After a night at the camp, I head out for a morning game drive. At 6am, the moon is still setting, swapping shifts with the sun and gathering his silvery belongings from the tips of trees. A parade of elephants slips through a pillar box of tangerine light cast through clouds, and a sprawl of spotted hyenas temporarily blocks our path; bleary-eyed and dishevelled, the late-night stragglers are stumbling home.
For some carnivores, however, there’s no time to rest. When the migration passes through this area from early December (only a few weeks after my visit), “the plains are rigid black”, insists my seasoned guide, Levard, as we both stare into empty space. Until they arrive, the predators must endure a fallow period; it’ll be a few more weeks before the larder is restocked. Worst hit are the lions, which, lacking the speed and agility of cheetahs, are unable to chase impalas, instead relying on wildebeests for food. Slim pickings have split prides, forcing them — uncharacteristically — to hunt alone and during the day. But in this harsh environment, even predators are predated. “Last week, we saw a male eat a cub,” says Levard, shuddering at the recollection.
Tracking lions isn’t difficult but watching them hunt is a waiting game, making a wildebeest crossing potentially feel like a McDonald’s drive-through.
As we watch a lioness stalking a warthog in the long grass, her sense of desperation is palpable. Gaze narrowed and shoulders raised, she powers into action and prepares to chase. But the game is up, and when a dust cloud eventually settles, the empty-clawed cat is leaning over a burrow — her prey’s temporary escape route.
What follows next is a war of attrition; a test of patience so great it can only be driven by the demands of life and a fear of death. “I’ve seen this before. She’ll drag him out,” insists Levard. But the warthog can clearly still smell the lioness, so lies low. A short while later, she switches to another tactic: remaining still. Poised over the hole, every hair on her pelt is frozen and her shoulders hunch taught like valley ridges. It’s psychological torture of the highest degree.
And so, too, we wait. Almost an entire day. Choreographed by the wind, blades of grass provide the only animation, but as the gusts become ever more maddening, the movements begin to resemble a battle rather than a dance. Fatigued by relentless gales and inertia, we eventually leave, stopping to look at a 5,000-year-old fossilised giraffe ossicone (horn) found by a walking guide — evidence of how long animals have being living here in the Serengeti. When we return the following morning, the lioness is sleeping; her paws clenched around the hole like a vagrant clinging hopelessly to diminishing possessions. After 21 hours, it’s a sad and poignantly tragic sight. Without the wildebeests, these cats simply wouldn’t survive.
A formidable force
It’s a three-hour drive to the southern plains — possible as part of a day trip from Namiri, although most visitors stay in mobile camps. Attracted by safe, open spaces and phosphorous-rich soils, herds of wildebeests arrive here in January and synchronise births, producing several thousand calves a day over the course of several weeks in February (a strategy to reduce predation).
Source link : https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel/2021/03/the-greatest-show-on-earth-tracking-the-wildebeest-migration-across-tanzanias
Publish date : 2021-03-17 09:00:00