With a later start this morning (Dickson is picking us up at 08:00), we had time for a leisurely breakfast at the lodge. They provided a great buffet plus a couple of chefs cooking your eggs to order, with a selection of bacon, sausage, potatoes and beans. We are making the most of it, as we know once we get into the bush we a) won't have such a choice and b) will probably leave before breakfast anyway!
I even had some time to check out the lodge grounds and photograph some birds!
Black Backed Puffback
We leave the lodge and head for Arusha to pick up our lunch boxes and a SIM card for the mobile WiFi unit we have brought with us. Not sure how much signal we will have up north, but it is worth a try. Tillya has arranged a Data SIM for us, but needs our passport to activate it. David goes with him to the phone shop, while I stay in the vehicle with Dickson; bargaining for a map of the Serengeti and fighting off all the hustlers and traders wanting to sell me T shirts, batik wall hangings, Maasai jewellery, safari hats and other trinkets. I have a laugh and a banter with them; and Dickson comments “it's just as well you are used to this”.
The road out of Arusha is much better than I remember, but then it has been three years since we were here last. The parched land is dotted with herds of goats and donkeys, Maasai cattle and the odd straw hut settlements.
Dust storms are common
After a while the terrain becomes more rocky and the earth more red, followed by rich black volcanic soil with acacia trees, baobabs and cactus.
Tarangire National Park
Leaving the tarmaced main road, we head for Tarangire, Tanzania's fifth largest park at 1,600²km and the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem. The park is named after the life-giving Tarangire River that provides the only permanent water for wildlife in the area. One of the main reasons for including Tarangire in this year's safari, is the fact that the wildlife rhythms of Tarangire are almost directly opposite those of the Serengeti. Tarangire comes into its own during the dry season (July - November) when enormous populations of elephants and other animals are drawn to the Tarangire River and other sources of permanent water within the park, with massive concentrations of elephant, buffalo, wildebeest and zebra congregating along its banks.
I have never seen the park entrance gate so busy before, there seemed to be safari vehicles parked everywhere, backing right up out of the car park.
While Dickson goes off to sort our entrance tickets, we make use of the facilities and start looking for birds and other wildlife.
You'll be glad to know that these were NOT the toilets in use
Spotted morning thrush
It took Dickson 45 minutes to get to the front of the line and complete the paperwork for us.
One of the first animals most safari goers in East Africa experience is the impala. The first day you hear “look, there's an impala!” with cameras clicking away. The second day “awww, that's cute” with the odd photos being taken. By the third day, the comments are so much more nonchalant “oh, it's just an impala” as they are so common and so widespread. I still think they're cute, and still get excited about seeing them.
White bellied go away bird - so called because of the sound it makes "Go! Go!"
African white backed vulture
Giraffe feed exclusively on the tender leaves of acacia trees and their great height means they do not compete for food with other grazing animals so they are able to share their habitat with a wide range of animals. The normally elegant and graceful giraffe have difficulty in bending so that their heads reach down to ground level, so when drinking they have to splay their forelegs out sideways in a rather awkward looking position.
A mature male giraffe weighs about 1000kg and stands approximately 3.3m at the shoulders making it easily the tallest mammal in the world. Some animals have been known to be as tall as a double decker bus. The giraffe's prehensile tongue is about 20in long, purplish-black in colour (it is thought to protect against sunburn), and is useful for grasping foliage, as well as for grooming and cleaning its nose and ears! With the help of their long tough tongue and long upper lip, they can eat even the smallest of leaves hidden between the big thorns of this tree.
Black Faced Vervet Monkeys - also known as Green Monkeys - are one of the best known monkeys in Africa and are often found close to human habitation, including a few of the lodges we have stayed in.
Vervets rarely venture further than about 500 yards from the trees, since they are vulnerable to a variety of predators, including leopards, caracals, servals, baboons, large eagles, crocodiles and pythons. Though they usually confine contact calls to chirping and chittering, vervets scream and squeal when in danger.
You have to look very carefully at your surroundings when on a safari, as so many of the birds and animals are very well camouflaged, such as this Rufous Tailed Weaver. That's where it pays to have a good guide!
Or this Laughing Dove.
Female Red Billed Hornbill
We stopped to have our picnic lunch and watch this twister in the distance.
I never expected to have a Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate bar in my picnic box in Tanzania!
We were joined by this Superb Starling, who was no doubt after our leftovers.
I love the name of this Waxbill – Cordon Bleu! This is the female.
Cape Buffalo – these are retired males kicked out of the herd by younger breeding males. They are quite vulnerable to predators as they are old and slow, and just the two of them rather than having the protection of a large herd.
Lilac Breasted Roller - one of my favourite African birds!
African Grey Hornbill
A family of elephants walked past, with the youngest baby being about 6-9 months old with its sibling around 3½ – 4 years old. As well as the mum, there was another “baby” of around 5-6 years old, probably not related to the others.
They seemed a really close knit family, and spent a lot of time intertwining tusks and appeared to be “cuddling”.
You can see that the elephants here are in musth – an annual period of heightened sexual activity. Their temporal glands become swollen, from where a strong smelling fluid, rich of testosterone, runs down on their cheeks. During musth the males are often very aggressive, so we were keeping a very close eye on these beasts.
Tarangire is famous for its giant baobab trees which take quite a lot of battering from the elephants in the park, leaving many with battle scars. The strange looking “upside down tree” - Latin name Adansonia – is useful in so many ways, not just as punch bags for the elephants. Able to store enormous amounts of water in their trunks (up to 100,000 litres), they are ideally suited to the arid lands of this region. Of the nine different species, only two are found outside Africa, one in the Arabian peninsula and one in Australia. To me, these trees are synonymous with the African bush!
Nothing is wasted by the locals from these trees, its usefulness is reflected in the tact that Disney's Lion King named it the Tree of Life.
- Root fibres – are turned into string
- The fruits can be eaten (they taste a little like sherbet – we had a chance to taste one in West Africa a few years ago) or mixed with water/milk for a refreshing drink (baobab fruit has three times as much vitamin C as an orange, twice as much calcium as milk and is high in potassium, thiamin and vitamin B6), Now it is being hailed by Westerners as a new superfruit, although I would say it's an acquired taste. Decorative crafts are made from the dried fruits.
- The powdery white interior can be used to thicken jams and stuff
- The pulp can be dried and is used in the fermentation of beer, it is also the basis for cream of tartar, and is used in cosmetics, smoothies, as a thickener or sugar substitute. In the UK apparently one manufacturer is adding it to gin!
- The bark is fire, drought and termite resistant and is used for rope, soap, rubber, glue, fishing nets, sacks, clothes and medicine. If the bark is stripped, it will grow back.
- The seeds - oil is extracted by cold-pressing the seeds, or they can be ground to use as thickening for soups, fermented to use as flavouring, or roasted to be eaten as a snack.
- The trunk - water contained in the trunk may be tapped in dry periods and elephants sometimes tear the trees down to get to the moisture inside. . The huge trunks are often hollow (naturally or man/animal made) an can provide shelter for animals and humans. One of the vast baobabs in Australia was even used as a prison in the 1890s and a district commissioner in Zambia set up an office inside one. I believe there is even a baobab pub somewhere!
- The wood is used for fuel and timber
- The leaves can be eaten fresh as a vegetable, and are said to contain a natural mosquito repellent. They can also be dried, milled and sieved to make a green powder that is used to flavour drinks and sauces.
These gazelles migrate in the opposite direction to most of the other ungulates, such as the Thomson’s gazelles, zebras and wildebeest. They can subsist on vegetation in waterless, semi-arid areas, where they face little competition.
Zebra Crossing in the Tarangire
Zebra are everywhere on the African plains and they make for such great photographic subjects. There are different subspecies but by far the most widespread of the zebras is the Plains zebra which is also known as Burchell's or Chapman's zebra.
The zebra were followed by wildebeest.
It was unusual to see such a young elephant baby out and about on his own, so we were immediately concerned for his wellbeing, as at around a year old he really was way too young to fend for himself. We soon noticed that all was not well – the animal had a dislocated rear right leg, which was swinging from side to side as he walked. You can see the disfigurement at his hip. Dickson surmised he'd probably been caught in a poacher’s snare and in the process of freeing himself, he'd pulled his leg out of socket. That still does not explain why he was abandoned by the rest of his family though, something that is very unusual.
He will be very vulnerable to predators because of his small size, disability and the fact that he is on his own. His chances of survival are very slim indeed. He was still able to walk, albeit very awkwardly. So sad. But there was nothing we could do - such is the nature in the wild. We had to move on and let him get on with his life. Or not.
Female Red Billed Hornbill
Male ostrich in breeding season, as can be seen by his red neck and tail.
A large flock of ostriches (15 in total), consisting of adult females and their chicks from last year. Maybe this is where our breeding male was heading?
A large antelope distinguished by a white ring on its bum and large ears. As the name would indicate, waterbucks are always found near water, although they are not true water dwellers and have been known to wander considerable distances in times of drought. With human destruction of riverine forests, waterbucks have been forced to move inland in search of suitable grazing which exposes them to predators. In addition, the bleached skull of the waterbuck is a popular tourist souvenir, making this antelope a prime target for poachers.
Because of their large size, they are seldom preyed upon in their natural habitat, even by lions. A lone waterbuck will often submerge itself in water in an emergency; an oily secretion covering the coat serves as waterproofing. The secretion is also the last line of defence, giving the meat an unpleasant taste. Apparently they can be detected by the pungent smell they give off, but I can't say I have ever noticed.
This tiny antelope only weighs around 5kg and is about 30cm high. It has an elongated nose which is very mobile, constantly twitching, and relatively large eyes, making it extremely cute! The elongated snouts have bellows-like muscles through which blood is pumped to help prevent over-heating. Airflow and subsequent evaporation cools the blood before it is recirculated to the body.
White Headed Buffalo Weaver
We saw a pride of Landcruisers staring at a tree, so we headed that way to see what the excitement was all about. True enough, there was a leopard sleeping on a branch.
Leopards are more elusive and much less likely to be seen than lions and even cheetah, and being solitary animals, when you do come across one of these cats, there will only be one. They are nocturnal, most active at dusk and tend to hunt in the evenings and early mornings, which another reason why they are not seen often.
Another congregation of safari vehicles revealed a cheetah in the distance. Very difficult to spot in the long grass, initially all we could see was an unusual shape and a few spots.
We hung around and waited until she decided to move before we could really see her.
The name cheetah comes from an Indian word meaning "spotted one" and is thought to have gone through a prolonged period of inbreeding following a genetic bottleneck during the last ice age which could explain some of its more unusual features such as its relatively small head and semi-retractable claws. As well as its supposedly low sperm count. Shhh, don't tell Mrs Cheetah!
The reedbuck primarily eats fresh grass, often unpalatable species that are avoided by other antelopes, and it needs to drink water every few days at least, to several times a day during the dry season.
As the name suggests, they can often be found in reeds near rivers and when threatened will initially try and hide by camouflaging themselves in the grasses, only fleeing when the danger gets too close for comfort. We never did see what it was that spooked them this time.
Tarangire National Park is especially famous for having the largest elephant population in northern Tanzania, whose numbers are on a steady increase after heavy poaching in the 1990s. Approximately 3,000 elephants were counted during the last census in the year 2000. Since 2000, the elephant population has continued to rise at an increasing rate as Tarangire is currently experiencing an elephant ‘baby boom’, and we noticed that a large proportion of the elephants encountered were less then 10 years old and baby elephants were abundant. Elephants are both migratory and resident in Tarangire; although some elephants leave, most stay inside the park year round.
We stayed for a while watching them on the river bed, drinking and washing, before trying clumsily to climb up the river bank.
As I said before, impala may be common, but they are still very cute!
Verreaux Eagle Owl
The sun was getting low by this stage and time was getting on. We had to be out of the park by sunset, so we started to make our way towards the exit gates, stopping to photograph various game and birds along the way.
African Fish Eagle
This male juvenile lion sleeping on the river bed was our first lion on this trip, so we were quite excited to see him. That makes all three big cats in one day / park. Not bad!
Mongooses are commonly terrestrial and many are active during the day, feeding mainly on insects, crabs, earthworms, lizards, snakes, birds, and rodents. The mongoose emits a high-pitched noise, commonly known as giggling, during courtship and mating. They are related to hyenas, civets and cats. The plural of mongoose is mongooses, not mongeese.
A member of the pig family, the warthog is a curious-looking animal, with its teeth forming two sets of curved tusks on the side of the head. A tusk will curve 90° or more from the root, and will not lie flat on a table, as it curves somewhat backwards as it grows. The tusks are used for digging, for combat with other hogs, and in defence against predators – the lower set can inflict severe wounds.
Warthog ivory is taken from the constantly growing canine teeth. The tusks, more often the upper set, are worked much in the way of elephant tusks with all designs scaled down. Tusks are carved predominantly for the tourist trade in East and Southern Africa.
One of the greatest problems with travelling to Tanzania during the dry season, is the dust. The sand on the tracks is swirled up by cars and animals, and gets into everything. On previous visits I have suffered badly with sinus infections, so this time we decided to actually take preventative measures and protect ourselves from the effect on inhaling the dust.
It may not be the latest fashion, but it works!
As Dickson was rushing to get out of the gate before sunset, I was trying to stand up in the vehicle photographing the same sunset while travelling at great speed on uneven roads.
We made it out of the park in time, and continued to our tented camp for the night, the Maramboi.
Maramboi Tented Camp
This camp is situated in a rather unusual spot to the south-east of Lake Manyara, just across the main road from Tarangire in a 25,000 hectares private concession for conservation run entirely by the local Maasai Community. The views from the property are one of the big features, looking out to the Rift Escarpment and lake Manyara. Unfortunately, it was already pretty dark when we arrived, so we could see very little of the famed view.
It seemed to make sense to go straight to dinner as soon as we arrived (after the obligatory briefing), as it was already gone 19:00 by this time. The dining area – a large deck overlooking the grounds – was very dark, with only small candles on each table lighting the place. The food was good, and Dickson was telling us all about his family and his wedding – he was just starting to hang out with his then girlfriend (now wife) when we last met him. Now he has a young son. After eating, we retired to bed almost immediately, getting the guards to take our luggage and lead the way. You are not permitted to go outside on your own at night – if you want to leave your room, you need to call for someone to escort you. We seem to have the room (tent) furthest away from the main reception / restaurant area, right at the edge of the property.
The rooms are large permanent tents on a wooden platform and it is all very comfortable, luxurious even, with A/C 24/7, hair drier and safe in the room, charger sockets and electricity.
We have a drink on the balcony, watching the bats flying around, before going to bed.
Thank you to Calabash Adventures for arranging our safari.