The circle of life sure can be a little gory…
Disney’s “The Lion King” romanticised the concept of “the circle of life”. As we discovered today, however, the truth is far gorier than any cartoon would dare show you! Our lesson in life and death, savannah-style, came not long after breakfast as we set out on today’s game drive through Serengeti National Park. Within just a few short minutes we came across a zebra that had been attacked (and partially eaten) by lions the night before. The lions had had their fill and departed, leaving the vultures to fight over the remains. It was amazing (and more than a little terrifying) to watch the vultures peck and tear at the exposed flesh.
Our adventure today centred around Lake Ndutu, in the Southern reaches of the Serengeti. Lake Ndutu and its smaller neighbour, Lake Masek, are shallow soda (i.e. alkaline) lakes surrounded by woodland and grassy plains. The area attract lots of animals so as well as the eviscerated zebra we got to see a whole lot of other (living) wildlife as well. There were Maasai giraffes, elephants, gazelles, cheetah and even a leopard! Leopards are notoriously hard to spot on safari as they are very shy and tend to stay well away from the noise of the safari vehicles. We were just lucky that we happened to spot the leopard whilst she was making her way down from her perch up in a tree. We saw the leopard descend and then make a dash for it as 3-4 safari vehicles crowded around, trying to get a look at the beautiful spotted cat*.
*One of the worst things you see when on safari is safari vehicles literally chasing animals down, or crowds of up to 30 safari vehicles all clustered around a single cheetah or leopard. This tends to happen when the tourists within said cars are pushing the driver/guides to get closer and closer to the animals. I understand that people are excited about seeing these amazing animals in the wild, and that you often get better photos if you’re up really close, but it’s distressing when you see all these 4WDs roaring after a solitary, shy animal like a leopard. For us the joy of seeing animals in the wild is to see them in their natural habitat undisturbed (or as undisturbed as possible). We would much rather get our driver/guide to stop a little further away and just enjoy the scene from afar then traumatise an animal!
We also got to see a whole lot of wildebeest and zebra. These herbivorous animals are currently migrating from Seronera, the central part of the Serengeti, to Lake Ndutu and the Southern reaches of the park. Each year the great wildebeest migration follows the same pattern it has for millennia; this migration is a natural phenomenon determined by the availability of grazing. From approximately December to May some 750,000 zebra and 1.25 million wildebeest migrate South to the Ndutu area in search of food and water (so the animals we saw today were really just the vanguard). As the long rains end in May the animals start moving North-West, into the areas around the Grumeti River, where they typically remain until late June. July sees the main migration of wildebeest, zebra and gazelles North; they typically arrive in Kenya (Maasai Mara) in July/August where they stay for the remainder of the dry season. In November/December, with the start of the short rains, the migration starts moving South again and the whole cycle begins again.
It was amazing seeing thousands of zebras, wildebeest and gazelles all together. We’ve never seen so many animals in one place! It’s amazing to think that once upon a time there were 10 times the numbers of wild animals roaming these plains. Hunting and destruction of habitat has greatly decreased the numbers of wildebeest and zebras (and every other wild animal!) in Africa, but still the sight of so many creatures in one place is awe-inspiring.
Our day ended with a bit of excitement when we got bogged in a particularly muddy patch of sodden earth. Luckily another safari vehicle was close by and came to our aid. Unfortunately as they were trying to pull us out they got stuck too. At this point Charles, our driver/guide, radioed for help. Said help arrived fairly promptly and both cars were soon freed of the mud. It was all quite funny actually – whilst we were waiting for the promised help we stood around chatting to the Belgian couple who had been in the second car and swapped stories about our respective African safari adventures. It’s great how friendships can blossom under such unusual circumstances!
After the day’s adventuring we headed back to the lodge where tea, freshly baked ginger biscuits and a whole lot of serenity awaited us. Man Africa is AWESOME!