Davis Narrates Tanzania Safari

Posted: November 13, 2015

Dr. Donald D. Davis provides a personal narrative of his spectacular ten-day photographic safari in Tanzania with his son Matt.
Don Davis (4th from right), Matt Davis (2nd from right), Maasai herders (1st and 3rd from left)

Don Davis (4th from right), Matt Davis (2nd from right), Maasai herders (1st and 3rd from left)


In mid-September 2015, my son Matt (who works part-time in Penn State's Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology) and I took a ten-day photographic safari to Tanzania in east Africa.  It was our second trip to Africa, the first being in 2014 to visit Krueger National Park in South Africa while attending an International Biocontrol of Invasive Plants Meeting within the park. However, the 2015 trip to Tanzania was strictly for fun! The following is a summary of our adventures, including photographs.

After investigating several safari groups in Tanzania, we selected Mark Thornton Safaris, which does considerable ecological work with African native tribes, especially the Maasai herders. National Geographic selected Mark Thornton Safaris as Africa's Number One Outfitter. After being on a walking safari with this outfitter, Jessica Bruder wrote in the New York Times, “We were spoiled by savoring wide-open spaces at a slow pace with time to absorb, time to walk, time to see and think.”

Our safari took place near the end of the dry season and was divided into two parts.  The first segment, termed a “walking safari,” took place mainly in the Tarangire National Park.  Although it is a national park, Mark Thornton Safaris has exclusive rights for safaris in the southern part of the park where we were mainly, and we saw no other people in the park during that time. The objective of this phase was to walk among the animals in order to enjoy and photograph them in their natural setting.

During this walking segment, we slept at night in two-man tents furnished by the safari guides at several different locations within the park. Tent sites were usually selected to be within 100 yards of, and downwind from, a water hole that attracted different species of animals, especially elephants and lions. The walking safari was by far the most enjoyable half of the trip from an ecological point of view. Each day’s walk started after breakfast and lasted until about noon.  We returned to the tent site for lunch and then went on a second walk in the afternoon until dusk. During each walk, our safari tracker guide pointed out many interesting ecological aspects of our surroundings, including different animals and birds (which he always saw long before we did!), animal tracks, lion kills, elephant damage to trees, bones, birds, feathers, trees, shrubs, and many other items of ecological interest.

Although we saw many animals while walking in their environment, we were often in acacia bush, and photography was difficult at best. We were always accompanied at the tent site and during each walk by our guide (armed with a .375 H&H Magnum Winchester rifle, for you hunters), who is a former professional big game tracker and hunter guide, but now a conservationist. During walks, the “no-nonsense” tracker went first, followed by Matt and me in single file, and an AK47-armed park ranger who brought up the rear. By law, armed park rangers are required to accompany all walking safaris within the Tarangire National Park.

The second half of the trip took place in the northern part of the Tarangire National Park, Serengeti Plains, Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorongoro Volcanic Crater. During this phase, we were driven (usually not on roads, but rather directly through the bush) in a Toyota Land Cruiser with an open top, which allowed close-up photography of more elusive animals. As long as we remained in the vehicle, most animals (e.g., lions) did not view us as food or danger, but rather simply as part of the vehicle, of which they were not afraid. Only baboons, with their intent gaze, seemed to recognize us as not part of the vehicles. In this segment of the trip, lodging consisted mainly of large, classic African safari tents, complete with simple beds and primitive water facilities, as well as food and drinks.

Matt and I took nearly 1,500 photographs during the safari, often using a 200mm telephoto lens--we did not want to get that close to some of the animals! Enjoy OUR FAVORITE PHOTOS and accompanying descriptions.

Contact Information

Donald D. Davis, Ph.D.
  • Professor
Phone: 814-865-1689