Sitatunga95

Achieving the Impossible? Southern Circuit 2017

15 posts in this topic

Hi there everyone!

 

Having returned to the UK yesterday from Tanzania, I've decided to stop lurking and undertake my first SafariTalk trip report. I have upcoming trips in the next six months to Benin (Pendjari), Chad (Zakouma) and Senegal (Niokolo-Koba) so I'm hopeful this will be the first of many!

 

A bit about me: I'm a 22 year-old with a long-held passion for wildlife, with this trip around the Southern Circuit my 15th safari (which rather pales in comparison to many of you!). My big passion has been African Wild Dogs for as long as I can remember, but I'm fascinated by anything with fur/feathers/scales!

 

A bit about the trip: I travelled with my childhood best friend, Jack, who had previously ventured only to Tsavo East nine years ago. We travelled overland (two guys in their early 20s don't have a particularly malleable budget!) spending four days in Selous before spending a day travelling to Ruaha, where we spent three days. A further two days would be in Mikumi before the reluctant journey home. We used a Tanzanian safari company for the trip who guided, drove and fed and watered us brilliantly.

 

Now, why the thread title? Well, we would be trying to achieve the impossible in two ways. Firstly, we needed to strike a balance between a beginner's safari for Jack, and what we ironically termed a 'connoisseur's safari' for me. This was a big worry for me in organising the trip - would we be able to find enough game to give Jack a wildlife experience not dissimilar to those offered by the game-rich plains to the North? And would I be able to keep Jack enthused by the time I'd taken my thousandth photo of a White-Browed Coucal? In addition, Jack has long wanted to see wild cheetah, so this was a key goal for us. We chose Selous and Ruaha in no small part because they offered the chance to see dogs and cheetah on the same safari, to keep us both happy!

 

Secondly, I've set myself a rather ambitious target of seeking out dogs, cheetah and lion (perhaps even leopard, who knows) in as many of their range states as possible. Before this trip, I had seen dogs in Kenya and South Africa, with an agonising near miss in Botswana. I had encountered Cheetah in Botswana, SA and Kenya, and lions in Botswana, SA, Kenya and Swaziland. Tanzania offered a chance to build on all of these lists, and also perhaps the opportunity to see some wildlife I had never before encountered - a particular bug bear has been my long-standing inability to see wild serval or caracal, so these were also key targets.

 

You can imagine the look on our guide Mansoor's face when we reeled off all of these demands! I should point out that, despite the above, I would have been content just to be back in the bush after a 14-month absence - anything else would be a wonderful bonus. 

 

I'm hoping to crack on with this TR in earnest tomorrow and I hope to have as many SafariTalkers on board as possible to relive what was a wonderful adventure!

 

Tom

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@Sitatunga95....how fortunate you are to be so well traveled at only 22 and to already have the Africa "bug"!  Welcome aboard!!

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Sounds like an ambitious start! I am looking forward to reading more! :)

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Wow- only 22 and already on 15  safaris? That is impressive. I loved the Selous and Ruaha so looking forward to the TR

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22 and 15 safaris? Is that a typo? Did you do your first at five years old?? :)

 

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10 hours ago, Sitatunga95 said:

A bit about me: I'm a 22 year-old with a long-held passion for wildlife, with this trip around the Southern Circuit my 15th safari (which rather pales in comparison to many of you!).

 

Seriously?  I wish!  

 

Anyway, welcome to Safaritalk. Now that you've come forward, you can't go back. We're holding you to not just this report, but also your future ones from Pendjari, Zakouma, and Niokola-Koba. 

 

In the meantime, I'm very much looking forward to hearing about this adventure. 

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5 hours ago, janzin said:

22 and 15 safaris? Is that a typo? Did you do your first at five years old?? :)

 

 

On behalf of many readers here may I say "You lucky #@#@#!!"

 

And a warm welcome too. Look forward to seeing whether you hit all your targets.

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@Sitatunga95 15 safaris by age 22 must surely be a record!

 

Welcome to Safaritalk, I am really looking forward to your TR as I will be returning to the southern circuit next July with stays in Mikumi, Udzungwa and Ruaha before heading south through Zambia to Vic Falls. At some stage in the TR could you post your itinerary and the name of the operator that you chose and also your accommodations?

 

Looking forward to more when you have time.

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Welcome to Safaritalk @Sitatunga95!      We look forward to following along with your first trip report.

 

 

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Thank you all for your kind responses! I have certainly been very lucky that I found something I'm passionate about whilst still quite young!

 

Yes, 15 safaris so far.... certainly a blessing (provided I don't look at my bank balance!). I'm fortunate that for the foreseeable I should be able to manage 3-4 trips a year, so who knows? 40 by 30? :P

 

Before I crack on with day one, as requested here's a detailed itinerary and some information of the company I travelled with.

 

Day 1: Arrive Dar es Salaam early morning, spend day in Dar.

Day 2: Drive from Dar to Selous GR, overnight at Selous Hippo Camp.

Day 3: Morning and evening game drive in Selous GR, overnight at Selous Hippo Camp.

Day 4: Morning drive to Lake Tagalala, evening game drive in Tagalala area. Overnight at Tagalala Campsite.

Day 5: Morning game drive to Selous' Grave, drive to Selous Hippo Camp. Overnight Selous Hippo Camp.

Day 6: Morning and evening game drive in Selous GR, overnight at Selous Hippo Camp.

Day 7: Drive from Hippo Camp to Morogoro. Overnight at Morogoro Hotel.

Day 8: Drive from Morogoro Hotel to Ruaha NP, via Iringa Town. Overnight at Msembe Bandas.

Day 9-11: Morning and evening game drives in Ruaha NP, overnight at Msembe Bandas.

Day 12: Drive from Ruaha NP to Mikumi NP, via Iringa Town. Night drive in Mikumi NP, overnight at Hippo Pools Campsite.

Day 13: Morning game drive in Mikumi NP, transfer to Julius Nyerere Airport. Trip end.

 

I travelled with Wild Things Safaris. through Pioneer Tours. Wild Things have a mixed reputation it seems, based on online reviews, but for a budget operator I can't say enough nice things about them. Our cook kept us comically well-fed, even despite my travel companion being vegetarian, and our guide Mansoor worked tirelessly to try to meet our extraordinary demands. For example, despite driving for 7 hours to get us from Ruaha to Mikumi, Mansoor went above and beyond to fill in to drive our Mikumi night drive after the park vehicle broke! I've never seen a man look so tired by the end of the drive.

 

Now, for days 1 and 2....

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Day 1:

 

Jack and I had met the previous night in London (I live in Jersey, and he in Scotland, so even getting to the same place in the UK was something of an adventure. We arrived in Dar at around 03.30am, managed to navigate the visa-on-arrival process very quickly and stepped back into Africa. I have to say it was quite wonderful to be back, even in my sleep-deprived state. Our hotel shuttle never showed but, undeterred, we ventured to our (adequate but unimpressive) airport hotel to dream of wild dogs and cheetah.

 

We had grandiose plans of venturing into Dar and discovering the city's historic sights. I'm slightly ashamed to say we, bleary-eyed as we still were, opted to spend our first day snoozing and snacking in the hotel - no point in wearing ourselves out too early, right? As a result of my daytime naps, and indeed a deep sense of anticipation, my first full night in Tanzania was a sleepless one and, when sleep did come fleetingly, it was punctuated by painted wolves once more.

 

Day 2:

 

This was the day!!! We were to venture south to a park I had wanted to visit ever since I read as a child of its legendary elephant and wild dog populations. We met our guide, Mansoor, and our cook, Yahaya, at the hotel at 8am (very punctual, a good sign I thought!) and began the lengthy journey south. In total, the journey took us around 6.5 hours, about 4 hours on tarmac highway, with the remainder over very good dirt roads. We made excellent progress, passing through some very lush greenery, including huge pineapple plantations, papaya farms and vast fruit markets. The vistas to the west, even in more populated areas, were a quite spectacular taster of what was to come. Sadly my camera was safely stowed in the back of the land cruiser, so you'll have to take my word for it!

 

I was surprised by the amount of vegetation we passed through, given how dry I expected Selous and Ruaha to be, and sure enough the landscape became more semi-arid as we veered away from the coast. Our first wild mammals of the trip were, of course, baboons exploring the litany of plastic bags along the highway a few hours into the journey. Another notable sighting was a gaggle of Tanzanian policemen wearing the most startlingly white uniform I had ever encountered - we were to meet these dazzling denizens several more times during the trip. I've no idea where they get those trousers cleaned, but I've certainly got half a mind to send my work shirts there!

 

We arrived at around 3pm or so, delayed slightly by Yahaya needing to collect fresh stocks of watermelons and papaya en route. Hippo Camp has a pretty poor reputation from what I can gather and, to be blunt, it is probably deserved. It's location may be aesthetically pleasing, directly on the Rufiji River, but this betrays what appears to be many, many years of neglect. The showers in particular were disturbingly unclean - though a fully-operational bird's nest was certainly an amusing addition to my afternoon ablutions!

 

We were camping in the grounds of Hippo Camp, in what was a very spacious and comfortable tent. I'm given to believe that the five or so huts are in poor condition, though I never did venture inside one. Nevertheless, the camp always had at least 2-3 parties staying at a given time, so perhaps they're doing something right.

 

As soon as we arrived, we set about discovering the camp with our cameras. After just a few moment, we had enjoyed entertaining escapades of Black and White Colobus, Blue Monkeys and Vervet Monkeys. I was particularly pleased with the Blue Monkeys, as I had only encountered one before, a few hours west of Nairobi. Across the river, the reeds held good, vocal populations of White-Fronted Bee-Eeater and African Golden Weaver, and we were instantly treated to a particularly obliging Pied Kingfisher.

 

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White-Fronted Bee-Eater

 

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Obliging Pied Kingfisher

 

The chorus of hippo grunting emanating from behind an island in the river had me grinning from ear to ear, it was wonderful to be back home!

 

After an hour or so of taking in the sights and sounds, we ventured out onto the water for an evening boat safari. This is too grand a term for what it was, as Hippo Camp lies well outside Selous GR itself and, as such, one is extremely unlikely to encounter anything other than the resident hippos and crocodiles. Nonetheless, Jack and I were happy to click away with our Canons as we enjoyed the local wildlife - despite the interruptions of a rather rambunctious group of Spaniards on our boat. I have a long-standing aversion to anyone who is particularly loud or obnoxious around wildlife - I'm often reminded by travelling companions to be more patient with these people as 'we were all there once'. I'm afraid this doesn't make me any more patient. A particular lowlight was a gentleman nearly hitting a young crocodile with a selfie stick as the driver (a camp employee, not with us) got us needlessly close to the animal. Anyway, rant over.

 

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Young croc, prior to the Spanish Inquisition

 

Despite the palava, we enjoyed sightings of Crocodile, Monitor Lizards,  White-Fronted Bee-Eater, Golden Weaver, Hamerkop, African Fish Eagle, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Pygmy Kingfisher and Brown-Hooded Kingfisher. A highlight for me was a silhouetted view of a Gymnogene, and of course an intimate view of the local hippo pod as the sun went down.

 

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Hamerkop in Flight

 

Elated to be on the banks of the Rufiji, we retired to bed early that night after enjoying a feast prepared for Yahaya, consisting in no small part of some incredibly tasty local fruit. No prizes for guessing what I was dreaming of once more!

 

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Hippos at Sunset on the Rufiji

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@Sitatunga95 thanks for the itinerary and operator details. I am enjoying your wonderfully detailed report very much.

 

The drive into Selous sounds very lush.

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@Treepol I'm very glad you're enjoying it, there's plenty more to come! As I mentioned, I was surprised by the greenery in western Tanzania and, I think, getting a sense of the country was a huge benefit to overlanding rather than flying from Dar to the parks.

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Posted (edited)

Day 3: Full-Day Drive in Selous

 

We awoke from a much-needed sleep at 6.30 for a 7.00 breakfast and 7.30 departure to Mtemere Gate. Excited, there was plenty of discussion over breakfast over what we would see, and indeed the noises (exclusively bushbaby squeals) we had heard the night before. I tentatively suggested a search for dogs wouldn’t go amiss, but our expectations for day one were very much focussed on enjoying the day and perhaps spying an animal or two.

 

By the time we departed camp the heat of the day was already building, and we resolved to depart earlier in future, especially as it took nearly an hour to get to and through Mtemere Gate. The first mammal spied in Selous was a warthog just outside Mtemere, and she was quickly followed by our first giraffe, impala and bushbuck.

 

We opted to take the winding ‘river drive’, to give us a chance to familiarise ourselves with the local birdlife and generic game. For those who don’t know Selous, the area immediately surrounding the Rufiji River is dotted by perennial lakes and marshy land. It is in this area where the vast majority of vegetation and animal life is to be found, and often just a few hundred metres from the lakes is arid scrubland dominated by whistling-thorn acacias.

 

The River Drive was very enjoyable, with numerous species of bird filling the morning hours, with highlights including excellent views of Fish Eagle and Osprey, as well as the omnipresent Openbilled Storks and assorted stilts and lapwings. Hippos and crocs dotted every lake we drove past, and we were further entertained by large colonies of banded mongoose, numerous striped ground squirrels and ground hornbills.

 

After around 45 minutes, we came across a lovely group of kudu and an impressive male waterbuck who posed briefly for us. I was thrilled to see that the population of giraffes in Selous was so significant – it would appear that giraffe are one of the few species in Selous that are fairly relaxed around vehicles for the most part, perhaps as a result as not being hunted within the reserve.

 

On this point, it is immediately apparent in Selous that hunting is having an impact on wildlife. Most grazers will take off as soon as they see or hear your vehicle, which is a real shame. Moreover, the effects of poaching cannot be underestimated. I grew up reading accounts of Selous that lauded the elephant population as a natural wonder, but instead we found Selous to be largely devoid of elephants nowadays, and those ellies that do remain can only be viewed from a distance. I sincerely hope the Tanzanian government will be able to rescue Selous from what appears to be an obvious and distressing decline.

 

During mid-morning, we ventured away from the watercourses and joined the main road a few hundred metres away, to expedite our journey into the park. We soon came across a big herd of wildebeest and zebra cantering away from the road, and they afforded us a few pictures. Despite following them towards a nearby lake, they melted away into the bush with remarkable ease. Nevertheless, I was extremely excited to see that, standing amongst some impala on the shoreline, was a Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest! I had only come across Red and Coke’s Hartebeest before, so this a ‘lifer’ of the mammal variety for me. Fortunately, he posed beautifully before he retreated into the bush with a snort of indignation.

 

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Lichtenstein's Hartebeest

 

That same lake produced great views of Green-Backed Heron and Palm-Nut Vulture, and soon gave way into a beautiful marsh, affording distant views of the mountains central to the ‘photographic safari’ area of Selous. To our delight, a small herd of elephants was grazing away in the middle of the marsh and heading in our direction! We stayed with them for ten minutes or so before they melted away behind some rocks on the other side of the marsh. Whilst we didn’t get particularly close, this would be the best view of ellies we would get in Selous, and looking back there is a lot to be said for the tranquillity of the scene.

 

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Green-Backed Heron

 

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Once the ellies had departed, we again rejoined the main road, along which I enjoyed doing a bit of tracking from the vehicle – nothing particularly exciting, but it was nice to pick out a couple of jackal tracks before we dropped down to another, larger lake. Here another large herd of zebra was drinking, but they were again very skittish. But this time it wasn’t us causing the skittishness – on the far shoreline, in the shade of a large jackalberry, we could pick out our first cats of the trip.

 

Lions! At first glance, we could only pick out two, but, upon closer inspection, eight cats were gathered around the base of the tree. It was a wonderful experience to be able to sit with such beautiful cats on our first day in Selous, especially after fourteen months of lionlessness for me. We spent close to half an hour with them, during which they were mostly flat-cat. Bearing in mind the temperature was now 35 degrees or so (11.30 in the morning), they certainly had the right idea. It was to my surprise, then, that right in the middle of the pride, the male lion clambered to his feet and began mating with the female adjacent to him! Believe it or not, this was a first for me, so what a way to start the trip! I’d be keen to hear from some of you as to whether you’ve seen lions mating directly next to or within the pride before, I had been under the impression they would normally have the decency to seek some kind of privacy (at least ten metres or so) before copulating.

 

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Selous' Lioness

 

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Bath-Time

 

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Flushed with our success, we decided to retire to a nearby lunch spot before venturing onwards. En route, we saw yet more zebra, a hooded vulture and a teenage male kudu. Upon our arrival at the shaded lunch area, we disturbed a dusky pipistrelle which flew a few metres before roosting in a nearby tree. Again, being able to view this in daylight hours was a first for me, so I set about taking photos in fear of the bat taking off again. I needn’t have worried, as he or she stayed put during our stop – how obliging!

 

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Dusky Pipistrelle

 

By the time we finished lunch and cracked on with an afternoon drive, the temperature was absolutely scorching. The only wildlife to be seen was a handful of forlorn impala gathering in pockets of shade within the whistling thorn acacia nearby. Even the nearby watercourses were quiet as the local fauna sought some relief from the sun. We persisted for an hour or so before locating a medium-sized breeding herd (200 or so) of buffalo occupying a marshy patch of land. The so-called ‘big three’ was complete, which I thought was a huge success for Jack’s first ‘proper’ day out in the bush.

 

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The buffalo were largely obliging, if a little skittish. As we were observing the buffalo, it was also great to see a large baboon troop pass by with a dozen or so youngsters in tow – the little and large of Selous’ mammals were showing up for us! The buffalo began to get a little angsty, so we meandered back to the lake and commenced a slow drive back to camp to ensure we could leave before sunset.

 

Given it was our first day, we had been surprised by the temperature during the main part of the day, so it was a little disappointing that we had begun our journey home before the better game-viewing part of the day during the evening. I resolved that tomorrow we would try to be out earlier and back later, to ensure we saw the best Selous had to offer.

 

The drive back was largely uneventful, punctuated by generic game and the same lions we had seen earlier on. A highlight for me was seeing the Black Egret (Umbrella Bird) hunting successfully – it’s always nice to see an ‘Attenborough Moment’ on safari.

 

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Black Egret Hunting

 

We reached Mtemere by 16.00 and were back at camp by 17.00, where Jack and I enjoyed another Rufiji sunset and compared notes on how our photography equipment was holding up, whether our first day at Selous was as expected and so on. We agreed our ‘highlight of the day’ had to be the lazy, amorous lions, but it was also fantastic to have seen ellies, buffalo and (my personal favourite) Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest.

Determined to make the most of the next day, when we would relocate to Lake Tagalala and camp in the bush for a night, we enjoyed copious amounts of lovely food provided by Yahaya and retired to bed amidst a chorus of bushbabies once more.

 

 

 

 

Edited by Sitatunga95
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Thanks very much to remind me on a very happy time in the South of Tanzania a few years ago @Sitatunga95.

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