Monday, June 16, 2008

Tanzania 2008: Taking in the Long View

Like Kirawira, the Serena Serengeti Lodge lies within the boundaries of Serengeti National Park. All of the Serena lodges melt into their environment with eco-friendly designs that include gardens, solar heating, and a water reclamation systems. Our lodge room is a half dome structure that looks as if it were made from sticks and mud. Here, appearances are deceptive. Inside, the hut-lodge is fully equipped with a king bed surrounded by a mosquito-net, full bathroom and power. As late as 2001 power would have been an unnecessary luxury during a photo adventure, but now, with our complete adoption of digital photography, the presence of electrical outlets has become a necessity. French doors separate the interior from a balcony that overlooks an unobstructed view of the savannah.  

We have found that sleeping comes easy when you are on safari. Today was a battle, but we forced ourselves out of bed at 5:30 a.m., ate a fast breakfast, and were ready for our 7:00 a.m. departure into the park.

We are now in the eastern region of the national park, and it is uniquely different from the west. The landscape is a flat grassland that is interrupted by the sporadic occurrence of kopjes and hills that emerge from the planar surface. As an ecologist, I found these rocky outcrops to be a striking feature of the landscape. Like pelagic islands, the kopjes bulged from the sea of grass; it is as if they were semi-independent ecosystems within the greater Serengeti. Unaccessible to large grazing ungulates, the outcrops were incubators for plant biodiversity. Cactus-like candelabra trees grew from the kopje platforms and competed for space on these islands with palms, acacias, aloe and countless other plant species. These micro-environments were complex habitats with diverse ecological niches. As a result, the kopjes were an ideal environment for finding smaller mammals, birds, reptiles and insects.  

At 10:30 w broke for coffee in the shade of a tree, and by 1:30 we nestled our trucks between the boulders of a kopje to enjoy a field lunch. As you can tell, we are really roughing it in Africa!

Because we would eat lunch in the "bush," we could game drive all day and be in the best spots to capture animals in the best light. Today we were fortunate to photograph a lioness reclining in an acacia tree, a pack of hyena as dusk approached, and jackals using the path of least resistance. While we spotted fewer wildebeest and zebra, we had the opportunity to spend more time photographing elephants, giraffe, Thomsons gazelle, an impala.

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