Safari Day 6: The Last of the Big Five

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On safari, the most common objective is to see what’s known as the Big Five: elephants, giraffes, lions, hippos, and rhinos. We saw the first two of these animals on our first day and every day. The first lion sighting came on the second day at Lake Manyara. Hippos, a prime objective of mine, appeared the third day in the Serengeti. This was our sixth and final day, and the question was whether we would see a black rhino. Arib, rhino today, right?

A world heritage site, the Ngorongoro crater is the world’s largest caldera, formed by an extinct volcano. From the rim of the crater, it’s a steep 600 meter drop to the flat open floor that extends into the distance. It is one of two homes in Tanzania to the rare and elusive black rhino. We were duly warned that we’d be lucky to see one, or, if we did, it probably would be far away.

The crater rim was shrouded in a thick, San Francisco-style fog when we set out in the morning, which I took to be an inauspicious start, but we descended out of it and there was good visibility on the crater floor.

Turns out it’s not that hard to see lions in Tanzania, as we found them five out of six days. The crater was a gold mine of them, and we saw seven lions, alone or in pairs, throughout the day. The two lionesses pictured here were sprawled right next to the road, oblivious to the gathered safari trucks and a dozen cameras snapping.

I surprisingly spotted the rhinos first, two dark mounds in the distance, fairly close to a herd of wildebeest. They were lying deep in the grass, barely moving. With the binoculars, I caught a flash of horn as one briefly raised its head, but it quickly settled down and it was out of range of my telephoto lens. Not a good sighting, but a sighting nonetheless, and I was satisfied.

I was ready to leave at that point, but we continued trawling for sights. A birder would have had a field day with myriad species flying around, and I shot many without any hope of remembering their names. We stopped for lunch in a public area where we could get out of the car and have our box lunches which, as usual, included a dried-out piece of fried chicken, a hard boiled egg, a banana, a sweet, and a fruit juice.

Arib has been a guide/driver for seven years and knows a number of other guides. He frequently stopped other trucks as we passed them to compare notes or chatted with guides at our rest stops. As we were finishing our lunches, Arib ran over and animatedly told us to pack up and get moving. He had a hot tip.

What? What? He didn’t want to say and wanted to get on the road before word spread. Usually we sauntered along at 25 kms/hr to better see our surroundings and not startle anything, but now we sped at a fast clip and passed a number of vehicles. After a while we were back on a road we had been on earlier that morning. “Stand up, stand up – there to the right!” Looking out from the roof of the Land Cruiser, we saw them. A black rhino and her adolescent child, unobstructed and walking in an open field. Full profile and in range of camera and vision. Snap, snap, snap x 20. That formidable, tusked animal is bad ass.

Now we’re done. Off to Arusha, a late night at Babylon bar, and tomorrow to Cape Town.

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