Friday 10 November 2006
We were woken with tea and coffee in bed today! Just after 6.30 we went straight to the vehicle to meet our guide (Geoffrey) and driver (Yona). As we were leaving camp we saw the male elephant near the kitchen and saw loads of yellow baboons in the trees and on the ground. I didn’t need my jacket since it was already quite warm but that meant the tsetse flies found me!
The first part of our drive was very quiet; we saw hardly any animals and our guide didn’t say too much. We saw a black-backed jackal, some white-headed vultures together on the ground (we went to investigate but they weren’t with a kill), we also saw large groups of impala, baboons (they only have yellow baboons here), red-billed and grey-billed hornbills.
We saw some ostriches all standing together in a small group. Our guide told us the black one was male and the brown ones were female. I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t say more and thought it was going to be a “this is this” and “that is that” game drive and we learn nothing about the animal behaviour or habitats, but as we paused there a little longer our guide went on to say they weigh up to 140kg and feed mainly on grasshoppers and dry seeds – so that was better, we learnt something new too!
For about an hour we saw nothing and then Heiko saw a bat-eared fox popping its head up out of a hole. It’s strange that until yesterday we had never seen them and have now had three sightings of them in just two days. I saw giraffe and zebra and asked if we could stop as one of the giraffe’s was close to the road and I wanted to take a close-up of its face.
We stopped for a bush breakfast at Magangama Dungu view point and had an amazing view from there. Later we had much better luck and saw loads of impala, a group of eland – they are the largest antelope and can weigh more than a buffalo (1000kg), they can also jump 12ft from a standing position – hard to believe! We saw a long-crested eagle and then saw seven vultures in flight catching the morning thermal.
We drove over to a rocky area near a sandy riverbed and saw a pride of lions feeding on a small buffalo. They were difficult to spot and we could only see four. They eat a third of their body weight so a female would need 30kg of meat whereas a male would need 50kg. There were many hooded vultures nearby, apparently they normally eat lion dung. We saw a couple of hyenas out and about not far from the lions and Heiko spotted dwarf mongoose running about the bush floor.
We saw a family of three klipspringers on the kopjes and soon after saw greater kudu – some males and some females. The males separate and only join the females during the breeding season. The lesser kudu are a darker brown colour with more white stripes plus they are smaller in height. Heiko (who is an expert at spotting now) spotted lots of rock hyraxes and more mongooses.
We found six lions lazing together in the shade of a tree, four young males, one of four years and also the dominant one, and the others of one year. The two others were females, one of one year and the other a little older. You can tell they are young if they have dark spots on their belly. These lions were from a pride of 15 but we didn’t see any others around. Male lions can live to 12 years which is less than females (18 years) because the males fight. At two and a half years male cubs will leave their pride with their sisters. When the males are established the sisters rejoin their original pride.
We watched the lions doze for some time and heard the nearby zebra snorting loudly because of their presence, yet the zebra made no efforts to move elsewhere. We also saw warthogs and a large group of banded mongoose scurrying about on our way back to camp.
We stopped by the dining banda for a refreshing drink; the intense heat during the middle of the day makes you really thirsty. At lunchtime we met some new guests, a Portuguese couple who came here from Zanzibar and a Dutch mother and daughter (Wil and Myra) from Amsterdam – they have been to many places in Africa but Tanzania is their favourite place. This is their second time in Ruaha, last time was February 2006 when everything was green and they had stayed in the south of the park at Jongomero Camp. They have also visited Selous a few times before and that is their next stop on this trip.
There was a selection of books and sculptures in the dining banda. The sculptures were made by Michael Ghaui and there was a book showing some of his paintings. I made a note of his website address from the book: mag-wildlife-art.com (userID=random, password=orderliness). There was also a nice book by Susan Steinberger (sp?) which showcased a selection of her paintings and documented the year that she spent in Ruaha.
We watched giraffe wandering around in the sandbed from the dining banda. We saw them again from our banda and also saw greater kudu. This time I was relaxing in the hammock!
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At 16.00 we had tea and coffee and then headed out for our afternoon drive. Geoffrey and Yona took us again. We first saw giraffe and found out that males have a lump on their forehead for fighting and during a fight they loose the hair on their little horns too. So after that we were pointing out the males and females, one of the giraffe we saw had a brown lumpy area on the back of his knee. We saw a giraffe yesterday that had it on both front legs behind the knees. Geoffrey told us it was a skin disease and that they will recover from it, it’s not harmful.
Heiko asked how to distinguish male hyena from a female, because yesterday I said it was a female hyena that we saw, at least I thought so by looking at their stomach but then I couldn’t remember which way round it was – Geoffrey confirmed that if the stomach goes upwards at the hind legs the hyena is male and if the stomach line continues sloping downwards the hyena is female – so I was right, I’d remembered correctly – it was in an Africa Geographic magazine that I read at Oliver’s.
Heiko also asked about the zebra here since we had read that they are a recognised sub-species of the common zebra and are known as Bohm’s Crawshay zebra (Equus quagga boehmi crawshayi), so we wanted to know what the differences were. Geoffrey explained that the zebra here have large stripes on their rear and small stripes on their front – the common zebra has equal strips all over. So we’ve been stopping to photograph the zebra here too. We saw warthogs, and in the sandbed we saw baboons searching for water. There were also giraffe and impala in the sandbed.
A little further on we came across two male lions lazing under a tree – they were brothers from the Soqwe pride. They have a third brother who was not with them. They are far from their own pride and within the territory of others so it is likely that they would want to challenge a pride to take it over but the two brothers would stay together with the new pride should they be successful. The two lions are probably about seven years old and one of them has a black mane – apparently he’s the only one with a black mane within 50km of camp.
We’ve been noticing that a lot of the lions have flies all over them – they are not the annoying tsetse flies that bother us, these ones actually clean the lions.
We saw a bateleur eagle flying very low, an immature one. Bateleur is French for tight rope walker. In flight you can see the bateleur using its wings to balance like a tight ropewalker would use their arms or a pole.
We passed so many baobab trees, I find them really fascinating because even when the elephants eat their bark they are unique in that they can re-grow the bark and usually (I guess depending on the damage) will survive. They are full of moisture yet most we have seen have no leaves, quite a few in Ruaha are only starting to become green – which to me is quite odd since I have seen so many that are bare and that accentuates their look that they’ve been planted upside down. We saw a baobab today that had huge holes in the sides of the tree and of course the centre is completely hollow – they are quite amazing really.
IMG: A large baobab tree in Ruaha
We entered the forest looking for leopard but didn’t find one, though the tsetse flies definitely found us – a big swarm of them attacked us for most of the time we were in the forest. We were going crazy with the deet spray but it didn’t seem to be deterring them!
We watched some small baboons play on a fallen tree and the impalas nearby, then when we were out of the forest are we saw a double rainbow (a polariser helped to capture that). We saw lots of vervet monkeys and as we crossed a sandy riverbed we could see the evidence that elephants had been there since there were large holes where they had been digging for water and lots of their dung.
We saw the usual again – zebra, giraffe, baboons and impala and then we stopped for some drinks and snacks. We asked Geoffrey and Yona what their favourite animal is – Geoffrey likes the cheetah and Yona likes the wild dog – we got talking about the wild dogs then, apparently a pack has been sighted fairly recently, the first time this season – so I hope we get lucky!
In the dusk we saw dik dik and heard the loud high pitched buzz of the Christmas beetle. We arrived back to our tent in the dark and headed straight for a shower to freshen up before dinner in the sandbed. Maddie explained that our table was European tonight, at one end latino (Italian and Portuguese), Dutch in the middle (we are kind of sudo-Dutch I guess) and Scandinavian at the other end (Swedish). We found out that Myra is a freelance writer but she had lived in the UK and New York (she got her American accent there) for theatre school, and before that was a rapper. Myra writes articles about music and comedians mostly; when she was in New York she wrote in English but now writes for lots of Dutch magazines. As we were just finishing our tea and coffee we felt some refreshing drops of rain and headed back to the tent for some sleep.