Words and images by Chris Clarke
The home of the safari concept has changed as the Maasai protect their ancestral hunting rights, but Tanzania still delivers an action-packed wildlife experience – without the crowds
It was Day One on safari. We’d been inside the park for all of five minutes when we spotted a lone female lioness walking through the savannah to our right. The day was still unbearably hot, but she didn’t seem half as bothered as we did, wilting away like pathetic white flowers in the back of the Land Cruiser. Then she stopped dead, looking straight ahead. She’d seen something. We scanned the surrounds and spotted an impala with a young foal about 100 metres ahead. We glanced back at the lioness, which had crouched and begun edging forward carefully and purposefully. The hunt was on.
Suddenly she opened up her stride. The mother impala spotted the danger and took flight, but her young was too slow to follow suit. There was going to be only one winner here. After a rapid few laps around an acacia, the lioness decided that there had been enough fooling around, latched her claws onto the young impala’s back, and brought it down with ease. Then she picked it up by the throat and disappeared into the bushes. Our guide, Enock, turned around and said, “Welcome to Tanzania,” so coolly, that it was as if the whole thing had been scripted. Then he started the Cruiser’s engine and we moved on. Amazingly, there wasn’t another car in sight.
In the footsteps of Hemingway
In many ways, Tanzania has long been considered the true home of safari. Even the word “safari” itself comes from the Kiswahili word for “journey”. It first entered the English language thanks to Richard Francis Burton, a boisterous British explorer who travelled across what is now the Tanzanian mainland from Zanzibar, in search of a great “inland sea” that had been described by Arab traders and slavers, and which Burton thought could be the source of the Nile. In 1858, almost a year after he set off, Burton’s expedition reached what came to be known as Lake Tanganyika.
In the early decades of the Twentieth Century, safari in the modern sense of the word entered what is often now referred to as its “golden era”. Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel-prize winning author, boozer and womaniser, waxed lyrical about his own time on safari in Tanzania in two separate books: Green Hills of Africa, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The ground-breaking and award-winning 1959 documentary, Serengeti Shall Not Die, further contributed to Tanzania’s celebrity status. Of course, this is backed up by the annual Great Migration that passes through the plains of the Serengeti, the iconic Maasai people who call this part of the world their home, and the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater − all of which have firmly cemented Tanzania’s status at the pinnacle of safari stardom.
Or so I thought. The lack of other vehicles as we left the lioness to her light snack and continued to drive through the pretty Tarangire National Park, which boasts one of the largest densities of elephants in Africa, suggested otherwise. By the time we reached our luxury private mobile camp for the night, in a small clearing presided over by two great baobabs, we’d seen at least a hundred elephants and not one other human being since entering the park two hours previously. It was almost a shock to see our chef toiling away on the braai, and a waiter greeting us with a tray of drinks.