The park was so green and beautiful. Way greener than what we have been use to seeing while in Tanzania. We just ended up getting lucky, because where we were in the park, it was where the rains currently were, which meant we had the chance to see a very significant portion of the wildebeest migration. The next few days were amazing. I enjoyed seeing large groups of wildebeest. I loved when lines of them would stop traffic, so that they could run across the road. Often, if a car cut them off, they would just wait for traffic to pass, so that they could continue. But sometimes, we noticed them getting flustered when cars cut them off. Almost like a "Oh my gosh, where's the line!? Where do I go?" kind of flustered. It's very funny to watch, because sometimes they'll try to run further up to get around the cars, almost like ants. They're great to watch, and honestly my favorite animals to observe in groups. They're very entertaining when they run, because sometimes they'll 'spaz' out when they are forced to run across the road. They'll start kicking their feet and throwing their body around, almost like they are practicing ways to avoid predators or kick attacking predators off of them. Wildebeest are awesome!
Saturday, day 2 in Serengeti was great as well! We began our morning early with a packed lunch and a bird identification list at 6:30 AM. We identified close to 50 species of birds, and struggled with identifying some smaller, brown birds. Did see my first Long-crested eagle though! Pretty awesome! Later in the morning, we began tourist observations. We had to observe number of cars watching certain wildlife species and for how long. Most importantly though, I saw my first cheetah!! The male cheetah was standing in the grass on the left side of the car and was extremely vigilant. We finally noticed that he had been eating something, at first I though it looked like the rump of a warthog, but later, we'd find out we were wrong. After watching for about 25 minutes, we spotted a second cheetah on the right side of the road, behind some trees and tall grass. Immediately, it began running straight down the right side in the grassy land. At this point, there had been 35 cars observing these two cheetahs. The 2nd male cheetah had to be looking for somewhere to cross the road when he began running straight down the right side. It was amazing. He came closer and closer to the road and crossed about 8-10 cars behind us, but ran up the left side of the road past us. He ran directly to the kill and began eating. We pulled up across from him, about 30 meters away. His powerful jaw tugging away at the meat pulled the legs of the animal up into the air. It was a young wildebeest. Both brothers had successfully brought down a young wildbeest. Both of their faces were covered in blood, even far before we noticed either of the eating. Truly amazing to see. Cheetahs are beautiful. No doubt about it. I didn't want to leave the site where these two beautiful animals were observed. When we were driving along a row of trees, we spotted a small impala killed by a leopard in the crown of a sausage tree. It was very eerie, yet super awesome to see! There was even a scratch below the left eye of the impala. Leopards place there food in trees. They're storing the food to eat it later on. We had to head back to camp, so we weren't able to stay and wait for a cat to come by and take its meal out of the tree, unfortunately. We did, however, go back after lunch.. four hours later.. and guess what..? That impala was gone! The cat had come and taken it while we were gone. At 1, we had a guest lecture at the visitor center in the park. The visitor center was very nice. When we arrived, the first thing I spotted was the bird of prey sitting on the tall kopje. The first thought I had was that it was a type of chantting goshawk and to my surprise, I found out I was right.. even before I checked my bird identification guide. A dark chanting goshawk. The next thing I saw was an extremely lazy and chubby hyrax laying on the sidewalk of the visitor center for everyone to see.. so naturally, we had to take a picture with it! I explored the kopje interactive boardwalk they had then continued on to the building where our lecture on Serengeti National Park was held. We learned a little about the park and challenges within the park, etc. Afterwards, we continued with the game drive and our assignments--tourist observations and predator-prey observations. We were watching tourists to see how long they spent watching certain birds or animals to show the importance of each animal to tourists. Later on, we came across two subadult male lions walking through tall green riverine vegetation. They popped out on the other side and laid down together. A second car full of SFS came through and tried to make it through a huge muddy/watery dip, but just ended up getting stuck. In the end, not our car, but a separate SFS car ended up pulling the stuck one out. It was quite interesting to watch. In the evening, we came across two leopards, a male and a female. They were on the ground lying within the grassland. It was very hard to see them at times. Sometimes you could only make out leopard patterns through the grass. It turns out that these two beauties were mating! It was hard to see but we could tell that they were. Leopards are normally solitary unless they are mating or when the mother is with her cub(s). So, this was amazing to see! I had wish they would have been out in the open a little more, but hey, they need they're privacy! Serengeti could always use more leopards.
Sunday was the first day of our bird species counts. Some birds we came across was a Pallid harrier, lilac-breasted roller, 2 Tawny eagles, brown parrots, and many others. We also continued observing tourists and carnivores. We saw black-backed jackals carrying a guineafowl, and came to the conclusion that either they killed the guineafowl and the tawny eagles were trying to take the kill from the jackals or the tawny eagles killed the guineafowl and the jackals took it from the eagles. It's called kleptoparasitism when one animal steals food from a different animal. We also saw the same pair of leopards mating on the ground again. We heard them making noises and moving around in the tall grass too. Also, in the morning, 1 cheetah was spotted eating what looks like the butt of a warthog, but we figure out that it is a small wildebeest when we were able to pull up to the carcus and where the animals were eating. I say animals, because a second cheetah was spotted across the dirt road. It was walking and then began running south of the direction of the cars. Meanwhile, 30+ cars are lined up, he ran in-between cars further back behind us. He ran over to the kill, next to his brother and begins eating, where his face once again has fresh blood on it, just like his brother. Awesome site to see. Especially, since these are my first cheetahs ever!! :)
Monday, we had plans for a lecture in the morning from the lead of Frankfurt Zoological Society on what they are responsible for and what research they conduct in the park. After we left the lecture, we were driving slowly. I looked back and their was a small airplane coming in to land. Kioko, our professor noticed it and stopped so we could watch it. It literally flew RIGHT over our heads and landed right afterwards. It was actually pretty amazing!! A little later, we stopped to look at a group of spotted hyenas including young ones laying under a tree. We drove a little further and heard this bang sound. We looked forward and our entire tire was rolling across the Serengeti plains. We all immediately sat down, but everything was ok. We watched the tire roll for nearly 300 meters when two spotted hyenas jumped up and took off. The tire was coming directly for them. I have to admit it was hilarious. The hyenas face was like "oh crap!!" when it saw the tire coming straight at it. It rolled across the plains and right into a large puddle where one hyena was sleeping (and almost got ran over by a tire). We got to get out of the car, while they put a new tire on. I found a jaw bone and the horn of a wildebeest while we were out of the car. We went for a game drive and saw cheetahs! One was in the distance sitting on a dirt mound. We drove a few more kilometers and saw two male cheetahs crossing the dirt road together.. very close to us! I got some pictures of the two of them together. They are so beautiful. In the background 400 meters away were large herds of wildebeest running through behind the tree line. The cheetahs walked to the tree line and sat down, where we thought they would begin hunting. Although, it takes them a while to select their prey, so we never saw them go after a wildebeest, but we assumed that was their idea. Earlier, we also faintly saw a leopard laying in a tree. It was camouflaged very well, but you could see its spots and sometimes its ears! Later, we saw the mating leopards again, but on the opposite side, so, I had an even harder time finding them. They were in the grass still. Before we arrived, they were up in a sausage tree together, but we missed them coming down from the tree unfortunately. We also saw a Thomson's gazelle kill (leopard kill) in a tree earlier, but people were assuming it was the same one that has been there for at least two days, because a Thomson's gazelle kill was seen in the tree the day before.
We went to the Serengeti lodge and enjoyed free swimming and coffee. We also got to go to Hippo Pool!! There were a large number of hippos, adults and young! I saw a baby hippo nursing in the water. Further down, one hippo was causing trouble. He/she would run at the others and rowl some of the others up. So, they'd run at each other a little, but nothing really seem to go on. It was awesome to see though. We also saw the 'mother of all hippos'. It was huge and even a lot bigger than all of the others.
Tuesday was our last day in the Serengeti wilds. We woke up at 6:30 AM to pack up our backpacks and tents. I claimed the front passenger seat of the land cruiser, which was smart on my part as I feel like I had the best view. As we drove out of Serengeti, we painted the grassy landscape with dust. The Thomson's gazelle watched as we passed by. Zebras foraged and wondered the plains. Herds from the wildebeest migration crossed the road in front of us in straight lines, They ran and jumped on the grassy curb. Out in the field, they ran wildly and free. Truly something that made me feel grateful. In these moments, somehow the large clumsy and stampeding beasts seemed so graceful and beautiful to me. Something I couldn't believe and something that I hope to witness again in my lifetime. There was also a female lion with a wildebeest kill not more than 50 meters from her. Other lions were barely seen in the background under a sausage tree, while she lays in the sun in an open grassland. Earlier, a giraffe was seen in the small Acacia woodland browsing near the ground. Right then, I also caught the glimpse of a flying bird who landed on the ground under an Acacia and I got some pics. It turned out to be a Pallid harrier. My first harrier positively identified in Africa.
While we were on our way out, we saw the largest herd of ONLY zebra that we've seen yet. Thousands of Thomson's gazelle (fastest long distance land animal) foraged and appeared vigilant as we flew by at 60 kmph on the terribly bumpy roads. Right before we reached the entrance/exit to Serengeti (the paid part of it), two male lions were spotted laying on the plains. The first adult male was spotted on the left side of the road laying 500 meters in front of hundreds of wildebeest. The second adult male was 1/2 mile up the road, laying on the right side. They were the most beautiful male lions that I have ever seen. Their thick and dark manes accented their large bodies. Honestly, these were the Fabios of lions. As I listened to "Am I Wrong" by Nico and Vinz, the song I listened to on repeat beginning months before departing for Africa, I began to tear up. The wildlife, the landscape, the life there looked and felt so incredible. I thought about how much all of this--this being the wildlife, the environment-- truly means to me. I thought about all of my dreams, my future travels, my future and how I hope I am successful in all of my endeavors. It was perfect. As we left the park, the wildebeest, zebras, lions, hartebeest, topis, Thomson's and Grant's gazelle, Maasai giraffes, cape buffalos, spotted hyenas, and harriers looked on. Serengeti is such a magical place.