Live Animal Vid-joes!!!
Okay, I admit it, I *may* be a *teeny* bit biased. I love, love LOVE seeing animals in the wild. Seeing a new animal in the wild? It can’t be beat. (For those of you who know me, yep, I love waterfalls too… but I had to travel a lot farther to see these animals than I have to travel to see some of my favorite waterfalls, making this extra rare and special!)
Climbing Kilimanjaro was a great experience for us but not for our purse strings. With our African budget blown there was no money left for a safari, which usually consists of four days or more. And yet I couldn’t bear to leave Tanzania without seeing some animals, so we sorted out the possibility of doing a single-day game drive.
Tarangire National Park (Tah’-rahn-gear’-ay) was close enough to where we were staying that we could go for a single day, and it is known for its elephants. My goals were to see at least one elephant and one giraffe – the giraffe being the symbol of Tanzania. (We had already purchased ourselves a Tanzania patch for our backpacks, and the patch has a giraffe on it, which we had to “earn” by actually seeing a giraffe.) Our host assured us my goals were attainable, and set us up with a driver/guide named Ombeni.
A few days later at 6am we were ready and rarin’ to go, and Ombeni picked us up in a typical-looking safari vehicle. We drove in a full-sized Toyota Land Cruiser with a pop-up roof and dual spare tires on the back. (The fact that it was a pop-up roof, as opposed to a removable roof, turned out to be a great thing. The shade kept us much cooler than we would have been in direct African sun, and saved us from a righteous sunburn.) We stopped in the city of Arusha first to pick up our box lunches from a café and continued on our way.
The ride to the park was over two hours, and on the way I decided the symbolic animal of the country should be a goat rather than a giraffe. There are goats *everywhere*, whether in the city or the country. Often times they are just tied to a post near the side of the road, or ambling about in small groups. In this case, we saw large herds of sheep, goats and cattle, being herded by the local tribesman of the Maasai. (FYI – the Maasai are a nomadic people who live off the land in a simple, traditional existence. They go where the water is and where their animals can graze. Elliott is fascinated by their sandals made from recycled car tires.) Young and old, male and female, it seems anyone can be a goat herder. The Maasai dress in robe-like garments and always carry a stick with them, and so the whole scene took on a life of its own as some sort of re-enactment of scenes from the bible. Between the goats, the Maasai, and the landscape, we were mesmerized.
During the last mile or so before the park we were on dirt roads, passing through a small village where the Maasai have shacks set up from which to sell their handmade crafts. Before we knew it we were inside the park gates and several monkeys ran up as if to greet us. I squealed with delight at seeing our very first animals so close up.
We got out of the car to play with the monkeys and to read a few exhibits. The monkeys were happy enough to be near us, running this way and that and scurrying up the trees. We got to hear them as well, and learn their call of warning to one another, when a hyena ventured into the proximity. Wow they make a lot of noise! I got it on video – check it out:
And here is a video of them being cute:
Monkeys Being Cute Vid-jo
Next we saw some water buffalo, but they were far away and they weren’t in water, so pleah. I wasn’t able to get a good photo, but at least we saw them. My disappointment dissipated quickly when we happened upon a family of warthogs. These guys are adorable! And there were baby warthogs. What could be cuter? See for yourself:
We drove on a little bit and came up to a large heard of impala. This was exciting for us because we recognized the animal; we’ve seen them many times at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. What a difference to come upon them in the wild, and see them much closer to us than ever before! Our guide explained that the females have no horns while the males have long, curly-cue horns. One male dominates a whole herd of females called a “harem.” The rest of the males usually stay together in a bachelor group until one challenges the alpha male for control of the ladies. Then they rut up against one another, fighting for the right to take over a herd of females, and whoever wins leaves the group of males and leads the females.
We spotted a jackal – this guy reminded me of a fox and was quick and elusive. He did not like it when he ran away and then we followed him along the road! Luckily the safari vehicles are not allowed off the dirt roads in the park, so the animals never need to feel threatened.
We saw many birds over the course of the morning and the day, including blue herons, which we recognize mostly from sightings in Florida. The blue herons are beautiful, but then again all the birds we saw in Tanzania tended to be vibrant and beautiful. And speaking of things that don’t always get enough recognition, the landscape in the park was gorgeous in and of itself. Our two favorite trees, both very typically Africa, were the Acacia Tree, which looks flat on top, and the Bayobab Tree, called a Baobao in Swahili. These trees, along with large mud termite mounds, dotted the grasses to provide picture-perfect panoramas every time.
A half hour had passed since we’d seen the jackal, and we were starting to feel ever so slightly apprehensive. We had seen so much so quickly when we arrived, but even our driver was saying things like, “No animals. All the giraffes and elephants are hiding.” Where were all the bigger animals? And what if we drove around for the next five hours and didn’t see anything more? This park was known for elephants, and I just had to see a giraffe!
Before we could dwell much longer, Elliott turned and saw a group of baboons on the side of the road near our vehicle. We stopped to watch. They also had babies – very, very cute babies, and one of the babies was riding on its mom being extra adorable. The baboons wanted to cross the road, and since we had stopped, they had no problem doing it right in front of us! The baboon sighting was really unexpected for me since I had no idea you could find them in Tarangire – I thought you had to go to special locations to see them. If this isn’t the cutest thing in the world, I don’t know what is:
Less than three minutes after our baboon sighting, our guide said he thought he spotted a lion. Elliott looked where he was pointing and said he saw some more warthogs on the side of the road, and we figured our guide was simply mistaken. We weren’t expecting lions at all, and our guide had made a point to tell us that morning that the chances of a lion sighting were only about 50%. Well, did we get a sighting. It turned out both our guide *and* Elliott were right – there were two female lions way back in the bush, and there was a mother warthog with her babies closer to us. Unfortunately for the warthogs, the lions were hungry, and they were on a hunt. We watched the two females slowly position themselves to block the warthogs’ retreat. I was filled with sad emotion and exhilaration all at once; I couldn’t stand the idea of a cute little warthog being eaten, and yet I knew how rare it is to see a live lion hunt in the wild. And so I watched with trepidation, as Mother Nature’s cycle of life occurred right before my eyes. One lion chased the warthog family right towards the second lion. We witnessed the capture, and we watched as the female lions shared their feast with their cubs. Our safari vehicle was moving quickly during the hunt so I was unable to capture video of the action, but while trying to record some of the lions growling, I captured the lions sharing (and tearing apart) the warthog. Please do not watch this if it will upset you!
Wow. So many animals! More than I could have imagined we would see – and yet still no giraffes or elephants? Our guide was on a mission now, and he did not disappoint. During his search he found us another family of lions, and then, a half hour later, a single giraffe. This giraffe was so far away that I thought our guide’s eyes must be better than a pair of strong binoculars; it took us several minutes to find what he was even pointing out! The giraffe was hiding in the shadow of a tree, and my camera showed only a dark silhouette when I photographed the animal. I watched the giraffe intently, waiting for it to make some sort of giraffe-like move, but to no avail. I got frustrated and declared that he was a robot giraffe, placed there to satisfy the tourists. But on our way to get closer to some elephants our guide also saw way out in the distance, we came upon a few more giraffes, this time within a good viewing distance. They were moving around and eating tree foliage and doing general giraffe-type things. They are such peaceful, quiet, content animals.
It took us half the day to find, and get within a decent distance of, some elephants. At first they were so far away that they just appeared as dots to my camera lens. But once we found them, and got close to them, they seemed to be out in full force. I’d be shooting photos in one direction and our guide would point out some more in another direction, and then Elliott would point out a third group somewhere else. We have never had such fun, “chasing” elephants around, photographing one after another after another. Eventually, they all seemed to converge on our solitary vehicle, and we were surrounded.
Another wonderful thing about the elephants – can you guess? There were babies! I still don’t know how we managed to see so many baby animals, but I guess we were just in Tarangire during “Baby Time,” and I couldn’t be more thrilled. The only things better than cute animals are their babies!
There is a picnic area in Tarangire, where most tourists go with their guides to eat lunch. I asked our guide if instead, we could stop our safari vehicle and eat while watching the elephants. What good is a picnic area compared to a live viewing of animals we’ve never seen in the wild before? Our guide agreed, and we spent a half hour at one of the best lunch spots ever, surrounded by elephants who were unafraid and sometimes even a little curious about our car. One munched grass so close that if she had stretched out her trunk, she could have touched us.
After lunch we followed some of the elephants to their bathing spot and watched them play in the water. I could’ve stayed all day. All week. By mid-day I was contemplating how we could extend our stay in Africa….
So how did we get so lucky, as to see so many different wonderful animals, so many baby animals, and even a lion hunt, in the span of just one game drive? I have no idea, so I just kept thanking my lucky stars. Alas, all good things must come to an end sometime, and so did our day at Tarangire. After eating lunch with the elephants, and watching more elephants, and finding our first giraffe friend again, and some more warthogs (poor mom!) and some ostriches, our animal-viewing slowed down for the afternoon until it was finally time to go home. But this day, for me, encompassed our most exciting time in Africa. And we took with us amazing photographs, some great videos, and memories to last a lifetime.