It’s mid-July and not a drop of rain has fallen in the ecosystem for at least two months. The cold misty mornings and hints of drizzles in June are a story of the past. Grasses have long dried and sent what nutrients they had left into their roots and baobabs have long lost their leaves leaving their thick grey branches shriveled in the sky. Water holes fed by the rains have turned into mud wallows and any animal needing to quench its thirst now must travel to what permanent surface water remains. The less nutritious grasses and other plants left on the hills are now attractive, but this means a long daily trek that over the next months will gain more and more momentum. Slowly, the rain-hardened soils begin to give way under the hundreds and thousands of hooves pounding them daily, while the wind blows dust into the air, and the migratory trails begin to get deeper and deeper as they cross the open plains between the hills and the water.
Not all animals make the daily trek to water. Some elephant herds, often led by the oldest matriarchs, know where, deep in sand-filled valleys, water lies close enough to the surface to dig. Avoiding the mayhem at the river, these small breeding herds of elephants make their way to these locations, giving their secrets away with their characteristic elephant dung piles and mounds of sand pushed away as they dig. A few other animals know these tricks too, and territorial baboon troops move in after the elephants, re-opening their sand wells and also taking advantage of the half-fermented fruit and seeds they find in the elephant dung scaring up the sprays of butterflies that also gather for moisture and nutrients.
Our resident guide knows of these spots too. The morning walk took him up into the hills, carefully navigating the animal paths while crisscrossing the broadleaf woodlands. Animal signs from the night were fresh- porcupine, honey-badger, white-tailed mongoose, and the resident leopard. He’s kept his guests enthralled with stories and explanations about many of the things easier seen and heard at ground level but now the sun is getting harsher, and they are standing under the shade of an iconic Acacia. Scanning the horizon, he sees a group of three young bulls heading in the direction of one of these drinking sites. They are still a long way off, but the tell-tale bouncing walk shows they are on a mission. A herd of zebra is just leaving, the stallion barking to express the desperation of potentially losing a mare. A baboon barks, but it’s likely it’s seen the humans and not a predator. Nevertheless, he fingers his rifle to make sure it is safe, then proceeds to remind his guests of the what-ifs.
With a little shake of his ash bag, he checks the wind direction and heads off. Time is of the essence now as he wants to be situated safely before the elephants get to the water, but he must also be careful not to become fixated on the elephants and forget the potential for an old buffalo resting in the deep shade of the Sandpaper bush. He will use the same cover for safety that potentially harbours danger; strategy is everything. His attentiveness is infectious and the guests are suddenly aware of the sound of their breath, the crunch of leaves under their feet. Six oxpeckers fly up and the group veers off to the left to a small termite mound… ah, just a herd of impalas making their way away to a flowering Sausage tree.
On the edge of the river is a nice bank just above where the elephants normally drink. Sneaking in as quietly as possible, not quietly enough for the impala who spot them, but the distance is far enough that they quickly settle back to gently nibbling on the dark red flowers that have dropped. Over in the bush, some Ashy starlings squabble over something, and then as if on queue, the first of the bulls appears racing down the hill. Even though perfectly safe on the mound, the sight of the three elephants hurtling down the path is enough for an adrenalin spike, but the guide gently whispers in a calming voice: “shhh”. The bulls pause, their trunks searching the sand and exploring some of the fresher dung piles.
These bulls know each other. Communicating with rumbles too low for us to hear, they quietly spread out, each finding his own place to dig. The action is methodical. First, standing on three legs, they swing their front foot in the sand, the bulls aggressively shove away the soil until the moist sand is reached. Now using their more dextrous trunks, they gently and skillfully scoop out the wet sand throwing it across their body. The movement, though not synchronized, is identical and soon they are standing there silently siphoning water up their trunks, then tilting their heads back and letting the water gush down their throats. The time passes and as each takes his fill, they begin to wander off.
This is Olkeri, a walking destination where stepping out with knowledgeable guides will immerse all your senses as you uncover the secrets of the Tanzanian wilderness on foot. Here you can experience short walks, day walks and multi-night expeditions.
Short walks are directly led out of the main camp and are a wonderful introduction to interpreting the mysteries of the bush. Longer walking safaris will take you into Randilen and Tarangire National Park where vehicles are not allowed. Dedicated fly camps offer multi-night off-road expeditions, led by specialist guides, keen to share their intimate knowledge of the Tarangire wilderness, where Olkeri Camp is based.
Come and discover the magic of the Tanzanian wilderness with us. Immerse yourself in the Tarangire National Park on foot, and see the animals in a new light, making memories you will not soon forget.