BAM Safari

Serengeti National Park – Tree-top Lions

After 5 nights at Ndutu, we proceeded to Serengeti National Park (SNP) on the 8th of February 2013. We arrived at the Naabi Hill gate of the southeastern entrance to SNP by 10 am. This was my third visit to the 5,700 square mile park, which consists of mainly grass plains and savannah. It is Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, which was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1981.

Since we stayed an extra night in Ndutu, our stay at SNP was limited to one night at the Serengeti Serena Lodge located in the Western Corridor of the park, 70 km from the Naabi Hill gate. On the route towards the lodge, we noticed far away on the savannah, some jeeps parked close to a tree by the road. As we got closer, we could see that the cameras from the vehicles already at the scene were pointing towards the tree. They were photographing a Leopard resting on a branch of the tree. It was about 11.30 am then. As I had an extensive collection of Leopard images from my previous travels in Africa and Asia, I did not take any shots of this particular specimen, but my brother went to work with his high-end Sony camera equipment to take some nice pictures of this spotted big cat.

As we were in no hurry to get to the lodge, we decided to spend some time at the Leopard sighting. We had our picnic lunch around 1 pm inside the jeep. It was about 2.20 in the afternoon when Pala whispered to me that the Leopard was showing signs of preparing to come down from the tree. It was then that I went in to action with my Nikon D4, shooting at a speed of 12 frames per second. The Leopard was a young male. The images registered on my camera as the cat alighted from the tree turned out to be quite exceptional. It was well worth spending three hours at that location.

While proceeding towards our lodge for the night, we spotted a Long-crested Eagle on a branch of a tree, on the lookout for a prey. Shortly after that we came across a pride of Lions where quite a few of them had got a fair distance up a Sausage Tree. This is very unusual behavior as Lions do not typically climb trees. There are some parts of Africa where Lions are known to display tree climbing skills, such as Ishasha in the southern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda and Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania. Serengeti National Park is not known for tree climbing Lions and we were quite lucky to be able to see and photograph this phenomenon.

As the only big cat naturally endowed with the ability to climb trees, a tree top is a safe haven for the Leopard, where it will take a kill to protect it from Lions and Hyenas, who are bigger or stronger than it. There are recorded instances where Lions have tried to climb up trees to steal a Leopard kill. But in this case, the Lions were on the tree to enjoy the cool breeze at that elevation.

My camera began clicking when an adult female who appeared to be the matriarch of the pride, attempted to climb the tree that most of her younger family members were on, but failed after she had gone some way up and slid back to the ground. At around 5 pm, Wilson said that we should get going as it was still a long way to the lodge and so we had to move on. Unlike in Ndutu, the opening and closing times are fixed at SNP. We arrived at the lodge just before the deadline which was 6pm.

This was my second stay at the Serengeti Serena Lodge. The previous one was almost 10 years before, when I was with Lilani and the staff there celebrated her birthday in style!
Early next morning with packed lunch boxes we hit the road as usual in search of the Serengeti big cats. It was our last safari drive on this trip. On the way to the Naabi Hill gate, we got lucky again when we came across a Cheetah together with her three grown cubs. Although we stayed only one night at the park, we had excellent photo ops of the big cats there. We also stopped at the Hippo pool inside the park where over one hundred of them could be seen cooling off in the water. Great photography of Hippos in action!

By the late afternoon we arrived in Arusha. I had planned to take a flight the next morning to Rwanda to go in search of Mountain Gorillas, but I had to cancel that leg of my trip and return to Sri Lanka to attend the funeral of my brother in law S. J. Munasinghe, who served as the Surveyor General of Sri Lanka from 1973 to 1981.

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