Monday, 19 September 2016

Serengeti NP Day 2: all about the lions

Lions devour a fresh wildebeest carcass
We were up at 5.45 am the next morning, and left the campsite at around 6.30 to go look for cats. We didn’t have to wait too long before getting our first sighting of the day – a cheetah, but again a bit too far away to shoot.

A Serengeti endemic - grey-breasted spurfowl
This is when Dru announced that we had a problem with our car.  Something was wrong with the back right tyre, no doubt the result of the punishing road from yesterday, and we’d need to sort it out at one of the mechanics in the village.  Since it was still too early for them to be open, we decided to take the long way around down the river before heading to the village.

Great 1st sighting of lions - with a kill

And shortly after we were rewarded with a great sighting – 5 lions with a kill fairly close to the road.  We have always considered ourselves unlucky to not have come across this type of scene before; normally it’s one or 2 lions with an old carcass, but this was a fresh wildebeest kill and the lions were getting stuck in, with the exception of the male, who had obviously had his “lion’s share” already.  So we relaxed and had coffee with lions, which would kill some time with a worthy sighting before heading to the mechanic. 

Too full to move

We were also intrigued to see an Japanese photographer off road close to the lions, but apparently not watching them.  We could see that he had an off-road permit as there was a big sign on his car saying “We have an off-road permit, do not follow us!” but we couldn’t figure out what he was shooting as he appeared to have his camera pointed at a bush away from the lions.  We spent a lot of time over the next few days trying to figure out what he was documenting ;)

Lioness stalking right next to the road in daylight
After about an hour, most of the lions were finished eating and heading to the shade of a tree to sleep off their breakfast, so we headed down the river to Hippo Pools where we would turn onto the main road to go to the village.

Before that, however, we found a pride of lions that seemed to be hunting. We hung around with them and the dozen or so cars that were also waiting for them to hunt, but eventually decided to leave them and sort out the car as it was past good light time.

Seems like too big a meal to swallow...
We did get another good sighting of a kill on the way – a black headed heron attempting to swallow the biggest mole we’d ever seen.  We didn’t think he’d get it right - the mole was bigger than his head – but after a few unsuccessful attempts, managed to swallow the mole whole!

...Apparently not!
We finally arrived at the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) workshop next to the TANAPA headquarters, who were prepared to help us, but could only assist after lunch at around 2.30 pm, as they needed to find a mechanic for us.  Luckily another research guy happened to be walking past and suggested we try the Serengeti Balloon Safari guys as they had a fully serviced workshop and were the best around. 

Spotted hyena
If we didn’t come right with that, there was also the Research workshop, which would be able to help with basic repairs.  By now Dru had looked under the car, and it seemed it was a broken bush on the back driver’s side shock, something that we’d previously had problems with before in the Serengeti thanks to the terrible road.

Thanking the research chap, we decided to head to Balloon Safaris and try our luck with them rather than waiting 4 hours until the FZS mechanic could help us.  Well, they were a waste of time, they wouldn’t even consider helping us!  We understand that they don’t want the tour operators coming in all the time with car trouble, but we had thought that they would at least let a mechanic take a quick look and help us out. 

No such luck – we were completely denied entry and told to try the research centre.  Pissed off but with no choice, we headed to the Research workshop. We found the workshop shortly thereafter and it turned out to be what Dru suspected – broken bushes.  In fact, the back right bush had been shredded, and the front left was also starting to go.  It’s a common problem and a quick fix – the mechanic got the car up on the ramp and 15 minutes later Kili had new bushes.  Dru also suspected a leaking shock, but the mechanic assured him that it wasn’t after tasting the liquid on the shock ;)  So after parting with TZS50,000 (highway robbery, but figured we didn’t have a choice) we were up and running again. 

Keeping cool in the heat of the day
We decided to go the back road behind the campsite as we knew there were a couple of hyena dens in the area, and the young hyenas are quite entertaining to watch if they are up and about.  Near to the den we came across four hyenas just lying in puddles of water right in the middle of the road, but couldn’t find signs of the den. 

It was now around lunch time but we wanted to go check out the hunting lions again.  What we’ve realised in the Serengeti is that lions hunt at any time, and these were obviously hungry so it was quite possible that they would hunt in the heat of the day.  And it seemed like everyone else had the same idea as well, because you could spot the huge clump of cars from far away!

Walking down the road with 2 youngsters in tow
And unlike lions in other parks who spend most of the day sleeping, the 2 lionesses were up and walking on the road, along with 2 small cubs and an older juvenile sibling.  Both the lionesses and the cubs paid no attention to the cars, but slowly walked along the road until getting to Hippo Pools.  We’d hoped they would drink and a couple of them did, but we were in the wrong position to catch them drinking, something we haven’t seen often in the Serengeti.

Young lions waiting for the moms to find something to eat
After the little pride settled on a mound close to the water, they didn’t seem inclined to move any time soon, so we decided to move on along the river.  Not long afterwards, we spotted another lioness, as well as 3 or 4 cubs and a kill!  She had obviously been successful in catching something for her cubs as they were all tucking in.  We assume that this is part of the same big Seronera pride as the ones we’d seen at Hippo Pools; only these ones had lunch while the others went hungry!

Finding some shade under mom
One of the tour guides told us about a leopard in a tree with a kill, so we headed down Leopard Alley (our nickname for the stretch of road that ALWAYS seems to have leopards in trees), and true to form, there was a leopard in a tree with a kill.  And as always it was so far it was hardly worth shooting.  In fact, we didn’t take any photos, only a quick video that despite its zoom capability, could hardly focus clearly on the leopard.

It was afternoon by now, so we decided to head back to the lions with the kill that we’d seen in the morning, hoping to get some shots of the vultures that would no doubt be feeding on the carcass.  

Drinking from a puddle when there's a river nearby
We stopped to catch a giraffe drinking from a puddle in the road and were entertained by a small band of banded mongooses having a wash in a water puddle as well before getting to the kill sighting. 

Hooded vulture near the kill
There were vultures, but only 3 hooded vultures – the smallest of the vultures, and always at the bottom of the pecking order when it came to feeding.  There was not much left of the carcass by now except for a few scraps, so we assumed that the other vultures had already had their fill, just like the lions who were still nearby fast asleep with bellies full.

Banded mongooses enjoying their mudbath

A quick detour to check up on the other lions but they had already disappeared into the scrub, so we did a quick drive to Maasai Kopjes for the evening and were rewarded with a first time sighting in East Africa – a Klipspringer.  It’s a small antelope which has adapted to living in the kopjes by almost walking on the tips of his hooves.

A first time sighting for us in East Africa - klipspringer
We saw a number of cars whizzing past us and sure enough just around the corner we found the clump of cars.  We couldn’t see what they were looking at – it was something obviously sleeping in the grass out of our line of sight.  But just after we stopped the car, we saw what everyone else was looking at - a nice male lion got up and started walking along the road before heading into the veld.  
Surveying his domain
While there are always plenty of lions along the Seronera River, we find that it’s mainly the lionesses with cubs and juveniles, so seeing a nice male lion with a full mane is always a treat.  

Tired lion
We spent a bit of time with him before we headed to our campsite for the evening.  But the Serengeti had one last surprise for us for the day, and just after we turned off into the campsite road, a cat walked across the road – serval!

Always a prized sighting - serval!
The cat was actually pretty relaxed and didn’t race off, instead hung around close to the road giving us a few shots, albeit in very low light.  And then we spotted the sunset on the opposite side, which was quite spectacular.  It isn’t often that we turn our backs on a serval to take shots of a sunset, but this opportunity was too good to resist!

Looking for food
Finally the serval moved off and it was getting too dark to photograph anything, so we drove the hundred meters to our campsite and quickly got ready for the evening, keeping an eye on the clouds in case we had a replay of the heavy rain from the day before.  Despite us getting out our temporary shelter out, the weather held and soon the wind swept the clouds away, making for a clear starry night to camp under.

Sunset competing with the serval for our camera shots
<< Day 1: The road from hell to finally get back to the Serengeti

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