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National Park is one of the few in Tanzania to allow walking safaris,
in part because it is a small park with few dangerous predators. The park contains a variety of
habitats including forest.
Animals have the
right of way
No, they did not build a road through a tree - it's a natural arch formed
olive trees enveloped by a strangler fig (ficus) tree. The host trees
stood on either side of the path and were smothered by the ficus which grows
from seeds dropped in trees by birds. Munching elephants ensure that roots which grow down in the centre
of the archway don't fill in the opening. This is a
well known location for picture taking, so ficus were famous even before so many
for elected office.
Mmmm... fig and olive
It was nice to be
set free from the vehicle and walk near giraffes
browsing serenely by our lodge. Giraffes, a symbol of Tanzania, are Athumani's favourite animal and it's easy to see why.
They are non-territorial and sociable, living in loose, open herds without
leaders. Their peerless height and excellent eyesight enables visual
contact between herd members spread over several kilometres.
Acacia tree leaves are the favoured food of these giraffes. Species of acacia have evolved various defences
including long sharp thorns. So
giraffes evolved 45 cm long prehensile tongues to pluck
the tender leaves from amongst the thorns. This, along with their height,
enables them to feed on trees that other
animals can't touch. It was fascinating to watch these giraffes methodically strip the trees of green.
Giraffes can go weeks without stooping in a vulnerable splayed position to drink at
water holes, relying on morning dew and the water content of food instead.
Females have two horns, topped with a tuft of hair. A mother giraffe
often gives birth while standing so that the newborn's welcome to life is a 2
metre drop! While adult giraffes are too large (males weigh up to 1,900 kg,
females up to 1,200 kg) and strong legged to be regular prey, over 50 percent of calves are
lions or hyenas. And, contrary to what the giraffe told the Jewish lion, giraffe
meat is kosher.
Males have three or more hairless horns. Males forage higher in trees than cow giraffes
which reduces food competition between the sexes. This bull has two oxpeckers
on his neck and one above his right foreleg. These helpful birds eat insects off the backs of large animals.
Giraffe with pecker (ox, that is)
Hikers in the park must be accompanied by an armed park ranger. Innocent Mkama,
the ranger standing
with the rifle in this picture, climbed Mt. Meru with
us. Meru's slopes form the backdrop in the picture; its peaks peeking out
from behind the clouds piqued our interest.
Armed park rangers
If there are few large predators in the park, why the men with guns? It's mainly because
of the African buffalo. While usually placid if not
disturbed, these powerful grazers can be unpredictable. They are
one of the African animals responsible for the most injuries to humans. While he
has fired in the air occasionally to scare them off, Innocent told me he's only ever
shot, and killed, one buffalo. In ranger training, they stress that a charging
buffalo allows no time for a second shot.
Also called cape
buffalo, they are endemic to Africa and related to
cattle, bison and water buffalo. Lions, working as a team as they are much smaller than
buffalo, can prey upon adult buffalo that stray from the herd. Up close, lions seem very large,
with "strikingly" enormous paws. But compared to buffalo, let alone
elephants and giraffes, lions seem like house cats again. With its perimeter of
strong sharp horns (effective against lions, unlike antelope horns), the herd
virtually impenetrable. Mothers guide newborns into the co-operative herd's lion-proof centre.
Inpenetrable buffalo herd
The 1962 film Hatari!
starring John Wayne was filmed in the area. Momella Wildlife
Lodge, where we spent two nights, was home base for the production. Forty years on, the lodge
proudly displays film memoribilia and screens the film on request.
Out the window of our comfy hut
Peaks of Meru behind the huts
We did not come to Arusha Park to walk with giraffes.
We did not come to pose under a fig tree arch.
Nor to watch Hatari!
We came to climb Mt. Meru...