TRIP REPORT: Northern Serengeti, October 2015


[Sorry for the smaller image sizes and the obnoxious © notices; I’m getting too many whole site downloads from Russia, Ukraine and China, which I expect are image thefts, so I’m making their reuse a little more difficult]

Those of you who have read my previous Trip Reports know I don’t do the typical report—I’m a photographer rather than a storyteller, and a visual person rather than verbal one. Instead of verbally plodding day by day through my safari, I offer images and descriptions, and keep the verbiage to a minimum. At least that’s my plan after I finish with the preliminaries...

My journey from Alaska to Africa started with a fizzle; I had to leave home for Anchorage a day early because of a winter storm (30 inches of snow fell over the next several days), and in the early morning of my departure, about four inches of snow fell at the airport. Because Delta could only deice one plane at a time, my flight departed an hour late, and as I landed in Minneapolis-St. Paul, my Amsterdam flight closed. Since no other AMS flights could connect with my KLM flight to Kilimanjaro that day, I spent the night in Minneapolis and resumed my flights the following afternoon. Thanks to the great efforts of The Wild Source staff (Shannon in Colorado and Happy in Arusha), my Arusha hotel and internal Tanzania flight were rearranged. Luckily my travel insurance (Travel Guard) reimbursed about 95% of the substantial extra costs; Delta Airlines, who I fault for their inability to deice more than one plane at a time in Anchorage, has been less than helpful.

My last two visits to the Serengeti have been during the Green Season, that period in early April as the dry gives way to the rains, when the savannah turns green and the wildebeest migration settles into the Lake Ndutu region. For a different perspective of the migration, I decided to photograph the migration in October, when theoretically the animals should be heading back south from the Masai Mara in Kenya. All of their movements are rain dependent, so my plans didn’t go quite as planned, but in a good way. Several weeks ahead of my arrival, and again during my stay, huge thunderstorms soaked the Mara and Northern Serengeti, producing a new crop of grass. Most of the wildebeest adopted a “why bother to head south when the grass is here” attitude, and milled around the Kenya/Tanzania border area for a month or more longer than usual. And mill around they did-—of the about six major crossings of the Mara River I witnessed, only one was heading south! (I say “major”, since I didn’t count when a dozen or two wildebeest decided to cross).

Bill Given of The Wild Source made the arrangements for me to again have my friend Fadhil Deo as my guide, and to stay at his mobile Njozi Camp situated several miles from the Mara River (this mobile camp moves to the Ndutu area of the Serengeti for January through March). The tents were nicely separated, fairly spacious and well appointed (flush toilets!), with a very attentive staff and gourmet meals. I just realized I don’t have any pictures of camp, mainly because I didn’t spend any daylight hours there! Photographer’s hours: On the road before 6:15AM (sunrise at 6:32), eating boxed breakfasts and lunches in the field, and returning just after 7PM (sunset at 6:37). The camp location was on the edge of a shallow valley, where at first light each morning I could watch the strings of wildebeest pass by as I drank my morning cup of coffee.

Until recent years the Northern Serengeti could be called the “high rent district”, with only three permanent camps and a handful of tented camps, and no public campgrounds. Thus the area was fairly exclusive, and the prices reflected that, so you had relatively few vehicles sharing the sightings. But in the last several years, the number of tented camps has jumped to 20 (to generate more park fees), so sightings and crossing now can get crowded-—but nothing like the Masai Mara in Kenya where you might encounter several dozen vehicles waiting for their turn on a sighting. But since tourism accounts for most of the hard currency in the East African countries, don’t expect any changes soon…

Breakfast on the Serengeti

Breakfast with a view on the Serengeti (Lamai Wedge), but only after the light turned harsh

After a pleasant Coastal Aviation bush plane flight from Arusha to the Kogatende airstrip and the usual delay for paperwork and fees, I was off on safari! Fadhil had been working out of Njozi Camp since July, so he had a good handle on where to find what--the first stop was interesting, but rather repulsive...

Carcasses in Mara River

Marabou Storks on Carcasses

Marabou Storks and vultures feeding on hundreds of wildebeest carcasses

I smelled the problem long before getting to Crossing #0--the historical wildebeest crossings are numbered 0 to 10--the stench of rotting carcasses. Three weeks earlier, 14 safari vehicles had impeded the flow of a major crossing, and in the confusion, over 300 wildebeest died. Since then, the vultures and Marabou Storks have been feasting on the carnage. One tourist camp is located only a kilometer or so away, and I don’t know how anyone could stay there—-it was that revolting. The disturbing part (besides the carnage) was that these were professional guides, who should know better; I haven’t heard any follow up if they were ever held accountable.

Vultures in dead tree

Every possible tree perch surrounding Crossing #0 was occupied by resting vultures and storks

Vultures cirulating in sky

Just me trying to make art out of this unfortunate event—-hundreds, if not thousands, of vultures had congregated at the site for the free feast. In recent years the drought conditions had forced the vultures to search for food outside of the parks, where they were poisoned en masse, severely reducing their numbers. Today, their numbers appear to be returning to normal.

The Marabou stork has to be the ugliest bird ever!