Friday, 6/6. Lake Manyara Nat’l Park.


Lake Manyara National Park.

Huge drama. We’ve come across an amazing hub where four elephants, a herd of impalas, two warthogs and dozens of baboons intersect against a backdrop of sausage trees. A bull elephant snorts his outrage when a nosy baboon gets too close to a pachyderm, which sends most of the baboons out of the trees and across the road.

As the baboons exit, a loud and vicious fight breaks out between two of the younger members. Biting, scratching, they’re a blur of lethal anger. Calmly, a pair of elders – Godwin calls them “godfathers” – walks over and breaks up the fight. The same way two gym teachers would on a soccer field. This scene lasts just five, six seconds but the impact on one of the young baboons is devastating. He stands alone – baring his teeth, screaming, shivering with fear and adrenalin. He’s lost face, and his horrid cry seems desperately to say, “Don’t reject me! I’m one of you!” There’s something intensely human and sad in this drama. Will this mark him forever in his tribe, relegate him to permanently low status? If expelled, can he survive?


Baboon. A brief and vicious fight left him frightened and humiliated.

Tanya’s camera has a video function and she’s caught the whole episode. She plays it back and we see how the traumatized baboon precipitated the whole thing by mounting the other. Why was this such a trigger for anger? Perhaps a hostile history between the two? A violation of tribal hierarchy?

Lake Manyara isn’t as spectacular as Ngorongoro, but there’s no lack of animals: Dik Diks, the tiny antelopes who mate for life; silvery-cheeked hornbill in flight; baby giraffe and dwarf mongoose; buffalo with horns like longhorn steer and odd little ears below their horns. Our energy is flagging on this sixth day of the safari but Godwin keeps up the jokes, the silly pop songs (the Bangles!), the zebra and hyena sounds. It turns out he’s a “Mr. Bean” fan. Cackling, he describes the episode where Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) gets dressed while driving his car and brushes his teeth with gushers of windshield-wiper fluid.

After lunch we encounter a mama elephant grazing with her baby. Her trunk is amazingly adept at grabbing and yanking out grass. Down the road, a quartet of elephants approach so closely that I’m sure they’ll batter the jeep or roar at us to go away. The high, pure song of the Fish Eagle pierces the air, like a musical underscoring. It reminds me of the sounds effects used in “Tarzan” movies. I always assumed those animal sounds were over-mixed on the soundtrack for the sake of shlocky thrills. But no – that really is the aural landscape here.

Some facts about warthogs:

  • When feeding they kneel.
  • When entering their dens they go in backwards.
  • Their tusks are used for digging and combat with other hogs, and their upper canine teeth can grow to nine inches.

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Mother and baby elephant. We were amazed at how close they came to the jeep.

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