Jennifer Johnson of Wisconsin has been on safaris before, but her trip to Tanzania with Ujuzi stands out as the best. “Every day something happened that you thought couldn’t be topped. And then the next day, something happened that topped it.”
Johnson went on her Ujuzi safari in November with a group from Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, Wis. “This trip was about a 1,000 times better” than a previous safari she had gone on with a different provider, Johnson says. “We saw twice the animals. The wildlife was more abundant, and we were closer to it.”
She credits Ujuzi’s planning and expert guides – Modi Magesa, Chris Magori, and Shadrack Didah – with making the trip such a success. “Our guides were fantastic, very easy to talk to, and very knowledgeable. They were very safe and very educated about all the animals,” she says. The guides’ familiarity with wildlife enabled them to anticipate good viewing opportunities. For example, Johnson’s guide led her group to watch a pride of lions successfully hunting a zebra, then bringing out their cubs to eat it.
Johnson also got close-up views of a leopard, a rhino, many elephants and elephant calves, and migrating wildebeests. One park she especially enjoyed was Lake Manyara, a lush green forest and waterway where hippos, baboons, flamingos, and other birds were plentiful. “If anyone’s a birder, they’re going to want to go to Lake Manyara,” she says. “I don’t even know how many species of birds we saw there.”
Another highlight of the trip included a night drive where she saw serval cats, honey badgers, bat-eared foxes, and baby hyenas.
The safari experience continued at the lodges and camps where the zoo group stayed. Johnson especially enjoyed Tarangire River Camp, which is perched on the banks of an ephemeral riverbed in north-central Tanzania. “There were elephants in the riverbed digging for water, so you could go outside and look over the bank and watch them” at lunch or before the sun went down, she says. At night as Johnson fell asleep, she could hear elephants roaming about and lions roaring in the distance. “When you’re sleeping and you can hear the animals outside, it’s having an experience twenty-four–seven.”
Her group also enjoyed a presentation by the African People & Wildlife Fund about “living walls” – fences created from living native trees and acacia thorns. Maasai people build these fences around their livestock areas to protect them from predator attacks. Before the living walls were in place, carnivores attacked Maasai livestock in the Tarangire area about 50 times a year, and communities killed 6 or 7 lions a year to protect their livestock. Where living walls are being used, human killings of lions, cheetahs and hyenas have dropped to zero.
Johnson enjoyed the safari so much that she’s already planning to return to Tanzania in 2016. “I’ve never been on a trip before where I loved something so much that I wanted to go back to the same place again,” she says. Her next trip is also a joint venture of Ujuzi and Henry Vilas Zoo and will include a visit to Rwanda, where her group will track mountain gorillas.
It’s awe-inspiring to watch wildebeest cross the Mara River as part of their annual Great Migration through Kenya and Tanzania. Brothers and wildlife photographers Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas recently captured some of the magic in a video that uses time-lapse photography to condense hours of a river crossing into just two minutes. The video captures the glory and the danger of the crossing. Watch and marvel!
(Sensitive viewers should note that there is brief footage of a wildebeest falling prey to two crocodiles in the river. This footage starts near the end of the video at 1:53 minutes.)
Bill Starr has jumped out of airplanes. Every year, he goes fishing in Alaska among wild bears. But he says no experience compares to a balloon ride over the Serengeti: “There were animals as far as the eye could see – wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, hyenas. Nothing tops that. I could tell you about that balloon ride until the cows come home, but you really have to see it to believe it.”
Starr, who lives in Billings, Montana, went on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania with his wife and six friends in February. It was his first trip to Africa, and he’d spent much of the previous year reading about Tanzania and its wildlife to get ready. “But nothing can prepare you for it,” he says. “The trip was beyond my expectations. It’s one thing to look at pictures of animals. It’s another thing to be standing there with them right next to you.”
In Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a male lion walked right up to his group’s slowly moving vehicle to inspect it. At Tarangire National Park, they came upon a pack of 27 African wild dogs – a sight so unusual that even their guide was over the moon at the encounter.
While staying at Kikoti Safari Camp, located on a scenic hill outside of Tarangire National Park, the group took a morning hike in the camp’s wilderness reserve. They saw baboons, impala and even a Cape buffalo. A guide carried a spear in case any of the wildlife became hostile, but all of their encounters were peaceful thanks to the guides’ experience in wilderness treks and reading the body language of animals.
Starr’s group also took a night game drive, allowing them to see many animals rarely seen during the day. These included bush babies, tiny nocturnal primates with huge eyes and a baby-like cry; and springhares, rodents that look like a cross between a kangaroo and a rabbit but are not directly related to either.
Staying at a mobile tented camp called Zebra Camp was an integral part of what made the safari so memorable, says Starr. The camp moves with the wildebeest migration, and Starr’s group spent three nights there while visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti. “The Zebra Camp was outstanding. There is nothing that can top living next to the Serengeti in a tent, and the service was excellent.”
Even though the camp moves frequently, it was incredibly comfortable – with real beds, showers with hot water, chemical toilets that were cleaned out daily, and electricity from a generator. Even though it was in the middle of the wilderness, the service and incredible food were on par with with a luxury hotel’s. “We had a fantastic chef,” he says, recalling the sculptures that the kitchen staff would carve out of the melons they served at breakfast.
Starr says he would recommend Ujuzi “to anyone planning a safari to Tanzania. It was the finest trip of my life. We saw every animal that we desired up close and personal. And our guides, Modi and Amini, were excellent. We felt like they were family by the end of the safari. ”
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Thank you to Bill’s friend John Traeger for allowing us to share some of his photos from the trip!
It’s amazing what you can see on safari: wildebeest giving birth, cheetahs on the prowl, and elephants taking mudbaths are just a few of my favorite sights. To help share the wonders of East Africa, Ujuzi has a YouTube channel that features some memorable moments from Ujuzi safaris. To give you an idea of what the channel has to offer, I’ve included the two most-viewed videos below.