In the winter of 2019, Henderson Productions took a small group to Tanzania for a 14-day adventure. This blog series tells the story of the trip and our fellow travelers. Using our network around the world, we curated a tour to give us local connections and experiences beyond the normal tourist choices. For more information about our upcoming trips, subscribe to our newsletter.
Thursday Johnson was intent on finding us a leopard as he was sure we could complete the Big 5 on Friday in Ngorongoro. But by sheer luck we first came upon a lioness with three cubs mere yards away – a major highlight for our entire group. We spent a solid half hour watching the cubs and photographing and marveling at our luck while more vans made their way to join us. We knew we had been lucky to happen upon it and moved along to share the glory.
By this second full day we had a rhythm – all eyes spotting, many accidental sightings included. See something and yell “Stop” or “Johnson, what is that on the top of that tree?” “I don’t know, let me look. Ah, it’s a lilac-breasted roller.” “Cool. Thanks.” And I write it down. As we leave our last park there were 33 different birds, 30 animals plus one butterfly and a crazy mini-praying mantis.
After the lioness we were off to the favorite sausage tree habitat of the leopards. Back and forth he drove stopping at anything that struck our fancy. But no leopard.
But we ended in the middle of a herd of elephants with bulls and mom’s and jousting teens and bumbling little Dumbo’s. We sat within feet of the herd as it passed us on both sides. We could have scratched their hides without fully extending our elbows. When they were that close, Johnson asked us to be quite to not disturb them. They paid us no mind as we sat just listening to the rustle of the grass, the gentle nudge of a mother and the heavy plod of their grazing journey. Blissful.
We lunched at picnic tables near the Visitor’s Center with rock hyrax and dwarf mongoose literally underfoot while tiny yellow barbets landed non-aggressively on the tables. Lunching in the parks was a daily adventure/theme. Friday with attack birds at the hippo pool in the Crater and Saturday with bold vervet monkeys stealing anything not tied down at Tarangire. Despite signs everywhere K almost got bit thinking about petting a hyrax but pulled back at barred teeth. And J was hysterical on Saturday stomping at vervet teens ultimately losing a hamburger in the end to a turned back.
As we set off after lunch, Johnson was more and more intent on finding that leopard. When he stepped on the gas and went flying along, we knew someone had seen something. We were truck numbers 3-5 to arrive on the scene which ultimately grew to 20+. With prime viewing at the sausage tree we grabbed binoculars and zoom lenses and looked for quite a while til we caught the slightest glimpse of distinctive skin tucked deep in the crotch high up in the tree hidden under the canopy.
Well shit! I’m not gonna get any great pictures of THAT! But…. we CAN say we saw it so that’s something. Sigh. We waited and waited but nothing was changing so we left only to end up facing a perplexing mudhole.
Johnson considered many options, called the others, got out to look at the slippery tracks and generally seemed stalled. All the while we had closed the windows and put on seat belts urging him to go for it! And then the call came in that the leopard was moving and back we raced just in time to see her hidden in the grass. DRATS!
Then she lept. Very quickly and gracefully from a standing position a good fifteen feet to a limb. And I caught it! Not in full focus but sufficient. Whooo hoo. Then, blessedly, she plopped down in full view for all of us to snap, click, change lenses, ooo, aah and gaze adoringly while she yawned and snoozed with limbs and tail lazily draped. Johnson gave us tons of time and then turned around, grinned and said, “Mission accomplished.” He, and we, were happy.
Back at the big mud pit, Johnson took the positive mojo and gunned it up through the slippery side with the other two following in short order. A call came out to help a fourth vehicle from another company who had gotten stuck midway through and all three of our drivers went to the rescue, within sight of the snoozy leopard, with Johnson ultimately driving their vehicle out of the morass to our great congratulations.
By then it was 4 PM and time to head back to camp with plenty of shower/snoozing/beer time before the bonfire and dinner.
After dinner, I spent a half hour in the dark trying to capture the southern night sky. We shall see how THAT turned out, but I was entertained both by the stars and the sounds of the night. Friday morning, we all awoke to stories of sounds in the night but especially the high-pitched yelp of the hyenas. In the two nights…
- Something ran across our roof, scurrying around at 11 PM
- Something BIG pooped outside M and K’s tent – hosts said it was a lion
- Definitely hyenas both nights
- A buffalo came through camp on the last night
- Something decent-sized brushed our headboard canvas around 2 AM
If you add the various digestional and sleeping challenges, the net result is a bunch of sleep-deprived and over-excited folks. Mostly, we have maintained shared pharmacies and senses of humor.