The Serengeti: Up Close with the Hippos and Giraffes

The Serengeti is very large compared to the Masai Mara. Because of its sheer size, we always felt like we were very much out there on our own rather than packed together with other tourists in a car convoy. It also meant that the animals were more spread out and somewhat less accustomed to cars zooming about. While I’m sure we didn’t have as many animal encounters per day as we did in the Masai Mara, each encounter was far longer and we sat and observed far longer here. It also helped to have a very good guide who knew the importance of education rather than scalp collecting. Muba often killed the rover engine as we came up to an animal and after making sure that we had good viewing angles, he would launch into a mini-lecture about the animal, its habits and its habitat.

Our first encounter with hippos in the Serengeti was on the way in: there was a pool of hippos happily taking their evening splash. At first, we only caught a glimpse as we zoomed past in the rush to get to camp before evening curfew. Then Muba obligingly reversed and let us grab this picture of a very unglamourous hippo before whisking us off to camp.

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The next day, we had a much longer encounter with the hippos. We came across a bloat (don’t you love that collective term?) of hippos that were rather far away from their favourite habitat of the pool. Seems like they sometimes like to come out of the water, still in the security of the group, and bask in the sun. Check out the pink colouration. Muba said it’s a natural sunblock secretion, some sort of red oil that protects their skin when out basking in the sun. Pretty cool eh, I’d like some too!

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It’s not so common to have solitary hippos out in the open. As mentioned, they do like the comfort of the herd. But occasionally, a hippo leaves the pod and ventures off on its own. When this happens, the hippo tends to be really paranoid and takes a chomp first, ask questions later approach. This one below suddenly came lumbering out of the undergrowth and stared steadily at us.

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It was clearly discomfited by our presence as it suddenly ran off, scaring the birds on its back away too. Seeing how fast it moved out of the way even though we weren’t particularly close (and it probably wasn’t particularly scared) drove home the point: don’t mess with a hippo.

And then the giraffes. I never tired of looking at them as they have such gentle graceful curves, and there is such peace in their expressions. Either peace or sheer vacantness in their brains!

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I most enjoyed watching them feed. Not even the highest leaves could evade them, including those that were higher up than it was tall. The giraffe simply tipped its head back…

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… stuck out its long, long tongue, and the leaf was transformed into giraffe lunch.

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Drinking, however, is a much harder feat because its neck isn’t quite long enough to reach the water without splaying its legs. I didn’t realise till now that giraffes can’t bend their legs, I wonder why. They don’t drink very often, but when they do, they can drink a lot of water. I guess it’s mainly to avoid being in such a vulnerable position.

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Speaking of vulnerable positions, this giraffe seemed to be caught in just such a situation. Although perhaps “embarrassing” would be the right word. Who knows what it really was doing, but Muba laughed and with a wink, said that it was just scratching its belly.

I can’t bear to leave such beautiful animals in this embarrassing state, so we’ll conclude with this lovely pair.

giraffe diptych

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