The spectacular Lobo River Valley simply offers the finest wildlife viewing in the Northern Serengeti. Wildlife viewing at Lobo is at its best during the late dry season from mid July to late November and peaks at the end of the dry season from about mid September to late November when animal concentrations are at their highest. At the end of the dry season Lobo offers perhaps the best wildlife viewing in the whole of East Africa, as the migratory herds tend to pass through or stagnate in the Lobo Valley during their southward migration. Additionally, during the dry season many of the resident animals tend to congregate around the permanent sources of water in the valley, resulting in excellent game viewing of both resident and migratory animals.
Stewart White was one of the first explorers to discover the Lobo River Valley. In 1913 Stewart wrote: ‘Never have I seen anything like that game. It covered every hill, standing in the openings, strolling in and out among groves, feeding on the bottom lands, single, or in little groups. It did not matter in what direction I looked, there it was; as abundant one place as another.’
Lobo Valley (along with Seronera Valley) is one of the few places in East Africa where there is a realistic chance of seeing all three species of big cats (lion, leopard and cheetah) on a single game drive. The resident lion pride, called the ‘Lobo Pride’, is the 2nd largest pride in the Serengeti and consists of approximately 26 individuals. This extended family of lions is commonly seen catnapping on the smooth granite kopjes during the heat of the day, sprawled out in proper lion style. These lions thrive on the abundance of resident prey animals that reside in this area throughout the year including buffalo and gazelle. During the dry season when the great migration is thundering through, the hungry pride stalks the migratory wildebeest and zebra, allowing the resident herbivores some relief from predation. Leopards are commonly seen slinking in the shadowy branches of the yellow barked acacia trees that line the rivers and springs in Lobo Valley. One of best spots to see leopards in this valley is near Lobo Springs. Cheetahs, though thinly distributed in the woodlands of the Northern Extension, are also regularly seen gracing the tawny grasslands of Lobo Valley during the dry season due to the presence of Thomson’s gazelle, which is their primary prey. The majority of cheetahs in Lobo are thought to be migrants from the other more touristy parts of the Serengeti (as evident by their habituated behavior) and feed on the migratory Thomson’s gazelle population throughout the dry season. During the green season, the cheetahs follow the migrating gazelles south and east. Conversely, the lions and leopards of Lobo make this area their home year-round, and since they do not migrate with the herds, these cats must survive on the resident game alone.
Lobo Valley is a remarkable place of great beauty and solitude, a scenic delight in the remote savanna of the Northern Serengeti. During its prime in the dry season, when animal action is most dramatic, Lobo Valley is certainly one of the wonders of the Serengeti. The landscape is a mosaic of colorful patterns – a pristine valley scattered with woodlands, open plains, ranges of hills and studded with spectacular granite kopjes. This area is composed of some the world’s most ancient rock formations estimated at 2 – 3 million years old. There are several sources of permanent water that sustain life into the valley year round, including the Gaboti River, Bololgedi River and Lobo Springs. The dominant feature in the valley is Lobo Hill, which flanks the eastern side of the valley. The permanent water sources, along with the varied forage, allow for an abundant and diverse population of resident herbivores. Old buffalo bulls and bachelor herds of male buffalo are commonly seen in the vicinity of Lobo Lodge at the heart of the valley. The larger female herds of buffalo are seldom seen in the valley as they range farther to the north in the denser woodlands probably due to the large lion population in Lobo. The surefooted Klipspringer can be found on top of the granite kopjes that dot the valley. These thick-set, rough-coated antelopes are adapted for gracefully leaping from rock to rock. Klipspringers are monogamous and mate for life and are mostly seen in pairs. Other resident animals commonly found in the Lobo Valley include elephant, impala, warthog, giraffe, topi, hartebeest, baboon, vervet monkey, dik dik and rock hyrax. There are only two nearby lodges (Migration Camp and Lobo Lodge) so the valley never feels very crowded, which allows for relatively undisturbed game viewing and golden solitude.
The legendary wildebeest migration thunders through Lobo twice a year including July and August (during the northward migration) and September through November (during the southward migration.) The southward wildebeest migration is much more pronounced then the northward migration at Lobo since the animals seem to linger in the valley for longer periods of time on their southern journey. Throughout the dry season one can usually see a few scattered herds of migratory wildebeest even when the main masses have moved on. The migratory zebra herds are more easily seen grazing in the Lobo area during the dry season as they tend to linger long in the valley, seemingly captivated by its beauty.
One of the more interesting sightings we have had in Lobo was coming across a lion, leopard, impala kill and several baboons all in one large green thorn acacia tree (see pictures in slideshow) located approximately 1 mile south from Lobo Lodge. Apparently, a female leopard had killed an impala and dragged the carcass to a branch halfway up the tree. A troop of baboons must have forced the leopard off the kill to scavenge (baboons are mainly herbivores but do eat meat on occasion). An opportunistic female lion had come across the situation and the ‘king of scavengers’ attempted to climb the tree. An awkward standoff ensued with the lion unable to climb past the first branch, the baboons unable to descend from their mid level perches, while the leopard sought the highest refuge at the very top of the tree.
Lobo Valley is also home to the largest remaining concentration of elephants in the Serengeti. In a 1992 census, approximately 38% of the elephants counted in the Serengeti ecosystem were located in and around the Lobo Valley. This same study in 1992 noted a general migration pattern in that elephants moved into Lobo during the green season and dispersed during the dry season, which is opposite to that of the wildebeest and zebra migration. There are two populations of Serengeti elephants including a northern one (North Serengeti, West Serengeti and Masai Mara) and a southern one (Kusini, Ndutu, Masawa and Edulen).
These graceful giants were poached heavily in the 1980s. The Serengeti elephant population declined from 2,460 in 1970 to 467 in 1986. Elephant poaching in the Serengeti slowed considerably in 1987 when legal ivory sales were disallowed in Burundi. Poaching came to an abrupt halt in 1989 when the world ban on ivory trade was imposed. Since the ivory ban was enacted, elephant numbers have been slowly rising in the Serengeti through immigration from the Masai Mara, natural recruitment and from expansion of agricultural communities outside the park forcing those elephants inside the Serengeti. The last census was conducted in 1992 and 1,295 elephants were counted. Today over 2,000 elephants call the Serengeti home. The Serengeti elephants are very well protected now due to a combination of increased anti poaching patrols and high tourist exposure.
Elephants travel in matriarchal groups led by a succession of mothers and daughters. This closely knit family unit consists of a small number of related cows (i.e. a mother and her daughters) and their dependent young. Each family unit is also part of a larger kinship group of two to four family units. Female elephants form a close bond with their mothers and stay together with them all their lives, while male elephants leave their mothers once they reach adolescence at about 12 years of age. The matriarch and group leader is usually the oldest cow. She may be fifty years or older and her great memory and experience is the herd’s defense against drought and flood. The matriarch sets the herd’s direction and pace. She knows the ancient migration routes and where go to find forage and water. It is interesting to note that many of today’s roads in East Africa are simply widened and paved elephant trails.
Adult male elephants range independently from the females and family units. However, male elephants do form temporary groups called bachelor herds. Elephants do not hold fixed territories but range over massive areas. At certain times of year dominant males exhibit a phenomenon known as ‘musth’, which is apparently a highly sexual state. This can be recognized by a secretion of dark liquid from the temporal glad. Male elephants in ‘musth’ are extremely dangerous and will often charge vehicles if they feel threatened.
Myles Turner writes in 1966 ‘The Northern Extension of the Serengeti was the home of some of the fiercest elephants I have ever encountered. The herds up there wandered back and forth between Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve and the Serengeti. Why they are so evil tempered has never been satisfactorily explained. Whatever the reason, more often than not, they would charge at the slightest excuse, either singly or in a mass attach, screaming and trumpeting, a solid phalanx of living flesh bearing down in a cloud of dust’.
Elephants encountered in several areas including the Northern Serengeti, Western Serengeti and Tarangire are notorious for exhibiting fake or demonstration charges where they rapidly approach the vehicle with ears spread, head held high and are often accompanied by an unfurling of their trunk with a loud trumpeting similar to a party noisemaker. Signs of uncertainty immediately before the charge including displacement activities like exaggerated feeding behavior (breaking off branches, etc.), swinging of the feet or swaying are usually indications for demonstration charge rather then a real charge. However, such mock charges can still be quite dramatic and the first time you witness one, you will undoubtedly remember it!