Photo Essay: Elephants at the Pool & Other Tales of the Serengeti

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Wild Meets Style in Serengeti National Park

Serengeti Wild meets style in Serengeti National Park. Photo by Christine Loomis
Nature and luxury meet in Serengeti National Park. Photo by Christine Loomis

Serengeti National Park surpasses any preconceived notions of it. Sweeping, rugged, dusty and lush, it renders the rest of life drab and humdrum by comparison, at least for a time. But the Serengeti is far more than its vast, humbling landscapes, more even than its exotic creatures. It is everything the term “bucket-list” conjures up and then some. And within it are hidden human-made gems, places where cool marble and hot showers add a welcomed touch of luxury to the experience, such as here at Four Seasons Serengeti where elephants regularly saunter by the pool. Tanzania’s most popular national park is one place where you really can have it all.

Under African Skies

A sunset in the Serengeti. Photo by Christine Loomis
A sunset in the Serengeti. Photo by Christine Loomis

Surreal skies arc over evocative topography that transforms dramatically across the park’s 5,700 square miles. Everywhere, no matter how barren or lush the landscape appears, are creatures great and small that stop safari trucks in their dusty tracks.

Journey of Giraffes

Giraffes walking through the Serengeti. Photo by Christine Loomis
Giraffes walking through the Serengeti. Photo by Christine Loomis

Giraffes bring an elegance and grace to this place where life is harsh and unforgiving. The one-hour drive to the Four Seasons from Seronera Airstrip can take twice that long as wildlife poses beside the road, a harbinger of all that’s yet to come. Seasoned guides provide fascinating insights, such as this cool name for a group of giraffes.

Dazzle of Zebras

A group of zebra. Photo by Christine Loomis
A group of zebras. Photo by Christine Loomis

Is it a herd? A zeal? A dazzle? In fact, they’re all real names for a crowd of zebras, but dazzle has pizzazz and brilliantly captures the intensity of the geometric designs, sharp angles and striking contrasts when these boldly striped beasts gather.

AKA Black Death

Cape Buffalo, also known as Black Death. Photo by Christine Loomis
Cape Buffalo, also known as Black Death. Photo by Christine Loomis

African Buffalo aren’t nicknamed Black Death for nothing. They’re one of Africa’s so-called Big Five, along with elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos, and they’re seriously aggressive. Some say they’re even capable of revenge. Like rhinos, these behemoths have poor eyesight. When threatened they often move closer to potential danger to get a better look pre-attack. You don’t want that to be you.

Up in the Air

A hot air balloon ride is another way to see the Serengeti. Photo by Christine Loomis
A hot air balloon ride is another way to see the Serengeti. Photo by Christine Loomis

Floating over the park in a hot air balloon offers exquisite views of the Serengeti’s ecosystem and inhabitants. Balloons can soar up to 2,000 feet or hover just above the tall grass. High or low, it’s an African experience that holds its place in life’s long-remembered moments.

Hippo Haven

Serengeti Hippos wallow here year-round. Photo by Christine Loomis
Hippos wallow here year-round. Photo by Christine Loomis

Dozens of hippos wallow year-round in this pool formed where the Seronera and Orangi rivers meet. It’s a primary stop for visitors to the central Serengeti. This is what hippos do most of the time. In other moments, they navigate the water with surprising, if comic, grace that belies their ferocious nature.

Lounging in the Leaves

Serengeti A leopard lounging in a tree. Photo by Christine Loomis
A leopard lounging in a tree. Photo by Christine Loomis

It’s not easy to spot leopards from the road as they’re often hidden in distant trees. Thankfully, safari guides are practically genius in their ability to find them, and today’s powerful zooms, even in compact cameras, bring all the majesty of these elusive cats up close.

By Leaps & Bounds

Serengeti Impalas have to be fast to escape their predators. Photo by Christine Loomis
Impalas have to be fast to escape their predators. Photo by Christine Loomis

Some 16 species of antelope gallop across park grasslands, including impalas like these, which can leap 10 feet in the air, bound 30-plus feet in distance and run up to 56 mph. Lions can hit 50 mph in short bursts, giving swift impalas a chance.

Giraffes on Parade

Giraffes are a common sight in the Serengeti. Photo by Christine Loomis
Giraffes are a common sight in the Serengeti. Photo by Christine Loomis

You’ll see dozens of giraffes on daily game drives in the Serengeti. Standing 15 to 18 feet tall, they exude model-like sophistication with their lanky necks, impossibly long eyelashes and seemingly dispassionate demeanor. And each one, like its fur pattern, is utterly unique.

High-Flying Scavengers

Vultures are a vital part of the Serengeti. Photo by Christine Loomis
Vultures are a vital part of the Serengeti. Photo by Christine Loomis

Vultures are one of nature’s most efficient scavengers—far more efficient than hyenas or African wild dogs. That makes them critical to the ecosystem. In places where vultures have been “managed” via poison, the result was an increase in diseases due to carcasses left festering.

Like Sisyphus But Successful

Serengeti Small creatures get in on the action too. Photo by Christine Loomis
Small creatures get in on the action too. Photo by Christine Loomis

Not every photo-worthy creature is big or beautiful. Four safari groups stopped to watch this uber-industrious dung beetle push a tennis-ball size of dung—irresistible to a lucky lady beetle in the future—across the road. Not one truck moved until he succeeded 15 minutes later.

Clever CrittersOn

Serengeti Some human and animal interaction is a balancing act. Photo by Christine Loomis
Some human and animal interaction is a balancing act. Photo by Christine Loomis

Smart and quick, vervet monkeys often become pests when living near humans, eating crops and wreaking havoc. Unfortunately, that has led to their mass annual slaughter, especially by farmers. The African Wildlife Foundation is educating humans to better co-exist with monkeys. Who is educating the monkeys?

Angry Bird Model?

The Serengeti is home to many surprising animals. Photo by Christine Loomis
The Serengeti is home to many surprising animals. Photo by Christine Loomis

One surprising treasure of the Serengeti is the discovery of creatures you didn’t come for and didn’t know about before happening upon them. While exploring Gong Rock, a major Masai site in Moru Kopjes, this aptly named Superb Starling fluttered down to pose and show off his iridescent purple splendor.

Sweet Ride

Baby baboons stay with their moms for the first few weeks of their lives. Photo by Christine Loomis
Baby baboons stay with their moms for the first few weeks of their lives. Photo by Christine Loomis

Mother baboons carry newborn offspring in one arm. At about five weeks, babies ride on their mother’s back clinging with all fours, and later sit upright like a jockey. Between four and six months, young baboons begin spending most of their time with fellow juveniles.

Fight Club

Serengeti Wildebeests working on their fighting skills. Photo by Christine Loomis
Wildebeests working on their fighting skills. Photo by Christine Loomis

It looks civilized but these males are honing their fight skills. They’re just two of 1.3 million wildebeests that migrate across the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem. Wildebeests’ most remarkable trait: the ability to detect new grass following a rainfall from 60 miles away. Scientists still wonder how.

Skulking Spotted Hyena

Serengeti A hyena in the grass. Photo by Christine Loomis
A hyena in the grass. Photo by Christine Loomis

It’s a face only a mother could love. Or are they so ugly they’re cute? You decide. While they’re primarily scavengers, hyenas are also skilled hunters and highly adaptable. They look similar to dogs but are actually more closely related to cats. Humans protecting livestock are their primary predator.

Elephant in Moru Kopjes

Serengeti The Moru Kopjes area is home to elephants. Photo by Christine Loomis
The Moru Kopjes area is home to elephants. Photo by Christine Loomis

Moru Kopjes, in the south central Serengeti, offers the sweeping, evocative landscape that defines Africa for many, along with Big Five sightings and Masai cultural sites. It’s one of the park’s most beautiful areas with its breeze-riffled golden grasses, lakes, rivers, trees and dramatic rock outcroppings.

Picnic in the Wild

Serengeti A break from the game tour. Photo by Christine Loomis
A break from the game tour. Photo by Christine Loomis

On a full-day game drive, Four Seasons Serengeti guests are treated to a luxury picnic in the wild, complete with fine wine and refreshing beer. Before and after, photo ops abound.

Leopard Leaving

Serengeti While hunting is not allowed, the crowds might inconvenience some animal residents. Photo by Christine Loomis
While hunting is not allowed, the crowds might inconvenience some animal residents. Photo by Christine Loomis

On a late afternoon in Moru Kopjes, this leopard dropped down from the tree on which dozens of binoculars and cameras had been trained for hours. While no hunting is allowed within the park, large crowds gathering to watch and photograph one animal may not be entirely benign, at least from the animal’s perspective.

Only a Few Black Rhinos

Serengeti Black rhinos are a rare sight. Photo by Christine Loomis
Black rhinos are a rare sight. Photo by Christine Loomis

As many as 700 black rhinos once roamed the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem, yet by the 1970s poaching had reduced the population to just 10. Black rhinos have been reintroduced to Moru Kopjes in recent years but they remain at risk. Consider yourself lucky to spot one.

Baby Elephant Crossing

Serengeti You can never have too many elephant photos. Photo by Christine Loomis
You can never have too many elephant photos. Photo by Christine Loomis

This baby walked past safari trucks with barely a look as he hurried to catch up. Elephants are spotted almost everywhere in Serengeti National Park, often near the roads, leaving photographers to ponder, “Can one have too many elephant photos?”  Nah….

Lions Cubs

Mother lions have a warm reunion when they return from hunting. Photo by Christine Loomis
Mother lions have a warm reunion when they return from hunting. Photo by Christine Loomis

Mother lions park their cubs in a safe place when they go off to hunt. When they reunite, these cats act like big kitties, bumping heads in sweet greeting whether the hunt was successful or not. The Serengeti is an unforgiving world, but for lions, failure doesn’t preclude love. These two cubs, about a year old, had to wait another day to feast.

A Face to Remember

Serengeti A lion up close. Photo by Christine Loomis
A lion up close. Photo by Christine Loomis

The Serengeti offers up the chance to discover what wild unknown waits around the next bend and to look it in the eyes, literally. It offers thrills by day and luxury by night if that’s what travelers want. In the end, it gets to the very heart of what travel can be—a life lived with passion, intention and a spirit of adventure.

 

Author Bio: Christine Loomis is a longtime journalist who has covered travel and lifestyle topics for multiple print and online publications. She has been editor-in-chief of three magazines and regularly provides reviews, content and photo galleries for USA Today 10best. She serves on the board of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).