 1999 – despite the fact that it is said to be present in several of the Kenyan and Tanzanian parks. This is probably because the klipspringer only occurs on mountain ranges and other rocky habitats. They are extremely agile and nimble, even over the roughest terrain.

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Other interesting facts about the klipspringer: this is the only antelope that walks on the tips of its hoofs; groups use communal dung heaps scattered throughout the home range; and they have a loud nasal alarm whistle.

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The rocky terrain also seems to appeal to lions.....

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It is still reasonably light when we reach our home for the next four nights – Serengeti North Wilderness Camp.

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This is what is known as a “luxury mobile camp” - a collection of ten tents which move with the wildebeest migration every three to six months.

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It feels good to be able to settle in for a while, not having to re-pack tomorrow morning and move on. I think we will like it here.

Thank you to Calabash Adventures for arranging all this for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:51 Archived in Tanzania

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Comments

AMAZING photography, equally amazing description. I'd certainly buy the book!

by Homer Gardin

Amazing photos of the cheetah / impala hunt especially - plus some really cute elephants :-)

by Sarah Wilkie

Wow! what amazing photos. So takes me back to our last safari and making me green with envy. Please pass on info on your camps when you get back and which ones you recommend etc. useful info to have. Enjoy!

by Marion

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