Unlike Anywhere Else in the World
Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photographs courtesy of A&K
hat do Bill Gates, Hillary and Chelsea, Martina Navratilova and Prince
Charles have in common? They've all taken an Abercrombie and Kent safari
in Tanzania. I figured that's a pretty good recommendation.
As little as five years ago, some Americans still thought
of Tanzania as an exotic destination; now more and more are choosing
it as a vacation alternative to Kenya. And when most people think Tanzania,
they think Serengeti. They picture millions of wildebeest and zebras
stretching endlessly across the plains in their annual migration during
the dry season.
Although A&K's Tanzania Wildlife Safari includes
the Serengeti, as well as Lake Manyara, I'd trade those "Endless
Plains" for the relatively tiny expanse of the nearby Ngorongoro
Spanning only 102 square miles, this 2 1/2 million-year-old
volcanic crater is a virtual microcosm of all East Africa. Just about
every conceivable species of wildlife is represented, which makes the
Ngorongoro Crater the only place of its kind in the world! Unlike the
other parks, the Crater is the only place to see and photograph the
wealth of wildlife without high-powered binoculars or large telephoto
Despite the many animals visible alongside the road
in all the parks, for the most part it's a constant quest for viewing
privileges, necks craned, eyes strained, heads bobbing from side to
side hoping to be the hero in the jeep to make the next sighting.
The Crater, instead, is Mother Nature's Zoo a
huge expanse of wild creatures surprisingly willing to share their open
spaces, with each other as well as us. From the hatched-roof vehicles,
designed for ultimate sightseeing, we leer, gawk, ooh, ah, jump up,
sit down, jump up again, all the while snapping picture after picture,
while the animals pretend to ignore us. It's hard to describe the wonder
of a leviathan elephant whose tusks almost reach the ground, a black-maned
lion baring his teeth or half-a-dozen adolescent zebras cavorting around
a waterhole within feet of the jeep. Home to some 30,000 animals, I
felt I had climbed into the Discovery Channel.
The highlight of the Crater is the endangered black
rhino, of which only 26 are left. As in the days of Hemingway, when
he and his hunting cronies were obsessed with tracking down The Big
Five rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and cape buffalo poaching
remains the biggest threat to the future of the rhino population. Not
unlike Hemingway, the goal of many safari participants is also to pursue
these most elusive, and dangerous, of prey. Their sport, however, is
to shoot photos, not rifles. My safari mates and I 11 of us total
saw all five beasts, an accomplishment in which we took great
Considering its menace, the rhino doesn't seem to do
much. I guess when you're the second largest animal around, there's
not all that much incentive to move. In contrast, the graceful loping
antelope is a much more spirited animal.
Little did I know prior to my trip that an antelope
is not itself an animal but a generic term that covers a wide range
of creatures, ranging from an 11-pound dik dik to a 2000-pound eland.
Also springboks, riverbucks, hardebeest, wildebeest, impalas, topis
and gazelles among others, with horns from curved to straight, twisted
to rippled, rounded to wavy. The list goes on as far as the antelope
The imploded crater, the largest of its type in the
world, provides both temporary and permanent residence for its vast
hordes of wildlife dwellers. So many animals peacefully coexisting
at least on the surface. Hyenas, zebras, wildebeest, ostriches, elephants,
lions, warthogs, hippos, baboons, cheetahs, leopards and that's
just for starters! The latter two, especially, are rare safari finds
and among the most sought after by experienced safari-goers.
We novices got lucky. Not only did we see two leopards
virtually indistinguishable from the tree branches they were wound around,
but also a family of cheetahs frolicking nearby. I was mesmerized by
the four cubs romping and rolling over each other, periodically returning
to mom for a little grooming and reassurance.
She, on the other hand, was eyeing several gazelles
about a quarter-mile away. We watched, some more anxiously than others,
while they played a little cat and gazelle game, as mama debated whether
or not to go and bring back lunch. Prey and predator eyeing each other,
each evaluating its position, flirting with danger one moment, retreating
the next. You can feel the tension, irrevocably caught up in the life-and-death
dance that forms the very essence of their existence. I was both relieved
and disappointed when mama decided against take-out.
And sometimes success depending, of course, from
whose perspective is obvious. Case in point: the lion whose matted
mane was so close, I could see his whiskers tremble, his stomach visibly
distended, clearly indicating how well he had feasted the night before.
Our guide, Joseph's input: thirty to forty pounds of raw meat will satiate
him for 4-5 days. What a way to live! I, on the other hand, was ready
One of the most intriguing photo ops was of a vast flock
of flamingoes, numbering in the thousands, occupying most of Lake Magadi,
a shallow soda lake on the bottom of the crater. They resembled a feathery
pink blanket stretched out along the shoreline.
Through Joseph's well-trained, eagle-eyed and extremely
knowledgeable tutelage, we were soon all amateur zoologists, identifying
a previously generic starling as a Ruppells long-tailed glossy or the
ubiquitous antelope as a hardebeest or Grant's gazelle. By the sixth
day, it was "Don't bother getting up, it's just another herd of
A travel story is often enhanced by the obstacles overcome,
but on this particular trip, I was out of luck. The sun was brighter,
the accommodations nicer, the food better, the flies less bothersome,
the dust lighter than I had been led to expect. Although I understand
this to be rare, I actually returned to my hotel with clothes still
resembling the color they started out with. Be forewarned, this is not
always the case.
The roads were another story, a definite obstacle that
can't be overcome unless you walk which is definitely frowned upon
in the wild! Anyone with back problems, or allergies for that matter,
should probably not even consider the trip.
Seated on my hotel balcony at 7:30 a.m. the last morning,
I listened to a concerto of birdcalls as I observed two Thompson's gazelles
romping about with a topi. A small flock of guinea hens grazed within
50 yards, assiduously avoiding a passing wart hog.
But what especially struck me was the presence of all
the other animals, hidden in grass and shrubs, that I knew I was not
seeing. Occupying those omnipresent endless plains were millions of
hoofed animals continually on the move in search of pasture for survival,
constantly watched and pursued by the many predators whose own survival
depends on feeding off them. For a while, I watched for the slightest
movement, as a hungry predator might do as it seeks its next meal. Then,
I reluctantly left for home, knowing that this strange combination of
imposing terrain, tenuous commingling of wildlife and inevitable brutal
killings will continue long after I'm gone. Welcome to the harsh
and wonderful realities of nature. For more information, visit
or contact Abercrombie & Kent at 800/554-7094.
Mountain Gorillas In Uganda; Chimps
in Uganda; Uganda
Where Arid Desert Meets Frigid Sea (Part 1); Namibia
Part II: Where Wild Women Meet Wildlife