Friday, 1 January 2016

January 2016 - Mikumi National Park

Mikumi elephants are awfully chilled around cars
After a string of car trouble over Christmas we were back on the road but uncertain how the car was going to fare. It was probably the quietest drive with both of us on the edge listening intently to the car. The car itself, despite the odd sound after the engine had to be opened as a result of the broken timing belt, appeared to be cruising as normal. Passing the very spot we broke down the couple of weeks before was kind of strange but also relief that we had made some ground.

Welcome party, we are officially back in the bush
We arrived at the gate to be told our favorite rest house was occupied but the chalets were available. It’s either rest house or camping so camping it was. Mandatory inquiries about lions revealed they were sighted next to the main road this morning close to the gate. Not having been here for nearly a year, we had no idea which lions these were and what had happened to the 6 cubs we had seen here the last time.

Yellow billed stork
With plenty of rain around, the park was looking at its best with a tinge of apple green in the bush and dark clouds looming. A large herd of elephants welcomed us back to Mikumu with a road crossing just inside the gate. First stop was the hippo pools camp site to check for water and possible crowds at the camp site and it was a positive start with just one camp occupied and running water. A quick lunch under the big tree at the camp site and it was off to check out the park.
Open billed stork
After a look around the top area of the park we decided to check in the general area the lions were last spotted. Sure enough from inside the park, we could see the vehicles in a clump on the main TanZam highway! We were there in a flash but no signs of lions other than some wild pointing by passing vehicles. No doubt the lions were there but they were not willing to show up just because there was a crowd. The passing trucks and busses finally made us decide to head back in to the park.
Water thick knee
Strangely the hot spot in our mind was the village! We kept driving in and out and around the village for any signs of lions. There is of course a healthy supply of activity in and around the village at any time of the day and a history of consistent lion sightings, so as awkward as it was, this was as good as any place to check out.
Dagga boy in a mud wallow
Finally we retired back to the camp and looking forward to a night under the stars in the bush, which is always special. There were a couple of giraffes around the camp site but later in the night, an elephant got rather close to us. We kept talking loud to be very sure it was aware of our presence and finally it moved away. We thought we heard a lion in the distance at night but otherwise it was an uneventful night.
Job done as far as the mud wallow
The next morning, first plan was to head to the village and we were confronted with a herd of elephants that refused to get off the road in the middle of the village.  After what seemed like an eternity of precious early morning time, the elephants moved off and we made our way towards the gate and sure enough, right outside the village were two lions. These were young lions and we were convinced they would soon join the adults or the adults would arrive as they seemed far too young to be alone. After having coffee with the two, our patience was worn out and we decided to drive to the nearest waterhole looking for the adults.    
Number 1 on the list
With no adults around we were back to the two young ones who were also gone now and the word was there were no signs of the adults. Convinced they would be walking around we stuck around driving in and out of the village again and soon it paid off. The adults were spotted entering the village and we just caught a glance of them going in to a bush from where they didn’t move for the day and we knew this as we kept checking on them the whole day!
Curious giraffes
The rest of game was plentiful in the park to keep us occupied starting with a huge herd of giraffes. One of the males showed all the signs of mating with and we followed it around for ages only to find it was trying to mount a male! Giraffes are awfully photogenic and move in a synchronized format offering great photo opportunities.
Tower of giraffes
After spending our morning at the top of the park, we decided to head for millennium dam to check out the area and have lunch. It was soon obvious that the rains hadn’t reached this part of the park as it had the top end. The grass was still short and hardly any water around with sparse game. We were soon informed of a couple of lionesses under a tree near millennium dam so this plan was working well.

Always posing for the camera
For once the lionesses had selected a beautiful large tree close to the road to chill under, the kind of tree you drive past wishing a lion would be sitting under. We were happy to see lions around this part of the park as they seem scarce in these parts. We and the lions were distracted by a fellow tourist who seemed to be intent on getting out of the car to see the lions. Soon this moron launched a drone which freaked the lions out. The younger of the two panicked and ran away which forced the older lioness to follow and soon both were gone. Makes you wonder why these sorts of people don’t just remain in the city and leave the wilds for the wildlife and the people who appreciate it.
Panicked and ran after seeing the drone
We went to check out Millennium dam which only had a sliver of water left and then headed to the picnic site to chill and have lunch. The resident broad billed roller family kept us entertained over lunch. Others came and went while we just sat under a huge baobab tree birding and generally chilling out. It was the hottest part of the day so this wasn’t a bad plan but soon we were off again.
Always nice to see a big boy
A passing vehicle alerted us to a male lion in the middle of the park and this was a welcome surprise and again in a section of the part that we seldom see anything. The mate had also chosen a beautiful tree close to the road but was occupied by yet another idiotic tourist trying to snap it with a cell phone! It appeared the tourist couldn’t get much of a photo as the lion was seated and wanted us to drive up to it to get it up! Once again our thought was why don’t these people just live happily where they belong in the city and visit a zoo to get photos they are seeking.
A zeb posing for the camera this time
The lion was a beauty but looked disturbed by the tourists who were acting like idiots. Having got a few shots and unable to put up with the tourists acting like fools, we reluctantly left the lion and headed back to hippo pools and the game rich area of the park. There was plenty of plains game and birding to be done with plans to check out lions.
Once again the village was the starting point looking for the lions that disappeared this morning and our luck was out again. We decided to chase the male but it started raining and made the track awfully tricky. It was one of those harmless tracks in the dry that grow horns and become nasty in the wet. We took a detour to avoid the tricky part but the lion was gone.
The rest of the evening it was elephants who were all over the place and awfully chilled as they are in this park. A herd got really close to us and just as they left and we turned around and planned to leave, another herd was walking down the road straight towards us and walked right past us. There are always moments of panic when elephants get right up and this time was no different. We had a moment of ‘lets reverse and take off at speed’ moment but it was too late and the elephants were thankfully much calmer than us and walked right past the car.
Elephant road block

The final morning was once again in the village looking for lions with no luck. More driving around with nothing special to call and it was the end of a Mikumi trip after a long time but the good news was if the car behaved, we would be here again next weekend!
More ele's

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