Thursday, April 20th:
Back home in Edmonton, today is a big game for our city’s hockey team, the Edmonton Oilers. Sher and I haven’t been able to catch any games since there is very little hockey interest over here and the internet connections aren’t always reliable or we are on the go. We are kept up to date from the frenzy on social media so far and we know all their progress. But we will try and catch this pivotal game or at least keep updated with the score since it is the tie-breaker in the playoffs and they haven’t made the playoffs since the 2006/2006 season.
Here in Tanzania, we also had a big game day. We saw our first big game predator of the Big Five. Yesterday we got close up to #1 of 5, the African elephant. I was so disappointed when I found out that most of these animals, like the elephants, live exclusively inside the protected national parks. There is a lot of space in the parks and you can view the animals inside the parks from the highways like we have been doing during our drives BUT I always pictured giraffes and elephants roaming free all over Africa, with people on safaris seeking them out in the open wilderness. It was like realizing that there’s no Santa all over again… the elephants, rhinos, lions… they all are restricted to these areas? It’s not as if they are fenced in but their territory is limited to these parks now. Thinking about it more, however, I realized that this should be regarded as a positive. The protected areas help to decrease (but not abolish) poaching and other dangerous human encounters. There are strict rules in the parks and you pay a fee to enter which helps the rangers to monitor the animals and track their numbers and behaviours. Some of the species are endangered or close to endangered but the parks are working to help prevent extinction. The animal with the current worst outlook of these animals that we are hearing about it is the north white rhino…. there are only three of them left in a private space in Kenya and the two females cannot reproduce. So they will likely be extinct once these last three die.
We entered Lake Manyara National Park late in the morning. It is much smaller with denser forest than Tarangire and it was raining so I was worried that we wouldn’t see anything today. Well, within the first few minutes of entering we saw some baboons fighting in the trees! They are a lot of fun to watch. And we got even closer to elephants…. this time they walked right beside our vehicle instead of just in front and behind. I could’ve touched them if I was brave enough to roll my window down. If that was all we saw today, I would’ve been fine with it.
We stopped for lunch at a safe picnic spot in the park after having some difficulty with flooded roads and having to turn around. We learned a lot today including the fact that pregnant baboons usually have their babies in a secret location away from the group and if she has baby boys, she stays away for months so that the dominant male baboon can’t murder his sons! Baby boys will eventually be the male competition so sometimes the dominant male will get rid of them early on. Females are no problem since they will likely becoming his mating partners when they are older. Also, elephants only sleep for 30 minutes at a time and the male tusks diverge out for fighting while the female tusks are more blunt and converge inwards to help push out babies during labour.
While we were sitting at the picnic site, I was really regretting not bringing my SLR camera. Sher and I didn’t think of bringing more than the GoPro due to the length of the trip and backpacking but I think that was the wrong choice. I think that even our guide was judging us a bit! He commented that people usually bring really good cameras on safari (makes sense since safari is quite pricey) and that their camera phones are just as backups… it felt like almost an insult that we only brought our phones and the GoPro. Oops! Well hopefully Sher gets some quality pics between his GoPro and the higher quality lens that he bought to add to his camera phone.
Soon after we left the picnic area, we saw a lion! He was just lying around alone in plain view, it wasn’t at all hard to spot him. It was especially exciting for Sher since his name actually means lion in Pashto. Sher has so far on this trip bought a baseball cap with a lion on it and a Masai necklace that they claimed had a lion tooth. The lion is a theme for him in general, not just in Africa. The lion was initially sleeping but as the rain got heavier, he became irritated and slowly got up to find a different spot. It was perfect timing for us to find #2 of the Big Five game animals and the first big predator of our trip. Fun fact from Omari- lions are actually bulimic! The prey that they eat can digest in their stomach for seven days before they starve. They continue hunting during this time to avoid getting to the starvation point. If they find more prey while their food is still digesting, they will vomit the rest of their previous meal before consuming the next one. That would be something to see.
Animal list for the day- African elephants, lots of baboons, wildebeests, pelicans, a martial eagle, “Sher” or “Simba” (lion in Swahili).