Photo Safari Adventures in Tanzania

Gura Gear founder Andy Biggs is currently on photo safari in Tanzania for three weeks. We know how much you love to travel and how bad you wish you were on safari with him. To help you feel like a part of the group Andy is providing a daily log of his travels and adventures. Check back every day to see what he’s up to and enjoy a wonderful African photo safari vicariously through Andy!

Day 17

Homeward bound!

Day 16

Today was my last full day out on safari, and we drove into the Masai Mara to see what we could see. Well, yet another Notch’s son sightings, and this time it was one of the other sons that we had not seen before. He was obviously looking for his brothers, as he roared in all directions. He never heard a response back, but boy did this guy roar. I mean it was rumble-the-floor-of-the-vehicle kind of roaring. More excellent majestic male lion types of shots. Fairly quiet afternoon, as we yet again set out to find the Nguayanai pride with no luck.

Day 15

Not much to write about today, other than excellent plains game and elephants. We went searching for the Nguayanai pride, but we had zero success in locating them. This was an all-day affair, and we just sat and relaxed and enjoyed watching anything and everything.

Day 14

Yesterday’s appearance of Acacia, the adult female leopard, meant that we should follow up to see if she was in a similar location than yesterday. We wanted to check back because we could tell that she had been lactating, and that only means 1 thing: cubs!

After a few hours of searching we finally located her in the tall grass, only 5 feet from the edge of a path that we had driven 5 times already. Amazing how well they can get lost in all of the vegetation.

We absolutely knew in our gut that she had 1 or more cubs nearby, so we sat with her until she went into the thick forest to call her cub. To make a very long afternoon short for this update, it eventually did happen and we had her cub come out of the woods and right up next to our vehicle to ‘say hello’. Acacia was very very relaxed, and this also meant that her cub was as well. I didn’t get any good photographs, primarily due to the low light, but it was a wonderful moment to be within a few feet of 2 gorgeous big cats. High fives and smiles all around on the way back to camp. I even opened up a cold beer.

Day 13

Today was a day that was meant to be a day of tracking leopards. The morning was pretty quiet across the board, but we were finally successful in locating one of the adult female leopards just north of camp. We spent the late morning with her, and I probably burned through 50GB of images on my Pentax 645D camera. What a beauty!

We heard of 2 adult male cheetahs who were hunting in the middle of the Mara, near Topi Plains, so we passed by camp and grabbed a picnic lunch and then set out to locate them. We found them and then spent the afternoon watching them hunt from afar. They never got close to any game, but it was fun just to watch them to see their tactics. We had a great elephant herd of more than 30 individuals on the way back to camp. What a great way to end the day.

Day 12

As we were waking up we heard some seriously loud lion roars just south of camp, and we knew exactly what our morning was going to be about, which was seeking out exactly what is nearby. Well, we certainly found the source, which is one of Notch’s sons. We was roaring in his search to find the rest of his siblings and father. We photographed him for probably the better part of an hour, as he was wandering towards the east. He eventually left us and we decided to spend the morning with Shingo the cheetah and her two daughters. It dawned on us that Shingo was trying to teach the daughters how to hunt. She was letting them take the lead on most of their hunts, and this was some sort of master class in the making. After 3 unsuccessful hunts we headed in for lunchtime as the mid-day sun was beating down hard and most wildlife were hunkered down to get away from the sun.

The afternoon was filled with a mating pair of lions from the Moniko pride in the eastern past of the conservancy. The best light of the day coincided with the rest of the Moniko pride, as they were heading out for their evening hunt. We had baby cubs playing amongst themselves as well as with the adults. It was a superb moment.

Day 11

Wow. Wow. Today was filled with more action than I could have ever imagined. We left camp at 6:15 this morning, only to find 2 lions just outside of camp. After a few moments with them we noticed a large female adult leopard staring at them from across the river. There is only 1 reason why a leopard would stare down 2 much larger predators: she was protecting young cubs. We filed away that information for another time, as she scurried off after a bit and we couldn’t find her. We will absolutely have to locate the young leopard cubs, as I can never get enough of them.

After a few hours the lions moved into a position to stalk some impala. The hunt was not successful, however a small warthog family passed by and the lions were successful in taking out one of the young ones. I captured it all on video!

After lunch we headed towards the southern part of the conservancy, as we had heard of Shingo and her 2 daughters being in the area. After a short drive we located them in thick croton bushes, hunting impala. Their stalking was unsuccessful, however they did switch to a small Thompson gazelle herd and was able to hunt down and capture one right in front of us. The takedown was short lived, because one of Notch’s boys quickly appeared and stole the kill from them. No lunch for Shingo and her 2 daughters today. Oh well! Life in the bush.

Day 10

We took Safarilink out to the Olkiombo airstrip in the Masai Mara, and we were sitting at Mara Plains Camp by noon. It felt good to be back in the Mara, but technically speaking we are on the Olare Orok Conservancy land. The OOC is land that is just outside of the Masai Mara, and is limited to only a few camps. we have 100% offroading here. This is a big plus, because the Mara can get crowded with vehicles and no offroading is allowed in the park. It’s nice because on a day by day basis we can make decisions on what we want to do, and choices are a good thing.

After a sumptuous lunch, we headed out on our first game drive in the OOC and quickly located a famous cheetah of the area, Shingo. Shingo was quite the talk of the Mara last year, as she had successfully raised 6 cubs to adulthood. This is quite rare in the cheetah world, as most young cubs don’t make it to 1 year of age. A typical litter has between 4 and 6 cubs, and statistics tell us that around 2 cubs per litter survive to adulthood.

Day 9

Today was the last day of my Tanzania safari, and we woke up, ate breakfast as a group, paid our bar bills and packed up the Land Rovers. We took some group photographs with our guides and camp staff and headed towards the Seronera airstrip for our privately chartered Cessna Caravans. After saying goodbye to our amazing guides, we flew over the Serengeti on our way back to Arusha. I have made this flight many many times in the past, and I always feel a sense of sadness when I leave the Serengeti. I am not sure why, because I know that I will be back. There is something about the wide open plains and remoteness that I don’t feel many other places on this planet.

We had a great lunch at Shangaa and River House and checked into our day room near Kilimanjaro International Airport. I had to say goodbye to my fellow travelers, as they were heading for home and I was headed for my second safari in Kenya.

I flew on to Nairobi and met my private safari group at the airport, as they had just arrived before me from their own international flight from the USA. We checked into the Ole Sereni hotel near the airport and agreed on a time to meet up in the morning. Long day for all of us, but tomorrow will have more wildlife!

Day 8

We had a late evening rain last night and the talk at breakfast was that it woke everybody up and kept everybody up for quite a while. I knew that today’s last day in the Serengeti would have to be so over the top to beat the past week, so I decided to concentrate on anything and everything other than big cats. We didn’t have enough hippo shots, so we spent the morning working on nothing but hippos.

Hippo photographs can be challenging in that you need to wait for any interesting moment, other than a big, dark oval sitting in the water.

The afternoon was spent near the Maasai Kopjes and we had very little activity other than a few cape buffalo and a sleeping pride of lions.

Today was the only day where we didn’t have rain during daylight hours, and it made for easier navigation of the roads. I could use a break from the rain, but I love the results of all of the rains. It is certainly a perplexing situation.

Day 7

Today was relaxing. We split up the day and spent time at camp in the middle of the day. In the morning some of my travelers went on a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti plains while the remaining part of the group went on a normal game drive.

On the game drive we headed north and west towards Seronera and on the way encountered three large male lions on the road. The light was warm and soft, which is my favorite lighting for early morning, and after a number of minutes the lions moved off of the road and headed a different direction. Within a few minutes of driving we came across a young male leopard at the base of a sausage tree. I shot some video and some stills and just watched this gorgeous cat in such a beautiful location. He eventually left the tree and walked right beside our vehicle as he headed for the tall grass.

The afternoon drive was rather slow but filled with excellent birding. The rains have brought in the swifts, which swarm and dine on flying insects. We also have seen kingfishers, four species of hornbill, harriers, hawks, eagles, vultures, shrikes, rollers and so many other birds that I have a difficult time remembering.

Another afternoon rain came through like a wall of water, and I remembered that every day on this safari has had rain. Yup, the rainy season is definitely here.

Day 6

Today we moved camps to the central Serengeti, but not after our last game drive in the short grass plains area of Ndutu. The morning yielded some amazing wildebeest migration sightings with the wildebeest set against the rising sun behind them. This angle illuminates the gnu’s white beard, which is an important element of the animals that people like to joke ‘are made from spare parts’.

After breakfast we loaded up the Land Rovers and headed north to Naabi Hill for the Serengeti N.P. paperwork. The area between Ndutu and Naabi was filled with wildebeest and zebras as far as the eyes could see. What a sight to see. After our drive north, we drove west towards the Nairoboro Hills, and we saw what could be described as the best big cat afternoon one could ever wish for.

In the span of less than 1km, we had 4 separate trees with big cats: an adult male leopard, a female leopard with her 2 year-old cubs, a lone lioness and then 2 more lionesses. I can only suspect the leopards didn’t know about the lions and vice versa. Stupendous, to say the least.

Upon arrival at camp we were greeted with the camp staff’s smiling faces, hot showers, and cold beer. I couldn’t ask for more.

Day 5

Today was another rain-filled day with rain primarily hitting in the afternoon. The day was primarily spent between the Serengeti’s three big cat species: lions, leopards, and cheetahs. By far the best sighting of the day was watching a female cheetah and her four cubs with a fresh kill. The four cheetah cubs were jumping on and around the small thompson gazelle which their mother had provided for the family. The cubs at this age don’t have developed teeth so they just licked at the meat in anticipation that someday they will be able to consume it.

After the afternoon dining, the heavens opened up again and a full hour-long deluge fell on our subjects as well as our vehicles. After the downpour the mother licked all of her cubs to wash away the dirt and mud that had kicked up in the violent rain. This was definitely one of my best wildlife moments of the past few years as I have an affinity for cheetah cubs. It was truly a touching moment. When all were cleaned, the family of five moved quickly to another location so nature could take its course and the scavengers could find the carcass without any sign of the young cubs. We broke away and headed back to camp with big smiles on our faces. High fives all around.

Day 4

We bolted out of camp at first light and had the most exceptional morning waiting for us. A mother cheetah and her four 1-month old cubs were out on the short grass plains playing and bonding with each other. This easily consumed much of our morning, however, it didn’t interfere with a superb leopard which was feeding on an impala up in an umbrella acacia tree (acacia tortilis). This was followed by a pride of lions with year-old cubs, who were moving from one shade tree to the next.

After our overabundance of big cats, we watched the birth of a wildbeest, along with its first steps. What a joy to watch a new being come into this world. Within a few minutes it was running around with its mother.

The afternoon had a huge downpour of rain, and we revisited our morning’s leopard in the acacia tree. She moved between trees a few times, which gave us some different ‘looks’ for our photographs. I left my still camera gear back at camp, and only shot video for the afternoon. I am excited to learn more video storytelling techniques, which has been a foreign concept to me until recently.

Day 3

We lost altitude today, as we left the highlands of Ngorongoro and made our way to the Serengeti plains. The Serengeti ecosystem is more than 10,000 square miles of remote wilderness, which is home to the great wildebeest migration.

Signs of the massive rains could be seen all over the southern short grass plains as the grass was vibrant green with puddles of water in every direction. We spent some time with a large herd of elephants near Lake Masek and were lucky enough to have them walk towards us and right by our Land Rover. We counted 12 different birds of prey before lunch.

We settled into camp before sunset, and were excited to see one of the best sunsets one could ever ask for. A fitting end to a day that was mostly a travel day between camps.

Day 2

Heavy rains arrived at 3:30am and hit the camp very hard for two hours prior to our normal wakeup time. We grabbed a quick breakfast with the pitter patter on the dining tent roof then made the descent road down into Ngorongoro for our morning game drive.

It appeared that many lion prides made their evening kills, as we had zebra carcasses in many parts of the caldera. The highlight of the morning was watching the storm clouds whisp around the 7,500 foot crater rim, as the morning sunshine was working hard to get through. Dynamic light was all around us, which made for great photography.

We drove back to camp on the crater rim for a late lunch and took some time off to charge batteries, download images and take a breath. We visited a local Maasai village and exchanged some fun moments with the children. The village we visited was a place that I met around 10 years ago, and it has been a great pleasure to get to know the elders over that period of time. Even though my Maa language skills are limited, a smile is universal.

Day 1

Today we spent a full day in Ngorongoro Crater, which is actually a collapsed caldera, and it was created about 2 million years ago. We woke up to overcast weather, which is probably the best type of light in this area because the alternative is usually harsh light with a pure light blue sky. Soft light allowed us to shoot all day without having to worry about the harsh midday shadows.

In the middle of the day we nearly missed seeing a takedown of a zebra by a lion but people in my group did see it. We watched the aftermath with the lion and her two subadult cubs as well as all of the drama related to keeping the food to themselves. We had two, perhaps three, hyaena clans all jockeying for their own fair share only to be rebuffed by the aggressive lioness.

We also enjoyed all that Ngorogoro is best at, which is a high concentration of general plains game. On our way back to camp we passed by a hunting serval cat which was the highlight of my day.