International Writers Magazine Africa:
Hunting in the Serengeti
give you good price," the man says, smartly-dressed with Reboks
and Ray-Bans. He follows my eyes to the photograph of a lion in
the safari shop window. "My best price. Just for you. I show
you many simba." At the foot of Mount Meru, halfway between
Lake Victoria and the coast, Arusha is Tanzanias undisputed
safari capital, and in East Africa it is second only to Nairobi
for the choice of adventures on offer.
Arranging a safari
in this town is not difficult. Walk along any street, and twenty men
will stop within twenty minutes asking where you want to go on your
safari. Be warned it is not out of curiosity that people in this
town question you about your holiday plans. If you answer honestly,
that you are thinking about Ngorongoro but havent quite made up
your mind, you are implying that you want your inquisitor to assist
with the decision, and whats more, that you would like him to
be your guide. Anything but a curt no is taken as a yes and once your
new-found friend has decided that he will be your guide, it will take
half an hour to convince him otherwise and then, only with hurt
feelings. The safari business is booming in Arusha, and would-be guides
run rampant. You do not need to look for a safari in this town. One
will quickly hunt you down. "My name is Boniface," the man
said, extending his hand to complete the deal.
takes nine hours to drive from Arusha to the entrance of Serengeti
National Park but the safari actually begins soon after leaving
town. Alongside the road, giraffe nibble treetop leaves, while ubiquitous
herds of zebra stripe the hills. As we stop to look across the Rift
Valley, a baboon, with territorial interest saunters across the
road, eyeing us closely, watching us as we watch him.
In June, the wildebeest group together. When their numbers reach
critical mass, a signal is given. Go! And stretching into a long,
thin queue, they thunder towards the horizon, leading the rest of
the migratory animals on the long trek north to the Masai Mara in
Kenya. Nearly one and a half million wildebeest will survive this
journey, followed by a million zebra and gazelle. Unnoticed, our
Land Rover drifts through the centre of the action, lost in the
epic which unfolds around us.
In the tall grass,
the cheetah is nearly impossible to see, but Boniface spots the telltale
twitch of his ears. He is an attentive and tightly-coiled animal: acutely
aware of every object, every movement, every scent and sound, always
ready to spring. As we are neither food nor foe, he allows our Land
Rover to inch towards him, pole-pole, until we are within easy reach.
He knows the routine and paces slowly past us, pausing a moment to the
whirr of digital shutters, turns, then looks over his shoulder to make
sure we are still watching, retreats into the brush, and is gone.
Hyenas pace too, but unlike the cheetah their nerves are on show. Like
a genetic mistake of mismatched parts, they trudge back and forth, eyes
fixed on the intruders, a barrel-chested challenge to our potential
Smaller and less aggressive, bat-eared wild dogs dive into their dens
when we arrive. We wait for them to reappear, and after a few minutes
their heads poke up out of the ground like so many safari bus tourists.
Slowly, the dogs emerge, offering up half-hearted barks in their defence
until they grow bored with us and find a patch of shade for an afternoon
a thicket of spiky brush and acacia trees, the Land Rover comes
to an abrupt stop. Ten feet in front of us, a buffalo lowers its
massive head and stamps out a warning. Boniface acknowledges the
animals superiority, puts the vehicle in reverse and backs
away slowly. The buffalo snorts and swings its heavy horns from
side to side as fine red dust rises from his nervous feet.
The heat haze shimmers above the savannah as we drive towards a
distant kopje, rising like a malignant growth on the smooth back
of the plain. It is amongst such rocky outcrops as this that lions
spend the lazy heat of the day. In this shady fortress, they can
alternately doze and survey their domain in comfort. We hunt for
them with our binoculars, peering into each shadow and each crevice,
alert to every movement and sound. Above us, a lone buzzard rises
on a thermal, making slow circles in the sky, but on the kopje,
no lions appear.
Driving back to
our camp after dark, a pair of yellow eyes flash briefly in the glare
of our headlights, too quick for Boniface to identify the animal to
which they belong. During the night, there is a low rumbling growl somewhere
beyond the fabric of my tent and I have a Francis Macomber moment of
panic before the animal retreats and sleep returns.
Measuring twenty kilometres across, Ngorongoro contains a microcosm
of East African wildlife which, having a stable water supply, shirk
the annual migration and remain inside the crater throughout the year.
At the entrance to the park, we collect our requisite guide, and wind
our way down along the rocky road, 700 metres from crater rim to crater
Drawing us towards the centre, Lake Magadi is rimmed pink with flamingos,
while on its banks, lounging hippos look like smooth black boulders
until they move. Submerged beneath the water, others keep watch, their
flaring nostrils and pig-eyes the only clue to their presence. Boniface
is reluctant to go closer, for these apparently docile creatures are
anything but. Notoriously ill-tempered, hippos can sprint at fifty kilometres
an hour and are said to be the most deadly animal in Africa.
The white noise of walkie-talkies flares as rumours of lion sightings
spread between the guides. Six simba have been spotted among the trees
beside the river and trails of rising dust streak toward the water from
across the crater floor. Inching our way through the tall grass, we
search the shadows expectantly. The lions, though, if they are there,
keep their heads down.
To the east of Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara National Park may be among Tanzanias
smallest reserves, but it is one which is abundant with wildlife. It
is known for its tree-sleeping simba and as this will be our last opportunity
to meet the king of all beasts, Boniface assures us we will seek him
Along the way, we come to an unexpected roadblock. The troop of baboons
who sit in our path do not flinch as our vehicle slides to a stop. Boniface
guns the motor and beeps the horn but the baboons pay us no notice,
and continue with their grooming. Mothers, with pink-faced babies attached,
saunter past our vehicle, making eye contact and baring their canine
teeth. Boniface cautions us to roll up our windows and keeps a nervous
eye on his aerial.
By the time we reach Manyara, zebra have lost their appeal. Warthogs,
their tails raised like flagpoles as they run away squealing, bring
a momentary smile, but it is the lions we really want to see. As we
scan the plains, it is hard to forget the advertisements for hunting
safaris in the shop windows in Arusha.
Great white hunters, holding great black guns, pose with their kill.
Snap. Thomsons gazelle and kudu, with horns held high by smiling
men in new safari suits. Snap. Sitting obscenely astride her prey, a
woman runs manicured nails through a thick red mane. Snap. A teenaged
boy struggles to lift the wide face of an old cat so that it too looks
into the cameras lens. Snap.
there are lions which still survive in Manyara and we are not unlucky
this day. Lying in the grass not twenty feet from the edge of our
track we find two females. Between them, six cubs chase each other
and throw butterfly punches in the air. Like over-sized house cats,
the mothers seem unconcerned by our presence: passive, secure, superior,
and I have the feeling I could sit down, unharmed, amongst them.
Boniface laughs and tells me to stop leaning out the window.
When we find him,
the male lion is twelve feet off the ground, legs dangling as he snoozes
in the branches of a balanite tree. Our arrival disturbs him no more
than it had his mates and he eyes us with drowsy indifference. Of all
the animals we have seen, the lions seem the least suspicious, the least
concerned. Yet there are people who will pay $40,000 for a chance to
kill one. As the chance, I suspect, is almost a certainty, the lions
I think might do well to be more afraid of me.
Westron December 2008
Loree lectures in
Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth
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