Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Serengeti Elephant Chronicles

While Tarangire National Park may boast the highest density of elephants, Serengeti can absolutely boast the most dramatic. We have their exclusive stories here on the Elephant Chronicles: The Serengeti Chapter. 

Meet Stumpy. He is a subadult male African elephant. He is like all the other elephants except the unnaturally short length of his trunk, the origin of which is unknown. Was is a genetic mishap or a tragic attack by a crocodile? He refused comment simply saying, "I've learned to live with my disability and I refuse to let it define me. I am a strong independent elephant and I don't need a trunk to be who I am inside."

He hopes to someday move out of his maternal herd and start a family of his own and teach his little ones the true meaning of strength. 

You may be surprised to learn that elephants are rather top heavy. This makes it extremely difficult to stand up after lying down for a siesta in the mud. 
These sisters had a rather difficult time but as always, they lean on each other for constant support. 

"Stop! You're poking me with your tusks!"
"You're going to pull my trunk off!"
 As wonderful as sisters are, sometimes you just need Mom's help to get you out of sticky situations. 

"Again Clarissa?"
Remember these fellas?

They have learned to not mess with mama elephants. This herd of ladies and babies crossed the river and made a beeline for the snoozing bachelors. 

"5 more minutes!"
They had no intentions of stopping or changing their course.
"Alright! Alright! We're up!"
These boys were in no mood for a fight. They just wanted their nap. They walked about 20-30 meters before flopping back into the grass. 

This river is a hot spot for elephant glamour shots. 

The setting sun adds the perfect backdrop for any family photo...

And certainly the perfect end to any trip to Serengeti.

Thus ends this episode of the elephant chronicles and my time in Serengeti. I have been so abundantly blessed to spend three whole months in this beautiful country. As classes end and we move into our research phase of this semester, I pray I continue to learn something new everyday. 
Kwaheri Serengeti! I will see you again soon!

Serengeti Birds and Babies

As exciting as all African animals are, there is something very special about babies.  I have learned that I think all babies are adorable, even the ones that others may find ugly. They are all cuties to me!
For example, this baby crocodile. It looks like a normal crocodile but tiny!

Baby hippo! They are so pudgy and happy! I was shocked that they are already fabulous swimmers even at such a young age. 

Baby zebra butt!! Zebras have the greatest butts in all of the animal kingdom so naturally, fuzzy baby butts are the cutest of all!

Elephant butts are an awfully close second. 

This little (very tiny) one was trotting around trying to get Mama to come play. The little ones are so silly when they run because they have no control over their trunks!

Now this pair was very interesting. They were stragglers from a larger herd and had to pass 2 males lions. Mama was not happy about that. She stuck her tusks in the air and grunted as if to say, "Don't even think about it!" I would do the same if I had a baby as tiny as hers. 

She wasn't too happy about us either. That's when we remembered that we are NOT invisible and we should probably be very quiet…
But that baby!!

Another very large part of this expedition was birds! We had to identify at least 50 different bird species. There are over 500 species in Serengeti so it was actually much easier than is sounds. 
Here are some of my favorites aka the ones that stayed still long enough for me to take a picture of them. 

These were at every single water source we stopped at. "Is that something new?" nope. Just another Egyptian goose...

Raptors are plentiful in Serengeti and there are so many different species of hawks and eagles. This vulture was trying hard to be cool like an eagle...

But couldn't help himself. 

As you can imagine, I enjoyed the birds very much. I won the "most likely to become addicted to birding" superlative at camp this year. I do believe Tanzania has nursed that flame into a raging fire. My bird field guide is worn and bent from just 2 months of use. I regret nothing. 

Serengeti Cats

It's the moment you've all been waiting for! Actually, it's the moment we've ALL been waiting for... SERENGETI! It was truly as fabulous as all the hype. I know you are all very excited to see specific things so I organized my pictures accordingly. We'll start with the big cats and if you'd like to stick around for everything else, it would be greatly appreciated. 

Let's start with the lions. Our professors said we would see so many lions that we would be sick of them.  That didn't quite happen. 
The first lion we saw was 5 minutes into the park boundaries. We hadn't even popped the roof up in to safari mode yet! She was kind of hiding in a bush so the first full lion we saw was on top of a large rocky out crop, rightly dubbed, Pride rock. If you are wondering, she is wearing a radio collar that is used by researchers to track pride movements. 

Princess of Pride Rock
This pretty lady was napping by the side of the road. I always feel bad when we wake them up but it is typically worth it. 
Sleepy lion

These boys were down by a river snoozing near a bunch of elephants. Tune in next time for the rest of their story...
Handsome boys
As regal as lions are (and truly, they are gorgeous) I would consider them Kings and Queens of the grassland NOT the jungle… They look a little bit too much like wannabe leopards when they try to climb trees.
The commentary when we see a lion in a tree usually involves, 
"I've made a huge mistake…"
Derp lion in a tree
Speaking of leopards...

Did you miss me? I didn't think so. Those pictures pretty much speak for themselves.
The last of the Serengeti big cats is the cheetah. We were fortunate enough to see the cheetah RUN. Now, don't get your panties in a bunch. It was more of a trot. Apparently there were two cheetahs (I only saw one) stalking some prey but they must have changed their mind because there was no all out running or attack maneuvers of any kind. It was also pretty densely wooded so not the ideal environment for sprinting unless you want a thorn in your eye.
Understandably it is rather difficult to get a picture of  a running cheetah. Thankfully we saw another cheetah out in the distance sunning on a rock. She (He?) seemed rather pleased with herself. I would be too if I was a cheetah in Serengeti. 
Look at the camera, you say? How is this?
Stand up and look gorgeous? Oh, if I must...
The cats were all positively stunning and absolutely knew that. 
Stay tuned for more Serengeti action! There is much more than cats. Shocking, I know!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tour of Moyo Hill

Welcome to Moyo Hill campus! I will be your guide for this incredibly short virtual tour of our humble abode.
First, we will enter through to the fantastically mural covered front gate. We have to sign in and out every time we go into town or for a run. We also have a strict 6:30 pm curfew because there are resident hyenas not very far from us. They can often be heard late at night. So if you don't want to get eaten, get home on time!
Robert and the wall
 We then enter the enter the main courtyard area complete with a gazebo in the center. Proceed slowly, the stairs are of varying height and steepness and it is rather easy to face plant on your way up or down. 
You can also see the all important laundry station in the background. I have yet to perfect the art of washing clothes by hand. My clothes come out dirtier than when I started. They don't smell, though so I consider that a success.  

 Now, step lively folks. When we turn the corner you will find the best and newest of the 6 bandas, Kicheche! The other bandas are Nyati (buffalo), Kifaru (rhino), Simba (lion), Tembo (elephant), and Chui (leopard), otherwise known as the big five. What is a kicheche you ask? That is a very good question. There was a long debate between the professors about what Kicheche means in english. Honey badger? African skunk? I believe they finally agreed on a striped pole cat or a zorilla. Google it. I've never heard of them before either. 
The most appealing aspect of Kicheche, though, is not it's bizarre name, but it's lovely inhabitants including crickets, wolf spiders, cockroaches (they are much prettier in Africa), and yours truly. My all time favorite sitting ledge for studying and bird watching is noted in the picture below. 

We will end our tour just across the way from Kicheche at the brandy new gazebo, completed less than 3 days ago! It was fascinating to watch the construction from my ledge. The construction workers are very skilled and complete everything by hand!

Locations that did not make this tour are the dining hall, which you can find bordering the courtyard and row of bandas. This is a crucial location as it also houses the resident duka manned but none other than Moses himself. Even if you are stuffed to the brim with chapati and ugali and veggies and meat, Moses can convince you to sell your soul for a Twix and a coke (It is true that Coke tastes better in a glass bottle in a foreign country). 
"Karibuni, rafiki! Come in! Come in!" 
You can also find the classroom and local staff housing on the opposite side of campus past the volley ball. 
We hope you enjoyed this tour of the Moyo Hill Campus and we hope to see you again soon! Feel free to ask me any questions and enjoy your stay!


My apologies for the 2 week posting break. The assignments have been piling up and I finally have a free afternoon that I feel motivated to blog instead of nap in a hammock or read Eat, Pray, Love…
Anyway! May I present the Ngorongoro Crater! It is by far the most beautiful place I have ever been thus far in my life and it saddened everyone that we only spent one day there. Prepare yourselves for some serious animal and landscapes y'all!
Landscape no.1
When set out rather early that morning (worth it!) so the clouds hadn't yet lifted. It gave to forest a very Jurassic Park feel. We didn't know if we'd see an elephant around the corner or a T-Rex!
Landscape no.2
We followed the rather treacherous, hilly road down into the crater and the grasslands opened up in front of us.  I swear, the animals that live there know they are the main attraction and love getting their pictures taken. Can you say model shot?
Crowned crane
Work it gurl! (or dude. I honestly still can't tell the difference)
I was so happy my favorite water fowl made an appearance. Cormorants are wicked cool anywhere in the world. 
Great Cormorant
This snazzy fellow was keeping watch over a pool of… 
Saddle billed stork

Oh hello hippos! May I join your afternoon cuddle session??

Now, class, it is time we learned the very important behavioral difference between a zebra hug…

…and a zebra fight! This pair of males was apparently fighting over the right to mate with a group of females, though the ladies were no where to be seen. We followed the fight until there was a loser. The loser was clearly wounded but not so badly that he was going to die. We even saw him later that day roaming around the plains alone. Poor guy. 

These beautiful creatures were lounging ride next to the road! There were 2 females and 3 cubs!
Mama 1 & Baby 1
Mama 2 & Baby 2, Baby 3 is napping in the grass next to Baby 2
When we came up on this couple, the whole car burst in to song. No joke...
"Caaaaan you feeeel the looove tooniiigghhht??" 
And behold, the black rhino, the last of my big five. He was a good 100 meters away but Kosta, our driver, said they rarely see rhinos on days with the weather like it was. Rhinos aren't a fan of the wind so they stay in the taller grasses. They first time we past him, he was lying down and hard to see. But here he is standing and basking in the love of his adoring fans!

And thus, I will leave you with a final landscape of the crater. 
Landscape no.3
I hope you enjoyed Ngorongoro as much as I did!