On our week long Northern Circuit safari last April, one of our stops was at a tented camp at Lake Manyara.
During the day we cruised around the lake in the safari vehicle looking for animals. This was the place that I finally found my love for birding. Our guide Ole had been so good at pointing out each bird species we came across and then showing us in his bird book the section that corresponded to the current bird. On this occasion we came across a Ground Hornbill.
While not one of the most beautiful birds in my opinion, Ole spotted it and quickly handed me the book. I glanced at the photo and yes this was indeed a Ground Hornbill. I should mention that on the entire trip he was right every time and yet each time I looked at the book, checked the picture and the name to verify. This time around I thought I would read a bit about this interesting bird that seemed to be looking back at me with scorn. I mean who does he think he is? Soon I read that there is almost always two of these birds traveling together. With this new piece of knowledge I decided to impress my safari crew and mentioned we should be on the look out for another as they tend to travel in pairs. Of course I set the book down first to pretend that this was just a bit of info I suddenly remembered. Sure enough there popped another from around a bush and the car was astounded. Birding it seemed might actually make you cooler. Or at least seem smarter.
As we continued our journey we came upon a group of elephants. This group consisted of 2 adults, one adolescent and a small baby elephant. The baby was laying on the ground not moving. One of the adults was straddling the baby while the other adult stood near by. They were not eating, or moving. Just standing there swaying.
Ole gave us the words we were trying to let slip by. The baby elephant was dead. We spent the next 20 minutes there watching as the adults stood by unwavering. We discussed our vast knowledge of elephant burial rights and connected this mortality to our own lives. It was beautiful and yet sad. It was still early morning and suddenly the Amarula (African Liquor) we had been sipping since dawn seemed out of taste. Slowly we managed to convince ourselves that we should move on. Just as we were preparing, the elephant made the same decision and the largest came toward the car. We thought immediately that perhaps he was tired of us watching this tender moment and was about to demand we move on out and give them peace. As he approached we began to coax Ole to move on as the elephant got closer. The closer he got, the more frantic our coaxing became until we were almost in a panic. Ole assured us that he was not showing any signs of aggression minus him coming directly for the car and just so happened to be carrying two large tusks with him.
Just as he came to the safari vehicle he turned to his right and went behind the car across the road track. Following him came the next adult, then the adolescent, and then…the baby? “Wait what? The baby is alive?” Yes. We just spent the last 20 minutes completing a philosophy thesis on this poor baby elephant only to find out that it was just sleeping in.
On we went to the baboons. Soon after our sad elephant visit we came upon a large group of baboons. Now here was an animal to find joy in. They seem to spend their time humping, grooming, fighting, yelling, humping and fondling themselves. Give them a beer and you would have an amazing party. We were really enjoying just hanging out and observing unadulterated human behavior.
They were really getting in there.
This was a great time and a welcome relief. It also meant we could crack back into the Amarula without feeling guilty. As we were alternating between taking photos and taking swigs, I saw right in front of the car a baboon mount another. I brought out the video camera and as soon as I started recording the mounted baboon jumped away and made a run for it. Apparently she was not happy about what was going on and this was not consensual. The other baboon was not finished, and decided to chace her down. They ran around a few trees and in and out of baboon crowds with nobody seemingly noticing the peril this poor female baboon was in. She jumped into some heavy bush as the he closed in. The next thing we heard has stayed in our minds ever since. Suddenly the wooded area erupted into loud shrieks and howls. Our laughter quickly died down and again we were left contemplating life. Less than a minute later, the larger male baboon exited the bush and returned to where he was sitting.
Lake Manyara was not the most beautiful and animal heavy of our safari. It rained, we spent long periods without seeing any animals, but we left changed.
Our next stop would be a beautiful tented camp on the outskirts of Lake Manyara where we would find peace and amity with the animals again.