by Francesca Dearden
BSc Animal Behaviour

Lake Manyara National Park is a much different environment to the previous parks we’ve been to in the past few days. So far I’ve found it quite difficult to spot animals from the truck as they’re all so well camouflaged, and the ground water forest we were driving through made it even more difficult. As it turns out, one of the only things I managed to spot was a sexually frustrated baboon shamelessly “entertaining himself” on a lowdown branch right next to the truck! I’m sure we’re privileged to have seen such an unusual sight but it wasn’t what any of us needed so early in the morning!

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Easily the best spot of the day was two very young female lions relaxing on the branches of the tree – apparently a behaviour Dr Martin Jones from MMU and Julius the botanist from CAWM have never observed in their ten years of visiting the park, despite this being what the lions at Manyara are famed for. Hunting (for sport or otherwise) is not permitted in National Parks, but in less highly protected areas like Game Reserves and Game Controlled Areas, “consumptive use” is allowed. This brings in a lot of money from tourism but as it is usually the biggest and most impressive individuals which are taken as trophies, you can’t help wondering what effect this has on not only the gene pool but general lion pride social behaviour when a large proportion of dominant males are not present.
Just a little way away from the lions was an enormous dead tree covered in vultures. They are enormous and quite graceful in flight but all I could think about was the singing vultures from Disney’s Jungle Book! I’ve previously never been particularly interested in birds but the species here are so incredibly beautiful that I’ve done a u-turn and now can’t get enough of bird watching. It’s also incredibly handy to have a human database like Dr Selvino de Kort because he can identify birds by their call alone, even from the back of a noisy truck.

The day ended with a stunning dusky sky streaked with an intense pink.  Being in here in the wilderness is like living in a documentary and it’s sometimes hard to believe that what you’re seeing is real. It’s only been a few days and already I’m not sure I ever want to come home because it’s all too good to be true.

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