It's a creekmore world

Africa Day 21: Murder mystery in the Serengeti and the Creekmore ‘Big Five’

Lily has compressed herself in a shivering clump about the size of a basketball.  Outside our tent are honks and screams and cackles and roars in the blackness of night.

Hoofs are trampling by but something else is going on nearby.  It’s really scary in a half-dream state but we both eventually fall asleep again.

At breakfast (eggs of course) we talk about the night’s noises and Lily proclaims ‘I think there was a kill.’ And she leaves her hard boiled egg and hot chocolate (that she won’t drink) at the table in search of evidence.

‘Yep’, she comes back, a little smug.  “There are bloody bones and fur.  There was definitely a kill, come look.” As usual we don’t really believe her, because there are lots of false-sightings from Lily.  Despite her strong imagination, she is very observant as we discovered in Costa Rica, when she found the sloth by the side of the road.

But we had no idea!  20 feet from our tent had been a wildebeest kill last night, and there is a patch of wet blood and fur.  Only a few bones are left which mean the hyenas were here eating everything.  Lions are the most likely culperate in this one, which would explain the roars last night.

Lily is completely energized and excited.  She walks all around the camp playing detective, trying to find clues about the exact nature of the attack.  It was probably a baby based on the size.  Paul comes up in disbelief, but he agrees.  Lion attack on a baby wildebeest is the most likely explaination.

A few years ago we did a project in the Middle East called ‘Kid reporters’ where they did 2 minute spontaneous reports on what they had seen for the day.  They are pretty hilarious.  Lily really wants to report on her discovery.  She can turn it in for her ‘What I did on my summer vacation’ assignment when she gets back to school.

Our guides are a little slower pace than they were in South Africa, where you would leave by 5am to get the best animal viewings in the morning.  When I suggest six am, Saige says ‘no no no that’s too early and counters with 7:30.”  Saige and Paul don’t tell us anything about the animals excepte for an English name either.   It’s much harder to get information from them and if we hadn’t learned a lot in South Africa about the animals, we would be very frustrated.

After yesterday’s incredible sightings, we should temper our expectations for the Serengeti, but we begin with a female lion lit up in the morning sunrise that crosses right in front of our vehicle.

Baboons are always fun to watch because they have such human displays of behavior.  We can watch them for hours.  It baffles Saige who wants to drive right by them but we always stop for a long look.

Giraffe markings in the Serengeti are different than the ones in South Africa.  The pattern is more intricate and the lines are less geometric.

In Kruger park we could go off road and drive almost to the feet of a giraffe, but here where we stay on the road we need them to come to us.  And one does today, providing great opportunities for photos.

What are up close, and amazing to us, are the wildebeest and zebra that are walking the annual great migration.   We see thousands of them, and they form long single file lines that go for miles.  It’s an amazing sight.

The Serengeti (and it’s sibling park Ngorongoro) are huge areas of conserved land about the

size of South Carolina.  They are not the largest parks in the world, or even Tanzania, but they are home to the worlds largest animal migration of 2,000,000 or more Blue Wildebeast and Zebra who annually follow the green, nutrient filled grass in a roughly clockwise direction.

There are a bunch of ways to see the migration.  The most famous is probably the Mara river crossing in southern Keyna, which is located in a park called Masai Mara, but is actually the norther tip of the Serengeti.  The animals bunch up at the river and strruggle to cross efficiently.  Many drown, and crocodiles feast on them for weeks as the herd continutes it’s journey.

When the migration begins, you see huge herds assembling and forming lines flowing north.  They are often single file.  It’s a beautiful display of order in a chaotic event to see miles of Zebras marching single file.  This is what we see today.  And a lot of it.

Before the trip I had asked the owner if we could pursue the migration to the Grumeti river, and he said of course we can.  But Saige wants no part of that now.  He has a simple 2-game-drive-daily plan and is sticking to it.  It’s too hard to argue with hum because of his English.  And I’m not confident that’s the right thing to do anyway.  We are seeing a lot here…


Lunch is cold meatballs. Bleh.  At least we can take a nap today since we are staying at this camp the Serengeti another night.

The safari radio network

The afternoon drive begins with lots of the same herds and a giant group of Elephants.   The radio blares something static-y in Swahili and Saige hits the gas.  I know the other guides have  found something and are reporting it so everyone can come look.

‘Saige what is it?’ I ask.  He doesn’t like to tell us in case he can’t find it and we are dissapointed.  “Maybe a leopard’ he mumbles tentatively.  Leopards are pretty rare.    He’s right though, there is a leopard in a tree about 250 feet from the car.  It’s pretty hard to see with the naked eye though.  Not a great sighting, but they are beauties to see.

(Later in the day Trish would spot a wildebeest carcass hanging from a tree as we drove by at 30 kph – an amazing catch.  Leopards drag prey into the tree to eat them in safety and comfort then leave the carcass hanging!)

Lioness in a tree

Up ahead a few vehicles are parked by a tree and we discover a lioness sleeping on the bent trunk of the shady Acacia tree.  She has a radio collar on, and is obviously being tracked.

Well, she’s not hard to find today!   She’s 20 feet from the road and does a few more cute poses before we go off.

The traditional Big Five

The Lion is one of the ‘Big Five’ which is a list of animals that hunters though were the most difficult to track and kill on foot.  They include 1) Lion 2) leopard 3) African Buffalo 4) Elephant and 5) Rhino.

It’s a list adopted for marketing by safari companies, but it’s not representative of the best or hardest to see by safari vehicle.  In fact, you are guaranteed to see Elephant, Buffalo and Lion anywhere you go on Safari.  Leopard in particular, and Rhino in some areas can be scarce.

Creekmore Safari Big Five

We’ve already seen the big five.  But if I were to make a Creekmore Safari Big Five, I would choose a different set of big animals based on the rarity and the beauty.  Here are the real big five.  You’ll be lucky to see most of these, much less all of them.  We’ve done pretty well.

1) Wild Dogs:  Lycoan Pictus are the animal to see in Africa.  They are beautiful, smart, fierce and severely endangered.  And they are the closest animal kingdom relatives of your furry household friend.  There are only a few thousand left, and could be extinct in Lily and Emma’s lifetime.  There are parks in Tanzania and Botswana where the majority of the African population are centered.  You won’t see them in Serengeti.  We did in Kruger, and it was very, very lucky.

2) Standing Adult Male Lion:  You’ll see lots of females, but there are always less males because of the social structure.  They are killed off by Alphas.  You’ll probably see one, but chances are he won’t be standing or even have his head up.    There is nothing more ‘Africa’ than the dark mane of a lion flowing in a warm dry breeze.  Good luck with this one!

3) Leopard:  Leopards are the only one from the original Big Five to make the Creekmore Big five list.  They are solitary, private and pretty rare although they are not considered critically endangered.  The coat on a leopard is the best of all the cats, with rosettes of black, tan and white.  Leopards with black fur are called ‘Black Panthers’.  We got some good views of leopards, particularly one at night in Kruger that walked up to us in the road and by our car.  Get them walking (not in a tree) for bonus points.

4) Cheetah:  That kitten face!  That Greyhound body!  How can you not love the Cheetah?  It’s everybody’s favorite and for good reason.  It’s the fastest animal on the planet reaching speeds of 65mph for up to a minute. (Except for some birds but those don’t count.)  Cheetahs are endangered, but not critically so you can see one, but there still aren’t many of them.

5) Male Greater Kudu:  The only herbivore on the list – tou defintely won’t see these on any safari website because they are really rare to find.  Adult male Kudu have the largest horns (on average) in the animal kingdom.  These are majestic animals that inspire thoughts of magical beasts and fantasy settings.  We got an amazing look at a pair of bachelors in the sunset in Kruger Park.

That’s the list.  We got 4.5 of these (the male lion shot is weak.)  And I would have liked closer views of the Cheetah especially.  But we feel really lucky to see some of the best.

A special contender would be the Mountain Gorilla, but those are only viewable in one or two specific spots.  And you are guaranteed (nearly) to see them if you pay the crazy prices.

The Northern Seronera

So far, Tanzania has exceeded our expectations.   Kruger did not have this animal density although the Rhinos were amazing and plentiful.  We haven’t seen a Rhino yet in Tanzania where poaching enforcement is much less effective than South Africa.  But in general, Serengeti is the shit.

But we’ve been up and down the main roads a few times.  Saige stretches our course farther north, and we mostly see Zebra and Wildebeest marching endlessly north.  There is a cute baby elephant far off that is splashing water around for fun.

It begins to rain a little, like a sun shower.  And a rainbow comes out.  Trish is wincing every time we hit a rut in the road.   Her back hasn’t really gotten any better.

She’s been taking 3200 mg ibuprofen a day and it’s only putting a dent in the pain.  She stands, sits, legs up, and lies on the bed of the jeep but nothing is comfortable.  Needless to say, she’s pretty grumpy but she has kept it together the past few days.

Dinner is, wait for it…, salty beef stew.  Yep.  A Tanzanian safari favorite apparently.  We sleep wondering if there will be a repeat of last nights kill.  Lily stays close to me in the bed.