If you’d like to see a rare white giraffe, go on a Tarangire safari in northern Tanzania – Omo lives nearby. If you go in the dry season, you’ll see plenty of elephant too, as during this time the pachyderms are drawn to the Tarangire River as water sources outside the park dry up.
On our luxury Tanzanian safari we stayed at Little Chem Chem. It’s known as the sunrise camp, and we were excited enough to beat the sun out of bed for our first morning game drive on our Tarangire safari. The camp peeps out of an acacia forest to overlook Lake Burungi, which had all but dried up for now, but as the first sun rays touched the gleaming expanse of salt left behind, we were rewarded with glowing pink and orange hues.
Our destination was Tarangire National Park, which is known for its elephant. As we drove towards it, through the camp’s private concession, our guide, Wainwright, told us about them. He explained that while every effort is being made to stop poaching in Tanzania, it’s an ongoing battle.
Before we saw any elephant, however, Wainwright spotted the concession’s resident white giraffe. ‘Look, there’s Omo,’ he whispered. ‘She isn’t albino, as you might think. She has a genetic condition called leucism, which affects her skin pigmentation only. You’ll see her eyes are a normal brown.’
We sat next to Omo for a while, marvelling at the unique creature, before continuing on into Tarangire. As we arrived at a wide bend of the river, we saw our first herd of more than a hundred elephant. The water had shrunk to a narrow ribbon in the centre of its bed, and elephant were kicking at the dirt as though they’d lost something. We learned that more water flows underground, and they were searching for these subterranean streams.
The sun shone down from a cloudless sky – at this time of year, there’s almost zero rainfall, and as smaller waterholes and rivers outside the park dry up, the matriarchs lead the herds along dusty, ancient pathways that are etched as deeply in their memories as the wrinkles in their skin.
Each of the gentle rolling hills that we passed was crowned with bulbous baobabs, and Wainwright shared with us some of the local stories about this ‘upside down tree’ – which strictly speaking isn’t a tree at all, but a succulent.
I couldn’t help thinking that their trunks looked rather like an elephant’s leg, and we stopped by one to get a sense of just how rotund it was. The four of us on the Land Rover, plus our guide, could only just touch hands as we circled the baobab! I thought of The Little Prince trying to stop them from taking over his asteroid and how hard he must have worked!
Another herd came down to drink, and it seemed as though they all knew each other – there was a lot of excited trumpeting and head shaking. Later in the dry season, competition for water can be intense, but for now everything seemed very good natured.
A small group of eland approached – giant antelope which reminded me a little of cows. We listened out carefully for the clicking of the male’s knee joints, but what heard instead was a sudden screeching sound as a flock of gorgeous yellow-collared lovebird flew directly overhead.
Parked on the bank of the river, with hot coffee and fresh cookies from the camp’s kitchen, watching elephant, our Tarangire safari couldn’t have made us happier.