Whether it is diving amongst the colorful and quirky sea creature along the Great Barrier Reef, mingling with lemurs and lizards in Madagascar, tracing evolution in the isolated species of the Galapagos Islands, or tracking grizzlies and whales in Alaska, the world offers us a multitude of fantastic locations in which to view wild animals carousing and carrying-on in their native environment. Few places, however, offer the variety, proximity, and sheer volume of creature encounters than that of Eastern Africa. A safari in Tanzania, alone, puts one face to face with thousands of zebras and wildebeests, allows one to walk alongside elephants and giraffes, stare into the cold eyes of crocodiles and hyenas, frolic amongst the gazelle and antelope, and even glimpse a few lions, cheetahs, and leopards, all making for a truly memorable experience.
Whereas a tour of the country’s National Parks can certainly be a self-guided excursion, most visitors to the area opt for the experience and direction of a formal safari with local guides. Along with the expert knowledge of the area’s flora and fauna — and direction as to some of the best viewing spots — having an experienced guide also brings along the added bonus of an endless stream of stories and anecdotes accumulated over years of close-encounters. Trust me, if you ever plan a similar trip, these stories end up being one of the highlights. But enough of the intro, let’s pack up the trucks and head out:
Before diving full force into the world of large cats and even larger mammals (don’t worry, I’m getting there), another revelation for me on this trip was that from the endless plains of the Serengeti to the near-jungle environment surrounding Lake Manyara, there exists an astounding variety of staggeringly diverse landscapes and environments that one can reach within a short drive. Here are a few shots of the differing scenes from some of the best wildlife-viewing parks:
When describing the experience of the safari to family and friends, two of the most common questions I’ve received are, “Did you see a lot of animals?” and “Were you able to get close to anything?” I have to bite me lip a bit when faced with these common queries, not because the questions are foolish, but that the answers to both far exceeded anything I had ever anticipated before venturing off. I’ve previously heard stories of the “thousands” of animals that one will see on a trip like this and the close proximity to the animals that one will achieve, but have always mentally chalked up these claims as abnormalities due to that given person’s trip being particularly fortuitous or just a result of pure embelishment. Happily, I can now claim that my prior stance was quite wrong, as on a safari like this, you’ll encounter far more animals than you’d ever imagine (whether you want to or not). As evidence, here’s a short and tranquil video taken after our vehicle, along with a few others, happened to get caught in between a few herds of zebras and wildebeests making their way to drink in a nearby river:
After appropriately heightening the tension and building up the reader’s anticipation through a series of questionable and unnecessary side tangents above, I’ll finally get to the heart of the post. Admittedly, this was my first attempt at wildlife photography, but I think it turned out pretty well - largely due to the fact that I was able to borrow a DSLR with a 300mm lens, instead of having to rely on my under-powered point-and-shoot. Further, due to the sheer number of species living in this part of the world, posting a picture of every type of animal would be nearly impossible, so below is just a few highlights of what can be seen in the wild:
Along with the stereotypical elephants, giraffes, zebras, and buffalo pictured above, we were also frequently shadowed by the various monkeys in the trees and eyed cautiously by the many species of antelope:
Beyond the species pictured above, the larger predators and often elusive cats that draw the most attention:
In addition to this being my first foray into wildlife photography, I also received my first indoctrination into ornithology. Providing a soundtrack to the entire safari was the ever present chorus of the local birds, both large and small:
And with that, I’ll adjourn the wildlife portion of this post. As mentioned earlier, I’ve still got another post in the works detailing the rest of my trek through Eastern Africa. Until then, Afya from Tanzania!