Aadje finished her last newsletter with these words: Welcome to another wonderful Wet Season! She has been proven wrong!
As she reported, back as far as October, the anticipation was building with the promise of a good rainy season and the daily Herdtracker reports were all about the push southwards by the migrating animals. The 5th of October I was in the marsh area and quite suddenly came across a small group of wildebeest, heading through the woodland, the advance party investigating the situation at Ndutu. The Marsh Pride were right on their heels and looking quite determined to make the most of an early feast. The landscape was already turning green by mid October and with the continued good rains in November and December we literally thought we were in clover! Early rains, early wildebeest and early calves too with the first calf being sighted early January.
As per usual, on the day of the Christmas supply lorry bringing the last of the festive bubbly and turkeys, it rained heavily and the lorry had to spend the night out on the plains, rather than tackle the muddy woodland in the dark. The next morning, though, it was no better and the lorry was soon stuck and in need of rescue. This is quite a Christmas tradition now, and if ever the Christmas supplies were to arrive in an uneventful manner we would be quite disappointed!
The expedition to choose a Christmas tree was done between rain showers. This was the first time that I had been entrusted with the task of choosing the tree, since Aadje was on leave in Holland. When faced with acres and acres of Whistling Thorn trees, choosing just the right one was daunting. Dealing with the thousands of ants whose home is in the round baubles, is no easy task either and there was much itching and scratching on the way home! Decorating the tree was a perfect diversion one afternoon when it was too wet for game viewing, and so lovely to see guests of all ages discovering and remembering the joy of decorating a Christmas tree.
Boxing day we experienced the last real storm of the season with 41.8mm falling in a very short time, bringing more rain that our little drains could manage and sending a raging torrent through the bar, entering one door, swirling around the chair legs before carrying on through to rush out the front entrance. We were out celebrating a Christmas drink with special friends and watched the approaching sheets of rain and hail with awe, and came back to the lodge to a sea of sludge being washed away from the bar.
By Mid January, the rain stopped, and although not all that unusual for that time of year, it just hasn’t started again. Other than a few insignificant falls, there has been nothing of substance to keep the grass green or our tanks full. The wildebeest very quickly left Ndutu and headed for Makao, Maswa and Kusini where the rains were still abundant. And now, two months ahead of schedule the mass of migrating animals have already reached Mbalageti in the western corridor.
The Ndutu rain statistics make interesting reading. You can see how this year compares to others on our website.
Now we wonder if March, usually our wettest month will bring us any relief. We hold special worries about the fate of the wildlife if this is the early start of the dry season, and also for our own water supply. We rely so much on good rains to fill our storage tanks to see us through the dry season and we wonder if this will be the first year we are forced to bring fresh water in from Ngorongoro.
Lion Guardian Training
Early December we were delighted to be able to host the Lion Guardian Training, for the introduction of this project into the Ndutu Ngorongoro area. Lion Guardians is a conservation organization, founded in Kenya but now operating in Tanzania, dedicated to finding and enacting long-term solutions for people and lions to coexist across. Ingela has been instrumental is setting this up in our area, and after several years of hard preliminary work, we are thrilled that this has taken off. You can read more about Lion Guardians by visiting: www.lionguardians.org
Soit Sambu School
At the end of last year I was invited to be the Guest of Honour at the Form Four Graduation at Soit Sambu School, a school a few hours north of here, serving 512 students ranging from 13 to 16 years old. There are 19 teachers to cover this many students! It should have been a 3.5-4 hour drive from the lodge, however we got a little lost and 5.5 hours later we finally found it! We had supported the school in the building of a library and computer room and I was delighted to receive a guided tour of the new buildings. I was not quite so delighted with the detailed observation and explanation of a pickled cobra in the science lab! With a teaching background, the tour of the school was interesting and also an eye opener as the teachers did their best to educate the students with so very few resources. They were so proud of the success of their recent fundraising which allowed them to build these extra classrooms, a dormitory, and a water well. The graduation was a wonderful spectacle of colour and singing and dancing, speeches and feasting.
Sadly I received an email recently to inform me that the boys dormitory had burnt down during the night, fortunately all boys were evacuated safely but with the loss of the building and all the students belongings. This is a huge loss for the school, and must be so demoralizing after their hard work. We plan to help them again, in their efforts to rebuild the dormitory.
The camera trap at the lodge has changed position. With the elephant planting his boot rather firmly once too often on the lid of the sand soak pit, the lid has become stuck inside, blocking off the overflow to the pond. Because there is now no water in the pond to attract the animals, I decided to put the camera trap outside my front door to see what passes by during the dark hours. The results have been rather exciting: lots of usual dikdik and genets and also zorilla, porcupine, zebra and even a striped Hyena. I am now waiting for a Honey Badger or a leopard!
In the last newsletter Aadje reported the story of the mission to retrieve a Transmitter from a Eurasian Stork. We were again contacted by researchers from the German Max Planck Institute. Shay Rotics, a PhD student from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem came with a request to help try and retrieve yet another transmitter of a white stork! Unbelievable that two storks tagged in completely different places should end their days with a short drive of Ndutu Safari Lodge. Using Google Earth it was interesting to see the route the stork took to get here: Germany, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Sinai, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.
We cannot have an Ndutu Newsletter without an update of the cats. The Thin Pride consisting of Laura and Mrs I and their four sub adult cubs have quietly just got on with surviving the dry, receiving little attention compared to their neighbours the Marsh Pride, hanging out in the Long Gully woodlands and Frontier Forest. These cubs should soon be leaving the security of living with their Mums and setting out on their own. The Marsh Pride has seen some upheaval recently with the arrival of two new, very good looking males. Selous and Katavi, the resident males and fathers of all cubs, were forced to make a hurried exit and are now residing out near Twin Hills. The arrival of the two new males, unnamed as yet, could have spelt disaster for the sub adult cubs, but Cassandra very quickly led them to safety, well away from danger.
Ingela was present one day recently, to witness an extraordinary sight. Sitting with 6 new males, near the Marsh, she was surprised to see a dog come dashing out of the woodland, barking and quite clearly rabid crazy. It ran straight up to one of the males and latched onto it’s jaw. Eventually he was able to shake it off and escape but Ingela was worried about the chance of him being infected with rabies. The Ngorongoro vet was called and after an all night mission, they located the lion, and were able to dart and treat him.
Spotted Cats have also delighted this year with cheetah having a baby boom and the Leopards providing many hours of perfect photo moments.
Please do your best rain dance for us!
Best wishes to you all
Update: Rain dancers everywhere, thank you for your dedicated efforts! The rain has arrived, with several good falls, long and slow, allowing the earth to soak it up slowly. We celebrate the coolness, the clarity to the air, the dampening of the dust, the waterholes overflowing, the flooded muddy tracks and the mud caking our gumboots.