In addition to the wonderful animal life here, Tanzania is also famous for being the cradle of mankind. In the 1930's when it was still a colony, a German entomologist wandered through the Oldupai Gorge looking for butterflies after the rainy season. Running water had cut through six major layers of rock to the lava bed and revealed a skull that could have been a monkey or could have been a man. Louis and Mary Leakey returned to the gorge and excavated further, finding a definitive skull in 1951 that was our earliest ancestor 1.5 million years ago. Every summer archeologists return to this valley finding the skeletons of the things our very distant ancestors ate and the tools they used. They're hoping to find more of our ancestors, too. Scientists believe that mankind left this area and walked and walked until every continent was populated. One of the most exciting finds was a set of three footprints, a man, a woman and a child left in the hardening lava. We saw a casting of the footprints in the small museum at the gorge museum and a new museum is being built to protect and display them properly. The current museum also had an extensive photographic depiction of what life was like for the Leakey's. In the beginning they slept in their car to protect themselves from lion attack.
We drove on to Serengeti National Park, which is the largest national park in Tanzania and the most visited. It is so large that it truly has enough habitat for all the animals that pass through here. It adjoins Masai Mara in Kenya, making the animal habitat even larger. It has been raining and the vegetation has turned green attracting 1.5 million wildebeests and 500,000 zebra. The wildebeests are here to give birth next month. The lava ash in the soil makes for especially nutritious grass and in a month their babies are strong enough to move on. Imagine standing on our Great Plains and turning 360º and seeing wildebeest on the whole horizon. Being here surrounded by wild animals is amazing. After the grassland area the land turns into savannah dotted with small trees. There enormous herds of wildebeest have gathered and were pondering crossing a river. Because they appeared to have no leadership they ran one way, then ran the other, generating enormous clouds of dust. Their instinct is to run whenever someone else runs. That could waste a lot of energy, but it has worked out pretty well for them so far. Vultures were feasting on one of the wildebeest who had drowned in the river a few days ago. We hope they finish the meal soon. The stench was terrible.
We passed a group of six male lions, an atypical grouping. Usually a male accumulates a harem and fights off all comers. These playboys follow around the wildebeest and work together to bring them down, so they always have plenty to eat. Occasionally, they drive off the leader of a pride, impregnate all his lionesses, get bored and leave. Today they were napping under the shade of a tree near the road. One lay on the road and we had to look carefully to see if he was breathing; he was so relaxed.
Our lodge is located on a hill overlooking the herds of animals. Each room is is a tent with huge curtained screened windows and an outdoor shower heated with solar panels. The swimming pool is built into the boulders and spectacularly beautiful. When we return to our rooms after dinner, a guard armed with a bow and arrow or rifle walks with us. Although the lodge is located outside the park boundaries,me animals didn't get that memo and they wander around here at will. This is our last stop and we are glad to have four days here in this gorgeous place without the packing and unpacking.