|Beware what's lurking in the bush|
Something gruesome always happen in Serengeti. But such is the nature of things in the wild. One dies in order for another to live. "Survival of the fittest" as always. And this isn't just about a predator eating another prey. It also involves infanticide - especially among lions, the most feared killing machines in the bush.
On our last day in these "endless plains", we were driving the long stretch of dirt road heading south into the park's Naabi Gate before going up Ngorongoro Crater. As is the usual norm, this is another game drive to take advantage of the many animals in the area. Which means covering that 80-km distance will take us more than 4 hours, including photo stops along the way.
As it turns out, this drive was blessed with plenty of lion sightings. Walter, as he is wont to do during his trips, went about his business of enligthening mzungus about this king of the jungle. All I can remember before embarking on this safari was merely watching "Lion King". This time, I really learned a lot more.
|Look who's blocking our truck?|
|Eye-to-eye moment with a lioness|
Lions are a sociable bunch grouped into prides.They're usually comprised of related females, their cubs and one or a few males who patrol their pride area. An outsider male (or coalition of nomadic males) may intrude this pride by fighting with the group's alpha male. If successful in ousting the leader, a usurper's first agenda is to kill all cubs unrelated to him. Doing so turns a lioness estrous, enabling him to mate with her and in effect put his own line of succession in order. However, a lion's reign in a pride is not forever. A much younger, much stronger nomad will always take over in another few years. And so the quest - not only to eat - but to procreate continues.
It was on this process of procreation that we chanced upon a couple on "honeymoon" right there next to the road. Mating lions separate themselves from the pride for some private moment - oftentimes copulating for as much as 40 times a day! If such activity may seem too strenuous for lesser animals, consider the amount of food they gorge.
In a single meal, a lion can eat anywhere between 30-40 kilograms of meat. Oftentimes, male lions leave the hunting to the lionesses, merely showing up at meal time to snag the biggest piece of meat while still having the nerve to drive others away. Ever heard of a "lion's share"? So much for table manners.
Our truck slowly barreled down the road, trying to avoid rotten sections. Suddenly, there was this lioness with a wildebeest carcass. She looked at us - thought we meant no harm with our cameras - before hauling the whole thing across the road, vanishing into abundant bushes and joining her pride nearby. Hopefully, the cubs didn't freak out when they saw the wildebeest head.
|"The land does not go on forever"|
|A long procession of migrating wildebeest|
|Serengeti view atop Naabi Hill|
|Lunch with the group at Naabi Hill (Serengeti's southern gate)|
|Cheetah - the fastest land animal|
|Cheetah cooling off under a thorny acacia tree|
Back in the old days, the Maasai people traditionally used these lands for livestock grazing. When the British mzungus decided to make a park out of the vast plains, the Maasai were eventually driven out in 1959 and resettled in the highlands of Ngorongoro - a conservation area where we finally arrive to camp for the night.
|The Maasai are the only people allowed to live & raise livestock in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area|
|Late afternoon visitors at our crater rim campsite|
While the pastoralists have stayed on to raise their animals and their own families, the biting reality is that there's this inevitable conflict between man and wildlife. Poor Tanzanian villagers living within the fringes of the park are known to hunt wildlife not just for consumption but for illegal trading of game meat. The Maasai themselves bemoan the fact that they have less land to farm and less animals allowed to raise - anything else larger would be detrimental to open corridors set aside by the government for migrating wild animals.
While Serengit has always meant "endless plains" for the Maasai, it is painfully becoming clear now that "the land does not indeed go on forever".