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At Lobo Wildlife Lodge
The Serengeti Plains follow an annual pattern of weather and wildlife. From June through October -- the dry season-- the animals stay in the north of the Serengeti, near the Maasai Mara at the Tanzania-Kenya border. Once the rains begin in November-December, the animals begin migrating south as the fields turn green -- possibly attracted by the lightning storms they see on the horizon. January to May is the height of the tourist season, as people flock to see the Great Migration of more than two million wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles from north to south and then north again across the Serengeti.
This cycle of nature unfortunately works against the Lobo Wildlife Lodge in the northern part of the Serengeti. During the dry season there are few tourists, so the Lobo doesn't get much business. But during the migration season, all of the animals -- and tourists -- flock to the south Serengeti, so the Lobo still doesn't get much business. This year, the Lobo has had even worse luck because of the fall in overall American tourism. When we arrived at the Lobo Wildlife Lodge on October 30th, we were one of only two parties there (the other was a Swedish group). By October 31st, we were the only guests.
This is unfortunate because the Lobo Wildlife Lodge is an absolutely gorgeous place, literally built into the boulders of the kopjes. ("Lobo" is Maasai for "owned by one person" -- coincidentally similar to the American meaning of "lone wolf".) Its multiple-storied buildings create a tier of vistas that overlook the panorama of the Serengeti plains. There is a natural rock swimming pool, a hiking trail, and a massive timber-columned dining hall with a stone fireplace. (The dining hall was built around a still-living tree in which a leopard used to live several years ago.) We felt very bad for the dedicated staff working here, who literally stood around waiting for us to come and take our meals.
Mealtime in the (almost) empty lodge restaurant
By the time we arrived in the north Serengeti, Gail had compiled a list of 65 different species of animals that we had seen on safari. Our room had a checklist of animals to look for in the area, and we were only missing four (the eland, crocodile, civet cat, and wild hunting dog). By now we have seen more than we ever dreamed, so our current game drives are completely for fun, enjoyment, and relaxation. This takes tremendous pressure off of Tom, who feels guilty anytime we don't see anything spectacular on a drive. In fact, we are happy just looking at the gorgeous scenery.
Even so, the north of the Serengeti has held many new surprises for us. When we checked into our rooms (two rooms with a connecting door! Yes!) we were warned not to open the windows, or we would be overrun with baboons. On our first game drive on October 30th, we finally saw the eland, the largest and most shy of the antelope family. We also began seeing a lot of animals on top of boulders, including giraffes and zebras (we didn't know they could do that). Overall, the wildlife here is much less accustomed to people, which makes them both more shy and more aggressive towards us.
On the morning of October 31st (Happy Halloween!) we awoke at 5:30 AM for an early game drive. Our first amazing experience was when we came upon a group of elephants eating by the side of the road. The large bull was in the process of ripping up a tree with his trunk. When he saw us, he ripped a branch with his trunk, and suddenly came charging at us with it! We backed off immediately, but the bull still stood in the road blocking our way. Tom decided to veer the truck off the road in a wide circle to avoid the elephant. No sooner had we detoured, than the bull came charging at us again! As Cameron remarked later, "That was both exciting and scary."
(By definition, if an animal makes contact with your vehicle, it is your fault no matter what the circumstances; and the consequences are severe. Tom related how a friend of his had his truck rammed by a rhinoceros. The man lost his guide license, and has been unable to make a living since.)
Our second amazing experience happened only moments later, when we came upon a couple of young male lions who had just killed a wildebeest moments before. (Seeing a lion kill is extremely rare, as they only need to eat about once a week.) We were able to drive right up next to them and watch them devour their kill.
Breakfast time on the Serengeti
Our afternoon drive was shortened due to the road conditions and the rain. But far from being disappointed, we very much enjoyed seeing and hearing the rain pour down on the Serengeti. We have already begun to see long lines of wildebeests and zebras making their way across the fields. The Great Migration is beginning, and we are right here in the midst of it.
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