The first step was to meet the guide who was to take us on the Tanzanian part of the safari. Hussein turned out to be pleasant, extremely knowledgeable about the parks we visited, the animals and how they interacted with each other and the signs they gave to humans when they were getting angry. Equally important, his driving was the safest we came across, a great plus given the state of the roads and the lunacy of most other drivers.
Hussein’s company was Leopard Tours. We quickly discovered that there were many Leopard Tours’ drivers on the road, and they formed a close knit team. When an animal or a group of animals of interest was discovered, the call would go out and Leopard drivers would quickly converge with others. Hussein was skilled at spotting animals except when he had to negotiate an especially bad bit of road or avoid a lunatic driver barrelling toward us at speed.
During the six days we travelled with Hussein we saw many examples of the ‘big five’ – lions, hippos, leopards, elephants and one black rhino who galloped toward us at 35 kph, weighing perhaps 3.5 tonnes. Luckily he was not aiming at us, as he crossed the road 20 metres ahead of our Toyota Land Cruiser and galloped off into the distance with great urgency.
Lions were hanging about as they do being lazy animals and several times we were treated to a mating. In one memorable case the male was lying on his back with paws in the air between bouts, rising regularly to mount the clearly compliant female. Some distance away three young males, presumably cubs from a previous mating of the pair in question, lay in the shade of some bushes, rising occasionally to survey the scene. Several times we witnessed females hunting while the male relaxed, as apparently in the case in most attempted ‘kills’. Many western women would consider this a feature of life in their societies.
There were several hippo sightings, but the first of these was indeed memorable. About 20 hippos, some young but most large and ponderous, lay dozing in the sun in tightly packed groups. I also counted about 10 already in the water floating slowly about, occasionally snorting or bellowing. As the afternoon wore on the sleepers awoke one by one to ponder whether to eat some more grass or join the others in the river. Mostly after long and careful deliberation one would enter the river, the larger members of the group with a slide down a well-used groove in the bank. I was irresistibly reminded of the board of a bank I once knew well.
Elephants were around in large numbers, mostly females and youngsters as males tend to wander off on their own except at times when certain reproductive urges take over. We came across many groups tearing and eating their way through the forest, requiring as they do vast amounts of vegetable material to keep their vast bodies fuelled. We were advised to be especially careful, and to back off quietly, if an elephant stares fixedly at you and flaps her ears especially vigorously. Since elephants often flap their ears to cool themselves, it is the look in the eyes that is vital. Only once did a large elephant look strangely at us but we sat still until she decided eating was more important than upsetting silly people in large boxes of metal and glass.
Our guide was something of an expert on leopards. We had several sightings of leopards, the first a mere glimpse of a large male (our guide surmised) slipping away in thick bush whose dappled light made us doubt if we had really seen the beast. Most other sightings involved leopards resting or eating up trees. The last of several sightings involved a small leopard, possibly a half-grown cub, eating a carcase in a tree, as leopards are wont to do. We were parked only 20 metres away, and you can imagine the excitement when the cub climbed down the tree, consulted another leopard, possibly its mother, and returned to the tree only to pull the carcase up to a higher branch, and to resume eating. ‘Mother’ and a second cub disappeared into the long grass, we presumed to keep hunting with other mouths to feed.
The first giraffes we saw were a group of ten some distance away, moving across a plain like a fleet of graceful sailing ships. We subsequently saw individuals or small family groups munching apparently happily from the tops of trees. One especially large male chomped his way toward our Toyota and settled down to watch us carefully for several minutes until we decided it was time to move on. We never saw giraffes or elephants mating, which was probably just as well as the old joke says it is like policy formulation in government: it all takes place at a high level; it is very messy; and there is lots of shouting and screaming. (And as one wag opined – it is very nasty for an advisor that gets caught in the middle.)
These were the highlights. There were lots and lots of other animals. The tally included several hyenas and one golden jackal, all plying their nasty but vital trade. Many baboons included a tiny newborn clinging to his mother in a tree beside the road and a slightly older male pointing his willy at us. Hundreds of thousands of gazelles of different varieties grazed nervously. Wilderbeast, zebras and buffaloes by the thousands, were moving in vast herds, or in some cases in single file, across the plains. (When grazing, two zebras stand side by side looking in different directions as lookouts.) Warthogs by the dozen, and one exciting meeting between a bunch of warthogs and several hyenas. Caution meant both groups went their several ways after some glaring and chest puffing, or at least that was our guess.
We also saw innumerable birds, including two vast flocks of flamingos whose pinkness stood out colourfully against the blue of the lake and the bright white of the salt deposits. These were a feature of the relevant lake, a massive body of water inside the stunning Ngorongora Crater, a bird or animal fancier’s paradise.
Water flows into the crater from the surrounding hills. This creates a river and lake, with an associated very green swamp and leakage into the surrounding countryside that I am told is the most productive and therefore prosperous in Tanzania. The crater is certainly one of the most spectacular geographic feature this writer has seen.
We also visited the Serengeti National Park, an endless plain with mainly grass, occasional trees and ‘Kopjes’ – outbreaks of rock with many trees and bushes and nice spots for lions and other animals to hide or to live. This massive grazing land was created when the volcano that created Ngorongoro Crater deposited a thick layer of ash over the landscape. The ash turned into an impenetrable crust, which is why trees have trouble becoming established except when there are cracks in the ash or where erosion of the ash deposits creates the kopjis.
Then there is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area adjoining the crater. It also has plentiful game plus herds of cattle, sheep and goats tended by the Masai Tribe who are permitted to live in the conservation area. The Massai are nomadic groups who have migrated from Egypt via other parts of Africa and still move their herds about to find the best grass and to take them to market. The Masai can be recognised by their tall slender build bright African garb, footware made from old tyres and in the rural areas spears or sticks carried by all the males, the boys often going about with white warrior face paint. In the Conservation Reserve there are many Masai villages of traditional thatch, and without running water or electricity.
The Massai conduct themselves with great dignity and are a fine example of people with a traditional lifestyle who seem to cope well with the linkage to a more modern lifestyle in the towns. And without so far are as I can tell the multiple problems of many indigenous Australians. One morning when we awoke at dawn we could see three indistinct but tall figures in red in the bush surrounding our tent. We later learned they were employed as guards as the tents people were sleeping in had no barriers to prevent wild animals joining the people.
Tomorrow we move into Kenya to continue our safari. The differences from and similarities to our Tanzania experience will be of great interest.