More apologies for a much delayed Newsletter of Ndutu! In this shared news letter Ainslie at the end will fill you in on all our exciting “cat” news. We hope we can make up for the delay through this extra long edition of all past four months’ happenings.
We left the last ‘issue’ in the beginning of February, when the Ndutu area is at its busiest with the Lodge almost full every night! Not a year is the same, and with the rains dictating the animal movements and the flora, every year brings new and different spectacles.
The rains were “like the old days” this year from November to the end of June all of 679 mm (our yearly average now stands at 590 mm), so it was wonderful to see how both Lake Ndutu and Masek filled and immediately enticed many shorebirds and flamingos to reside with great numbers still flocking the two lakes till now.
And it was interesting to follow the flamingos feeding “schedule” with birds moving back and forth between both lakes. Obviously, the flamingo ‘soup’ needs to be just perfect so their feeding and filtering of the krill they live on is just right.
Although most of the calving of the wildebeest seemed to have happened mid-late February along the Maswa boundary, somewhat away from the Ndutu area, this years’ calving was spread over a much more extended period, with births noted even in April. So we still had a lot of Gnu traffic moving back and forth around us until the big herds left the short-grass plains in late May.
One thing always noticeable is how certain animals seem to ‘take over’ a specific area for a period of time. The zebras massed all over Ndutu for 2 -3 weeks early May, particularly between Ndutu and Twin Hills. As were those magnificent Eland antelopes. Huge herds were moving around, particularly on the southern Makao plains. Well known for their shyness – trotting at an angle away from any intrusion as soon as one appears on the scene – an adult male can weigh up to 900 kg. At an unusual angle on top of a ridge their typical silhouettes can produce an imposing backdrop for a photograph!
Another ‘take-over’ of a different nature this year was the Invasion of the Hairy Caterpillars!! Never have we seen so many here, moving fast everywhere, both during the day and at night. we could not rid ourselves anywhere and constant filling of dustpans still did not stop these formidable tiny creatures from crawling everywhere.
Once they manage to creep up on a leg or an arm – or other body parts – if you brush them off, it is too late!! A rash appears soon after, and you can see the hooked hairs stuck in the skin – an itchy, itchy experience, lasting sometimes for more than a week.
Up to a point help was at hand: the invasion was automatically followed by a diverse army of seven different species of cuckoos! Not exactly my choice of food, the cuckoos went berserk and many a speeding hairy invader was devoured.
Birds were busy nesting, all choosing their preferred hide-outs. One of my favourite ‘lodge’ birds is the Slate-coloured Boubou, a handsome, all black bird with an impressive vocal repertoire! One of these decided that the massively thorn-covered Euphorbia tree opposite the Reception was “The” place to build! How it managed to fly on and off, and more importantly land in there without danger of being impaled.
Right around the corner from the Boubou’s temporary housing, three swallow babies were trying to grow up, their nest precariously wobbly sitting above the guest computer door!
Several times chicks would fall out, with our Bar and Reception staff using a chair to pick them up and put them back up there. Meanwhile parents could be seen waiting on the pavement with a grub whilst unsuspecting guests walked past, going in and out to the bar. With our resident Genets on the premises, we were happy and relieved they all made it to adulthood in the end!
Whilst on the topic of birds, a bird of a different feather made a lucky and successful landing on our Airstrip in April. A Cessna Caravan with 11 pax on board was hit by a vulture when heading our way near Twin Hills and with great skill the pilot managed to hold it in the air to land safely at the Ndutu Airstrip. Once damage was assessed, engineers flew in and did a perfect temporary local ‘repair’ job, and three days later the plane was flown out to Dar for a more complete finish!
Flowers and grasses thrived with so much lovely rain, and in late March, April and May, we enjoyed many colourful and beautiful flowerings!
Two species of Hibiscus in particular stood out and became much-photographed by the guests, as was the Gomphocarpus sp, always spectacular with it’s pretty cluster of flowers and impressive fruit ‘fluff-balls’.
Our different aloes continue to bloom at all times through the year, which baffles me as there seems to be no specific pattern in their flowering time. These hardy no nonsense plants not only bring some colour in the dry dusty season especially, but also attract several species of Sunbirds. These spectacularly coloured little birds constantly fly from flower to flower and are much photographed targets!
This year Ainslie, Brian Pugh (our ‘lion man” guest who comes often three times a year to see ‘his’ favourite Ndutu lions) and I were introduced to “National Sweden Day. Ingela, the lion researcher happened to stay here and she and Eva Marie showed us their true yellow and blue Swedish colours! We were invited to a very special dinner, a beautifully decorated “national” table, which featured some delicious dishes, an entree of eggs and caviar, followed by the famous Swedish meatballs with dill potatoes and mixed vegetables. Dinner was pleasantly interrupted by reciting of a beautiful Swedish poem written by Per Lagerkvist, and by both ladies performing some memorable national songs, all accompanied by too many toasts of deep-freeze-chilled aquavit and suitably ended with a very special Swedish poem. Of course all the action above took place during the one night there were no other guests staying at the Lodge!
In March, Peter Birch, a UK Land rover specialist-cum-jack of many trades, who over the years has provided us with so much equipment, help, maintenance, staff training and sensible technical support visited us for a 3-week stint.
Although normally our workshop is his stamping ground, he does – like all of us – wander over for a cup of coffee on my veranda in the mornings. And finally we managed to secure one momento photograph of Peter meeting with his namesake: the sparrow we christened because of their matching bald hairstyle! It is still a mystery how Sparrow Peter Birch obtained his unusual “feather cut”, but it was nice that they could be introduced and even shared a biscuit!
As we are on the subject of sparrows, one clever mum had a nest near the dining room veranda and on the day of its youngster’s maiden flight it promptly crash landed on the ledge of the main building. One of those hairy caterpillars crept up and clearly wee sparrow had no idea what to do!
It then ascended into the dining room, and did another unauthorised landing on the ledge under our massive prehistoric Pelorovis horns. Squeaking loudly, mum was dispatched, and flew in to help, but it took another 20 minutes before they both managed to exit the dining room in some orderly fashion.
“Snake month”, we call July as in that month we tend to see more snakes then at any other time of the year. We are always extra careful around the premises, with all the maintenance done and when we do our necessary preventive ring of early burning of vegetation around the Lodge, snakes of course tend to move out too.
Of all, the most dangerous one is the Puff Adder (Bitis arietans), a beautiful snake, but with slow moving habits thus easier to encounter.
Ainslie does not warm to snakes but not long ago encountered a most beautiful Python (Python sebae sebae) in the plains and forced herself to get this great photograph of an adult moving through the grass!
As soon as the main tourist season was over, we embarked on a major maintenance and ‘spring-cleaning’ stint. Mikoche (palm-thatch) was brought in from Mangola along Lake Eyasi. There the villagers collect the blown-off bits. We use mikoche on our roofs to hide the corrugated iron sheets of the guest bungalows. Then we get migomba for the inside of the roof in the dining room and bar area. This banana bark is ordered and comes from Mto wa Mbu, the village below the rift wall, where they grow a lot of bananas.
Mlingoti, the stem of the agave, is used for some of our fences and is collected from all over Tanzania.
These materials are not only very attractive but also provide local farmers and villagers with some income!
Painting, varnishing, re-doing cracked floors, cleaning ditches, filling in holes and road-grading, all of these activities click in and we get very involved once the season quiets down. Moreover, during this time, half our staff in rotation get their well-deserved leave as well!
Ndutu Cat Roundup
Ndutu’s lions and cheetahs continue to entertain and amaze us all. The lionesses of the Marsh pride, Aphrodite, No name, Spot and Notch have produced 4 sets of cubs, 10 in total. Spending time watching the interactions between the cubs and the adults is fun, watching them tucking in with great relish to their regular diet of buffalo, or rolling over and over, a tumble of fur and legs tangled together, stalking and pouncing on the tail of Big Daddy.
Young Lucy Pepper visiting from the UK, had the pleasure of working with Ingela and naming Aphrodite’s two cubs Venus and Vulcan. The Ndutu Lion’s biggest fan is Brian from the UK. He comes twice a year especially to see the Ndutu Lions and over the years has gathered a wealth of information of family trees and connections. He has been a tremendous help to Ingela, providing identification photos of all the new cubs.
We continue to enjoy having close contact with our lodge pride, the Masek Lions. The seven cubs, now 16 months old are doing well and looking and behaving like ‘real’ lions, trying their skills at stalking but youthful enthusiasm means that their prey usually have ample time to get away. In an earlier newsletter we told the story of Young Tom and his misadventure and recovery. Although he continues to be very stiff and walks with a pronounced limp, he is still very much able to take an active interest in the ladies when they are in heat!
Ingela, as part of her lion research, recently attached a camera trap to a tree nearby the Lodge. Each day I download the photos and wait with bated breath to see who came visiting during the night – Honey Badgers, Spotted Hyena, Elephant, Striped hyena and Lions.
It’s great fun, so one morning when I went as usual to download the photos, I was greatly distressed to find the camera gone. A large scale search followed and eventually Emmanuel, from reception, found it in the grass, covered in dirt and tooth marks. The photos showed a series of snaps of the Masek cubs frolicking, and then one great close up of whiskers as one lion was about to chomp the camera. Unfortunately the whisker spots were not visible to identify the culprit!
Interesting things are happening with Puyol and Ramos, two very fine looking lions. After a season of roving through different parts of Ndutu, they have taken up residence in and around Twin Hills and have gathered three lionesses from the Marsh pride. We watch with interest their movements around Lake Masek and how this will impact on the Masek pride. Puyol had a tracking collar fitted some months ago and so we are able every day to see exactly where he and Young Tom are in relation to each other.
The three Musketeers, Young Tom’s half brothers, Chubby, Halftail and Colin, have been seen often close to the Lodge, one night a little too close as they wandered across the back yard and into the garage where one of the night watchman was eating his dinner. There was a hasty retreat by both parties as they came face to face with each other.
With the Dry Season, the Cheetahs have become harder to locate, but with perseverance and patience they can still be found. For fans and followers of Emily and Monica (Mums of four cubs each) and Etta (Mum of three and of National Geographic Fame) the news is great. They have all lived up to their reputations as ‘super mums’ with their cubs approaching independence. All these cubs are now of an age to be left alone to fend for themselves. Helen from the Cheetah Project has identification photos for all cubs and we look forward to monitoring their progress. Just as we look forward to spotting these Mums with their next lot of babies.
The talk of the porini this season was Etta and her three, as they became ever more confident around cars, climbing on roofs and bonnets and never in any hurry to move on. Massawe, one of the occasional resident drivers, came home with eyes as big as saucers one day with the story that one of the cubs had jumped in the back window, sat on the seat for awhile, jumped over into the front, chewed on the gearstick and radio cable and bored with that, jumped back out! Massawe was too terrified to reach for the camera to record the proof!
Finally, on a different subject, truly our Genets must be the most photographed genets in the world. Every night the free show starts in the half hour before dinner, as they slowly wake up and emerge through their various holes in the migomba ceiling, to sit, regally looking down on all the guests in the dining room!
Like cheetahs they are identified by their spots, and it has been a fun exercise to record which ones come each night. Their numbers have increased too with several litters of kittens, all of whom I find running up and down trees or near my house when I go home in the evening. On one such an occasion, large shadows swept across my window and upon investigating, I saw a young genet completely wrapped up in the mosquito net on my veranda, swinging back and forth!
That’s all for now, Happy memories
Ainslie and Aadje
PS: a small reminder for anyone who still has cheetah/lion photos that they would like to have identified: feel free to send your best “side” view of a cheetah, or whisker spots on lions, to Helen email@example.com or to Ingela firstname.lastname@example.org. They will try and ID who you have seen and let you know a bit about them!