Tanzania Safari Days 7 & 8 – Central Serengeti
I awoke in the middle of the night in my canvas tent in Serengeti National Park to the sound of roars. Not distant ones, but right outside. Soon I could hear the lion’s footsteps as it walked by my tent, nothing separating me from it besides a thin layer of canvas. I couldn’t help but wonder if it knew I was inside, and now the camp’s “no walking unsupervised and no leaving your tent at night” rule suddenly made a lot of sense. I was in the Land of the Lions.
Before we went out for our safari in Central Serengeti, I was worried that we wouldn’t see as much wildlife as we had the previous days. Central Serengeti has a rule that you are not allowed to drive off road, so you have to hope the animals are hanging out where they can be seen. Hopefully my midnight visitor (and the fact that he didn’t eat me!) was a good sign.
Day 7: Central Serengeti
We set off for yet another day of adventuring out on safari. This section of Serengeti has a very unique look to it with the dark kopjes dotting the otherwise golden landscape. It makes for a dramatic view and it’s nice to see even when you’re between animal sightings.
Land Of The…Cheetahs?
If you’ve been following this series you may be sick and tired of cheetahs by now, but I was on cloud nine. Before I went on safari, I thought I was unrealistically hoping to see at least ONE cheetah take down prey, and I checked that off my list on my first day out!
As you might have guessed by now, the first animal sighting was another cheetah, and once again it was with a cub. Sami spotted it before I could even see it with my naked eye, he was absolutely phenomenal when it came to spotting animals. We made our way down the bumpy dirt road and eventually I could see the mother cheetah lazily lounging on a termite mound with her cub.
As the mother’s eyes scanned our land cruiser, they continued past us and spotted a herd of Thomson’s gazelle that had wandered nearby. She bolted upright on top of the termite mound and stood at attention, looking for a hunting opportunity. Her cub lazily walked around the mound, occasionally looking up to imitate its mother.
We stayed silent in our seats as we watched the mother cheetah scan the plains of the Serengeti. Were we lucky enough to witness another hunt?
After 20 minutes the mother crouched down and we knew we were in for a show. She tensed up, every muscle in her body like a coiled spring. Then, there she went! Not quite in the full sprint of the other cheetahs, she slinked through the tall grass quickly and silently. In the last few meters, she exploded into action and pounced!
The dust settled and the other gazelles were well off into the distance when the mother cheetah emerged from the grass with her prize. She had managed to spot a baby gazelle sitting alone in the tall grass and made sure to capitalize on the opportunity as soon as she spotted it. She called her patiently waiting cub over and they enjoyed their breakfast together.
Into The Lion’s Den
We left the cheetahs to enjoy their meal in peace and headed down the road. Sami led us to a nearby watering hole he knew of, and as we rounded the corner we couldn’t believe our eyes!
Right in front of our eyes were 4 adult female lionesses, with an absolutely HUGE pride behind them dotting the plains. We counted a total of 22 lions in this one area! I was absolutely stunned and in awe of this giant gathering of these beautiful predators.
As we drove down the road further into the pride, we spotted one very weathered male. His face was deeply scarred and his eyes sat deep in their sockets, telling the stories of a battle-worn veteran who fought hard for survival. This lion’s teeth were badly chipped as well, making eating difficult.
We were enamored with this lion and watched him as the other land cruisers in the area kept busy watching the groups of lionesses. It turned out luck was once again on our side as we were about to witness something truly rare.
Our scarred hero was casually wandering around the area when he burst into a quick trot and dove down into the grass. Just as casually as a person picking up a dollar bill off the ground, up he popped with another baby gazelle in his jaws. The poor gazelle must have gotten separated from its herd and was using its natural instinct of sitting down to try and hide from the lions.
Sadly for the gazelle, the inevitable happened and it was found out. It is especially rare to witness a male lion kill since the females are the ones who traditionally do the hunting for the pride. This may have been an opportunistic kill for the male but it was still very special to see.
The bleating gazelle drew the attention of the rest of the pride and soon there was a long line of lions looking for leftovers. Our grizzled male paraded the poor gazelle around the Serengeti plains before settling on a spot to eat his meal. His chipped and dulled teeth meant that his meal had a rather unfortunate end, literally being eaten alive rather than being suffocated. This of course made for a big scene as half of the pride eventually ended up circling the kill.
This old alpha has been around the block a few times and had no problems at all defending his meal from the eager juveniles. The challengers slowly dispersed across the plains in search of other prospects as our original lion finished his meal.
The remainder of our day took us through more lion prides and a colorful mangrove filled with “fever trees.” Sami eagerly told us about the origin of these bright, almost fluorescent green trees. Legend had it among the Masai people that anyone who slept near one of these trees would wake up sick with a terrible fever. This turned out to often be correct, but it wasn’t the tree’s fault! Since these trees only grow in swampy areas, there is always an abundance of mosquitoes nearby. You may fall asleep perfectly healthy, but by the time you wake up you’ve probably got malaria!
Dusty and dirty from my day out on safari in Central Serengeti, it was time to head back to camp and clean up. We were staying the night at my favorite camp of the safari again, which also happened to be the most rugged. I unpacked my gear from the land cruiser and informed the staff I was ready for my shower.
You see, this camp (like many camps in Tanzania) utilized “African Showers,” which were basically just hoses connected to a funneled bucket. I had 5 gallons of water to shower with, so I had to be efficient. The water was extremely pleasant and warm from sitting in the sun all day, and, when I was doing my best to conserve water, 5 gallons turned out to be more than enough. All fresh and clean, I was ready for another night of listening to life in the Serengeti happen around me.
Day 8: Goodbye To Central Serengeti
Used to the overnight sounds around me, I awoke from a great night’s sleep to see what else Central Serengeti had to offer. I was already spoiled by seeing 2 kills in one day yesterday, not to mention the huge abundance of predators in the area.
Driving down the road, we said good morning to a few lone cheetahs along the path before we found something more compelling. I can’t believe how lucky I am that I can see a cheetah in the wild and think “I’ve seen this so often, let’s see what else there is!”
A Family Affair
Eventually we came upon what first appeared to be a fully intact family of cheetahs, with an adult male and female and two cubs. This would have been rare because the males don’t stick around to raise the children. The real story here, however, is that the male was courting the female and wanted her to give him some cubs of his own. The male followed the mother closely as she prowled the savanna in search of a meal. Although she seemed a bit annoyed at his presence, the mother cheetah tolerated the male. For now.
Just as casually as the lion yesterday, the cheetah mom found an easy meal and didn’t even need to run to catch it. A newborn Thomson’s gazelle, less than an hour old and still wet from being born, was sitting on the ground being tended to by its mother. The mother had no choice but to run away, and the cheetah family had a low-effort meal. This made the family dynamics a bit more interesting than before…
The male sat patiently alongside the family while they ate, but eventually grew tired of waiting and wanted his share for the 0% of the workload he performed. He gingerly moved in for a small bite and…
He was met with a fierce swat to the face by one of the cubs. He learned his place in the family pretty quickly, but that didn’t stop him from making a few more attempts, only to be angrily denied every time. I’m not so sure how well his prospects with the female worked out after their first family brunch.
We began to make our way towards the exit of Serentgeti and on to Ngorongoro. On our way out we scanned the kopjes for any lions or leopards, and soon stumbled upon a lioness with her two absolutely ADORABLE cubs. They enjoyed the shade, scampering about and generally annoying their mother (this seems to be a trend with animal children, doesn’t it?).
I spent as much time as I could with them since they were the first lion cubs I had seen, and I wanted to soak up every moment I could with them! They were so playful and fun that I practically had to buckle my seatbelt to keep myself from jumping out of the car and rubbing my face in their bellies!
Alas we had to move on and continue our way out of Central Serengeti. On our way out we spotted more lions on kopjes, ostriches, and storks. Our final send-off was another large pride of lions gathered around another watering hole that was secluded in a hilly clearing. It was like their own private residence (albeit with a road running through it) and they seemed to be thriving. I snapped one more shot of a stunningly majestic male lion on the hillside before we headed off on the bumpy road back to Ngorongoro.