NCA, the Serengeti, and Lake Manyara...

August 1, 2007

Starting with crows that seem to be wearing white vests (Pied Crow) and the colourful local mynahs (the Superb Starling) in Kilimanjaro, the days in the Ngorongoro Conservation area, where the extinct volcanic crater is like a Noah’s ark of animals, the days in the vast plains of the acacia-studded Serengeti, where the abundance of game just takes the breath away, and finally, the four extremely expensive days that we decided on in Lake Manyara were also astounding….only 10% of people who go to Lake Manyara are able to see the famous tree-climbing lions that the Lake Manyara National Park is famous for…and of course the leopard is a nocturnal, secretive animal…but guess what…my non-sighting jinx (which applies still, to the south Indian tiger) is now well and truly broken….on our way to the Hot Springs, we were the only people on the scene when a lioness and a very young male lion (his mane was just about beginning to grow)climbed up into an acacia tree and settled themselves down, JUST above our Toyota Land Cruiser, and let us take pictures for quite 40 minutes before we had to tear ourselves away….

Have you heard of the bare-faced Go-Away bird? The red-cheeked Cordon Bleu? The blue-naped mousebird? The tree hyrax? The rock hyrax? The Dik-dik (No you dirty-minded lot, that’s dik not dick.) The Purple Grenadier?

We sighted a Crested Eagle (which feeds on snakes, so that would make it the African equivalent of the Crested Serpent Eagle)….saw flamingoes feeding in synchrony…watched hippos in large groups….saw a landscape studded here and there with giraffes….baboons….shrews…four varieties of vultures…not just saw them, but stayed quietly and watched their behaviour.

It was so very difficult tearing ourselves away and coming back to “civilization”….

The sad part about it is that this abundance of game in Tanzania is because conservation efforts were started from the early 1900’s…..what fate awaits OUR wildlife, with our pathetic efforts starting now, and with the kind of heavy poaching we face?

There are exactly 25 (yes) rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater area, and each is constantly guarded (no, we did not see one, but I am sure that if we had asked the right authorities we would have been shown one as each of them has a radio tracking device set in its horn).

The Tanzanians are a peacable people, and are so clean…the villages are very clean, and there is NONE of the horrendous plague of plastic in evidence except perhaps in Dar es Salaam, which, too, appears to be a clean city… Tanzania, however, is a poor country, with no manufacturing industry to speak of, and primarily agro-based industry. The wildlife fees are kept extremely high and that seems to have paid off in terms of limiting the number of visitors and ensuring that only serious wildlifers visit….

I am most impressed by the simplicity of the lifestyle of the Maasai people, who seem to be able to walk for miles across the barren landscape of the African arid lands….now, some of them seem to have cycles. They still reckon their wealth in terms of cattle.

I thoroughly enjoyed the company of our guide/driver, Huruma (which means, sympathy and compassion in Swahili), who took up this job after working as a Ranger for several years. He was extremely knowledgeable about the mammals, the birds, the reptiles (we saw a black mamba!), the insects, the plants, the rocks…..I really got an education from him, and he let us borrow three excellent reference books (Audubon, and Veronica Roodt’s books on the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and on the Serengeti) as well. A remarkable education for me…and I was able to show him the trees and animals/birds that are common (eg the Painted Stork is called the Red-Billed Stork in Africa, and the Drongo is the African Drongo…and the African Tulip, the Tamarind, the Mango,the Euphorbia and the Magnolia trees are the same!) The age of the Baobab trees is just staggering….he also told me a lot of mythology and fables surrounding the wildlife, such as the Hyena being a stupid animal, and when he got the Baobab tree, he was angry and threw it into the ground upside down, which is why the tree looks like that…

The Rhino is Faru, the Giraffe is Twiga, the Lion is Simba, the Cheetah is Pandu…

We are in Dar es Salaam staying with some friends, and I am giving a one-hour concert tomorrow. Will try and visit Zanzibar, too…

The internet connection in my friends’ home (dialup) is very slow, and she uses it for stocks and shares in the mornings, so I got my hands on it only now…we are off to see the seashore soon, so I will next be on the net only after I return home.

Tanzania, the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, the famous wildebeest migration (we did manage to get the major part of the tail end), the tree-climbing lions and incredible fauna and flora of Lake Manyara….We have spent a fortune in the past two weeks and it has been worth every penny of it all!