Serengeti Photographic Safaris
A Serengeti Photographic Safaris can be wonderful - but doing your homework first is very important.
As the rains of late November fall, the grassland plains that lie to the west of the Ngorongoro Highlands become a wonderland of flooded water courses, lush grasslands and flowering acacia trees. The world famous wildebeest migration does not falter, does not wait. Over one and a half million of these oddly shaped but perfectly adapted animals charge out of the Serengeti woodlands onto these vast plains to put back condition lost in the dry season and to give birth creating a glut for predators.
The empty plains are refreshed by rain
The wildebeest do not falter
The rains and volcanic soils have worked their magic once again, what was a dusty and empty plain a week before is now a bright green paradise, teeming with wildlife. Over half a million gazelles and over two hundred thousand zebra join the Wildebeest to create the terrestrial world’s largest numbers of wildlife in one area and a season of plenty for both predators and prey.
Hyenas patrol the herds
Cheetahs can be driven off a kill by vultures
Male lions in the Serengeti are wonderful looking animals
Ash fall out from the nearby volcanoes not only helped to create these plains, enriching the soils several million years ago, but also set the stage for the emerging drama of upright walking man and woman to hunt and gather. To visit this area in the season of abundance and rebirth is a return to our ancient roots, a genuine feeling of distant familiarity and celebration at the natural worlds’ ability to bounce back from drought or a long and hard dry season.
I do not falter either! I dash onto these plains and join these herds to celebrate this unique event and I have done this every year since I first came to camp on these plains and explore them in 1984.
You may wonder whether I strip off, go down on all fours and become a hoofed animal for a few months each year (I do not by the way). Actually I now spend the months of December to late March and sometimes on in to April and May out on these plains camping and leading photographic safaris. This does not mean that I spend my days struggling under the weight of huge camera lenses, laden with film and batteries and dust proof bags! Nor do I wear a bulging photographer’s jacket.
I like to wonder at this place and study its beauty and form, its complexities and magnificence. I like to walk in it and relax in it and to keep my visit uncomplicated and streamline. Not for me the endless luxury items so demanded by the tourist industry these days. I like to have very little impact and leave the camp site that has sheltered me with no sign being left of my comfort and stylish tented camp. You may wonder why I get so excited at this spectacle of strange beasts that charge around all year in search of quality grass and drinking water.
I can honestly say that if you have never really seen the full on power of the Serengeti migration and the natural wonders of these plains during the rainy season, (because you always visit in the July to October season) and you like to see wildlife spectacles, then you have an incredible experience ahead of you if you do some homework ahead of your trip. A safari experience unlike any other in the African bush.
I traveled to 16 different African countries in search of wildlife spectacles and when I first witnessed the Serengeti Plains after good rain in early 1984 I was stunned and elated.
I still searched on into Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia and the wilderness of the Congo rain forests as well as many other corners of this wonderful African Continent. But nothing came close to the sheer feeling of openness and freedom that I felt out on those plains in Northern Tanzania with the migrating animals. I decided that I am not a forest loving pygmy or a city dweller because I enjoyed exploring with a good 4 wheel drive vehicle and walking upright across endless miles of open savannah landscapes.
Do some walking on your safari
These things are personal of course, and the feeling of being near a waterhole with 500 elephants, as in Tarangire aside, I cannot remember being more at peace as I felt that first time in the Serengeti, realizing that our natural world was still intact and that the world was now for me a better place, a richer place and a thrilling place.
On returning from my African travels to the Serengeti, a year or so after that first visit, I decided that I must live this seasonal event every coming year of my modest life here on earth. And luckily for me I have. With some real help from ‘old hand ‘ safari guides and the generous hospitality of the film and research communities of that period I set to the long process of trying to not only know my way around the entire eco-system of over 20, 000 square mile but also to understand what made it work, made it possible to exist in this modern world of forever changing fortunes for wild animals.
The migration on the Sanjan Plains
So what have I learned, what insights can I give a seeker of such an experience?
Time is the key, having enough time to allow this spectacle to wash over you, to explore and create the luck ones needs to see extraordinary wildlife events. Your luck increases as the days pass, your understanding that this is no Zoo, no stage set for your casual fun and frolic.
You need to do time here in the sense that one does time at work and achieves something of worth and note. This means getting up at (or even before) dawn, it means camping in a remote place close to the action and perhaps roughing it a little bit! Don’t cut yourself off from the natural world that you have traveled so far to see by staying for the entire duration of your safari in a concrete lodge or luxury hotel. Instead stay in a variety of lodgings and do camp some of the time if only for a few nights.
A private camp for four guests
Make time for your own thoughts to wander
Today the safari experience is more varied and can be more costly than ever before but some elements are all important. It is not the food served or the cocktails at sunset or the number of pillows on your bed at night, it is the joint attitude of yourselves, the visitors and the guide or guides that are hopefully immersing you in the task at hand, (the task of really experiencing the Serengeti as a living and dynamic ecosystem, full of drama, life and death, hardship, beauty, humor and constant swings from sometimes deafening silence to the noises of the night).
That time together with your guide, working at the safari experience is the greatest luxury of all. Spend that extra dollar, take that extra day or two and seek out a better safari experience. Don’t be stuck with seven strangers in a vehicle that has been stretched and its off road capabilities therefore compromised. And make sure that you are not driving all the time. Ask to vary your experience with some walking or light hiking, visit a remote and hidden valley and spend the afternoon there, insist on full days out from your place of sleep with picnics and do read up a little before you come and learn some history of the area and some wildlife behavior.
I sometimes see visitors in other vehicles that have traveled thousands of miles to get to see a pride of lions or a magnificent bull elephant and spend only 5 minutes watching these beasts! Why oh why, I wonder? Perhaps their guide had nothing to say?
Is it hype or fiction or truth or just plain bullshit?
Today we can research our safari experience like never before. The internet gives us the power to choose better and just a little homework before you book a safari will pay dividends. Ask a few questions of the experience you are paying well for. Will you be in areas away from the crowded main road; will you be in a well-serviced and prepared vehicle with the necessary equipment; is your guide experienced and well able to communicate the wildlife experience to you?
An experience of a lifetime
Good operator reputations are hard earned in the safari world just like in any occupation and things do change, so make sure that your information is up to date and get a second opinion. If the experience you get is not the one you were looking for then you are partly to blame.
A photographic safari can be an experience of a lifetime; wise minds can be reawakened and growing minds enriched and inspired by the time spent out exploring the Great Serengeti Plains with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable professional safari guide.