Saturday, November 07, 2009


[Kyle]We bid Ngorongoro farewell and descended back down the long dirt track to the Great Rift Valley. Just before Arusha, we turned south for Tarangire National Park, where our next lodge was located. Tarangire is home to the entire assortment of African animals but is best known for its elephants and its baobab trees.

Elephants are very much more careful of humans in this park

We saw both pretty much immediately after entering the park. The elephants in Tarangire are noticeably more aggressive than the other ones we’ve seen, particularly the older bulls. Juma, our guide says that this is because he elephants in Tarangire were hunted by poachers until about 1960. The older ones still remember what happened and as a result, are pretty mistrusting of humans. We were able to get close to the elephants, but with almost every contact the bull would stand guard while the rest of the family retreated. Once they were sufficiently far off, he would do a menacing charge for three or four steps, complete with tusks raised and dust flying. The message was clearly, “Don’t follow us, or else!” Apart from being scary, I thought it was sweet, a bull being worried about his family. If they manage to keep poaching at bay, in a couple of decades, when the older generation starts dying off, Tarangire’s elephants may start being more tolerant of humans.

We had a quick stop at the lodge to check in and have lunch and then it was out into the park again. By this point, we had pretty much seen most of the animals there were to see. We figured Tarangire was just time filler between Ngorongoro and the airport because the crater was so far.

We turned out to be wrong. Tarangire is a beautiful park in its own right. The hills are multicoloured red, yellow and tan. Giant baobab trees are everywhere as well as lots of elephants. There are probably few places in the park where you are not in sight of an elephant.

We left the lodge and stopped at a baobab tree to learn about them. The next thing that happened after that was Maryanne spotted a bird in the top of a far-off tree that she thought the bird watcher in the group would be interested. Our guide looked through his binoculars and declared it a Lilac Crested Thrush. While our bird watcher friend was snapping away, I took a look through our own binoculars. I was amazed at what I saw. It wasn’t a Lilac Crested Thrush; it was a Senegal parrot, Poicephalis Senegalis. Another look and Juma conceded that it was a parrot. Yes! I outguided the guide!

Senegal Parrot, picture taken by our fellow safari passenger Luce - way to go!

I love Senegals! Many, many years back, I had a couple of them (Scooter and Buzzy) and I still miss them dearly. They are such sweet birds. They are such animated clowns and their antics are hilarious all-day entertainment. It was such a treat for me to see them in the wild and see what their natural habitat is like. That alone would have made the Africa trip worth it for me. The bird took off and let out a screech. I recognized their natural screech immediately. I have heard it so many times interspersed with English and other noises picked up in the home. We heard several more but they seemed quite skittish and would fly away every time we got almost close enough to photograph them. I got a good long look through the binoculars, though, and all the happy memories of my birds came right back to me right then.

Lovebirds and dik dik

A little further on, our guide spotted three lovebirds (also parrots) on the ground in front of the vehicle. They took off when we approached, but we saw and heard quite a few of them as well for the rest of the day. I was in parrot-lovers heaven.

Oh, but that’s not all, a few minutes after that, we came across a female lion lying by a river. ‘Big deal’, we thought, ‘We’re all lioned out. She’s cool and all, but what’re we going to do with more lion pictures?’ Once we got closer, we got our answer. This just wasn’t another lion, but a mother with five adorable cubs. The half eaten carcass of a freshly killed wildebeest was under a nearby tree. While mom slept off the effort of the hunt and the subsequent food coma, the little cubs played with full stomachs and not a care in the world. They were so young that they seemed to be just giant ears and paws that stumbled over themselves just walking. Over and over, they would practice big lion stuff by sneaking up on, and then pouncing on each other, bursting with hyperactive joy like kittens.

Cheetah enjoys feeding on its recent kill

It was getting late and sunset was imminent, so we started back to the lodge. About a third of the way back, Juma, now known as Eagle-eye, stopped our vehicle and pointed out a cheetah feeding on a fresh kill. Cheetahs are so well camouflaged that none of us could find it. It wasn’t until Maryanne started looking with binoculars and started directing our gaze in the right direction that the rest of us found it. This cat was 50 meters off the road lying down in the grass. The only thing visible to the naked eye was some slight motion and occasional flashes of red from the kill. That’s what Juma saw. He didn’t even slow down and search for a while, he just saw it. Well, we knew all of the guides share information (in Swahili) over the radio. We figured he must have received a tip. Once he got on the radio, other vehicles started showing up. The other guides confirmed that Juma saw this one first and were all clearly congratulating him in Swahili when they showed up. Cheetahs are probably the hardest animals to find. They’re solitary, secretive, small and well camouflaged. We are very lucky to have seen not Just one, but two of them on this trip.

Juma, our ace guide

Juma, who rumor has, is the youngest guide, clearly scored himself some points with his peers on that one. Even though he is young, he has been a really good guide. He looks seventeen, but he speaks at least five languages and we haven’t been able to stump him on a biology, geology or ecology question yet. Every time we were able to check his answers from an independent source, he’s been spot-on. As far as we can tell, the Senegal thing was the first thing he got wrong. When we did later find a Lilac Crested Thrush, I thought it was another Senegal – until it turned its head and I saw the beak was pointy instead of hook shaped. In flight, they look completely different, but sitting on a branch, they are very hard to tell apart – until you see the beak. That one’s still mine, though.


Mommy Dearest said...

So....I'm assuming this was better than a trip to the Denver Zoo for ya. Disneyland, perhaps?
You've managed to wow me yet again. It feels good to know all these magnificent beasts and birds (love the Senegal parrot)have not been chased off by commercial enterprises, cities, modernity and all the rest of the poison that chased off our own native wildlife. It does look like a Nature TV program, I have to admit. I'm sure it is thrilling to see these animals in their natural habitat. I gather the government does not allow unassisted tourists to simply venture out without guides and well, supervision. For the protection of the animals more than for the people.

What were your safari partners like--the people, I mean, besides your wonderful guide. Where was everyone else from? No pictures of the insides of those huts at the lodges? I was curious what they were like inside.

Is all this globe-trotting a way to keep time until you can return to Footprint? Are you homesick for her and the sea yet, or are you having way too much fun?

I miss you but am so glad you're spending your time the way you are. Safe travels!

Trotty said...

We just can't keep pace with you guys. Every time we log in you are in a different country doing somthing even more dangerous. Whew!
Glad you are enjoying things.

DebT said...

Wow!!! I just love reading your adventures. Thanks so much for sharing!!!