Ethan Kinsey Safaris

Adventures in East Africa

Posts tagged Luxury
Luxury and the Wildebeest Migration (1st week of August)
 

As water sources dry up in southern Serengeti, more than 1.5 million wildebeest begin to make their way north toward the permanent river called the Mara. While the exact arrival is dictated by the extent of the drying and rainfall in northern Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara, they usually arrive in mid-July. Again, depending on where the greener pastures are, they move back and forth across the Mara river, in and out of Kenya, following the sporadic thunderstorms.

Us watching as thousands of wildebeest plunge into the river below us. Photo credit: Pietro Luraschi.

We arrived at Singita Mara Camp, by far the most luxurious camp in northern Serengeti, on the 3rd of August. The herds had already crossed the river heading north, and some were making their way back across. Just the sheer numbers of wildebeest was incredible as we slowly drove the northern bank of the river looking for an aggregation that looked to cross imminently. Patience, patience… but we didn’t need much as we found a group many thousand strong gathering on the banks of the river. The milling back and forth, the reluctance of the wildebeest- whether it is fear of the cold rushing water, or fear of the crocodiles submerged with only their eyes and nostrils above water, I do not know, but it adds to the excitement (and sometimes frustration).

Here is an amusing cartoon about it. When they do start to cross, it just goes and goes and goes until there are no more wildebeest left. The energy is incredible. Then it stops and the milling resumes, this time, mothers looking for their babies and babies looking for their mothers. 

(The video below shows what we were seeing)

This could be your private lunch banquet in the Serengeti plains.

Of course, there is more to the Serengeti (and northern Tanzania) than the migration so we also included a couple days in Tarangire National Park, where there is a daily migration of elephants to the permanent water sources. The landscape is also different with the typical red African soils and eccentric Baobab trees that dot the ridges, offering a nice contrast to Serengeti’s woodlands and plains.

This is a classic Tarangire scene. Elephants walking into the sunset with a magestic baobab tree in the foreground.

 
Adventures in Serengeti
 

The following photos are all taken with my iPhone on three safaris through the northern Tanzania, with Serengeti as the feature.

I'll start with a photo of the guides who co-guided with me on the trips. It is common knowledge that the guides make a trip, they keep you safe, host you, and give deeper insight into the wildlife and ecology of the savanna. With no more than four guests per guide we keep a ratio that ensures everyone gets the right amount of attention. Thank you Robert Tarimo and Paul Oliver.

The theme of many of these photos could be about big sky. This male giraffe seems dwarfed by the plains and sky. Since I only use my phone for photos, I don't use any zoom. This photo was taken en-route to Asilia's Namiri Plains Camp. Because of my previous work for Asilia, I am one of few guides allowed to drive in the camps where they normally only want people guided by their guides.

Again- the skies in the Serengeti provide this impressive backdrop fro wildlife viewing. This photo was taken on Christmas day. If you look carefully you can see one of the vehicles (driven by Paul Oliver who guided with me on this trip) to the left of the big rock kopjie. You can't see the lions they were watching.

Without using a zoom you'd have to be in a park with very habitated black rhinos to get a close up just using a phone. This is a black rhino and her calf only a few hundred meters from where we camped. Unfortunately rhino poaching still continues and there are very few rhino that are still left in Serengeti.

I'm often late for lunch- and on this occasion we were nearly back in camp but found this pod of hippos basking in the sun along the banks of the Mara river. While things are getting busier every year, this part of Serengeti is very quiet outside of migration season and while some of the animals are harder to find, it is a great place to be alone especially.

An elephant herd feeding along the main road at Bologonja. While flying between camps is often the most efficient way to maximize the wildlife experience, driving the vast distances does give you an understanding of the vastness of the ecosystem.

This old male lion was pretty beaten up but still trying to keep up with the pride. When the wildebeest move out of the north, lion prides that have had it easy suddenly find their territories tight and must venture further to find food and keep alive. This often leads to territorial fights between neighboring prides. Prides often divide into subgroups that are easier to feed, but this creates issues for the males who now risk their lionesses running into nomadic or roaming males.

A picnic breakfast in the Serengeti can be a 5-star buffet or a tailgate affair as below... as long as there is hot coffee I'm fine.

The choice of accommodation is yours. Do you want the ultra-luxury that Mwiba or Singita properties offer or would you rather keep it simple as below. For me, safari should be about the wildlife experience and the landscapes. With good guides, the experience you have at either the luxury or the simple camps will be very good.

Cats on rocks... doesn't get much better than this. It was pretty hot in the morning but with 15 cubs, these lioness were hungry. We found them walking along the road before they climbed onto these rocks to get a better view of prey in the long grass.

 
A Small Selection of iPhone Video Snippets from a Northern Tanzania Safari
 

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that Spotted hyenas are actually very efficient hunters and actually scavenge an average of only a third of their prey in places like Serengeti. When they hunt, they are usually quite successful- especially when more than one hyena goes on the hunt. The statistic- 1 in 3 attempts if there are more than two hyenas. In this case, it was broad daylight and these hyenas took on this wildebeest in Ngorongoro Crater. After a significant chase they brought it down next to the road. 10 minutes later, more than 25 hyenas had arrived and all that was left was a bloody stain on the ground.

I caught this little clip of this beautiful male lion walking across the Serengeti plains very close to the Kenyan border. Lions spend so much time sleeping during the day that it is fun to just see them actually moving. With the wildebeest migration moving through the area, his pride was looking well fed. Watching such a perfect specimen is so rewarding- and knowing that he is safe deep at the heart of this massive National Park.

During the dry season June through October, the 1.5 million wildebeest in the Serengeti ecosystem head north into an area of the ecosystem that receives a much higher rainfall throughout the year than the more fertile soils in southern Serengeti. It’s during this period that the famous wildebeest crossings happen. This video shows them coming from the northern side of the river to the south. Their movements are based on local localized rainfall so it is difficult to predict. After a very successful full morning of game driving we decided make one pass along the river before heading back to camp, when we found this mass of wildebeest standing on the edge of the river. After uhming and aahing over whether to jump or not, they actually turned back, but were met by another group heading towards the river. Joining forces they finally stepped into the water and the crossing frenzy began.

This cheetah mother was very attentive while her cubs fed from a gazelle she had just killed. Cheetahs in general have a hard time raising cubs. Cheetah cubs are born hidden in “dens” and are fairly helpless. They are tiny and that first 4 months of their life are easily killed by lions and hyenas- 89% of cubs die during that time. Only 4-6% survive the first year- but what is quite intriguing is that success is not equally distributed among the females. Over half of female cheetahs in Serengeti never manage to raise a single cub to independence, while there are a few “super-moms” who manage to successfully raise litter after litter.

This last one is not a video- but an image. No safari would be complete without spending time with elephants. it is always so encouraging and reassuring to see baby elephants. Serengeti National Park is the only park in Tanzania that has seen a rise in the population of elephants. No one is sure whether this is because of reproduction or whether human pressures like poaching outside the park are driving the elephants into it. Grumeti Reserves, a former hunting concession has invested in efficient anti-poaching so hopefully these elephants are safe- unless they decide to wander back onto village lands.

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A June Safari
 

An elephant bull, Tarangire National Park

Zebra, Tarangire National Park

June in Tanzania is like autumn in the northern hemisphere: a transitional month. The last of the rains finish in mid-May, moisture begins to evaporate out of the soil, and the grass begins to turn gold. Baobab trees drop their leaves and seasonal water holes begin to dry up. Reluctantly, wildlife begins to return to dry season habitats. Lion prides that fragmented during the rains re-unite and return to favorite ambush positions where other wildlife will begin to regularly pass on their way to drink water. As the foliage dries up and falls, leopards can no longer lie concealed on branches. There is still plenty of forage for browsers and grazers so the atmosphere does not convey the harsh struggle that the animals will have in a few months. Early fires lit by park rangers and pastoralists to encourage a nutritious flush of fresh grass begin to fill the sky with smoke bringing out red sunsets, yet the dry season winds have not filled the sky with enough dust to block views.

Elephants in Silale Swamp, Tarangire National Park

A deck at Little Oliver's Camp, Tarangire National Park

Serengeti, with its large area and near intactness as an ecosystem, follows different patterns. Rains induced by Lake Victoria fall on its northern parts, including the Maasai Mara, and as the smaller streams of water in central and southern Serengeti dry and soda concentrations increase, the migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra head north. The wildebeest often pause in the western corridor until water in the Grumeti River also becomes scarcer. The minor changes in daylight hours, insignificant and unnoticeable to most people, combined with the effects of a moon phase induce hormonal changes in female wildebeest. The resulting synchronized estrus, also known as coming into heat, drives the males into a frenzy of amusing territorial activity as they attempt to stake out territories and herd small groups of females who continue on their migration.

Watching migration, Serengeti National Park

An approaching storm allowed us within 30m of this black rhino, Serengeti National Park.

 These trends have made their way onto maps, into guidebooks, and onto documentaries describing and simplifying “The Great Migration”. As a result, it is often a surprise when weather patterns don’t follow the standard predictions and the migrating herds don’t arrive where they usually do, show up early, or take an “abnormal” route. We were fortunate on our early June itinerary to catch up with the migration, yet our stop in the western corridor, empty of wildebeest, gave us the opportunity to witness some other spectacular wildlife. The herd of 50 giraffe, some resting, some standing, was a definite highlight for me, and it was impressive to discover an ostrich nest with 27 eggs, and then later an egg abandoned on the plain.

It is very difficult to photograph 50 giraffe, Serengeti National Park

Serengeti lions

An abandoned ostrich egg, Serengeti National Park.

On this particular itinerary, following the beautiful wildlife viewing in Tarangire and Serengeti, we ended at a camp called Shu’mata, set atop a hill with views of Kilimanjaro. With just one night, it was our opportunity to take a night-game drive, sight some Gerenuk, an unusual and arid-land specialist, as well as visit a Maasai home and glimpse their livelihood and culture.

A very comfortable lounge, Shu'mata Camp

Spear throwing demonstration, Shu'mata Camp

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The Magic of Mwiba
 

For a long time references to Mwiba could only be found on this blog, and then later a friend’s blog. It is a place I love for the freedom that it offers and lots of little surprises. On a recent trip I guided we ended perfectly with two nights at Mwiba Tented Camp or not quite both nights at the camp.

Driving around in the open vehicle I was delighted to find herds of impala that would normally have exploded into different directions as we approached, and herds of buffalo that would have been a cloud of dust, staring at us and not running from the vehicle. The hangover from heavy hunting is slowly subsiding, we were able to watch a breeding herd of notoriously aggressive Maswa elephants as they only briefly formed their protective formation before relaxing and continuing to feed. Warthogs stared at us from respective distances without running and even kudu didn’t disappear as soon as we saw them.

An elephant behaving the way an elephant should- without fear or aggression.

The Pangolin- a scaly anteater, normally nocturnal!

Of course the wildlife is still not as great as in the core areas of some of the national parks, but it is still full of wonderful little surprises such as the envied sighting of a pangolin. If you’re not familiar with the Pangolin, it is a really special animal and this is only the second time that I’ve seen one. You can read more about them on my previous post and here.

However, my love for Mwiba is more about the ability to create magic. While Tanzania’s wildlife is exceptional in national parks, the necessary rules and regulations can be restrictive. Mwiba allows you to do whatever you want, within the bounds of guiding ethics and etiquette.

Sitting around the fire watching the sun go down on the first night, I challenged the guests- would they be able to sleep under the stars on the same rock we were sitting, listening to hyenas and the distant territorial roar of a lion. The next evening after a beautiful walk to the top of a rocky outcrop we arrived at our sleep out.

Sundowners. One of the great safari traditions. Being outside National Parks allows enjoying them into the night without curfews to worry about.

Now you have to imagine arriving behind a small rocky outcrop. Its already dark and you can’t see anything. You can hear the African night and the murmur of voices. You are led over the top of the rock and there before you is a beautiful fire and candle lit barbecue- the smallest details attended to, down to fine silverware and fancy-folded napkins on the table. Moving to the fire after dinner the tables disappeared and out came the bedrolls. Then the car is taken away and you’re left staring at the sky listening to the crackle of the fire. It is magical.

One of the magical views!