Serengeti National Park, the largest of Tanzania’s 16 national parks, is a land of variety and abundance. “Serengeti” which simply means “endless plain” is truly endless in every sense of the word. It is home to more than 25 species of hoofed animals and 530 bird species. Alongside its host of bright and beautiful residents, the Serengeti provides an essential winter home to many migratory birds from other countries in Africa, Europe and Asia.
The Acacia tree and the Candelabra tree are the two most popular tree species in Serengeti, so you’re likely to spot them at almost every turn. While the Acacia tree is more of a canopy tree providing shades to animals and humans alike, the Candelabra tree is mostly known for the ‘poisoned milk’ it secretes from its sap. The tree actually protects itself by producing a toxic, milky sap – capable of burning the human skin and blinding the eye. Now these are some of the interesting things you’ll learn when you visit the Serengeti Museum.
So back to the real deal. We hopped into our safari vehicle after lunch and began our adventurous ride of exploring the almighty Serengeti. One of the first things you are advised to do on a game drive is to never step out of the vehicle. You can’t pee or poo during the 4-5hr long drive. You either do that before the drive begins or hold it till the drive is over. You should also hold your cameras, phones and other mobile equipment tight so as to prevent them from falling out of the vehicle by accident. If anything falls, you’ll have to forfeit it. Wild animals are everywhere and most of them are watching and hiding – waiting for the perfect opportunity to hunt down any prey – be it human or animal.
After driving about half an hour, our first encounter was with the beautiful skinny gazelles of Serengeti. As our vehicle approached, they scampered in all directions, galloping and hopping across the plains with reckless abandon. Those pretty animals were all shades of amazing. We also spotted the Thompson Gazelles – a slightly different species of gazelle. They looked much bigger and bolder with their long hoofs and horns. After stopping to take pictures we moved on; that was just a side attraction. Our ultimate aim was to see the king of the jungle, spot some cheetahs, encounter leopards, smile at the hippos, wink at the zebras, wave to the buffalos, yell at the rhinoceroses and admire the elephants – in all their glory.
We drove for almost an hour without seeing anything. As we started getting worried and impatient our driver gently told us to just hope for the best because seeing the animals, especially the big 5, is a really unpredictable gamble. This is their natural habitat, unlike the zoo, so they could just choose to stay out of sight. So one can drive the whole day without seeing them.
No way! We have come a long way not to see anything?! Out of the five of us in the safari vehicle, three came from Nigeria, one came from Uganda, another came from London. And we had only one day, on our itinerary, to spend in Serengeti. So we said some prayers under our breath and just hoped for the best. Then guess what? Ten minutes later we spotted the Cheetah! And we almost screamed!!!
But we were told to keep quiet. Noise scares the animals away, so people are always advised to be as quiet as possible so as to observe and ‘capture’ them in their natural state. We spotted our first big catch sitting pretty under an Acacia tree. The cute Cheetah had apparently just had lunch so she was just having siesta under the shade. What a beautiful sight it was. Without wasting time, we positioned our phones and cameras and clicked away. After spending about thirty minutes observing the earth’s fastest mammal from a close range, we took off.
Thankful that we had seen one, we knew it was going to be a good day. So our craving for lions further increased. As we drove along, we met another safari vehicle coming towards us; both drivers stopped briefly to compare notes, asking each other what they’d both seen thus far. The other dude said he hadn’t seen lions all day along. Our hearts sank. But we kept hope alive.
As we drove along, I spotted a large Acacia tree from a distance, then joked that probably a lion would be sitting on the tree. The driver laughed, but paused and reached for his binoculars. Bingo! We had struck gold! He reversed the vehicle and headed towards the tree. Lo and behold, we found two large, gorgeous lionesses sleeping peacefully under the tree. We almost freaked out! That sight was awesome in every way!! The driver parked the vehicle so close that the animals were just few inches away from us.
At some point, the lionesses opened their eyes briefly, looked at us and just rolled back to sleep. Of course, we got scared at some point but the driver calmed us down, assuring us that they won’t harm us. Apparently, the beasts had also just had lunch and were simply having their siesta – just like the ‘Madam Cheetah’ we met earlier. Life must be so good in the jungle! Watching these animals sleep, roll from side to side, open their eyes, look at us and go back to sleep was one of the most priceless experiences one can ever have. There’s simply nothing like it. And that was the eureka moment for us; we started spotting other animals with ease afterwards.
As we drove along, we saw a lovely company of giraffes and zebras ‘cuddling’ and having a great time. Few minutes later, we spotted a cute baby elephant walking swiftly behind her mum, dad and other members of her ‘extended family’. Few minutes later, our driver stopped the truck and looked up into a pile of rocks with his binoculars again. Guess what? We found a brown leopard camouflaging with the trees up in the rocks. What an amazing sight it was! Those of us with powerful lens took some shots while others just passed the binoculars to each other, relishing the sight.
We moved on to some hippopotamuses wallowing in a muddy pool with their heads submerged. They even had no courtesy to give us attention or say Hello. And we also saw a good number of buffaloes chilling and having the time of their life.
The high point of our experience was the ‘murder’ of a zebra by a pride of lions. Almost all the safari vehicles driving within the Serengeti converged at this epic sight. A zebra’s fresh carcass was lying there while the lions who mauled it looked on from a distance. The deed had been done before we all came; but interestingly, the lions were ‘shy’ to start ‘eating’ because of the sea of human eyes watching from all directions. And really, who wouldn’t be? Thanks to the 40-plus safari vehicles (parked at every corner) with cameras pointing from all directions. After hesitating for a while, the lions saw vultures flying in, and they started coming one by one to descend on their carcass, until nothing was left of it.
We ended our Serengeti adventure with a night stay at a luxury tented camp right there in the middle of the Serengeti. Concerned that a wild animal could stray into our tent at night, our hosts took us through a brief safety pep talk and assured of the ever-present watch of the Maasai warriors. Despite that we had Hyenas walking round our tents in the middle nights making weird sounds at a very close range. But they did nothing to us. We slept, woke up and departed the Serengeti in peace.