After a long break from updates on the blog, I am happy to present the first of hopefully a long series of photo safaris reports. The first one is from my private safari to Ngorongoro, Ndutu and Serengeti, Tanzania, from Jan 28th to Feb 4th 2016, where I guided two keen photographers who had been on safari many times with me in the Mara and now wanted to discover what happens on the opposite end of the great migration, in the short-grass plains of the Southern Serengeti.
We started spending one morning in the Ngorongoro Crater. It was an interesting morning as there was a soft mist lingering on the crater floor, hiding almost completely the crater walls. Zebras and other animals at times appeared almost like ghosts. To me photographing in the Crater means trying to capture the beauty and the uniqueness of the place, especially when atmospheric conditions contribute to the drama and mystery of the scene.
After lunch we headed down to Ndutu, crossing the Ol Dupai gorge and amazing landscapes of endless short grass plains teeming with animals, with the backdrop of the Gol Mountains to the north. It’s a scenery that never ceases to amaze me, so ancestral and evocative. We got to Ndutu in the late afternoon and as we were driving near the lake I spotted a small tawny colored cat out of the corner of my eye, walking through the bushes on the lake shore. It was a magnificent sighting of a fairly relaxed Caracal. It caught something in the bushes and as it was eating it allowed us a little closer for some nice portraits. My guests were completely mesmerized by the beauty of this cat, a sighting they had been chasing unsuccessfully in the Mara for many years.
The following morning, after a misty sunrise on lake Ndutu, we returned to the Caracal area to search for the elusive cat again but we were not lucky. We were rewarded nonetheless with the sighting of the Masek Pride of Lions, with their juveniles in full playing mode, in the marshy grasslands between the two lakes.
The other pride of Lions in the area, the Marsh pride, gave us a sighting to behold in the late afternoon. The Lions were sleeping in the plains surrounding the woodlands. The migratory herd were still far in the south-east so prey was not abundant yet in the Lions’ territory. As we were watching the Lions we saw in the distance a small family of three adult Zebras and a foal walking right towards where the Lions were. As we pulled away not to interfere with the situation, one Lioness noticed the advancing animals and moved away from the other Lions to surround the Zebras. All the Lioness took position. The Zebras walked right in to the ambush the Lions had prepared.
As it can be seen from the images, we were in perfect position to capture the scene. The first Lioness sprung out of cover and the Zebras ran right towards us. Behind us the second Lioness was waiting in ambush for the animals coming towards her.
As the chase progressed and while running in the same direction, the Zebra foal ran in front of the adults who were obviously running much faster. One of the Zebras trampled the baby but the Lion didn’ realize. Instead she was focusing on one of the adults. She managed to reach it and to put her paws on the Zebra’s back but she wasn’t successful. The final part of the attack happened too close to us for my lens, but fortunately my guests had the excellent new 100-400mm Canon and could capture the whole scene beautifully. The second Lioness joined the first one in chasing the adult Zebra, but in vain. Meanwhile, a third Lioness had seen and heard the baby Zebra being hit and trampled and while we were watching the other two Lionesses had moved in to kill it. The whole pride joined in for a very welcome meal. The feeding was accompanied by loud growls and bare teeth, as Lions often do when they are very hungry. This year the migrating herds were still far from the pride’s territory, further south-east, so they hadn’t had a chance to fill up with the migration bonanza yet.
Lions dominated the scene in our days in Ndutu. We caught up again both with the Masek pride and the Marsh pride. We saw some single Cheetahs but not as many as usual, and we didn’t find any family with cubs as it normally happens here. There was a female Cheetahs who had just given birth in the Big Marsh but the cubs were still too small to be seen.
As we left the Ndutu area to the Serengeti National Park, the most amazing spectacle of endless plains teeming with migrating animals appeared before our eyes. It’s one of those things that must be seen to be believed and appreciated. Photographs seldom do it justice. Animals were everywhere as far as the eye could see, grazing peacefully in the green short grass. We settled in our private camp in the heart of this immense wilderness, ready to explore the majestic Kopjes.
Lions are the true kings in this areas. We found some of the cubs that I left last year almost fully grown, and I was particularly happy to see the three males I have photographed since 2014 still holding on to their territory.
Our last full day was truly a Cheetah day. We found two rather shy males early in the morning and as we drove further afield into the endless plains, we spotted a family of a mother with two almost full grown cubs. We followed them until they found an unlucky hare, which the cubs used to practice their hunting skills on. Later they made a proper kill of a Thomson’s Gazelle. Besides the sheer beauty and abundance of animals in this area, the most fascinating thing is being almost always completely alone with the animals. I just love the thrill of scanning the endless plains looking for Cheetahs or Lions, or other predators.
After the Cheetah kill we drove on to another set of Kopjes just after enjoying lunch in the shade of a small kopje. As I scanned the area with the binocular I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a black dot in the far distance in the middle of the plains, a male Lion. At 3pm finding a male Lion out in the sun is quite unusual. We drove closer and we realized that they were the two dominant males of this territory lying close together, panting in the midday heat. Initially I couldn’t figure out what were they doing there. But I kept looking around with the binoculars, and far away further down in the valley I noticed three other males, lying close together, also in the open. We drove there, these males were also magnificent, with dark manes but they were younger than the dominant males. It was obviously a situation of the holders of the territory holding ground against these invaders. We were so far away from camp that unfortunately we could not wait for the outcome, but it was amazing to see the stalemate and to breathe the tension among them.
The following day we flew from the Serengeti to Arusha, flying over the immensity of this wild landscape, looking at the Wildebeests’ herds from the air, the short grass plains, the Kopjes, the Loliondo woodlands, the Ngorongoro Crater and the other ancient volcanoes that have shaped this ecosystem through millions of years. May it stay wild and endless like it is now forever.