Tanzania - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 70

Seronera Lodge, Serengeti

Wednesday 21st May

Last night, all I could dream about was the Leopard that we had seen and how far away it was. We paid royally for this safari at $120 per person per day (actually it’s not really that much in the grand scheme of things but it is a lot of money for a backpacker’s budget). The two day extension that we arranged in order to try to catch sight of the Leopard cost us an additional $480 and although I am very pleased that we did see it, the fact that it was so very far away and pretty much motionless makes the whole thing somewhat of a shallow victory – an oxymoron if ever there was one. As such, I was once again desperate this morning to get a much better look at the animal during our game drives today. In my heart of hearts, however, I knew that we were already extremely fortunate to have seen it already and held out little hope of another victory.

We had breakfast and left this morning to see what we could see. The theme of this morning’s game drive would turn out to be Lions in trees as we saw quite a few of them and mostly up in trees. The Lion that we saw climb the tree in Kruger National Park was an extremely rare occurrence as the Lions of South Africa generally don’t climb trees. The Lions here, however, seem to be quite happy up high in the branches. We’ve been told that they do this to escape the annoyance of the myriad of flies at this time of the year but as is the case with many subjects here in Africa, the explanation tends to vary depending on whom you talk to. I’ve heard a couple of different explanations for where the word ‘Safari’ comes from, for example. According to our guide, it is the Swahili word for ‘Journey’. Since our guide speaks Swahili, I tend to agree with his explanation.

We added a few new species of birds to our library this morning and saw a nice group of Giraffe including four juveniles. We also caught another sighting of the illusive Dik Dik and got our closest view of the Lilac Breasted Roller yet. This brilliantly pastel coloured bird is absolutely gorgeous and displays some fantastic colours with its wings both closed as well as open and in flight. It is also the national bird of Botswana. The national bird of Tanzania is apparently the Ostrich and the Falcon is the national bird of Zimbabwe. Funny how these little bits of trivia amount as time passes.

For all our driving around and intense viewing of just about every tree that might sport our objective, across a wide area of the Serengeti, we still could not find another Leopard. As if to rub sort into the wound, we got a flat tire whilst heading back to the lodge for lunch. It took our driver just a few minutes, however, to replace the tire with one of the two spares bolted to the back of the truck and we came back in for lunch, somewhat despondently.

Since we were looking so intensely for the Leopard during the morning game drive, we arrived back at the lodge a bit later than anticipated and accordingly were only able to start our afternoon game drive at three o’clock. This would leave precious little time for us on this our very last full day of our very last safari here in Africa. If we did not find another Leopard soon, we might never get the chance to do so again.

We set out at three o’clock full of wishful thinking. With our heads poking out the roof of the vehicle and our eyes solidly glued to the trees, we slowly edged around the nooks and crannies of the Serengeti. As is now routine, we eagerly and hopefully raced towards the location of any other stationary vehicle in the vain hope that they might have stopped to spot the spotted beast. The first stationary truck we eagerly approached turned out to be looking at birds, the second a Crocodile and the third a troupe of Olive Baboons. My heart was slowly sinking as the realisation steadily started to kick in that we may have to live with what we saw yesterday when we happened upon a pair of stationary trucks about a hundred meters apart. This could mean that they were each looking at different things or it could mean that they were looking at the same thing but from different angles. For the latter to be the case, it would have to be something substantive such as a group of Lions in a tree like we’d seen several times earlier in the day. When we approached and asked what it was they were looking at, I was electrified to hear someone mutter the word Leopard. I was instantly alert like a Cheetah that suddenly saw some prey appear into view on the horizon and swept the bush with my eyes full open and with a single purpose. A nuclear bomb could have gone off nearby and I would not have noticed at that moment. My mind somehow emptied itself of all things irrelevant and a surreal calm descended upon me. From some unknown direction, I heard someone say “In the dead tree, over there” and my eyes immediately locked position. There it was, a fully-grown, male Leopard lying in the tree almost in full view. I was elated and a flood of emotion welled inside. It was much closer than the one we saw yesterday at only about sixty meters away. We spent the next ten minutes edging forwards and backwards up and down the road trying to find the best position to get the best view. Once we found the ideal spot, we stayed there. We were less than half an hour into the game drive but we were going to stay put for the next several hours if necessary in the hope that this Leopard might become more active than the last. We would not be disappointed.

As was the case with yesterday’s Leopard, this one twitched a few times and actually got up once or twice to reposition himself. My camera went into overdrive as I snapped away at just about any movement he made. Once again, the beauty of digital photography was the saviour of the day in that regard and we had the advantage of the fact that we could take literally hundreds of photos if necessary, as we could simply sort them out later on the laptop.

As we were discussing our luck with some of the occupants of one of the other trucks that had stopped to observe, the Leopard got up, walked down the branch a bit and, to everyone’s amazement, picked up a half-eaten, dead Impala that was lying in the tree just out of our sight with its teeth. It had apparently recently killed the unfortunate antelope and was storing it in the tree ready to eat. With drool practically oozing from the sides of my mouth, the Leopard started to devour the Impala right before our very eyes. It cannot get much better than this and the whole thing is well within photography range. Our money has been well spent and the decision to extend our stay for a couple of days was hereby vindicated. We have now seen just about every predatory cat in Africa. Not only that, we seen them in action, doing things that few people may ever see.

We’ve now seen Lions climb trees and capture Baboons, Lions in trees, male and female Lions together, two male Lions together, male and female Lions mating, Lion cubs of various ages and Lions in prides. We've seen Cheetahs, Cheetahs marking their territory, Cheetahs in pairs, Cheetahs in threes, Cheetahs being filmed by a film crew and even Cheetahs stalking prey. To add to this, we’ve now also seen Leopards in trees and a Leopard in a tree eating its prey. Not forgetting that we’ve also seen a Serval Cat (what our guide had originally referred to as the Silver Cat) a couple of times and also a Large Spotted Genet a couple of times. And all this is just the feline category. We can, indeed, be extremely thankful of the things we’ve seen here in Africa and we will leave this continent having been touched by the sheer beauty of the wild in ways that few people can claim to have experienced.

After dinner this evening, we showed several of the people that we met along the way during our two game drives today our collection of feline photographs and everyone was amazed at the viewing that we were exposed to. I had categorised them into Lions, Cheetahs and Leopards and there were well over a hundred in each category (being just the photos that we kept – there have been literally thousands of photos that we’ve taken altogether). After that, we sat down and watched the evening video presentation. Both the lodges at the crater and here in the Serengeti show such a video presentation each evening at around eight-thirty but we’ve always been too tired by then to sit and watch them but we made an exception tonight as this evenings showing was a presentation on the Cheetah. Having seen a total of eight Cheetahs here in the Gol Kopjes (not far from the Gol Mountains), the Serengeti Plains and the Ngorongoro Crater, we were both particularly interested.

We sat and watched the presentation in awe. The cinematography was of the finest I’ve seen and the one-hour film was extremely well made and very moving. It was something that the National Geographic or David Attenborough might have put together and was a classic showing of the lives of the Cheetahs on the Serengeti Plains. The sights and sounds of the film were an amazing echo of what we ourselves have witnessed over the past few days. Although this film was clearly made a few years ago, it could very well have been made by the very film crew that we saw out on the Gol Kopjes just the other day, as every field and rocky outcropping that we saw in the film, we remembered seeing ourselves. Even the very behaviour of the Cheetahs and other wild game in action was reminiscent of our own experiences out on the plains. After watching the film, everything we saw ourselves seemed to now make sense and we now have a much better understanding of what we saw with everything now fitting into place. What made it even more moving was the fact that the filming took place at the same time of the year as it is now and so the flora and fauna on the screen are also identical to what we saw. Everything was familiar, right down to the Wildebeest migration.

Tomorrow morning will be the very last game drive of this our very last safari here in Africa. The realisation of this saddens me deeply as I will miss the excitement of the wildlife of Africa greatly. Not knowing what might be around the next bend or what might be in or behind the next tree or bush, brings with it an excitement that will be difficult to convey to others who have not had the same experience. The African people are also warm and friendly and a refreshing change from those wrapped up in the rat race of our more familiar Western societies. If the opportunity ever arises again in the future, I must return to this place.

Until then, however, there is still much of the world left for us to explore as the bulk of our epic journey still lies ahead of us. We are now just two and a half months into our eighteen-month journey and many more adventures and surprises await us in the weeks and months to come. They say that a world journey, such as the one we are currently embarked upon, can be a life altering experience and can even change your perspective on life. I’m starting to feel this change take place already and I ponder just how many other places that we will visit will be as enchanting and enriching as Africa has been so far. This will be my parting thought for this log entry and I’m sure it will dwell in my dreams, as I rest now till dawn.

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