Monday, December 8, 2014

"What were the odds?" I thought.  We were told never to leave the vehicles but it was late morning and I just HAD to pee!  That meant violating the rules and stepping just out of site on the edge of the jungle.

I was in Ngorongoro Park in Tanzania, Africa on the road that goes around the top rim of the crater.

Ngorongoro is an amazing place in the world.  Once a mighty mountain, it blew long ago and now what we have is a savanna below with Jungle around the upper reaches of the rim.

The animals reside both down in the crater and venture up to the rim.  Well, some of them do, and it was surprising to learn that elephants will climb all the way up to the top.  There were lions, hippos, rhinos, giraffes and a whole host of animals living at the bottom.  Jungle cats like Leopards lived among the trees lining the sides and top.  Elephants pretty much went wherever they pleased and could be found on top and below.

I was in the middle of a several week safari through the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Park areas and today's agenda was to descend into the crater.  My guide for the trip was a veteran of the area having been a park ranger for many years before guiding.  He knew it wasn't a good idea for me to venture out of the jeep but given the lack of safe places to take me at this particular moment and the time of day, consented with my pleas that I'd be quick.

Some children I met along the way between parks during a mountain bike ride...

And I was quick.  Probably no more than 40 seconds quick.  Just not quick enough to avoid the leopard that had just made the top of the rim RIGHT where I'd decided to go.  Sure enough, there I am going and out he/she comes not 10 feet in front of me!

Good thing I had gone number two that morning or I probably would have crapped my pants too.  I just froze and stared.  Luckily for me, this was late morning and a leopards hunting is done at night or very early morning and so this one wasn't hungry.  More like they were tired from a long night of partying and terrorizing the local herbivores.  That was good news for me because I was definitely down the food chain as soon as I stepped out of that jeep.

It was unfortunate that was the closest encounter with a leopard I'd get for the whole trip and didn't even have my camera.  But such is the way of safaris.  It was actually down on the savanna where I learned the real lesson on just what the pecking order is out there.

A lion pride had just attacked a baby hippo not long before we arrived and we got to witness first hand the lions having their meal of the day, and then all of the other animals lined up and waiting for whatever they could get.  This was like natures restaurant wait list!  Only this restaurant is an outdoor "BBQ" minus the cooking.

Mom is the actual BBQer though. She does the kill. Dad just waits to be served and protects the family. Isn't nature wonderful?

Of course, Dad gets to eat first. He's checking to make sure that his meal is the properly cooked level: raw!

Hey, looks like Dad ordered the full rack of ribs. Yum.

Once Dad is done, Mom and the others eat. Perhaps Dad, like most men, just isn't that socially gifted.

Now as the lions hang out and enjoy their BBQ, the other animals have taken their particular designated spots and are patiently awaiting their turn at the meal.Here Mom walks over to the small watering hole and note the Jackal patiently waiting his turn too.Now to explain this phenomenon, we have a chart. Note the proper placement of said invitees to the BBQ and their distance-from-the-kill perimeter and spacing as to avoid overcrowding and proper pecking orders:
Now, if you are a crafty but small Jackal, you might have a plan of your own...

If you are real small, you just might be able to sneak up to the lions original BBQ kill spot in the hopes of snagging some treats that the lions didn't carry over to where they are now.Score! You've got some tasty organs! It's just like picking up your sausages from the local butcher! Lions don't like the organs.

And so goes another day in the Serengeti (well, this was actually Ngorongoro...but the same thing applies to both). The lions will wander off and the hyenas will have their pick. After they're satisfied, the other jackals will take a shot at the meat and once they are done, the buzzards/vultures that have been circling all day will clean up. They are like the janitors of the Serengeti.

I was pretty fortunate to get this sequence of events on camera.  The rest of the trip down in the crater and to the other parks I enjoyed a plethora of animals to shoot pictures of.

Yes, you can get this close, just be prepared for a quick exit should the elephant decide it is TOO close... 
He's either very photo savvy or he's sizing me up to see if he can take me...

Careful what you might find when you round a corner!

The rule of the road here is that the elephant gets the whole road!

Yes, even the trees are unusual.  This comes from elephant scarring...