Dry Season Serengeti

Dry Season Serengeti

I usually don’t visit the Serengeti in the dry season, but the drought in Kenya made it a practical alternative. We weren’t disappointed!

The director of the Cleveland Zoo, Steve Taylor, said at the end of our time at Ndutu Lodge in the southwest Serengeti that it was the best game viewing he’d ever had there, and one of the best first game drives.

I don’t think I can disagree. In the first two hours that the zoo group was in the bush, we saw 10 lion (7 of which were cubs, and 3 of which were eating a warthog), a mother cheetah with two three-month-olds, and the most classic leopard I remember ever seeing.

This extraordinary bang-bang-bang of the big cats just doesn’t usually happen. Only about one out of three of my safaris finds leopard at all. Part of the reason is that this is the dry season, there’s less foliage to obscure game viewing, and it’s easier for the predators to hunt.

It’s easier for the leopard and lion, because they can hang around the known water sources and wait for the animals that must ultimately come down to drink. It’s easier for the cheetah, because the grass isn’t as high and they can see so much better.

In fact, the grass was very, very low. This wasn’t a drought as is the sad situation in Kenya, but it much dryer than normal. I must admit that I was worried having been here only two months ago and having watched the steady drying up since January.

But the veld is amazingly resilient. Lake Masek was completely dry and there was only a tiny sluice of water in Lake Ndutu. But at the end of Lake Masek the swamp was pretty healthy and there were several sections of open water.

Every once in a while we could see swaths of green, and the Ndutu manager, Colin, confirmed there had been short periods of rain at unusual times. This very slight greening had provided enough fodder for the impala, which didn’t look too bad and which were having fawns.

We saw quite a few elephant, also fairly healthy looking. The Masek swamp is an important elephant corridor between Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, and we have always found transient ele there. And we saw just as many, if not more, than usual.

On the upper plains behind Lake Ndutu we saw tons of Grant’s gazelle, and that wasn’t surprising. Even as Samburu turned into a desert, we’d fine Grant’s. But with them on the high plateau were a few zebra and lots of Thomson’s Gazelle, and that was unusual for such a dry time. And finally, we encountered a dozen or so giraffe, mostly male, very large and dark. I’m not sure what this means.

Because the area of good game viewing was limited to the swamp, we kept going back there each time. But the marvelous thing about doing this is that you start to get to know the animals. Jerry Wagner was intrigued about how there seemed to be only 7 cubs on the first game drive, and then suddenly two more appeared on the next drive!

There’s never a certain answer to such wonderful mysteries, but I explained it could have been that the two had got lost, or that they had been on the kill still eating which I suspected the pride had managed not long before we arrived the first time. Or, maybe, we just didn’t see them the first time!

And everyone enjoys Ndutu Lodge, especially me. The mornings are so beautiful. And what a treat to sit down to breakfast as a 5-gallon bucket of water is poured over the bird bath drawing down at least 500 brilliantly colored Fischer’s Lovebirds.

What a way to begin!