Just an eight hour drive from the bustling capital of Dar es Salaam lies a paradisaical park. It’s quite small compared to the Selous Game Reserve or the Ruaha National Park, but nonetheless huge in its natural extension. It’s home to a great variety of animals such as the impala, lion, leopard, hippo, zebra, giraffe, elephant, wildebeest, buffalo, baboons and many birds such as the blue starling, long-tailed fiscal and Egyptian goose.
We arrived late at night to what seemed like a small camp on the outskirts of the park. We settled in our small cottage after a wonderful chicken and rice dinner, prepared by the camp’s gentle and friendly staff. Although it was a bit too late, and the kitchen seemed to be already closed, they still managed to serve us a candlelit meal next to the fire. As much as I’dve loved to continue on with some drinks around the fire, the thought of waking up for what I was waiting for in the past 6 months made me head back to my room. A good long rest after such a long voyage was what I really needed.
We woke up at 5.30am, anticipating my alarm for the first time in my life. As my excitement kicked in, I prepared my photographic equipment and headed to breakfast. I gave coffee a miss and settled for an amazing avocado smoothie served with some lovely pancakes. Our ranger picked us up at 7.30am, and off we headed into the wild.
We first spotted a huge herd of elephants, most of them mummies with their little ones. The ranger emphasised that I shouldn’t get too close to them. Elephants may seem to have a soft approach, but in reality are very aggressive. They do not compare to the elephants in Asia, where one can walk with them and enjoy their company. Approaching an African elephant can be a wild risk. Both male and female African elephants have tusks, unlike the Indian elephants where one can easily differentiate between the two genders, since only the male has tusks. Something that I’d never noticed was the shape of their ears. The ranger explained that the ears of the African elephant are also much bigger than the ones in Asia, and natives often compare them to the African map.
Spotting The Lion
What I was longing for most was the glimpse of the big cat. The ranger had mentioned that a week before, a pride of lions had been spotted. Just as he was finishing describing some predator-prey relationships, he received a call from a fellow ranger, who was also around our area. He turned to look at me with a contagious smile, and for a moment I felt a chill at what I thought was up next. They had spotted a pack of lionesses resting near some bushes.
He changed course and headed back to where we came from! He drove steadily to the location without stopping to view the pack of wildebeest on our right. It seemed like he also was very eager to get on the spot. After five minutes driving on the off-beaten track, the car suddenly stopped, and he pointed out towards a dry area of grassland.
As I turned my head, I saw the stern look of a regal creature observing me through the silvery grey steppe. For a moment, I forgot my camera; the look in its eyes was very hypnotising. I just wanted to consume that moment, and when I started to point my lens at it, it seemed to look more sternly right at my camera, enjoying all the attention, undoubtedly aware of its own majestic beauty. Right behind her was another female, resting carelessly and enjoying the dry grass, not bothering at all with our presence.
It was also interesting to understand their organised habitat. These cats are very difficult to spot, as each pack has its own territory, just like a family has its own home. Each territory is owned by one male and many females, with one of them being the alpha female, representing the mother of the whole pack. The lionesses have a vital role in their territory, as they are the main hunters. They are much lighter in weight than the lion and therefore more agile, easily able to secure a good catch. They prefer to hunt larger animals right away, such as zebras and buffaloes. This way, they’ll be able to feed the whole territory in one go.
We moved on to the open grasslands, where another exciting vision awaited us; a lioness resting on an acacia tree trunk. Further on, dreamy-eyed buffaloes shared their grazing grounds, while others laid in the muddy waters.
The Red Hues of the Impala
The sun was already less scorching with the last few rays reflecting on the open grassland of this beautiful park, home also to the elegant impalas. These are medium sized antelopes found commonly in Eastern and Southern Africa. They can be easily recognised from their reddish brown colour, which during sundown, emulates a burnt orange satin material.
I stood there, silently observing them as they grazed the African plains. I just stared, while nature’s elegance and perfection detoxed on my mind and body. The ranger noticed the muse I was in, and just waited there, also enjoying these last few moments of our Sunday Safari.