Reader Joe Dickinson sent some gorgeous photos from the Serengeti. The cheetah profile is one of the finest wildlife pictures I’ve put on this site. Joe’s notes are indented:
Here is a set from eastern and central Serengeti, where the rains still had not arrived. As you can see, we had very good luck with felids, which do not follow the migratory herds and rely through somewhat lean times on non-migratory species like impala and gazelles.
We start with a nice group of Masai giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) circling a thorny acacia. I recently saw an article (in Science?) suggesting that several recognized subspecies of giraffe actually are good species. Don’t know where these stand. [JAC: I’ve written about that here, finding their status as distinct species dubious.]
Coke’s hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) seemed to be one of the less common antelopes. This landscape is fairly characteristic of the area, with scattered acacias and rocky kopjes in the background:
And here, on top of a kopje, is one of my favorite sightings from the whole trip, a beautiful cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus):
Another cheetah, within sight of the first one, was walking casually on a diagonal toward a group of gazelles, trying to pretend he did not see them and ascertain if they had seen him. They had.
This is most of the largest pride of lions (Panthera leo) that we saw. You can see eleven of fifteen members that we counted, including several cubs. This can’t be the entire pride since no males are present. Once again, nearby zebras seemed relatively unconcerned. I tried to explain to my fellow travelers that natural selection would not favor individuals that ran in blind panic at every sighting of a predator. A cost/benefit analysis would doubtless show that frequent expenditure of energy (and loss of feeding opportunity) would decrease fitness more than taking a small risk (albeit occasionally fatal):
Kirk’s dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii), a very small antelope almost always found in pairs that are mated for life. Aren’t those wonderful eyes?
A nice group of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) crosses a meadow with some zebras and cape buffalo in the background:
In a nice segue, the rock hyrax (Heterohyrax brucei) is probably the closest terrestrial relative of elephants. The Sirenia (manatees, etc. ) are sister group to elephants, and hyraxes are sister group to that combination. This was suggested long ago based on anatomy, confirmed more recently by molecular data.
And, finally, another prized sighting, a fine leopard (Panthera pardus) resting in a tree and rewarding some patient watching by getting up to change positions.