because no one goes on safari to see the rock agama.
because no one goes on safari to see the rock agamas.

the cats of the serengeti: within an hour of arriving in the serengeti, our guide took us to a set of rocks where the lionesses hung out, and over the course of our stay we went back again and again to see what the cats were doing. we also came across lions as we followed the wildebeest: the lions go where the food is.

sometimes, it helped to follow other vehicles.  we found four cheetah cubs when we pulled up alongside one carload of safari-goers; and when our scout heard from a passing driver that a leopard had killed a wildebeest and dragged the carcass up a tree, we were able to find him without too much difficulty. however, it was just by chance that we found some cheetahs that had just killed a wildebeest. the sight was amazing: well-fed and happy, the cats were alert for hyenas that might come in to try to steal their bounty, but they didn’t feel the need to run away when we got close.

on to the photos: first, the lions, because we saw the most of them.

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other cats: you have your cute cheetahs …

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you have your predatory cheetahs …

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and you have your leopards (finally).

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as you can see in the last post, the wildebeest are often accompanied by zebras; and if i’d been on this safari while i was in high school, i’d have majored in zoology at college and studied them. in addition to looking really fabulous – according to wikipedia, it really is white stripes and bellies on a black coat – they are remarkably social animals.  they move in herds (“harems”, usually one stallion and 5-6 mares) by themselves, but they also accompany other foragers on their travels.  we frequently saw lines of wildebeest plodding across the plain with a few zebras standing lookout:

perhaps it’s the uniform.

they’re also very vocal – we heard them whinnying and barking all night long. not the noise i’d expected them to make.

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look at that face. one theory is that the stripes serve as camouflage. which body does the head go with?
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honestly, these guys will hang out with anyone.

again, i could post a hundred photos of zebras, but i’ll do that later.

next: cats

wildebeest on the serengeti

the serengeti airport.

the serengeti ecosystem, in the north of tanzania and the southwest of kenya, stretches over some 12,000 square miles. the serengeti is the home of the maasai, and the name itself comes from the maasai word “serengit,” which means “endless plain.” apart from a few rocky outcroppings, a few forests, and the rare hill, the name describes the area pretty well: unlike ngorongoro crater, there is almost nothing to stop you from looking miles into any direction …

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… that is, nothing except wildebeest. january is prime wildebeest migrating season, and the plains were full of them. by one estimate, 1.2 million wildebeest will travel through the serengeti during their annual migration, along with 750,000 zebra and hundreds of thousands of other game. we surely saw hundreds of thousands of them during our stay. (i lost count after eight.)

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i have more photos of wildebeest, but to avoid gnu overload, i’ll save those for another post, and end with this one of a wildebeest in full gallop instead.  500mm lens, 1/15 second at f/27 while panning – a happy accident.


ngorongoro crater – part 2

as i mentioned in the last post, the big five safari animals are the cape buffalo, the lion, the black rhinoceros, the elephant, and the leopard.  we saw plenty of elephants.

fig. 1b. the same elephant.
two shots of the same elephant.

generally, we saw the elephants in singles or pairs, but at one point we came across an entire breeding herd. the light was fairly harsh, so the shot isn’t quite what i’d have liked, but you have to take these things as you find them.

if there were leopards in the ngorongoro crater, we didn’t see any.  however, the real draw – in fact, the reason we were in tanzania at all – was the wildebeest.  also known as gnus, wildebeest migrate through east africa to follow the rains.  over the entire safari, we saw hundreds of thousands of these beasts, although the majority of them were on the serengeti.  we got just a taste of them (so to speak) here.


i took many more photos than just these, of course, but one of the next few blog posts will be stupid with photos of wildebeest, so i’ll leave it here for now.

next: even more critters.

ngorongoro crater

from dubai, we flew to arusha, tanzania, to go on safari.  we chose ngorongoro crater and the serengeti because the wildebeest migrate through southern tanzania in january, and who doesn’t want to see a wildebeest migration?  fun fact: ngorongoro crater was formed by a volcano that exploded and collapsed in upon itself 2-3 million years ago.  it is about 2,000 feet deep and 100 square miles in area, with unbroken walls all the way around the crater.

it's pretty damn big.

it’s pretty damn big.

in going through my photos, i see that i shot 49 photographs – at least half of which i’ve already deleted – of cape buffalo in 12 minutes so let’s get to them first:

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the cape buffalo are one of the “big five” that you’re supposed to look for on a safari: the cape buffalo, the elephant, the lion, the black rhinoceros, and the leopard.  as it happened, we came upon the lion fairly quickly, although it wasn’t quite what we expected:


now i know that my dog isn’t sunbathing in the driveway: he’s practicing to be a lion.

the lionesses were a little more attentive, but this group had eaten recently enough that they weren’t in a mood to hunt … which isn’t to say that they didn’t think about it.

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as it happens, we’d seen this group with their kill the previous afternoon, but we were too far away to get a good detail shot.  note the hyenas on the periphery; the lionesses had been eating for a while.

note the hyenas on the periphery; the lionesses had been eating for a while.

finally (for this post), the black rhinoceros proved to be the most difficult to find. as we drove through the crater, we managed to spy some off in the distance.  using the best rhino-enhancing software, this is what i got:

apparently, rhinos are pretty social creatures.

next: more critters.