October 23, 2016 – Lions, lions and more lions….

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Spending the night on the African savannah in a tent, even with a hard floor and plumbing, is a very unique experience. Soft breezes continually buffet the fabric in a pleasant and relaxing fashion throughout the night while the nearby nocturnal wildlife make their presence known. Depending on the location, we commonly hear hyenas or lions that sound as though they may be right outside the tent. We were so tired from our safari the day before that we all slept quite soundly and were ready for the new day. I had planned to use the outdoor shower, but reconsidered as it was a bit chilly so I enjoyed my shower inside instead. Before breakfast, I readied my cameras for the day ahead and headed off to the dining tent for another wonderful meal.

Lions on the watch

Lions on the watch

Lions on the watch

Lions on the watch

We ate outside with the soft rays of sunrise beginning to cover the plains in front of us with the start of a new day. Breakfast was a buffet this morning as there were a few more guests at the lodge and we enjoyed eggs, mushrooms, bacon, sausage, potatoes and homemade granola again. Oh yes, the wonderful pancakes or crepes with syrup. All of this was preceded, of course, by the requisite cup(s) of freshly brewed local coffee. As we would not be returning to the lodge after our safari today, we thanked all the staff for their amazing service and picked up our lunch boxes for later in the day. When staying in the tented camps, it is the common practice to give the camp manager a tip to divide among his staff thanking them for their fine service. When we gave the manager our tips, I am not sure that it was totally expected and they were all very thankful for our generosity. This really was an amazing stay for us and it was probably one of the nicest places I have visited in my time here. I will definitely return to the Tarangire Simba Lodge in the future and may well make it part of the resident’s “cultural experience” here.

Pelican in flight

Pelican in flight

Pelican in flight

Pelican in flight

Having battled the tsetse flies yesterday, we were all a bit weary of encountering them again this morning so began our trip with the top down on our vehicle and the windows mostly closed. Yusef had his cracked slightly and Laurita was a bit more daring having her window open about half way much to Kelley’s dismay. We went through the gate again and began our drive through the acacia woodland, or home to the notorious tsetse. A few flies got into the vehicle through Laurita’s window and we were able to dispose of them rather quickly. We didn’t kid ourselves, though, as we knew we would run into them again during the day and only hoped that they would be manageable. We took a different route to the river area this morning and crossed in a dry area as we headed for the public campsites to see what we could find. We quickly ran into a small group of lions positioned strategically on a small hill overlooking one of the prime watering holes in the area. They were clearly planning some type of ambush as there were herds of zebra and wildebeest in the area and we were definitely hoping to be there for the event if at all possible.

An unsuspecting warthog

An unsuspecting warthog

Displaced lions

Displaced lions

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The group included three adult females and three adolescent youngsters. Initially resting, it was clear that they were maintaining a very close watch on the watering hole as well as the surrounding area in hopes of a meal. As we sat watching warthogs meander towards the water and hoping that they wouldn’t see the lions or react in any way, we were rooting for the lions with the hope that they would attack. One of the younger ones at one point charged after a warthog, but it was of no use as they were too far away and easily scurried out of reach of the clumsy lion with ease. There were herds of zebra and wildebeest in the area and one group of zebra were definitely moving slowly towards to the watering hole, The stallion leading the group continually inched closer, but unfortunately, he was moving across one of the access roads and as vehicles came and went from the spectacle, he would get spooked and move away from the water. This went on for some time until finally a group from the other side slowly walked to the watering hole while two of the older felines began to organize for an attack. The zebra had just gotten to the edge of the water when the lions seemed to prematurely jump. They ran down to the beach, but the zebra were to quick for them and were spared another day. At this point, we were not very impressed with the skill of these lions to say the least.

A failed attack

A failed attack

There were over fifteen vehicles now all positioned at various locations around the watering hole in hopes of seeing a successful lion kill. The guides were all trying to predict where the attack would occur and jockeyed each of their vehicles attempting to get the best view for their safari guests. In March of last year, we had followed a group of four females for most of a morning waiting for them to make a kill and were lucky enough to see it happen right in front of us and all alone. A lion kill, or an attack by any of the bigs cats, is perhaps one of the most impressive things I’ve witnessed in nature and an event that is not to be missed if possible. It is truly nature at its most raw and uncensored. It is incredibly powerful and you feel as though you are part of it, though it can only be watched with the realization that it is not a show for our benefit and that the prey would have died whether we were there or not. It is something not to be missed.

Weary lions

Weary lions

We continued to watch the lions for some time hoping that they would be more successful, but when we saw a family of elephants moving towards the watering hole we knew there would soon be some sparks flying. As I mentioned yesterday, lions and elephants are deadly enemies and the elephants would love nothing more than to stomp a lion to death if given the chance. So, as the elephants moved closer, they immediately attracted the attention of the lions who watched carefully as they approached. When the elephants got the scent of the lions and realized where they were, several of them made a beeline for the hill where the lions sat and very quickly displaced them from their resting place. Once the lions were on the retreat, the elephants again focused on the watering hole and began to drink and carouse as if it were a big punch bowl. The lions, meanwhile, having been evicted from their lofty perch above the watering hole, reconvened on the flat nearly in front of us so we could get some great photos, but we had still wanted to see a kill, unfortunately. We had been watching them for the better part of an hour or so at this point and decided to move on to see more things before lunchtime.

Our small group of lions

Our small group of lions

We drove through the Small Serengeti region of the park, named for the close resemblance to the wide open plains of this famous region of Tanzania several hours away from us. There were herds of zebra, wildebeest and Cape buffalo in this area, though we were really on the lookout for cheetahs as the grasses here are the right height for them to hunt while remaining hidden. This is also the area where we were stuck in the mud for hours last March during the wet season so I am always a bit reticent about driving here even though it’s now dry and someone else is driving. We circled through the Small Serengeti on several roads and eventually drove back towards the river as it was approaching lunchtime and we were heading for a new picnic area on the other side. The main picnic area of Tarangire is typically very crowded with vehicles and people, but has a beautiful overlook of the river and all the animals there are midday. Unfortunately, the Vervet monkeys have also figured out that it is the perfect place to find an easy lunch and they love to harass visitors with the hope that they more score a few scraps here or there. One such pair of Vervets planned a sneak attack on Megan Richie and me a few years ago and turned out to be far more aggressive than we had thought they’d be. I grabbed the food and Megan, having grown up in Indonesia and quite comfortable with these situations, decided that she’d protect me only to find out that one of the monkeys didn’t scare very easily. We were leaving the following day and I was quickly trying to figure out in my mind how I would explain to my chairman having had my resident mauled by a usually cute Vervet monkey in Tanzania. Thankfully, it did not come to that and Megan realized she had met her match so the two of us exited stage right with our food in hand to find another location for lunch. Had they been baboons, I don’t think we would have been so lucky.

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A view from our lunch spot

We crossed the river and drove to the new lunch site which is high up on another overlook with views of much of the park. We didn’t have the picnic lunch we had had yesterday, but rather box lunches with lots of goodies. I’m certain that Laurita gravely missed the wonderful pasta of yesterday, but I knew she would make do with the lunch at hand. A hamburger, samosa, hard boiled egg, apple, and a piece of chocolate again. Not nearly as luxurious, but it quelled our hunger and we sat in the shade for a time before piling back in the Land Cruiser in search of new sights.

A mating pair of lions

A mating pair of lions

We drove to the river and crossed again and headed up a road that we had been on yesterday so I wasn’t quite sure where we were going as this lead to the Silale swamp and I didn’t think we were going back there. Within a few hundred yards, though, we immediately encountered a small group of lions lying in the shade of an Acacia tree. One of the other guides at the lunch area had apparently shared this information with Yusef at the picnic site so he had traveled to this spot with the hope that the lions would still be hanging out here. It was a male and three females and it was close enough to the river crossing where we had seen the group yesterday that they were undoubtedly one in the same. Lions roam over a very large area and are very territorial so you will never see two groups or prides that close. We sat watching them for a number of minutes when the male decided to get up and mosey over to one of the females. She quickly sat up and then it was readily apparent that they were a mating pair when he quickly mounted her. As quickly as it started, it was over and we were all amazed, especially Laurita and Kelley who swore that it was the highlight of their safari to see such an event. I knew that when lions mate they do so every 30 minutes for several days and Yusef informed us that the reason is that the male lion’s penis is very short so this is required to ensure that the female becomes pregnant. Since we knew that there would be another show very soon we decided to wait and were surprised when the male got up again in about 15 minutes readying himself for the next episode. This time he mounted one of the other females so it was obvious that at least two of them were in estrus. Both growl very intensely during the mating and it was again over almost as soon as it started. We were all by ourselves in the middle of nowhere watching these lions so we were in no rush to leave and continued to watch them for some time during which we witnessed a total of four matings with the two females. It is something that I’ve seen a few times before, but never with the enjoyment of listening to Laurita’s and Kelley’s commentaries that were hilarious even if half of them were in Spanish. Regardless, their laughter was the same in any language and equally infectious as you can only imagine the jokes being made at the expense of the lions mating ritual given the very short duration of each encounter despite it going on for days.

An afternoon feast

An afternoon feast

We eventually departed our little pride of procreating lions and were heading along the river in the direction of the main gate. After some time I asked Yusef if we could head back to the lions we had watched in the morning and he informed us that he had heard on the radio that they had actually made a kill while we were engrossed in the lions mating and that was where he was actually heading. So off we went at a somewhat faster clip as we all held on so as not to be thrown into the side of the vehicle which can easily break a rib or at the very least leave you quite bruised. We came upon the watering hole to a gaggle of vehicles with everyone focused on the very same group of lion sitting down to an afternoon meal of fresh wildebeest. The kill had occurred perhaps 30-60 minutes prior to our arrival and several of the lions were already satiated and lying in the shade as the kill was directly in the sun. We watched as one of the adults and the three younger lions all sat along the belly of the prey and quite intently ripping chunks of flesh and cracking bones that was audible to us even 50 yards away. Occasional spats would occur regarding someone’s position in the pecking order or at the kill, but they would only last a moment and then each would immediately go back to their ripping and shredding.

An afternoon feast

An afternoon feast

As we were watching this, a number of elephant families were approaching in the distance on their afternoon trek from the river back to their homes in the hills and they were clearly looking forward to a rest stop at the watering hole. It would be interesting to see what would happen when the elephants approached the watering hole this time as the lions had a kill and we knew what had happened earlier in the day when the elephants had won out. This time, though, the elephants left the lions alone on their side of the watering hole and merely strode to the other side and began drinking and throwing water on their backs. It seemed clear that the elephants knew that the lions would likely defend their kill and wouldn’t be so easily dislodged this time. We eventually left this scene to head out of the park and make our way back to Karatu. We had had a wonderful two days in Tarangire despite the tsetse flies and other than a few bites here and there, they were a distant memory. We had seen the darker side of Kelley (yes, there is a dark side) as she gleefully executed tsetse after tsetse with the assistance of Laurita and me, though it was clear that she enjoyed their demise much more than either of us did.

The drive back to Karatu was unusually quick. We dropped Yusef off on the tarmac as he had to meet with some friends and we made our way back to FAME. Alex had said he was cooking us dinner tonight and little did we know what feast he was planning for us tonight. Kelley and Laurita were in their pajamas when we went over to his house next door and I was wearing my gym shorts and T-shirt. Shortly after our arrival for dinner, the rest of the FAME family showed up – Susan, Frank, Verena, Nurse Barbara and Annie Birch – so we gave excuses for our dress as we hadn’t been aware of the guest list. Joyce wasn’t feeling well so missed an incredible meal of real Gyros with homemade pita, sauce, wonderfully seasoned beef, homegrown lettuce and tomatoes and a rice and feta salad. Alex is an amazing cook and we were grateful for this meal after coming home from our weekend safari. We had seen nearly everything we wanted to see in Tarangire save for a leopard, so the girls will just have to return here someday to realize that experience. They did get to spend time at a wonderful lodge with a wonderful staff which also something to experience here. Needless to say, we were all very much looking forward to our beds this night as were were all very, very tired, but also very fulfilled.

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