Whistling Winds

Whistling Winds

We left Ndutu after seeing another cheetah with three cubs, not sure exactly how we would go. Our destination was a lovely camp on the north end of the crater but the way you would go depends upon the dust.

The ride didn’t start out very propitiously. Although some rain had fallen the length of the dry season and its tons of dust were going to take a lot more than a few sprinkles to settle things down. Although the game viewing had been good around the lakes, as we left the area eastbound it looked like a desert trip, again.
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OnSafari: Big Mane

OnSafari: Big Mane

It was sad, but inevitable. Big Mane’s body was already headed away from the tree that cloaked his sleeping brother with shade when he stopped unexpectedly, twisted his huge head and mane and looked back at his brother. He stared for what seemed like a very long time before finally turning his head into the fierce Serengeti winds and walked away.

The two brothers had lived together ever since their mother kicked them out in a horrible battle down by the Wandu Swamp where they were born. Big Mane had tried to join a hunt that Mom and sissy were just beginning. The big female lioness attacked her son, stripping her claw across his chest. Big Mane jumped back so confused he felt nothing. But then when Mom hissed at him we snarled back and began to attack her. But he just wasn’t big enough yet. She would have killed them.

Bro had sat the fight out, but when Big Mane went running his Mom began to chase him, too.

The two boys were essentially twins, but one was robust and strong and the other much less so. Big Mane had streaks of black in his enormous puffed hairdo when he was hardly two years old. At four his mane was almost complete. In the strong eastern winds of the Serengeti at the end of the dry season he looked like a Greek God ready to strike.

Bro’s black streaks took a year longer to appear, and while also a full mane now it was often twisted up by the flies that he couldn’t be bothered to paw away and gnarled up by the prickly seeds of the hibiscus that he often walked through incautiously.

Big Mane did the killing. Bro tried to help and sometimes really did, like the time he clamped straight into the aorta of the sick buffalo while Big Mane was still clamped onto the hinds. But that was the exception. Almost always Big Mane was the striker and the closer, and with a much greater success ratio than the 1:5 suffered by most healthy lions.

Even so Bro suffered a lot more than Big Mane. When called into action however rarely, he usually was too hesitant. The wilde’s horn cut a huge slash under his right eye, so deep that when it healed the scar tissue cluttered the vision of that eye. That was about a year ago, just before the last rains began when he was so worried that as the veld greened up and the animals grew strong and less easy for Big Mane to get, that his brother might leave him altogether.

The wet season is hard for lion. Their heyday is now, when the earth looks miserable, the dust grows into monstrous whirling dervishes and dances like a laughing devil over the plains. That’s when the animals are easy for Big Mane to get.

The two brothers were resting in the shade behind a big rock beside an ephemeral pool of water when we first came upon them. The pool was drying up so quickly its edges were white with salt. Big Mane rested calmly, his head up and giant mane blowing in the wind but his eyes closed as he slept off the last of his huge belly, his last kill.

He hadn’t been proud of it. My clients couldn’t understand why the line of 40 or so zebra were hardly 50 meters away from them, stomping their feet and snorting, taunting the beasts. But they knew the brothers’ bellies were full. They needed to drink. Big Mane knew they needed to drink. It was a simple waiting game until his belly was small, again.

For the last few weeks Bro was getting anxious, again. He couldn’t control his hunger like Big Mane could. So Bro started to mess up Big Mane’s kill attempts. He raised his body before Big Mane made the jump. He sneezed when the dust blew into his bad eye. And his left hind leg was getting so weak, now, that the few times he tried to join the chase he tripped, and Big Mane instinctively aborted the hunt with an increasingly annoying worry he couldn’t quite understand.

Big Mane’s belly was big, Bro’s less so, but neither as big as it would have been with zebra. We drove over to where the vultures and jackals were cleaning up their last feast, only it wasn’t really theirs. It was a Grant’s gazelle, usually too little, too swift and to dangerous with its pointy horns for lion. Obviously a cheetah had taken it down, and obviously Big Mane had just walked over and politely given the cheetah a few seconds to get away before it became the second course.

So Bro got his meal, too. But of late Big Mane wasn’t sharing like he used to. The rains were coming. There had been a sprinkle the night before. A faint patina of green covered the desiccated veld. Things wouldn’t be as easy, anymore. Big Mane had to beef up. It could be a week between successful take-downs once the pools filled and the grasslands turned a beautiful green. He’d have to get zebra, now, not just the spoils of a little cheetah.

A massive gust of wind turned the whole plains into a dust storm, and the sound was furious. We quickly rolled up the windows of the car, which shook and rattled until it subsided. The veld slowly cleared. The cackling of the Egyptian geese and squealing of the superb starling penetrated the diminishing wind.

Big Mane was up. He walked ten feet to the edge of the pool and sipped some water then lowered on his haunches.

Bro was reluctant. Why leave the shade of the rock? The edge of the lake was probably a 100F. But he followed his brother. He didn’t sip any water. His stomach didn’t feel good.

Bro noticed a lone acacia tree off about a 100 meters. He began lumbering to it, slowly, harshly, puffs of dust brushing his sides with every footstep. Big Mane opened his eyes and turned his head to watch his brother lumber to the tree.

It took Bro forever to get to the tree, his left back foot leaving drag marks on the desiccated earth like a snake’s trail. He got there and flopped over on his side.

Big Mane stared at him for a long while remembering the great battle and Wandu Swamp, the buf takedown but then the more recent memories of failed hunts replaced older memories with anger.

He licked his chops. Gazelle was pitifully untasteful. He got up, waited a moment but Bro didn’t stir in the distance, so he turned in the other direction and walked away into the open veld scattering zebra and gazelle all over the place.

Nanyukie, Eastern Serengeti

Single Signal

Single Signal

I’m often asked but I have no favorite animal. The Serengeti doesn’t attract me because of magnificent lions or angry elephant or dainty dik-dik. No single tree or bug or animal has any attraction at all except when you think of them all together. So all together is the most wondrous, my favorite, place in the world, the Serengeti.

But the “whole” is “happiest” when it rains, and it should be raining now. Steve and I encountered good rains up north. They sent the wilde running south anxious to gorge themselves on the lower altitude grasses. But then a few days ago it all seemed to stop and here in the far eastern Serengeti near Loliondo it’s dry as a bone.
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Dawn Drive

Dawn Drive

The temperature in my tent as I woke at 5 a.m. was 62F and it would undoubtedly go down a few more degrees until just after 9 a.m. Dawn over the Serengeti doesn’t bring immediate warmth with its brilliant light. It rained last night and the evaporation into the still dry air actually cools things down a bit more.
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OnSafari: Klein’s Valley

OnSafari: Klein’s Valley

Those damned kids! They ruined dinner once again!

Mama looked at us unabashedly. It was really getting dark, around 7:15 p.m. in the Klein’s Valley that borders Kenya’s Mara to the north and the Serengeti to the west. The sun had blinked out at 6:30p and twilight doesn’t really exist in the equator, but the high stringy cumulus making the moon and Venus blur threw what light the far away sun touched them with back down to the ground. A sort of unexpected twilight.
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Not At Last

Not At Last

How times have changed! I love cliches. And the pandemic has helped refresh traditions and with that, nostalgia, and with, sentimentality and so now I’m terrified. In a few weeks I head back to my most loved Serengeti. What will it be like?

I drove my first safari vehicle into the Serengeti from Kenya’s Mara in February, 1972, and when I’m reminded that’s a half century ago I feel like putting on a toga and sitting on a park bench dribbling bread crumbs to pigeons.
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Really Lost

Really Lost

Yes, I’ve found a connection between the Serengeti and right-wing propaganda. Didn’t expect it would be so easy, but the take-home is that somebody out there – governments or dictators or god incarnate – needs to control social media. The wild west of information dissemination is destroying truth and I worry it may never be restored.
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Calculating Corona – III

Calculating Corona – III

You can’t travel for a year.

Nothing is available to suggest an older person will feel comfortable traveling very far from her home until she’s vaccinated against Covid-19, and Spring 2021 is likely the earliest this will happen. But once that sunrise arrives, you better be well prepared for what the fields will look like.

This is the final in a series of three blogs about managing your travel in the era of Covid-19. To fully understand these recommendations about your future travel, please carefully read first the previous two blogs.

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OnSafari: So Dry

OnSafari: So Dry

I have to constantly remind myself how wonderful – especially for first-timers – the dry season seems. To me it’s worse than the worst ever winter in Chicago; it’s earth challenging its own creation. What I see through the billows of dust are all the battles being lost to survive.

But the battles won are by the cats as they pick off the sick and wounded like turtles. For the cats it’s their heyday. That’s why the visitors love it so.

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OnSafari: Seronera

OnSafari: Seronera

Shelly’s pride is one of the most famously studied groups of lions in the Serengeti, probably the most photographed by professionals and tourists alike, and without doubt the most tame.

There are 19 in the pride and when we saw them a grand male and female were (literally) hanging out on a thick, low horizontal sausage tree branch together, their majesty rather compromised by various appendages and supple parts of their engorged bellies dripping from the branch like pancakes on a grill.

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OnSafari: Serengeti

OnSafari: Serengeti

I was very worried. To begin with I don’t particularly like the dry season. The enormous amounts of dust kicked up by the rovers when traveling is constantly irritating, but more generally I just don’t like seeing the beautiful veld so dry and stressed.

The silver lining is that the cats are in their heyday, picking off weakened animals like flies.

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OnSafari: Ndutu

OnSafari: Ndutu

We were ready to leave the crater at the end of the game drive when Tumaini noticed far away near the down road a huge group of wilde running down the side of the escarpment.

We stopped and turned around and with my binocs I could swear I was in the western corridor watching a couple thousand frantic animals in their endless search for better grass. But we were far, far away from that place.

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OnSafari: Dry but not Drought

OnSafari: Dry but not Drought

We finished four days and hundred of miles through the Serengeti, found the migration in multiple places and ended for our last two nights at Tanzania’s famous Crater Lodge.

It’s unusually dry. Not yet a crisis it will become so if widespread rain doesn’t develop, soon. We arrived the crater in a rainstorm, so that was obviously good news. But the day that preceded our arrival was a dust bowl.

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#2 Cold Wind Blows

#2 Cold Wind Blows

Many Africans view 2018 positively, a time when autocratic leaders solidified power and stability increased. For many African conservatives it was a good year.

It was not a good year for African liberals, human rights activists, members of the LGBT community, women or those who champion democracy. Rightists celebrated; leftists wept.

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