Hello again! Time goes by so fast here I realized I was behind on my blog posts. We had our first game drive the other day and it was amazing! Normally we have class and the occasional field exercise but this was our first time going to a national park and seeing lots of wild animals. We woke up early and drove to the Lake Manyara National Park which is only about twenty minutes away. Just at the entrance to the park there were lots of birds and even a few monkeys. As our entrance to the park was processed we got our cars ready for the drive, we popped the roofs so we could stand on the seats and feel like Jack Dawson flying through the park.
We finally were all set to go and entered the park and were immediately surrounded by baboons, vervet monkeys, blue monkeys and so many birds! We were so close to all of these things and they didn’t even seem to be surprised or disturbed by us. Suddenly we turned a corner and we went from the bushland to a forest. We were looking in the trees for more monkeys when I saw something off to the side, it was huge. I couldn’t even say elephant, I just kept saying “oh my god! oh my god! oh my god!” and pointing at it. And our car skidded to a stop and we were face to face with a massive female elephant. She was off to the side browsing in the trees, she started to walk away and she went off to join a big herd of seven elephants that popped up behind us. Then an even bigger bull elephant came out of the woods to our left. He was in musth, meaning he was following the herd of female elephants in hopes of finding a mate. This also means that he had a lot of testosterone in him. This surge of macho-ness makes him pretty aggressive. He crossed the road in front of our car and decided to show off a bit. He did a bluff charge at us and it was really cool but also pretty scary. He could have easily flipped our car and we had a staredown with him that lasted a few minutes. He stood directly facing us with his ears flapped out and his head held high to make him look even bigger. We could have touched him he was so close. Once he decided we weren’t a threat he moved off to the edge of the road and crossed to the forest on the other side where he almost pushed a tree over while rubbing against it.
After that exciting moment we drove around the park for ten hours. It felt like fifteen minutes. Over the course of the day we completed our assignment for the day which was to observe and document olive baboon behaviors for two hours. We ended up writing a report on these observations later on, but once we were done observing them we just drove around the park all day. We saw hippos, cape buffalo, grey crowned cranes, more elephants, impalas, dik-diks, wildebeest, giraffes, and even the famous Lake Manyara tree-climbing lions! We were having such good luck seeing animals. After we saw the lions sleeping in a tree we unfortunately hit a big pile of mud and got really stuck. We broke a tow rope but were able to get out after another car with another tow rope came and all seven of us who were in the car got into the mud and pushed (after counting to three in swahili “Moja! Mbili! Tatu!”). We were the first car to get stuck this semester and it has happened a lot more since then. It was a really amazing day and was a great prelude to the rest of our game drives.
We drove back to camp exhausted and compared stories of the day between different cars and counted down the days until we got to go to our next national park. More to come! We are heading off to Tarangire National Park soon so we will see even more cool things there!