After a successful photographic Safari on Amboseli elephants at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya, on the 6th February, Lilani and I arrived for lunch at the Ndutu Safari Lodge in the South-eastern part of the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania. As planned, my brother, Pala from London, his wife, Nilanthi, son, Charith and their nephew, Chanaka came to the lodge at the same time from a different location to join us for five nights at the Ndutu lodge.
During the same period last year, Pala and I were in Ndutu for five nights when we witnessed a unique annual event that happens in January to March, in and around Ndutu where the pregnant wildebeest in thousands give birth to their calves. We captured excellent images of the predators in action, including a birth of a wildebeest calf. Hence our decision to visit Ndutu this year justifies. Unlike in most of the other parks in Africa, in Ndutu off road was permitted. This was an advantage for wild life photography. It is also a part of the Ngorongoro Conservation area.
In the afternoon safari on the day of arrival at Ndutu Safari Lodge, we came across a pride of lions in the Marsh vicinity of Ndutu that ambushed a zebra. The prey tried its best to escape, but failed and it was a great feast for the lions. What a thrilling sight! Since we were in two jeeps, Lilani and I went in search for more wild life in the plains of Ndutu when our driver/guide spotted a cheetah in the plains with three cubs. The cubs were not more than a month old. My camera was busy; when I captured excellent images of the cubs playing with each other, as well as with their mother. They were vulnerable since it was a territory of the lions. Our driver sent a message of the cheetah sighting to our other jeep. Most of the tourists carrying vehicles were fitted with mobile communication. But the numbers were controlled due to the limited accommodation in Ndutu.
On the following morning, we concentrated our safari to the savannas of the Ndutu when the wildebeest in thousands grazing in the Ndutu were sighted. It took sometime to spot a wildebeest mother that was ready for delivery when her calf’s rear legs were visible from its back. We followed the wildebeest at least for 15minutes, when suddenly it delivered the calf. I have seen a similar activity during last year’s visit to Ndutu, but for Lilani, it was an exciting moment to witness and video the delivery.
During the afternoon safari, we sighted another female cheetah with five tiny cubs in a different location. The mother tried to catch its favourite prey, Thomson Gazelle, in the plains adjoining the bushes where they were hiding, but failed. We spent most of the afternoon safari tracking the mother and her cubs until they vanished with the cubs into the woodlands near by. Later, it started raining and we decided to go back to the lodge.
I was told by my driver/guide that currently there were a few cheetahs with small cubs. According to him, there are two more mothers with cubs, one with four and the other with one in the vicinity of the marsh.
Hence, on the 8th morning safari; we decided to go towards the marsh to see any new activities of the wild life. It was around 10am, that we sighted the movement of a cheetah on the marsh, the areas covered with tall grass. To our luck, it came out of the marsh in our direction, she was not alone but to our surprise it was carrying a very tiny cub, holding in her mouth. She crossed the road and moved to the elevated land on the savannah adjoining the marsh. This was the first time to photograph a cheetah with a cub holding in her mouth. In fact, I was hoping that I could see a lioness carrying a cub during this tour, but it turned out to be a cheetah, which was more difficult to sight. Great!! Later, we moved towards the Savannahs when we experienced a female cheetah running at its maximum speed of 110KMH, chasing a Thomson Gazelle which resulted a feast for the Predator and for her grown up male cub, who was watching its mother’s chase.
In the afternoon, although the weather was not in our favour to drive the jeep with open hood, due to rain, we went in search of the mother cheetah and the cub sighted in the morning. We came across a professional video photographer from USA, who has been in Ndutu for sometime, with his jeep on the savannas off the road. My driver spotted the Cheetah and the cub. But the rain hindered my photography. At the same time our driver received a radio message from the jeep my brother, Pala, was travelling, that they had spotted a cheetah in the marsh and also seen a lion in the vicinity of the cheetah. We decided to move on there.
With the rain, slippery muddy road surface, it took us some time to arrive at the cheetah’s sighting in the marsh. What a sad scenario? Cheetah was on the fence of a tall grass patch showing her expression of anger; growling at the lion inside the grass patch that was possibly searching for the cheetah cubs. Suddenly the lion came out of the bushes, chassed the cheetah on the marsh for at least for 15minutes in the rain. Cheetah ran at the speed of a bullet for her life and later ran into the woodlands adjoining the marsh.
It was a very exciting sighting, but probably the lion would have killed the cheetah cubs. A lesson for the cheetah not to bring the cubs to the lion’s territory; this is the law of the king of jungle. On our way back to the lodge there was heavy showers that I had not experienced before in Safaris. But, our driver was well experienced in Ndutu roads and came to the lodge safely.
On the following morning, we sighted a dead giraffe in the marsh but with the marsh pride. Most probably, due to the heavy rains on the previous night the giraffe would have got washed away and went into the hands of the lions in the marsh. We also found a few jeeps that got stuck for the rainstorm previous evening. Later, the mother cheetah came to the marsh looking for the cubs, but there was no sign of them. A lioness with three very small cubs hiding inside a tall grass patch at one end of the marsh were also spotted; Never seen such a tiny lion cubs before in wild.
On our last day morning, we had an unforgettable experience when two adult cheetahs (apparently brother and sister) got on to our jeep while taking pictures of them in the savannahs of Ndutu. One was on the front bonnet while the other was in the back top. Initially, I was a bit worried since the center of the jeep hood was open. But later, I got up and posed for a few images together with cheetah for the USA video photographer who arrived there on time as if we requested him to come.
We found that the cheetah mother with the three cubs sighted on our first afternoon safari had now only two cubs when we sighted the family in the savannah of Ndutu on the last day. The mother caught a baby wildebeest and the two cubs ran towards the mother. Looked like it was their first meal since birth. After lunch, Lilani and I had to say good-bye to Ndutu and return to Sri Lanka via Arusha while, Pala and his family extended their tour Serengeti NP.
During my safaris to Africa, this was the first time I sighted so many tiny cheetah cubs in five days. In total 9 cubs. ONE CAN SAY NDUTU IS THE “CHEETAH PARADISE” IN THE ANIMAL PLANET.
The best time to travel to Ndutu in Tanzania on safari is in February. In fact we already booked for five nights in February 2015. A few images taken during this safari were included in my book of 50 years of wildlife photography titled” Odyssey into the wild” to be launch in May 2014 in Colombo.