A full day of Serengeti game driving is what we looked forward to today! We started seeing huge herds of zebra roaming around the road and wandering about the grasses as soon as we crossed into the main portion of the park. Hippo’s featured next, and I have to say that I could sit and watch hippo’s for a long time. They are hysterical. Lazy, fat, lounging in the water after along night foraging, the hippos are just absolutely grumpily funny. They lay and flop water onto themselves with their tales, and every now and then a violent outburst occurs with teeth and snorts as one hippo needs a bit more space or someone stepped on a toe. Zoe and I were fascinated by one hippo who had yet to make it into the creek; it was so very slow and lethargic coming down the bank and eventually plopping into the mud.
The morning was spent perched on top of our seats, heads out the roof, spotting animals. We drove on some pretty rough dirt roads, so simply holding on and staying up became a fun game. The kids had a blast hanging from the roof and trying to be the first to spot ‘something hanging from a tree’ as Danny our driver told us. They spotted big herds of gazelle, water buffalo, warthogs, vultures eating, elephants, and a few giraffes, plus lots more.
Eventually, we pulled up next to another safari car trying to figure out what they were looking at… and we saw it… hanging from a distant tree was a tail! A leopard! These are the toughest to find, and certainly not common; it’s not a given that any will be seen on safari. We watched it sleep through the binoculars before moving the car to a road nearer to where it slumbered. It was beautiful and we all felt so very lucky!!
As we moved on to a watering hole area we were shocked with the quantities of zebra and gazelle before spotting a bunch of safari vehicles gathered around a pack of sleeping lions. They were nearly on the road, napping under a tree. The funniest part was that they slept like our cat Nutmeg: on their backs belly up! So funny to see. They looked so docile, too. We stayed safely (legally) in our vehicle, but they just looked so calm as if they wanted petting. I suppose I expected wildness in the wild animals, like the overly violent way they are portrayed on TV, but the whole Serengeti seems so very peaceful with only minor bursts of hunting. In reality, there are lots of herbivores wandering around carelessly, carnivores lounging carelessly, and the briefest chance of getting to see blood. Bryan kept a lion count over the course of our entire week, but lost it somewhere above 30. Most were sleeping.
For lunch we stopped at a designated picnic area where we could stretch our legs, eat our box lunch, and use the toilets. Let me say that the bathrooms at the national parks are so very clean! I suppose part of our entrance fees go toward this, but I was pleasantly surprised. Each has an attendant who keeps the place so tidy and supplied with toilet paper; I happily tipped for such a service.
The lunch stop was a pretty knoll with views across the heart of the grassland where we drove next. Danny seemed to be taking us far far away from the other safari vehicles. We drove and drove through tall grasses seeing fewer animals than we had earlier, but also fewer (and eventually NO) other safari cars. Some umbrella trees appeared in a low spot, and we found a pocket of gazelle and giraffe. Then, Danny spotted another leopard!! It was like he knew this guy hung out way way out this direction. With no other cars around, not even any dust on the horizon showing a vehicle driving, we were alone with the leopard. We drove underneath him in the tree.
It hung there, napping with its head notched in the V of a branch, paws hanging down and tail wrapped around the back. It looked so fuzzy and beautiful, opened its eyes once to see what all the fuss was, and settled back down. Danny said it looked small and young, but it was sure a big cat!
Ecstatic, we drove on, heading generally back toward the central more crowded water hole area. I say ‘crowded’ because there are times when 5-6 other safari cars might be scrambling for views of a lion. In reality, the place is not over run with tourist, but they do seem to congregate. Most of the time we would be in eyesight of 1 or 2 other safari cars, except on this afternoon outing. Today the kids did take some time to sit down, Zoe even napped in the back briefly while Avi poured over the Audubon guide. Eventually we did come upon another safari car; the first we’d seen in over an hour. The occupants were aiming their binoculars at a tree where we spotted another leopard! As we looked, another tiny head popped up behind it. There was a baby laying up there with its mom! Baby sat up for a while as we attempted to zoom in for pictures before giving up and just enjoying the scene. In the picture, look at the lowest right hand brand near the trunk for some paws dangling.
Our afternoon was fun with more grazing animals, more sleeping lions, a giant herd of giraffe awkwardly crossing a river, and more exciting driving with our heads in the wind and dust. We had a couple of bush toilet breaks. At one point, out in the tall grassland after our leopard spotting, we all got out behind the car too pee and Avi tried to walk to a grass clump. I stopped him, and good thing, as a few hyenas popped up not far past to watch us. The boys finished quickly. I stood over Zoe as she finished up…just to show myself as big and not to be messed with. Another stop found Bryan and I near an impala that snuck up behind the car.
We stopped often to take pictures and just watch the animals behave. This was our earliest day back to hotel, still with only an hour or so to spare of daylight. Every other day we returned at dusk, rushed to get a shower, had dinner, and went to bed. Today, though, we showered and walked around the grounds a bit to see the other huts and a giant stork that was attempting to bully the dog out of its bone. There had been a prescribed burn at the edge of the lodge grounds which was still smoldering and making everything smell of campfire. Dinner was again lovely with soup and chicken, rice and fruits. Tasty. Tomorrow we wake early for a long drive back through the Serengeti and down into the Ngorogoro crater.
Zoe’s Animal List Day #3 (Serengeti)
- thompsons gazelle
- Grants gazelle
- african fish eagle
- bee eater
- water buffalo
- tree leopard
- Egyptian goose
- lions and lionesses