Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ruaha - East Africa (D5/6)

Pride of lions under a baobab - saw this fitting image to me of Ruaha within minutes of leaving the airstrip. I first heard about Ruaha National Park years ago from a wildlife film about lions here regularly hunting buffaloes during the dry season. The main reasons for taking on such formidable prey are the dispersal of smaller animals and the absence of wildebeest, a preferred prey of the lions. Over at Lake Manze camp the other evening, I overheard a guest likened Ruaha to 'a land of baobab'. Located in the middle of Tanzania, it is the largest national park in Tanzania covering an area of about 22,000 sq km. It is also uncrowded and despite its size, less than 8000 visit the park each year although the numbers are slowly increasing. We break for a fabulous picnic lunch at a rest point overlooking the dried out Mwagusi river bed. The river which is dry throughout most of the year and acts as a water source for all the surrounding game. It was a busy time of the day at Mwagusi - giraffes, banded mongoose, baboons and impalas were all present. After lunch, we game drove around the Mwagusi area a bit more before heading west to the camp. On the way, I felt a sharp stinging pain on my right arm and found out from my guide later that it was the tsetse flies. Although the human sleeping sickness transmitted by tsetses in this region has been eradicated, these vicious insects still deliver a painful bite and can be really annoying on game drives. Not too far from the camp, we found 2 male lions from the Mdonya pride. Unlike in Selous, off-road driving is actually prohibited here (NP rules) but the guides will readily ignore this rule so getting close to those lions here is still a possibility.

mdonya pride in ruaha

Woke up by hyenas (how often do I get to say that?) which sounded barely a few feet away from my tent early next morning. My tent was the furthest away from the main camp area and thus most likely to have wild animals wandering closer to it. After a leisurely breakfast, set off for a morning (0800) game drive. There was a family of bat-eared fox living near the camp. An adult pair and a pup that was curiously peeping from the burrow. Next, the Mdonya pride and this time more than 15 lions including several cubs, huddling around two bushes for shade. It was the biggest pride of lions that I have seen so far on safari. There were also sightings of some interesting birds like the beautiful lilac bellied roller and the majestic martial eagle. Ruaha is one of those few game parks that are residence to both the greater and lesser kudus. The rarer lesser kudus are extremely shy so trying to take a decent picture of them posed a real challenge. Other notable sighting included a small herd of buffaloes and game viewing was especially sparse on the way back to the camp. Once back in camp, the manager suggested that I have lunch at my tent veranda since no other guest would be back. When I got back to my tent, the table was all laid out and ready for lunch to be served. Nice touch and exceptional service. After lunch, did some reading and watching vervet monkeys playing on the old Mdonya river bed til my late afternoon game drive. The late afternoon drive was a short one (2 hrs) so we were not able to venture too far from the camp and I did not see much of anything. Oh and the tsetses were relentless...

arrival in ruaha msembe airstrip
giraffes seen from the airstrip
lions sleeping under a baobab

view from the safari vehicle

female lesser kudu
setting up for lunch
lunch overlooking the mwagusi river bed

mwagusi river

a giraffe, a baboon and a couple of impalas

getting ready for a drink

guide with a leopard tortoise
elephant ahead

male lions of the mdonya pride
burning elephant dung smoke helps ward off the tsetses
bad-eared foxes
mdonya pride - more than 15 seen here

another vehicle from my camp

interesting baobab tree

an impala head

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