13. Travel Escapade – An African Safari in Search of the Big Five

Chapter 13

The Big Five Four

On our final day of safari we got up at 5.30 am after a good night’s sleep, decked up in our warm clothes and stepped out for breakfast. James was already waiting for us and he looked tired as he had only 2 hrs of sleep thanks to his snoring roommate. After having a light breakfast and plenty of coffee, we started on our early morning trip to the Ngorngoro Conservation Area (NCA). Due to the heavy rain the previous night, the roads were mud spattered and slushy. We could also see a few buffaloes and their calves walking along the road. The view of the crater from the road was breathtaking. The clouds had descended due to the rain and had filled up the entire crater. It appeared as if we were driving above the clouds! At the entrance gate, James stopped to show our documents and we stepped out to get a few pictures of the cloud filled crater.

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The main attraction of NCA for us was to complete our Big Five sightings.  The Big Five consists of the African lionAfrican elephantCape buffaloAfrican leopard and the rhinoceros. The Big Five terminology was coined by the hunters to refer to the most difficult animals to hunt. This term was soon adopted by the safari tour guides for the spotting of the above animals. NCA was one of the regions in Africa where one could spot the two horned black rhino. James informed us that getting a glimpse of the two horned rhino was very hard owing to their minimal population (read less than 50).  As they were hunted brutally, they still fear humans and do not come close to safari vehicles unlike other animals. We hoped to get a glimpse of these rhinos to tick off the Big Five from our bucket list.

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Although the cloud cover added to the ethereal beauty of the crater, it heavily diminished our visibility to spot any animals as we could hardly see beyond 10 meters as we descended the crater. Straining our necks, our eyes feasted on the many colorful birds in the crater including Kory Bustard, Black Smith Plover Grey Crowned Crane and  Black breasted Corvette to name a few . There were a few elephants walking in the crater. While stopping to view them, our eyes fell on three ostriches. There were two female ostriches and a male ostrich. The male was performing its mating dance to attract one of the females. Like all love triangles, the female for which the male had eyes for was totally ignoring him. Behind, the second female was in hot pursuit of the male, but he refused to return the affections of the female and was blindly following the disinterested female. Love triangles are the same even among animals!

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Moving along, we came upon a cackle of hyenas feasting on a discarded buffalo carcass. Though we had only read about the incredible jaw strength of the hyenas, witnesses it firsthand was a surreal experience. We could clearly hear the sound of the carcass’s rib bones cracking with each bite the hyena took. As it was still foggy, James drove us to Ngoitoktok Lake. The lake and its surrounding landscape had an other-worldly feeling with the mist rising off the lake. The serenity of the landscape was disturbed by the huge racket made by the hippos floating in the lake. Through the clear water we could see the fat hippos swimming with only their eyes and nostrils un-submerged in the lake.

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Driving through the crater what struck us was a near absence of trees which made it impossible for leopards to survive in the crater. Cheetahs were missing too, but this is more due to them being preyed upon by the crater lions. The lions found in the crater are mostly inbred both due to the enclosed nature of the crater and the males guarding their territory fiercely from any external gene pool entering the crater. While observing a few lions sleeping in the open ground, we saw some commotion in the nearby trees followed by some shrieking sounds. The baboons in the trees were getting agitated and climbing higher up the trees. The few warthogs on the ground were running away fast with their tails standing up and the baboons on the ground were scrambling to the nearest trees that they could find. Looking for the source of this disturbance we could see a lion approaching from far towards this tree. Hence the commotion!

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We saw an abundance of wildebeests and zebras too in the crater. On the horizon we could see a sight similar to cherry blossoms flying in the wind. Looking carefully, they were flamingoes coming in to rest in the alkaline water body in the crater. Driving towards this lake we could see an abundance of birdlife ranging from egrets to falcon. The synchronized flying of the egrets was a sight to behold indeed. Moving away from the lake, we ran into the Ngorngoro version of a traffic jam! A pride of lions in the lookout for shade was lying around and underneath the tourist vehicles. The vehicles which were surrounded by the beasts were revving up its engines in the hope of making them move away. Slowly the kings and the queens started moving away and the vehicles could continue once again. As it was close to 6 hrs and there was still no sign of the rhino yet, we retraced our paths for one last desperate search for our elusive fifth animal. Alas, luck wasn’t on our side on the last day and we had to leave disappointed as rhinos were nowhere to be seen.

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Missing the big five was frustrating and disappointing indeed, but this gave us with a reason to visit Tanzania again in search of the Big Five. Driving out of the crater, velvet monkeys came to bid us goodbye. We took our last look at the crater as the vehicle moved out of the crater and reached the main road. We parked near a deserted campsite and had our lunch. This was the last leg of our safari and we had to accept that the safari was over, though fortunately our vacation wasn’t. Driving back to Arusha we passed a few souvenir shops and did some shopping concentrating on the Masai hand carvings. Reaching near Arusha, we were stopped for around half an hour to make way for the Tanzanian PM and his motorcade. As the motorcade passed I tried to catch a glimpse of the PM but I admit that this day was indeed not a good one for any sightings! James ensured that he picked up for the lost time such that we arrived at Planet Lodge in Arusha around 5.30 pm.

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This trip was an excellent tribute to my love of wildlife and need for relaxation. We got to spend some exciting time enjoying the untamed wilderness of Tanzania with very close proximity to animals. James was a mobile National Geographic commentary informing us about all that we needed to know about the wildlife that Africa has to offer. Visiting Serengeti was a truly spiritual experience for me and it gave me all the warmth and love of a home. We had an adventurous, thrilling and above all a very safe trip thanks to James and Good Earth! We shall definitely explore more of Tanzanian wilderness in the years to come, without a doubt!

Swahili Lessons :

  1.  Twiga        Girrafe
  2. Vifaru        Rhino
  3. Tembo       Elephant
  4. Nyati          Buffalo
  5. Eleven        Kumina moja
  6. Twelve        Kumina mbilli
  7. Thirteen     Kumina tatu
  8. Fourteen     Kumina nne
  9. Fifteen         Kumina tano
  10. Sixteen        Kumina sita
  11. Seventeen   Kumina saba
  12. Eighteen      Kumina nane
  13. Nineteen     Kumina tisa

 

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2 thoughts on “13. Travel Escapade – An African Safari in Search of the Big Five

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