Posts Tagged ‘Plains’

We headed directly south to the Serengeti.  It is essentially the Tanzanian half of the Mara.  It covers approximately 30,000 square kilometers.   As we are still here during the tail end of the wildebeest migration, we can still see the vast herds heading north to the Masai Mara. 

The plains of the Serengeti

The plains of the Serengeti

Zebra neighs fill the air.  We nearing a river which they are trying to cross.  As countless zebras surge  into the teeming waters, a nervous feeling fills the air.  Then, in an instant, a flash of teeth, a loud whinny, and red coloured water.  A crocodile has grabbed a zebra and killed it.  During these migrations, the crocodiles gorge themselves.  They may not eat for the rest of the year.

After setting up camp again, we visit Olduvai Gorge.  Here, Louis and Mary Leaky uncovered the Olduvai hominid fossils.  These represent some of the earliest known hominid fossils.  The Olduvai Evolutionary Theory suggests that this gorge was the home of the first “humans.”

That night, we go to sleep next to the crackling fire, much like our ancestors, and for a moment, we seem to feel connected through the ages.

On our way out of the park reserve, we see a pack of wild dogs relaxing in the shade in an acacia tree.  These wonderful creatures are extremely intelligent and efficient hunters.  Unfortunately their numbers are quickly receding in Tanzania and across Africa, deeming them endangered.  This reminds us that even though so much of this area is wild, there are still environmental problems, most of which are caused by social problems.  Only we can change this wicked circle.


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The Masai Mara is a large park reserve located in Kenya.  The reserve covers some 1530 square kilometers.  It is named after the Masai people, who still, to this day, administer to the parks.  We each pay our $40 dollar fee to enter the park.  We have arrived in mid-October, just in time to witness the last week or two of the Great Migration. 

The Masai Mara is home to the great migration each year.

The Masai Mara is home to the great migration each year.

Immediately when we arrive, we prepare our camp by pitching our tents and gathering firewood.  We will need the fire to ward off potential predators, which can be found all across the Mara.  Tomorrow we plan on going on safari again.  We struggle to get a good night’s sleep as we hear the roars of lions in the distance. 

Early in the morning, after our morning cup of tea, our group heads out into the Mara with our Masai guide.  Almost immediately as we walk off into the plains, we see that the area is teeming with wildlife.  Migrating zebra, cape buffalo, and wildebeest herds stretch for several miles.   These incredible numbers can only be found here.  Impala herds can also be found littering the plains.  They graze cautiously, never quite sure of when a predator will come along.  Perhaps they smell us, or maybe a lion or wild dog pack.   We camped fairly close to the Mara river, so walking near the bank we see a number of Hippopotami.  After this, we head back, twilight hours are especially dangerous with all of the predators doing their grocery shopping. 

The next morning we awake to elephants trumpeting nearby, we leap out of our tents and head toward where the sounds were emanating.  There they were, in all their glory, a herd of elephants.  They were moving to a nearby watering hole.  This was a herd of all females, as adult bulls are solitary creatures.  Also, this group had a number of youngsters in tow.  Their frivolity gave us all a smile as they ran around, zig-zagging around their parents, just enjoying the good times. 

Moving further away from camp, we also managed to spot a distant rhino.  When we tried to come a bit closer, he must have gotten scent of us and trotted off.  Their eyesight may be lacking, but their sense of smell is keen.  There are only about 37 Black Rhinos left in the wild.  Further on, we spot another rarer animal of the Mara.  A cheetah sat upon a rock, scanning the horizon for potential stragglers in the gazelle herds.  This beautiful, ridiculously fast creature is also threatened due to tourist disruption of their daytime hunting.  Therefore, we keep a distance so as not to disturb her.  Soon enough, she jumps of the rock and creeps toward a portion of a herd.  In an instant, she takes off; the herd scatters.  She reaches about 60 mph.  An old gazelle falls behind, tripped up by a hole or rock.  Almost instantaneously, the cheetah takes the gazelle.  An amazing hunt. 

On our way back, we see a solitary lion walking across a dirt road.  He has the beginnings of a mane.  Perhaps he was outed from his pride by the dominant male.  Only time will tell if he survives.  He is, however, a magnificent specimen of power.  If any lion has a chance, it is him.  We also see a hornbill in a eucalyptus tree as well as a giraffe using its long blue tongue to strip the thorny tree of its delicious, watery leaves.  But the treat of the evening occurs just before we reach our camp for the last time.  A leopard stares at us lazily from a tree.  These magnificent beasts are difficult to spot due to their enigmatic nature.  She sits, with one paw hanging over the tree limb.  She yawns.  A big meal may sit in her belly.  Big five, complete.  We sleep contentedly, ready for more adventures in Africa.

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We have crossed the border from Brazil to Agentina.  Now in northeaster Argentina, we are on the Pampas.   The Pampas are large plain grasslands which reach 777,000 square kilometers.  As we move further south, we begin to feel more and more wind.  Admittedly, there is little more than a breeze at this point, once we move toward Tierra del Fuego, the winds will be in full force.

I have decided to tag along with a local Gaucho, the South American cowboys.  Outfitted with horses and this amazing guide, we will be able to range much further and experience more of this wonderful area.   Bird lovers were overjoyed when we saw the Greater Rhea about half an hour after setting out.  This bird is a relative of the Ostrich and Emu.   The Pampas Finches are also out in full force.  They are larefinches witha bright orange bill, grey head, and olive back with streaks of black and white.  They are easy to see as they perch atop the long grasses of the plain.  

A Gaucho herding sheep on the Pampas.

A Gaucho herding sheep on the Pampas.


After an entire day of tramping about on the plains, we decide to camp out.  The crackling warmth of the fire is wonderful as we sit around it, talking about the day.  The coals flicker, glow and ebb: nature’s television, it is said.   The night sky is crystal clear, to use the phrase. 

The next day, we start off early, around 6 so that we can spend a long day out on the plains before continuing south.  Early in the morning, animals are out and about.  We see a Geoffroy’s cat just as we set out of camp.  Geoffrey’s Cat, or Oncifelas geoffroyi, named after the 19th century naturalist, Geoffrey St Hilaire, has a coat of light brown hairs with little black spots, much like a leopard.  This little guy was pouncing around, probably hunting a mouse or other rodent.  Surprisingly, they also chew green hay stems to aid digestion and to assist in the elimination of fur balls, much like house cats.

We were just wrapping up our excursion when we saw our final wonder of the Pampas: the Maned wolf.  Its long legs allowed it to peak up over the tall grass.  Upon seeing us, it trotted away.   That night, in true cowboy fashion, we rode off into the sunset.

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Once again, I delved into the Encyclopedia of Life to bring you an animal for this week.  It is the Pronghorn Antelope.

The Pronghorn Antelope in Motion

The pronghorn antelope is the only gazelle-like creature left on North America after the split of Pangea.  They live up to 10 years in the wild.  They stand around a meter and a half to the shoulder, but males are bigger than females.  Their wonderful horns are garnered on both genders, male and female.  Their sandy coats make it very difficult to see them in the American Western grasslands.  There, they feed easily on grass and other small bushes.

Pronghorns are naturally very curious animals.  As a result, they would inspect anything that moved, including predators.  Since they are extremely fast, the second fastest land animal after cheetahs, they could escape from most of their predators.  But, when humans began to hunt them, they could not outrun bullets.  Thus, their own curiosity, nearly caused their extinction.  Fortunately, conservation efforts have brought the populations up to a healthy level once more.  Now, however, their status is once again threatened because of the destruction of their habitat by increased urban sprawl. 

An interesting fact about Pronghorns is that Pronghorn fawns are actually safer living around wolves.  Why?  Because it seems wolves will kill coyotes, the main predators of Pronghorn fawns.  Thus, hunters who kill wolves for killing the Pronghorn are actually perpetuating the problem.

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Patagonia is considered by many nature’s last untamed wilderness.  Charles Darwin fell under the spell of this great land while doing cartography work for the British government on his now famous voyage of the HMS Beagle.It was not even mapped until the 1930’s.  Torres del Paine National Park covers most of the rugged area in Chile. 

The beauty of the Patagonian mountainside.

The park is 600,000 acres of wilderness.  Within the “confines” of the park there are deep glacial lakes, rushing rivers, gigantic glaciers, fjords, mountains, and plains.  The best known mountains in the area, the Cuernos del Paine (the southernmost section of the Andes Mountains (the 5,000 mile spine that runs down South America’s back), are a hot spot for climbers as the colored granite is both a challege to climb and absolutely stunning to look at. 

Hiking is very popular in the park.  With 600,000 acres and 150 miles of trails to tramp over, nobody will ever feel bored or uninspired.  People can also mountain bike, horseback ride, and kayak in the park in addition to the aforementioned activities.

In the park there are many different types of animals.  The Andean condor with its 12 foot wingspan can be spied circling the granite pinnacles and spires in the distance.  Guanaco, the Patagonian equivalent of a llama, is very common in this area and are raised by the local cowboys (called gauchos).  The great, but endangered mountain puma is also found here, but this great cat is so solitary and charismatic, that it is very difficult to see them.

The one problem with this place for some people is that it is in the middle of nowhere.  There are very few hotels and those that are in the general vicinity are very, very pricey.  Ergo, my advice is to rough it, as that is what most people come out to Patagonia for anyway.  All parts of the year have their own unique beauty.  In summer (January[ish] in the southern hemisphere) there is a wonderful climate, but the mosquitoes can be oppressive.  Winter temperatures are absolutely frigid, but the vistas are worth the cold.  Either way, this is one place in the world that I hope will never be tarnished by the modern world so that many subsequent generations can revel and bask in its beauty.

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