Tanzania - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 69

Seronera Lodge, Serengeti

Tuesday 20th May

OK, then, since I’m now up to date with the log entry from yesterday, time now to start on reflecting today’s events.

We got up this morning a little earlier than yesterday as I wanted to get as much time as possible driving around on the crater floor looking for the still elusive Leopard. I might even go as far as to say that I’m now desperate to catch a glimpse of this animal and my lust has only increased since hearing the stories from the overlanders about their fortuitous encounter in the Serengeti. Our guide keeps telling us how lucky anyone should be to catch sight of the beast and that we have already had a lot of luck so far. But I persisted and made sure that the one objective for this, our last half-day of the safari was to try to find it. We were not interested in anything else unless it had short legs and white tipped tail, spots and climbed trees.

During the day yesterday, our guide seemed like he was coming down with a bit of a sniffle and even said at the end of the trip after dropping us off at the lodge that he wasn’t feeling to well. He told Sandy that he was worried that it might be Malaria but was going to see the on-site doctor to make sure. When he picked us up again this morning, we asked him about it and sure enough it was Malaria and he had been given some tablets from the doctor to cure the disease. He said he was feeling much better this morning. For all we know, we might have Malaria to but since we are on the Mefloquine, we would not know until we were finished with the course of tablets which we must continue taking for four weeks after leaving the Malaria zone.

After the rough and bumpy descent down to the crater floor, we turned and headed directly for the forest area. Even having been through this area a few times yesterday, this was still our best hope.

Our guide is a very good one. He knows a lot about the animals and birds and has had a lot of experience. We are generally very pleased with him but we do have to odd communications breakdown. His replies to some of our questions clearly indicate that we did not make ourselves clear. His accent also makes it a little difficult sometimes for us to understand him so we are never sure if the answer he has given us is the correct one for the question we’ve asked. A tendency here in Africa is for people to respond in the affirmative when they are unsure of the answer. We’ve noticed this all through Africa and our guide is no different. He had told us, for example, that the crater is unique in that the animals don’t leave. It is, effectively, a completely self-sustained ecosystem. We learned today, however, that this is only true for the Zebras and Wildebeest and that other animals do migrate into and out of the crater – including the Leopard. This means, in effect, that we may very well have been looking for something that is not just elusive but possibly also just not here. After passing through the forest again unsuccessfully, I dwelled on this fact for a while and we talked about possibly going back to the Serengeti for another day or two since we know that there are definitely Leopards there. The overlanders were not making up stories; I saw the photos of the Leopard on their digital cameras.

We drove around the crater floor for another hour or two and got to see some more interesting things including the Lions mating again (but this time they were in a different place and very close to the road so we got some better close-ups). We also saw another few Hyenas with cubs again. They were different Hyenas as the cubs this time were much bigger and almost had the same coloration as their parents. The crowning glory of the morning was a much better glimpse of the Elusive Black Rhino that was much closer to photographing distance this time. Together with the various Elephants, large numbers of Buffalo and the two Lions, this made four of the big five that we had spotted during the morning.

We then stopped and chatted with another truck, as we do from time to time, and again exchanged stories with the tourist peering through the top of their truck roof. We told them about the six Cheetahs that we saw in the Serengeti and a young girl popped up out of the truck and asked: “Do you mean the Cheetahs with the five cubs?” My jaw fell open and that was the final straw. Since there were not only Leopards but also Cheetahs with cubs back in the Serengeti, we would simply have to go back in the hope of finding them for ourselves. We discussed it with our guide and worked out some of the logistics and then cut the remainder of our drive on the crater floor short (we’d pretty much seen everything now anyway) and headed back up to the rim to call Mr. Fish back in Arusha to see about extending the safari by another couple of days. Since it was not logistically possible for the driver to drive all the way back to Arusha again to collect some local currency for fuel and park entrance fees, we agreed with Mr. Fish that we would hand over some cash and traveller’s checks to cover these costs and we would settle up with the remainder of what we owed when we got back to Arusha.

Having filled up the truck with more fuel, we headed back in the direction of the Serengeti to try our luck.

On the way back in, we drove through the migration again which had moved a bit farther from where it was when we were last here. It is still a sight to behold even after driving through it for the third time.

We also drove past the dead Giraffe again and stopped to have a look. It’s amazing how fast nature works here. The overlanders had told us that they saw some Hyenas munching away at it when they drove past it and by now the carcass was almost completely bare with a huge flock of Vultures now picking away at the remains. There was still a bit of neck in tack but it was otherwise reduced to little more than the skeleton. It was an amazing sight to see the Vultures cleaning up and fighting for dominance over who gets to eat first. We got some amazing photos of the spectacle and this is another fine addition to our photographic library – not to mention an event that we will never forget.

As if the dead and almost completely consumed Giraffe was not enough, we also saw a Hyena cooling itself from the heat of the sun by wandering into a small pool of water to wet itself down and this was about ten meters away from where yet another Cheetah was lying on a pile of rocks. This Cheetah sighting now brings our total of Cheetahs spotted to eight.

As soon as we had cleared all the paperwork and entered the park, we immediately went into Leopard hunting mode and scanned each tree we passed with eagle eyes. We probably wouldn’t see a Leopard on the ground but maybe, just maybe, if one were in a tree, we might see it. This would surely be our last safari in Africa and most certainly our last chance to see the Leopard, or any other wild game for that matter, in the wild. I would certainly love to come back to Africa again in the future but who knows if that will ever become a reality.

We drove for about an hour and stopped several times to speak to other drivers, about whether or not they had seen a Leopard, when we came across one driver who said he thought he saw something in a tree but couldn’t quite see what it was. It was our best hope and we raced towards the area he directed us to. When we got there and started driving around, we noticed a couple of other trucks in the distance stationary along the road. We’ve come to realise that trucks are only stationary when there is something to look at and we are now conditioned to automatically follow the line of sight of the tourists in stationary vehicles to see what it is that might have caught their interest. More often than not, they are looking at something that we now think is mundane and commonplace but with a potential Leopard at stake, we didn’t want to rush to any conclusions and drove up to their position. After a few minutes of looking around, there it was. A Leopard was lying in a tree about a hundred meters from the side of the road. Finally, a Leopard in the wild. A flood of emotions came over us and it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was actually very emotional. The relief that was printed on the face of our driver is a sight I will also not quickly forget. The euphoria was tempered only slightly by the fact that the animal was so far away that even my longest zoom would only enlarge it enough to fill just very centre of a photograph. Nevertheless, it was a real Leopard in the wild sitting high up on a horizontal limb of a tree.

We decided that we would wait for as long as it takes to see if the sleeping Leopard would awaken and become active but even after three and a half hours of solid watching, the best it could manage was a few twitches of its legs and tail. The biggest rush of the afternoon was when it got up, turned around to make itself more comfortable and lay back down again on the same thick branch limb. By the time it was gone six o’clock, we concluded that we may have to wait several more hours before it did anything and by now, the sun was low in the sky and any photos that we got would be dark and fettered with motion blur due to slow shutter speed so we decided to call it a night and went to the lodge.

Even though the Leopard was so far away, we had essentially now achieved our objective. More than that, we had seen the big five all in one day. We still have another full day and a half of driving around the Serengeti and we still may yet catch another sighting of a Leopard but we can be pleased with what we have seen either way. Tomorrow is another day.