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Searching for the Big Five

January 27, 2016

After I turned in last night, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard footfalls behind my bed, accompanied by a snuffling sound. I assumed it was outside my tent, but it was so close to my head that I wondered if some small animal was trying to get in. It seemed to pace back and forth, huffing and snuffling. I was alarmed enough to fret over whether I had closed both zippers on the tent, and whether some animal was trying to root its way into my sleeping quarters. The sounds would stop just long enough so that i would start dozing off, then resume.  I finally fell into an uneasy sleep, but not before I heard some small critter skittering across the roof. I was beginning to rethink my love affair with sleeping in the bush.

This morning my butler came to escort me to breakfast (it was still dark) and I described the sounds I’d heard. Turns out zebras love to graze beside my tent, and the skittering was bats. I should sleep easier tonight.

The plan today was to drive to the actual migration. Though we saw plenty of animals yesterday, they really weren’t on the move yet. So at 6:30 we piled into our Land Rovers, forded the stream at the bottom of the hill and headed through a more thickly wooded area to where we thought the wildebeests and zebras — leaders of the migration — would be. Before we got too far, we came upon a pride of lions: one male, a couple of females, and about six cubs. So fun to watch the cubs wrestle with each other.

Lion Cubs

A bit further on we encountered an older lion and three lionesses, and we spent quite a bit of time watching their interplay (and foreplay). The male seemed to be taken by one of the females, as he kept marking the ground and trees around her. The other two females, trying to get his attention, would saunter up and start sniffing around, whereupon he would roar and chase them away. After about fifteen minutes they did the deed, which lasted about four seconds, and Mr. Stud collapsed in a heap.

So off we went to the vicinity we explored yesterday to see how the massing of the animals was proceeding…but aside from a lot of gazelles and several small herds of zebras, nothing dramatic. Since wildebeests travel about 35 miles a day, it’s hard to rely on sightings to set course.

But that doesn’t mean the day lacked drama. We watched in horrified fascination as a hyena eviscerated a gazelle, though we didn’t see the actual kill. The undertaker (marabou) and a couple of tawny eagles were waiting patiently for the hyena to finish so they could feast on the remains, and they ended up in a fight. One of our folks got an amazing shot of the undertaker tweaking the eagle’s beak.

Hyena Pulling Gazelle.jpg

Eagle & Marabou Fight.jpg

Leaving the gore behind, we motored on, and shortly Victor, who was in our vehicle, spotted a cheetah sitting quietly in the grass some distance away. We were the first of our group to reach her, and spent a lot of time waiting for her to do something. Instead, she flopped down in the brush and took a nap. Edson later speculated that she might have killed the gazelle. Female Cheetah

Luck was with us, however, as a lively male cheetah crossed our path some time later. We followed him to a small copse of trees, where he made his unique purr/roar and chirping meow, calling to a buddy or a girlfriend, we never found out which.

Male Cheetah.jpg

So all in all, a very good day for finding animals, and a wonderful sunrise to boot.

Serengeti Sunrise.jpg




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