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A Game Park With A Difference
The vast plains of Tanzania are home to some of the world's most dangerous and most beautiful beasts and they left Harish Kohli enraptured.

Africa is a land that inspires the senses. The eyes become sharper, ears more alert and noses begin to differentiate various aromas. Driving across huge landscapes in search of the elusive leopard or cheetah, you become the hunter, the pursuer, using all your senses to pick up even the tiniest of clues. How often do we look intently at our surroundings, listen in silence or sniff the air? Truthfully, most of us would agree it's probably never. On a wildlife safari, though, it becomes instinctive, and the rewards are enormous.

Taking a safari in the Serengeti National Park in Northern Tanzania makes all the senses to play, and sing. Alertness and patience pay in large dividends and it's fairly easy to spot a lioness near a pond waiting to lay an ambush on a wildebeest that had strayed from the herd or watch a jackal at one end and a hyena approach from the other end to have a mouthful of the prey. And then the game of predator-prey heightens when the wildebeest, having sensed danger, raises his head and desperately searches for an escape route. There never are very many.

I witnessed a similar game. Where the lioness spotted its prey and suddenly plunged forward with a spurt but the wildebeest got a head start and lioness slowed down panting. Such dramas are repeated every day amid these vast expanses of land in Northern Tanzania. Our party was aboard two Land-Rovers, each of us as taut as guitar wire, straining to see and realise nature in the raw. Wildebeests, Zebras, Giraffes, Impalas and Baboons were easy to come by, but spotting the 'King of the Jungle – The Lion', Leopard or Cheetah was much harder.

Our Land-Rover driver exchanged notes with other drivers and soon the word passed around that there was a leopard close by. Every few minutes someone would exclaim, 'Shhh, there's a leopard', and point in the direction that turned out to be a boulder or a shrub in the grass. We were like excited school children but that is what most of my group was anyways; I was accompanied on this safari by a group of 8 school girls and their teacher from London.

We missed the leopard, but saw a pride of about 8 Lions. And only by seeing them in real can one understand why it is called a 'Pride'. The family is united by a very dominant lion who receives respect and affection from the clan's members. Suddenly, the heat began to rise and it became obvious that we were in for heavy rains. As we made our way back to our camp site a storm gathered pace, sending great sheets of water cascading onto the plains and scattering lightning like neon across a dark, boiling sky.

By dawn the following morning the rain had gone. We made an early start and saw a lioness ambling away from a kill. She and her pride had just had breakfast of a wildebeest and were graciously leaving the carcass for the hungry jackals. A vulture descended untidily to join the table. Much bloody-muzzled squabbling ensued, until a lone hyena approached. Hyenas are beefy, and would normally drive off a pack of jackals, but this one was different. He was limping.

Warily, the injured hyena circled the jackals and the vulture, holding his tender right paw in the air. They sensed his unease and began to circle him. Suddenly, he seized his chance and dashed at the pile of flesh and bone, grabbing at what he could. Pathetically, almost comically, he emerged with the beast's tail and dragged it away to gnaw at a safe distance. After watching the jackals, we were driven further into the bush to be met by more surrealism; a party of chefs and waiters from Kirawira waiting to serve us a breakfast of eggs, bacon and champagne under the shade of a wide spanned acacia tree. Returning to camp an hour later, we passed the scene of the kill and saw the carcass-eating pack of hyenas. Only the wildebeest's spinal cord and horns were left. The jackals had devoured the meat and hyenas had cleaned the bones.

David, our driver explained why, of all animals in the bush, he admired the hyenas the most. 'He is a natural cleaner,' he said. 'When every other animal has finished eating its prey, along comes the hyena and eats everything that is left - flesh, hide, bones.

A few days later, we were coasting along in the Land-Rover, on a game drive near the banks of the beautiful Lake Manyara, about 100 kilometres west of Arusha. This is a beautiful park with loads of animals. Standing against the setting sun, were several majestic giraffes, chewing slowly and looking at us impassively through long, glamorously curled eyelashes. Soon, a large herd of zebra came nosing out of the scrub, and then water bucks, impalas, dick-dick and briefly - too briefly - an elephant with her young.

A 65km drive from Lake Manyara found us on the lip of this massive caldera, 8,288 sq kms. of plain, ringed by high mountains - an Africa in microcosm. Plains, swamps and forest are home to the major species found across equatorial Africa, and from high above the valley floor I saw my first leopard. Flamingos turned a small lake the colour of cheap lipstick, while baboons and giraffes roamed freely nearby.

Sitting in the shade in the hot blazing sun, David explained the many qualities of thorny acacia bush. The roots, bark, the leaves and fruit are used by the Masai people to cure all manner of ailments. "One even has Viagra-like qualities in its leaves, which are pounded and made into tea", he said pouring black coffee from a steal thermos, promising he would make me taste it on my return to Arusha. I had seen the animals and the Africa I had come to see; and the Viagra tea was definitely a bonus!
About the Author
© 2006 Harish Kohli. Harish Kohli is an avid traveller who likes to share good adventure travel ideas with others. He is also CEO of AwimAway.com where he can help tailor-make an experiential or adventure holiday for you.
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