Tuesday, April 5, 2011

NDUTU – THE REAL SERENGETI?


The next leg of our tour was to prove to be so action packed that in order to do the experience  justice I am going to divide the story into more than one section so that you can share in what was one of the most awe-inspiring trips I have ever been on. The first will be about the Cheetah of the Serengeti.
Just a stone’s throw from the Ngorongoro Crater lies a wilderness so vast that it literally hurtles one back to a bygone era. The fact that we were driving in a motorised vehicle was the only reality connecting us to the 21st Century. The topography of the South Eastern section of the Serengeti is vaguely reminiscent of the Greater Karroo of South Africa sans the koppies and for kilometre after kilometre all that there is to see is scrubland and no trace of civilisation other than some dusty tracks that have been laid in the landscape. The road from the crater leaves much to be desired in first world terms but is a dream in the third world. Our progress is fast and furious and soon we turn off towards nowhere. It is a mystery how our drivers know where the turnoff is. The route then breaks into many smaller tracks and before we know it we are in a dry riverbed hurtling towards the setting sun. Then, a quick right turn up the embankment and before us lies the camp. It is our first glimpse of our home for the next four days.
The Nasikia camp is set away from the river on a fairly flat area inamongst the trees that flank the riverbed. Tents are spread out on either side of the Lounge and Diningroom tents. We are taken to our tents to discover spacious areas, bathrooms with flush toilets and bucket showers. Hot water arrives by kind favour of Prosper the camp Manager. There is barely time to unpack, thankfully rinse off and head for dinner under the stars. After dinner, which is a miracle in its own, if one considers the fact that the chef does not have electricity on tap and only a tent for a kitchen, we head off for dreamland.
Our wakeup call arrives all too soon but the prospect of a day of photography sets aside any notions of staying in bed. Soon we are on the vehicle armed to the teeth with our weapons of choice and we are searching for the first sighting.
And soon it is there. Godwin, our driver/guide has taken us through the riverbed and up onto the plains heading west. His eyes scour the horizon and eventually my eyes become accustomed to the search. Dotted inamongst the scrub we can make out little blobs of fawn and white revealing the presence of severalThompsons Gazelles. Then, as we make our way forward over the scrubland we detect more and more animals happily grazing. And suddenly, there is our first Cheetah sighting of note.
Vehicles slow down, dust engulfs us momentarily and we approach cautiously. The female Cheetah is scanning the horizon ahead of us, just as we are, to where the Tommies are nonchalantly grazing. As she passes a small clump of bushes she suddenly rears up and pounces. Out of the scrub flies a hare running for its life. The Cheetah sets off after it. My new panning plate is set into action and I desperately try to line up the 500mm lens on the prey. Difficult at best because we are so very close. I manage to line up the cheetah in the lens and the shutter starts its furious dance. Then, within a few seconds and some spectacular dust clouds the Cheetah lands its prey. Holding it in her mouth she heads off for another small clump of bushes and proceeds to crunch through skin and bone.
 
 
 
A young Hyena drops by and a Tawny Eagle lands in close proximity but the Cheetah quickly finishes her hard won meal and then saunters off.
The following day we find a coalition of three brothers that patrol the same area (or fairly close by, difficult to say when there are no significant points of reference) and we spend some time with them hoping for some action. However we are disappointed and head off back to the river and the camp.
On day three we head off again and find the same three boys hiding out in the shade of one of the few trees on this plain. We are not the only tourists hoping for some action here and we have to join the group of vehicles waiting. It should be mentioned at this point that it was close to the end of our morning drive, it was hot, in fact, it was bloody hot and the sun was beating relentlessly down on our heads. For the first time ever on safari I regret the lack of a hat. We wait patiently in the blazing sun chatting to one another and then suddenly, Brother no 1 sits up. A line of wildebeest are making their way North West past our vehicles. It would seem as if the bunch of vehicles camouflages the presence of the cheetah. Then, the crouch and Brothers no 2 and 3 also sit up.

Suddenly, Brother no 1 launches himself and I think......he’s going to go for the little guy at the back. But, no, what do I know? He hurtles past the whole line and heads for the leader of the pack. The pounce and grab is a startlingly fast affair. Brothers no 2 and 3 latch onto the back of the wildebeest and the life and death struggle begins. The display of prowess, cunning and power is spellbinding. It is over in a matter of minutes. During this time we have started and stopped the vehicle twice, we have shouted instructions to poor Godwin who took off too soon in his anxiousness to ensure that we get a good position at the sighting, we have crashed up against each other in the vehicle and inamongst all of this I still manage to get a record of the kill from start to finish.
 
 

This is why I have travelled so far, to see Africa’s fastest feline at the job of surviving in the wilderness. It is a truly emotional sight that is rare and beautiful and I know I am indeed privileged to have seen it in this preciously preserved corner of Africa.


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