Even though the jeeps seat eight, we are still in groups of 4 and Reed mixes it up, so today we are with Doc and Carol who are from California. Doc is the photographer and Carol likes to ride in front and take a few pictures with her iPad. The older jeeps are a little harder to get into, but Siwandu offers cheater steps. Zach is our guide and he was very generous with information not only about the animals, but his country and personal life as well.
Selous is the largest game reserve in all of Africa and is roughly the size of Switzerland. It is “one of the last great wilderness areas on the continent.” 85% of Selous is available to big game hunters under control directives. It is a dying sport due to the high cost and the lack of big game in the hunting areas. The animals can roam freely and are smart enough to move to the protected areas. Today, revenue from photographers and those just out to see the animals is higher than what is brought in from hunters.
21% of all the hippos in Tanzania live in Selous. They live in family groups with a dominant male for approximately 20-25 years and eat only plants. Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal. A hippo can cut a man in half with one bite. We saw hippos mating from the shoreline; the female was completely underwater with the male on top. Female hippos give birth in the shallow water. If the baby is a male, the mother will stay with it on the land for a longer period of time than with a female baby since the dominant male will chase other males off. Baby hippos nurse underwater and can stay under a minute and a half. They have three eyelids with a membrane that acts as googles and they keep their eyes open underwater.
Zach was also generous with information about his country. Tanzania gained its independence in 1961 and added Zanzibar in 1964. There are 120 tribes in Tanzania. The country’s first President cleverly eliminated the chiefdoms by giving each chief a position in the government. The main language is Bantu-Swahili which was not an existing language, but was created as a business language so there could be communication among the tribes. Zach knows three tribal languages because of his family origins.
We saw lots of giraffes and impala, crocodiles and birds. We came into some open areas where we saw a few waterbuck. Their “toilet seat” ring was not as wide as that seen on the waterbuck in Jongomero, a regional difference we learned is true for many animals (like the color variations in zebra as you move north and south in the continent). The toilet seat ring gives off a particular scent during the first three weeks of the baby’s life when its eyesight is very poor; that’s one way to find your mom. Predators don’t like the taste of the hair, fat, and meat layers of the waterbuck; Zach has never seen one eaten.
Next we came to the highlight of Donna’s morning. We found a troop of about 100 baboons. One way to distinguish them from monkeys is the bend in their tails. Donna went crazy with the photographs. The young baboons were very entertaining. They crawled all over the trees, their parents, and each other. Our goal was to get some good shots of the mothers carrying their babies. When they are really young or there is danger, they cling to their mother’s underside while she runs. When they get older, they “saddle ride” a term I had never heard and a practice I had never seen. I got lucky and got one shot with young riding in both fashions.
While we were watching the baboons, we got word that there had been a kill (by a pride of lions). Zach said we could go see but that the site was about 45 minutes away and we were nearing lunch time. Another option that would give us more time was to go there directly at the start of the afternoon safari. He assured us that the lions would still be there feeding later in the day and that animals would feed on the kill for as long as two or three days after. We chose option B and decided to head back to camp, although it was hard to tear Donna away from those baboon babies.
On the way back, we finally saw wildebeest. We were told we would not see them at Jongomero, but we had been on the lookout here at Selous. We couldn’t get too close; they were very skittish. What a morning we had! And with the promise of a lion kill viewing in the afternoon, it looked like the day was only going to get better.
Had a nice lunch and then got in a little pool time. It may not be the rainy season, we got showers. I ended up spending time in the lounge reviewing pictures with Reed and wishing I had spent some of my break time on other days in a similar fashion. Reed is with us this afternoon. At 4pm, all the camp jeeps headed out to the kill site. We were traveling a little slower due to back problems of some of the jeep passengers. We have to travel over an hour on rough roads to see the lions. We went through one ravine where I thought a vehicle could not pass; Zach did it.
As we got close we saw a large barren tree with dozens of vultures waiting their turn. We got a little closer and saw a hyena ready to go in when the lions move on. We saw the many jeeps looking into a deep ruts. We were on the other side of the ravine and saw three lions leave the site and head over to another area with coverage from the sun and pooling water.
It was almost comical when we got closer. The lions were so full they could barely move. One just laid down by the water and would turn to head to get something to drink not moving the rest of her body. We were very close and Carol, who was at ground level in the jeep with Zach, remarked that she was not comfortable with this. Zach assured us that the lions were satisfied and that they had no interest in us.
We moved from the open remote area where some of the lions had moved to the other side where we could see where they had moved the carcass of the zebra. We saw the lions just laying on their backs with bellies so full they didn’t even want to move. Talk about a “food coma”. They still guarded the kill, but I was shocked at how much they had already eaten.
Although they will eat every day if food is available, after this kill the pride won’t need to eat again for 5 days. A few of the innards had been pulled off and were being enjoyed by some vultures, the lions themselves fully satisfied. The hyena will enjoy the bone and any meat left on them.
Some of the other jeeps had seen a young lion trying to steal food from its mother, but all we saw was a lot of very full lions. It reminded me of the nap I love to take after Thanksgiving Dinner. (In my dreams of course. Someone has to do the dishes.) Most of the jeeps left, but we had time so we hung around for a while.
As the sun began to set, the lions were on the move and we were there to follow them. With Reed as our good luck charm, we saw three of the lions move through the grasses to a tree with a bent trunk. Then they climbed the tree and looked into the sunset. At some point the matriarch began to bay, calling the other lions to her. It was an amazing sight. I have no doubt that this will be the highlight of the trip for us. To see these beautiful creatures in their natural environment doing the things movies are made about, is beyond words. Talk about a photo op! Hopefully you will enjoy this sampling of what I saw.
We saw the little one take a tumble and return to climb the tree again. Zach said it is very rare to see the lions take to the tree. He is out 4+ hours each morning and 3+ every afternoon; he has not seen a sight like this in 2 and a half years. Wow!! Before I left for Tanzania, I asked the CEO of a nonprofit I volunteer with (a shout out to Mary Vitek with the San Jacinto Girl Scout Council) what animal she would like a picture of and her reply was lions in a tree. I thought the odds of that were 0% . Today, I am happy to deliver.