Tanzania: Ndutu to Ngorongoro

by on February 28, 2014; Africa; Tanzania; Travel

The following morning we had an early morning game drive to make the most of our one and only day in Ndutu. Leaving before the sun had risen, we couldn’t have asked for a better start coming upon a male lion with a wildebeest kill. It was amazing to watch the dark figure of the lion appear out of the dusk light as the sun rose. The quick find did have it’s downsides though, with it being so close to camp there was an above average number of safari trucks, many who were pushing their luck in terms of how close they were getting (drivers no doubt spurred on by tourists with iPads who ‘just gotta’ get that close-up photo – I wish I was joking). After twenty or so minutes the lion abandoned his breakfast and headed for the trees. I like to think that he had just had his full, but that would probably be called wishful thinking.

If you want decent wild life photos, please buy a telephoto. It’ll improve everyones day (especially the wildlife’s).

Luckily, that was not our only lion sighting that morning. Not fifteen minutes later we came across a family group with a lioness and three cubs. It was great to watch them run, play and stalk each other. As cute as they were now, our previous lion kill sightings couldn’t help make me think that this was actually the morning training routine for something much more violent.

After our lion sightings in addition to some plain game, we were driving along a dry river bank when Abdul’s sharp eyes spotted a cheetah across the bank. The cheetah turned out to be very shy however, as he made a quick escape away from our Land Rover as soon as we crossed. Observing from a distance with binoculars we had a bit of an exciting moment when a lost wildebeest calf almost run right into him. Poor guy must have gotten within six meters before he realised his mistake. Luckily for him the cheetah must have eaten recently as the chase was very half-hearted and so he lived to see another day – although given that he was all alone, probably not much longer.

After this we came across a massive herd of wildebeest on the move. Hundreds of animals passing every minute with an endless stream in either directions – the pictures really don’t do it justice. A group of zebra who were part of the herd had formed a semi-circle and convoy of Land Rovers were keeping a very close eye on. Abdul explained that there was likely a cat in the area and that the zebra, who have much better eye sight than the wildebeest, were acting as look outs. He turned out to be right and there was a pair of cheetah crouching in the grass, watching the herd go by very carefully. As the herd streamed past it was really interesting to see each group suddenly realise what was hiding nearby and then suddenly change their path, but this message never seemed to make it to the back of the herd. After twenty minutes of watching the cheetah took turns making a dash at a couple of wildebeest calves but without success. In contrast to our first cheetah sighting though, these ones were anything but shy. They came right up to the safari trucks and actually sat on ones bonnet for a better view (more commonly done with termite hills and the like). Strange behaviour for wild animals but apparently these particular cheetah are well known in the area and their ‘friendliness’ is due to being exposed to documentary crews growing up.

After our packed morning tea overlooking the banks of a river, and a few more plain game sightings, we began to head back to camp. On our way back we managed to catch up with the family group of lions we had seen in the morning, including an old male relaxing in the sun; although even the cubs were a lot less energetic in the heat of the day. We exited Ndutu back through the Serengeti and headed for Ngorongoro.

On our way to our new camp site we stopped at the Olduvai Gorge, one of the most important anthropology sites in the world. Many important findings relating to early human ancestors have been made at the sight, mostly by Mary and Louis Leakey, including the Australopithecus boisei fossilised skull more commonly known as “Nutcracker Man”. This and many of the other discoveries at Olduvai_Gorge were crucial in establishing the out-of-Africa theory of human evolution and migration. The little museum at the site made for a really interesting change from wildlife watching.

As we made our climb back up into the highlands, dark clouds began to gather behind us and a thunder storm began to fall over the plains. As our trip was in the shoulder season so we had really struck it lucky with the weather and had timed our exit from the Serengeti perfectly. We arrived at the Ngorongoro camp site just in time to setup our tent before watching the sunset.