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Ndutu: Lions versus giraffe

Warning - this entry contains images that some people may find disturbing


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

I have a restless night, more awake and distressed than I am sleep. After around 15 minutes sleep, I wake up and have to sit upright to cough and blow my nose before lying down again trying to get some more rest. This cycle is repeated time and time and time again. By 02:00 I feel absolutely dreadful. So much so that I want to go home. Right now. As soon as it is daylight I shall have to tell Malisa to take us back to Arusha so that we can arrange a flight to the UK at the earliest opportunity. Later, as I am gasping for breath in the middle of a particularly severe coughing fit, a thought strikes me... I wonder if I am actually fit enough to fly? I guess they will have oxygen on the aircraft if I collapse during the flight. The thought continues to worry me as the rest of the night goes by through a haze of nasty dreams, waking up unable to breathe, panicking, sitting bolt upright, then coughing for England. Or is that Tanzania? I feel so ill I am not even sure where I am.

By 05:00 when it is time to get up I feel a little more 'with it' and decide that perhaps I won't go home just yet after all. Perhaps I will see how I feel after another day out here – hopefully by then the antibiotics will have had time to work and I can function a bit better. I am grateful that at least no-one else was staying in this camp last night so that I didn't keep anyone else awake all night. David slept through most of it thankfully.

The day immediately seems better when the sun comes up, painting the sky a beautiful crimson.

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The first animals we spot this morning are a couple of lions, and when they head off into the bush, we follow to see what they are up to. Unlike most other parks in Tanzania, here in the Ndutu area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area off-road driving is permitted.

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Meanwhile the sun has just made it above the horizon.

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And there are more lions. Five in total.

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They're on the move.

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On the lookout for breakfast no doubt.

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“I'm so hungry I could turn vegetarian!”

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In the distance, behind the trees, we spot a giraffe. So do the lions.

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“Let's go and investigate”

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The giraffe is blissfully unaware as she enjoys her breakfast of acacia leaves.

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Manoeuvring silently through the undergrowth, the lions move nearer their intended prey.

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Continuing to be totally engrossed in her food, the giraffe is still completely oblivious to the dangerously close predators.

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Go! Go! Go! Afraid that the giraffe is going to spot them before their backup arrives, the two lions abruptly launch into a chase, using the element of surprise to gain a second or two advantage.

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Assessing the size of his opponent (it is extremely rare for lions to even attempt to take down a fully grown giraffe for that reason), the hungry lion looks to see which direction his leggy prey is going to be taking and tries to be one step ahead.

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It is not just to see which way the giraffe is heading that the lion keeps a very close eye on the legs – those six feet long limbs have been known to cause some serious damage, with giraffes using high kicks to fight off predators.

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Where they go, we follow, in hot pursuit.

“Hold on, watch out” shouts Malisa as we race underneath a prickly acacia tree. Too late. Unable to hold on and 'watch out' at the same time (I am holding on with one hand, having the camera in the other), the thorns catch my hand and arm. Nothing serious, but I am always concerned about such scratches after an incident in Kenya back in 1993 when a scratch turned into blood poisoning resulting a blister covering most of the top of my hand and down my fingers. After lancing the blister, the medical staff then had to cut my wedding ring off, and put me on antibiotics to stop the poison spreading. I could see it as a black line running up my arm, and it did rather scare me.

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This time the injuries are very mild

Meanwhile, the giraffe is not doing too well.

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Unfortunately, she cannot sustain a lengthy chase, something the lions are acutely aware of, and this becomes her downfall.

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The giraffe has run out of steam and our two lions have caught up with her. A third comes in from the right to help out.

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The lions momentarily let go of their grip and the giraffe makes a desperate attempt at escaping.

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But to no avail. She doesn't get very far before a renewed onslaught has her well and truly fighting for her life.

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The powerful jaws and claws of the big cats are too much for the weakened ungulate, and with an elegance and awkwardness that only a giraffe possesses (even in her death throes), she sinks to the ground.

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We move nearer to get a better look as the lions tuck into fresh giraffe for breakfast. We haven't had ours yet!

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One of them goes for the jugular to ensure the giraffe is dead before they start tearing the animal apart.

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The hardest part is breaking through the skin. Usually the lions go for the soft options first and try to start with the internal organs.

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Trying to turn the carcass over to get to the softer underbelly proves fruitless as the dead giraffe is too heavy and bulky for the lions to be able to manoeuvre.

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Having not had anything to do with the actual kill, the fifth lion strolls in very late and sits down at the dining table. Typical male.

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I do find it somewhat disconcerting when the lions look us straight in the eye, their chins dripping with blood.

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Absurdly, other inquisitive giraffes appear from behind the trees, curious about what is going on. Can they not see from the sad state of their cousin, that this is most definitely not a good idea?

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Thinking she might get an extra breakfast, one of the lionesses decides to check out the audience.

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The giraffes decides that the show isn't worth hanging around for and saunters back into the bush. "Wise move Buster, wise move!"

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Something else off to our left has caught the lions' attention and they all stare attentively in that direction.

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We can't work out what has startled them, but we do spot the Ndutu Lodge behind the trees. Gosh, this kill really was mighty close to the accommodation – no more than around 100 metres! This time last year we were staying there, and I guess this reinforces why you don't venture out on your own.

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Ndutu Lodge Restaurant seen through the trees

You really don't want to meet this young lady on your way to the bar!

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This young male is being a little bit ambitious in thinking that his breakfast is a movable feast. “Give up son, you're fighting a losing battle”

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LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU ARE PRONE TO FEELING QUEASY

Meanwhile, back at the rear end, the lions have found the intestines. It is not a pretty sight.

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As their sharp teeth break through the membrane, the content squirts out.

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I told you to look away!

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I think I will give my breakfast sausage a miss this morning.

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Once they have had their fill of giraffe-meat, the lions cover any spilt blood with earth to stop the smell attracting scavengers, then leave the carcass to search for a drink and take a much needed siesta. It must be hard work to have to run after your food, then make sure that it doesn't attack you before trying to bite through tough leather to get to it. Make my complaints about Tesco's packaging seem rather feeble.

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We continue on our way too.

If you still haven't had enough of blood and gore, check out David's video on youtube.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for bringing us this incredible experience.

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:12 Archived in Tanzania Tagged wildlife nature travel breakfast wild africa safari tanzania savannah lion lions giraffe kill intestines ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area lion_kill cruel_nature life_and_death african_bush Comments (2)

Serengeti Part I

The lions of Togoro Plains and much more


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

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As we wait for Malisa to come and collect us for today’s safari, Chris catches up on some sleep.

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The sun has not yet made an appearance and darkness hangs over the camp when we leave, so I still have no idea what this place looks like: the layout, or the surroundings. Usually I do a lot of research of each accommodation before we leave home, but this lodge is a complete surprise for everyone - an alien concept to me.

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It's quite exciting really, like a mystery tour!

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Sunrises (and sunsets) are pretty speedy affairs this close to the equator, so we haven’t travelled far before we can start making out the outlines of the kopjes around the camp.

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Initially just as a silhouette, but within a few minutes we can distinguish some features on the landscape.

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Cape Buffalo

So these are the guys we heard chomping last night, right outside our tent, and whose eyes the escort shone the torch into while (over) dramatically telling us how dangerous they are?

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The temperature this morning is a little on the cool side.

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It will soon warm up when the sun comes out.

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Lions

Chris isn’t the only one who is feeling tired this morning it seems.

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On a meadow of fluffy grasses, a lion pride made up of nine members, gathers around a kill. A wildebeest. Or rather an ex-wildebeest. It could even be the mother of the orphaned calf we saw yesterday.

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The pecking order is very evident here as a couple of the youngsters try to join dad for breakfast. He tells them what he thinks of that in no uncertain terms, while mum looks on with resignation: “They’ll learn”.

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The cubs are soon distracted. “We’ll have a play instead”

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Wildebeest

All around us, literally hundreds of thousands of wildebeest greet the rising sun. Individually their grunt sounds a little like a human groan, but in these numbers the noise they make becomes a hum, like an enormous swarm of bees!

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Speaking of sounds – we can clearly hear the lion crunching the bones as he devours his prey.

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Dad licks his plate, then moves his breakfast a few feet along the open plains. Erm… why?

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In the crater we had a Rasta Lion and at Ndutu there was a Punk Lion. Here we have a Hippy Lion – just look at that hair… I mean mane. It is like a 70s rock star!

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Well, kiss my ass!

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“Do you think a fringe suits me? I’ve heard it is all the rage this year.”

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The youngsters wait in the wings for dad to finish his meal.

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On every bush and in every tree is a vulture hanging around until it is their turn too.

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Wildebeest

A long line of wildebeest is heading straight for the lions. Their poor eyesight is leading them into trouble again.

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The young lionesses realise that there is a potentially earlier - maybe even easier - breakfast than having to wait for dad to finish eating.

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The wildebeest have also spotted the lions and are running for their lives. Literally.

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She’s closing in, aiming for that baby at the back. An easy prey…

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She has to be quicker than that, it’s no good just sitting there looking at them; they’re not going to come to you.

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The last of the wildebeest makes it alive past the lions. Phew! I can breathe again now.

Meanwhile dad continues to eat his breakfast.

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While the rest of the family lie around licking their chops impatiently for when they will be allowed to have some.

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“Let’s go and harass dad”

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Dad, however, is totally unperturbed by the whole thing.

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Has he finished?

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Nah.

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Finally?

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It certainly looks that way, as with a full tummy he wanders off to find water.

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Typical male: once he’s had his meal he goes off to the pub for a drink, leaving his wife to do the clearing up!

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The rest of the family descend on the dining table like hungry… well, lions.

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I notice dad hasn’t left much to be divided between the remaining eight. You could say he's had the lion's share. I can certainly see where that expression comes from.

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This guy has managed to secure himself a tasty little morsel, however.

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The vultures move in a little closer, and noisy plovers circle above screeching out distressed warning signals. “Yes, we know there are lions. Thanks anyway guys".

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As we wonder how many lions you can fit around a scrawny wildebeest carcass, we leave them – and the constant wildebeest hum - to it and move on to our next wilderness experience.

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Jackal versus Vultures

We come across another kill where the predators have moved on, leaving what little is left in the hands of the scavengers, in this case some White Backed Vultures and a couple of Marabou Storks.

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All is reasonably calm until a couple of Black Backed Jackals arrive.

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End of Round One: Vultures 1 Jackals 0

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Round Two: the jackal seems to have managed to somehow get hold of a slither of meat, and the vultures go all out for the tackle. The ensuing squabble is reminiscent of the scenes I once witnessed in Tesco when the reduced items came out on a Saturday afternoon.

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The vultures bring in the reserves.

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Despite this somewhat unfair advantage, the score at the end of Round Two is Vultures 1 Jackals 1

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The opposition team regroup to work out their next move.

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It seems they don’t quite agree on tactics.

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With all the internal politics, and no real action, the audience looks bored.

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While not exactly bored, we leave the jackals and vultures to fight it out between them and drive a little further north.

Lion and Jackal Prints

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More Lions + Another Kill = More Vultures

Further along we see seven lions on a kill (that’s the fourth kill we’ve seen this morning, and it's only 08:15) and another ‘Vulture Tree’ full of birds waiting to swoop on the carcass.

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As soon as the lions move off, the vultures descend en masse.

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The lions and a jackal look on with bemusement.

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Topi

Does my bum look big in this?

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Wildebeest Rutting Season

This time of the year is when the males compete for the attention of the females – they have been known to fight until death!

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This morning, however, hunger wins and they go back to grazing. So do we.

Picnic Breakfast

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When we made our choices last night for the breakfast box, Chris crossed everything out on the menu except the muffin. That was all he wanted for breakfast – a muffin. Fair enough. Imagine his disappointment when he opens his box this morning, and finds everything in there, EXCEPT the muffin!

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All around us is the hum of the wildebeest.

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It is very much cooler this morning than any previous days.

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Although Malisa doesn’t seem to feel it as he wears his Rasta Lion T shirt and motorcycle-tyre sandals.

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Grey Crowned Cranes

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Lions Re-Visited

We go back to see our lions, who have their eye on another wildebeest.

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They do some more half-hearted stalking, but they are obviously not that hungry.

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The vultures hover expectantly above, but this time they are out of luck.

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As we're driving along, David shouts out "Oh, look: wildebeest". We all fall for it, sitting bolt upright and looking for... wildebeest? Even Malisa stops. Doh... for the last hour or so, we have been surrounded by several thousand wildebeest - they are not exactly a novelty!

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My tummy is not at all happy today, and when I let Malisa know, he suggests going back to the camp to use their facilities, as we are very near anyway. That sounds good to me – not just because there is a proper toilet, but it will also be nice to see the camp in daylight.

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Today we can see just how close to our room the buffalo do graze. Gulp.

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The camp is totally devoid of human life, but we do see a few four legged critters.

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Emergency over, we continue our game drive, this time we head south.

Klipspringer

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Red Duiker

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Cape Buffalo

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Impala

One male can have a harem of up to 60 females.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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Giraffe

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Hippos

A couple of hippos wallow in the shallow Orangi River.

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Olive Baboons

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Dust

We hit the main road through Serengeti; and while there is not much traffic compared with the main dry season, the huge trucks still throw up masses of dust!

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Warthogs

You can only just see the top of their backs in the long grass; which is exactly why they run with their tails straight up - so that their youngsters can see them!

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African Fish Eagle

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

These noise birds get their name from the sound they make when disturbed: “kweh” “kweh”, which does sound a bit like “go way”.

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Magpie Shrike

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Tree Python

Until this trip, we had never seen a snake in Tanzania, and it is one of the items on my wish list. Not only did we see a cobra in Tarangire, and a grass snake crossing the road earlier this morning; a couple of cars stopped with people staring at a tree alerts us to an enormous python.

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At around two metres in length, this brute can swallow an antelope!

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Black Chested Snake Eagle

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Little Bee Eater

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Black Headed Heron

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Serval

This wild African cat is about half way in size between a domestic cat and a cheetah and it’s a fairly rare sighting. Lyn and Chris have been so incredibly lucky with their animal spotting on this safari, although we still haven’t seen a leopard to complete the BIG FIVE.

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End of Part I

As today features quite a few more sightings, I have decided to publish it in two parts; so all that remains now is to say thank you to Calabash Adventures and Malisa for an exciting morning’s game drive.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises birds road_trip view travel vacation views hotel adventure scenery sunrise cute holiday fun africa safari tanzania lodge lizard birding picnic photography lions giraffe hippo babies roadtrip eagles serengeti dust kill heron vultures python glamping impala topi wildebeest warthogs jackal stunning stalking bird_watching game_drive tented_camp road-trip serval safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company olive_baboons vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys lion_kill mbuzi_mawe long_grass_plains short_grass_plains central_serengeti kopje marabou_stork red_duiker klipspringer black_headed_heron african_fish_eagle tree_python jackals Comments (0)

Ndutu Part II

A very rare sighting indeed!


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

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Ndutu Lodge

Food at Ndutu is always a pleasure and today’s lunch is no different. After a starter of soup and bread, we are served a ham salad, the taste of which is nothing short of exquisite!

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I am feeling grateful for a relatively small portion at midday, until the accompaniments arrive: potato salad, capsicum salad, and coleslaw.

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Ndutu Lodge is one of the few remaining truly independent safari lodges in Tanzania, and also one of the oldest camps around, dating back to the 1960s when it was the domain of the flamboyant and eccentric professional hunter George Dove.

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When he abandoned hunting in 1967, he made a tented camp here at Ndutu. The lodge was taken over and refurbished in 1985, with stone cottages replacing the original tents. The lodge remains an extremely popular place to stay, and rightly so.

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Renowned wildlife researchers Jane Goodall and Hugo van Lawick used Ndutu as a base for much of their research about wild dogs and the lodge is popular with a lot of well-known wildlife photographers such as Nick Garbutt, Stu Porter and Steve Bloom. And not to forget Grete Howard and Lyn Gowler!

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I love the lodge's motto:
“Don't expect five stars; from our campfire you will see millions.”

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The lodge is also a cracking place for bird watching, with over 400 species recorded in the vicinity; so after lunch Lyn and I head out with our long lenses to see what we can shoot.

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Slate Coloured Boubou

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Blue Capped Cordon Bleu

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Fischer's Lovebirds

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Swahili Sparrow

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Speckled Mousebird

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Laughing Dove

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Common Drongo

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Pool Party!

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Variable Sunbird

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White Bellied Canary

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Grey Backed Camaroptera

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Scarlet Breasted Sunbird

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Steel Blue Whydah

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Ndutu Safari Lodge is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, just outside the border with the Serengeti National Park. Of course, there are no physical barriers separating the two reserves, and the migrating animals aren’t too good at reading maps, so they wander in and out of the parks at will.

Dik Dik

We see these dik diks in the lodge grounds as we leave for this afternoon's game drive.

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Lake Ndutu

We head for the lake again this afternoon. Lake Ndutu used to belong to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, but the authorities decided to move the border so that the lake is now inside Serengeti National Park. The reason for doing this is to do with to off-road driving, which is not permitted in the Serengeti but can - and does – take place in the conservation area. The number of cars driving too close to the lakeshore caused erosion damage and was a threat to the environment and the wildlife.

The white post marks the border, and Malisa is very careful to stick to the designated tracks here.

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Lesser Flamingo

On the lakeshore we find a few Lesser Flamingo – the ones that are darker with more pink colouring, are the younger birds; they get paler as they grow older.

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Spotted Thick Knee

We also spot a Spotted Thick Knee in the grass.

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A mini tornado

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And a couple of wildebeest carcasses

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Lions

Heading towards Lake Masek, we come across the lions we saw last night feeding on the zebra carcass. Today there are only eight, not nine, so one must have gone walkabout.

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We can still see the dried blood on this guy's face from yesterday's feast!

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Because they ate yesterday, there is no need for them to kill again for another three days.

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Now they are just lazing around, digesting the food.

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After eating, lions do not produce any solid waste for days: they poop blood!

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It's always such a relief to be able to 'pass through' a big meal I find.

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A family of Helmeted Guineafowl stroll by. As they do.

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There is not much left of yesterday’s zebra today, and the stench is nauseating.

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The lions have had their fill.

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The vultures have finished it off, and now all that is left is for the bluebottles to clean it.

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We let sleeping lions be, and move on.

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Caracal

We’re busy looking up into a tree at a hiding hoopoe, when Malisa gets word on the radio about a caracal being spotted down on the flats between the two lakes. Seeing this elusive cat is very rare, so it is an adrenalin-filled vehicle that rushes off in the direction of the sighting.

We can’t believe our luck when he comes rushing out of the bushes, right next to our car. He certainly isn’t hanging around, and I only manage to get a quick bum-shot as he dashes for cover!

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Anticipating that he may – or may not – emerge the other side; we drive around the thicket, occasionally catching a very brief glimpse of his backside as he creeps deeper into the shrubbery.

This is where having a quality guide pays off – Malisa moves with some considerable haste towards a very small clearing, urging us to get our cameras poised, ready for action so that we can shoot on the move if he emerges.

And he does. And we do.

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What a wondrous sighting! Knowing that this is only the third time Malisa has ever seen a caracal – it is that rare – we feel extremely honoured to have managed to catch a brief three-second glimpse of one today.

Giraffe

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African Hoopoe

We finally get a picture of the hoopoe that was so rudely interrupted by a caracal earlier.

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Speckled Mousebird

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Lake Masek

I don’t know what it is about trees on this trip – in Tarangire I remembered the tree I photographed two years ago, and today I recognised a tree under which we had a picnic in 2011. I really do need to get out more…

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Lake Masek 2016

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Picnic at Lake Masek 2011

Cape Teal

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Common Stilt

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Lesser Flamingo

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Hippo

The hippo only stay down this end of the lake as fresh water from the stream that runs into the lake at this point means the water is not as brackish here.

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Augur Buzzard

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The Golden Hour

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As the sun dips low on the horizon, painting everything in its path a rich golden orange, we encounter an elephant with her young baby – some 1½ years old.

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After a while the elephants wander in to the sunset, and so do we, heading for camp.

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Crested Eagle

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After another great dinner at Ndutu Safari Lodge, we join the genets for a quick drink in the bar, marking the end of yet another glorious day in the African Bush.

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As usual, I would like to thank Calabash Adventures and our ever-wonderful guide Malisa for allowing us to experience all this.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:23 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset road_trip travel elephants adventure roads cute holiday fun africa safari tanzania lunch birding photography lions giraffe hippo flamingo roadtrip ngorongoro stilts kill good_food bird_watching hoopoe game_drive road-trip ndutu teal safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company ngorongoro_conservation_area lion_kill thick_knee cape_teal lake_masek caracal ndutu_safari_lodge Comments (0)

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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