Sunday, 1 February 2015

Simba dume sita

We left the Serengeti today, taking a first step back to the UK, via the splendour of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area which is shared by wildlife and the Maasai. As I write the sun sets over the Ngorongoro Crater in front of me, where earlier I found two distant black rhinos, almost the last of their kind here, shining in the evening sun. They brought the number of mammal species we have seen today to twenty-seven.

Carnivores were many along our way. Not far from Mbuzi Mawe two young male lions, two or three years old, brothers perhaps, sat by the road, watching the nervous topi watch them. In the centre of the park a family of, typically nocturnal, bat-eared foxes bounded away turning to flash their giant ears at us. In the south of the park, in the short-grass plains outside the Naabi Gate, golden jackals and spotted hyenas troubled the wildebeest with their newborn young. There were slender mongooses too, one this evening by Ngorongoro's rim and one at lunchtime at Oldupai, the dusty gorge made famous by the dynasty of hominids who have inhabited it and the dynasty of archaeologists who have studied them. The first began, according to present understanding, with Australopithecus afarensis, passing through Australopithecus robustus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus to reach Homo sapiens. The second began with Louis and Mary Leakey, and their family of Dalmatian dogs, and continues today with visits by archaeologists from all over the world.

Oldupai Gorge

The carnivores who most thilled us today were four male lions. a coalition of four or five-year-olds, who panted in the cooling mud by a waterhole not far from Naabi. They are satellites of a large pride which lives along the river in this area. Their bellies were fat and the reason was clear. On a distant hill the wildebeest continued their migration, genes flowing through time and the landscape on the untidy legs of antelopes.

Of other prey we saw many species: eland, hartebeest, Kirk's dikdik, buffalos, hippos, two species of gazelle and our last giraffes. There were new birds as we drove through the cloud-forests which encircle Ngorongoro: streaky seedeater, Hildebrandt's francolin, olive pigeon, golden-winged sunbird and numerous others. Tomorrow with the dawn we visit this lost volcanic land, set about with forests, and hope to meet the wild folk who inhabit it.

Simba dume sita: six male lions.

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