24 July 2007

Safari Post VIII

Welcome to the next installment of the Grand Safari. Having arrived at the Seronera Lodge (Seronera is a sparse settlement in the middle of Serengeti National Park, mainly consisting of lodges and research complexes), we wandered off to find the bar. Er... the tea, yes, the hot tea. On the way there, we were amused by the large numbers of hyraxes wandering around the grounds.
Rock Hyrax
I don't know about you, but I think Hyraxes are very cute. I think I could make a profitable business importing them to the States for pets. There are more pictures (not all of hyraxes) after the jump.

I really liked the Seronera Lodge. The lounge area here--the rooms are very small and only have room for beds, so you don't relax in the room--is most fascinating. All those big rocks are the real thing, not some painted styrofoam Disney set piece.

The lodge is built right onto one of the rock out- croppings the dot the Serengeti, called "kopjes" (pronounced KOH-pees). Mufasa stood on a kopje when he presented Simba to the gathered throng of animals, to continue the Disney metaphor. I grabbed a drink and went out to take pictures around the lodge grounds. I didn't think to take one of the lounge itself, so this picture is from my travelling companion George.

The Seronera Lodge is right in the middle of the Serengeti, and there's no fencing or anything else. It's basically part of the natural terrain, and animals treat it as such.
Marabou Stork
One animal you'll never forget is this one here, the Marabou Stork, which I think looks rather nightmarish. This guy was just hanging out on the front lawn after the rain stopped. Where he came from and where he went I have no idea. In fact he might have been a she; storks all like alike.

From the front lawn--the stork wasn't bothered by people walking around--we saw some monkeys playing on the roof of the lodge. I think these were vervet monkeys again, but we never got a good ID on them. They played on the roof of the lodge for a while. We didn't see any other monkeys in the Serengeti that I remember apart from these and others hanging out at the lodge itself.

Likely as not they hang by the lodges so they can steal scraps out of the trash. No doubt plenty of tourists sneak them food, too. We saw a baboon at the lodge the next day during lunch, trying to get into the dining room. One of the staff persons chased it away with a broom. Apparently they sometimes get inside the dining room if the sliding doors are left open. That would be a sight.

The lodge consisted of two long two-story residential buildings connected by boardwalks around a courtyard, with the dining room, lounge, and kitchen built into the kopje on the third side. The fourth side of the courtyard was open to the Serengeti. Around the rocks of the kopje was a fairly large resident population of hyraxes, along with some bright purple lizards and other things. The hyrax--these here are specifically Rock Hyraxes--is a cute little social animal more closely related to manatees and elephants than to anything else. That's right.

It's commonly said--I've said it myself-- that the hyrax is the elephant's closest living relative. Actually, the dugong and manatee are closer relatives of the elephant, but both families--both sea cows and elephants--descended from giant hyraxes 40 million years ago or so. These modern hyraxes, of which there are four species, are plant-eating animals. They have multiple stomachs, like cows and such, but do not chew cud. They do not have sharp incisors like rabbits and rodents and so don't need to chew constantly (making them more suited for the pet market, really). They don't maintain their body temperature very well, so they spend much of the day sitting around on rocks in the sunshine. These little cuties here are demonstrating another tactic for both staying warm and watching out for predators: they sit butt to butt in groups. This was not a very warm day and the hyraxes were thick on the ground trying to stay out of the weather.

Now seriously. Aren't these things cute? They're about one to two feet long (males are bigger than females) and weigh five to ten pounds. They don't need to chew to sharpen their incisors like rodents do. They have only 2-3 pups in a litter, which are born with their eyes open and eat solid food after two weeks, plus the parents don't eat their young like mice and guinea pigs (saving parents the need to explain this bizarre behavior to young children still trying to grasp the idea that babies came out of the mommy). They're very intelligent and highly social, and should be easy to litter train (their leavings form a congealed mass so it would be easy to clean up in the litter box). They don't burrow (their feet aren't equipped for digging). Plus they're just so chubby and cute! If I'd been able to catch one napping alone, I'd have tried to sneak him into my suitcase, but the opportunity never arose. I think we all need more hyrax in our daily lives. I think I'll start my hyrax import business once I get out of my current job.

We spent some time in the lounge, reading, drinking, relaxing in a non-jostling setting, and then had some dinner. After dinner you have to be hasty and get your shower done while you can, because the power goes off at 9 and the nights are very very dark out there.

In the morning after breakfast as we were getting ready for our first game drive of the day, another Marabou Stork wandered across the front lawn. I caught him in the lens with my favorite horrible tree, Acacia horrida, the toothpick tree. Those white things are thorns.

We got started on our game drive after breakfast. We didn't bother to fix boxed lunches because we figured we'd just come back to the lodge. It was rather dreary in the morning, not raining but still quite damp and mostly overcast. We headed out into the countryside. The most surprising thing, at least to me, was how scrubby it was. I thought it would be all the vast endless undulating plains that you see on the Discovery Channel, but there are a lot of trees out there.

The Impala don't seem to mind the trees as much as they do the rain. This is a group of bachelor males.

The Impala, like many animals, tend to live in two different social groups: a harem, which is a group of females and young dominated by an alpha male; or a bachelor group, like the ones above. With most females choosing to settle into a harem there are a lot of lonely guys out there. Smitty used to be one, but thank God he found the perfect woman before he got too old for her to fall in love with him. It makes him think of these beautiful little lovebirds here.

Yes, there are there of them. And Lord only knows what they're doing sitting in a toothpick tree. But aren't they just the sweetest little things you ever saw? I mean, apart from the hyraxes?

In post IX, we'll delve deeper into the Serengeti game drives, and stop all this foolish chronological ordering of posts. Next time: The Mighty Wildebeest! Don't miss it!

Safari Post I (Introduction)
Safari Post II (Nairobi)
Safari Post III (Arusha – The Safari Begins)
Safari Post IV - Lake Manyara A
Safari Post V - Lake Manyara B
Safari Post VI - Lake Manyara Lodge
Safari Post VII - Off to Serengeti!
Safari Post VIII - Welcome to the Serengeti

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