Sunday, February 27, 2011

Serengeti Traffic Report

There are not that many roads in Serengeti National Park. During high season, the roads are full of safari outfitters, especially when the animals are active near the road. However, traffic is so much more courteous than on the 405.
We saw many types of vehicles serving visitors on different size budgets. Most western visitors ride in pop-top 4x4s (Toyota and Range Rover) with 5-9 seats holding 4-5 passengers and one driver/guide. Western students and visitors from India and other parts of Africa may ride in larger vehicles like the bus below. The roads are narrow and guides are allowed to go off-road only to pass.
This is the cause of the traffic jam. I thought that watching a leopard stalk a herd of wildebeasts and zebras was a reasonable cause for a traffic delay. ;-)
The drivers/guides are highly incentivized to drive courteously. Not only will they be fined and/or banned for breaking the government rules, but they are also subject to the cold shoulder from other guides.

We were there on vacation, but the Serengeti is a workplace for the guides. We saw cell phone towers on top of every sizable hill and on many of the kopjes (granite intrusions that form hillocks on the Serengeti plains) as well. The guides were constantly on the phone and radio with one another with news of animal sightings. Even if they don't work for the same outfitter, they help each other out.

When there is an animal by the road, each driver gives their group enough time to observe, take photos, and then moves out of the way for the next vehicle. If a guide acts discourteously and hogs more than their fair share of animal viewing time, do you think anyone else will tell him/her about subsequent animal sightings? Their career will be over.

The worst traffic jams we encountered were at this leopard sighting and the lion sighting in the prior post. Most of the time, we didn't see much more than the four vehicles in our convoy. One guide said that, when a pride of lions actively hunts for prey, every vehicle working in the Serengeti rushes in. That's how he learned that there were ~150 vehicles working on the Serengeti.

We didn't see a kill. But we didn't encounter monster traffic jams either. We did see the big five (elephant, lion, leopard, cape buffalo and rhino). In fact, we saw 4 of the big 5 our first day. Rhinos are rarer and we only saw two, and only in the Ngoro Ngoro crater.

BTW, check out the green lushness of the Serengeti highlands in December. That took Bad Dad and I by surprise.

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