By the time we arrived in the Serengeti it was early afternoon; it had taken three planes to get there, including one from London to Nairobi, one from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, and one 12-seater that flew just above the clouds, offering tantalising glimpses of the magnificent landscape below, including the Ngorongoro crater, as well as Maasai settlements and sweeping patches of vivid green bush covered in wildebeest – an advantage of visiting in the rainy season.
During the hour-long drive to our lodge we saw a cheetah, baboons, and this splendidly noble male lion, who was guarding his kill – a wildebeest – from four waiting vultures. He was magnificent (although the only male lion we saw while were on safari in the Serengeti).
Our first taste of safari in the Serengeti had been incredibly special – and the best was yet to come. We did five game drives in total, and also saw:
*Lionesses and lion cubs
*Elephants and their young
*Hippos – big, fat, grey and pink; some wallowing in the water and some out of it, like this one who waddled in front of our jeep
*Countless giraffe (the national symbol of Tanzania), who our guide called the ‘African supermodel’. They really are stunning – they move so gracefully. I loved this beautiful female – so proud and fabulous…
…this young male…
…and this one, who was apparently a bit shy and used a bush to hide her modesty
*Two leopards – we had to use binoculars to view them because one was up in a tree and one was on the top of a mountain, but trust me, they’re absolutely gorgeous
*A pack of African wild dogs (an endangered species, so we were very privileged; they were resting in the shade)
*Hyena (much cuter than you might expect)
*Jackal, who look like little foxes
*LOTS of baboons (including this very large male baboon that appeared on my balcony; when I made a move to open the patio door, he clambered up on the roof – and then, like a petulant child, threw two tiles from the roof into the plunge pool).
*Dung beetles (rolling their dung as part of their mating ritual – trust me, it’s fascinating)
*Antelope, including the tiny dik dik and beautiful impala
*Countless other birds, including an owl
*And of course lots of wildebeest, who never stop running
One of my favourite moments was when we went for dinner on the top of a rocky outcrop (known as a kopje). We were sitting under the stars (the sky in the Serengeti is enormous), and suddenly we heard a low ‘whooping’ noise; it was lions – they don’t really ‘roar'; closely followed by hyenas. Knowing we were that close to these wonderful animals, in the wild, was an incredible feeling.
And this was the view from my suite at the lodge; during the dry season all kinds of animals come to the watering hole, including elephants. I don’t think you could ever get tired of this view.
I knew I’d fall in love with Africa, but I didn’t realise how quickly, and how deeply. It’s the kind of place that gets under your skin and into your heart – and trust me, once you’ve seen wild animals in their natural habitat, yes their intense vulnerability but also how utterly contented and free to roam they are, it will make you wish for the freedom of every incarcerated animal that belongs in the wild. We didn’t see rhino; I was told that there are rhino in the Serengeti, but because of poaching they are now clustered in one area, which sadly was too far for us to reach. Many (not all) of the species in the Serengeti are protected, but all the animals are still at risk from poaching. One of the biggest problems is that people trying to catch antelope to eat will put wire between trees to trip them up – and the lions end up cutting themselves on the wire. Poison is used on the leaves the elephants like to eat to fell them so they can be caught for their ivory; it’s a terrible, ongoing problem, and of course the Serengeti is just one of the national parks in Africa.
But the overwhelming feeling you get from going on safari in the Serengeti is one of absolute privilege; you’re in the real animal kingdom – and it’s utterly captivating. And by the way, all these photos are #nofilter; the light in the Serengeti is exceptional.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you more about the lions we saw on safari in the Serengeti.