Since FAME encourages the volunteers to take one day off a week we usually grab this opportunity to go on safari to one of the local parks. Last Sunday was Tarangire and we had the option of going to Lake Manyara or Ngorongoro Crater today, but the Crater is quite expensive as there is a $200 vehicle fee that isn’t present at the other parks. Lake Manyara is a wonderful park that is often overlooked as it is somewhat smaller than the other parks, but it has several magnificent ecosystems that include the lake and marshes, a wonderful wet forest as you enter the park and some nice woodland areas. It also has most of the animals you see at the other parks save for cheetahs and leopards are very rare or non-existent. It is also known for over 400 species of birds and “tree climbing” lions. All lion actually climb trees to get out of the heat of the day, but in Manyara they have developed a particular propensity for this behavior.
Our vehicle picked us up at 6am as it’s always best to get to the park early to see the best animals. Manyara is only 45 minutes away so we were through the gate quite early and started our adventure. We stopped at the hippo pool and viewing station, but the hippos were already in the water (they forage and feed at night) as it is far to hot for them in the direct sunlight and they easily sunburn. Shortly after the hippo pool we had a great view of a Kingfisher, though I just couldn’t get him to move a little for me to remove the branch from the photo.
Moments later I had one of the greatest thrills of my safari career. I must tell you that I’ve have been an amateur herpetologist since I was young (We owned a pet shop when I was a teenager and my brother and I used to go out on weekends and catch all types of snakes in the nearby hills including rattlesnakes which we kept hidden from our mother before we released them back to the wild) and continued to be a reptile lover with my children. I have been looking for snakes here ever since my first day on safari in 2009 and hadn’t found a single one. As we drove I spotted a wonder eight foot cobra right beside the road and almost close enough to touch. I took some photos but unfortunately our driver didn’t stop in time (a problem that day as it didn’t help with future sightings as well) and the snake immediately slithered into some nearby brush. I finally spotted my snake, though, and it was a glorious one. (After studying this photo, I’m not sure if this a cobra or black mamba – either way it’s one deadly snake!)
Driving in and out of the various ecosystems we encountered lots of birds, wildebeest, Cape buffalo, elephants, various gazelle, giraffe, vervet and blue monkeys and many, many, many baboon troops. Did I mention there were lots of baboons? Every time you turned a corner there were more baboons who often travel in the road. There were tons of babies so as one of my fellow safari goers commented, “I don’t think the baboons are in much danger of extinction here.”
Heading down to Maji Moto (literally hot water or the hot springs) we ran across a very unique sight of a giraffe with quadruplets! It is not uncommon for them to have one or two babies or perhaps even three. But four is something very unusual.
Our guide had heard talk of a lion pride just past Maji Moto and as we turned off the main road onto one of the smaller game circuits we spotted them under a tree. It was a very large pride with an adult male, a juvenile male at least five or six females and a number of cubs. We watched them for some time from distance and even had lunch in some nearby shade (in our vehicle of course) before proceeding to observe them from a bit closer vantage point. As we drove close, one of the females took offense and got into a squat position ready to lunge at us, but thankfully she settled back down quickly and decided not to take us on. Considering the top of the vehicle was wide open without cover it could have been an easy meal for her.
Perhaps the most enjoyable event of the day was watching a very young elephant frolic with his mother and family just like you would imagine a two or three year old child doing. The elephant clearly knew we were there as it keep a close eye on us and often darted behind it’s mom for safety. It would soon forget our presence though and go back to its same playfulness and continue to amuse us.
As were leaving the park (and using the facilities at the picnic area) I managed to get a nice closeup of a barbit that is a very colorful bird and loves to scavenge morsels from the picnickers but was very disappointed as we had nothing to share as we had already eaten with the lions.
Warthogs are usually not a subject I’m likely to photograph, but this was just all too appealing. I think it was a contest as to who was the ugliest!
And finally, another bird for Megan. Here’s a wonderful bee eater.
We left the park and headed back up the Great Rift to home with plans for another wonderful meal at Gibb’s Farm. Doug, Kelly, Joyce (I call her the “lab queen” as she created the lab at FAME and now spends nine months out of the year there after she retired from 20 plus years in academia) and I all took a quick shower (thankfully the kuni boilers still had some hot water) to a bit more presentable. The evening was amazing as it usually is sitting on the veranda at Gibb’s, a setting that I’ve mentioned before, but never fails to be breathtaking. Our four course dinner was equally astonishing and I texted Kim a photo of the menu just to make her drool. After all that when we went to pay the bill they told us our drinks before dinner were complimentary from the manager at Gibb’s. Wow!
I drove the back roads home and we all slept exceptionally well!