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Serengeti Day 5 Part 3 - baby eles, lion cubs, Lobo Lodge

A lion's share of animals


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Olive Baboons

Clusters of strongly scented white flowers of the Umbrella Thorn Acacia tree, as well as the associated seed pods, provide food for the baboons.

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The blooms also attract a number of insects, as we can see here.

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Elephants

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Migration

The intention today was to look for cats rather than the migration, and although we did see a lone lion first thing and later a cheetah, we have also come across the migration – first the zebra leading the way just after breakfast, and now the wildebeest.

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Reedbucks

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Tawny Eagle

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We are treated to a spectacular areal display by this impressive raptor.

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Hooded Vulture

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Elephants in Bologonja River

It is pure entertainment watching this little elephant (less than two months old) drinking, as the babies don't start using their trunks until they are around five months old.

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With a bit more practice it won't be long before he's got the hang of it.

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The eroded dry riverbank makes for a good scratching post.

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Reedbucks

Also on the Bologonja riverbank, are three reedbucks. Normally solitary animals, it is unusual to see one male mating with two females.

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Lions

Under a tree, we see a male lion, with a female on heat.

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Nearby we see another female with couple of two-week old cubs, suckling.

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We drive nearer to get a better view, and they retreat into the bush partially hidden from us.

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They finally settle down at the edge of a thicket.

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The cubs attempt to come out occasionally before being called back into safety by their mum, where they spend their time suckling, cuddling and sleeping.

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Meanwhile, the male is completely crashed out after all the hard work of keeping his females happy.

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Even though Malisa thinks the cubs will eventually brave it out into the open, we decide to move on to pastures new.

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Grey Backed Fiscal Shrike

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

Eland

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Hyena

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Giraffe

We follow this gorgeous animal as he meanders along the ridge, beautifully backlit by the setting sun.

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I experiment with creating some silhouetted images too.

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Lobo Wildlife Lodge

It must be so difficult for the safari guides to get the timing right on the daily game drives: yesterday we arrived late because we saw a leopard fairly close to the lodge; and today we see nothing as Malisa makes his way back to camp. The result is that for the first time on this trip, we arrive at the lodge in daylight.

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Cute door handle to our room

Finding ourselves with some unexpected spare time, we go walkabout to check out the lodge and its surroundings. Whilst the accommodation itself is rather basic and in desperate need of refurbishment, its stunning position on the edge of a cliff with unrivalled views over the savannah below is breathtaking.

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Set among the rocks of a kopje, surrounded by trees, the lodge features lots of different levels and angles, with wooden walkways and stone steps connecting them all.

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As always, we wish we had more time in the lodge when we see the inviting swimming pool

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Look at that view!

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The bar looks inviting too

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The place is swarming with rock hyraxes – one even manages to slip in to the restaurant as soon as the door is opened.

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After a quick shower we enjoy a pre-dinner drink, then wander up for dinner.

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This evening we are the only guests staying, and Malisa is allowed to eat with us. Going by the table service and quality of food tonight, we'd be forgiven to think we are staying in a different hotel this evening.

That brings us to the end of yet another amazing day as arranged by Calabash Adventures - the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals sunset elephants africa safari tanzania eagle lions giraffe baboons lion_cubs serengeti hyena vulture lobo wildebeest hyrax suckling game_drives eland calabash_adventures olive_baboons wildebeest_migration rock_hyrax tawny_eagle go_away_bird reedbuck lobo_wildlife_lodge hooded_vulture acacia_tree great_migration annual_migration bologonja_river Comments (6)

Serengeti Day 4 Part 3 to Lobo Lodge - leopard

Leaving the best until last


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Impala

This common antelope is affectionately known as McDonalds because of the black M marking on its rump.

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The black spots seen on the back of its hind legs are glands that emits a scent when the impala lands after a jump, thus marking its territory in the process. Isn't nature clever?

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Martial eagle

Boma Pride

These are the cubs we saw last year, all grown up now.

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Fourteen lions in total are spread around this area, some near to the road, others much further away.

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Nile Crocodile

Unusually, we have seen a number of crocodiles on this trip, and not just sunning themselves on a bank, they have actually been doing things.

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Other Animals at the Waterhole

With this elephant heading towards the water, Malisa positions the car so that we can get a better view.

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Constantly on the lookout for predators, a lone zebra nervously edges his way down to the pond.

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He is still easily spooked though.

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Spotted Hyena

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It's a hard life being a hyena.

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Eland

I'm not sure whether it is a coincidence or not, but previously we have generally only seen elands in any numbers the further north we go. Today is no exception - we are currently heading away from the central part of the park and towards the north-east area of Lobo.

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Eland are the largest antelope in the Serengeti, and you can see just how large they are compared with the Thomson's Gazelles in this picture.

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Orangi River

Traversing the Serengeti from north west to south east, the Orangi River is a huge draw for animals, especially now in the dry season when there is very little surface water in the park.

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Cape Buffalo coming down to drink

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A young Crocodile in a small pool created by the low water level

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Hippo

Cape Buffalo

The thick forest hides a huge herd – or obstinacy – of buffalo. The downside of the combination of trees and buffalo is that it also attracts tse tse flies. They are pesky little things, and although Avon Skin So Soft does help to keep them away, I still get bitten a few times. It hurts when they get you and stings like hell after.

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Southern Ground Hornbill

A large bird, usually found feeding on the ground as the name suggests.

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He is looking all around this tree trunk for termites.

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Eland

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Normally these large antelopes are very shy and timid – their meat is delicious and they are slower moving due to their size, making them a favourite prey of hunters and poachers. This guy, however, seems to be as curious about us as we are about him.

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After giving us a cursory glance, he just carries on eating.

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Mbuzi Mawe

We pass the lovely lodge we stayed at a couple of years ago when we last came with Lyn and Chris.

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Pallid Flycatcher

Togoro Plains

Always a good place to see a range of animals, Togoro is no different today:

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Elephants

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Zebra

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Female Steenbok

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Lobo

As time is getting on now, and we still have quite some way to go to reach our overnight lodge, we make our way towards Lobo where we are to spend the night. This part of Tanzania is new territory for us, we previously just briefly skirted past Lobo in 2014 on our way to Kogatende.

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We see very little traffic on these tracks, but one vehicle travelling in the opposite direction stops and the driver has a very animated conversation with Malisa In Swahili. While I do not understand most of what is said, I get the gist that there is an exciting sighting ahead. Malisa drives on with increased purpose.

Suddenly he stops the vehicle. It is not easy to spot at first, but then we see it: a leopard in a tree.

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She is restlessly moving from branch to branch and turning to look in every direction.

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As we can hear some laughing hyenas in the distance, Malisa surmises that they stole her kill. I guess that is why they are laughing.

For a brief moment in time – less than one minute - the low sun comes out, bathing the tree and cat in a beautiful golden light; before disappearing below the horizon for another day.

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We really should be hitting the road to reach the lodge before dark, but Malisa is convinced that the leopard will leave the confines of the tree and head off to do some hunting now that the sun has gone down.

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"Are you waiting for me?"

She fidgets. A lot. Yawns, stretches and moves.

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Has she seen something?

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We get ready with our cameras, just in case. And yes, Malisa is right. She makes her way along the branch to the centre of the tree, and not so much 'jumps' as 'runs' down the trunk and disappears behind it.

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Slowly, stopping regularly to look around, she makes her way across the grassy plains.

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She walks right past us, then sits down close to the car.

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Finally she joins the dirt track behind us, sashaying along, looking here, then there, sniffing the air and taking a rest.

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Now what has she spotted?

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Nothing exciting apparently. She continues on her way, crosses the road and lays down in the ditch rolling around like a kitten.

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Lobo Wildlife Lodge

Finally we tear ourselves away from this most amazing leopard sighting. We are late now, of course, and by the time we reach the lodge, it is pitch black. The approach is interesting, driving through a narrow, natural cutting between two towering rocks alive with vervet monkeys, olive baboons and rock hyraxes. The uninviting large metal gate is unlocked by a reluctant guard, revealing an open courtyard surrounded by a reasonably well lit two-storey building. The accommodation is much larger than we are used to, with 74 rooms.

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A warm welcome awaits us in the cosy natural stone and wood-pannelled reception, with a serious concern for our well-being when we didn't arrive at the expected time (ie before dark).

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The lodge is reminiscent of an old fashioned ski cabin, with the basic rooms leading off outside walkways and every surface covered in dark wood: floor, walls, ceiling and furniture. The bath is interesting with a huge step into the tub. The floor creaks ominously. Lyn and Chris are particularly unimpressed with their accommodation and ask to be moved, but find that the second room is no better than the first.

When our luggage fails to arrive, we go to check out what is going on. The lock on the back door of the car is stuck and has drawn quite a crowd of helpers. Eventually Malisa manages to break it open and we can get to our change of clothes. Broken locks seem to be a theme of this trip.

In the restaurant we encounter the other guests, consisting of a large group of American birders, but the lodge is far from full. As is to be expected from such a large hotel, dinner is buffet style. Not feeling particularly hungry, nor a fan of buffets, I just have a bowl full of lentils for dinner. They are delicious. Since we left Central Serengeti we have not had any phone signal, but they do have wifi in the restaurant here, which means I can at least send an message to my dad and catch up on my emails.

Back in the room, the bed is very hard and before I even have a chance to fall asleep my back is hurting badly. This does not bode well. At this point I would like to mention that Lobo Wildlife Lodge was not our choice of accommodation, but the nearby mobile tented camp that we were initially booked to stay in, more than lived up to its name and moved on to a different location a couple of weeks ago. In this area it is Hobson's Choice when it comes to accommodation, with this being the only one, at least within our price range. Tillya was extremely apologetic when he told us, and offered us the option of staying here or changing the itinerary to spend time elsewhere. While I obviously have a preference when it comes to the style of accommodation, such a short amount of time spent in the lodge (especially this evening) means the accommodation it is of very low importance to me – exploring somewhere new takes preference.

As always, we thank Calabash African Adventures for all the work they do to ensure we have a fantastic time on every safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:06 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds elephant river africa safari tanzania crocodile zebra eagle birding buffalo lions serengeti leopard hyena lobo impala waterhole bird_watching hornbill eland termites calabash_adventures mbuzi_mawe cape_buffalo martial_eagle southern_ground_hornbill steenbok orangi_river togoro_plains lobo_wildlife_lodge Comments (2)

Serengeti Day II Part II - Research Ponds

A smorgasbord of animals


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Making our way across the savannah, I am surprised to see how dry the grass is already considering we are still in the wet season, albeit towards the end.

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Parched from the hot sun, the surface of the earth has cracked, forming a thin crust easily disturbed by passing animals.

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With the gentle movement of the car, the warm sun and the number of tablets I am taking for my chest infection; I go into a deep sleep. Only when the car slows to a standstill nearly an hour later, do I wake up.

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Our reason for stopping soon becomes obvious.

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On a nearby rock, another lioness is sunning herself.

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While we are busy photographing the cats, my Facebook friend Jim and his family / friends turn up. Serengeti is a large place, so the chances of seeing him here today is very small. We have already seen them once in Ndutu. It really is a small world.

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Bored with sunbathing, the lioness jumps down and takes a stroll in morning heat.

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The Red Headed Rock Agama doesn't seem the least bit bothered about a lioness walking past his rock.

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Nor does the Black Backed Jackal.

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Resting peacefully in the shade of a tree, two 'Rasta Lions' momentarily sit up, barely opening their eyes to check us out, then lie down to sleep again. Oh, it is such a hard life to be a lion here.

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This picture shows the difference between the Superb and the Hildebrand Starlings.

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The Superb in the foreground has a white band on his chest and a white eye; whereas the Hildebrand (singing his little heart out) has no marking between the orange and blue, and the eye is black.

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This guy has obviously lost a horn while fighting for a female. I hope she was worth it!

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A very similar antelope to the topi, but as you can see, the colouring is not the same (the topi has very dark markings on the head and legs), and the horns are different shapes.

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The name 'Serengeti' comes from a local Maa word 'sirenget' (the language spoken by the Maasai tribe) meaning 'endless plains'. Driving for what seems like an eternity (in reality probably no more than around half an hour) across the flat, parched landscape, seemingly devoid of all life, I can certainly see that the name is very fitting.

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Arriving at a series of waterholes known as Research Ponds, we stay for a while to watch the goings on at the water's edge. Although initially appearing somewhat uninspiring, with just a couple of buffalo and some Grant's gazelle grazing in the background, this place proves to be rather fruitful in terms of animal sightings and interactions.

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A dazzle of zebra (other collective nouns for zebra include zeal and cohort) make their way to the ponds.

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More and more animals arrive as we sit by the ponds in the oppressive midday heat.

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It's like Happy Hour at our local bar!

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Additional animals are constantly appearing, their hooves throwing up clouds of dust that hang heavily in the hot air.

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The zebra, like the buffalo before them, immerse themselves in the still water, drinking, bathing and cooling down.

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On the horizon a herd of eland nervously make their way towards the waterhole. Normally extremely shy (as a result of being endlessly hunted for their delicious meat), we wonder if – or more likely when – they will start running in the opposite direction.

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So far so good as they cautiously move nearer and nearer the water.

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I am so excited to see them drinking – this is definitely a first for us!

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The other elands are looking at us apprehensively, as they consider whether it is safe enough to quench that thirst.

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The zebra, on the other hand, do not seem to have a worry in the world.

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Another eland has braved it to the water's edge.

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But will he drink?

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Yes, he will. They are getting very brave now.

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The zebra look on with amazement (or is that my overactive imagination again?) as a band on mongooses make their way down to the water for a drink.

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They are loving the water, rolling around in the mud at the shoreline.

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From a quiet waterhole with just a couple of sleepy buffalo, the place has now come alive with activity and several different animal species. This is awesome!

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There is even a couple of amorous Egyptian Geese on the water.

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Having all these newcomers disturbing his hitherto peaceful morning siesta, Mr Buffalo gets up and moves on to pastures new.

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He looks thoroughly pissed off.

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The mongoose have had enough too.

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Even the zebra are on the move.

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I have never noticed before that zebras vary so much in colouration. Look at how dark the one on the left is compared to the zebra behind him.

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Just as we decide to leave, a European White Stork arrives. They are not native to the African continent (the clue is in the name), rather a migrant. A bit like us then.

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Another stork arrives, much to the bemusement of the eland.

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And another.

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The moment Malisa starts the car engine, the shy elands scatter. As expected. I am surprised they stayed this long.

As we travel towards Ogol Kopjes, we see a few animals on our way.

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A spotted hyena who barely raises his head from the puddle he was sleeping in when we pass.

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Common Praticole - a nice little lifer (a new bird species for us)!

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Another lifer, the European Roller. This one has been on my wish list for a while now, so I am particularly excited to see him. Or her. I really can't ell from this distance.

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A couple of topi on a mound looking out for predators.

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A cute little zebra foal, grazing with his mummy.

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And some eland - running away from us of course.

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Eland are pretty huge animals (around the size of an average horse), and create quite a considerable amount of dust as they gallop across the dry savannah.

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We leave Ogol Kopjes behind and search for some shade for our lunch picnic.

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Be sure to check out my next blog entry for the rest of this afternoon's safari experiences with Calabash Adventures, the best safari operator by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel africa safari tanzania zebra lizard birding dry buffalo lions roller serengeti hyena stork starlings topi mongoose jackal bird_watching eland calabash_adventures hartebeest cape_buffalo kopjes grant's_gazelle endless_plains research_ponds cracked_earth parched pratincole eurasian_roller agama_lizard ogola_kopjes Comments (2)

Ngorongoro - Oldupai - Ndutu

Education, education, education!


View The Gowler African Adventure - Kenya & Tanzania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Seeing the clear skies from our balcony this morning, I really wish I’d got up in the night to take some pictures of the stars. I shall just have to photograph the sunrise instead.

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Our room has an amazing view over the Ngorongoro Crater from its balcony. The hotel is rustic to the extreme, having been built from rough local stone with the rooms all set on the ridge, facing the crater.

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There’s an even more spectacular view from the bar!

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Walking Safari

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This morning we leave Malisa and the car behind and set out to explore the area on foot with a ranger called Yohana, in order to get a deeper understanding of the bush and up close and personal with nature.

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The first wildlife we see is a Cape Robin-Chat, right outside the front door of the lodge.

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We amble at a slow pace, along the Ngorongoro Crater Rim and upwards into the hillside as Yohana teaches us the language of the bush.

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These signs always amuse me – do the wild animals read them and refuse to venture past that point (in the other direction) too?

This is not so much a safari in that we are not really seeking out wild animals; we are here to learn what native peoples have known for millennia – how wild plants are used as medicine and food. I am hoping to find something for the back ache I have been suffering with since we left home.

Sodom’s Apple
Although this fruit belongs to the tomato family, you won’t find it in any salads. Known as Sodom’s Apple as it is said to be the first plant to grow again after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the small, yellow fruit is used as a medicine for stomach ache, diarrhoea and to treat external wounds.

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Plant with unripe fruit

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The flower of the Sodom Apple

Wild Marijuana
This plant, which is in the same family as the common marijuana plant, is used to produce pesticide, as insects do not like the smell of it. Neither does Lyn by the looks of it.

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Leaves are soaked in water, which is then used to spray the fields to keep insects from eating the crop.

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Enkang oo-nkiri Maasai Ceremony
We encounter a Maasai who is in the bush for the Engkang oo-nkiri, or meat-eating ceremony – one the many stages of initiation into warriorhood for the young men of the tribe. A dozen or so men take a bull into the bush and slaughter it, staying there to eat the meat for two weeks. This is said to help them remain strong.

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Devil’s Snare
The fact that this invasive species is poisonous has not stopped the Mexicans from making drugs from it apparently.

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Stingy Nettle
Like we do in the West, the locals make soup “and wot not” (Yohana’s favourite expression) from this.

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Being full of sugar sap, nectar eating birds love this plant, whose name I don't catch.

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Beautiful Sunbird

Natural Insect Repellent

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Wild Tobacco
Yohana warns us that it is “not very good”.

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Old Man’s Beard
The presence of this lichen on trees is an indication of the air quality – it will only grow where the air is pure and clean!

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Augur Buzzard

Altitude
We have been climbing gently but steadily upwards from the lodge, and here at 2400 metres above sea level I can certainly feel the altitude.

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“I can see your house from here!” - Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

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Elephants
Yohana tells us elephants came by here in the night, eating the tops of the plants.

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Elephant Dung

Here we learn to read the jungle as a ‘daily newspaper’, by identifying trails, inspecting bushes and trees, studying spoor marks and animal tracks to deduce what animals have passed by recently, which way they were going, how long ago, how fast they were going, what they have eaten and so on. In fact there seems to be a story to be told in virtually every track and dropping that we come across. A bit like opening up Facebook first thing in the morning.

There’s a great view over the crater from up here.

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Eucalyptus

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It’s well know for being beneficial for clearing a blocked nose.

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Chris puts it to the test.

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Juvenile Common Fiscal Shrike

This is where we part company with the guys – Lyn and I head for the road where Malisa is waiting with the car; David and Chris continue their walk with a hike to the top of the hill.

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While we wait for the boys to do their daily workout, we chat to a group of school children on the road. One by one, as they pass, they shout out “Shikamo” – the greeting reserved for respected elders. That’ll be me then, I guess. In reply, I shout back: “Marahaba” (the traditional reply), much to their surprise and delight.
The kids explain to Malisa that their bus has broken down, so they have to walk the 40 minutes to their school.

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The guys come back bearing gifts.

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Mushroom – you can't get much fresher than this. And very good it is too.

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Khat – the drug of choice from Somalia to Yemen and beyond (and is also available – although illegal – in our home town of Bristol). It does nothing for me – it’s a bit like chewing grass.

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Quinine – this one might be useful for treating malaria.

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It’s time to move on to the next item on today’s itinerary – but first we have to get there, and we never know what we might see on the way.

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Malanja Depression with Mount Lemakarot in the distance

Emuratare - Circumcision ceremony

A couple of young Maasai lads have their faces painted to indicate that they have just undergone the circumcision ceremony. This is the most vital initiation of all rites of passages in the Maasai society and is performed shortly after puberty.

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Cow Bells

We stop to listen to the sound of the cowbells as Malisa explains that this is how the area got its name. Ngoro ngoro ngoro ngoro. A lot of goodwill and some poetic licence is required methinks.

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Kaki Weed

Today is an educational sort of day for sure, as Malisa hands us this plant which some people do smoke.

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Cooke's Hartebeest

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Maasai Warriors

Ahead a number of Maasai Warriors are walking along the road, and we are warned by Malisa not to take photos. The scene is surreal, like we are driving through a film set.

A Tower of Giraffes

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At Endoldol we spot a few giraffe on the ridge, in the distance.

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Then a few more.

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Soon we have a whole forest of giraffe.

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We count 53 animals – which beats Malisa’s previous record of 48 - but it's impossible to put an accurate number down as more and more keep coming from the back.

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I have never seen anything like this incredible spectacle.

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When a Maasai warrior appears in the distance, the whole scenario goes from being fantastical to becoming completely absurd as 50+ giraffe start running.

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Giraffe are awkward runners, and with their long necks arching and bending as they go, they look like a wave. Totally, utterly unbelievable!

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There is just one word that will do: WOW!

Elerai Maasai Boma

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We are introduced to David, the son of the chief, who explains – in very good English – about the village and the dances we are about to see. The name Elerai refers to the yellow barked acacia trees that grow around here.

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First of all, the men and women perform a ‘welcome dance’ for us.

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The dance is accompanied by a single musical wind instrument (traditionally a kudu horn), an olaranyani (song leader) singing the melody and a chorus chanting harmonies, combined into a sort of screeching syncopation.

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This is followed by a display of the Maasai men's famous ‘jumping’ dance, known as adumu. This dance is traditionally performed during the eunoto, the coming of age ceremony of a Maasai warrior.

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Chris decides he would like to join in

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So he studies the style and technique carefully.

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His approach is a little strained initially.

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But he soon gets the hang of it.

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Elerai is what is known as a ‘cultural boma’. The Tanzanian government restricts visits to Maasai homesteads to just a small selection of villages in a bid to limit the damaging effect it has on their culture.

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The beauty of visiting one of the official villages is that not only are we shown around the village, we can also freely take photos of the people who have ‘dressed up’ for the occasion. Taking photos of the Maasai walking along the road is considered very bad and is strongly discouraged, as mentioned in the RULES AND REGULATIONS at the entry gate.

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Here at Elerai, however, I can snap away to my heart’s content. And I do.

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The women have been hanging around while the men have been jumping, but now it is their turn to dance.

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Over the years we have visited a few Maasai villages, as well as other East African ethnic groups, and never before have we been treated to a display of women jumping.

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They may not jump quite as high as the men, but they make a brave attempt.

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While David (the chief’s son, not my husband) takes Lyn and Chris around the village, Kaki, his brother, leads us into one of the other huts.

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To us, the village doesn’t look all that big, but this collection of straw-and-mud huts is home to around 120 people.

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The work of constructing the huts falls on the women, who build a frame from wooden sticks, make the walls and roof from acacia grass, they then cover the whole lot with cow dung. During the rainy season the houses have to be re-covered with new dung every night.

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Standing around or walking very slowly, as we have been doing while watching the dancing, has a terrible effect on my troubled back, it is now hurting so much I am struggling to walk. I therefore decline the invitation to see what the hut looks like on the inside, instead I send David in with strict instructions to take photos using his video camera.

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The heigh of luxury it ain't, but I guess they don't spend much time inside.

Eventually curiosity gets the better of me, and I carefully put my head around the corner to take a peek.

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Although the older children go to school in a nearby small town, the younger ones attend the on-site kindergarten.

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The children beautifully recite the alphabet and numbers in English for us.

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The occasional grubby exterior fails to hide the beauty and innocence of these charming kids.

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The Maasai – as well as most other ethnic tribes in this region – build their homes in a circular pattern, with a ‘fence’ made from thorny acacia bushes to keep any wild animals out.

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At night, the domestic animals are herded into a coral for safety.

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Exit through the shop.
A Maasai ‘market’ has been set up in the centre of the village where we are ‘encouraged’ to buy something from the stall belonging to the householder whose home we just visited.

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This stuff always looks so good - and tempting - when you see it like this in its appropriate surroundings, but usually becomes horribly out of place if you take it back home.

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We choose a ‘talking stick’ and a small calabash to go on our wall next to the necklace we bought in Kenya last year.

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The talking stick is a communication tool used by the Maasai elders during their community gatherings as a symbol of authority and a right to speak. Everyone present must listen respectfully to the person holding the stick, and only that person is allowed to speak. When he has finished talking, the stick is passed on to someone else, ensuring everyone present has a chance to be heard.

Not sure how it would work in the Howard Household…

We are only partially successful in getting a mutually satisfactory price, and walk away with a feeling of having been ripped off.

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Moving on to our next educational stop, with a few interesting (or not) sights along the way.

Camels

Tanzania has become a lot more commercialised in just the 20 months since we were here last – these camels are brought to the road side by the Maasai who charge tourists to have their photo taken with them.

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Dust

This may be the green season, but the only rain we have seen so far is a mere five minutes just as we left Kilimanjaro Airport. Any vehicles, especially large trucks, throw up great amounts of dust from the tracks.

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As we slow down for the junction, a group of teenagers shout and wave their arms. One young lad lifts his gown to reveal nothing underneath except a hard-on. I am left in a state of incredulity: “Did I really just see that?” You’ll be pleased to know that there is no photographic evidence.

Eland

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Thomson's gazelle

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Rough track

The vibration caused by the incredibly rough rutted track results in Lyn’s lens filter becoming unscrewed and me shouting: “Can you keep the noise down please!”

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Beetle

A stowaway flies in through the window, hoping to catch a ride. One of my ambitions for this trip is to see a dung beetle, but this one is sadly dung-less. I know, I know, there is no pleasing some people.

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Oldupai Gorge – Where human life began

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The thirty-mile long and 300 feet deep ravine is part of the Great Rift Valley that stretches through East Africa. The original paleoanthropologists who excavated this area over 50 years ago, wrongly named it Olduvai after mishearing the Maa word for the wild sisal plant which grows in the vicinity. The Tanzanian government renamed it (correctly) Oldupai Gorge in 2005.

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It is thought that millions of years ago, the site was that of a large lake, the shores of which were covered with successive deposits of volcanic ash. Around 500,000 years ago seismic activity diverted a nearby stream which began to cut down into the sediments, revealing seven main layers in the walls of the gorge. Just one small pinnacle remains standing.

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This is another place I hardly recognise from last time we came – which admittedly was nine years ago in 2007 – there is so much building work and a completely new Orientation Centre.

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Scenic as the gorge may be, it is by no means on the same scale as the Grand Canyon, or even Cheddar Gorge; but then again it is not the gorge itself that is the star attraction here; it is all about the secrets this deep-sided the ravine concealed.

Cradle of Mankind Museum

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Oldupai Gorge is considered to be one of the most important pre-historic sites in the world. In the 1930s Mary and Louis Leakey discovered fossils of early humanoid dating back some 5 million years (give or take a few hundred thousand years); which has been hugely instrumental in furthering our understanding of early human evolution.

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Realistic replicas of some of their most important discoveries are on display in the modest museum, including the ‘Laetoli Footprints’ – perfectly preserved marks in the rock showing two upright bipedal hominids, out for a stroll more than 3.5 million years ago. If that doesn’t make you feel humble and small, nothing will.

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Other exhibits include fossils, tools, artefacts and display boards with old photos from the Leakey’s time.

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Part of the exhibition is dedicated to Dr Yoshiharo Sekino, who set out on a remarkable journey following the routes of ancient civilisations.

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Dr Sekino's bike

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His route on the map within the exhibition

We have our picnic lunch overlooking the gorge, next to the group of American college students we saw on the flight from Nairobi as well in Tarangire National Park. They are incredibly noisy, but I am more concerned about the fact that this girl thinks it is perfectly acceptable to eat her lunch in public with her great big walking boot on the table!

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History comes to life with a short presentation on how the various layers of rock strata have formed over the past 5 million or so years.

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We can clearly see three of the five layers here:

1. Basalt from 2 million years ago
2. Volcanic ash from 1.75 million years ago
3. Iron oxide from 1.2 million years ago.

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The top two layers (ash and mud – 800,000 and 150,000 years ago respectively) have eroded over the years.

Different types of humanoids inhabited the different time epochs. With my tongue firmly in my cheek, I have my own slant on evolution…

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We are also given the low-down on the sisal plant – which the gorge is named after – and its many uses: rope and mats, painkillers from the roots and animals will chew on it for water.

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After our educational break, we head down into the gorge itself, on some pretty basic tracks.

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What I want to know is how we can be sure we are not actually driving on top of some hitherto undiscovered important archaeological remains.

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The Mysterious Shifting Sands

Having come across articles about this phenomenon while researching our trip, I asked Malisa if we could make a detour to try and find these elusive dunes.

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These fascinating crescent-shaped mounds are a remarkable occurrence known as barkan. Dunes are formed when ground dust blown by unidirectional wind collects around a stone and continues to accumulate until a small dune is formed. As more sand is added, the process continues and the dune moves, in this case around ten metres a year.

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Shifting sands is not a new experience for us; but this one is different in that it is not only made up of very fine black sand, but it is also highly magnetised due to its high iron content.

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Despite its very fine texture, when you throw a handful of the stuff in the air, it doesn’t blow away on the wind, it falls almost straight down. The whole thing is eerie and ethereal, like an alien world.

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The volcanic sand that makes up the 9-metre high and 100-metre long dune originates from the Maasai’s most holy of places, Ol Doinyo Lengai - meaning ‘Mountain of God’ - which erupts with frequent intervals sending plumes of steam and ash over the surrounding countryside.

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Erm... why Chris?

The sands have moved around 500 metres since people started to take notice of it – there are markers on the road to indicate its route – the first recorded resting place was over by those trees in the background some time in the 1950s.

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Lemuta

Instead of taking the direct route west from Oldupai to Ndutu, Malisa heads off towards Lemuta, “to see what we can find”.

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Giraffes

The first thing we see is four giraffes lying down – a most unusual sight. In this position giraffes are very vulnerable to predators because of the time and effort it takes them to get up.

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Beetle

Another dungless beetle flies in through the window and lands on Chris. “Throw him out” I shout, and with that Chris gets out of the car! Doh!

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We make sure he is not on his back on the ground (the beetle, not Chris), before we drive off.

Thomson's Gazelles

A large herd of gazelles start running as we approach. One little baby gets separated from the rest and instead of running across; he sprints along the track as fast as his little legs will carry him.

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Malisa slows down so as not to cause him any more stress, and soon mum comes in from the left to collect him. Phew. Another disaster averted.

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A few gazelles refuse to run – instead they stand and stare eerily at us as we pass. David waves out of the window, but they don’t wave back. Ignorant so-and-sos.

(Ex) Wildebeest

It was the end of the road for this wildebeest as he died of natural causes.

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Vultures

Something obviously didn’t make it here either – Malisa explains that it is an old cheetah kill which the vultures are now finishing off.

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Endless Plains

Seeing the Short Grass Plains at Lemuta, I can understand how Serengeti got its name – it means “Endless Plains” in the local Maa language. As far as the eye can see in every direction there is nothing but grass, dotted with a few animals. It is quite overwhelming, and none of my photographs do it justice.

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The panorama below – joined together from nine different images, shows a 180° view, to give you some idea.

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Secretary Bird

This large bird - standing at 125 cm - gets its name from the crest of long quill-like feathers which gives it the appearance of an old-style secretary with quill pens tucked behind their ear. Although it has the ability to fly (I have never seen one in flight), the secretary birds is largely terrestrial, hunting its prey on foot

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Lappet Faced Vulture

A lappet Faced Vulture surveys the plains, looking for food.

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Vultures and Jackal

Another old cheetah kill attracts a number of vultures (White Backed, Woolly Necked, and Rueppell’s Griffon) as well as a Golden Jackal.

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Squabbles are almost constant, with everyone looking for an opportunity to grab a piece of meat for themselves.

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The jackal is definitely at the top of the pecking order, while the vultures fight amongst themselves.

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A couple of Lappet Faced Vultures arrive to join in the party

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More fighting, and even the jackal joins in with a growl.

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It looks like the jackal has his fill as he licks his chops and walks off.

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Then, and only then, do the vultures get a look-in.

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They tuck into what's left of the once cute little Thomson's Gazelle.

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Having access to the meat doesn't stop them feuding, however.

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We continue across the short grass plains, looking for cheetah at every kopje. No luck. Not one.

Hyenas

We do, however, spot a cackle of female hyenas. They lie down in puddles and streams to cool down while digesting their food. Unhappy at being woken up from her afternoon nap, this one takes flight when she sees us.

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Female hyenas have a false penis (which you can just about make out in the photo below) and are the pack leaders.

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For a while they circle a Tommy family (Thomson’s Gazelle), but eventually decide it’s too much like hard work and call it a day.

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Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

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Kori Bustard

Another tall bird at almost one metre in height.

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Capped Wheatear

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Crowned Plover

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Golden Jackal

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Eland

As a result of hunting (eland meat is highly prized), these animals have become very skittish, so it is good to get some photos that are not ‘bum shots’ for a change.

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Dung Beetle

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Each time I go on a safari, I have a wish list of animals I would like to see. This year the dung beetle is one of my top requests for Malisa to try and locate. As always, he comes up trumps, and much excitement ensues when he stops the car to introduce us our new little friend.

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Aren’t dung beetles just the coolest, most fascinating little animals? OK, maybe you think I am very sad for getting excited about a small shit-eating insect, but just hear me out first before you poo-poo my statement.

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These tiny bugs (about twice the size of my thumbnail) prefer excrement from herbivores rather than carnivores, as the former is largely undigested vegetable matter. OK, so now we have a vegetarian poo-eating insect. Although, the veggie poo is not so easy for them to locate as it gives off less of an odour than the meat waste. So, it has now become a vegetarian poo-eating insect with a sensitive nose.

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Most dung beetles are fussy eaters, so they won’t just eat any old shit; it has to be waste from a particular animal. They also like their poo to be fresh – don’t we all – the fresher the better. I think I am beginning to understand this; these are finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian poo-eaters. A new patty can be descended on by up to 4000 dung beetles within 15 minutes of being dropped, and as many as 15,000 have been observed on one pile of dung at the same time. A real sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian, poo-eater it seems.

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All I wanted was one single beetle carefully rolling away his prized poo!

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You could say he is on a roll... actually, they move surprisingly fast!

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Dung beetles can eat their own weight in less than 24 hours, and are probably the most industrious resident on the savannah, clearing up the mess left behind by other animals. The original recyclers! We can now add another string to his bow, making him a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian, poo-eating eco-warrior.

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So how does a dung beetle know which way he should be rolling his poo? He navigates using the Milky Way of course. Now this is starting to get serious: he is a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian, poo-eating environmentally friendly astronomer.

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This image is all mine, although the pictures of the sky and the beetle were not taken at the same time.

Although not all dung beetles roll their dung away, those that do, do so to feed their young. There is nothing like passing poo to your babies eh? Those beetles that don’t move the poo, make their home in the pile of dung. You could say they are happy as a pig in shit – or it that beetle?

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As well as food and housing, that pile of manure is also great for cooling off your feet (or rather for the beetle’s feet) – a bit like us trying to get off the hot sand on a sunny beach. Dung is considerably cooler than the parched African soil, mainly due to its moisture contents. So, how is that little insect doing now? He can now be described as a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian poo-eating, hot footing environmentally friendly astronomer.

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The last point I want to make is about their strength (I’m am not going to mention about his horn) – imagine yourself pushing a giant ball (just try not to think about what it is made from) which is over a thousand times your body weight, which is equal to an average gym-goer pushing 80 tons!
Now our little friend has become a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian poo-eating, hot footing, athletic, environmentally friendly astronomer. He sure is my hero!

And you thought he was just another beetle!

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You think I am talking a lot of crap? Check it out for yourself.

Dung Beetles guided by Milky Way

Wikipedia

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Safari Vehicle

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This is what our ‘home’ for the eleven days in Tanzania looks like. Based on a Toyota Landcruiser, it has been especially converted for safari use, with plenty of room in the back (six seats plus luggage compartment), an elevating roof means we can stand up for a better view to take photos, and it is easy to move around on a flat floor. There are charging points for camera batteries, and a beanbag for photography, plus we can attach a clamp with a tripod head to the rails too. All mods cons (including a fridge full of cold drinks), and comfortable seats - it has everything we need for long days on the African savannah.

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Pregnant Hyena

This pregnant hyena is very close to giving birth, and all she wants to do is sleep. Instead she has to pose for these horrid tourists. It’s a hard life isn’t it?

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A congress of Jackals

Five or six Golden Jackals turn up.

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A couple of Ostriches

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Female

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Male

And some Zebra

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Spotting another vehicle makes us realise that the last time we saw one was actually four hours ago. I like this low season safari lark.

Wildebeest Migration

Because the rains arrived later than normal this year, the wildebeest seem confused and appear to have split up. You can see from the map below where they normally are during May, and where we spot large herds of them today.

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Grant’s Gazelle

The wildebeest are accompanied by Grant’s Gazelle.

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And a Tawny Eagle

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Lion Pride

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Not far from our lodge, and with the light fading fast, we come across a pride of nine lions spread out over a swampy area between Lakes Ndutu and Masek.

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The females and young males lie in the late sun, stroll around or play fight.

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By reason of a strict pecking order, these guys are waiting their turn to have dinner – once the two alpha males have had their fill.

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And for those of you who are wondering exactly how close we are to the lions – THIS is how close!

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When one of the boys has had enough and gets up and walks away, the others look at the kill expectantly.

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But it seems his brother is still not finished.

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Has he had enough?

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Has he?

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It seems that way…

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Has he heck!

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The youngsters resign themselves to having to wait a little longer for supper.

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One of the braver ones decides he is going to risk it.

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Finally!

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Seeing the look on this guy’s face as he struggles to bit off a slice of the fresh rib, I am instantly grateful for steak knives.

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And after all that, all he ends up with is a mouthful of bones. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

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Maybe, just maybe… he is trying to bite off more than he can chew…?

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He looks forlorn: “There’s got to be an easier way than this.”

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“I’ll try a different approach”

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“Or maybe I’ll just lick the plate”

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Malisa points out that meanwhile, behind us, a glorious sunset is painting the sky orange over the lake, signalling the end of another extraordinary day and time for us to say goodbye to our lions and head to camp.

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Ndutu Lodge

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As with our previous visit, it is dark by the time we arrive at Ndutu Lodge. Despite several other safari vehicles arriving at the same time, the check in is impressively swift and efficient. After a quick shower and change, we meet up dinner.

Good food, Savanna Cider, Genets in the Rafters, coffee in the lounge and Dik Diks on the lawn – a perfect end to a perfect day!

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Chicken and rice

Small Spotted Genet

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Cat-like in appearance, the genets are wild but encouraged to hang around the rafters of the lodge by staff who occasionally slip them tidbits of food in exchange for keeping the rodent population down. They are also obviously very popular with the guests.

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Apparently the roof of the dining room / bar area was originally supported by huge wooden beams which the genets used a climbing frame. When the rafters were removed during the refurbishment, one of the beams was retained purely for the pleasure of the genets

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Dik Diks

Normally extremely shy, these tiny antelopes have become accustomed to people and feed happily in the grounds of the lodge.

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Yet again Calabash Adventures and their wonderful guide Malisa have given us a day in the bush to remember.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:04 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises animals birds sunset road_trip view travel vacation views shopping village adventure roads kids scenery museum sunrise africa safari tanzania lodge zebra lunch beetle unesco birding chicken souvenirs lions maasai giraffe roadtrip lion_cubs ngorongoro dust hyena kill tribes anthropology wildebeest olduvai jackal ngorongoro_crater rip_off bird_watching game_drive road-trip eland african_food dung_beetle safari_vehicle great_rift_valley night_photography canon_eos_5d_iii school_kids qat calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company nature_trail maasai_cattle ngrongoro_serena ngorongoro_conservation_area tower_of_giraffe maasai_boma kindegarten shifting_sands oldupai lamuta lion_kill Comments (0)

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