SAFARI BLOG 05

Sunday June 22, 2014

blog5-23 leopard

 

I don’t know who spotted him first, but word quickly spread via the drivers’ radios … and our 4WDs sped-up along the dusty track, converging minutes later near a large, spreading, leafy tree. The object of our attention was big and strong and perched on a high-up branch. He was feeding on a ‘kill’ he’d made the previous night – probably a red-buck or impala. Using his powerful jaws and legs, he had obviously dragged the victim up the tree and jammed it into a convenient fork, away from hungry hyenas and other predators who would happily steal from him.

He was a leopard, handsome and beautifully-coloured and oh-so-close for our cameras. And he was giving us Kiwis a rare African treat …

I should explain that we were now in Ngorongoro Crater, one of the world’s largest intact volcanic calderas. We had overnighted in the fabulous Serena Lodge, clad in river-boulders, cloaked in creepers, and set high on the crater-rim. It was cold up there, 2200 metres above sea level, but that didn’t stop us getting out of bed early yesterday morning, downing weetbix or bacon’n’eggs, and then descending in our safari vehicles some 600 metres onto the crater floor.

This vast, largely-flat, sunken crater (a good 20kms across, and covering 260 square kms) is one of the planet’s largest natural ‘zoos’ – and our game-drive took us to several distinct habitats: forests, swamps, lakes, springs, grasslands and even some sand dunes. En route we saw many of the usuals: a huge Cape buffalo, almost reach-out-and-touchable from our vehicle … wildebeest single-filing to who-knows-where … warthogs digging for tasty roots … an ostrich with three wives … some picture-perfect Grants gazelles … a big bull elephant with massive tusks … a trio of sunbathing hippos … and a thirsty lioness drinking from a pool. Plus we also saw a few unusuals: a lone hartebeest, facing a long walk home … a silvery-backed jackal … a squadron of pink flamingos … and a pair of nesting vultures.

But it was that magnificent leopard-up-a-tree that we’re all still talking about – because I doubt if any of us will ever see anything like it again! He sat upstairs eating for quite a while … then leapt down for a clean-up and a sun-bathe on a dead log … before waving us goodbye with his tail and disappearing into the undergrowth. It was a very touching, very special half-hour, one none of us Kiwis will forget in a hurry.

A video would’ve been better, but sending video-files on slow internet is just not possible from here. However, check out the photos and you might get a feel of what we felt …

From the Ngorongoro Conservation Area we continued our trek westward, arriving late morning at the gates to Serengeti National Park. I’ll tell you more about this amazing place in my next blog, but before I leave the subject of cats there’s one more highlight I have to share.

After bouncing forever across the Serengeti’s vast, dusty plains, we turned down a side-track and followed a river-bed to where lions had been seen the day before. It didn’t take us long to spot them – first, two big females with their heads above the horizon … then more could be seen as we got closer, resting in the sun after a hard night’s hunt … but then they got up and moved off to join an even bigger group, reclining on a nearby grassy knoll. Collectively, they took a bit of counting, but we finally agreed: 23 lions in all, a force to be reckoned with, for sure!

Little wonder the untold antelopes inhabiting the same general area looked decidedly nervous …

PEOPLE NEWS

These priceless mementos continue to change hands, and another quacky-duck found a new home yesterday:

  • Dave F received our ‘Underweight Luggage’ Award … for a little misunderstanding prior to leaving NZ. Concerned that their bags might be too heavy, Dave bought himself one of those luggage-scales you can get. And upon weighing their bags, Dave’s fears were confirmed: he and his wife had packed way too much. They took some stuff out, re-weighed, took some more out, re-weighed again, and finally got their bags under the limit. However, it wasn’t until they got to Africa that Dave discovered he’d been reading pounds instead of kilos! He admits now that it hasn’t been easy: they’ve never travelled with so little …

TOMORROW

The Serengeti is one of the last places on earth where such vast numbers of large animals can still be seen at-home in their natural habitat. And they’re out there, just waiting for us!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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