Saturday, October 8 – Another Big Five by noon, this is becoming old hat…

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A mother cheetah on a termite hill in the distance with a cub poking its head up

The night had been lovely and cool in the tent and perfect for sleeping given the luxurious beds and linens at the camp. I have always liked staying in the camps tremendously better than staying in a lodge for the reason that you hear all the animals at night, some closer than others, and it is about as far from roughing it as one could possibly get. Tanzania Bush Camps have really upped their game substantially as far as both their main tents and the sleeping tents without going too much overboard and the amenities have made it incredibly comfortable here.

Our early morning leopard taking a stroll

Vitalis had recommended that we depart prior to sunrise for today’s game drive and have both breakfast and lunch prepared for us to eat in the bush, giving us the best flexibility to not only get out into the bush when the animals are most active, but also to follow wherever the animals take us rather than having to be tied to a schedule. We would depart the camp at 6 am and would plan to return at the end of the day to enjoy the sunset hour in camp. This has always been my preference when traveling to the Serengeti as our time here in the park is rather short and I’ve always felt it best to get as much time seeing the animals and the landscape rather than relaxing at camp as nice as that sounds. When doing longer safaris of a week or more, then having some down time in camp is almost a necessity as the days can be grueling and even more so for your guide.

Spotting rhinos at our breakfast spot

I had gotten up extra early to video chat with someone special at home and went to the main tent where the WiFi reception would be best. Sitting outside on the deck in the cool morning darkness with the soft light of the sun approaching the horizon from below was just magical and despite having experienced this many times before, it never gets old. The birds were just beginning their morning activities with their constant chirping and there were animal sounds on the plain just in front and only a short distance away. I was able to share most of it on the video call, though I must admit that the birds did seem to drown out most of the other sounds which was fine since they were so beautiful. Thankfully, the coffee had been ready early and I had my cup in hand, ready for the day ahead. Ankita and Sara had requested a coffee wakeup call in their tent and were enjoying their coffee in bed prior to our departure.

Two lionesses on a termite mound

We loaded up in Turtle, Ankita and Sara in the second row, Taha in the third, and me occupying the fourth and final row with all of my camera equipment spread out across the three seats essentially akin to having a full row on an airplane to yourself. Everyone was quite happy with their spots which was perfect for me as I prefer having the room in the back and essentially never sit down during the game drives as I love spotting for things. Standing this morning absolutely required my fleece sweater as the air was very brisk and as none of the others were standing, I had no one to block the wind. We had barely gotten under way when we spotted a leopard just walking along with what appeared to be somewhere to go, though they were walking in a direction that didn’t allow us to follow as in the Serengeti, we are restricted to traveling only on existing roads that may be as little as two tire tracks, but at least there has to be something. In the Conservation Area, there is no such restriction and one can follow animals wherever it is possible for the vehicle to pass.

Spotting a leopard on the ground walking, not the most common of sights, was an incredibly auspicious start to our day and produced excitement. We watched it walking slowly into the distance while constantly checking to the horizon to make certain there were none of its mortal enemies, primarily lions, anywhere around. It will most likely set up to hunt wherever it’s going, though that will most likely be at night as the leopard is a stealth hunter, sneaking right up to its prey so that it’s essentially on top of them before they even realize that it’s there. How exciting it was for us to have seen one first thing in the morning without having expected it.

Driving through the Serengeti is an experience unlike any other, for the word in KiMaa (the language of the Maasai) means, “endless plain,” and this is almost an understatement for every hill you crest, there are three others in the distance and more beyond that. It is quite simply infinite. At one point, on perhaps one of the furthest hills we could see, Vitalis somehow spotted a family of cheetahs enjoying the high grass and running back and forth playing. With our binoculars, you could easily see them, but they were too far for me to photograph unfortunately. It was till great to be watching them frolicking with each other on the hill side, seemingly without a care in the world. We watched the cats for some time before moving on and it was getting time for our breakfast picnic soon.

Vitalis knew a very nice spot that sits up high on a hill above the luxury Lamela Camp and a spot where they have their “sundowner’s party,” as it has an expansive view of the surrounding landscape. As we would not be running across any bathroom facilities during the day (there are very few in the Serengeti), this spot would serve first for everyone to relieve themselves after the earlier coffee of the morning. I believe that this may have been a new experience for some who will go nameless, but, thankfully, everyone performed like a champ and we were soon free to roam around the site without risk of embarrassment.  But before we could even begin to break out our breakfast boxes and prepare the coffee, Vitalis spotted two rhinos far in the distance that were very likely the two we had seen three weeks ago when the other group was here with me. It was a very lucky break for us as we never expected to have seen more of these very rare and magnificent animals over the weekend and this was such a treat for us. It also once again gave the opportunity to see the Big Five in one day as all we were missing at this point was to see some lions as we had already run across the elephant, Cape buffalo, and leopard and, now with the rhino, we had seen four of the five.

Our cheetah mother

We finished breakfast along with Vitalis’s fine coffee in the French press and were back on our way, now looking for some lions which are normally quite easy to find here in the Central Serengeti on most occasions. Though we had found the more difficult animals and quite early in the day, we were now on the hunt for our feline friends. We traveled a bit through some other beautiful areas without initial success, but then ran across some very nice lions sitting on top of a termite mound posing for us! It was noon on the nose which meant that we had once again seen the Big Five before noon in the Central Serengeti and, coupled with our accomplishment last night of seeing the Big Five within two hours of entering the park, had really hit a grand slam.

Cheetah cubs

The cheetahs that we had seen earlier, though, were in the far distance and could only be made out with our binoculars, so we were still hoping to see some cheetahs closer up sometime today. We eventually stopped for our lunch under a nice Acacia as the sun was intense even though the air temperature was delightful. After lunch we spent several hours searching high and low for the cheetahs or anything else of a similar nature, but other than the absolutely spectacular scenery and gorgeous weather, we could turn up little else. Eventually turning back in the direction of the Maasai Kopjes, though, Vitalis spotted a cheetah in the very far distance standing on a termite mound that, when we looked closer with our binoculars, turned out to have at least two cubs with her! There were significant enough tracks that we were able to get out closer to the mother cheetah and her two young cubs until they decided to climb down and began to walk towards some bushes to shelter from the sun. The little cubs were particularly cute as they still had their downy fir on their backs. We didn’t hear them chirp, but the sound they make is just like a little bird having heard it several times in the past. Ten years ago, Leonard and I had come across a mother cheetah and five of her cubs who were just a bit younger, but their chirps still resonate in my brain as it was just so out of character to see a cat chirp.

A very healthy leopard

Heading off to the Maasai Kopjes, named as they are very large and one of the more prominent in the Central Serengeti here, we spotted a number of vehicles sitting adjacent to some of the larger rocks on one end. I have seen many leopards over the years at the Maasai Kopjes and seeing this many vehicles in one spot makes you immediately think of a leopard or a large pride of lions. As we pulled up some distance behind the other vehicles, a gorgeous leopard began to descend from the rocks above and was heading straight for our vehicle. Unfortunately, as he came closer to us, several of the other vehicles began to back up or turn around so they could get closer, but instead scared the leopard who then turned around and headed back up into the rocks. I had been able to get a number of good shots, though, prior to him turning around. He was a beautiful animal that appeared quite healthy and his coat was bright and perfect. What a powerful animal.

We eventually left the spot and proceeded to drive around the kopjes, only to find a second leopard sitting up in the tree with its prey hanging in a nearby branch, partially eaten. This leopard was far too close to the other as they are very territorial and, therefore, they were most likely a mating couple as the other in the rocks was a male. A female may allow one her offspring to remain nearby for a time, but an adult male would never be so hospitable to an offspring or to another adult unless they were mating.

The mating theme seemed to continue during the remainder of our safari as we slowly meandered along the Seronera River in the direction of our camp. During drive, we came upon a mating pair of lions who were initially resting along the roadside, but as they mate every 30 minutes for at least 48 hours, the alarm clock happened to go off while we were sitting there and it was time for them to mate though it is an incredibly brief encounter. The reason for the frequency of this of two days is to ensure that the female is impregnated and the pair will usually wander off from the pride for this entire time, forgoing hunting or eating until the ritual is over.

Tearing ourselves away from the mating lions, we proceeded to the filling station (there are two in the Central Serengeti) to top off our tank, though we could have very likely driven home on the same tank as fuel efficient as the Land Rover is compared to the Land Cruiser. Fuel prices in Tanzania have increased by 50% from what they were in the spring on our last trip, mainly due to the war in the Ukraine and the instability of the oil markets at the present time. As fuel prices go up here, so does everything else, unfortunately.

Since mating animals seemed to be the theme for the day, we did run across a pair of mating giraffe on our way home from the fuel station and despite the encouragement we were providing by watching them from the road with bated breath, nothing seemed to happen after numerous advances by the male with the female each time taking a step or two forward and spoiling his plans. We continued to watch for another 10 or 15 minutes, but remained equally disappointed as was the male giraffe in the females reluctance despite her apparent interest. It was a matter of continuing to sit there watching versus driving on towards camp and very likely cold drink, and we chose the latter for good reason.

Our reluctant giraffes

It had been an incredible day of game viewing for us having spotted the Big Five in short order for the second day in a row, an accomplishment that was quite unexpected before we had arrived here. We got to camp early enough for both showers and drinks before dinner and it was nice evening to go back over the day and reminisce. We would be departing midday tomorrow after a morning game drive, but it was all icing on the cake as we had seen so much already.

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