Crowding at sightings in Kenya and Tanzania?

Oct 2nd, 2007, 08:47 PM
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Crowding at sightings in Kenya and Tanzania?

There are a couple of active threads asking or complaining about large crowds at game sightings in Kenya and Tanzania. One mentions 59 jeeps at a wildebeest crossing in the Mara, a couple others ask about crowding in Ngorongoro or Serengeti and wonder if they should even go for fear they won’t enjoy the trip.

When I read these I shake my head in disbelief because this is so different than most of our experiences in Tanzania ... you can avoid the crowds if you do a few things, I feel. Maybe these tips will be of help.

Before giving my tips here are some details from our safari in January 2007 (the other two were similar) ... I went back over the photos I posted from this safari and counted how many other jeeps were there when we took each photo, not counting the one other jeep in our party, which shared about 20% of our sightings when contacted by radio.

Overall we posted 213 photos (not counting a Maasai village side-trip). 188 of these were shot with NO OTHER JEEPS around, or 88%. This is at the height of the migration when most lodges were full. In another 16 photos there was one other jeep around -- one shot of a jeep in a face-off with an elephant (the jeep backed down) and 15 images taken on three cheetah sightings when once someone saw us on the cheetah kill and came over, and once we stumbled across a jeep that had located two cheetah families.

So 188 + 16 => 204 out of 213 photos (94% of all images) were taken with zero or one other jeep sharing the moment. Crowds? What crowds?

2 photos were taken with 3 jeeps around, shots showing a jeep crossing a flooded wash on the main Serengeti road.

2 photos were taken with four other jeeps around, on the Serengeti-Ndutu road in the afternoon with lions and cubs. We photographed these same lions the next two mornings in good light before any other jeeps showed up though.

2 photos were taken with 6-12 jeeps around (they came and they went), images of two lions on a fresh eland kill at Ngorongoro.

3 photos of a driver stuck in a mud hole were taken with maybe 30 jeeps milling around. We had to be there to help the driver, who was with the company we were using.

That's it for 'crowds' ... these images are at http://www.hiltonphotography.net/afr...ania/index.htm ...

I realize we take a lot of bird photos and you just can't build up a crowd around a bird on a branch, so this skews the numbers, but still even with most of the lion pics and the leopards and cheetahs (we saw 20 cheetahs) we usually had no other jeeps around because we were out early and looked for our own game rather than relying on the radio. We had 170 lion sightings and except for the one PM sharing near a main road we had all but the Ngorongoro eland kill to ourselves.

So here are four tips to crowd avoidance:

1) Crossings at the Mara draw big crowds. Don't spend much time at the crossings if you want to avoid crowds. Go do something else knowing that most of the people are out of your way sitting at the crossing cursing the crowds Or go at a different time of the year (we will be there in January, though already some of the lodges we wanted are full).

2) Lions often draw big crowds, especially in the Serengeti near Seronera and in Ngorongoro. We avoid this by going out early and getting our lion shots before others arrive, while the lions are more active (more on this later). Most of the people on short safaris want to see a lion more than anything else and the drivers who pay more attention to the radio reports than to looking for game tend to flock to the lion sightings.

3) Ditto for leopards in the trees at Seronera (we got stuck several traffic jams doing this April 2006) and cheetahs on a kill if drivers can find you (we had many jeeps see us stopped waiting for a cheetah pair to rush into a wildebeest herd in Jan 2006, probably 20 total, but almost all left before the cheetahs killed 2-3 hours later).

Those are the main tips ... most of the crowding is in a few places (Ngorongoro mid-day, Seronera area of Serengeti, Mara river crossings) and typically the crowds build around cat sightings (lion, leopard, cheetah) so just keep on jeepin' past the jam-ups and find your own animals.

One last example showing how crowded it gets and why we aren't bothered by it ... next to last day of our trip we were the first jeep into Ngorongoro Crater and found a lion with two in-heat females a few feet from the road well before sunup. I figured if we left they'd stay close (based on what happened a year earlier) so we shot zebras and other stuff for 45 minutes until we could see the sun striking the far side of the rim, then we eased back to the lions.

We were alone with them (our other jeep didn't know we were returning and when we called them they were too far) and as the good early light started hitting them we photographed them mating twice with a 70-200 mm lens at 180 mm. After 20 minutes they moved about 50 yards off the road so we left. It was now around 7:30 and still no other jeeps (this was on the Sopa side, where there’s only one lodge).

We did other things and had breakfast, then around 10 AM headed back to the lodge. The lions were at the same place but about 150 yards off the road and there were maybe 30 jeeps jamming the road watching them, some viewing them with binocs because they were so far away. To the people in these jeeps I'm sure it seemed very crowded and a less-than-choice situation because of the distance, but to us, 3 hours earlier, it was wonderful. We didn’t even stop.

Get out early and find your own animals before the crowds arrive!

Bill
Bill_H is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2007, 10:07 PM
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Bill,

Thanks a lot for your inputs. A lot of us will find this very useful ......

First thoughts:

1.) 20 cheetahs - WOW!!! yep, did catch my attention. I don't think the private concessions in Botswana can match these numbers at any given time .....

2.) It appears to me that, going at the right time to the right place is very vital? So, i guess i need to plan a proper Serengeti visit.

Definitely a must do!

Rgds,
Hari
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 02:12 AM
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Hello,

Sorry to kind of hijack your post, but after reading this, seeing all the cars in Ngorongoro and watching to many BigCat Diary episodes I just wondered if anybody knows how this affects the wildlife?

Sometimes I just feel we are messing a bit to much with the animals we so dearly love. But this is just a feeling I get, so it would be great if someone has some more scientific knowledge about it. Does it affect wildlife at all, and if so, how does it affect them?

Thanks,
Tom
basto is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 04:49 AM
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Thanks for the info Bill-we plan on being out early when in TZ in 3 weeks. But if one is thinking about going to east Africa, you may want to go NOW.

A recent syndicated article from the Detroit Free Press touted Kenya and Tanzania safaris:

"...Demand is sparking even more development. Meanwhile, less-developed Tanzania, just south of Kenya, is rushing to catch up. Aiming to lift thousands out of poverty through tourism, the government plans to allow 4,500 new lodging rooms by 2012 in the famous Serengeti, including a Kempinski hotel, adding a new Serengeti-area airport and expanding cultural tourism programs....Tanzania is aiming for 1 million tourists by 2010, compared to 644,000 last year."

4500 rooms x 2 per room =9000 people ũ 6 per vehicle = 1500 more vehicles in the Serengeti by 2012?

Good grief!
QueenofDaNile is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 05:14 AM
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Tom,

I don't think it affects lions and leopards much but for sure there are documented incidents where it negatively impacted cheetahs, who hunt by day and who are often in open areas where it's easier to see them.

I remember reading of an incident where jeeps surrounded a mother with cubs and they got nervous and bolted in all directions. The mother lost one cub, which was killed by a lioness. Another time a jeep supposedly ran over and killed a cub hidden in the grass.

Several cases of cheetah hunts being disrupted by vehicles, though I saw some research saying cheetahs had a *higher* hunting success rate when vehicles were around, apparently because the prey animals were distracted by the jeeps.

There are rules in Serengeti and Ngorongoro about cheetah viewing, something like no more than 5 jeeps at a time (you wait your turn), don't surround them, stay some distance away (maybe 25 meters, can't remember), don't follow when they get up to move off and hunt. Following these rules doesn't distract from the experience for us since usually we are the only jeep around (the guide we use can spot cheetahs way off).

Dunno about the wildebeests at crossings, I guess they make it across eventually.

Bill
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 08:08 AM
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Bill, thanks for your detailed and positive account.
atravelynn is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 08:19 AM
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My experience with Kenya and Tanzania is more like Billīs. Avoiding peak season could be crucial.

We visit the Mara April 03 only 3 days.That was my first contact with african safaris .We didnīt suffer from crowds at sightings.
Our first cheetah was a male that cross in front of our vehicle and sat on top of termite mount.We where not alone ,one massai with a group of goats was less than 100 meters from us.That was outside the Mara and we even had our suitcases in the vehicle yet.

Inside the reserve we had a mother cheetah with 2 well grown cubs just for ourselves during half a hour and 2 mating rhinos with one other vehicle.That afternoon we came acroos the cheetah mother and cubs again and nobody was watching them.

Many eles and some lions also with no other vehicles.Just one early morning at a zebra kill we found 6 or 7 vehicles around some lions and i had to admit that i didnīt like much the situation.

We had rain the 3 days but just sort thunderstorms that didnīt interference our drives.Plus i like the skies and lights of this time of year.
I am sure avoiding peak season will make it ease to avoid the crowds.


We also visit Tanzania in April 06 and again we had and amazing time and many many sightings just for ourselves,including a cheetah kill,a leopard getting down from a tree an passing beside our vehicle,lions mating ,striped hyena,lion cubs and more.
Only at Ngorongoro crater we had a moment of crowds.The afternoon we enter the crater(it was 2 p.m.)we found a group of vehicles that where with 2 cheetah stalking some tommys.

But next morning we where the first at the gate,we head to the lake and where the only vehicle watching the flamingos,then found a group of lions with no other vehicle around and finally a great rhino with beautiful storm light just for ourselves.
By nine a.m. you will see a lot of traffic but you can enjoy more than 2 hours in this magnificent scenery with very little people around,just be the first at the gate.

Hari,we where also very lucky with cheetah.We saw 8 different cheetahs at Ndutu area in just 3 days and 2 more at the Norongoro.


Excuse my english,i am not used to write that much.



Paco.
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 08:24 AM
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Bill,

Thanks for your answer, and once again sorry to hijack your post. I think your suggestions and experience about how to handle this is great. With a little planning and a good alarm clock it can be a totally different experience!

And also thanks for your input in how this affects wildlife, your answers make sense. I am a salmon fly fisher, and from that part has seen on numerous occassions how a
basto is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 08:33 AM
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Sorry, here is the rest..

salmon pool can be ruined in a few minutes if too much activity around the water. It can take one or two days before you have a real chance again. I am glad that african wildlife are not that sensitive. I think it is an interesting question though since all we want is to protect them. Hope to read more about it.

best regards,
Tom
Tom
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 09:15 AM
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The first time I went to East Africa was as a child with my parents and I think they opted for a mid-priced fixed-route tour - certainly we were part of a mid-sized group for the whole trip.

On that trip I distinctly remember large crowds of vehicles around some sightings (and this was back in the mid '80s) though I still loved the wildlife sightings and experience.

To be fair, back then even my parents (who are now very experienced wildlife travellers) were new to this interest and also had a smaller budget.

Nowadays we know all about researching the time of year to go, choosing accommodation that doesn't cater to the larger tourist groups and therefore tends to be in quieter areas, choosing top guides who can and will find sightings on their own rather than rely on radio calls from others and of course, getting out there early before many travellers are out of bed.

My second trip to Kenya was in early April 2004 (Masai Mara only) and though we certainly saw a fair number of vehicles about we seldom shared a sighting with more than one, if even that. Partly because this wasn't the busiest season and also because our specialist group had booked out the whole of Governor's (main, little and il moran) so it was easier for them to coordinate us all. And not all of us went on game drives each day as there were other activities such as walking, painting and so on.

We're booking a trip at the moment to go to Kenya and Tanzania in August 2008 and hope that all we've learned over the years will help us avoid the big crowds.
Kavey is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 09:33 AM
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I commented on the other thread but will some of our experiences here as well. Since we tend to travel in low/shoulder season and like to include less visited parks/areas (Tsavo, Meru, Shaba, Laikipia, Aberdares, West Kili, Selous), we've had very few encounters with crowds on our 3 East Africa trips in 2005/2006. The only places we're come across any were in Amboseli in Feb 2005 and Samburu in Dec 2006. Elsewhere, we've only come across a few other vehicles on rare occasions or none at all.

Our only Mara experience was in Nov 2005 and over the course of 4 days, our only encounter with multiple vehicles at one sighting was with some lion cubs and that was because guides at the two nearby camps knew where they were. I think there were 3-4 vehicles at most at any given time and they were from Kicheche and Mara Safari Club and everyone was very good about cooperating with others so that each vehicle could get a good view. Outside of that we didn't share sightings including 45 minutes spent with a leopard feeding on an impala carcass (OK one other vehicle showed up after 45 minutes).

In the cases in Amboseli and Samburu, our guide knows that we're very crowd adverse so we'd avoid groups of vehicles or would take a quick look just to see what everyone else is looking at and leave (they were always cats). Many times, we'd come back later when everyone else had left and find them to ourselves.

Bill is right about finding your own animals and for the most part, for where we go and the time of year we go, there's no one else to radio anyway.
Patty is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 01:00 PM
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I'm tied to school holidays so we have spent our last 6 Christmases in Africa at peak times.

As Bill says, it is still easy to get away from the crowds, especially if you go out really early.

We also spend a long time taking photographs, so even if another vehicle is attracted to where we are they usually just move off after having a look.
Wingi is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 01:05 PM
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Kavey, I wondered when/where your return would be. It's less than a year now!
atravelynn is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 01:34 PM
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I daren't talk about it much until it's booked incase I jinx myself but I absolutely will be sharing itinerary and mounting excitement with you all once it's booked!
Kavey is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 01:39 PM
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Looking forward to seeing your itinerary, Kavey! You've been working on it so secretly and quietly
Patty is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 02:23 PM
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Going in June to Tanzania, we encountered the big crowds. At the crater, we were the first vehicle out of NCL in the morning and only the second car in the park to stop for lions eating their kill but in ten minutes we had some 25-30 cars crowding. The bad part was the yelling the later cars did to the first car who yelled back to them, "Get up earlier in the morning, like we did!"

Our guide wanted us to see the lions leave so the hyenas could take over but one of the cars complained to the rangers (there is a time limit, which we did not know) so our driver moved on.

In other areas of Tanzania, we encounted huge numbers around one leopard in a tree far, far away (because of the rule about not driving off-road in many parts of Tanzania). This was not only disappointing compared to S. Africa, but a driver got into a fight with our driver. This was a different driver from NCL, btw, and didn't have to do with time but something else involving driving. So, two fights over crowded vehicles in six days.

You cannot just stop anywhere to set up a picnic there, so the driver wanted us to go to an authorized rest stop. It looked worse than Disneyland, which a huge parking lot, people crowded at picnic tables, etc. We opted to drive another hour and a half to eat at a more secluded spot.

That was a June experience.

(Kavey, I ordered the brochure from the company but your photo wasn't in it - will keep looking).
Clematis1 is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 06:20 PM
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Hi Paco,

Your trips sound amazing!!! Pl don't apologize for the English....it's perfect!!!

Hari
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Oct 4th, 2007, 04:33 AM
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Clem
From what Patty has indicated, Viking have TWO brochures - a FULL one and an introductory one. Mine is the front cover of the introductory (49 page) one.
Kavey is offline  
Oct 10th, 2007, 06:37 PM
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Hi Bill,

For Feb/March 2009 when do you recommend i start making reservations?

Do you recommend Feb over March or vice-versa and why?

Would you recommend particular places to stay? No, not interested in luxury.... wherever the animals are!

Sorry, if the questions are repetitive/redundant.

Thanks,
Hari
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Oct 10th, 2007, 11:31 PM
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Kav, the problem is, you can't order yours from the website. They sent me two brochures, one for Africa/India and the other was European cruises. I don't know how to get yours.
Clematis1 is offline  

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