Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Big Five Live

The Big Five Live

This is the story of four buddies from college days, now into their sixties, and their spouses who chose Africa for an adventurous vacation. These four guys celebrated their college alumni day (BITSians Day) in Dar-es-Salaam. Following picture posted on facebook on 1st August 2014 received an incredible 500+ likes from fellow BITSians and other friends world over!

Our wildlife safari kicked off with a domestic flight to Arusha. All eight safari enthusiasts had been profiled in the curtain raiser of our African Adventure. If you haven’t yet browsed the story titled ‘Life Begins at Sixty’, here is the link to the adventurous-eight:

Arusha is the wildlife capital of Tanzania as all wildlife tours for Northern circuit start from here. See Tanzania flag below. More on Arusha later.

Ever since we returned from African Safari, many friends and readers of Ghumakkad’s blog have been pressing for pictures of African adventure. Individual stories of National Parks/regions in Tanzania are still under compilation. So we decided first to share a story on the Big-Five.

What is Big Five?

In Africa, the big five game animals are the African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, African lion and White/Black rhinoceros. The term big five game (sometimes capitalized or quoted as "Big Five") was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Subsequently the term was adopted by safari tour operators for marketing purposes. The term is used in most tourist and wildlife guides that discuss African wildlife safaris. The members of the Big Five were chosen for the difficulty in hunting them and the degree of danger involved, rather than their size. Wikipedia, the source of this information adds, “The 1990 and later releases of South African Rand banknotes featured a different big-five animal on each denomination”.

Countries where all the big five can be found include South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya. However, you may not sight all the “Big five” in one wildlife park. We visited four National Parks in Tanzania's famous northern circuit.

Here are some pictures of the “Big Five” seen “live” by us across all four parks in Tanzania-- that's why the title "The Big Five Live". However, the Big Five are not so easy to spot. You have to start early. At times before sunrise-- as in this picture of rising Sun from our moving 4x4 Land Cruiser below.

The vegetation in African parks varies from acacias on the slopes of Ngorongoro highlands to thorny shrubs in the plains of Serengeti. See the flora map of Tanzania.

Credit for background information on each of the Big Five animals described below goes to Wikipedia.

African Elephant

The African elephant (Loxodontaafricana) is a very large herbivore having thick, almost hairless skin, a long, flexible, prehensile trunk, upper incisors forming long curved tusks of ivory, and large, fan-shaped ears. The elephants are difficult because despite their large size, they are able to hide in tall grass and are more likely to charge than the other species. 

We saw herds and herds of African elephants in every national park which we visited. Here are a few pictures clearly showing their fan shaped ears and their care for the babies.

A family of elephants grazing near our vehicle with open canopy. You get as close as this!
 Another male elephant walking along with us!

This family decided to cross the track. Of course we gave way to the elephants. They have the right of way!

Even the baby elephant's ears have the fan shape!

Cape Buffalo

The African or Cape buffalo (Synceruscaffer) is a large horned bovid. Buffalo are sometimes reported to kill more people in Africa than any other animal, although the same claim is also made of hippos and crocodiles. It is considered the most dangerous of the big five, reportedly causing the most hunter deaths, with wounded animals reported to ambush and attack pursuers.

Buffalo and other herds can be spotted from a distance from the dust which they raise while walking. See the wildebeest herd and the panorama of the vast plains against the wall of Ngorongoro crater.

We saw from close quarters many herds of Cape Buffaloes. They tended to size us up, our vehicle as well as our posture. Only when the lead male buffalo gave ‘all clear’ to fellow buffaloes, they shifted their ‘numbing stare’ elsewhere. You can get a feel through the pictures below.

 The stare which numbs you!
 And the leader then sounded 'all clear' to rest of the herd.

African Leopard

The leopard (Pantherapardus) is a large, carnivorous feline having either tawny fur with dark rosette-like markings or black fur. The leopard is considered the most difficult of the big five to sight because of their nocturnal and secretive nature. They are wary of humans and will take flight in the face of danger. The leopard is solitary by nature, and is most active between sunset and sunrise, although it may hunt during the day in some areas. Leopards can be found in the savanna grasslands, brush land and forested areas in Africa.

Our encounters with the African leopard were at a safe distance—unlike the lions, elephants and buffaloes where the animals brushed past our 4x4 land cruiser! We had three different sightings of leopards-- two on a tree and a third on a rock. 

Here is the first sighting on a tree some half a km away! Can you spot the leopard on the tree?
If yes, you have sharp eyes like our guide-cum-driver Rama who had amazing knack of spotting the animals as well as birds! 
Here is an enlarged view. The leopard had carried its kill- Grant's Gazelle, an antelope-- up the tree. You can see both the leopard and the kill in the picture below. 
Notice the different shade of its fur in the belly and rest of the body? That is the characteristic of African leopard.

It was a female leopard. How do we know? Because it had carried its cub and safely perched it atop another tree close by. See the hanging legs of the cub in the centre of the picture below.

It is a challenge taking pictures in such poor lighting. However, we got luckier with another sighting when the sun came out just in time. See the picture when the leopard-- once again on the tree beautifully camouflaged-- posed for us by turning its head!

Black Rhinoceros

This is another of the Big Five from whom a distance is to be maintained. It appeared to be shy of humans. The black rhinoceros (Dicerosbicornis) is a large, thick-skinned herbivore having one or two upright horns on the nasal bridge. 

Here are the pictures of our sighting almost a kilometer away! 
 An enlarged view showing the two horns-- unlike single horned rhinos of Kaziranga, India.

Even at that distance, it did not like to be disturbed. See the expression and the charge!

And don’t miss the number of safari vehicles which converged within 15 minutes from across the 400 square mile Ngorongoro crater. Rhino sighting is not easy. 
Lions are easier to sight! Read on.

African Lion

The Lion (Pantheraleo) is a large carnivorous feline of Africa and northwest India, having a short, tawny coat, a tufted tail, and, in the male, a heavy mane around the neck and shoulders. See the picture below.
 The male is conscious of its beauty! Here he licks his mane to keep it clean! Big cats and small cats-- all clean up themselves.

Lions live in the savanna where tall grasses, shrubs, and bushes obscure them and provide cover and camouflage. This thick undergrowth is commonly referred to as jess. As lions are ambush hunters, they use this natural cover when stalking to creep as close as possible before making a final charge to catch their prey. Lions do not generally avoid confrontation, but will usually face a challenger. Lions are unpredictable and may charge when sufficiently annoyed or confronted by danger.

We had many sightings in all the three parks except Lake Manyara. Here are a few pictures of the lions. A male lion walks past our safari vehicles.
Here is Anand Jain admiring our biggest sighting-- 11 lions together under a tree. Don't confuse the lions with dogs who sleep during the day!
 Mothers will be mothers. A lioness licks her cub.
Little Five

Before we end this story, the Big Five have company-- the "Little Five"-- Elephant Shrews, Ant Lions, Leopard Tortoises, Buffalo Weavers and Rhino Beetles. Credit for this revealing information goes to Lonely Planet and their excellent book on Tanzania. Though we sighted only the buffalo weaver, readers of this blog may share their sightings of the other Little Five!

Hope you enjoyed the “Big Five Live”. Every evening after the wildlife safari, when we returned to the safari camp/lodge, it was an additional treasure trove of memories. 
The Sun never seemed to set in Africa.
Your comments/observations on this picture story are welcome.
Watch out for next set of stories on our African Adventure.
-          Harsh-the-Ghumakkad/ 24th Aug 2014