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The fastest...

The cheetah. We've all seen and/or heard about the sprinting skills of a cheetah. We've seen spectacular footage in nature documentaries of cheetahs sprinting and bringing down antelopes. Ever imagined what it would be like to see it live and in perfect angle and distance? If there's one thing I could point at to say that it was the highlight of the Africa trip then this has got to be it - a successful cheetah hunt of a young Thomson's Gazelle.

The driver was all eager to get to camp by nightfall and he was driving as fast as the unpaved road allowed him to drive. I noticed a cheetah stalking and shouted out to stop but we could only stop well ahead of the cheetah. The cheetah wasn't bothered by the car and we noticed that we were exactly midway between the cheetah and a small herd of Thomson's Gazelles. The gazelles had no idea a cheetah was on to them. The cat stalked and tried to get closer to the gazelles. With the camera locked in on the cheetah, all we wanted was for it to start its hunt. It did. Running parallel to the road, the cat had moved to top speed in seconds. The acceleration and the stretch of the body and the giant leaps it took with each stride was just unbelievable. These things move fast. Very fast.

The crowd was divided inside the car. Some were cheering for the cheetah to make the kill and some wanted the gazelle to escape. I've heard most hunts aren't too successful and there was every chance the gazelle would escape. Not this time. With a cloud of dust the cheetah did the successful trip-and-bite and the gazelle was down. Unbelievable moment. And to think that this was one of the first things I saw in the Serengeti was even more unbelievable! I doubt I'll see another cheetah hunt this close and this perfect, but that is what cameras are for - to capture magical moments so that it can be remembered forever. :-)




Stalking...




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Little Big Cat!

It is the littlest of Africa's big five - lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard. The big five may have its origins in game hunting, but I'm pretty sure it was the most difficult one to get to even then as it is now to get to photograph or see. Anyway, I expected exactly zero leopard sightings on the trip. Besides being elusive and all that, the plains is probably just not the ideal place for a leopard. Trees and plants for protection and camouflage is what a leopard probably needs and the plains of the Serengeti doesn't not have too much of it. And that was perhaps the reason we saw two leopards - on the same day and in different places!




A sleepy leopard on a tree...




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Lions

I guess lions need no introduction. Everyone who goes to Africa for wildlife viewing has them on their list of must-see animals I guess. The guide almost laughed when I first asked him if we'd see lions on the safari. Only after a few days in the Serengeti did I realize why he laughed because lions seemed to be everywhere. We saw lions sitting, standing, eating, drinking, sleeping, stalking, hunting (a failed hunt), and even mating. I never had luck with the light for photography on the whole trip, but I feel fortunate enough to have seen lions and other magnificent creatures in the Serengeti.








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And the smaller mammals...

The Serengeti is so full of animals that you almost begin to feel you're in a gigantic zoo. The herbivores are everywhere and the carnivores are all neatly spaced out. It is only a matter of time before you've seen all the heavyweights of the park then. It is only the smaller of the mammals that are less sought after but even they seem to be abundant nonetheless. There is still so much to see, but for now here are few of the smaller mammals from the plains of the Serengeti.




A Baboon.




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Birds at the Olduvai

A stop at the Olduvai gorge on the way to the Serengeti meant that I could take some time away from the bumpy roads and chase around some birds instead. Oh, did I mention we actually went there to see the gorge (aka cradle of humanity!) itself? After a visit to the museum and staring down the gorge we actually had time to have a picnic lunch with tourist-friendly birds. The lunch included countless breaks to run behind every interesting species that caught the eye.

I downloaded some of the photographs yesterday but then I realized I had forgotten the names of the birds! We had decided to donate the mammals and birds guides to our guide/driver on the trip when we left Africa and I guess it has been long enough to forget the names of the birds that we identified. So, I had to run to some local bookstores in the night to find a field guide. Turns out no one stocks field guides for African wildlife in these parts and I thought I should give that used bookstore in Mountain View a shot. I had almost given up my search there when I found that they had a old old copy of a field guide (from early 1970s). The bad part about having such an old guide is that many species of birds are actually not even listed - and many of the missing species seem to be the ones that I have photographs off! Anyway, a combination of likely last names (like sparrow, weaver and so on) and the latest technology in web search, I think I've got all the birds identified. I know I could be way off with their IDs still though.




A Secretary Bird on the way to the Serengeti




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Tarangire

Tarangire national park was the last stop before we headed back to Arusha. The circuits we did inside the park was mostly wooded. We mostly kept to the regular routes and only once did we venture into a road that isn't often used and we realized why it wasn't used that often - crazy numbers of Tsetse flies! We noticed something interesting and stopping for a second resulted in hordes of Tsetses taking over the car and we didn't even get a chance to see what that animal as we had to quickly move on and take over tsetse killing duties.

I should write more when I have more time, but for now here are some of the photographs from Tarangire.



The view of the Tarangire river from the Safari Lodge

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The Serengeti

Endless lands of grass
Dotted with trees and ancient kopjes
Countless herds, flocks, packs, prides and all
In a gathering unlike any other

The Serengeti was everything I had imagined it to be. A fascinating place unlike no other I have been to. Tanzania was amazing - beautiful land, beautiful people and beautiful wildlife. Many stories will be told and photographs shared.






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Karibu Tanzania!

Time for a quick update. I have a few more hours here in Africa and it has been a fascinating ten days in the Tanzanian national parks and I can't wait to come back here some day. More about the trip will be coming up when I get back home!

Here are regularly used Swahili words on the safari:
Karibu = Welcome
Asante = Thank You
Tembo = Elephant
Simba = Lion
Duma = Cheetah