On Safari : Too Many Elephant

On Safari : Too Many Elephant

20Mar2012: Taken with my little Canon sureshot, 2x.
There are too many elephant in Africa and it’s going to cause serious trouble, soon. Our first big game park was Tarangire, and as Kathy Kowalski from Sabula, Iowa, remarked, “It’s like driving by cattle in Iowa.”

When I think back the many years I’ve been doing this, and read the statistics of the early days, it’s an unbelievable story. Elephant fill the veld of the northern half of Tarangire National Park like Thomson’s Gazelle on the southern Serengeti plains.

They’re everywhere. Admittedly this is a bit of a dry year so far. (Perhaps not dry, just late rains.) And that is an added incentive for the ele to come down to the river to dig in the sand. But I’ve seen them almost as dense after the rains were well underway.

And as everyone oohs and ahs over the true majesty of the scenes, here, I can’t help but wonder about the farmers on the perimeter, the school children walking to school, and the oxcart suppliers at the village markets. The future of this part of Tanzania and elephants is colliding like the particles in a nuclear reactor.

Of course we saw a lot more in Tarangire than just ele, especially since we were staying in the southern half of the developed park area at Swala Camp. It’s the only camp in the park in the south, and so there are far fewer people. On many of our game drives there were no vehicles but ours.

Ele researcher Charles Foley has determined that the ele in the north are resident, more habituated and easier to approach. The ele near where we stayed are mostly migrants, more skittish and dangerous, and that seemed very true.

We had breakfast overlooking the exquisite Silale swamp, as I always do, but remarkably this time, no animals. Until we started driving along the swamp road and encountered one of the most beautiful leopard sights I’ve ever seen. She was magnificent: lying on a horizontal baobab tree that was already losing its leaves, in front of a morning grey-blue hazy sky. Couldn’t have asked for better.

I pointed out to my group how massive her biceps and shoulders were and how to compare them to the size of her neck. She compares favorably to a number of lineman in the NFL. By the way, before we left Tarangire, we’d seen 6 leopard. Please don’t spread this around. I have many safaris where no leopards at all are seen.

And we saw lion, on a fascinating and recent kill of a giraffe that had fallen into the pond where the lion had obviously ambushed it. The lion were done eating when we arrived, though still guarding the carcass from afar, and I couldn’t help but laugh trying to imagine these water haters eating their treasure.

The lioness had just brought very young cubs down. They couldn’t have been more than 7-10 days old, and of course, they were unable to get through the water to the carcass. But they seemed to have enjoyed their first introduction in the real world.

We went back to the kill the next two days, and very little changed. The lions were asleep in the grass, the vultures were patiently roosting nearby, a jackal or two was running helter-skelter around, but no food feast going on. These lions will likely not kill again in the normal three days, just come back to this mega-sized prey and feed again until they get tired of old meat.

It let me explain to everyone another of the great myths of the African wild: that whatever is killed is gone, finger snap, bingo, just like that. It’s never like that. Unless it’s 8 lion killing one warthog. Even a regular old zebra is going to take a week or more to disappear. So this giraffe could be around for a month.

(There are exceptions which probably created the myth. The density of predators and carrion eaters in Ngorongoro Crater is so high, that a zebra might disappear in a day or two. But for the vast, vast majority of the African veld, this just isn’t the case.)

So we came from Tarangire to one is rapidly becoming my favorite lodge in East Africa, Gibb’s Farm, and here we are for three marvelous days, exploring Manyara and Ngorongoro, before heading into the greatest wildlife experience on earth, the Serengeti.

Stay tuned.

23Mar2012: East bank, Tarangire River, just down from Matete.