“There, through the bushes. They’re just about to cross the path,” said our guide, Aston, in a hushed voice. Then I saw them: a family of three giraffe, two adults and a youngster. Elegant and unhurried, they walked across the track in front of us and into the tall grass. I was on a game drive in Arusha National Park, Tanzania, and it was my first close-up view of these beautiful animals.
Even without the game viewing, Arusha National Park was worth the early start we’d had to get there. Lying in the shadow of the spectacular volcano Mount Meru, it features a variety of lush habitats, from forest to rolling grassland, from mineral-rich lakes to the marshy expanse of the Ngurdoto Crater. Aston drove us slowly round the park, frequently stopping when movement was spotted in the vegetation. We all became expert at spying twitching ears and blinking eyes through the bushes.
“A dik-dik,” Aston told us, as a tiny, red-brown antelope bolted into the cover. “Blue monkey,” he identified, indicating a silhouette in the trees. “Warthogs,” he pointed out, as a couple of these shy creatures headed into the bush, swinging their tails.Several times, our gentle pace was brought to a halt altogether by a troop of baboons wandering on the track. Babies clung to their mothers, boisterous infants scrapped playfully, others cleaned friends’ fur of parasites.
Dotting the flat areas of open savannah, small herds of zebra, giraffe, water buck and Cape buffalo lazed in the morning heat, sleepily swishing their tails at the flies. In the far distance, white-backed vultures crowding together on dead trees suggested a carcass hidden in the grass. A couple of times we spotted groups of strutting guinea fowl, the white spots on their plumage just about visible through binoculars.
In the north-east of the park, the Momella Lakes, algae giving each one a different shade of blue or green, provided yet another array of species. Often the lakes can be a sea of pink, filled to bursting with flamingoes. But today they seemed almost deserted. As we drove closer to the lakes’ edges however, we spied herons, storks and Egyptian geese sitting on the little beaches.
During lunch overlooking the lakes, we were visited by a brave little weaver bird, pecking around for dropped crumbs. Aston had pointed out the coconut-shaped nests of this species hanging from branches as we drove around, so it was a joy to see one of the clever constructors so close up.
Too soon it was time to go, but we’d seen such a wealth of species in this gem of a national park. It was only the elephants who had eluded us – turned shy by humans, they understandably hide in the dense forests during the day. I was happy to leave them in peace.