I have never really spent much time on the southern plains of the Serengeti National Park. I mean I have been there, I have done days of game viewing down there and seen some incredible scenes when the migration is in residence, wildebeest strewn for mile after mile all making their unique cross between a grunt and a moo. Then when the calving happens it’s a chaos of worried mothers and gamboling calves…. And of course eager predators.
But I haven’t really spend TIME down there. A recent film production allowed me to do just that. We set up a base camp out on the plains just inside the Serengeti Boundary and were based there for a week. I think being somewhere for a week allows you to get a pretty good feel for it, for its beauty and for its darker side. We weren’t there in the migration moment so no thronging hordes of beasties charging though camp or searching for lost offspring, it was just us and the resident game. Not huge amounts of it but pretty impressive all the same.
I don’t want this to be a checklist of what we saw but the unusual sightings for me was a pair of honey badgers who didn’t seem too worried about us and just kept on doing their thing as we watched them gambol and sniff around. The great spot for me was a pack of wild dogs – probably 10 or a dozen just hanging out in some scrub, such majestic and elusive animals with their long skinny legs and monster radar ears.
But the thing that I loved about the southern plans wasn’t really about the animals – it was about the space. The sky seemed bigger and distances harder to gauge when there is no reference point ….and the best bit – all the surprises! Heading towards a small bush on the far horizon you thought you could see all the land from here to there …and it looked flat or gently undulating. Then with no warning the ground would open up before you and you would find yourself looking down in to a hidden valley complete with water hole and a herd of zebra and a few skulking hyenas – amazing! After a while I stopped making assumptions about the ‘featureless southern plains’ and decided to let the landscape be in charge and just got on with enjoying the vast space and daily surprises.