Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Over the past couple weeks I have been back and forth to Arusha in the northern part of Tanzania. I have been exploring the National Parks in that area including Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro. Each park contains all the wildlife you would imagine in Eastern Africa. I couldn't believe how close I got to some of these amazing animals. The best part was experiencing everything in pure nature. These animals aren't cooped up in fences all day; they are roaming freely through vast plains or resting up in the tall acacia trees. It is amazing to see their natural behaviors up close.

The first park I visited was Tarangire. 

This park is most celebrated for its beautiful landscape dotted with enormous baobob trees. The bark of this plant is a favorite snack of the African elephant, so it is also home to one of the largest elephant populations in all of Africa. Everywhere I turned there was another group of elephants! At one point, they completely surrounded the safari vehicle. We just had to wait for them to clear out of the area a bit so we could drive off.

Another exciting find was a leopard. These animals are extremely rare to spot because they are solitary and hide in trees. The only time you'd ever see two leopards together is if a mother is still raising her young. Otherwise they maintain a territory of about 8 kilometers. It was so far off in the distance, and only its head was visible through all the leaves of the acacia tree. My guide must've been eating his carrots this week... pretty soon there were 8 other safari cars huddled around us to see such a rare find.

Lake Manyara was our next stop. The baboons completely own this neck of the woods, or at least that's what they think.

My favorite part of the day was when a mother and baby elephant came out of the woods and surprised us by drinking water from a muddy river just a few feet away. Then two other sets of mother and baby elephants came out of the same area. The mothers were drinking and bathing while the babies began playing together. It was like something you might see on National Geographic, but it was happening right before my eyes!

A little farther down the road, I could hear horrible moaning sounds. Two elephants were fighting! As we pulled up to the scene, I could see that it was just a couple young elephants playing around... but I wouldn't want to get in the middle of that.

That night, our hotel overlooked Lake Manyara. Remember--no fences, no boundaries, wild animals everywhere. The hotel staff warned us to keep windows and doors closed and locked at all times. I guess our neighbors didn't pay attention to that fact. In the morning, we heard a loud scream and watched a baboon run off with an entire fruit basket from the room next door! The woman was totally terrified as the baboon sat on the roof eating her breakfast. 

The next stop on the journey was Serengeti National Park. This is where most of the excitement of the trip took place. Serengeti is home to so many big cats—lions, cheetahs, and leopards.

On my second drive through the Serengeti, there was another exciting leopard spotting here. It was snoozing up in an acacia tree right by the road!

Lions spend most of their time laying around, full-bellied, digesting the feast of zebra, wildebeest, or antelope that roam all around them.

When they decide to get up and move around, it's an incredible sight. They are so large and powerful. 

I was surprised at how many prides of lions I saw in this small time. There were so many of them! These ones were staring down a large group of buffalo.

The cubs are adorable! And very active. They play with each other, jumping around and pretending to fight. Whenever they try to play with the adult lions, they always get swatted away, and then go back to jumping around in the tall reeds.

The cheetahs were my absolute favorite part of the entire trip. We found a group of three cheetah brothers ready to hunt. 

First they were watching a herd of zebras. Normally cheetahs wouldn't aim for such large prey, but there was a baby in the group that they were hoping to separate and catch. Unfortunately, they played the waiting game a little too long and the zebras slipped away. 

Not to worry, the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebras were running right in front of their path, single-file, like a mouth-watering display in a supermarket. 

They waited for a long time, and finally decided to make a strike. Each of the cheetahs went after a different wildebeest, leading to failure and empty stomachs. It was disappointing, but these cheetahs weren't done yet. They went to rest over in the shade. 

Just a few minutes later, two baby wildebeest came prancing over, right in front of the three cheetahs!! 

They dashed out of that shade so fast, earning their title as the fastest land animal in the world. The first cheetah took down one of the wildebeest and as the second caught up, they carried their prey to an area with higher grasses. 

Then they began to devour their lunch. 

I kept watching until the vultures were done feeding on the dry bones.

My second safari was spent camping in each park. That's right--in the parks! That meant it was completely normal for wild animals to roam around each of the tents eating grass and doing other things that animals do. 

One evening in the Serengeti, water buffalo came right up to my tent! These things are massive!! I guess they aren't going to bother you unless you provoke them. But how do you know what might set off a giant buffalo? 

Our last day was spent in Ngorongoro crater. This massive crater used to be a full volcanic mountain, but collapsed on itself over two million years ago. Now it is the largest caldera in the world, and home to the greatest concentration of predators in the world. The rare Black Rhino can be found here in the crater. The populations are extremely endangered—last counted at only 19 in this area! This is a result of poachers who want the rhino horn for medicinal use in Asia.

I was amazed by all the wildlife condensed into that crater. We saw just as many species within the crater as we did in every other park combined!







Antelope. Below you can see an Eland in front of some Thompson's Gazelles. 



Hyenas--they really do smile at you!

There aren't any giraffes or female elephants in the crater. Giraffes are too top-heavy to make the steep descent into the crater. Plus is only a small patch of acacia trees, so they are more protected when they stick with the food outside the crater. Female elephants don't venture down there because their babies wouldn't have any protection from predators in the open plains. They prefer to stay in the highlands where there are plenty of tall jungle-like trees. 
This didn't mean I couldn't see any. As a matter of fact, a massive group of giraffes came out to say goodbye to us on the way out of the crater. There must've been at least 30 giraffes scattered up on this hilltop! They are such magnificent creatures. When they run, it looks like slow motion. They are graceful, but so large that every movement is ten times slower than you'd expect. Absolutely amazing. 

The exciting and memorable parts of safari were certainly the big game animals. But I couldn't possibly leave out all the wacky and incredible birds. Most of them had such a beautiful array of colors. I wish I was able to snap a few more photos, but the little ones are so quick!

These safari adventures were an incredible way to see the beauty of Africa up close.


  1. Yay! I love all the pictures :-)

  2. It must have been amazing to witness the animals' natural behavior up close and personal, just like how you get to watch it on Nat Geo. They are so many of them scattered in Africa and it is a wonderful experience to be in a close encounter with them. It's just so cool! I should go to Africa one of these days!

    Jordan Hood