We set off from Arusha early in the morning. Five souls in a safari-style, tricked-out Land Cruiser with the convertible roof. Within a couple of hours of driving through rural landscape with sparse populations of Masai herders, we were at the park.
To my pleasure, this enormous baobab greeted us at the visitor's center. Tarangire is known for two things: these giant trees and elephants.
Baobabs are a special species of huge trees from mainland Africa, Madagascar, and Australia. Anyone that follows this blog knows I have a thing for huge trees.
Sadly, this was the first evidence of Tarangire's elephants that we saw, located outside of the visitors center. The skull is intriguing, and the leg bone is almost as tall as I am. Look at those sinuses in the middle of the forehead (no, not eye sockets!)... look at the actual eye sockets tucked down below and to the sides... look at the support channels for the tusks. Even stripped bare, the elephant is a magnificent animal.
Our first live wild animals: zebras. We had absolutely no idea how completely used to and somewhat bored with these animals we would be by the end of our 5-day journey.
Anyway, onto the pictures... I'll keep the text light on this post. As promised, there will be plenty of baobabs and plenty of elephants.
Secretary bird. I loved these things... they are always stalking and often come in pairs. These birds hunt by foot... very reminiscent of their dinosaur predecessors. These birds eat all sorts of smaller prey, including venomous snakes such as adders and cobras!
Our next big mammals were a pair of giraffes... and trust me, those animals are huge, despite being dwarfed by that baobab in the distance.
Look at the size of that tree. Like I said, I'm a sucker for big trees. They make me feel like I'm a kid again or like I'm a traveller on some alien planet.
As I'm sure most can imagine... the bird watching is also pretty spectacular on safari in East Africa.
Next we came upon a big troop of baboons.
Yep, the babies actually do ride like that, and their asses are that bulbous and disgusting looking.
A dik dik, supposedly one of the rarer animals that we'd see on the safari. Funny enough, it was one of the first types of species that we encountered despite its rare nature. It was fast and definitely anxious to get away and into hiding. I can't blame it... it is one of the smallest animals in a world of giants, and supposedly dik diks are a favorite prey to several of those giants.
These colorful parrots caught my eye from a distance. This photo is zoomed way in, which is why the birds are somewhat blurry.
So many baobabs!!!
And here we go... elephants!!! Little did we know how very many we were about to see over the next few hours...
I think we had a Dumbo impersonator over here... also there is one of those pop-top convertible safari Land Cruisers like we were in. Those are some rugged vehicles. You'll notice that none of the roads in the parks are paved, and some of them get quite rough. These are 4x4 vehicles with thick tires. Most of the plants around there are covered with very, very long and strong thorns.
These animals are so seemingly emotional and pensive.
Everyone needs to scratch behind the ear from time to time.
Elephants have offered up many of the prime examples of the misunderstood complexity of animal emotion and intelligence. They display evidence of love and anger and revenge, they possess incredible near-photographic memories, they can learn to communicate with humans and paint, and they even mourn their dead and often revisit the places of death for deceased family members.
I love these shots of elephants in black and white. I don't know what exactly it is about the character... perhaps it is their natural gray tones that just get highlighted when all the other colors are desaturated... but there just seems to be something so much more emotional about the black and white close-ups with these magnificent creatures.
There were so many babies around... must have been the right time of year I guess.
This little one was so cute... I'm featuring two close-up shots.
You must keep in mind... that baby is just a little shorter than I am. These animals are enormous. All of the adults stood much taller than our truck.
At times, it was a little intimidating to be so close to so many elephants, especially seeing how closely they watched the vehicle. From time to time, there are reports of elephants attacking vehicles. The leading theory is that the elephant mistakes a tourist vehicle for one that was used for poaching. Like I said, elephants remember.
More zebras by the side of the road.
I find the zebras to be somewhat hypnotizing with their beautiful striped patterns, each one of course unique from the next.
Oh... hey buddy.
When I first took this shot, I had no idea that there were actually two warthogs in here. We could only see the the one with his head sticking up from the distance we were at. Oh the wonders of advanced optical systems.
That baobab dwarfs those zebras... and those ostriches. Yea... took me a while to remember those were in there too.
And then there was this place... we stopped for lunch at a spot with a sweeping view down over the river valley. We were treated with a view of dozens upon dozens of elephants sprinkled liberally over the landscape!
Elephants and baobabs again, and so many of both. These were the shots I was only imagining - only really dreaming of - from this park.
Yea... seriously there were that many elephants, and this is just part of the full scene!
How about this guy? The colors on this beautiful starling bird just totally awed me, and I'm blue-green color blind! I can only imagine what it looks like to the rest of you.
How classic is this. How unbelievably natural is this. So often on this trip, it looked like we were in some big tacky mural or diorama in a natural history museum. You know... those ones that have beautiful natural landscapes that are unbelievably full of different wild species all going about their lives. But this was no tacky mural... this was reality, right before our very eyes. It's so sad that so few places in the world are actually like this anymore. What have we done?
The most obvious and common family units seem to come in threes... a mother, an adolescent, and a baby. I'm guessing that has to do with the gestation period and how often female elephants tend to have babies.
This was one of the younger babies that we saw that day.
This big guy stared us down as he walked very, very near the truck.
Baboons and impalas in the river bed.
A dik dik, and elephants. I became obsessed with multi-species shots. That will be a challenge for you over the next several posts from our safari. Keep an eye out for how many different species I manage to fit in some of these pictures.
At times, we had whole families like this walking right at us... they would surround the vehicle and just pass right by peacefully.
They listen to us... they smell us... they watch us, wary and ever vigilant. Elephants remember. Elephants know that humans are the most dangerous species they encounter.
The babies are always very close to their mothers. This is for good reason: full-grown elephants are practically invincible to the variety of large predators that cohabitate with them. Lions are really the only predator that poses any real threat to any elephants, but even a large pride can't take down a fully grown and healthy adult. Babies however, if separated from the herd, are targeted by lions. Stay close little ones.
Cooling off in the river.
Family units are so clearly important to elephant society.
Pushing the baby up the hill. Big sister had to help out the baby while Momma watches closely. She nudged the baby so gently from behind to help the baby up the steep embankment. Think about that... these animals work together and assist each other. I find that just incredible and very inspirational. Now if only we can get humans to stop killing these glorious creatures.
They all made it!
Elephants are so very emotional. They remind me of humans in their interactions with each other. They are intimate and caring, and like I said before, they are so very intelligent.
This was a huge giraffe that we saw later in the day.
That was the first day.... of five on safari. Needless to say, we kicked it off well.