Sunday, 28 August 2011

Serengeti - Day 3

After a quiet night at a much less crowded campsite, it was up early again and we were first out of camp while it was still dark. We headed up the road to Mwanza, before turning towards the river, spotting a couple of hippos still grazing out on land before heading back to the river.  But as we headed round a bend, we spotted a great sight – 22 lions!
Attack the tree!
There must have been about 4 lionesses, and the rest were sub-adult lions and cubs.  What was more interesting, besides them playing around on a dead tree – there were 5 or 6 buffaloes right there as well, and the sub-adults were attempting to intimidate them by “stalking” them.

Lion cubs at play
They weren’t particularly effective, and if the youngsters got too close, the buffaloes would charge at them, sending the lions skeltering in all directions!

Lions vs buffaloes
It was a pity it was still too dark to get any good photos, but great to be first on the scene to see all that – by the time other cars arrived, the lions and buffalo had lost interest in each other and had headed off down the road.

Lions vs Elephant
They didn’t go far though – the lions discovered an elephant in a ravine, happily grazing.  For a moment, even the lionesses seemed interested, some of them even trying to head down the bank for a closer look, but the elephant took no notice of all these eyes watching, and eventually the lions headed off into the veld out of sight – but a fabulous encounter first thing in the morning!

Thirsty cheetah
Still excited about our lion encounter, we headed down the river but didn’t see too much of interest until we got to the little pond at the centre of Seronera.  And there heading in our direction was a lone cheetah!  Awesome!

Checking around before drinking
He walked towards us from the other side of the road before heading to a little stream of water for a drink.  He was pretty nervy, looking in every direction before finally settling down to take a long drink, stopping every now and then to look around for any potential predators.

Drinking cheetah
Eventually done, he headed back towards our car before heading across the road, stopping only to mark a tree before heading into the Serengeti plains – it’s pretty special to see a cheetah on the open veld!

Happy with this sighting, we headed to Masai Kopjes (named so because it was where the Masai settled when they lived in the Serengeti) to see what else the park held…

We didn’t have to wait long before our next sighting – mating lions!  And our timing was pretty good – they mate every 20 minutes or so, and we arrived just in time for the next session ;)

Mating session
We’ve seen quite a few mating lions, and we unanimously agreed, this was the most unenthusiastic display we’d seen.  Normally it’s an aggressive session, but these 2 seemed to be just going through the motions for the human spectators ;)

And again...
We stayed with them for about 30 minutes, before heading towards a small kopje for breakfast, spotting another 2 cheetahs on the way – unfortunately too far away to shoot. 

After breakfast, we headed towards the Eastern plains of the Serengeti.  This is the true image of the Serengeti plains – just open veld wherever you look and in all directions – it’s pretty spectacular. 

Elephant drinking at the marsh
And you’re very aware that if you got lost (and that’s quite easy to do!) it would be a while before anyone found you!  After not seeing much except some Coke’s Hartebeest and gazelles, we spotted a couple of lionesses on a mission, moving camouflaged in the long grass before standing on anthills to scan the horizon. 

Lioness on the hunt
 One of the lionesses eventually walked down the track with us following her.  She and the other lioness eventually headed into the veld and we left them and continued until we found a lone elephant drinking at the marsh of the Seronera River.

Walking along the track
We headed back to the other side of the river for the afternoon drive.  One of the more unusual sightings was a tiny Thompson’s gazelle fawn – it couldn’t have been more than a few hours old and we had only spotted it because it was on the road with its mother – once it lay down in the ground it was almost invisible. 

Camouflaged Thompson's gazelle fawn
 An amazing spot by Dru found us a leopard in a tree – not even Ali or the other guides that were driving past spotted this spotted cat wedged in the branch.  

Thompson's gazelle (L) and Grant's gazelle (R)
It was clear he wasn’t coming down any time soon, so we carried on driving, an area that we hadn’t been to so far in the trip, and it seemed pretty quiet, making me wonder why we were actually spending time there… I was wrong…

Bull elephant
Not long after, we spotted a cheetah pretty far away. Not only one, but soon we spotted her with 2 sub-adult cubs.  And they seemed on a mission – switching constantly between running and stopping to look around… on the hunt we found out…

Cheetah and cubs on a mound
After some predicting where she was going, we parked the car and were soon rewarded with her and her cubs finally heading towards the road, before crossing it and stopping at a mound on the side of the road, giving us some close up sightings. 

But she didn’t stop there – soon heading into the veld with her eyes on a few Thompson gazelles about 100m in the distance.  From there, she went into stalk mode and her cubs seemed to know what to do – forming a line behind her so as not to break cover.  The Tommys seemed to know she was there but the grass was too tall to see clearly. 

On the hunt
Suddenly, about 40m away from the gazelle, she took off running.  We thought she was too far away to be successful, but the amazing acceleration of the cheetah is something to behold first hand. 

The chase - from far away...
She moved so fast that the gazelle didn’t have a chance, and within seconds it was over – a successful kill!  The cubs were soon bounding after her, to get their share.  Unfortunately the hunt itself was too far away and the photos were just blobs in the grass, but fantastic to witness!

Warthogs in a row
After the excitement of the successful hunt, we headed back to the river, but it was a quiet evening.  Ali seemed keen to head back to camp, but since there was still over an hour of light left, we headed through the woodland at the special campsites, and back to the hyena den for some more entertainment with the cubs. 

Spotted hyena with skull
They were even more entertaining this time – one of them had a leftover bone and was running around with the others chasing him.  The cubs are really rough – even at that young age – tough lessons that set them up for fighting with lions in the future!  It was heading to dark before we left them and got back to another pretty uncrowded campsite for the evening.


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