My Travel Map

My Travel Map

30 January 2017

Serengeti: Landscapes

We spent three days on safari in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.  I took thousands of pictures, so I'm going to tell the tale here over the next several posts by focussing on a variety of different subjects.  First up is landscapes, which will help to set the stage.

We approached the Serengeti from the East, through Maasai territory along the slopes of Ngorongoro.  The sight of children wandering through the bush, miles and miles from any sign of civilization became normal.  That weighed heavily on my mind, as this is indeed lion country.  However, the Maasai have been living nomadic lives in this country since the dawn of humanity, and I'm confident that those kids know what they're doing out there.

As we approached the park, the concentration of wildlife just got denser and denser.

This herd was the most giraffes we saw in one place during the entire 5-day safari.

Giraffes are the world's tallest terrestrial animal and the largest ruminant.  An adult male can weigh over a ton and stand up to 20 feet tall.  Their height lets them forage leaves higher than other animals can reach, like those of acacia trees seen here.

The highlands also offered some spectacular sweeping views, making for some epic backdrops for some of these shots.

Our land cruiser was fully off-road at this point.  We ventured through patches of sparse forest.  At one point we flushed this tiny dik-dik out.  At the time, we didn't appreciate how rare it was to spot this little guys.

Still outside the park, we next passed through this patch of wastelands on the border of the rich Serengeti plains.  It was pretty desolate out there, and the animals that were wandering through there seemed quite morose.

The name Serengeti is derived from the Maasai language and the word "serengit", meaning "endless plains."  The Serengeti is so much more than just plains though, as endless as they may seem.  Its diverse terrain also includes woodlands, highlands, kopjes, swamps, and water systems.  Thanks to this diversity, the Serengeti is also the home for an enormous variety of wildlife, as these posts should demonstrate.

The plains often do seem to go on forever, and you can imagine how daunting they would be to any humans traveling on foot.

The thought of traveling on foot becomes tremendously more daunting when you consider the variety of dangerous animals that share those plains with you.

Animals, the odd tree, and distant highlands often provide the only disruptions to the otherwise unbroken horizon.

There is wildlife in most of these pictures.  Here, gazelle are scattered liberally on the nearby plain. 

A herd of wildebeest grace this shot.

Another regular feature around the Serengeti are kopjes... collections of huge granite boulders shooting out of the plains.

Kopjes look like pleasant oases amidst the relative bleakness of the surrounding grasslands.

However, kopjes are a favorite haunt of lions and others dangerous animals...

The opportune vantage offered by the height of the kopjes' rocks make them ideal bases for prides of lions.  Within the surrounding plains, lions can see for miles in every direction from these perches.  They offer a near-perfect hunting blind.

This picture is an example of what I'm talking about.  There are lions up there... our driver and guide saw them, two of them.  Go ahead, zoom in.  One is laying fully on its side, while the other is laying with its head up looking back towards the tree.  Our driver-guide spotted them, but I had no idea.  I'd really be screwed on my own out there.

There are more than just lions amongst some of those rocks too... kopjes are also a favorite haunt for African rock pythons.  Rock pythons are one of the largest species of snake in the world, reaching lengths of over 23 feet (7 meters)!  They are fully capable of killing large mammals, and ingesting them whole.  Just one more reason why those kopjes are not as pleasant as they appear.

This shot combines kopjes with another type of terrain in the Serengeti...

Marshes.  For anyone familiar with the grasslands of the Great Plains of North America, there is a surprising amount of water in the Serengeti.  And with a good amount of water comes wetlands.

And with wetlands in the Serengeti also comes lions.  There is one visible in this picture... can you see it?  And to our surprise, there was actually at least three in this marsh (and probably at least a full small pride in there).  See my pictures on the predators post as additional proof.  Like I said before, I'd be screwed out there.

There are also large bodies of standing water: pools and ponds.  This one features a small bird and a dead hippo.  There was at least one croc in there too (though not pictured here).

And like kopjes and marshes, with ponds, come more lions.  It's quite obvious why lions hang out in such places as pools, marshes, and kopjes.  First, there is water at these places, and water is second only to air as a necessary requirement for sustaining mammalian life.  Second, since their food - other large mammals - also need water to live, lions' food comes to them at such places.  And food is the third most important thing we mammals need to live.

Signs of death... a funnel cloud of vultures circling overhead.  This is a regular sight in the Serengeti.  With life everywhere around, one is always also surrounded by death.  Such is the way of Nature.

Everything is big in the Serengeti, including the scavengers, like the big vultures and marabou stork seen here.  As elsewhere in the wild natural world, nothing really goes to waste.

This national park protects one of the natural wonders of the world.  There is no doubt at all about that.  Thank goodness Tanzania appreciates how important (and economically beneficial) it is to keep it protected for what it is.  I wish humanity had done something similar with the Great Plains ecosystem that used to exist in North America.  We too had a huge ecosystem and our own great migration in the vast plains of North America, but with human expansion across the globe - even preceding the colonization by Europeans - the large mammals that made up that ecosystem started to disappear.  We are left now with the cows, pigs, and chickens that feed us sharing space with some deer, antelope, coyotes, and prairie dogs.  The apex predators, wolves and cougars and grizzly bears, and the great herds of buffalo and elk that once fed them, are now mostly non-existent across their former kingdom.

We were also treated to some epic weather patterns, and the plains made for a wonderful stage to showcase it.

I was surprised to see so many elephants in the Serengeti.  It is hard to imagine elephants finding enough food to maintain their enormous metabolisms in such grasslands.

And then there is this, the Great Migration.  We were in Tanzania in February, and the migration was in full swing.  I'll devote an entire post to this event... for now, you just get teasers like this.

The sunsets in the Serengeti were also quite beautiful.

These acacia trees made great silhouettes against the pastel sky.

These lone wildebeest and zebras intrigued me.  I always wondered how they ended up so far from the herd.

Speaking of the herd... this line of wildebeest were part of the Great Migration.

Did I mention that there are millions of wildebeest in the Great Migration?  Take a look at that dark line along the horizon... 

For our nights in the Serengeti, we stayed at this place.  It was peaceful and beautiful accommodation, and the food was delicious.  Not bad for the "mid-range option".  They staff stressed that there were no fences, and they required guests walk outside only with security escorts for safety. They weren't kidding about the no fences part either... we saw several huge buffalo in the pool area after dark.  Seeing them from ground level and in a human setting really emphasized how huge those animals really are.  They are also one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. 

A hyena apparently checking out that hot air balloon just before sunrise.

We started the day early, before the sun rose.  We were lucky to come across this pack of hyenas to provide some activity during sunrise, and additional subjects for our photos.

This morning was the closest we go to hyenas.  I really had expected to see more of these carnivores, but they proved to be somewhat elusive.  Much more so than their rivals, lions.

Sunrise over the Serengeti was just as beautiful as the sunsets.

The folks in that balloon must have been enjoying an epic show from up there.

Another small taste of the Great Migration...

A family of warthogs running through the grass.

Another kopje in the sea of grass and a distant hill that became a familiar landmark over the three days we were there.  I dubbed it "Nipple Hill"

Another epic and sweeping view of the terrain.

The wildebeest and zebra were plentiful and wandering as lone individuals to groups of all sizes.

The wildebeest in particular were ever vigilant... ever afraid.  You would be too if you were the top prey species for the largest predators in an ecosystem.

I really enjoyed how the wildebeest lined up to watch us as we passed.  I'm pretty sure it was a defensive tactic.

A very rare sight... a leopard on the prowl in broad daylight.  Another top predator, I'll cover these guys (and this one in particular as well) in the Serengeti: Predators post.

Vantage points are necessary when you have such predators stalking through the tall grass.  Here a hartebeest uses a small mound (possible an ant or termite hill?) to gain a slightly better view.

And here are some buffalo using the same tactic to scope out that marsh in the foreground (and probably us too).

Despite their size and deadly ferocity when threatened, African buffalo can also be brought down and killed by lions.  They too must be wary in this terrain.  Here a group steers clear of that kopje in the background.

There are animals everywhere there... it is incredible.  I don't think we went more than 5 minutes on any given day without seeing a large mammal.

The scattered trees also provide the relief of shade during the heat of midday.  This is the equator, so temperatures here are pretty constant year round.  The rains come twice a year, however, which bring slightly cooler temperatures and much needed water to these sometimes parched plains.

One of the things I attempted on this trip was to capture as many different species in one shot as I could.  This shot has at least three species... (zebra, wildebeest, and vultures).  What is the highest number you can spot in the pictures that make up this series of posts?

More sights of the Great Migration: some zebra in the foreground and a huge number of wildebeest streaking lines across the distant field of view.

Another family of warthogs and some wildebeest shuffling by in the distance.

I loved the light in this shot.  So ends the post on landscapes of the Serengeti.  The stage is now set for the remaining posts, focussed on the main performers... the wildlife.

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