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SPOTTING AFRICA’S ‘BIG FIVE’ IN TANZANIA

Tanzania in eastern Africa is most famous for two things: its natural beauty and incredible wildlife. And if you want to witness the country’s uniquely rich biodiversity, you simply can’t miss out on visiting its Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park. Ngorongoro is a protected area and a world heritage site located 180 kilometers west of Arusha, a multicultural city in northern Tanzania with a large population of Arab and Indian migrants.

The Serengeti National Park is located within the Mara and Simiyu regions and famous for its annual migration of white-bearded wildebeests (similar to antelopes). It’s also where most tourists in Africa go to spot the “Big Five” safari animals: a lion, rhino, leopard, buffalo and elephant. Jakarta Globe photographer Yudha Baskoro visited the Serengeti for a three-day game drive (a less glamorous version of the safari) on April 3-5, organized by Ghoseni Safaris Africa.

Peter Robert, the managing director of Ghoseni, told Yudha, “If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see the great migration and spot the big five in two areas in the Serengeti.” At 6 a.m. on the first day, Yudha and the JG team climbed into safari guide Gabriel John’s Land Cruiser to be driven to their first stop, the Ngorongoro Crater. Apparently, this is where people are most likely to spot elephants and rhinos.

But it took more than half a day before the group finally met an old african elephant that had been separated from his herd and two rhinos near the crater, the world’s largest inactive volcanic caldera. Though Yudha saw the animals from a distance, his Canon EOS RP’s 26MP sensor and Canon 600mm F4.0 L ISU II lens, which were provided by Canon Datascrip Indonesia, made sure he had no trouble taking sharp photos of the two black rhinos.

In Tanzania, the rules mandate that a game drive starts anytime after 6 a.m. and ends by 6 p.m. sharp. After spotting two of the big five, the group drove to the nearby Oldeani Mountain Lodge to stay the night. The next day, the group drove briskly to the Serengeti National Park. A lion welcomed the group with a roar near its entrance gate.

The Serengeti is a massive national park covering an area of almost 15,000 square kilometers. Guide John said, “The name Serengeti is taken from a Maasai word, ‘siringit,’ which means ‘endless plains.'” The group drove for 10 kilometers before they finally saw black and white dots in the distance: this is the great migration. More than 1.7 million wildebeests, 500,000 zebras and 200,000 antelopes were swiftly crossing the savannah from Ndutu to Maasai Mara. The zebras were out at front, and apparently they are often the de facto leaders of the great migration.

On the second night, the group stayed at Ole Serai, a camp-concept hotel located near the Rongai and Nyaroboro hills within the Serengeti ecosystem. “We haven’t seen a leopard yet, so the Tanzania Tourism Board will provide you with a hot air balloon from Serengeti Balloon Safaris to get an eagle’s eye view of the Serengeti and get closer to leopard territory,” said Eugene Malle, the board’s marketing officer. The hot air balloon took Yudha and the Jakarta Globe team flying right on top of the great migration. From their new vantage point, they could see zebras, wildebeests, giraffes and a group of sleeping female lions. Carrying a Canon EOS RP which had a compact light body, Yudha was able to easily take photos of the magnificent beasts below.

After an hour of flying and still no sign of a leopard, the hot air balloon landed in an area of the Serengeti where large sausage trees grow. This is where leopards usually hide to rest and sleep. It was nearly 6 p.m. and the group was getting restless. But then someone radioed John to take the group to a particularly massive sausage tree not far from where the hot air balloon landed. And voila! An adult male leopard was lying on one of the tree’s enormous trunks, yawning endlessly. John said, “After he yawns, he’ll jump right off to the ground. Get your camera ready.”

Though the RP is not a sports or action-centric camera, its autofocus system, powered by Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology with 4,779 selectable AF point positions using Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III to extend the lens’ focal length, makes taking photographs of a jumping leopard easy even for a beginner wildlife photographer. The autofocus simply works incredibly fast.

“You’re so lucky, very lucky. Some people come here ten times and find nothing but gazelles,” guide John said.