I finally went on a safari to Serengeti and Ngorogoro crater with a short walking safari in Arusha National Park. I met two other travelers, a Dutch guy and English guy, who had met only 3 weeks before through the manager of Kindoroko tours. They had inquired about safari and the mangager was quite sure they’d go with them so all I had to do was meet them.
They decided they wanted a better deal and I joined them. We embarked on a 5 day/4night safari with 2 days in Serengeti, exactly what I had hoped for. The walking safari was nice, though I had assumed there would be elephants (you’d think I’d know by now not to make any assumptions anymore!) and a little saddened when I realized we’d only see African buffalo, colobus monkeys, warthogs and giraffe (not many). We were quite close to the buffalo and had no idea what I’d do if they decided to charge. A ranger accompanied us with his old looking rifle but… a buffalo isn’t an animal I want charging at me!
On the second day we passed through the Ngorogoro conservation area and we’re in Serengeti by mid-afternoon. Upon entering, we saw lots of zebras and buffalo near the dirt road and our driver, Ika, circled a few rock formations in search of lions. We were lucky when we spotted one basking in the sun, legs in the air, as if playing dead. Amazing! We headed for camp to set up tents, which Ika and our cook, Barraka so kindly put up. Our cook stayed to prepare dinner as we hopped back in the landrover for our evening game drive. We encountered giraffes near a water source and soon after a group of lions hidden in the grass enjoying a fresh kill. I was happy to have binoculars but lions know how to hide quite well. Hearing all the sounds they make is amazing. It doesn’t quite compare to anything.
The next morning we awoke early-6am for a morning game drive and was surprised when we only saw a few monkeys and giraffe. We headed back for breakfast and then went out again before having lunch. Animals were not in abundance in Serengeti and it turns out the migration recently happened (last few weeks). It was no surprise to our driver that animal sightings were limited.
However, we were so lucky to encounter a cheetah amongst 8 other vechicles looking on. The cheetah was quite a distance but close enough to see with the naked eye. I was so happy to have my binoculars with me. The cheetah sat still for a long while looking on at the group of gazelles grazing on grass not too far away. The leader of the gazelle pack/herd? stared down the cheetah without any movement nor warned the other gazelles to flee. I was surprised it didn’t run off and warn the others. Maybe it was stunned or in shock or…? The cheetah looked at his prey and at us several times, I’m sure accustomed to all the metal vechicles filled with strange animals popping out of the top, gawking with binoculars, zoom lenses and clicking cameras.
And then he took off as our driver quickly tried to turn around to watch him hunt. In less than 20 seconds the cheetah had a gazelle in his mouth. He kept the gazelle in his mouth until it was dead- suffocation by the throat. At least a relatively quick death for the gazelle. The cheetah got up, sat back down, looked off in the distance and checked out his spectators. After a good 20 minutes, he dragged the gazelle to a different spot and sat next to it. Vultures were making sounds excited for a feast after the cheetah.
It was an amazing experience. My camera’s zoom wasn’t powerful enough to capture the cheetah but I was content to witness nature run it’s course. I was happy my safari companions wanted to watch as long as I did but found this was only the case when it came to lions and cheetahs. I would have gladly watched zebras and giraffes longer, especially since we weren’t encountering animals as often!
On our way out of Serengeti we spotted a cheetah sitting by the side of the road with 3 other safari vechicles within 100 feet of it. Amazing.
Then to Ngorogoro crater, a picturesque spot and world heritage site, filled with zebras, buffalos, warthogs, wildebeest, lions and elephants (saw one in the far distance)! There were several other safari vechicles ahead of us and behind us all eager to fill their cameras with lots of photos. None of the roads are paved, thankfully, but there are several main roads within the crater that safari vechicles use so it was only a few times when there wasn’t another vechicle in view.
After 45 minutes in the crater we headed in the direction where 10 other vechicles were stopped knowing it would either be a cheetah, leopard or lion. There was a group hiding in the grass, enjoying a feast, a hyena looking on awaiting his turn and vultures gawking from the trees squawking.
I felt like I was at disneyland for a moment- everyone standing up on their seat with roofs open all eager to capture that magical moment of proof they’ve seen a lion. Both in Serengeti and in the crater I felt like we were on a set path, drivers hoping to see all the animals to appease and impress their clients. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely enjoyed my experience but at one point does it begin to seem funny seeing plenty of other people in vechicles in search of the prized animals, quickly snap their photos and be off to the next sighting? Has animal behavior changed becasue of the amount of cars within the park? Have animals attacked a vechicle out of frustation from the constant noise of the engines and being watched?Environmental impact?
In Serengeti I was able to sit on the roof of our vechicle( I loved feeling the wind blow on my face and looking out at the vast plains) but in Ngorogoro I couldn’t- they had a few more rules yet there are no regulations on the amount of vechicles within the crater. hmmm… poor animals. yes, there still wild but with constant humans coming into their territory. Zebras seem undaunted by the cars or people and only wandered away slightly when the engine turned off.
The best experience within the crater was Ika spotting a lion hidden very well in the grass by the dirt road. I was surprised. We then saw another one hidden too. We were the only vechicle and was ready and happy to wait as long as necessary until a lion showed it’s face! Ika decided to drive closer to the second hidden lion . Next thing I know, he’s out of the car (opposite side of the lion), comes back in with a hefty size rock. I look at him and say No, NO but within seconds the rock is thrown out the window nearly missing the sleepy lion. The male lion looked up, paused and then back to his sleepy postition.
I told Ika I didn’t like it and so did the English guy. He said, oh ok. I’m sure he did this because he wanted us to have a good photo opportunity. I was disappointed he would do that as he easily could have injured the lion or the lion could have pounced on the car and attacked if he wanted. We would have been out of luck as our two roofs were wide open.
The other lion popped out a few minutes later to graze on grass. I was intrigued and couldn’t stop taking photos but also stopped and simply enjoyed being so close to a lion (litterally no more than 50 feet away,!). He stayed out for a good 15 minutes. Magical!
I imagine this wasn’t the first time Ika has thrown a rock towards an animal before and am sure it will happen again. It’s likely common placem, sadly. Drivers feel pressure to ensure their clients get nice photos and maybe there’s also hope people will leave better tips at the expense of bothering the animals. I’m happy to have seen the beautiful animals in their native habitat but I also question the impact of safari’s and the pressure on companies to give what they think clients expect. Ultimately, the animals are affected.