When compared to animals that we are familiar with in North America, it is safe to say that there are some unusual animals on the African continent. During our 4 day safari in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater we came across numerous examples of odd looking birds and animals including some downright ugly ones. It seems however, that every species, regardless of looks, always produce cute babies. Perhaps it is their size & shape, their looks or their playful nature that draw us to this conclusion. Just like the female leopard we saw whose small cub eventually made an appearance, so did two small hyena cubs eventually come out of the den. The pups are very dark and I may not have identified them as hyenas if I saw them without the mother as a reference. Very cute however!
Hyenas are scavengers and predators. They will often steal the prey from other hunters like cheetahs or come in after big predators like lions have had there fill and moved on. However, they are capable of killing larger prey such as wildebeest and antelope but will resort to eating insects. We came across this group that were getting away from the heat and flies by laying in the mud puddles created by the recent rain. They didn’t mind our vehicle but eventually decided to get up and move on. Notice one carrying the skull!
This last photo captures the more classic look of a hyena on the Serengeti with its typical grasslands and sparsely scattered trees. This is how we think of the African plains – vast & beautiful!
The wildebeest are famous for their epic migrations from the Maasai Mara in Kenya into the Serengeti in Tanzania. The migration had started while we were there and we saw 10,000 plus wildebeest at times: sometimes as far as the eye could see! There are an estimated 1.5 million that follow the rains with each migration and this produces new grass growth for food and a source of drinking water. However, other animals are part of this great migration including 200,000 zebra and 500,000 Thompson’s gazelle. The zebra and wildebeest are commonly found in mixed groups.
Wildebeest, also known as gnus, are interesting looking. They are a type of antelope but their body proportions seem odd compared to other antelope.
Zebras look like a horse with black and white stripes and each pattern is unique to that zebra similar to a fingerprint. Although the reason for the pattern is unknown most believe that in relates to camouflage against predators, helps with temperature control and repels insects.
This group of wildebeest interrupted their migration for a quick drink. They are a bit skittish during these times as they are vulnerable to lions when they put their heads down to drink. However, the need to drink outweighs their fear.
Many of the zebra had small foals with them. We noticed that many were still nursing from their mothers. The younger the foals, the more brown they have in their coats.
While driving we came across a cheetah mother and her single cub. Probably she had more cubs but as so often the case, cubs get killed by predators such as hyena, lions and leopards. Without siblings the mother has to interact more with her cub and of course the cub, who is wanting to always play, keeps jumping on the mom. We have 150-600mm telephoto lenses on our cameras so it makes the photos look like we are relatively close to them even though we are a long distance away from them. Because of the extreme distance the quality of the shots is not great but it was such a touching series that we decided to include them anyway. You can view our earlier cheetah post to see quality images of cheetahs. Enjoy this mother and cub interaction.
After a bit of play time and some tender moments the mother cheetah moves to a termite mound where she can look over the savannah to keep an eye out for danger.
Okay, we think we got these names all correct. There are Dik-Dik, Klipspringer, Topi, Reedbuck, Impala, Thompson’s Gazelle, Grant’s Gazelle, Waterbuck and Bushbuck. That makes 9 different species we photographed. A few others were too far away to get good pictures. We are not counting Wildebeest as they doing their great migration and were on a previous post. So here it goes:
The Dik-Dik is the smallest antelope we photographed and weighs 3-6 kg: smaller than most dogs. They are monogamous and are found in pairs. Very small and very cute.
The Klipspringer is slightly bigger than the Dik-Dik at 8-18 kg. They are nocturnal and prefer rocky terrain which they navigate quite easily.
The Impala is a very abundant medium sized antelope. They can be found in large herds when food is plentiful.
The Waterbuck is a large antelope with the males reaching 300 kg. They always live near water and use it to escape from predators.
The Thompson’s Gazelles is one of the smaller gazelles and are very fast. They will run in a zig-zag pattern when pursued by a predator like a cheetah.
The Reedbuck is a very plain coloured antelope that has a distinct dark circle under it’s ear. We found these along the river in the reeds so hence the name.
The Topi has very unique colouring and are a medium sized antelope. The males can weigh up to 155 kg. This female has calves with her.
The Grant’s Gazelle looks very similar to the Thompson’s Gazelle but is much larger. They are often seems together which makes identification much easier.
Finally, The Bushbuck which we think is the most beautiful of the 9 we photographed. These antelope live in pairs but we did not see the female.
It was inevitable. The Olive Baboons and the Vervet Monkeys in the Serengeti National Park finally got there own post. Both of these primates have so many different sides to their personality and looks. First, let’s look at the Vervet Monkeys which I think most people would agree are cute.
Next, let us look at the much larger Olive Baboons which I think most people would agree are not so cute. Especially with that butt, although admittedly, it is colourful.
So then, I guess a Vervet Monkey mother with her small infant becomes even cuter.
But does an Olive Baboon mother carrying a small infant become more cute? I don’t know but I would argue that a baboon infant is cute even when it’s a baboon.
Vervet Monkeys are just at home in the trees or on the ground. They are never far from a tree and if a predator shows up then up the tree they go.
Olive Baboons tend to spend a lot of time on the ground walking from spot to spot. We found them in the trees when they were feeding. I assume they sleep in trees at night.
So in conclusion, we think monkeys are cuter than baboons so they get an extra picture!
We might as well admit it. Yes, we were more than lucky on this trip. Not only did we see numerous lions and a leopard with her cub (a very rare experience) but we also had the opportunity to get very close to some cheetahs which is not a common occurrence. We suspect that these four cheetahs were either a mother with her 3 older cubs that will soon leave her or four young siblings hanging together since recently leaving their mother. Escaping the hot African sun is always a priority so finding a tree with a bit of shade to sleep under is important.
Cheetahs have spots just like leopards but are easy to differentiate because their face has a “teardrop” marking under their eyes. They also have very long legs and their head is small in proportion to their body compared to other cats in the Serengeti.
The cheetah finds a tall lookout to scan the horizon for potential prey. Here they are using an old termite mound which is just slightly higher than the surrounding savannah.
The cheetah is the fastest animal in the world and can reach speeds of 110 kilometers per hour. They can accelerate to this speed in just 3 seconds which is the technique they use to hunt. However, this speed can only be maintained for a few seconds so they must make their kill fast or the prey will escape.
Elephants have great memories and apparently never forget, but our memories are not as good and fade with time so it is best to capture them in photographs. The Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater have been an incredible experience for us with such diversity of life. As we continue to share our photographs of this trip we thought about how surreal it is to be 20 feet away from a 10,000 pound elephant. They are huge and can weigh as much as 14,000 pounds but are very graceful and coordinated. The older males are often solitary but the younger males often hang out in small bachelor groups.
The females which have a older, experienced matriarch leading them hang out in herds which vary in size. The herds we saw ranged in size from about 10 to 40 elephants.
Babies of any animal species are so cute and adorable and the elephant calf is no exception. It stays close to its mother but there has to be time to be a kid and just play.
The baby in the photographs above was the star of the show and came within 5 meters of our vehicle. Although we do very little GoPro video we couldn’t resist doing one here.
We have many photos of these magnificent animals and it is hard to just pick just a few to share with you. Here are a few others that seemed to capture our attention.
And of course, one final photograph which is my favourite picture of the elephants.