Hippo Antics (not) and the Great Migration

The next morning we are up again early for a look at hippos, more of the big cats, but most importantly, the Great Migration. We start the day at the Hippo Pool, so named because it is a gathering place for hundreds of the beasts.They are the goofiest looking creatures I have ever seen, with faces and ears a bit like Shrek’s, and every bit as stinky.

The hippos are goofy looking, kind of like Shrek.
The hippos are goofy looking, kind of like Shrek.

I think they are wallowing in a big puddle of their own poop, and it smells every bit like that.  We are both hoping to catch the classic wide-open-mouth shot, but they really do nothing more than wallow, snort,grunt, occasionally angrily nudge each other, and make fart bubbles, except for one small snap from one annoyed hippo to another.

THe only open-mouth shot we could gt was one hippo snapping at another
THe only open-mouth shot we could get was one hippo snapping at another

However, there are babies, and their faces are so comical that it is fun to photograph them.

I was not aware that they are one of the fastest and most dangerous animals in Africa, which one would not imagine while looking at them. They are basically land animals, typically grazing during the cool part of the day, but preferring to submerge in cool water during the heat. They are extremely territorial, and will attack anything that encroaches on their territory.

Deceptive; one of the fastest and meanest animals in Africa
Deceptive; one of the fastest and meanest animals in Africa

The day continues to go well, with sightings of a leopard in a tree, then a cheetah pair in the grass, alternately lying down and rolling around and getting up to stalk potential prey.  They are such beautiful animals; we hear them purring, see them rolling on their backs, cleaning themselves, etc and forget they are dangerous wild animals and not just big kitty cats.  

Back scratches!
Back scratches!

We saw all three big cats on several occasions, and in many different habitats. The one thing I was really hoping to see was a kill, but George said that’s a pretty lucky occurrence.  Oh well, next time!

We continue on thru Ndutu, the land just outside of the Serengeti, where George thinks there are migrating animals.  The Great Migration occurs annually, when wildebeest (aka gnu) and zebras migrate to follow the rains and wet season.  They bear young in the Ndutu area, as it is comprised of volcanic ash that is rich in minerals that the animals must have to bear strong and healthy young. blog 6 - zebra nurse-1

We saw babies of almost every type of animal at some point, as you can see from the photos, and the gnus and zebras had many.  After driving around for awhile, George spots clouds of dust on the horizon, and drives towards it.  Yes, it’s the migrating zebras and wildebeest!  They have come back through this area, heading back north to follow the rain. Suddenly, zebras and gnus begin streaming across the road in front of us; the herd stretches on as far as we can see. 

George drives slowly off the road, and we are surrounded by them!  It is absolutely incredible to see this many animals instinctively moving together.  Occasionally, some are spooked or playful, and they begin to gallop through or around the herd, occasionally colliding or falling. The zebras play and/or fight frequently, and the gnus just walk or run along, all moving in the same direction.

The herd stretched out endlessly
The herd stretched out endlessly

They are truly one of the ugliest animals I’ve seen; it’s said that God created pretty animals, then made the gnus out of the leftover parts! 

Wildebeest (gnu)
Wildebeest (gnu)

There are many young ones, skittish and playful, and absolutely adorable, even the gnu babies (heheh). I’m snapping pictures, but often just stopping to look around in awe of what is happening.  It is one of the highlights of my adventure here, actually seeing what I only imagined.  Photos cannot do the breadth of it justice, and my attempts at video failed miserably.  But it was spectacular.

The herd continues to move, and George takes us close to Lake Masek, the  large body of water in the Ndutu area.  Even in the dry season it has water, though it has receded now and we are able to drive along the dried up bed which is covered by water during the rainy season.  George points out the evidence of the sadder side of the migration, and what we see paints quite a picture of the cycle (and circle) of life here. 

Skin still attached, marking this as a zebra
Skin still attached, marking this as a zebra

We have come across bones and skulls at times, but along the shore of this lake there are many bones, evidence of those who did not make it: a giraffe that likely died of old age, or perhaps a cat attack, though they do not typically go after giraffes.  There is the carcass of a zebra with scraps of skin still attached, and one of wildebeest with its coarse hair still in evidence. One that really saddens me is a dead baby gnu floating in the water. We are told that due to the volcanic ash/mud floor of the lake, that often unsuspecting animals go in too far to drink, become stuck in the mud, and drown. 

Baby gnu probably became trapped in the mud while drinking
Baby gnu probably became trapped in the mud while drinking

Fortunately, there are many other gnu babies who do make it, as we saw in the migrating herd.  So the cycle of life continues, and I am touched to be able to see such evidence of it.  Can I tell you that I just love this place?

After our time in Ndutu, it is time to head over to lake Manarya, to get ready for a last relaxing day in Africa. We end the day at a lodge on Lake Manyara, where we will rest up before our last day.  That evening, I get to hear a local church choir perform at the lodge. The singers range from teens to much older people, and I am absolutely entranced by their zeal, their movements, and their harmonies  as they sing traditional African and Christian hymns. I will post a clip on Facebook or YouTube when I can.  We will tour some local farms and experience more of the culture of Tanzania, which I have grown to love and appreciate. Until then, hope you are continuing to enjoy this adventure as much as I am writing about it. 

I will continue to blog and post pictures to make sure I remember and share the wonderful sights here.  More to come:  babies, birds, more culture, accommodations, and scenery.

Asante (thank you) for following!

Ugly is as ugly does
Ugly is as ugly does

blog 6 - hippo 2-1

Noble cheetah
Noble cheetah
Cheetah pair
Cheetah pair
Migrating herd
Migrating herd
Zebras fighting or playing
Zebras fighting or playing
Gnu herd
Gnu herd
Giraffe likely died from old age, or possibly a cat attack
Giraffe likely died from old age, or possibly a cat attack
Wildebeest are frequent prey for cats
Wildebeest are frequent prey for cats
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