The Eastern Serengeti: A hidden gem

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If you are lucky enough to be able to travel on safari anywhere in the world that you wish (and that indeed is a very lucky position to be in!), you might find yourself spending some time initially researching your options, as there are many different countries, parks and reserves to spend some magical moments in the African bush. Of course, using a superb travel provider, such as WanderingThru, with their years of experience in the safari and travel world, can help immensely with the very pleasant task of choosing the locations and camps based on your personal wildlife and travel interests, and then coordinating the travel logistics for your next adventure!  If you are lucky enough to be able to return again (and again?) to Africa on safari, you might find yourself being drawn back to a favorite camp or location based on the quality of wildlife sightings, or the camp comforts and set-up, or the wonderful staff and guides that a particular camp provides, or even just an unnamed vibe or feeling that you get when you are there, reveling in the beauty of the land and sky and vistas. Not to mention the amazing wildlife and photographic opportunities!

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Such is how my hubby, Rick, and I returned last March for a full week’s stay at Asilia Africa’s Namiri Plains Camp in the remote far eastern part of the Serengeti National Park of Tanzania.  The Serengeti is a vast gorgeous park in northern Tanzania, and essentially comprises the southern portion of the Mara ecosystem found just over the international border into Kenya. Wildlife flow is unobstructed across the international border between the two parks, and this entire area is famous for the huge dynamic wildebeest migration every year. While we have witnessed and enjoyed the migration chaos and confusion on a past safari trip, my goal on this early Green Season trip to the Serengeti in March was not for the wildebeest migration (which occurs in a different area of the southern Serengeti at that particular time of year), but to experience the big cats in all of their glory and magnificence in the eastern Serengeti. Traveling in an off season is still a very productive and less frenetic way to experience the wildlife sightings, without the crowds and congestion of high season.  Although Namiri Plains camp is isolated and remote enough to never feel too busy and crowded…..

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The Namiri Plains area of eastern Serengeti is in a huge open rolling grassland, which was created by intense geological forces along the Rift Valley, and very active tectonic zones that extend down the length of the southern half of the African continent.  The grasslands are created by volcanic ash deposits from the range of nearby volcanos (both active and dormant) that have spread after eruptions with the wind patterns, and create a fairly shallow impermeable hard crust on the surface of the land, allowing only grasses to grow, except where there are cracks in that crust that allow some trees to push their root systems into the deeper, richer soils and water further below the surface.  The result is an extraordinary vista of huge skies and sweeping multi-hued grasses broken up by granite kopjes (extruding rock mounds or mini-mountains) that support denser vegetation, water collection, and wonderful places for the big cats (and other smaller animals) of Africa to live, sleep, hide, den their cubs, and hunt strategically from.

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Lions hunting at Namiri Plains
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Namiri Plains in particular is very special, as it is a very remote area of the Serengeti that was closed to tourism for 20 years, in order to allow the speediest, most exciting, most fragile and endangered big cat to survive and thrive and regenerate their population numbers, without the pressures of tourism.  Yes, I mean the cheetahs!  If you wish to go on safari and see cheetahs in their perfect ultimate habitat and environment, and with a reasonably healthy population of the cats that are very visible almost daily (and are researched, followed and monitored very carefully by the Serengeti Cheetah Project, a terrific small conservation organization), then you want to go to Namiri Plains Camp!  Eight years ago, the Tanzania government allowed the whole eastern part of the Serengeti to be reopened again to very limited tourism, with Asilia leading the way into the area with a very rustic but comfortable tented camp, and being the only camp around for a 45 minute drive in any direction. Asilia Namiri Plains fully supports the cheetah conservation efforts, and has been an excellent role model for sustainable tourism and light footprint in that fragile ecosystem.  Three years ago, Asilia was given permission to completely rebuild the camp into a more permanent set up, and now it is a gorgeous, simple but luxurious, rustic and comfortable camp, with elegant, light, airy, roomy hybrid tent/lodge rooms/suites, very high environmental ethics, and a superb warm friendly staff and well-trained guides (not to mention amazing food!).  We have been back now on 3 safari trips, and I believe that it remains my very favorite safari destination of any and all that I have experienced.

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Cheetah at Namiri PlainsNot only is Namiri Plains an incredible place to see beautiful cheetahs (we saw 11 cats on our first day this last March!), and witness them with cubs and hunting and lounging and walking the open grasslands, it is also a very lion-dense area of the world, with several different large prides of the biggest African cats doing what they do best in their daily lives……sleeping, posing, hunting, playing, walking, lounging in trees(!), eating, running, hanging out with their cubs and/or pride males.  The lions particularly love the granite kopjes (pronounced “koppies”) for the open viewpoints, the warmth from the sun, the shady cool hiding places, the smaller wildlife that also tend to congregate there, and the perfect locations to den and stash cubbies when they are very small and vulnerable.  Suffice it to say, that almost every large kopje on the plains will have a resident pride of lions that favors that territory as a home base.  For the photographers out there, these kopjes are the ultimate place to get those iconic African photos of big cats draped comfortably on the rocks, or silhouetted against the sunrises or sunsets.

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Lion silhouette at Namiri Plains[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

So while a safari adventurer and big cat aficionado can travel to Namiri Plains and admire and enjoy the plethora of lovely (lazy or active) felines, there are also lots of elephants and large herds of antelopes and gazelles, and truly enormous herds of zebra and wildies (depending on the exact location and cycles of the migration), jackals, servals (including one famous melanistic cat named Manja and some of his melanistic offspring!), leopards, hyenas, bat eared foxes, warthogs, and potentially caracal and other fabulous smaller little creatures (African wild cats, aardwolf, mongooses, etc) .  The bird life is also spectacular in the wetter areas and perfect to enjoy while waiting for those sleeping cats to get moving!

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Serval in Namiri Plains[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

As an aside, NatGeo wrote articles in their August 2013 issue and the July 2019 issue about the Namiri Plains lion prides, and there is a great NatGeo documentary called “Lion Gangland” that is available on streaming platforms, that filmed the Vumbi pride and the very famous dominant male lion coalition (at the time)…C-Boy/Hildur (or also known locally as Bob and Ziggy), in the Namiri Plains grasslands.  C-Boy/Hildur’s male offspring still dominate prides in the area today….they are named Snyggve and Tryggve (or Bob Jr and Marley) and are huge, dark-maned, gorgeous male lions.  We had the pleasure of finding them sleeping midday in the hot sun by a small pool of water, which was wonderful for us, as we had seen them as young nomadic male lions sleeping right outside our tent on our first trip to Namiri Plains in 2016 (they had also commandeered the dining tent at lunch that same day before we arrived!), and again in 2018 on top of the Zebra Kopjes with the pride nearby.

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Snyggve and Tryggve (or Bob Jr and Marley) in Namiri Plains[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

On our recent trip this past March, we enjoyed some fascinating animal behavior and interactions (my absolute favorite):  watching the large Punda Breakaway pride of subadult lions and lionesses lounging along a waterhole with a gigantic herd of very wary, jumpy, nervous, but thirsty zebras trying repeatedly to approach the water to drink; a young hyena mother carrying and running with her very tiny newborn cub a long long way back to a communal den site with several other fluffy young hyena cubs excitedly greeting her arrival;  a cheetah family consisting of a mother and subadult daughter and her adopted subadult son (yes you read that correctly!), walking and searching and hunting on the plains (several times); two different servals; a wild crazy thunder/lightning, wind and drenching rain storm one afternoon; the Punda Breakaway lions eating a huge buffalo carcass with at least 40-50 hyenas and numerous jackals lurking hopefully nearby; a Punda lioness deliberately running full tilt into the herd of zebras hoping to catch someone unaware, for the pride’s dinner;  the Barafu pride lionesses eating something stolen from a hyena, who had stolen it from a cheetah who had originally made the kill (the cheetah got away safely); male lions, many lionesses and cubbies of all sizes and ages; a coalition of 3 male cheetahs moving together on the plains; the cheetah family arguing over a small scrub hare snack; a herd of ellies in camp during lunch peacefully eating and also blocking our path back to our tent; lions lounging and playing and posing beautifully on the kopjes.  All in all, 6 prides of lions, 3 male lion coalitions, 14-16 cheetahs!  Oh….and one stunning unnamed female leopard poured gracefully onto a tree limb on our drive to camp from the Seronera airstrip!

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For seven full days and nights we enjoyed long eventful days on safari drives, and then pampering and delicious dining while in camp. On our final night, we arranged for the Serengeti Cheetah Project (SCP) researchers to come to camp before dinner and present their info and research data, and engage in a great discussion about the cheetahs’ conservation program that they run in the eastern Serengeti…..it was an informative and excellent way to finish our safari trip and a very worthwhile evening event.  Asilia Namiri Plains supports the SCP in an ongoing way with a guest bed/night fee contributing to that project’s donation.

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Lastly, we were gracefully taken care of by the warm helpful staff at Namiri Plains, and dined on truly delicious, but simple, fresh salads and foods.  It would be very hard to ever experience more comfortable and high quality lodgings on safari, and very well-trained, knowledgeable guiding, even being in such a remote location. We love Asilia Namiri Plains and certainly hope to be able to return again someday on a future adventure.  And we will definitely be back on a WanderingThru-created itinerary, as well, as all travel and logistics were expertly and thoroughly organized for our trip!

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Looking to travel to Namiri Plains? Contact us today to start planning your next adventure

 

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