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Tanzania Safari Days 3 & 4 – Ndutu

By Annual Adventure Adventure, Africa, Destinations, Tanzania

Day 3 of my Tanzania safari took me from Tarangire to the Ndutu area of Serengeti National Park. Departing Tarangire early in the morning, we began the long drive to the south entrance of Serengeti.

Note: The is part 2 of a 5 part series. Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5Photo Summary

With such a long drive ahead of us, we were able to break it up by making out way along the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. We would do a proper safari in the crater at the end of the trip, so this was just a scenic detour to appreciate the landscape.

Ngorongoro Crater View
And what a landscape it was!

Taking The Scenic Route

Sami asked me if I preferred to take a longer and more scenic route, or the more direct but very bumpy and barren route. I was in Tanzania to see beautiful sights, so I went with his recommendation of the scenic route. I later found out on the way back just how bumpy the other road was, and I was very glad we took the long way this time. Along the road we saw Masai herding animals and villages in the distance, making the detour well worth it.

Tanzania Traffic Jam
Traffic jams are a bit different in Tanzania.

Arriving At Ndutu

Ndutu proved to be an amazing area from the moment we set foot there. The first place Sami took me was an area that was a known hangout for African wild dogs, also known as Painted Wolves. They are extremely endangered due to the fact that villagers generally kill them on sight to protect their livestock.

African Wild Dogs Playing
Play time at the African dog park.

Considering their notorious reputation, I was surprised how small and playful the African wild dogs were. It looked like any one of them would have been perfectly at home in somebody’s back yard from the way they were behaving, and it was easy to forget that these were wild and dangerous animals.

Tanzania Safari Wild Dog
Here boy!

From Dogs To Cats

After spending a long time with the African wild dogs we decided it was time to head back to camp for the night. As we drove back, Sami spotted two cheetahs lounging around in the grass. It was our first big cat spotting! They looked about as relaxed as cats can look to me, but Sami said they were hungry and speculated that they were eyeing a nearby herd of wildebeest.

Ndutu Cheetah Yawning
Ready to spring into action!

Sure enough, less than 10 minutes after we arrived, both cheetahs casually stood up. They still looked lackadaisical as ever, but they did begin casually prowling in the direction of the herd.

Cheetahs Stalking Wildebeest
Heading out for errands.

Everything happened so fast. In just a matter of seconds, the cheetahs began to trot towards the wildebeest, and then instantly burst into a full sprint! The plains exploded in a flurry of activity, with cheetahs sprinting, wildebeest running, and birds flying in every direction! It was incredible watching them work together, with one cheetah strategically separating the herd and the other going for a small calf. I never expected to see something like this when we spotted those lazy cats lounging around!

Cheetah in full sprint
Doing what cheetahs do best, in dramatic fashion!

We caught up to the cheetahs shortly in the land cruiser (they’re a little quicker than we were!) to see their prize. There they sat, panting, with a small wildebeest calf in their jaws. It was a few seconds of very hard work, but it looked like they were experts and had done this a few times before. I sat and watched in awe as they eagerly chewed their meal.

Cheetah Tug of War
Fighting over the best parts.

I was on cloud nine! This was only my second full day out on safari and already I saw the one thing I was really hoping to see – a cheetah kill! I couldn’t believe my luck, seeing such a dramatic chase. I stayed with the cheetahs as long as I could until the park was about to close, and we headed to our tented camp for the night. On our way in we spotted some hyenas and vultures feasting on a wildebeest carcass, topping off an absolutely crazy day!

Hyena Scavenging
What was the expiration date on that wildebeest?

Day 4: Exploring Ndutu

Today was going to be all Ndutu, all day. After packing my lunch and enjoying breakfast, we set of for one of the more well known areas of Ndutu in search of lions and whatever else might stumble upon our way.

It was a busy morning on the plains as word spread that a group of lions were spotted in their favorite area. I could see why when we arrived; the area was teeming with wildlife and they had found their perfect stakeout spot.

Ndutu Area Wildlife
A busy morning in the Ndutu area.

Still energized from last night’s cheetahs, I was anxiously hoping for one of the five lions there to get hungry and go for a meal. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem very hungry at the moment and were more interested in either making or avoiding one another’s advances.

Lion's Face of Regret
“I should have though this through a little better…”

Even though there wasn’t much predatory action, it was awesome seeing the lions tussle about and keep each other company. They’re such majestic creatures and they’re impressive to behold when they’re just lounging around! I felt a deep respect for their power and command of the landscape, happily admiring them from the safety of our vehicle.

Tanzania Safari Lion Yawn
Even their tongues look powerful!

After a big chunk of quality time with the lions, we ventured onward to see what else we could see. Just a short ways into the park, we found a mother cheetah with two young cubs. These were the first big kittens I had seen on safari and they were putting on a great show for me, playing around in trees with one another and thoroughly annoying their mother.

Cheetah Cubs in Tree
It wasn’t nap time for these cheetah cubs!

I was smitten with the cheetah kittens and couldn’t get enough of their frolicking. Eventually, however, they tired themselves out and settled down for an afternoon siesta, so Sami suggested we go to a nearby popular watering hole to see all of the animals down there. I thought that sounded great, so off we went!

Cheetah play bite
This is how a cheetah mom tucks in her kids for the night.

As we began to drive deeper into the plains, I noticed the zebra population getting denser. Before I knew it, there were more zebras surrounding me than I had ever seen in my life! A heavy layer of dust clouded the air thanks to the constant running and stomping of hooves as they fought for territory and mates.

Ndutu Zebra Crowd
Dust-making fighting machines.

Zebras are incredibly aggressive with one another. I watched as they would repeatedly kick each other full force with their hind legs, getting up right away afterwards to keep fighting. They’re full of muscle and aren’t afraid to show their power. Like most animals you’ll see on safari, they’re also very vigilant and will stop in the middle of a scuffle to stare at you as you slowly drive by.

tanzania-safari-zebras
Who goes there?

After taking in the spectacle of the legions of zebras, I asked Sami if we could make one last stop by the cheetah family. Cheetahs have always been one of my favorite animals and I wanted to soak them up as long as I could.

Thankfully, the cheetah family was still exactly where we left them and the kittens had woken up from their afternoon nap. I sat and stared, enjoying every moment of their cute playfulness.

Cheetah Cubs playing some more!
Back in action!

Much to my chagrin, Sami eventually informed me that it was time to go back as the park would be closing soon. As I was getting my final shots, one of the two cubs climbed a nearby tree to get a better vantage point of our departure. What came next was possibly my favorite photo that I’ve ever taken, as the adorable cheetah cub tracked our every movement with his eyes. I knew it as soon as I saw it through the viewfinder. I snapped shot after shot as he watched us leave, sad that I had to leave him but very glad for the incredible time we had together. Thankfully, I still had many more days to go on my already spectacular safari!

Cheetah Cub Farewell
So long, little guy.
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