Sunday Times Travel: On Safari in Tanzania
The reality of life in the animal kingdom's hunters and hunted — by Jill Sherman.
Ruaha National Park covers an area of 12,950 sq kms and lies in central Tanzania just west of the Iringa Highlands. Here we stayed in a small temporary private tented camp on the banks of the drying Great Ruaha River pitched in the shade of two huge acacia trees, one occasionally inhabited by a colony of baboons. The camp was simple, unassuming and peaceful: three guest tents and a dining tent where copious amounts of delicious food were served, having been cooked in a beaten-up tin box on an open fire. Each tent had very comfortable camp beds, solar lights and buckets showers.
On most days, up at dawn and back for a late brunch, we saw nobody else at all. Guided expertly by Nigel Perks, a cheery New Zealander, we explored dusky pink sand rivers, newly scorched hill-sides still smoldering from a bush fire, sunken green valleys and wide scrubland plains bathed in pale yellow. We scanned the long biscuit- coloured savannah grass for cheetah, the majestic baobab for leopard and eagle and between the scrubby Combretum — tooth brush trees — for kudu and eland, sable and roan antelope. We saw them all apart from sable as well as 17 types of raptors. Nigel, who admitted to serving only banana daquiris and guacamole on this first safaris, has both an impressive knowledge of the area and an infectious enthusiasm.
The first excitement was spying a female cheetah and her four cubs, and following them closely for two and a half hours, watching them play, doze and tease a jackal. Another morning we came across a herd of more than 300 buffalo — a great streak of bitter chocolate against amber — until the animals thundered across the track enveloped in a thick grey dust cloud.
One evening we spotted a badly wounded elephant, sadly drinking by the river, haunted by the inevitability of being attached. Twenty-four hours later we watched two male lions tear the dead elephant to shreds, wrenching greedily at the fresh red meat, blood staining their faces. After they had their fill the jackals and vultures picked the carcass clean. But the most vivid memory was the sighting of my first leopard. We were talking with an elderly couple when, suddenly Nigel shrieked excitedly: “Leopard, leopard, Leopard.” It was already dark and as he swung the Land Rover to one side, its lights swept over a broad tree trunk. Suddenly the windscreen was engulfed in black velvet latticed with gold. The leopard's piercing eyes stared out, stunned only four feet in front of us — the powerful frame of the magnificent beast captured for perhaps 15 seconds in the head lamps before disappearing into the blackness.