Aftermath of a kill

We were on a game drive our second morning in Alamana.  Another car radioed us about a hyena stalking a mother and baby gazelle. We drove over.

From people in the first car, we later learned that the gazelles spotted a hyena stalking them, and the gazelles ran.  The baby gazelle stumbled, and the hyena caught it.

We pulled up as the hyena caught the the baby gazelle.  The baby gazelle is still holding its head up.  The time of the photo is 8:00:35 am.

hyena biting baby gazelle
hyena biting baby gazelle

The mother tries to distract the hyena by running around the hyena. 8:00:37

mother gazelle trying to distract the hyena
mother gazelle trying to distract the hyena

A minute later, a second hyena is on the scene, and the baby gazelle is dead.  8:01:33

mother gazelle moves on after the second hyena appears
mother gazelle moves on after the second hyena appears

The aftermath is shown in this slide show.  Warning: it’s predictable and not pretty.

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In the final photo, the hyena is done with his meal.  Note the red paws and mouth.  The time is 8:04:59.  Three and a half minutes from the initial photo biting the gazelle.

I ate the whole thing
I ate the whole thing

For those keeping track, the animals are a spotted hyena and two Thomson’s gazelles.  From wikipedia, “Although long reputed to be cowardly scavengers, hyenas, especially spotted hyenas, kill as much as 95% of the food they eat.”

8:05 am on our third day on safari.  What a way to start the day.

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Bush walks

The Alamana camp is located on Maasai lands outside Serengeti National Park.  We may use open vehicles, go on bush walks, drive off-road, and do night game drives.  These activities are not permitted within the National Park.

The first morning we climbed into open vehicles to drive to a bush walk.  Lucas, a Maasai camp employee, is standing in front.  The open vehicle with three levels of seats facilitates game viewing and photography.

Alamana open truck with Lucas standing in front
Alamana open truck with Lucas standing in front

We did a game drive to a dry stream bed, where we did a bush walk. Noeli, a camp guide, led the the group and carried a loaded 416 caliber rifle. Lucas brought up the rear and carried a spear, the traditional Maasai weapon. We stayed close to Noeli, who carried the gun. He has used the rifle on bush walks, killing a charging hippo with a single shot from his bolt action rifle. No one asked if he would have had time for a second shot in case the first one only wounded the hippo. Remember, hippos kill more people than any other animal.

staying close to the guy with the rifle
staying close to the guy with the rifle

Noeli showed us a whistling thorn acacia, which has a symbiotic relationship with ants. Some thorns have a bulbous base where ants live, entering and exiting through a hole. Wind causes some acacia bulbs to whistle as the wind passes the hole. If the acacia is disturbed, the ants crawl out and bite the animal eating the acacia. Although this acacia has long thorns, evidently the thorns aren’t enough to protect it against herbivores!

whistling thorn acacia
whistling thorn acacia

Noeli cut open a bulb.  Ants crawled out of the bulb and are biting his hand as he holds the bulb for this picture.  Noeli is one tough dude.

whistling thron acacia and biting ants
whistling thorn acacia and biting ants

Here’s a leopard tortoise, which has spots like a leopard.

leopard tortoise
leopard tortoise

To our surprise, Lucas pulled all this from his backpack, so we enjoyed coffee and cookies in the shade.

coffee on the bush walk
coffee on the bush walk

Driving back to camp we saw a male impala and his harem.

male impala
male impala
female impalas
female impalas

Near the camp, we saw one of the three Maasai camp guards.  Each guard is stationed on a kopje, a granite outcropping.

kopje with Maasai guard
kopje with Maasai guard

We did an evening bush walk after a much-needed siesta, .  A troop of baboons watched us from a kopje.  Baboons are a favorite food of leopards, so baboons stay vigilant.

baboon on kopje
baboon on kopje

We did a night game drive after dinner, but we didn’t see much. Day 1 in Alamana.

We’re in Africa

From Ngorongoro we drove to Olduvai Gorge, then north to our camp in Alamana.  It would be a long day of driving starting at 8:30.

Driving west down the Ngorogoro highlands, giraffes browsed in the acacia woodland. Do you see six giraffes?  We played see and count the animals with our guide, and he always won.  The first person would say “I see a giraffe at 2:00!” “I see two!” Our guide would say “I see six”, and we’d eventually see the six.

six giraffes
six giraffes
Don't you think this is my better side?
Don’t you think this is my better side?

Almost every tree or shrub we saw was an acacia, all with thorns.  Giraffes browse on acacia buds and leaves despite the thorns.

Driving across the savannah, we saw some diagonal lines in the distance.

giraffes migrating across the Serengeti plains
giraffes migrating across the Serengeti plains

At first, I couldn’t tell whether these were animals.  Watching them longer, they moved, confirming they’re animals. The neck and legs are long and thin — giraffes.  The necks lean the same direction, so they’re walking or running together.  Traveling in a single file, they’re migrating.  Giraffes migrating across the Serengeti plains — we’re in Africa.

The plains are brown and dry.  Although we visited between the short rains and the long rains of the wet season, rainfall has been scant, so there’s no grass here for grazing wildebeests and zebras.

At Olduvai Gorge, streams cut through several geologic layers, exposing old formations.

Olduvai Gorge
Olduvai Gorge

From Wikipedia, “Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world and has been instrumental in furthering the understanding of early human evolution. This site was occupied by homo habilis approximately 1.9 million years ago, paranthropus boisei 1.8 million years ago, and homo erectus 1.2 million years ago. Homo sapiens are dated to have occupied the site 17,000 years ago.”

We listened to a talk, visited a small museum, and walked through the gorge to the excavation site.

After lunch, we drove north cross country across the short-grass plains, until the acacia woodland, where we turned to head for camp. Cross country means no roads. We drove off-road for three hours across the Serengeti, navigating by bearing and mountain landmarks. We saw no fences, no rivers, no walls, no roads. Africa is a vast land.

On a game drive, the three cars drive parallel and radio the others when they spot something interesting.

In the acacia woodland, another car spotted a cheetah and radioed us. As our car pulled up, the cheetah ran. Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land animal, accelerating to 60 mph in 3 seconds. I had time for only one picture before it disappeared into the brush.  (400 mm, 1/1600 sec, f/9) We searched for the cheetah, but it had vanished.

running cheetah
running cheetah

Here’s a higher resolution image cropped from the photo.

fleeting cheetah
fleeting cheetah close-up

We also saw a tawny eagle and Coke’s hartebeest.

tawny eagle
tawny eagle
Coke's Hartebeest
Coke’s Hartebeest

We pulled into camp at Alamana just before 6:00 pm — a long day on the Serengeti. But we would be at camp in Maasai lands for four nights before moving on.

Half a black rhino

Another blogger, originalribenababy, commented that we were “Very very very lucky to see a rhino in Tanzania! Wow.” She’s traveled to Tanzania and just posted her Uganda gorilla tracking experience.  She’s right.  Finding a black rhino is difficult — there are only six in Ngorongoro Crater.  The Crater is large, and vehicles must stay on the roads.  Her comment brought to mind our search for the black rhino.

Shortly after breakfast in Ngorongoro Crater, our guide pulled to the side of the road, stood up to see out the roof hatch, and stared intently through his binoculars.

“There’s a black rhino!” he finally declared.

“Where?”

“See the zebra to the right of the trees?  Line up with the zebra; then look beyond the zebra.”

At first I couldn’t find the zebra, much less the rhino beyond it. With much help, I finally saw a dark object in the distance beyond the zebra.

“How do you know that’s a black rhino?”

“From the horn sticking up!”

We peered through our binoculars, looking for the horn. Some times we could see a horn, and other times not. I snapped some pictures. Our guide radioed the other two cars, and they came and looked. The nine people in the cars couldn’t spot the black rhino. To be fair, the zebra landmark had probably moved on.

Our guide asked “Did I show you a black rhino?”  There was pressure on him to show us a black rhino.

“Well, we might have seen a horn sticking up, but the other guides didn’t see it.  We’ll give you half a black rhino.”

Were we too hard on our guide, or too easy, on that day in Ngorongoro?

Here’s a photo of the black rhino, taken with a 400 mm lens on a Canon 40D, handheld on a warm, summer day. With the camera configuration, the lens has an effective length of 640 mm. A long telephoto lens, and this is all you get.

rhino in the distance?
black rhino?

See the black blob to the left of the two zebras?  With a horn sticking up on the right?  This is about what I saw through the camera viewfinder. Could we tell the folks at home “Oh yeah, we saw a black rhino.”  wink, wink.

The original photo has more resolution than the ‘black rhino?’ image.  ‘black rhino (cropped)’ is cropped from the original photo, showing the resolution of the original photo. Two zebras are easy to identify.  Is that a rhino next to them?

black rhino crop
black rhino (cropped)

But I didn’t review this photo at full resolution that day in the Crater.  The count remained at a half a black rhino.  The pressure was still on our guide to show us a black rhino.

In the late afternoon, as we were racing for the exit road to avoid a huge fine for overstaying our visit to the Crater, we saw a black rhino ambling along. Here’s the photo, again at 400 mm.

black rhino
standing black rhino

Looks like a rhino. The image below shows the higher resolution of the original photo. Now the rhino is more clear. Rhinos are kind of cute, in their own way!

standing black rhino (crop)
standing black rhino (crop)

We told our guide we’d count one black rhino. He smiled broadly. The pressure was off, until the next day on safari in Africa.

Ngorongoro Crater

We spent an entire day in Ngorongoro Crater, rising early to be at the entrance gate before dawn, and staying until 6:00 pm. Here’s an Abdim’s stork on a candelabra tree, colored by the predawn light.

Abdim's stork on candelabra tree
Abdim’s stork on candelabra tree

Here’s the crater from the crater rim. The crater is large and flat, surrounded by steep rim walls. We would drive around the crater.

Ngorongoro Crater from entry gate
Ngorongoro Crater from entry gate

For some people, Ngorongoro Crater was the highlight of their safari.  We saw more kinds of animals that day, than we would see on any other day. Seeing an animal for the first time on safari is special, and the introduction gets you ready to see more.

Two previous posts cover a lion family and grey-crowned crane.

Zebras and more lions.  Zebras are smart and darling. The small brownish zebra is a baby. The brown fades away with age. Lion pictures include a lioness hunting in vain.

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A wildebeest mother and baby.

baby wildebeest nursing

Cape buffalo are part of the big five.

cape buffalo
cape buffalo

Africa has ostriches.  Females are brown.  When an ostrich drinks, it raises its head to drain the water down its throat.  See the drops of water dribbling from its mouth as it raises its head.  Ostriches have powerful kicks.

ostrich drinking
ostrich drinking

The critically endangered black rhino.  Indeed, we didn’t see black rhinos after leaving Ngorongoro Crater.

black rhino
critically endangered black rhino

This spotted hyena drank and then marked territory in the water, so that other animals knew it had been there. Other animals don’t associate closely with hyenas.

spotted hyena drinking
spotted hyena drinking

A family at risk

In Ngorongoro Crater we found some lions lying in tall grass. The first lion is emaciated. See how the rear haunches are hollow and sunken.

emaciated lion
emaciated lion

The second lion is a female in good condition.

lioness
lioness

A third lion was on the other side of the tall grass.  This lion is also in bad shape — see the ribs showing.

emaciated lion with ribs showing
emaciated lion with ribs showing

In the afternoon we returned and saw a male lion by the same tall grass. From viewing the original image, the dark spots on his leg and side are sores and flies.

male lion by tall grass
male lion by tall grass

Our guide thinks that the female lion is the mother of the two other lions. We were surprised by the poor condition of the lions, especially since the crater floor has a high density of animals for the lions to hunt. Our guide was so concerned about the lions that he asked park rangers to look at them.

We researching this at home. In this 2004 BBC article,

“In large carnivores like lions, one might expect food supply to be the main limiting factor. But in recent years, disease is a more likely restriction, according to Bernard Kissui and Craig Packer, of the University Minnesota, US.

There are probably enough prey animals like buffalo in the Ngorongoro Crater to support about 120 lions.

But at various times over the last 40 years lion numbers have dropped well below that – and in the last 10 years there have rarely been more than 60 in the crater.

Kissui and Packer believe that disease is the biggest culprit in this population dip.

In 1962, the crater lion population crashed from about 100 to 12, which coincided with an outbreak of blood-sucking stable flies.”

From Parker’s study of Ngorognoro lions, “large swarms of adult Stomoxys became common throughout the Crater floor and the lions appeared to be a preferred host. The emaciated lions developed devastating skin infections and were unable to hunt their normal prey. By June 1962, the population had dropped to 10-15 animals.”

Lions brought down and killed by blood-sucking flies. Wow! We did notice biting flies, biting the back of your hand while you’re holding still, ready to take a picture when the subject animal turns its head.