Dry Serengeti

Dry Serengeti

Our safari encounters a very dry Serengeti. Is a drought, or are floods, coming?

We arrived Ndutu Lodge on Wednesday after an extremely dry drive east to west across the entire bottom half of the Serengeti. It isn’t yet a drought, but it’s very dry.

We started north of Olduvai Gorge, saw the remarkable Shifting Sands and had lunch on a kopjes near Lemuta. The veld at a distance had a patina of green, but was mostly brown. There was no new grass. We found a few waterholes, but they seemed to be drying rapidly. Around one, five hyaena seemed to keep guard.

The difference between the Serengeti Plains when they are verdant and green, and when they are dry as now, is the difference between exuberance and depression. We found abandoned Maasai bomas, no sign of Maasai anywhere. There were still some animals – as I said, it isn’t yet a drought, but the herds were nowhere to be found.

The plains looked like they do in August. It was even the more remarkable, because Ngorongoro was so wet.

Universal opinion here is that global warming is causing extreme fractures in traditional weather patterns. A hundred-square mile area like the crater can be normal and wet, and adjacent at Olduvai it’s like a drought. Sand rivers and seasonal streams intersect these areas, so it definitely isn’t as bad as a real drought. But it isn’t good.

On Thursday we had to leave the Serengeti all together and enter the Maswa Game Reserve. There at its southern end near the Kerio River we found lots and lots of seemingly happy wildebeest. The veld was green and there were puddles of water everywhere. But at Ndutu where we stayed, it was dust.

Lake Ndutu looks OK. But Lake Masek is dry and the swamp is brittle. How absolutely remarkable that there can be such a difference in such a relatively small area.

On Friday we headed north to the center of the park. In a complete switch from normalcy, the center and the western Moru Kopjes were beautiful and green, wet and gorgeous. And while it may have taken us a few days to discover this, the wildebeest already knew!

Massive seas of wildebeest were coming from two opposite directions into this area. From the north around Seronera, and from the south at Ndutu, they were flooding into the Moru Kopjes in the west center of the park. It was fabulous for us!

We took the long route all the way around the kopjes, and the site on the western side was stupendous. Great lines of running wilde – looking quite healthy – were streaming through the passes in the great sculpted kopjes. Thousands of zebra followed. And on our way out of this beautiful dense herd, we saw a huge leopard!

George Haley, a farmer from Illinois, remarked, “I don’t understand how there can be so many animals in one place!”

For us we’d accomplished our task, found the wilde and in huge numbers. But I remain so worried for Tanzanians. Whether a drought will now develop, or floods will arrive late, neither will be good for man the farmer, or man the miner, or even man the city dweller.

For the animals, they’ll work it out. Obviously floods are better than a drought, so for them I worry less. There’s a 50-50 chance that life will be just A-OK for them.

But for men, it’s already a disaster.