Serengeti in January

I was fortunate enough to go to the Serengeti with Lou Coetzer of CNP Safaris in January of the this year. The reason for going in January was that the &Beyond guide at the Grumeti tented Camp, Wasiri had indicated that this was a time when the “short” rains had stopped but the grass was low. Wasiri has been a guide in this area for the past 20 years and so knows its rhythms intimately. The predators would be active because their main prey, Wildebeest, was scarce as the migration was moving down the eastern side of the Serengeti towards Ndutu in the south to where the grass was most abundant, and where they could to calve. With low grass and active predators, this seemed like an ideal time to be wandering around the western corridor of the Serengeti for wildlife, especially predator photography.

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” ~ Jennifer Lee

We heard there was a coalition of eight males, fathers and sons, which ruled this section of the western corridor at the time we were there. The idea of a mega coalition created images utter domination.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” ~Martin Buber

On our first afternoon we wandered along the main gravel access road towards the Nyasirori ranger post in the east. Close to the road we came across a pride of lions with these two lions mating away from the main pride. It was late afternoon and there were patches of sunlight streaming onto the grass plains.

The gestation or pregnancy period for a female lion is about 105 – 110 days and a litter of two to four cubs is usual. Some distance from, but part of the same pride as the mating pair, we found several lionesses with a few cubs frolicking around them. The females with cubs stayed close to the rest of the pride. While the lionesses were trying to get some rest the cubs were boisterously playing around them.

These youngsters got very absorbed in their play and every now and then would suddenly stop, realising that this strange thing, our vehicle, was nearby.

The cubs seemed to be evenly matched but one initiated the play more than the other. Their coats were moist from the light rain earlier than afternoon.

If your sibling or cousin will not play with you then perhaps Mom’s tail will!

“Every person can transform the world from one of monotony and drabness to one of excitement and adventure.” ~ Irving Wallace

This lone buffalo bull was very grumpy and for good reason, as there were a few lions around. He did not run away but rather chased the lions away.

The buffalo bull chased this male lion into a small cluster of balanites. This was a first, I have never seen a male lion chased up in a tree before.

“Life is not a dress rehearsal, make it count” ~ Rose Tremain

In the open grasslands of the Serengeti you are likely to find many birds ranging from large birds such as Secretary birds and cranes to smaller ones such as lapwings, larks, starlings and coursers foraging in the grass. This was a Temmnick’s Courser on a game path. This courser prefers the short grass areas where there are ample termites and insects. We often found these coursers in the open grasslands when we looking for lions.

A Double-banded courser foraging for insects in the grass. They feed mostly on ants, termites and beetles. This courser is identified by its pale colouring with distinctive double dark brown bands on its chest.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it” ~ Charles Swindoll

A Crowned crane coming in to land near its mate. They tend to mate for life, and are very territorial defending their nesting area with loud honking calls. They like to forage in open grasslands adjacent to wetlands where they eat grass seeds, insects and other invertebrates. They are also unique in that they can perch in the trees, unlike other cranes, because of their long hind toes.

Grey crowned cranes are elegant and unmistakable in the wetland areas along river courses in the Serengeti. They inflate their red throat pouch to produce honking sounds that are unique. Their voice has considerable harmonic development and can be heard for miles – these cranes use many different calls to communicate.

These cranes are known for their intricate dance that they do during the breeding season. As the displays pick up they perform ballet leaps of great beauty and dexterity. The entire ritual involves dancing, bowing, jumping and head shaking.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~ Henry Miller

This was the first day in the western corridor of the Serengeti and although the weather was quite overcast, it was a promising start to our week of wildlife photography.

The lioness usually initiates the mating. Although the male lions look to be biting their mates neck this is not the painful part. Male lions have a barbed penis which appears to be painful for the female when the male dismounts. In lions, copulation is often accompanied by snarling, biting, growling, and threats, and sometimes the female turns and swats the male during dismount. The male penis has about 100 one millimetre barbs on his penis. They are made of keratin. As the male withdraws the barbs scrap the walls of the female’s vagina. The barbs have two functions, they help scratch out sperm on the vaginal wall from previous matings and help induce ovulation.

The mating can take place up to 100 times a day and each mating lasts only seconds. The previous male was about to take a short break from his mating marathon. The female usually rolls over after mating which is thought to encourage the sperm to reach deep inside the uterus. This mating marathon can last as long as four or five days.

Little did we know after the first day that we were going to see 70 different lions over the next six days. One of the aspects about going out of the high tourist season is that you get to see and understand the rhythm of the Serengeti without the migration and without tourists. More often than not we were the only vehicle out and about in our area of the western corridor.

“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” ~ Randy Komisar

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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