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The landscape of Tarangire in northern Tanzania stands in stark contrast to all the other parks we visited in East Africa, all of which were more open plains, iconic "savanna," populated mostly by acacia trees in the large flora department. Tarangire is home to a dense population of baobab trees ... amazing trees that live to be hundreds and thousands of years old. (see some 800+ year-old baobabs in Botswana) They make for a unique and dramatic landscape. And, to our delight, they make a wonderful home for elephants. I had been advised by knowledgeable Afrophiles  to go to Amboseli for the elephants and to Tarangire for the landscape ... I had not realized that I was going to get elephants as the primary wildlife sighting in Tarangire, too. But even the giant of the animal kingdom, the elephant, is dwarfed by the majestic baobab.

Elephants grazing near baobab trees, Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.

Baobab trees dotting the landscape of Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.Baobab trees dotting the landscape of Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.

But first I'll share with you one of the most amazing things we saw in the whole trip. Why did I not expect to see this animal here? For absolutely no good reason at all except that I didn't know what to expect in this park save the pretty landscape (and even then, I didn't know what made for the pretty landscape ... see how much I blindly trust my Afrophiles!). So in a way, this was maybe my favorite place because it was completely outside my conceptions of what East Africa is like (thinking of the savanna plains). A splendid surprise.  

So our guides spotted a leopard in the bushes at the bottom of a baobab. We could barely make it out, just its head above the bushes. After a few minutes, it looked up the tree trunk and Hamisi said, "She's going to climb the tree." I didn't really believe him (though I had just asked not 30 minutes earlier if leopards climb baobabs since they don't have limbs low down). Then "vroom" like a little bullet, she launched up the tree trunk and climbed her way to the lowest branch. Fortunately, in spite of my skepticism, I had my camera pointed at the tree anyway and was able to snap some shots. No more doubting Hamisi! 
Leopard climbing up a baobab tree, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Leopard climbing up a baobab tree, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Leopard climbing up a baobab tree, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Leopard resting on the limb of a baobab tree, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

So that was awesome and exciting. In contrast to the majestic elephants and the mighty leopard, another critter I really enjoyed was the tiny dik-dik, one of the smallest antelope species in Africa, standing about a foot tall and averaging 10 or 11 pounds. So it weighs the same as my cats and isn't too much taller. I think they're pretty adorable, especially with those big eyes. You can see dark spots near the tear ducts; they are scent glands. A lot of Mother Nature's ideas make total sense, but I think maybe she fell asleep when she put scent glands right next to eyeballs. Well, regardless, they're cute creatures. Even their itty bitty poops are cute. Yes, when you spend 8 to 10 hours a day in a vehicle looking at animals, you start to have some pretty silly thoughts. But I think you would agree with me. (sorry, I did not actually take a picture of the poops)

Dik-dik in the bushes, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Dik-dik in the bushes, scent gland near its eyes, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

 Here's another fun critter I love to see but don't see too often in Africa -- the banded mongoose. 

Banded mongoose in the road, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

We stayed at the Tarangire Lodge, which we really enjoyed. There is another camp in the park that is the most popular, but I heard from several sources who had been there, including our guides, that the tsetse flies were pretty maddening. And while we encountered a few while on game drive, which we swatted away with horsetail whips (or some animal's tail, anyway), there were virtually none at our lodge, so we could sit on the patio overlooking the river and the tree-dotted plains each evening in pure relaxation, drinking wine from the happy hour cart they bring out to the patio. One of my favorite evenings was when a group of gazelles was playing chase with each other down below us in the trees, just running in circles.  

Looking out over the plains from the balcony at Tarangire Lodge, Tanzania.Looking out over the plains from the balcony at Tarangire Lodge, Tanzania.

The river (at ground level).

 And, appropriately, a lovely female water buck near the river. I believe she is saying "Hello" to us.

Female water buck sitting in the weeds, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

It was really a hoot to watch a group of elephants come down to the river one day. Always so full of personality, I don't know how a person could ever become bored watching them.

Elephants walking across the sand to the river, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

One of the biggest hoots was the super young baby, not more than a couple weeks old. We saw it several times, could still see the lump on its tummy from where the umbilical cord was. It was very difficult to get a photo of it because it was always surrounded by its family, keeping it safe. 

Newborn elephant walking with its family across the sand toward the river. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Newborn elephant walking with its family across the sand toward the river. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

Apparently it was more fun to dig in the sand than to walk over and drink from the river. I presume they enjoyed the feel of the cool sand under the surface on their face! The first guy looks like he's digging for treasure with his trunk. What'd ya find, Sammy? 

Elephants are like cats in that they are always finding something to play with -- they are very curious creatures, wondering what things are, how they work, how they might manipulate them. 

Elephant using his trunk and foot to make a pile of sticks. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

So I have shared a number of birds that I love and was excited to see again, and birds that I've been wanting to see and saw for the first time. But I don't believe I've yet shared a pic of the bird tied for first place with the grey crowned crane in my faves -- the lilac breasted roller. I think it is generally the non-birder's favorite because it's pretty ubiquitous throughout southern and east Africa and its colors are so WOW, how could anybody not feel excited every time they spot one? 

Lilac breasted roller sitting in a tree branch, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

And my new friend, the Eurasian roller ... not hard to guess it's a cousin to the lilac breasted with its gorgeous coloring.

Eurasian roller sitting on a branch, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Eurasian roller in flight, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

The ground hornbill. Sitting in a tree. I guess he forgot what his name is. Striking red chin, especially against the blue sky. I'd never seen one in a tree before. 

Ground hornbill sitting in a tree, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

Starlings are a wonderful set of birds, though often kind of pesky, with iridescent feathers. The superb starling was a constant picnic companion but I liked them very much. I can't help but think of the Different Strokes line, "Whatcha talkin' 'bout, Willis?" when looking at the first pic. 

Superb starling with a severe expression, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Superb starling sitting on a bush, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

And the other ubiquitously pesky critter but so darn cute and photogenic, the vervet monkey. Gnawing on a stick and in a bit of a grooming trance. 

Vervet monkey gnawing on a piece of wood in the forest. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Vervet monkey enjoying some grooming by a troupe mate, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

Well, now, you may be wondering, "So Shara, where are all these gobs of elephants of which you speak?" OK, here's a bunch of elephants. First one says, "How do you like my hat? Made it myself!"

Elephant puts a clump of weeds on its head. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

Have you ever seen how remarkably long an elephant's eyelashes are? 

elephant eyelashes. Tarangire, Tanzania.

Elephant family portrait. I imagine this as the Christmas card photo for the family, even though little Francis had his head behind mom ... it's the best they could hope for.  

Elephant family portrait, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

Always fascinating to watch how elephants interact with one another through their trunks. 

Elephants interacting with their trunks. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

Youngsters .....  Young elephant eating next to a tree like he's just about to play peek-a-boo. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Young elephant proudly carrying around a small branch, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Young elephant proudly carrying around a small branch, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

Itty bitty elephants new to the world are inexpressibly precious. Look how wrinkled this newborn's head is! haha. Hasn't yet grown into his forehead skin!

Infant elephant with wrinkled forehead standing close to mom's leg. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

Midday snack for baby. What I like most about this photo is the textures ... baby's trunk and mom's legs and sides.

Baby elephant drinking milk from its mom, Tarangire national park, tanzania.

Look at the little baby peeking out from behind mom's leg! I believe it is the same infant from the river bed, its umbilical cord still healing up. The rest of the baby pics are of the same elephant and family. What a special experience it was to spend time with this little one. As we stayed quietly in the vehicle, the baby became more and more confident about leaving the close circle of its family who protected it, giving us a glimpse of its utterly adorable little self. Infant elephant peeking out from behind mom's leg, in the middle of her family grazing. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Infant elephant sheltered in his family forming a tight circle around it. Getting a little more courage to peek out. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Coy baby elephant surrounded by his family. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.Baby elephant leaving the cover of his family to say hello. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

Oh my, we could have watched them all day. But eventually the family moved on down the road. Look at how tiny the baby's foot is compared to mom's! Ah, it kills me ... too cute. You can also see here how dark pink the skin is behind the ears ... the darker the pink the younger the elephant.  

Mother elephant and infant walking down the road, Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

This next pic has made it into the vault of one of my all-time favorites ... the darling little baby foot next its mom's, but what makes the pic is how the mom and baby are in tandem with the position of their feet and their tails.

Mom and baby elephant walking down the road, their feet and tails in the same position. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

And finally a big goodbye from the elephants of Tarangire. I think they are saying they've had enough of us! Normally a picture of a bunch of butts wouldn't be that exciting ... but somehow this one seemed worthy of a capture. 

A line of elephant butts. Tarangire national park, Tanzania.

And so we say goodbye to wonderful, beautiful Tarangire National Park, beside ourselves with joy over our intimate time with elephants. 

*

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