October 26, 2014 (1 lion, 1 cheetah with 3 cubs, + 2 leopards + 12 lions + 1 cheetah) Serengeti National Park
I had a tough night sleeping but at least I could hear lions and hyenas socializing. They brought coffee and gingerbread biscuits at 6:30 AM and then we went to breakfast. We headed out at 8 AM and saw a pair of lappet-faced vultures, a family of black backed jackals, Thomson’s gazelles, warthogs, Grant’s gazelles, spotted hyenas, wildebeest, ground hornbill, black bellied bustard, and cape buffalo. We also saw a secretarybird with an African gray hornbill. The secretarybird is very interesting and is the national bird of Sudan. Then we saw six hyenas. They were mating and laughing. Wow. It was very loud. I did a little research on them. They have a very large brain, are intelligent, and can live in complex clans of 60-90. It’s a matriarchal society where females are dominant. The lowest ranking female has a higher status than any male. They are efficient hunters and eat all parts of a kill. A group can kill a 400-pound zebra and devour it entirely within a half-hour. Some tribes believe that they are owned and ridden by witches. We moved on and saw two more hyenas, a black-headed heron, and a parade of wildebeest. Then we saw a bloat of about 20 hippos sitting in a muddy pool and a grey heron sitting on a branch. Then we came upon a lioness sitting in a tree. This is rare here in Serengeti. She yawned and jumped down. She had been planning to stalk a wildebeest when another tour company started their engine and startled her, so she stopped…lucky wildebeest! Michael was irritated with him and said something to him in Swahili. We saw a small herd of Coke’s hartebeest and then headed back and saw a grey heron and a slender mongoose. We also saw a white-crowned coucal bird hiding in a bush. No photo. The road is so muddy today that we are sliding all over the place. We’re on the southwest side of the area called Mukoma Hill. Michael has to examine his route carefully, to decide how to get through it without getting stuck. We saw a cheetah in the distance. Mark, jokingly said, “We should drive over there.” Michael said, “shhh.” Michael got out and talked to some of the other drivers in Swahili. Pretty soon he gets back in and we wait a few minutes. All of a sudden, all of the vehicles start their engines and head off road…right up to the tree with the cheetah…she has three cubs. We take a bunch of photos and then we all leave as quickly as we came, and got back to the road. We asked Michael what had just happened. He said that it was illegal to drive off-road in the park and that there was a $300 fine for a first offense and banishment from the park for three months for a second offense. There had been one driver there that Michael didn’t trust, but he had thought quickly. He had heard on the radio that a safari vehicle that we had seen earlier, was stuck in the mud. When we had passed each other, the other vehicle was driving too fast and slip sliding and bouncing through the muck, now they were stuck. We had seen the passengers laughing, but I bet they weren’t laughing anymore! This untrusted guide was from the same company as the stuck truck, so Michael approached and suggested that she go help their colleague. As soon as the vehicle was out of sight, a deal was struck with the five other guides asking each other, “Are you in, or out?” One by one they all agreed. All willing to take the risk. Wow. I think if Michael had been fined, we would have paid it for him as he’s only allowed to guide eight times per year. We told Michael that we wouldn’t brag about our off-road adventure. Farther down the road, we saw a couple of Coke’s hartebeest, a flock of ostriches, and a hyena in the ditch. Then we saw a pair of leopards in a tree. The female had her back to us, but the male was visible amongst the leaves. What a great find. On the way back to camp we saw a muddy hyena in the road. It looked indignant as it had to move out of our way. Back at camp, we were greeted with a cold wash cloth and a good lunch. We went back out at 4 PM to the Maasai Kopjes. On the way, we saw a lilac-breasted roller, warthogs, a colony of cape rock hyrax, wildebeest, zebra, elephant, saddle-billed storks, sandgrouse, and a yellow-throated sandgrouse. Michael got a tip about some lions and we headed out but couldn’t find them. We saw a lot of wildebeest and elephants drinking from the creek. Then we headed around a bend and Michael saw a couple of trucks parked ahead. We hurried over there and we saw a cheetah feasting on a wildebeest calf. We took a lot of photos. The cheetah had a full belly and blood on his face. It almost looked like lipstick. It was getting late, so we headed back and much to our surprise, where we had looked for lions before, we saw a large male lying there in the grass. We could see a couple of other lions across the creek but because they were farther away, we took photos of the male. Then the other lions started crossing the creek coming right towards us. They were jumping from rock to rock, not wanting to get their feet wet. We saw a couple of lions wrestling and playing. Then we realized there were more coming across. We lost count, but it seemed like there were about a dozen. What a large coalition! It was getting dark and the park closes at 6 PM, so we headed back to Chaka. We saw scrub hares and a Thomson’s gazelle with a tiny newborn crossing the road in front of us. Michael said that it was probably only an hour old. Back at camp, we showered and ate a traditional African meal of chicken stew, polenta, pilau rice, pinto beans, cooked with ham, lentils and a salad of green & red peppers, onion with dressing and a sweet bread for dessert. It was really good. Off to sleep. Hot water bottles to keep us warm. ~ Mary & Mark
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