by Tom Shuttleworth
BSc Animal Behaviour
I think the best place to start my story would be the first night we spent in the incredible Serengeti National Park. At the gate, we stumbled on a Maasai ran tuck shop which mainly sold touristy stuff, but they did sell chocolates and Pringles! A little taste of home, which cost $4 (most expensive Pringles known to man), so I greedily snatched those up for later. As the evening in our campsite wore on, people slowly began to drift off to their tents after a small lecture, in which the combined smell of DEET was prominent. Just as I decided to call it a night, and probably munch my Pringles, the sound of an unmistakable lion call echoed through the night, spine tingling and close by. It was enough to set everyone still standing from the long drive in on edge. It was late on and we had only the fire for light, oddly, my mind immediately fell to my Pringles, as though my food took precedent over my safety. I’ve heard stories and we’ve been repeatedly been reminded not to leave food in your tents, or you may have a night time visitor, keen on your beef flavoured treats which probably smell like a lovely wildebeest leg. With this in mind I ran to my tent to remove them and put them somewhere safe. The small indoor dining area was locked and bolted and the cooks were sleeping in the kitchen, which left one poorly suggested location to conceal my treats…the toilet. It seemed logical, high shelves, indoors which would probably deter any hyena, lions or any other hungry predator. This choice resulted in the curious case of the Pringles thief.
The following morning, we had an absurdly early game drive planned at 6.30 am, but first, I’ll explain the frequent hyena calls and the occasional lion roar, which, in your first night camping in the Serengeti, can be a little unnerving. After stumbling from my tent at 6.30 am, feeling like a plains zebra just kicked me in the face, I decided to retrieve my hastily stored snack. Lo and behold, they were gone! Which left only two conclusions, one, a lion popped into a cubical for a change of scenery while doing its business, or someone had nicked them! I can just imagine somebody’s morning release being greatly improved by a free light snack while they did their business! After suggestions of a re-enactment and luring the thief back with a Twix and a strategically placed camera trap were dismissed, I grudgingly let it go. The game drive hunting for predators, namely cheetah, proved to be none too successful. We did however see lions perched on kopjes, large ancient rocks which genuinely resemble pride rock from the Lion King. The male was proud and regal, and looked much more groomed and clean than half of our group after the scarcity of showers available. But the jewel of the day, was the wildebeest migration moving literally a stone’s throw from our camp. It has been revered as one of the greatest sights in nature, and oddly, quite amusing. The wildebeests constant calls, which sound like a combination of mooing and snorting, ‘snooing’ if you like, were literally non- stop, and even as I write this, can still be heard. Wildebeest number in the millions in the Serengeti during their migration through the park, and a good portion of that must have been making a racket outside our camp. Watching them chase one another for grazing space, and watching the males rampantly chase away one another was really something. In the midst of my appreciation, a troop of banded mongooses decided they were going to make a great escape-esc mad dash for the tall grass and trees beyond. They deliberated and stood on their hind legs, checking the situation out, before they ‘banded’ together and around 30 or so ran in one furry troop past us as we stood in amusement and awe. The Serengeti holds many adventures and experiences to be had, it is truly an incredible and sometimes amusing place.