Thursday, 26 December 2013

Serengeti Christmas - Day 5 Spending time with lions

The pride on the Serengeti plains

Our last full day in the Serengeti, and we were determined to find the lions from the previous day.  Stopping only to get a few shots of the Serengeti sunrise, we headed straight to where we’d seen the lions the previous evening.  Of course, they had disappeared, so we slowly started driving in each direction to try and pick up their tracks.  We did eventually find spoor, but they weren’t nearby.  

Looking for something to hunt
But patience, and a lot of searching did eventually pay off, and we found the whole pride up and awake and in really good light.  We spent a long time with them, and were cautiously optimistic when they started intently watching a small herd of topis, but eventually the antelope moved off, and the lions started settling down preparing to sleep through the heat of the day.

Catching the morning's rays
Satisfied with our encounter, we were driving aimlessly around just looking for things to shoot, when around mid-morning we came across a set of cheetahs.  They were very far in the distance but they were awake and moving, seemingly intent on hunting some nearby Thompson’s gazelles.  

Everyone wants to play with the stick

But the gazelles had seen them, and keeping plenty of space between them and the cats, eventually moving off way out of reach.  We had been parallel to the cheetahs as they walked, but decided to cut them off on the cross road ahead, anticipating that they would keep walking towards us and eventually cross the road.
Chilled out spotted hyena
Unfortunately, it was not to be, and they lay down a little way apart and seemed to be sleeping.  Still, we decided to wait – we reckoned they were hungry and eventually they would get up and move towards the gazelles again.  Well, we were right, but unfortunately not in the way we thought…  

Grant's gazelle
After about an hour of waiting spent trying to identify a nondescript bird, one of the cheetahs got up and started heading towards the other.  We assumed that he was just walking to his brother and was going to lie down again.  But he didn’t – he started slowly picking up some speed, breaking into a slow jog.  We couldn’t see anything worth running towards since there were no antelopes around, but this looked like the start of a hunt.  Unfortunately, he was running in the opposite direction of the car, but gathering speed – there was definitely something up here!  

Running topi
In a panic at missing this, Dru had to turn the car around, but this was just as another car was heading on the road towards us. It is a game park after all, and the supply vehicle would have to wait… but no, he now wanted to pick an argument with us, as we could see the cheetah picking up speed and definitely looking at hunting something (although we still couldn’t see what) – all the while this other car was parked alongside us and moaning!  Eventually, Dru had to say “Cheetah!” to the guy and get going in the direction of the hunt.  

Missed opportunity - the only photo we got of the hunt and kill
And that’s when we saw it – a Thompson’s gazelle had been sitting under a bush hidden from sight.  But the cheetah had spotted it, and the acceleration power allowed him to get close to the Thommie, before the buck knew anything about it!  And by then it was too late; after a couple of twists and turns, the cheetah managed to snatch it and bring it down, before choking it at the throat, bringing a mercifully quick end to the Thommie.  The cheetah’s brother soon joined him and together they dragged the gazelle to a small bush where they lay down to catch their breath before starting to eat.  

Banded mongoose
The whole thing was over in seconds, and while we were extremely disappointed to have missed catching it on camera, just to witness the acceleration of the cheetah and a successful cheetah hunt was one of the highlights of the trip!


After the action, we headed back towards where the leopard had been in the tree the previous day just in case he was still there.  We weren’t expecting him to still be around, but we were completely wrong – not only was he still around, but while we were watching the cheetah hunt,  he’d come down from the tree, killed a bushbuck before being chased off by a spotted hyena claiming his kill!  What is this?! Can’t the Serengeti plan the action so that we can see them all? 

Little bee-eaters
We hung around for a while and saw the hyena, but pretty soon the leopard darted up the tree again, and settled down no doubt mourning all the energy spent for nothing ;)  

White storks
We decided to leave him (doubt he was coming down if a hyena was around) and drove around without much luck for the morning, so settled under a tree for some lunch, where we were lucky enough to keep our “1 new bird sighting a day” challenge going, spotting a Greater Honeyguide hidden in the tree.

Leopard in the grass
The afternoon was spent around the Seronera, where we were lucky enough to find another leopard walking in the tall grass before heading deeper into the bush before disappearing.  That was after being amused by a couple of lions first climbing down, then climbing up a tree – they’re quite agile when they’re not being lazy sleeping the day away ;)

Lioness relaxing
 Towards evening it was back towards the lions that we’d seen in the morning as they were on the way to camp.  We first wanted to stop at the hyena den and found that most of the hyenas were out – we counted 12 in all mostly sleeping in the shade of a few bushes dotted around near the entrance.  

Elephant resting in the shade
From there we went in search of the lions, and soon found them under the same tree that they’d moved to from morning.  It was still hot though, and while quite a few of them seemed to be awake, there wasn’t much movement except to get a better place to flop down and snooze again.  The photo opportunities weren’t great with the sun shining directly into the camera, so we just chilled out with them for the evening until it was time to head back to camp.

Pygmy falcon
We did leave enough light though to stop at the hyena den yet again.  It was nice to see the cubs out and walking about so we stopped the car to get a few shots of them.  Instantly, the cubs – four in all – noticed the car (even though there was a safari vehicle already there) and started making a bee-line for the car!  Even they’re not much bigger than a medium sized dog, it’s a bit unnerving to suddenly have a curious spotted hyena cub right next to the car ;)

The cubs headed straight to our car...

Whether it was the smell, or the look of the car we have no idea, but soon the cubs were trying to bite the step board of the car – what is this??  But it was when they started trying to chew the tyre that Dru had to virtually shout at them to get them to stop ;)  
Chewing the tyres...
With that unusual hyena interaction, we slowly drove back to camp – another evening on our own – to have our last evening in the Serengeti…

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