Safari: Part III – The endless plain: Serengeti

120 years ago, German geographer and explorer, Dr Oscar Baumann, was the first westerner to visit one of the last great ‘undiscovered’ wildernesses on the planet: what we now call the Serengeti National Park.

For around two hundred years before that, the Maasai people had been wandering the area with their cattle. In their ‘maa’ language, they called it the ‘endless plain’, and for very good reason…

At 14,763 square kilometres, three quarters the size of Wales, at first appearances there is nothing for miles and miles and miles.

Travelling on the dusty roads in 4X4s, sometimes it seems like there is nothing living other than dry grass and occasionally, out of the heat haze, a lone gazelle will appear and then disappear behind your vehicle’s dust clouds like a desert apparition.

But appearances can be deceiving. Standing up in our LandRover with hot wind in my face and staring into nothing for as far as the eye could see in every direction, I suddenly saw a head rise up close to the road and out of a dip in the grass. It was a young male Lion…

When the rains come, the endless plains become green and full of flowers and the great herds of Wildebeest and Zebra flood down from the Maasai Mara. Before those rains come, the wildlife is sparse but easy to view. Sometimes a solitary bird, like the giant Kori Bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird) appears…

… or small numbers of gazelle (like the Grant’s Gazelle below) which can last for long periods without water…

… or small groups of bachelor or old Zebra that cannot make the migration…

Every now and again the monotonous landscape is broken by a small oasis of huge weathered rock and trees: Kopjes…

‘Kopjes’ are excellent viewing posts for predators. These Thompson’s Gazelle, above, are grazing within the sight of at least two Lions: one resting in the shade on the rock to the far right and another on the floor to the immediate left of the first (its head is just visible to the naked eye).

These stone islands in the plains are some of the most ancient rocks on earth. Formed around 4 billion years ago (when the young earth was still cooling) metamorphic granite bubbled up into the crust. As the sedimentary rock has weathered over hundreds of millions of years, the tops of these rocks (much harder than the surrounding crust) have become exposed like the tips of ancient stone icebergs floating in a sea of grass.

As well as being useful lookout stations for Lion, Leopard, and Cheetah, the Kopjes are refuge to a number of other creatures including the colour changing, Rock Agama, lizard…

… and the Rock Hyrax, which, despite looking like a large rodent, is actually the closest living relative to the Elephant!

Acacia trees seem to huddle for protection near these islands in the nothingness…

But the great plains are also dissected by a number of rivers. The banks of these rivers are home to much greater concentrations of wildlife all year round. As we approached water, where grazing animals inevitably congregate, we also found earthen mounds with families of Lion…

… and Cheetah…

The mother (far left) and two cubs were surprisingly close to the Thompson’s Gazelle in the background who appeared alert but otherwise un-flustered that their nemeses were close by.

As we passed through more vegetation, sometimes just small collections of trees…

… we found families of Elephant, including these playful juveniles…

… and troops of gregarious Olive Baboon , including these females with suckling young…

Eventually, we found the water where we were extremely lucky to see, what I believe to be, the rare and secretive Clawless Otter (please let me know if I have mis-identified this)…

… as well as the unmistakeable Nile Crocodile, the largest and most feared reptile in Africa…

The endless plains of the Serengeti with their thriving water-based arteries were some of the most beautiful living landscapes I have ever seen. As we drove out of the National Park as the sun went down, we saw the beginnings of the nightly stomp of the mighty Hippo from their watery daytime homes and out on to the grassy plains to feed without the damaging glare of the African sun on their backs…

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s