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Tanzania Awaits

Plains zebra, with unique identifying stripes that may also function as disruptive coloration to protect herds, graze in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Photo Julie Maris/Semel.

Story & photos by Julie Maris/Semel

I held my breath, seemingly for fifteen minutes, while a six-ton, fifty-year-old elephant nibbled shrubs less than ten feet from my porch near the entrance to Tarangire National Park. The last night of a remarkable Tanzanian safari left me in bed listening to the night sounds of hyenas laughing and frogs chirping. Hearing the loud crack of a breaking branch, I rushed to the screened window to see my elephant with three-foot tusks that reflected the moonlight. I heard him pulling and chewing the grass while I ceased breathing. My surreal dream ended when three Maasai watchman carrying quartz lights chased him towards the wilderness.

The safari began a week earlier at Lake Manyara National Park, a two-hour drive from Arusha’s airport on paved and then bumpy, pot-holed dirt roads. The park and the Rift Valley, the result of tectonic plate movement, encompass diverse habitats and vegetation. A two-thousand-foot escarpment overlooks shimmering grasslands and acacia woodlands that support two-million flamingos, over 390 bird species, and the world’s largest concentration of baboons.

I watched the frequent laugh-inducing baboons’ antics and listened to my guides’ educational and amusing comments about their behavior. Both resulted in camera movement and blurry photos.

At Lake Manyara National Park, an adolescent female baboon pulls an infant from its mother’s breast for inspection or grooming.

As part of Lake Manyara Biosphere Reserve, the shallow soda lake and alkaline ecosystems feed pelicans and cormorants. Eagles soar on thermal winds over grassy floodplains filled with sprinting giraffe, buffalo, and zebra.

In Lake Manyara National Park, territorial African fish eagles with piercing vocal calls, perch in trees near wetlands after diving to the water’s surface.

Tarangire National Park’s acacia woodlands, the iconic lacy trees with dome-shaped tops, and towering, ancient baobab trees, include migration corridors for the second highest number of elephants in Tanzania. Hundreds in parades or swimming left me speechless. Sitting at a picnic table in close proximity and watching lumbering elephants gave me an intimate view of the beauty of these majestic animals but also of their fragility.


In Tarangire National Park, African elephants dust themselves with sand for sun and insect protection after baths and also use their trunks to communicate tactilely.


A family of matriarchal and mud-covered elephants swim in Tarangire National Park’s river valley where lush vegetation supports large numbers of wildlife.

Excitement followed the continuous and dusty bends in the roads when unexpected tree-climbing lions in Tarangire and a pair of Serengeti National Park cheetahs, eyeing prey from an eight-foot termite mound, came into view. As the four-wheel drive lurched to quick stops and my guides scanned the horizons, I grasped my binoculars and would have easily lingered for hours watching the game if time and distance were not on the safari agenda.


Lions with keen eyesight ascend an acacia tree for shade and rest in Tarangire National Park.


On a Serengeti National Park termite mound, a camouflaged cheetah and eight-month-old cub survey open grasslands: black tear markings minimize glare.


These lyrical and vast landscapes and the privilege of a safari immediately highlight the true issues. Frightening statistics regarding conservation of the ecosystems and habitats and the additional loss of animal life from poaching and human conflicts threaten all species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of threats to giraffe apply to most animals: illegal hunting, civil unrest, ecological changes, and habitat conversion.


Giraffe merge and dissolve social groups in which bulls neck and butt heads for dominance. Endangered, they have sustained a 40% decline in the past thirty years.


Serengeti National Park giraffe have complex circulatory systems, color patterns through which heat dissipates, 18” tongues, and ossified cartilage.


From the giraffe’s loss of thorny acacia trees to increased agriculture and environmental projects that affect wildlife migration corridors, the impact is staggering. The Wildlife Conservation Society (formerly the New York Zoological Society), IUCN, the African Wildlife Foundation, the Tarangire Elephant Project, and the Serengeti Lion Project are involved in biodiversity conservation through activities including community involvement and tagging lions and elephants. Support is imperative for the survival of these precious animals.

The awe-inspiring Serengeti savanna, characterized by its tropical and volcanic grassland and dispersed trees, protects the largest concentration of plains animals in Africa. Famous for its million wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle that migrate during the year, there are also frequent sightings of prides of lions and cheetahs.


Serengeti cheetahs utilize their adaptive respiratory systems for stamina, tails for counterbalance, and unique claws that increase traction during short, high-speed diurnal chases.


On the Serengeti National Park plains, members of a pride of lions communicate with facial expressions and vocalizations; females are the primary hunters.


Serengeti plains zebra are social herbivores which groom each other in bonded-family groups within herds.


Serengeti zebra migrate with wildebeest whose synchronous birthing in February increases the survival rate of calves capable of running within minutes of birth.


The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contiguous to Serengeti National Park, incorporates the largest intact and non-flooded volcanic caldera, the Ngorongoro Crater. The two-thousand-foot deep crater contains 25,000 animals that include the rare and endangered black rhino and leopards.


Hippopotamus submerge at Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Their glands produce a red and orange pigmentation which provides a sunscreen with antibiotic properties.


Three-foot tall, grey crowned cranes soaring over grasslands in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are both monogamous and territorial.

The establishment of the conservation area preserved the Maasai culture when they were diverted from the Serengeti. These pastoral nomads build temporary villages outside the area but herd cattle within the crater overlooked by the blue-hued caldera.

In 1960 archeologists Louis and Mary Leakey discovered Homo habilis, a stone age human jaw, at Olduvai Gorge within the conservation area. Nearby in 1978, Mary Leakey found the Laetoli footprints, a trail of seventy fossils of erect hominds embedded in volcanic ash, the oldest footprint site in human history. While evaluating a new museum location in 2015, archeologists uncovered fourteen additional 3.6-million-year-old prints.


Semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists collect firewood in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area but are prohibited from constructing traditional round houses.


The grazing Maasai cattle coexist with great numbers of wildebeest, gazelle, and zebra in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.


As a guest of Augustine’s Adventure Africa, I experienced incredible animal sightings coupled with the ability to closely observe their behavior. Augustine Minja and his driver/guide, Mohamadi Mpagama, enlightened me about wildlife with passion, expertise, and knowledge with regard to management and conservation.

Augustine sponsors children’s trips to local national parks, part of Tanzania’s 13,000 square-miles of protected parkland, for environmental and conservation education. On safaris, he also supports local culture through visits to community schools, health care clinics, markets, and coffee growers that give clients another side of the social and economic picture.


An arabica coffee farmer teaches her daughter to sift raw beans that grow in Karatu, Tloma’s nutrient-rich, volcanic soil.


At the Tloma Primary School, Karatu, where children often walk three miles to school carrying beans and maize lunches and firewood, a class sings in Swahili.


Near Ngorongoro Crater, Karatu’s bustling and vibrant market sells hand-made furniture, recycled clothing, seasonal produce, and steaming coffee.


The Karatu, Tloma Tumaini Choir’s diverse tribal community rehearses gospel music that originated in local Christian missionary churches.


© Photos and article by Julie Maris/Semel


Tanzania Tourist Board

Wildlife Conservation Society

International Union for Conservation of Nature

African Wildlife Foundation

Tarangire Elephant Project

Serengeti Lion Project

Augustine’s Adventure Africa


For more than twenty years, Julie Maris/Semel has photographed adventure travel. Her work features people, landscapes, and wildlife from Asia to the Arctic. As a photojournalist, she has produced articles for national tourist boards and editorial clients. Her images have appeared in magazines and on Nikon’s website and reflect the challenges of capturing the brief second between subject and camera, as well as the quality of light and color.www.juliemarissemel.com

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  1. Joanne M Hvala
    April 15, 2021 at 10:09 am — Reply

    What a wonderful story and beautiful photos to remind us of how enriching travel to unknown places can be. These images are sparking my interest in planning a trip and enjoying travel once again.

  2. April 16, 2021 at 7:29 pm — Reply

    Nice post, Thanks for sharing!

  3. bash
    April 25, 2021 at 5:40 pm — Reply

    Did you just go, or an old trip? Covid conditions? Cheers

    • April 26, 2021 at 11:01 am — Reply

      Thanks for your interest in the safari which was pre-Covid, November 2019.

  4. Pat Hooper
    April 26, 2021 at 9:15 am — Reply

    ‘Tanzania Awaits’ provides a wonderfully detailed and vivid description of being on a safari. Accompanying photos of the baboons, cheetahs, giraffes and local Maasai culture – entrancing!

    The informative overview of statistics highlighting the need for protection of Tarangire National Park’s ecosystems, animal habitats and wildlife is a clear reminder that we need to support international conservation groups.

    Thank you.

  5. Enoch
    April 26, 2021 at 10:09 am — Reply

    Great article.
    I felt as though I was right there looking at 3 ft. tusks in the moonlight.

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