Animals in motion and animals at rest

We are back in moshi now after a 4 day safari across northern Tanzania. We did one safari each in tarangire national park and ngorongoro crater, and two whole days of safari at Serengeti. During that time we even spent the nights in (luxury) tents inside the Serengeti park.

In terms of animal “sightings” there was absolutely no comparison to what we’ve seen in india (Bandipur / kabini / Bhadra). Back home we’ve failed to see a single big cat in the wild, across 10 safaris. We very easily went into double digits on this trip.

The main difference I think is the terrain. Karnataka is all thick forests which means that visibility is low. An animal needs to be within a couple of tens of metres from the road for you to be able to see it.

In the African savannah (will come to that in a bit, or in another blogpost), though, you can literally see for miles and miles and miles and …

On the first day in tarangire I spotted an elephant from at least a kilometre away. Turned out it was a herd, drinking water from the tarangire river stream. And we could keep our eyes on it while our driver-guide navigated the paths and bends to take us close to them. This kind of visibility would have been impossible in the Karnataka forests.

It was more stark with the big cats. If you go on any safaris in Karnataka and ask the guides about potential sightings they talk about it in terms of “movements”. Stuff like “there has been good movement of tigers in the last two days but not so much of leopards” etc.

This is important because in the thick forests of Karnataka pretty much the only time you can spot big cats is when they are moving. When they are at rest (as big cats are wont to be a lot of the time) they are resting away from the roads, and because of the terrain they are impossible to spot.

Things can’t be more different in the East African savannah. Our first sightings of lions, on Saturday afternoon, for example, was of a pack sleeping right next to the road.

My fingers added for context, to show how close they were

Even when the animals are resting away from the tracks, the nature of terrain means that you can still spot them. And this – the fact that you can see for miles in the savannah – means that the chances of spotting an animal at rest are significantly higher.

We saw at least four other packs of lions resting under bushes. Our only leopard sighting was of one sleeping on a tree (from what I hear it was there for so long – obviously, since it was sleeping – that pretty much everyone who was in Serengeti on Sunday afternoon managed to see it). Our first cheetah sighting was of one resting on a termite hill. And so on.

So the main reason you see more big cats in Tanzania, compare to india, is that the terrain allows you to see them at rest. And the cat lifestyle is based on short hunts followed by long periods of rest, which means this massively ups the chances of seeing them.

Now I wonder how it is in grassy areas in india, such as Assam.

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