It was a tremendous privilege to be so close to such wonderful animals in their natural environment and to sit and observe them with no pressure on our time. Billie's (our driver/guide) knowledge really came into it's own here because not only could he tells us about the animals - with some showing us how to tell their ages - but also talking about their behaviour & traits.
Aside from Baboons & Monkeys, one of the first large animals we came across in Lake Manyara park were the Giraffes. Throughout the week we were constantly amazed at how such large animals could appear and disappear, almost from nowhere! A little later, we came across our first family of lions. Unusually, a large male taking interest in his cubs, although these seemed more interested in mum's milk!
The Ngorogoro Crater gave us pretty much everything and was our first view of the massed numbers of Wildebeest & Zebras. As Billie told us, these two species have a strong symbiotic relationship. Wildebeest are great at finding food but can easily wander into predators! Zebras have acutely tuned senses for danger - one instance in the Serengeti saw a herd of Zebras around a watering hole when one saw a Hyena across the other side. There was an almighty squawk, resulting in the whole herd bolting and taking the attendant Giraffes with them. Whilst the latter are beautifully graceful animals in "walk" mode, all grace is lost when the pace picks up & they become the most gangling animals on this planet!
One of the things we noticed in the Serengeti was how well the predators camouflaged themselves in the plains grass!
You'd be forgiven for thinking that in a space so massive & open as the Serengeti, it might be difficult to spot animals. It may have been but it was far easier to spot the jeeps! There's a code between the drivers that if they find something, they'll give you a little time to view but then call the sighting in on their CB radios for the rest of the safari population but it also works the other way in your benefit. One day in the Serengeti we were lucky to find a family of Cheetah's first - mum & three cubs who weren't very old. We had a few minutes alone with them before Billie felt he had to call it in but we then followed them for a while, almost loosing the cubs in the plains grass. On another afternoon, we benefitted from the drivers' club as one of the others had found some lions sheltering from the sun under a tree right by the side of the track. Billie's experience was able to tell us that they were all young lionesses ( spots in their fur under their belly for the first couple of years) and, from the engorged nature of those bellies, that they'd relatively recently fed!
We had a further lion watching moment the next day when we first saw a couple of male lions asleep under a tree. Shortly after spotting these, a lioness' head popped up from the plains grass, followed by several more; having spotted a procession of Zebras on the horizon. Gradually, five of these ladies moved out into a line and, one by one, began to advance steathily towards their prey with a sixth lioness behind them, literally covering their rear! A seventh had been left behind to guard the cubs. Although the Zebras were too far away for an effective attack (apparently Lions are quite lazy), we could see how this would unfold with the left flank lioness looking likely to break through the line before turning back to force the Zebras onto her waiting partners lying low in the plains grass.
On our last evening, our drive to the Grometi River was specifically to see Hippos. These large animals find the daytime too hot & so generally spend their days sleeping in the water. Late afternoon sees them beginning to wake & become rather playful, prior to emerging form the water late evening to spend most of the night eating. Whilst watching these animals, we became aware of a sole lioness who broke the tree-line to our left heading for rock pools. She gradually worked her way to be right in front of us before finding one that she liked. After satiating her thirst, she walked right down the side of the Jeep & we then followed her for a while. Again, with Billie's knowledge, he was able to tell us that she was a) young (still had the spots) b) pregnant, c) must have done something to upset the pride & be kicked out to be out alone & d) would have a difficult time raising her cubs. Years later, I still find myself wondering what happened to her and her cubs!