We spent two nights in the Serengeti, providing ample time for game drives to view the wildlife in this wonderful national park. Admittedly, with the size of the Serengeti National Park (5,700 square miles) it is probably impossible to get to all areas in just a couple of days. Our Tanzanian driver Goodwin did a good job in providing us with a nice sampling of what there is to see there.
Our first game drive was actually during the drive from Lake Manyara via the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The next day, we spent the full morning that included a boxed lunch rather than returning after a short two hour drive. That afternoon there was a late day game drive, but some in our group opted to enjoy some relaxation poolside. We concluded our time in the Serengeti with an abbreviated drive en route back to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The Serengeti was historically land that belonged to the Maasai but they have been forced out to occupy land that is now within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The stories as told by the local people remind me of the Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears when the US Government forced their departure from North Carolina in favor of settling in Oklahoma. Today the Maasai are still at odds with the government, especially where their villages border with the national park.
The Serengeti is known to also be home to Africa's big five (elephants, lions, cape buffalo, leopards and rhinos). During our visit we got to see four of the five, including the illusive leopards! While we did get the witness lions mating, I really had hoped to see the "tree climbing" lions that are known to live here. Unfortunately, with Lake Manyara being a bust in terms of wildlife viewing, the Serengeti would be our best opportunity which was missed.
"Serengeti" translates from the Maasai language as "endless plain" and from what I saw, it certainly fits. Throughout our game drives of the plains, it was amazing just how far you could see. That said, there are also highlands within the park as well as forest land that has a fair amount of trees and shrubs. This is where we saw elephants and giraffes.
The Serengeti is the starting point for the great migration circuit of wildebeest. I was surprised at the number of animals still here given the dry conditions and the current status of the migration over in the Maasai Mara. That said, it was nice to see the zebras and wildebeests healthy and apparently content to stay here.
As for the leopards, we saw them on three separate occasions in what were different locations in the park. The first time, was very exciting and quite a job in spotting by our driver Goodwin. It was up in a tree, and very far from our vehicle. I had no hopes of photographing it at such a distance, but was encouraged by someone to "take a picture of the tree that had a leopard in it." As I was focusing in on "the tree" the leopard stood up, providing a silhouette view of the animal. It was very lucky that I was focusing in on the tree and captured the beautiful leopard as a shadow against the sky.
The next day Goodwin took us into a very rocky area of the park, known to be a hide-away for leopards with young. While we didn't see any young, we did get to see a leopard much closer than the first. Apparently distracted by our presence, he climbed down out of the tree providing several opportunities to snap a photo.
On the morning of our full day in the Serengeti we were witness to a pair of lions lounging beneath a tree. While watching them, the male got up and started to lick the female’s face and ear. It seemed he was attempting to gently awake her, as once she stood up, he mounted her. To hear their sexual encounter was amazing, since it only lasted a couple of minutes and ended abruptly with his loud explosive roar (of orgasm?) followed by her blood curdling screech. He walked away as she rolled on her back for several minutes.
Our guide told us that this pair would have intercourse many times every day over the course of about a week. During that time, they would only hunt as necessary for sustenance and that they would not leave that general area for the duration of their encounter.
As we departed the Serengeti for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we passed by a young lioness with a small cub. They were close to the road and very agitated by our presence. When she stood up, you could clearly see she was injured and that she was malnourished. It was a tragedy in the making as she was unable to hunt for food, and too weak to properly care for and feed her little one. It was sad to see this knowing that in nature such hardships are a reality and that life is so very fragile.
To end on a happier note, we did see several young during our visit to this park including elephants, wildebeest, zebras, impala, giraffe and hyena. It seemed the eco-system was healthy and the animals producing heirs to the vast plains of the Serengeti.