“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” ― Mae West.
Well this was a visit to Lion Central, they were right in our faces. The wildebeest and zebra herds were there too but I gather that we had missed their peak by a couple of weeks. The Grumeti River was not running and is far smaller than the Mara and only had scattered stagnant, albeit substantial, pools. These had huge crocs but I cannot imagine the herd crossings here to be as spectacular as at the Mara River.
We had planned our stays in the center, north and west of Serengeti in an attempt to experience all that this king of all national parks has to offer. In this we succeeded I think and the Western Corridor certainly added its full share of value. If pressed I would choose the Seronera area, especially to the west, as my favourite part of the Serengeti that we visited. Why so? Well these short grasslands and flattish plains with the odd koppie, have huge numbers of plains game and predators. The views of endless rolling plains saturated with animals is simply unique in my experience. It is important to remember that when we visited, the vast majority of wildebeest and zebra had migrated north. What it must look like during the months of April, May, June when they might be present, I can only imagine. Yes the area can be a little overcrowded but I would suggest a special campsite somewhere to the east such as the Sera or Turners Springs camps, or even as in our case Ngare Nanyuki. Certainly if ever staying in a lodge I would want this area. However my next visit to Serengeti, and yes there will be more visits if humanely possible, will be in the south around Ndutu and the Naabi Hills in January or even better February, when the wildebeest herds have their massive calving and the predators gather in unprecedented numbers to feast on the calves.
My only misgivings are the facts that this highlight is now nearly behind us and that other national parks such as those lying ahead in Uganda may prove to be something of an anticlimax, especially considering their high cost. Cheering is the fact that we have the varied parks and reserves of Kenya, including Masai Mara, still ahead of us. I think our enjoyment of Rwanda and Uganda will come from the rivers, forests and mountains. We shall see.
The 106km drive from Lobo to Kira Wira via near Seronera, took us about 6hr with a slow pace and plenty of game viewing. Lions were seen twice along the way near Lobo. First 4 lions, 2 of which were a mating pair and then a lovely lioness in the prime of her life sunbathing on a koppie. I was sure she had small cubs and although we hung around for a while, our patience was not rewarded.
We turned west to the Western Corridor after 66km. The signpost states Kira Wira airstrip, Ndabaka Gate etc. Initially one passes through thickly wooded acacia with very few animals visible. Once one reaches the Oranji and the Grumeti Rivers the animal numbers increase appreciably. After some loosely associated wildebeest herds on the Grumeti, we later encounter large impressive herds with Zebra. These, although extremely impressive, did not match the densities we had seen at the Mara River.
As we proceeded west, just south of the Grumeti, the savannah opened up again with fewer trees as was to be the case at Kira Wira. We drove the main route turning west about 20km from Seronera. These roads were oceans better than that to and from the Naabi Hill Gate, with minimal corrugations because of obviously less traffic. On the way there we stopped and spoke to the only other self-drivers we had seen in the Serengeti. It was Rod Evans and his wife from Nairobi. They had just been staying at Kira Wira and described the nights as very lively. In truly hospitable fashion he gave us his phone no in case we needed anywhere to stay orneeded any help in Nairobi.
When we arrived at Kira Wira Ranger Post (well sign posted but not on T4A) we wanted to avoid any mistakes about where we should be camping. After checking in with the ranger I insisted we be shown exactly where the special campsite was, just as well. He assigned his grown up son to accompany us and he stood on the running board (we have removed the back seat) and he directed us down the road about 2km away where a signpost for Kira Wira 1 simply pointed into an area of flat plain and distant bush about 400m from the Grumeti River. There was no track. Suddenly there was a shout of fear from him – simba, and before we knew it he was on the roof. At the clump of trees which are apparently the loosely designated camping area, were indeed 2 lions. The authorities obviously want one to camp behind the trees so as not to be too visible from the game driving tracks. This site was obviously out of the question as it would be impossible to keep track of lions in such thick bush and after a little bit of a wrangle it was agreed that we could set up camp about 200m away, in an open area, under a solitary acacia for shade. We wanted clear fields of view around our campsite for obvious reasons.
We had been warned by the previous occupants but man was this campsite wild. On both nights we had lions roaring all around us in the early evening as they reunited for the hunt. One lioness passed not 100m from us in the twilight. Fortunately most of the hunting took place towards the Grumeti River about 400m away. During the evening large numbers of hippo from the river wandered past us sitting at the campfire and hyenas serenaded us through the night. When we returned from our second evening game drive we had to shoo off 4 buffalo bulls with our vehicle, from where they had taken up station around our camp table and chairs. All this makes one feel so tiny and vulnerable but is oh so exhilarating. Fortunately I had been informed by the best East African wildlife advisor I know, that the lions of East Africa avoid human contact, unlike those of the Kalahari. But really Anne and I have shared some amazing times together on this trip already. The co-ordinates of where we camped at Kira Wira are S02 10,132 E34 98, 102.
I am really grateful to the lady in the booking office in Arusha, she gave us fantastic special campsites, right in the thick of things. In driving around, many of the special campsites although private enough, appear to be in areas of relatively sparse animal populations. The few game drives from the surrounding lodges seemed to center around the Kira Wira area we were in. That night at about 21H00 a vehicle approached with its lights off in the dark. Obviously I was none too comfortable with this, but it turned out they were an anti-poaching patrol that initially found our intermittent flashlights (to see the passing animals more clearly) to be worthy of investigation.
On our first full day we were off on our morning game drive as the sun came up. We obviously knew there were lions about and set off exploring the nearby loops along the Grumeti. We headed east first crossing the causeway towards the Kira Wira airstrip and then along the northern bank of the Grumeti. There were large numbers of hippo in the cesspools of stagnant water in the Grumeti and some giant crocs that I am sure give the crossing herds a tough time. I hoped in vain to find a leopard here but saw some black and white colobus monkeys, some impressive herds of buffalo, wildebeest and zebra on the plains, but no crossing. Impala were the most common antelope.
Later we explored the river loops closer to our camp, about 400m away. Here we found the lion pride that was to entertain us for the next day or so. When a lodge game viewing vehicle arrived we moved off to give them room only to hear that we had just missed a wildebeest kill right before the viewers, oh well perhaps our good manners will pay off later. The wildebeest had been dragged off into the thick riverine bush and all we could was the snarling and tearing as the pride climbed into this rather sparse meal. Over the next day and a half we were entertained by this lion pride by day and night. They were in prime condition making hay of the wildebeest and we could hear the close-by kills at night. The pride members seemed to come and go but as far as we could tell there was only one magnificent pride male, plus a young male beginning to sprout a mane, a lioness with 4 smallish cubs, another lioness with 2 larger cubs, a lioness with 3 sub-adult cubs and then 4 other lionesses at least. The ranger felt the pride was twenty in strength. We even saw 2 up a tree and they were often on kills but had dragged them into thick bush. We are not lion obsessed but this pride kept us entertained constantly and we often had them under view only meters from our vehicle. The interaction between the cubs and the adults, between the disdainful older and the younger cubs and the pride in general was most entertaining. The viewing was so convenient and intimate that we were not bored for one second.
There was also never any crowding of vehicles in this quieter section of the park. Kira Wira is a great area and I would recommend it at any time of the year, not only when the herds are there. Apparently we were a week or so too late to see the herds at their peak but were more than well satisfied with our experiences. One thing that surprised me about Serengeti was the relatively poor birdwatching, but I suppose this is the case with savannah. The raptors were good and I have never seen so many vultures. At night owl and nightjar calls were scarce.
Just as a matter of interest this is our lion tally for Serengeti.
• Separate sightings of different individuals - 12 in 6 days.
• Estimate of number of individual lions seen – 62. Amazing!
In the photos the first 2 lions are the ones lying in the proposed campsite.