The Big Cats of Ndutu…

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Our first full day at Lake Ndutu started very early with a game drive beginning in the dark. The earliest you can begin a drive in the conservation area is 6am which is well before sunrise and really quite chilly. It’s coffee or tea and we’re on our way with plans to return to camp for breakfast around 8:30am. We drove out to see what we could find in the big marsh, but saw little in the way of animals. Certainly no prey for the lions or cheetah, but on the way ran across some bat-eared foxes resting just outside of their burrows. They are nocturnal animals and the time to see them is at sunrise after they’ve been active for the night. They are small little fluff balls that are certainly cute enough to want to exit the vehicle and pet them, but restrained ourselves and moved on.

A bat-eared fox checking out the world from the safety of its burrow

A bat-eared fox checking out the world from the safety of its burrow

A bat-eared fox on top of its burrow

A bat-eared fox on top of its burrow

Three lionesses out for a morning stroll were the next animals to catch our attention. They were on the move, but with little prey in the area it was very unlikely they would find anything to attack any time soon so we eventually moved on. They were very reminiscent of the group of four we encountered last March and watched for the entire morning until they finally attacked a small group of Zebra and found the baby could run as fast as the others sealing it’s fate as lunch for the foursome. These three looked less intent on hunting so we left them and made our way back to camp for a delicious camp breakfast of toast, pancakes (really crepes), eggs to order and fruit. All with a lovely view of Lake Ndutu as the sun continued to rise in the sky and the day grew warm.

Two of the three sisters we followed

Two of the three sisters we followed

A lion in the magic hour

A lion in the magic hour

After breakfast we immediately went back out on a drive and decided to visit the leopard tree. There were several vehicles already there and as we arrived it was immediately apparent that the leopard was feasting on its kill from the day before high up in the tree. Shortly after our arrival, though, the leopard decided to descend the tree and ended up in the tall grass between several trees. It’s amazing how such an animal can hide itself in the tall grass in immediate view of a number of safari vehicles without detection. We strained our eyes for some time before finally spotting the orange coloration of this magnificent cat as it moved towards another tree, climbed the trunk and found itself another perch on which to rest after having gorged itself on the baby wildebeest. After satisfying ourselves that the leopard would not be moving in the near future, we moved on in search of more animals.

The lounging leopard after feeding

The lounging leopard after feeding

We drove for what seemed forever to the west and towards the Serengeti proper with only a smattering of animals along the way until we ran across a small lion pride of females lying beside a watering hole in the heat of the day. They was clearly a benefit to lying on the downwind side of the water with its evaporative cooling during the midday heat and sun.

A pride of lions midday at the watering hole

A pride of lions midday at the watering hole

Big cat snuggling

Big cat snuggling

We traveled back to the marsh areas to stop and have lunch in the shade of an Acacia tree. Our lunch boxes were full of small things from camp including a piece of chicken, a piece of corn fritter, a pancake, a mayonnaise and onion sandwich, yoghurt, fruit drink, two small pieces of cake. You definitely work up an appetite on safari so I know that at least my lunch box was great appreciated and emptied. Immediately after lunch we ran across another small pride of lions without their male, but with several adolescents. Since it was midday, this pride was also sleeping in the shade of an acacia tree and was actually being observed by wildlife experts with a video camera to document their movements.

We drove around the rest of the afternoon in search of cats hunting but only managed to turn up the three females we had seen earlier in the day. They were returning from somewhere, but didn’t look to be in much of a hurry and it was doubtful they would be doing much more for the rest of the evening. Earlier we had driven over to Lake Masek, but hadn’t turned up much there to see other than a small wildebeest and zebra herd, so had returned to the marshes to see what else we could find.

Getting comfortable at the end of the day

Getting comfortable at the end of the day

A perfect spot on the limb to sleep

A perfect spot on the limb to sleep

One of the three sisters later in the evening

One of the three sisters later in the evening

We returned to camp early enough to relax a bit and shower before dinner. We sat around the campfire, or the “bush TV” as they refer to it here, with a view of Lake Ndutu and its wonderful flamingoes, and not a care in the world. “Life is good” is an understatement and we all realize how lucky we are to be here at this moment.

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