For the three weeks from 8/26/2004 through 9/19/2004, we went to Tanzania. This is a large country and takes a while to see any appreciable portion of the great locations there. This was also our last major trip using film. We exposed 157 rolls of 36 exposure during our time on the ground there.
This was our longest trip to Africa to date and had some very interesting sightings. I may add one or two more photos later, possibly a rock hyrax and the twin vervet monkey babies. If you have specific interest in either of these, feel free to request them. I missed them on my first scanner pass. If you have enjoyed my photos thus far, please check these out and let me know what you think. Thanks.
We began our trip at the Ngorongoro crater, previously thought to be the largest caldera on the planet. It has since been determined to be outclassed many times over by a caldera so large no one realized it was one for a very long time, Yellowstone National Park. Back to Tanzania though. The Ngorongoro crater is a beautiful spot with incredible wildlife. However, I would probably not go back. The crater, in our experience, has the highest density of safari vehicles we have ever encountered. So, we saw incredible wildlife, but usually with many other vehicles around, making this less of a true safari experience in our opinion. It is definitely worth getting there once for 2 or 3 days though.
On the road into the crater, we saw this chameleon crossing the road. I have no idea how our guide spotted such a small creature. We were glad to see him/her and doubly glad not to flatten him/her.
Once inside the crater, we had our personal best view of cheetahs ever. We got into the crater very early and had this sighting either to ourselves or nearly so, I can’t remember. We certainly were not surrounded by the usual crowd level. This family was just waking up. The largest is the mother, though the others are so close in size that it’s hard to tell that they are still sub-adults. The mother is licking one of the two sisters lying together. The young male is in the background. We had never had a really good view of cheetahs before, though we had seen them on other trips. This time, we could hear them purr.
The young male stopped right next to our vehicle as they were leaving, allowing us a very close look and this head shot.
The cheetahs were playing around a bit farther off. This chase was not part of a hunt, but gave us quite a view of a cheetah sprinting. What an impressive sight!
We also saw black rhinos for the first time in the crater, but at a distance of a quarter mile or so, the photos are not worth posting. I also just realized that I am so wildlife centric that I didn’t even bother to scan a photo of the crater itself. If anyone has a strong interest in the scenery, feel free to request an update. It mostly looks like cliffs in the distance. It can only really be appreciated by looking all around to see that the encircle you. Even then, the crater is so large that all of the walls can be miles away.
After the crater, we headed up to the north of the Serengeti. I do not recall whether we stopped on the way up or the way back to view Oldupai Gorge. This is the correct spelling. A German butterfly researcher initially got it wrong and spelled it Olduvai, a name that has suck with it, but is not the actual name.
I remember remarking at Oldupai that this was the real Ground Zero. This was Ground Zero of the human catastrophe that later spread across six continents causing one of the planet’s six mass extinctions. Already it is greater than the extinction event 65.3 million years ago that took out the non-avian dinosaurs. Some say it is already greater than the P/T boundary 250 million years ago, the prior record holder, though I believe that is still in dispute. As we gather more information and continue to kill off species, it may well become widely accepted.
There were superb starlings over most of our trip. However, they were quite approachable in a parking lot entering the Serengeti. The starling photo looks a lot better than this scanned image came out. It is not nearly this stark and the colors are a lot better in the original. Oh well, flatbed scanners only do so well.
The agama lizard male is a particularly beautiful and colorful lizard. The female is fairly nondescript.
Inside the park, the wildlife is, of course, phenomenal. This was a beautiful view of a giraffe, very common animals in this area. We waited until s/he finished drinking before driving through the river. Giraffes have a very difficult time getting down to the water and getting back up from it. Note the splayed legs. They must rock back and forth splaying a bit more with each step. To get up, they must reverse the process.
Hippos are also quite numerous. The babies are adorable. As an aside, hippos kill more humans than any other wild animal in Africa. Canoing the rivers of Africa can be quite dangerous. If you come around a bend and end up in a pod of hippos, things will not go well. And, with them being mostly submerged, you may not see them very far in advance. I’ve heard conflicting reports from different guides. Some say a hippo can bite a croc in half. Others merely acknowledge that hippos do kill crocs. The crocs may be attempting to take the baby hippos.
This was our first view of very young lion cubs, probably around 3 months. We stayed with the for quite a while. One young cub came up from where the kill must have been hidden with quite a bit of blood on his/her face. There was also one that was climbing around in a bush and got mildly stuck in the branches, but the photos of that don’t really show what is going on.
Mahale in Tanzania is a very similar habitat to Gombe where Jane Goodall spent most of her time studying Chimpanzees. The chimps at Mahale are also being studied and have been for over 40 years, mostly by Japanese researchers. There is also a quite luxurious place to stay on the beach of Lake Tanganyika. A short walk into the hills and you can see chimps exhibiting much of the behavior you’ve come to expect. We did not see nut cracking, which may not be one of the behaviors of the Mahale chimps. We did see ant-fishing, as shown in the second of these three photos. We also saw two male chimps deep French kissing, as evidenced by one male putting his finger into the mouth of the other to get him to open his mouth. If anyone was harboring any lingering doubt thinking that humans invented homosexuality, I assure you we did not.
The last two places we went were Ruaha and Selous. I am not sure exactly where the break between the two is in these photos. The photo below was a female elephant mock charging at us. Later, due to a misunderstanding between our driver and us, we would pressure our driver into doing something very very stupid and driving away from the elephant. We thought we would stop bothering her. However, this show of fear caused her to go into a full charge rather than a mock charge. Luckily a Land Rover can outrun an elephant … barely.
Sometimes, the long lens becomes useless. When large animals get very close, a telephoto lens is no help. This is a very good argument for having two camera bodies and keeping a long lens on one and a wide angle on the other. My wife caught this photo of me with the long lens remaining useless for a change.
The smallest antelopes we saw were dik diks. They are generally fairly shy, and being small, a difficult subject for which to get a really good photograph. I love those enormous eyes. Both sexes have the same short horns.
Saddle Billed Storks are among the most beautiful wading birds I’ve seen. This photo does not really show the yellow saddle on the bridge of the beak that gives them their name.
The rare crocodile unicorn, or horned crocodile, can sometimes be seen. Oh, OK, the croc does not have a horn. Or, more accurately, s/he does have a horn, but it recently belonged to an impala (I think).
There are many baobabs. However, I just liked the way this enormous one looked all alone out there.
At the dining area in the evenings at Selous (pronounced sel-00), there were one or two bushbabies that were particularly unconcerned by the lights and people. This one came close enough for a head shot. I preferred to show the very obvious primate hands though on this pro-simian. Neither monkey nor ape, bushbabies are in a group that is ancestral to both monkeys and apes and also contains lemurs.
We had been to dog country in Africa twice before and been eluded by the dogs both times. We spent 5 days in Ruaha and 6 in Selous, both being good locations for dogs, specifically to try to finally find the dogs. We had passed on some good sightings of other animals intent on finding the dogs. One conversation, after our guide got off the radio went something like this. Guide: ‘They have a sighting of lions from another vehicle. Do you want to go?’ Us: ‘What are they doing?’ Guide: ‘They’re mating!’ Us: ‘We’ve seen lots of mating lions, let’s keep looking for the dogs.’
On our last full day in Selous, we were driving along and my wife yelled, ‘DOG! DOG! DOG!!’ We had finally found them. The sighting was good, though far too brief, maybe a minute or two at most, probably less. They were playful, occasionally pausing to socialize and roll around a bit in the road. Mostly though, they were just passing through. And they run very fast.
The African wild dog (a.k.a. cape hunting dog, painted wolf) is the only animal that vultures will follow on the hunt. Lions are successful on the hunt about 12-15% of the time. The dogs are successful about 85% of the time. They can run all day. I think I heard literally 24 hours if necessary. Most hunts are obviously shorter. When impala see lions on the horizon, they wait, evaluate, determine the appropriate response, give alarm calls, etc. Sometimes when they see dogs, they don’t even sound the alarm. They just start running.
This was a wonderful end to an incredible trip. So, from our limited experience, if you want to see the dogs, you must donate some of your flesh to the tse-tse fund for wildlife habitat preservation. Tse-tses are not repelled by any insect repellent. Avon skin so soft worked as well as anything, possibly better than DEET. Anyway, tse-tses pass sleeping sickness to cattle, stopping or dramatically reducing human habitation in areas thick with tse-tses such as Ruaha and Selous.