On the hunt for the Big Five

Sunday November 26 2017

 

By Roger Braun

        It is a classic of a safari in Tanzania: Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara. It’s only three days, but there is chance to see all the big five in a relative short time: the lion, the elephant, the rhino, the buffalo and the leopard.

The starting point of our trip is Arusha, the Tanzanian capital of Safari. It begins smoothly with a two-hours ride to Lake Manyara. The great rift valley tells an interesting geological story and the Maasai people we see on the way are sure fascinating, but let’s face it:

This trip is about wild game. And indeed, before we even reach the first national park we spot two giraffes eating leaves from an acacia tree. Is this a good omen? Are we going to see the big five?

Being Safari newcomers, we get really excited when we spot a blue monkey, sitting on a termite hill. It takes ten minutes until the pictures are taken. We are equally enthusiastic about a group of baboons. The cameras go full speed again. Leaving the forest, we reach the grassland. We immediately spot zebras, gnus, impalas, giraffes and warthogs. I am thrilled to see these impressive mammals in the wild for the first time. At a pond, we discover dozens of flamingos, a species this park is famous for. And most spectacular, a buffalo grazing calmly in the shallow water, bursting with strength. This is the first animal of the big five we’ve seen.

Heading back to the entrance, we enter a small wood. And there it is: the second one of the big five. Three elephants walk slowly in a row. They are as close as 20 metres from the jeep, and despite having seen them in zoos, this feels special.

We head to Ngorongoro crater the following day. The weather could hardly be worse. On the rim where travellers usually stop to cherish the view of the 600-metre deep and 19 kilometre long crater, there is only fog. We carry on down to the crater where the sight is clearly better. More than 25’000 animals live in this unique biosphere.

Our picnic place lies at a small lake where dozens of hippos are romping. They are unusually active for an early afternoon, communicating with grunts, snorts and whines. The photographers all wait for the same moment… when the hippo tears its mouth wide open.

After lunch, we make ourselves comfortable in the seats, not expecting much more to come. Wrong! From far we see jeeps grouped around the same area. When we approach, we see not less than a dozen lions. Some of them are dozing, the younger ones are playing around. In a first reaction, I close the window of the jeep. But the lions don’t mind us. They make themselves comfortable in front of the jeep, dozing or stretching their bodies.

After marvelling the lions for more than an hour we set out to leave the crater. But suddenly, our car turns, heading in the opposite direction. A rhino has been spotted. The jeeps are lining up. Seeing a rhino has become rare since many of them have been killed by poachers. In Ngorongoro the number has declined to 23. The rhino is so far that binoculars are needed to recognise it. Nevertheless, we felt privileged to witness this rare animal.

The last day is all about the leopard, the missing piece of the big five. Our guide gets information that there is a leopard somewhere. Browsing the area, we see a tail hanging down the branch. And indeed, it is the leopard we were looking for! It was relieving to have seen the leopard as well.     

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