The short rains, which normally fall in Northern Tanzania in November, completely failed this year, leaving the mega-herd in a real dilemma. Short of grazing and surface water to drink, the herds split up and wandered to and fro moving between grazing and water. This commute often took two days or more.
In the beginning of January, there was some rain on the southern Plains, but it was very patchy. Most of the wildebeest and zebra were in the southwest – in Maswa Game Reserve and Kusini, but the eastern side of the Serengeti Plains was still dry.
I started my safari with Michael and Joy Phelps from Vancouver on the 9th of January, covering our bases by spending three nights in Loliondo on the northeastern side of the Serengeti Plains and then moving southwest to Kusini for three nights. During our time in Loliondo we started to enjoy a daily ration of rain, drawing in fairly large herds of wildebeest and zebra from the north – these herds were in themselves an impressive sight.
But on the 13th of January, as we drove across the plains towards Ndutu and Kusini, the volumes of game increased and so did the rain.
By the time we got to the woodland at Ndutu, the herds of wildebeest covered the open plains as far as you could see. The rainfall intensified, until we were driving through water a foot and a half deep on the road. I have never seen so much rain in this area at one time! We were fortunate not to get stuck at all, and we were all very pleased to get to camp, and have a shower and a gin and tonic after an eventful day in the car.
We knew that the rain was drawing the herds in, and with such a rich food source at hand, we also knew that predator sightings would increase. Our highlights were of course seeing hundreds of thousands of wildebeest moving together, a sighting of twenty-two hyena’s battling it out over a fresh wildebeest kill, and three groups of cheetah including a mother and cubs. We had several lion sightings, including a pride with a beautiful big maned male, and another pride with thirteen individuals in it. They were waiting at the end of the airstrip to bid us farewell on our departure for Kilimanjaro Airport.
Oh did I mention the rare sighting of aardwolf on a night drive in Loliondo?