Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: The Serengeti. Tanzania
To witness that calm rhythm of life revives our worn souls and recaptures a feeling of belonging to the natural world. No one can return from the Serengeti unchanged, for tawny lions will forever prowl our memory and great herds throng our imagination.
The Greatest Show On Earth
Some writers have used the metaphor of a sweeping drama to describe the great migration, with the millions of migrating animals constituting the dramatis personae – and it is a good one. Let us say it is a Shakespearean play, in which a lion plays the king. But, as in all of Shakespeare’s historical dramas, the king will be the target of much treason and treachery.
You could think of the Serengeti ecosystem as being the world’s most expansive restaurant. Vegetarians are the “regulars”: first the wildebeest in their millions, gazelles and zebras in their hundreds of thousands, buffaloes in their tens of thousands, elephants in their thousands. This is probably the only game reserve in Africa where people come to see, primarily, the herbivores rather than the carnivores. When the annual migration is on the move, you can stop just about anywhere on the serengit (a Maasai word meaning “endless plains”) and in every direction the landscape will be a moving mass of animals, dominated by the nasal sounds of the wildebeest that go aaaah, naaah, aaaah, naaah all day and all night long.
These vast plains are book-ended by hills, the remnants of volcanoes that line the Great Rift Valley and which blew their tops between 10 and five million years ago. Successive ash clouds settled to create a thick mantle of deep, rich, soil with only occasional granite koppies, or heads, protruding.
It is a fact that insects (and the attendant insectivores) way outnumber the herbivores and none are more apparent than the “flying ants” which erupt from the ground after rains, providing a feast for any and everything that eats insect protein: birds and baboons, mongooses and warthogs. These so-called ants are in fact termites that must fly in order to attain sexual maturity.
The combined biomass of termites exceeds that of all the animals above the ground. Most of them spend their entire lives in the tunnels and caverns of the termiteria underground, busily processing grass. They cannot digest the hard cellulose in the grass directly, but tend fungus farms where the grass is broken down into simple sugars, and then the termites feed on the fungus.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Ndutu Camp and Serengeti North Wilderness Camp while photographing and researching this chapter.
When the Lions Roar, Your Tent is a Castle
As the sanguine sun bleeds into the hazy horizon at Ndutu Camp, a scops owl begins its piping call. Then a jackal yelps. With complete darkness comes the chilling cackling of hyenas. Deep darkness is announced by the foghorn bellow of male lions shouting out their supremacy.
Sometimes it will be closer to your tent than you think; at times so loud the canvas seems to vibrate and your bed shudder. Yet you are as safe as in a fortress, even when your skin tingles with primordial fear. This is Africa, proprietor John Addison loves to say laughingly, it is not a place for sissies.
John, who with his wife Debbie is co-owner of Wild Frontiers, has a philosophy that, to best appreciate the African wilds, you need a warm and safe bed, a decent plate of food, a hot shower and a drink at the end of the day. Quite basic facilities, close to the spirit of the early safari days he admits. But then Ernest Hemingway did not require air conditioning and Karen Blixen never took a spa treatment.
“I love playing with alternative stuff, low carbon energy, recycling and all that. Every level of luxury you add, you ramp up the carbon cost, increase waste and bring the clutter of city life with you into the bush,” says John.
“We’re a safari company that offers old fashioned safari comforts” Addison concludes, “not a restaurant in the bush with game drive vehicles.”