I’ve blogged a number of times of the last few years about Tarangire as it is one of my favorite parks in Tanzania. It has provided a great many memories for so many of the rotators including our last trip in March when we almost managed to spend the night in our vehicle as it had become mired in the mud. It was either that or have taken our chances hiking out from the remote area we were in which would have meant survival of the fastest runner among us as the lions would have certainly enjoyed our nighttime attempt at freedom. We were rescued in the end by an amazing stroke of luck, but you’ll have to refer back to the Spring 2016 blogs for any further details. Leave it to say that I did have some angst in my stomach when we decided to again travel to the same area later in the day, though now in the dry season with much less chance of becoming a permanent fixture of the landscape here.
We had decided to leave Karatu at 5:30am as it is about a 1-1/2 hour drive to Tarangire and it’s always best to enter the park very early to see the elephants and other animals migrating down to the river. Amazingly, everyone stayed up for the entire drive including Alex, a devout Michigan fan, who had decided to get up in the middle of the night due to the time difference to watch the Michigan-Rutgers game streaming on his computer. When I walked over to his house just prior to leaving, he had been up all night to watch Michigan crush Rutgers by a score of 78 to 0, with the game almost over. Now that’s dedication. I think I would have been back to bed after the first three touchdowns and have called it a night.
We rolled into Tarangire just after 7am and took care of our registration. It is a much more streamlined process now following the last election in October as the new president is trying to fix many of the previously broken systems. Much to the dismay of safari companies, that now includes an 18% VAT tax on fees for the national parks which in the end is a good thing as long as it goes back into the upkeep of the parks and animal conservation. Only time will tell. We popped the safari top on the Land Cruiser and broke out the cameras in preparation for a wonderful day of animal viewing. Kelley manned my camera with the big safari lens so all photos are curtousy of Dr. Kelley.
Tarangire is known for its elephants and it didn’t disappoint us in the least. There was family after family of elephants, all with very little babies of approximately six months or so as they were born in the wet season last March and April. In the cool morning hours they mosey on down to the river without worrying about over heating which isn’t so easy later in the day when the bright, Equatorial sun beats down on the animals requiring that they all take cover under the trees for midday. Amongst the many elephant families were small families of giraffe and lots and lots of antelope – we saw wildebeest, Grant gazelles, waterbuck, Impala, Dik Dik, Elan, and even a Tope. Several gigantic herds of Cape buffalo were also seen through the day. We even saw a small Cerval that ran quickly through the grass in long bounds and had no intention of posing for us as it was definitely interested in getting as far away from us as possible.
Perhaps the highlight of the day, even with the massive number of elephant herds, was the sighting of a lion in hot pursuit of something that, unfortunately for them, was not quite as fast as the top predator here. We had decided to travel to one of the very large swamps in the park when we crested a small rise to peer down into the dry river bed at a small family of giraffe along with groups of wildebeest and zebra. No sooner had we begun to watch them when all the animals seemed to at once begin scrambling in different directions clearly startled by something. Totally unexpectedly as I gazed down into the river bed I could see what they were running from as a female lion, stretched out in so classic a pose, appeared in my view with several wildebeest running for their lives directly in front. It was only for a second or two that I could see the lion, but it was quite clear to me that it was quite likely one of the wildebeest wouldn’t be coming home that night. We lost sight of the lion and her prey as the steep bank of the river bed prevented our looking directly down, but after a short while we were able to maneuver our vehicle into a position where the aftermath of the event was clearly visible to us. Standing over its fully grown prey now no longer moving was the lioness clearly exhausted from her literally hot pursuit in the heat of the day. She was panting and breathing heavily shortly after our arriving at the new vantage point, she wandered across the dry river bed and out of sight. We were all hoping that she had hidden her cubs nearby and would be bringing them back for a feast, but instead, she ambled back, alone, and somewhat rested to begin planning how she would manage this huge prey along. She tried dragging it several times, but it was much too large for that and so she settled down alongside her prey and seemed to begin licking it quite intently. She went off again into some nearby shade to rest and finally returned to open a wound on the hind end of the wildebeest so we at least could see some blood, but she never seriously began devouring the prey. We had been there for almost 1-1/2 hours so when she decided to take another break, we decided to also depart the scene. One of the best things about the event was that we were there alone for well over an hour with no other vehicles which is a rare event with a lion kill as it is usually broadcast among the safari guides when these things happen leading to a gaggle of vehicles surrounding such a scene.
One of the other really cool experiences of the day was the viewing of a family of African hunting dogs. In all of my many safaris which are quite numerous at this point, I have never seen the hunting dogs and another safari guide who phoned us to make sure we had seen them told us he hadn’t seen them in his 20 years of guiding. They were off in the distance, but clearly visible with their huge ears and were constantly popping up out of and dropping back down into their den with perhaps as many as ten individuals in view at any one time. They are an incredibly unique animal here and obviously quite rare to see in any situation. We felt very, very lucky to be seeing them, especially the three others who were all on their very first safari.
We finished our trip to Tarangire with a drive through the Small Serengeti which is a section of the park that is a wide open plain similar to those that make Serengeti National Park such a treasure. We saw lots of wildlife including the Elan so unusual to see here. We departed the park around 5:30pm or 30 minutes before they close the gates so clearly got our money’s worth out of the day. The drive home had an incredible sunset that is so often seen here to be taken for granted. We were all starving since we had made our own lunches like heading to the beach for the day and were happy when they kept the Lilac Cafe here at FAME open for us to order dinner. It was another incredibly successful day here and I think that all of us had the time of our life. Driving a safari vehicle and guiding a safari is one of the most enjoyable things for me and I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. I’m grateful for every day that I awaken here and for the people who have made it possible for me to do so. It has truly been a blessing.