Have you seen the amazing wildlife video that’s been making the rounds of the internet the past few days? A group on an early morning game drive in Kruger National Park, South Africa, came across a pair of juvenile lions stalking a cape buffalo and watched for 45 minutes until they went in for the kill.
But just when the lions thought the capture was certain, two other cape buffalos came along and showed the young predators who’s really king of the forest. One of the bulls came up behind the lion and, using its head and horns, flipped it several feet into the air.
Startled, the lion ran away to look for dinner elsewhere, and the rescued buffalo walked off confidently with its friends in search of safer pastures.
I came across this video because I’ll be expanding Ujuzi’s tour offerings to include South Africa in the second half of 2014. But it’s a great reminder of the astounding and unexpected things we can encounter when on safari anywhere on this incredible continent!
Today I bid farewell to Tanzania’s mainland. I was sad to leave such a beautiful place, but excited for my next destination: Zanzibar, a Tanzanian island in the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
I spent this morning in the Serengeti in Pioneer Camp’s lounge, talking with the camp manager about local wildlife and enjoying the antics of the yellow-spotted rock hyraxes on a neighboring outcrop. One of them even climbed up toward the edge of the lounge platform to wish me a pleasant trip. (At least that’s what it looked like the creature was trying to communicate, going by the smile on its face.)
This yellow-spotted rock hyrax seemed to have a smile on its face.
On our way to the Seronera Airstrip in the heart of Serengeti National Park, we came across a herd of hundreds of buffalo crossing the road in double- and triple-file. It was an astounding sight, with buffalo trailing toward both ends of the horizon as far as the eye could see. It’s the most buffalo I’ve ever seen at once. Our guide Modi said that they were all heading toward a watering hole down the hill. Cape buffalo don’t always travel in such large groups. But since the dry season has been long, watering places are fewer and farther between, so they were all headed to the same place.
A huge herd of approximately 250 Cape buffalo make their way down to the river in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.
We also saw a young male lion guarding a recent kill. Although adult males generally don’t hunt for themselves — leaving it to the females of the pride to do the work — young ones that haven’t yet found females to support them do hunt for themselves. We also saw two very well-fed female lions by the side of the road; they had eaten so much that their bellies were distended. Other members of the pride were scattered here and there in the grasslands behind them.
Last but not least, we saw a cheetah on the hunt. Unlike the cheetahs we say successfully hunt the other day, this one was by itself. When we first saw her, she seemed to have its eye on a group of mongooses that were running around under the trees. But as they came closer and she looked away, it became apparent that she was holding out hope for more substantial fare. There was a lone Thompson’s gazelle in a tree grove one- or two-hundred yards away, and she set her sights on it, moving so stealthily that we were certain she would bag this prey. But we were wrong: the Thompson’s gazelle managed to bolt away just in time.
Our guide Modi was exceptional in his knowledge, attentiveness and effort.
And then it was time to say goodbye to our guide, Modi, and to the Serengeti. We got on our 13-passenger charter plane with Excel Air and flew to Zanzibar via Arusha, enjoying incredible views of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Indian Ocean on our way.
The midday weather in Zanzibar was a change from the Serengeti. Not surprisingly, it felt like a tropical island: a bit hotter and more humid than the mainland, but with a refreshing ocean breeze that made up for the difference. The culture is different here, too. While the majority of the population here is ethnic Swahili, Zanzibar was colonized by Portugal, Oman, and Great Britain before becoming an independent state in 1963. In 1964, it merged with Tanganyika on the mainland to form Tanzania. Zanzibar holds an important port on the spice route, so Indian and Persian traders have also influenced the culture. Ninety-nine percent of Zanzibar residents are Muslim.
Fishing boats on the coast of Zanzibar.
Upon our arrival in Zanzibar, we took a brief driving tour of Stone Town, the island’s historic and cultural center. With narrow streets and white building, the architecture is reminscent of a Middle Eastern market. There are plenty of shops where visitors can purchase art from the island and mainland, as well as restaurants that reflect the variety of cultures that are part of Zanzibar’s history: Indian, Persian, East African and Middle Eastern. Music fans take note: Stone Town is where Queen’s Freddie Mercury grew up, so make sure your guide points out his childhood home to you!
In Stone Town you can visit the Old Fort, which the Omani sultanate built in the seventeenth century to defend the island from the Portuguese. It’s also known as the Arab Fort.
We drove along the coast to familiarize ourselves with the island, then checked in at Shooting Star Lodge for the evening. Located on a hill above a private beach, Shooting Star has a relaxed, bohemian feel that encourages guests to slow down and enjoy the island beauty. As the locals here say in Swahili: “Pole, pole!” (“Take it easy!”) Rooms are simply appointed with Indian, Persian and local fabrics, and most include a veranda with an ocean view. Next to the open-air lounge, an infinity pool for swimming overlooks the beach. It’s a great place to watch the sun rise over the ocean.
Shooting Star guest room.
After the sun set, we had a great view of the southern sky. Thanks to the ocean, there weren’t a lot of lights to interfere with the view, and I saw many constellations that we don’t get to see in the northern hemisphere this time of year.
View of pool and Indian Ocean at Shooting Star, Zanzibar, Tanzania.
Kathy Terlizzi and a group of volunteers from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana recently went to Tanzania and Rwanda with Ujuzi. View a slideshow of their trip.
When Kathy Terlizzi told people that her first foray out of the United States was going to include a visit to Rwanda, she often got one of two reactions: puzzlement or warnings that the country must be dangerous because of the genocide that took place there in 1994.
But it had been Terlizzi’s dream to see mountain gorillas in the wild since she was a little girl, and she’d wanted to go on a safari for almost as long. The volunteer manager at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana finally had her opportunity this February when she went to East Africa with several zoo volunteers. Ujuzi African Travel organized the group’s weeklong safari in Tanzania followed by a gorilla trek in Rwanda. “If it hadn’t been for the mountain gorillas, I probably never would have gone to Rwanda,” she says. But she’s glad she did.
She found a people who were proud of their country’s reconciliation and unification efforts over the past two decades, and a commitment to keeping communities safe for everyone. In Kigali, the capital city with 1.5 million residents, Terlizzi went on a two-mile walk with others from her group. “We were never, ever worried. I wouldn’t do that in many places in my own city. But I felt very, very safe. Our guide later told us that if someone does harass you on the street, citizens almost always step in and help you.”
The civic pride also shows in the beauty and cleanliness of the country. The day after Terlizzi arrived in Kigali was the fourth Saturday of the month, a day that Rwandans from all walks of life go outside and clean their neighborhoods. Businesses even open late so that their employees can participate. “Everywhere we went, you would see people out with broomsticks sweeping the street. … It was beautiful. They have affluent sections of town … and they also have very dirt poor housing, but every place we went, you could tell there was a pride in ownership. Even if it was a poor place, it was swept, and they had gardens and flowers.”
The humans weren’t the only friendly presence in Rwanda. When Terlizzi went on her mountain gorilla trek, the guides told her group how to behave and to show respect by keeping their distance from the gorillas. But no one informed the gorillas that they were supposed to turn a cold shoulder to the humans. The gorillas were as interested in their human visitors as the humans were in them. “When I show people videos from our gorilla trekking, they’ll say, ‘Are you zoomed in?’ But no – that’s how close we were. Oftentimes, [the guides] have to grunt and keep the babies from touching you because they’re so curious. They’re very gentle animals by nature.”
Terlizzi was thrilled by the closeness to other creatures she experienced with the mountain gorillas and throughout her trip. “I went there to experience Africa – not a tour bus version, not a sanitized version, not looking at animals through binoculars,” she says. And she got what she was looking for.
Within an hour of arriving at Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, she saw lions, elephants, Cape buffaloes, leopards, and rhinoceroses.
And her group spent a few days right in the middle of the Great Migration, when more than 2 million wildebeest trek through East Africa for their spring calving. “Until you are there – hearing, seeing, looking at the dust cloud all around you, you can’t even fathom how incredible that is,” she says.
At night, Terlizzi relished the opportunity to stay close to nature – while experiencing many of the comforts of home, such as beds and private baths – by sleeping out in the bush in luxurious tented camps. “The tent lodges were so awesome. They were the safest way you could get as close as possible to the wildlife. I would get up early and just sit out there and watch the sunrise.”
During those sunrises, she saw almost as much wildlife as she saw during the day on safari, including a herd of waterbuck antelope, a group of hornbills, and a giraffe that stopped to nibble on a tree just outside her balcony.
“Every day was a new adventure,” Terlizzi says. “I don’t know that I could have asked for anything more.”