Walking in lion country

Morning hunt

Angry buffalo herd

Cubs waiting for a meal

Ele parade

Python in the trees



Cat central
This dry season was among the best we’ve ever had. There were 200+ elephants regularly visiting the waterholes at night and gave us some fantastic experiences from atop the treenest. There were the herds of buffalo, diverse birds, and unusual animals like gerenuk, lesser kudu and fringe eared oryx. But…the story of the season was the cats. We witnessed some of the most amazing and unusual 'kills' this season, and to make the experiences that much more special was that we viewed these from outside the confines of the Land Rover. Following are some accounts from the season.

Lone male lion hunting Fringe-Eared Oryx, viewed while sitting on a tree!
For those specialists in wildlife, you can appreciate just seeing a fringe-eared oryx. These gorgeous antelope with long straight and sharp horns are related to the commonly-seen gemsbok of southern Africa, but this particular species is restricted to the remote badlands of Maasailand in arid Tanzania and Kenya. Most safaris never see these beautiful animals or even enter their habitat, but we were lucky not only to see many, but to witness a lion hunting and killing one. From atop the treenest at dawn one morning I heard a lone bellow from the other side of the waterhole, woke up the clients by whispering "lion – get up!" Alaskan bush pilot, Kitty Banner and her friends shot bolt upright and grabbed their binoculars. We then watched the lion walk to a mound near the water and then we spotted a lone oryx come into drink on the other side of the waterhole. The lion took note and set off on a stalk, at one point pausing in frozen stance directly below the tree we were sitting in, not 10 metres from us. We then witnessed the whole stalk, chase, jump and stranglehold on the oryx. The lion suffocated it for more than 15 minutes, and then dragged it into the bush to devour. An hour later we approached the site and the lion had snuck off into the bushes…. So we proceeded to take some spoils of our own and cut out the backstrap (tenderloin) of the oryx to feast on for dinner that night. What a day!

The tale of the 9 lions and the buffalo herd
On just the next trip, we were back at the waterhole. Throughout our first night we were kept awake by the constant roaring of lions. In the morning, the vervet monkeys were alarm calling consistently and we walked to the waterhole to investigate, sensing a cat was on the prowl. Indeed! As we approached, we spotted 9 lions on the far side. We crept up to a safe but good distance and watched for an hour, as one hunted some impala coming to drink. We then left them at peace and carried on our walk. But after a kilometre, we noticed a large buffalo herd moving to the waterhole which we just left and where the lions were waiting, so we changed plan and ran (literally sprinted!) back to the waterhole to get up into the tree before the buffalo arrived. Just as we climbed to the top of the tree, the buffalo arrived….trailed by 9 lions. Chaos and fear erupted and the buffalo spooked from the waterhole, but on the way a poor calf got stuck in the mud. And the lions pounced. Then amazingly, the buffalo herd, led by the distraught mother of the calf, chased the lions around the waterhole – twice! We watched the entire show, with mixed emotions about the fate of the calf, from the top of a tree just nearby. To add to the excitement… the following morning we awoke in the tree and watched two lions mating right in front of us as the sun came up. And… an hour later came on to other lions eating a freshly killed old bull buffalo.

5 cheetahs, the Vulterine Guineafowl and the Gerenuk
Like the fringe-eared oryx, the vulterine guineafowl and gerenuk (unique antelope with a giraffe-like long neck) are rare to see on safari and only found in the dry country of Maasailand and the southern part of Tarangire National Park. On our last safari of the season we were treated to a beautiful dawn as we awoke in the treenest, and 5 cheetahs coming in to drink. A very successful mother and her subadult young. They drank, lounged about, and then the mother froze in a posture that meant 'hunt'. Then a flash and she was in full sprint, then a cloud of dust. She had caught something behind a fallen tree and the young came running and tucked in for a light meal. Later we walked to the scene and found the feathers of a vulterine guineafowl. We continued the walk, tracking the cheetah and witnessed her sprint after a gerenuk, which she missed. We then were able to walk up to 40 meters of the five beautiful cats and some great sightings before leaving them be.

Before you fear…fear not. Even for you folks out there who do not like snakes, understand that the python is a constrictor – like a boa – and not venomous and also not aggressive unless tampered with. So great they are great fun to find! Near waterholes in the Maasai Steppe and Tarangire, the pythons often climb into the trees to curl up and digest after eating a rodent or bird (or for the larger ones, even a small antelope). We had great luck in finding pythons this season – even at one point 5 in the same tree, and one with a feather stuck to its head (like a 'feathered boa?' one might say!). Beautiful snakes and when they are curled up and in a digestive slumber, one can approach very close to observe them. Even the snake-fearing clients in the group came to love looking for these lovely reptiles.

News for 2009 – National Geographic Best 25 Trips!
We are honoured once again to be featured by National Geographic magazine. For their list of the best new trips in the world for 2009, they researched hundreds of journeys the world over, and have chosen our new Serengeti walk as among their top 25. It is a beautiful walk in the wilderness zones of the Serengeti National Park where the rangers have only this year has permitted extended walking safaris to a few operators. We set out on foot for anywhere from 3-6 days and the wildlife viewing and landscapes are excellent.