Safari day! The past week has been a whirlwind of surgeries, vaccinations, learning Swahili and experiencing a new culture, and even though we are all more than a little tired, everyone was ready and excited for another very early day.
The truck left at seven with all of us in the elevated, outdoor seats headed to Mikumi National Park. We were freezing! Every other day this week was hot and clear, but today, we were exposed to chilly, drizzly weather with very minimal protection. On top of the poor weather, we had our second flat tire in twelve hours! Luckily, our guides were efficient and a spare tire was handy, so the hiccup was brief. The weather stayed unpleasant for two hours or so, and then the sun finally showed up. At that point, some of us were so desperate for a little warmth that we asked the driver if we could sit on top of the truck. Amazingly, he said yes, so up we climbed for some direct access to the warm sun.
Sitting on top of the truck offered not only a warm seat but also a pretty amazing vantage point for spotting the animals and appreciating the natural beauty of the country. The first animals we found were impalas. Just a few, but we sat for several minutes snapping pictures, taking videos and watching awestruck. By the sixth impala herd in an hour, we were ready for more exotic species and didn’t even stop to watch. How quickly we became accustomed to these amazing animals! Next, we found herds of zebras and several species of birds, including shrikes, hamerkops and lilac-breasted rollers. Off in the distance we could see giraffes, wildebeest and buffalo. Our next up close encounter was with a family of elephants. They were less than forty feet from the truck, eating and ambling along with absolutely no concern for the stunned humans gaping at them.
The adventure continued like this for eleven hours. There were often with large gaps of time and no animal sightings, but the up close sightings made all of the waiting worthwhile. Right before leaving the park, the guide received a call from a nearby tour about some elephants. We turned the truck around and headed back in the direction from which we had just come and nearly ran into two large elephant families. The crossed the road in front of and behind us while we sat in the vehicle, completely mesmerized by this very close encounter. The other tour group had paid extra to drive off-road and follow the animals for filming purposes, and we watched as the pursued the animals casually. Eventually, an adult turned and faced the truck as a warning. Her truck raised and her ears flapping, she was clearly sending the message to the people to back off. It was very impressive to watch from a safe distance!
All in all, we spotted impalas, cape buffalo, zebras, giraffes, elephants, baboons, a jackal, warthogs, hippopotamus, a crocodile, cape buffalo, eland antelope and dozens of birds. I was a little disappointed to not see lions, leopards or rhinos, but we learned that lions hadn’t been spotted for days in the park and rhinos were not actually present in Mikumi. People travel from all over the world to see these animals, especially the “big 5” – elephants, cape buffalo, rhinos, lions and leopards – named as such for the difficulty and level of danger involved in hunting them. The term was adopted by the safari guides and now seems to be ubiquitous in that part of the world. For me, the fact that we didn’t get a chance to see all five means that I’ll have to come back and try and again someday!
It was a spectacular day in a gorgeous park, and one that I will not soon forget. We had a wonderful, knowledgeable guide who was full of interesting facts on the animals that even seven animal care professionals didn’t know! I can’t wait to share the experience with my friends and family back home!