Friday, December 30, 2016

Tanzania - Ndutu Southern Serengeti


The Southern Serengeti teems with wildlife and promises adventure. As dawn breaks, we leave the  Ndutu Safari Lodgeour rustic bush accommodations. The easy rumble of our open Toyota Land Cruisers heading to the “Big Marsh” breaks the serenity of the early dawn. According to our well-seasoned guide, Nigel Perks, this marsh is the best place to observe animals in the wild. 

On our way, we pass a massive herd of African Cape Buffalo heading to the watering hole next to the marsh. Nigel remarks, "This is going to be a very interesting morning." 

We position our vehicles next to two male lions royally lazing on a knoll overlooking the marsh. They are enthralled with grooming each other’s majestic manes. Hidden in the marsh are three lionesses with their cubs. Nigel cautions us. “Be still; be patient.” The lilt in his voice is a tipoff something exceptional will happen.

Our anticipation intensifies as we watch the three lionesses, one after another, cautiously make their way to the water for an early morning drink. Nigel directs our attention to the center of the marsh. Four cubs are crouch in the tall grass and two more are seen to the left. Ever watchful for predators, the cubs wait for a signal from mom that it is safe to approach the water.   

After quenching their thirst, the pride moves onto the dirt path five feet below us. They each take up a spot along the road to sun themselves. One lioness secures the lead position. 

The first of the buffalo herd reach the other side of the watering hole. Nigel signals us to be on the alert. Knowing lions live in the marsh, the buffalo are skittish; but their need for water overrides the primal instinct for survival.

The herd continues to arrive at the watering hole and the lionesses, the savannah’s nimblest hunters, cagily scan the herd looking for a succulent breakfast candidate.

Ever so slowly, the lead lioness rises and skulks down the dirt path. The pride is fixed on her movements as she deviously approaches the outer fringe of the herd. Arriving at the watering hole she pauses at the tree line.   

Abruptly, she disappears behind the foliage. A buffalo bellows. The lioness reappears hightailing it back down the dirt road. Quick to defend their own, the entire herd raises their heads, spot the fleeing lioness and, at a remarkable speed, charge. This sends the lionesses and cubs instantly scurry back to the safety of the marsh.  

No breakfast of fresh buffalo for these cubs today.  

Meanwhile, back on our knoll, unfazed by the nearby mayhem, the male lions continue to affectionately preen each other.

Postscripts . . .

Cape Buffalo . . .  is a member of the African "Big Five." 

The “Big Five,” the African elephant, the black or white rhinoceros, the African lion and the African leopard, are the most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt in Africa. Thanks to our skilled guide Nigel, Roger and I were very privileged to see and photograph all five on our Tanzanian safari. A feat not always achieved.

Cape Buffalo are four to five feet long and weigh 935 to 1,910 lbs. A herd often has more than 1,000 members who actually practice democracy. When the herd is ready to move on, each member stands and turns in the direction it wants to go. The majority of "votes" wins and the head female will lead the herd in the winning direction.

Very protective of each other, if one is confronted with a predator, the herd will rush to the victim's defense. As we witnessed, a herd is very adept at scattering an entire pride of lions. 

Ndutu Safari Lodge . . . located in the heart of the Serengeti Plain at the head of Olduvai Gorge. The lodge lazes beside a small lake in beautiful acacia woodland. The lodge offers 34 stone cottages, an open-sided bar, lounge and dining room. Our stay is exceptional in everyway. The bar staff is especially delighted when I share with them how to make a proper martini. 

The sparse but comfortable stone cottages, each with their own verandah, are perfect for watching the stunning sunsets. At dark, the staff builds a glorious campfire around which safari tales are boldly told. No fences surround the lodge area and wild animals wander on the property at all hours. For our safety, native Massai watchmen must escort all guests back to their cottages. 

Besides us “safari goers,” the only other guests are genets, small spotted cat-like animals who love to gaze down at you from the rafters. 

Our Tanzanian Safari . . . by far our most remarkable trip. The planning was flawless and every item of the trip from lodging to meals to indigenous experiences was perfectly executed. 

While financially not for the faint-hearted, it was worth every penny. Truly a trip of a lifetime. Many thanks to  Pat Garcia of Northridge Travel who made all the arrangements.  She can be reached at or 818-886-2000 or 800-842-8880.

Any safari is only as good as its guide. Nigel Perks is just the best. With more than 25 years’ experience guiding all over Africa, Nigel’s wealth of knowledge, pleasant personality, and fearless nature enhanced the trip every step of the way. He can be reached at or +64 3 545 6028. PO Box 1616, Nelson, 7040, New Zealand