Safari Day 2: Lions, vultures, and mongooses, oh my

Today we went to Lake Manyara national park, which was a bit of a let down after Tangire. Whereas Tangire was open plain, Manyara was forested, making the roads and spaces tighter. I couldn’t escape the feeling we were on a Disney Land ride because you’re not allowed to step outside of your car, and each corner we took in our Land Rover might reveal an elephant in the bushes, a field of baboons eating grass, or hippos basking in the sun in the distance.

There much fewer animals than in Tarangire, but we were very fortunate to see the remains of a lion kill. First we came upon a male lion relaxing in the shade at the bottom of a large bush about 200 feet from the road. He had his head up and surveyed the gathered safari trucks with detachment.

Down the road from him was a lion cub up in a tree. Lake Manyara is the only place in Tanzania where lions climb trees, due to the forest, and we lucked out to catch a glimpse of one. The cub was a bit off the road and obscured by branches, but we could make him out with binoculars.

On the other side of the road from the cub were the remains of a water buffalo the lions had killed within the past couple of days, and there was a frenzy of vultures upon it. So far most of the wildlife we’d seen was pretty placid, so it was exciting to see nature at work. The lions had had their fill, and now vultures were fighting over scraps and we could catch glimpses of the stripped jaw bone.

There may have been 10 vultures going at the carcass and another 10 arrayed around waiting there turn or staking out the area. I don’t know if they were startled or some vulture gave a sign, but suddenly they all jumped away from the carcass and gave it some room.

Wait, what’s that? A little animal scurried from a nearby bush towards the carcass. What looked like a giant rat was a mongoose, and it went for a nibble. And then came another, and another, and I’m amazed to see a swarm of them move out and surround the fallen body. I’m half expecting the voice of a National Geographic narrator to chime in about the food chain at work.

The vultures then realize they’re about to lose out, and, slowly, they returned to the carcass. I was secretly hoping for a mongoose/vulture showdown, but they just jostled for position at the table.

It was something to see.

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