Tarangire Elephants

Tarangire Elephants

Tarangire’s elephant game viewing is excellent year-round. It simply can no longer be considered a seasonal destination.

It was drier than when I visited the park only 12 days ago. Then there were many pools of standing water and a lush green veneer covered everything. For our visit this time it was still green, but much less water and dust followed every vehicle.

We left Tarangire Treetops before dawn with our picnic lunch. The drive to the gate is about an hour and was pretty uneventful, although the morning sunrise was spectacular. After we entered the park, Blair Devermont spotted a leopard.

She was gesturing to us wildly as we approached from behind, but the leopard slid away into the tall grass before we got a chance to see it. Leopard are skittish everywhere, but especially in Tarangire. This was a hunting reserve less than 20 years ago, and it takes multiple generations of leopard to become accustomed to game viewing vehicles.

We continued around the Silale Swamp road and enjoyed our picnic lunch at one of the finest picnic sites in all of Tanzania’s parks. New bathrooms, a beautiful area on a hillside overlooking the great swamp, and all shaded by magnificent trees. It’s the perfect spot for my lecture on Stanley and Livingstone, since all the great explorers coming from Zanzibar had to cross swamps like this.

We then proceeded up the track on the east side of the Tarangire sand river. It wasn’t long before we saw elephants. Similar to most game viewing, successful elephant viewing requires absolute quiet. I’m convinced of all these magnificent animals’ special senses, hearing is the most acute. They tolerate the whole gamut of car noises, but the variety of human voices is infinitely greater and disturbs them.

This doesn’t always mean angers them, although it can. But more often, it means that the game viewing experience will just not be as good. The matriarch will simply lead her family away from you.

Our group behaved magnificently! The first group of two families of 17 included a number of very young babies that performed as if in a school play! And we then saw a group of 50 coming from a mud bath towards the river. We positioned the vehicles carefully, maintained absolutely silence, and had one of the finest encounters I’ve ever experienced!

We returned to Treetops via the Boundary Hill track, one of the most beautiful little cuts through park woodlands in Tanzania. On the way back outside the park we stopped for pictures of everyone’s head through a hole in a baobab. The baobabs are magnificent in Tarangire, like the sunsets and sunrises, natural dynamic sculptures incapable of being plated on a photograph or painting.

My nephew, Tim Heck, smiles a lot, but I began to worry that he had some physical disease. He is a Blue Man in Chicago, capable at the end of each performance of standing in front of throngs of taunting people expressionless as directed. But he simply can’t do that here. Every time I see him, he’s smiling!

That evening we had sundowners overlooking Tarangire from a bluff near the lodge. To our north was the great Rift Valley escarpment with shimmering Lake Manyara at its base. To the east were the formidable hills of Monduli, and to our south, the beginning of the extensive Maasai steppe. The sun settled through the clouds like a curtain being drawn over the evening mist. This is a raucous and boisterous crowd, but I think I remember a moment or two of complete silence as the three-quarters moon appeared.