Episode #3 – the top highlight of our trip – three days in Serengeti National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s HUGE! 5700 square miles of protected savanna in northeast Tanzania, about 200 square miles more than the area of Connecticut.
It’s adjacent to Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve which adds another 580 square miles of open land — home to lions, leopards, cheetahs, hippos, elephants, and so many more. We did get to see “the big five” (rhino, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard, lions*). Our fabulous guide, Adam Mtinga had studied wildlife management in college and was able to answer every question we had about animal behavior.
Of course, the Serengeti may be most famous for the endless migration of some two million wildebeest.
It turns out wildebeest and zebra often travel together, in a symbiotic relationship. Wildebeest can smell water; zebra smell lions.
In the Serengeti, we stayed in tented bush camps inside the park. Though not exactly glamping, Ang’ata Serengeti Camps do include a toilet, shower and sink inside each camp. Electricity was dependent upon a generator which was turned ON for about four hours a day. This was when everyone showered. Power backup was provided by solar.
We did fall asleep to (or were woken up) by lions roaring and hyenas cackling. Animals scurried across our roof but, even with wire mesh separating us from the outside, we never felt unsafe. Though we WERE warned NEVER to go unescorted to or from our camp after dark. (Note however that our escort was armed only with a flashlight)
We saw many, MANY lions at the Serengeti. One day we saw 42 alone!
Late one afternoon, we came across the female below, lying by the side of the road. Our guide thought she might be in labor. Females do go off alone to give birth and keep their babies away from the rest of the pride for the first month. We all wanted to stay and watch her, but the park rules dictate that we need to be off the roads by 7 pm — so the vehicles and lights don’t disturb the animals.
Lots of hippos, though only in the few places that still had water. The short rains which usually start late October had still not arrived by early December. It was VERY dry everywhere and the hippos need to stay underwater to avoid sunburn.
Also, fun fact – hippos poop in the water. And without rain, the concentration gets more and more intense. So not only did this area smell BAD, these guys are literally floating in their own very visible waste.
Not surprisingly, our early morning hot air balloon ride was unforgettable. All the different animals happily co-existing (until someone gets hungry).
Another highlight – finding a cheetah with two cubs.
They are magnificent looking animals.
We saw many more animals in the Serengeti (the word literally means “endless plain“). Gazelles, Thomson gazelles, dik-dik, warthogs, topi, hartebeest, crocodiles, jackals, hyenas, giraffe, many kinds of eagles, monitor lizard, guinea fowl, impala, mongoose, eland, waterbuck, and many bird species.
Our final night in the Serengeti.
Next Episode: Olduvai Gorge, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
*There are also “the little five” of Africa: ant lion, buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, rhinoceros beetle. We only got to see the leopard tortoise and weaver.
Next: Ngorongoro Conservation Area
More photos from Tanzania: