Day 1 at Serengeti camp – birds and cats, then raining cats and dogs

Our Serengeti camp is south of the Serengeti National Park, in the Maswa Game Reserve. The camp is in acacia woodland near alkaline lakes and grassland.  We could do game drives off-road, but we couldn’t do bush walks.

A game drive is like a treasure hunt.  You have better chances if you look around and know what to look for.  You don’t know what you’ll discover, and you appreciate what you find. This treasure hunt aspect contributes to the adventure and romance of the safari. Our guides knew this and fostered it, without talking about it.

At breakfast, one of our group asked the guide if he had heard hyenas and lions at night.  He did. As we started the morning game drive through the acacia woodland, we saw mostly birds.

Secretary birds are a meter tall  and have a striking appearance, resembling a British secretary — white top, black bottom, and a black crest that looks like a pencil in the ear. They walk fast, and they walk away when a vehicle pulls up, so they’re hard to photograph. We were fortunate to see two secretary birds in a tree.  The birds dipped their head, separately or together, before flying off.

pair of secretary birds in acacia tree
pair of secretary birds in acacia tree
secretary bird taking off
secretary bird taking off
secretary bird spreading wings
secretary bird spreading wings

We also saw a lappet-faced vulture, a long-crested eagle, and bat-eared foxes.

lappet-faced vulture
lappet-faced vulture
long-crested eagle
long-crested eagle
bat-eared fox
bat-eared fox

After the acacia woodland, we drove on the short-grass plains.  Under a tree we saw lions.  See my post lyin’ in the grass.

lion in the grass
lion in the grass

Returning for lunch, we saw 2 hyenas and a kill less than a mile from camp. The choice parts of wildebeest were already eaten. The closer hyena was guarding the kill from the second hyena, who was disappointed. Our guide thought that a lion had killed the wildebeest.

a hyena, a wildebeest, and a disappointed hyena
a hyena, a wildebeest, and a disappointed hyena

During the evening game drive, we found a cheetah family. See my post the family that preys together.

cheetah mother and sleeping cubs
cheetah mother and sleeping cubs

We watched the cheetahs past sunset, when it started raining cats and dogs.  We drove back to camp on flooded dirt roads in the dark.  When the lightning flashed, we could see that the ground was flooded as far as we could see.  It wasn’t a river out there; it was a lake. I was concerned that if our vehicle had to stop, it might get stuck in the mud. Fortunately, all three vehicles made it back without mishap.

On the last night of the safari, we each talked about our favorite experience.  The cheetah mother and cubs waking up and playing that evening was my favorite.  I thanked our guides for the experience and for letting us stay with the cheetahs until they woke up, despite the oncoming rain and difficult drive back to camp.

Advertisements

The family that preys together, part 1

On our first day at Serengeti camp, we came upon a mother cheetah and cubs on the afternoon game drive.  They were sleeping, as cats usually do.  Our guide said there were four cheetah cubs.  We couldn’t make out four cubs, but by now, we knew better than to doubt the guide on counting animals.

sleeping cheetahs
sleeping cheetahs

We kept our distance and watched.  Occasionally a head would pop up for a moment and plop back down.  After 40 minutes, several heads popped up at the same time. Now we can see three cubs.  It’s getting dark.

several heads popping up at the same time
several heads popping up at the same time

Five minutes later the entire family is awake.  A proud mother and her four cubs, posing for us.

proud mother and four babies
proud mother and four babies

They get up and stretch.  My yoga instructor would be proud of these cats.  The cheetah cub does a cat pose.  The mother cheetah does a variation of the downward facing dog pose, a cat with its head up.

cheetah cub does a cat pose
cheetah cub does a cat pose
cheetah mother stretching
cheetah mother stretching
okay, we're up now
okay, we’re up now

And then the rain started.  They went for cover.

running for cover
running for cover

They played for a bit and then ran off, through the rain, into the night.

cubs climbing
cubs climbing
cheetahs nuzzling
cheetahs nuzzling

We had a great visit with the cheetah family.  It was dark, and we had a long drive back to camp in the rain, on dirt roads.

Lyin’ in the grass

On our first morning at the Serengeti Camp, we found a dozen lions in the grass under a large tree. We only saw female lions and cubs.  Outside Serengeti National Park, we were able to drive off-road.  Lions in the grass on a warm summer day.

lions in the grass
lions in the grass
the flies
the flies
lion cub
lion cub

Our guide let us spend a long time with the lions, so we had time to observe behaviors such as grooming, yawning, and sprawling.

Lions groom by licking.  According to the Honolulu Zoo, the lion “tongue’s upper surface has small bumps on it which enables the lion to hold on to meat while eating and to remove parasites when grooming”.

lion licking mouth
lion licking mouth
lion grooming
lion grooming
lion grooming closeup
lion grooming closeup

In the above closeup, the lion’s tongue extends back past the tuft of hair under her mouth.

It was noon, and the lions sleep 20 hours a day.

lion yawning
lion yawning
lion yawning closeup
lion yawning closeup

We can see the lion’s teeth.  The female lions do the hunting.  When the teeth clamp onto the neck, the lion can suffocate the prey. We let sleeping cats lie.

lion in the grass
lion in the grass

For the yoga enthusiasts, this lion got up and did a cat pose, where you exhale and arch your back.

cat pose
cat pose

Finally, a lion walked up to one of our trucks for shade from the noonday sun.

seeking shade
seeking shade

Cats are cute to watch, when they’re not killing something or eating it before your eyes.

To the Serengeti Camp

We drove all day from the Alamana Camp to the Serengeti Camp. In the morning we saw two kinds of antelope: a Coke’s hartebeest and a male impala.

Coke's hartebeest
Coke’s hartebeest
male impala
male impala

A group of giraffes were walking, and then they galloped past our parked trucks. These 3 photos were taken with a zoom lens at 135 mm, a short telephoto length. See the dust being kicked up in the third picture.

walking giraffes
walking giraffes
giraffes running
giraffes running
giraffes running with curved necks
giraffes running with curved necks

As we neared camp, a herd of elephants walked by.  Note that the baby is much smaller than the adult elephants.

elephant herd walking by
elephant herd walking by

Here’s a baby elephant nursing.

baby elephant nursing
baby elephant nursing

Close to sunset, we drove past an alkaline lake with various birds.

flamingos and 2 storks
flamingos and 2 storks
black-headed heron
black-headed heron
yellow-billed stork
yellow-billed stork

Day 3 at Alamana – Maasai and bush walks

We started our third day at Alamana with Maasai culture — a visit to a Maasia boma and a primary school for Maasai.  We stopped for lunch under an acacia tree and a bush walk back to camp.

al fresco lunch
al fresco lunch

In the evening there was another bush walk, where we saw hyena dung.  Hyena dung is white because of the bones that hyenas eat.  High in calcium, other animals eat hyena dung to build strong bones quickly.

hyena dung
hyena dung

At the end of the bush walk we hiking up a high kopje, just in time to see our last sunset in Alamana.  The fire and champagne were a nice surprise!  Thank you, Joan, for the photo. The acacia trees are far below the kopje.

Alamana sunset
Alamana sunset

Tanzanian primary school

After seeing the boma, we visited the primary school that serves the Maasai village and surrounding area. Operated by the Tanzanian government, a primary school has seven levels, or standards. The school and adjoining clinic are outside the village.

Tanzanian primary school
Tanzanian primary school

John’s three daughters attend this school. They live at the school and come home on weekends.  About half the students are boarders. John is a Maasai Elder, and he knows folk medicine from his father.

John and his daughters
John and his daughters

In the primary school, classes are conducted in Kiswahili, the national language, and English is taught as a class.  Students generally speak their tribal language at home.  In secondary school, class is conducted in English.  To better prepare for secondary school, one of our safari guides sends his children to a private primary school, where English is used for instruction.

The lead teacher, the administrator for the school, told us about the school and answered questions.  American schools use a similar name — our principal is shortened from the original principal teacher.  There are two classes per standard.

The lead teacher showed us the dormitories for the boarding students — bunk beds crowded into dimly-lit rooms.  Two or three students share a bed, and many beds have slats without mattresses.  The school has over a dozen buildings: classrooms, dormitories, and lodging for teachers and the lead teacher.  Two buildings have solar panels donated by an American on safari, so those buildings have lights.

Teachers walked with us during the tour.  I talked to a 2nd standard teacher from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and commercial hub.  His English is excellent.  He attended a government college, which requires three years of service upon graduation.  The government assigned him to this school outside a Maasai village of 400 and hours away from Arusha, the closest large town.  He’d like to go back to school.

We asked if there any sports at the school.  No sports.  Are there soccer balls (footballs)?  No. Looking around, the school is on a hillside so they also don’t have a level area except in front of the classrooms.  Then there are thorny issues from the brush surrounding the school.  If it’s anything like the brush we see on bush walks, it’s acacia with thorns of 1″ to 3″, depending on the variety.  What does the school need most?  Solar panels for lights.  Only two buildings have solar panels.  The teacher’s lodging has no lights.

We visited a 7th standard classroom.  The students are between 12 to 16 years old.  They sing a song for us.  Our lead safari guide proceeds to hand out pencils.  He calls up students based on their rank from last year’s standardized test, starting from number one, and passes out pencils to the top-ranked students. Each student knows their ranking, and they apparently are accustomed to their ranking being discussed.

passing out pencils to the top-ranked students
passing out pencils to the top-ranked students

Coming from American schools, this public use of ranking seems harsh. With time, we rationalized the Tanzanian approach.  Tanzania is a developing country with scarce resources.  They can’t afford to educate everyone through secondary school, so they select the most qualified students.  Students going on to secondary school must pass a qualifying test.  Students and their families need to know where they stand before that test, so that they’re not totally surprised by the test results. Similarly, students must pass a test to enter college.

We asked how many students are in the class.  About 70.  Although there are 2-3 students per desk, only about half the students are in class.  They dodge school, the teacher observed.

A safari member looked at a textbook and saw facts about growing cotton.  Don’t see how growing cotton is relevant to herders who count cattle as wealth. If the Maasai were to take up farming, they would probably start with food they can eat, not a commercial crop like cotton. We saw corn (maize) growing in the village. Maasai eat corn and make a beer from corn.

We donated money to purchase mattresses for the school and gave school supplies to the lead teacher to distribute as he sees fit.

A visit to a Maasai boma

The Alamana camp has operated on a concession from the Maasai for years. Because of this long-term relationship with the Maasai, we were able to visit a boma, the home and corral owned by a Maasai family. The family visited is rotated.

John Maasai drove, and we rode with him.  As we entered the Maasai village he pointed to his house up the hill.  We stopped at these low-slung huts with goats parading by.

boma and goats
boma and goats

This is our host’s boma.  We met our host and his two sons.  We all shook hands. Our host is wearing a dark suit. Both sons speak English; they talked and answered questions.

Maasai host and two sons
Maasai host and two sons

One attends university in Dodoma, Tanzania’s capital; the other a university in Arusha. One son has four brothers and sisters. We asked if their father has more than one wife. Yes, he has five.  There are 20 children from the five wives. The boma has 6-8 huts that house our host’s family.  With five wives, our host is very well-to-do.

William, dressed in red, shows us the corral first.

corral
corral

The huts are built in the traditional manner, dung plastered over sticks. The dung makes the hut waterproof.

entering a hut
entering a hut

The doorway is less than five feet tall so everyone has to bend down to enter.  As you enter the hut, there’s a storage area straight ahead.  You have turn twice down a dark hallway to enter the main room, and we have trouble seeing until our eyes adjust to the dim light.  See the small window in the photo above.  The room has only three small windows like that. The interior photos required flash.

In the photo below, William is kneeling; his mother, grandmother, and wife are sitting on a bed. The ceiling is so low that William can’t stand up inside. See how the ceiling has been blackened by smoke.

William, his mother, grandmother, and wife
William, his mother, grandmother, and wife

In the middle of the room is a firepit with a smoldering fire. There’s a pan of milk next to the firepit.  Milk is a large part of the Maasai diet. This is February, Tanzania’s summer, so the weather is warm. With little ventilation, you wonder about inhaling smoke, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.  But there were no flies inside. There were a lot of flies outside.

interior of Maasai hut
interior of Maasai hut

We sat on a second bed on the other side of the firepit.  William’s son is sleeping on this bed, which feels like leather stretched on a frame.  There are four generations here. William’s wife is wearing beautiful Maasai beaded earrings and necklaces.

Nancy, Betty, and William's wife
Nancy, Betty, and William’s wife

Outside the hut the women posed for pictures.

William's mother, Betty, Nancy, Joan, and William's wife
William’s mother, Betty, Nancy, Joan, and William’s wife

Other huts and members of our host’s family.  The woman in the blue cape is holding a tiny baby goat.

other members of our host's family
other members of our host’s family

The traditional Maasai livelihood is to raise cattle and goats. They count wealth in cattle, paying for wives with cattle.  When the local grass is exhausted, they move on to greener pastures. The nomadic culture doesn’t mesh well with farming and formal education, which requires living in the same place for the school year.

Maasai cattle raising is reaching its limits. Parts of Tanzania look arid, like the American southwest.  Sometimes there isn’t enough water for all the cattle.  The government encourages the Maasai to sell their cattle, but they resist parting with their wealth.

Some Maasai, like our host, embrace education.  But we see many school-aged Maasai boys herding cattle and goats. Bridging cultures can be very hard.