Part II, The Jeep Safari
By, John L. Fuhring
Several bumpy miles into the Serengeti Park we arrived at a beautiful and large kopje occupied by two young male lions and a young lioness. Our guide parked the Land Rover nearby and we had a great view of what they were up to. And what were they up to? Actually they were up to having a little whoopee and to start their own little pride of lion cubs. For some reason of leonine reproductive physiology, it takes many, many matings before the female can become impregnated. As a matter of fact, matings take place about once every 5 to 10 minutes. At my age, it makes me tired just thinking about it. The frequency the lioness needs to be covered explains the necessity for two male lions in attendance. I mean, it's just too much from one guy - right? Unlike selfish human behavior, the two young males exhibited no signs of jealous behavior that I could detect nor did they get into any macho pissing contests. And we primates think we're so smart and civilized.
The guy lions mostly hung out in a shady area of the kopje and didn't take much notice of their lady friend until she would come over and get into a mock fight with one of them. Evidently fighting really turns them on because immediately after they would mate. Hummmm, violence and sex, who would think that "lower animals" would link those two concepts together? Ever wonder where so much "human behavior" comes from?
A few hours before all this, I had started taking the Doxycycline for protection against malaria. I guess my system was having some kind of mild reaction to it because suddenly I had to take a wizzer - I had to take one real bad. Just a little while earlier I had dutifully used the modern and clean facilities at the Naabi Hill Gate, but now I was in agony. There was no way I could climb out the Land Rover with the lions right there. Likewise our guide was in no hurry to move away from this very rare opportunity to observe mating lions. After watching the lions for a long, long, long time, I finally apologized to everybody and announced that I had to go - no, not go home - you know, GO - bwana kojoa, bwana kojoa, OK?!?. Finally, after the longest time, our guide drove a good safe distance from the Kopje and I was able to hop out of the Land Rover. Oh lord, it felt soooooo good!! We then went back and watched the lions again and this time I could appreciate it so much more.
Continuing west and deeper into the Serengeti Plain, we came across herds of zebra, thompson's gazelles and a few of the more exotic species. Unlike the animals on the horseback safari, these Park animals had absolutely no fear of us and didn't seem to even notice when the Land Rover closely approached them. From the way the animals were behaving, it looked to me that the Tanzanian Army and the Park Police were really doing a proper job of protecting those animals from poachers.
In the early afternoon we came to our camp site in the Serengeti. When we first approached the camp, it looked to be a really wonderful place. Basically, it really was a wonderful place. This place was only two and a half degrees from the equator, but the air temperature was wonderfully mild and comfortable. There was even a rather pretty Kopje and thorn trees growing nearby. The sky was partially cloudy and the place really looked like a storybook version of East Africa.
The camp was originally well thought out. Someone had really done their homework. The space for the tents was flat and well tended. All around there were conical sun and rain umbrellas made of wood and thatch - very charming. There was a large covered dining hut (for the use by those on more deluxe safaris). The structure that impressed, but ultimately disappointed me the most was the out building that housed the showers. It turned out that there was only enough water for cooking and none for bathing. Besides this lack of water, a poorly designed plumbing system and it's cheap fixtures were all broken and inoperative. The showers looked a whole lot better made and cleaner than at the Twiga campground at Mto Wa Mbu. The cruel irony of it all was that nothing worked. You could tell that the original plan and construction of this camp was brilliant, but, like so much in Africa, the follow through necessary to maintain this place was seriously neglected. More so than at Twiga, I bitterly regretted not having Jan's bucket shower.
On the other hand, I had not come to Africa to be clean, I was there to SEE THE CRITTERS!! Immediately after arriving at camp we unloaded the Land Rover, quickly set up the tents and stowed our excess gear away in the tents. After ridding ourselves of sight obstructing baggage, we took off for an afternoon of game viewing.
The climate and vegetation of this region is a savanna and very similar to my part of California in many respects. Unlike home, there were big herds of large mammals roaming about. How can it be that similar climates with similar amounts of natural vegetation can have so radically different populations of wildlife? I'm certainly no biologist (God knows!) but it seems to me that it must be thanks to our old friend, the Tsetse Fly. If we would have had something as deadly as the Tsetse Fly here in North America, I'm sure the buffalo and other large mammals would still be roaming vast stretches of unspoiled land. Maybe there'd still be saber tooth cats and mastodons here in California. In Africa, the early cattle herders and later the Europeans couldn't exploit the land for farms and ranches because the farmer and all the stock - including the horses for taking produce to market - would die of sleeping sickness. Now it has been discovered that Tsetse Flies are especially attracted to bait that contains the chemical messengers found in the saliva of cattle. If traps are baited with these chemicals, an area can be cleared of the Tsetses to such an extent that cattle can graze in areas that once were the exclusive domain of wildlife.
For now, there are vast stretches of East Africa that haven't been exploited - yet - and for us lucky people, there is still plenty to see - for now. If you are a young person wanting to see Africa, go right away because by the time you're my age, it will not be the same - things are moving just that fast. Read Hemingway's "Snows of Kilimanjaro." I traveled and camped in the very same area of Tanzania. Today there's no way a broken truck and stranded people would not be noticed. Trucks, airplanes, and people are everywhere and it's getting worse as I write. I wonder how long the large mammal populations of Africa are going to last once modern technology and world economic systems get a major foothold? In my lifetime I've watched as people have filled up to the brim an almost empty California and for the last five years I've watched as horrible vineyards and ugly housing developments take over all the cattle ranges of our once beautiful countryside. Africa and its wonderful animals is next. Enjoy it now because the economic pressure to exploit the land is an irresistible juggernaut and nothing can stop it. Laws, environmentalists, wilderness preservation, you name it - all these things are superfluous and pathetic. Universal exploitation of everything useful on, under and above the entire planet is here now and what's left of the natural world is quickly going. Bank on it.
On that happy thought, let's continue the safari.
What can you say about a game drive? Very enjoyable, but not much to talk about. Before leaving camp I took a GPS fix and saved it. After we were out on the Serengeti for a while, it seemed like we were a million miles from the camp and my sense of direction was all messed up. I could see how important it would be to have a guide if you didn't know the place. The other guys had no idea how far we were from camp or even what direction it was. Out comes the GPS and in less than a minute I had a fix on our location. Programming it to make a beeline to camp only required pressing a couple of buttons and there it was - the exact direction and distance to camp. As long as the GPS receiver was working, there was no way we could get lost with or without a guide. As it turned out, our guesses were completely wrong and we were actually closer than expected, although many miles from camp.
We returned later that afternoon and noticed that the campground had filled up with dozens of identical tents belonging to this deluxe safari and many other tents belonging to an even more deluxe safari. The people in the identical yellow tents were all young German men and women. The people in the nice green tents were all Italians. It soon got very dark very quickly as we waited for dinner.
Our evening meal was to be on our old rickety camp table under the (not so) sheltering sky by kerosene lantern. Trouble was, it started to rain. The rain showed no signs of letting up, so the "better" safari people graciously made room for us in one little corner of the dining shelter. We set up our little tin table and the little lantern (it wasn't a big blizzard model either) and waited for our simple native fare. Paul remembered that he had forgotten something back at the tent so he left us for a moment. A long time went by and no Paul. Dinner was served and no Paul. The food was getting cold and no Paul. I started to get this very creepy feeling. I began to imagine that Paul had had a horrible accident or perhaps something had gotten him out there in the dark so I took the lantern and went to investigate.If you have ever seen the movie "The Ghost and the Darkness" you know exactly what I was thinking. By the way, rent the movie - it's true, it's exciting (extremely) and the scenery and animals are exactly as I saw them myself (except for the killer lions - of course).