Lake Manyara National Park
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We started our safari in Arusha, Tanzania. First destination is Lake Manyara National Park. We'll ride in this special safari edition of Toyota Landcruiser in the next a few days. Hamisi, our tour guide and driver, is a bit shy and liked to keep a low profile (leftmost, 2nd pic). However, we'll be impressed by his knowledge about nature and his incredibly sharp eyes for spotting wildlife. My impression on Arusha, supposedly a mid-sized town, is that it's a lot like China about a decade ago. Life is slow but the economy are awakening; new businesses booming; constructions everywhere.
Before we go to the park, let's first have a taste of the real rural Africa. Many of those in their eye-catching pink/purple traditional clothing belong to an ethnic group called Maasai, which are widely spread in Kenya and Northern Tanzania. You can find out more about them in the Ngorongoro National Park page.
You'll be surprised how much modern lifestyle has penetrate into these African villages. Coca-Cola, Elvis, cell phones, Toyota... Oh, that "Samsung Banana" guy just cracked me up.
More Village life. In the last pic is a pair of Somalia Camels (Camelus dromedarius), which are widely used for transportation. Notice there's only one hump on the back.
Lake Manyara is one of the more "underrated" National Park in Tanzania, according to Lonely Planet. Some 2/3 of the 330 square km is covered by a lake and the rest is mostly forest and vegetation. It's somewhat harder to spot wildlife in the bushes or forest; however, the park is surprisingly rich in birdlife.
An Overview of Lake Manyara. Wondering around the shore are Buffaloes (Syncerus caffer), Wildebeests (Connochaetes taurinus), and Elephants (genus Loxodonta).
Animals. Let's start with one of the most commonly spotted animals, Baboons of the Olive Race (Papio anubis), which always show up in big groups up to 100s. Baboons have a long face that resemble that of a dog. The hairless, nerveless bottom, although butt-ugly, actually provide an excellent cushion for sitting. Baboons are omnivorous. Although they mostly feed on seeds, fruits, etc., they from time to time steal eggs from bird nest and raid human residences. They're extremely intelligent and are capable of opening all kinds of doors and windows if not locked from the inside.
It's always fun to watch these restless clowns. In the last pic, a mother is milking its baby.
Another two specie of primates, the Blue Monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis, 3 pix) and Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus, last pic). Shy and somewhat curious, the blue monkeys certainly left me a better impression than their clown brother baboons. The vervet monkeys were somewhat naughtier, I have a lot more about them in other pages like Serengeti National Park.
Meet the largest land animal in the world, the African Elephant (genus Loxodonta), which weights up to 5.4 tons. To maintain such a giant body, these vegetarians eat all the time and each one consumes up to 225 kg of plant per day. There are plenty of food source around the lake. Maybe the bushes and forests could be rough at times, elephants we saw are all look kind of beaten. Some had half of tusk broke off and others have cracks in and holes pierced through their ears.
The graceful and elegant Giraffe (Ardea intermedia) is always my favorite. The tallest animal on land, male giraffes is on average ~5.5 meter in height, well adapted to reach young leaves in most trees. However such height advantage are not without its price: a huge and powerful heart (15kg) is required to pump blood into the brain. Partially due to their high blood pressure, the life expectancy of a giraffe is only about 20-25 years, compared to ~60 years for an elephant, 40-45 years for a white rhino. Pity!
More big mammals: water-dwelling Hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius, 2 pix) and dangerous Buffalos. The last pic is a carcase of buffalo.
Zebras (Equus quagga) and Wildebeests (Connochaetes taurinus). As you'll see later, you'll see them in almost every National Park. So I won't elaborate here.
Antelopes. Impala (Aepyceros melampus) is one of the more successful species of antelopes that are well adapted to this continent. They are widely spread through out southern and eastern Africa.
Note that the gentlemen have a pair of long and thin lyre-shape horn while the ladies don't. The eye-catching black and white stripes on their butt top act as a "follow me" sign on the run. There are two tufts of black hair right above the heels of the hind legs. Those are glands that secret chemicals for communication.
Impala is one of those animals that favor polygamy. The strongest male takes all ladies. The rest of the male stick together and form bachelor parties. That's why they were fighting with each other so fiercely. Winner takes all.
Meet one of the smallest and cutest member of the antelope family, the Dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii). Look at that tiny horns on that little boy's head. They weights about 5 kilo. The name dik-dik came from the sound they make when they are alert.
Mongoose are interesting little carnivores that feed on insects, small reptiles, and sometime even snakes. What we've got here are Banded Mongoose (Mungos mungo), which are usually found in troops of up to 40.
Birdlife. This Gray-headed King Fisher (Halcyon leucocephala) enjoyed a frog for lunch. These colorful creatures usually live in nest cavities in trees near water. Apparently they feed on not only just fishes, but also insects, amphibians, reptiles, and even small mammals.
More eye-catching birds. In the first three pix are a Red-and-Yellow Barbet (Trachyphonus erythrocephalus). The Maasai native some times used their beautiful feather for decoration. In the rest three pix is a Red Bishop (Euplectes orix). It's easy to see where the name come from.
In the first two pix the bird also appears to be some sort of Barbet (Red-Fronted Barbet? Tricholaema diademata. Not sure. If you do, please let us know). The next 4 are a Specked Mousebird (Colius striatus, 2 pix) and a Blue Naped Mousebird (Urocolius macrourus, 2 pix). Mousebirds got the name not only from their long and thin tails, but also their habit of plowing through leaves for fruits and buds like rodents. In the last pic the richly-colored bird is a Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus) of East Africa race.
Raptors. A sleepy Owl (Barn Owl? Tyto alba) resting (2 pix). Next two, an Augur Buzzard (B. augur), also known as African Red-Tailed Hawk. The size is about half a meter. It mainly prey on reptiles, mostly snakes and lizard, although some times also on small birds, rodents, and insects. In the last two pix is a Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax). A larger bird of prey (~0.7 meter), it attacks mongooses, young gazelle, dik-diks, high -flying flamingos, and other smaller animals. A very effective killing machine.
Hornbills. Hornbill is a family of birds with long bill shaped like a bull's horn. These are omnivorous birds that feed on fruits as well as insects and small animals. In the pix in the first row are all Southern Ground-Hornbills (Bucorvus leadbeateri). In the 2nd row are Black-and-white Casqued Hornbills (Bycanistes subcylindricus, 3 pix) and an African Gray Hornbill (Tockus nasutus, last pic).
Shorebirds. From a distance, we saw a bright strip of pink in the lake, guess what it is... thousands of Flamingoes!
Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus, 3 pix) is such a omnipresent bird in Africa, probably only Canadian Goose in North America can be its match. They're like...remember the song "Walk Like an Egyptian?" (The Bangles, 1986) That's what they are like. Egyptian Geese were considered sacred by ancient Egyptians and appears frequently in their artwork, so I'm not sure if it's these geese walk like an Egyptian, or the Egyptian walked like these geese. In the last three is a Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis). Cattle Egrets like to stay with large herbivores like cattle, elephants, and rhinos, where they can find scared insects conveniently when the animals move.
A pretty Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus coronatus, 2 pix) and a Black Smith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus, 3 pix).
A group of Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus, 3 pix) and a pair of Water Thick-Knees (Burhinus vermiculatus).
More birds. A Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus, 1 pic); a Long-tailed Fiscal Shrike (Lanius cabanisi, 1 pic); a Golden-breasted Bunting (Emberiza flaviventris, 1 pic); a group of White-breasted Cormorant (Phalacrocorax lucidus, 1 pic); a Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis, 1pic); a Ring-necked Dove (Streptopelia capicola, last pic).
Other interesting stuff. Huge Anthills (2 pix) can be spot everywhere. In many of them the ants are not longer in there. Deserted anthills are happily adopted by Mongoose and mice. Those grass balls hanging in the trees are nests of Weavers (2 pix). A group of butterflies in drinking water on the wet soil near a creek (last 2 pix).
Interesting plants. These flowers are called Flamboyant (Eudicella gralli, 2 pix). The name couldn't be more appropriate. Next are two pix of Wild Dagga or Lion's Ear (Leonotis leonurus). These nectar-filled flowers are favorite stop for sunbirds, bees, and butterflies. In the last 2 pix the funny looking plant is called Sausage Tree (Kigelia africana). No, sorry, those sausages are rather fibrous and inedible : ) But you can use them to brew beer.
At last, Check out our hotel with a great view of the lake. It seems like meeting two Asian in Tanzania is just as exciting as sighting wildlife in the park. These Tanzanian school kids keep asking us to take pictures with them. Yeah, that sure made us feel like a pair of pandas.
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