Simba’s Bush Baptism

By 1985 we had saved enough money to be able to buy a new vehicle. At the time in Kenya –and in Africa in general- the only car to buy was a “Simba” (lion in kiSwahili) for its lion logo: a Peugeot 504.

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Our 504 arrived later. It was a great car. Here we are at Tsavo West National Park with friends. Photo by Bushsnob

We agreed with our friend Paul that we both will order similar cars to get a discount that we did not in the end! For some reason his arrived first and it was a very excited Paul that turned up that Friday afternoon in his Simba with exactly 34 km on the clock to invite us to a safari to the Sasumua dam for the following day. This dam, located on the Sasumua stream, supplied water to Nairobi and it had been stocked with rainbow trout during the colonial times. Some very large trout were still being caught, although rarely  at the time. However, Paul did not lose hope of landing one of them [1].

The dam was located in the South Kinangop highlands where the scarcity of oxygen and the almost constant drizzle seemed to combine to lower the ambient temperature to almost unacceptable levels for us. It was, however, ideal weather for people of Northern Europe and Paul, being British did not mind it! My wife and I were not very keen on trout fishing but Paul explained that the idea was to test the new car going the “back way”. He did not specify the details but mentioned that we would stay in a Government of Kenya forestry lodge, close to the dam. Aware by now of his “innovative” ideas, we readily agreed.

We already had some experience at the dam with Paul and his Avon rubber dinghy. We had gone there earlier in search of trout and also to test a new anchor that Paul had brought from the UK. The anchor, he said, was specially designed to take a great grip at the bottom. Although we did not fish anything, we confirmed that the anchor was indeed very effective. Somehow the thinner “release” rope broke and eventually we needed to cut the anchor rope in order to be able to return home from our firm anchorage in the centre of the dam! But let me go back to the present story…

We left early the next morning, ready for the back road trip, the cold weather and the fishing. The back road was, I believe the Thika Gatura road, probably quite rough even today. To make matters worse we realised that there has been quite heavy rain in the area the night before. However, we decided to go on. From the junction to Karangi the road became quite narrow and soon it was just a narrow path. However, this was the right road, according to the map (and our wishful thinking!).

After a few kilometres driving through a slippery but still passable track we met a mud hole of about fifty metres in diametre where clearly a herd of elephants had wallowed probably the night before and their tracks entering and leaving the mud pool and going into the forest could clearly be seen. We stop to evaluate the obstacle and to take a critical decision. Careful scouting revealed that there was no elephant threat but also no way round it.

I am not sure why but we (Paul and myself) agreed that we could cross it. My wife, as usually outnumbered, was resigned to her fate! We agreed that all we needed to do was to reverse for a good distance and enter the mud hole fast enough so that our inertia would carry us to the opposite side. We were almost sure that the car would grip sufficiently dry ground to enable us to go through.

We reversed for about 150 metres and came rather fast –maybe too fast- so that we went a bit deeper than wished on first contact with the mud but, luckily, the car nose lifted above the mud and the car continued its movement towards the other shore. I believe that there was an element of buoyancy in this manoeuvre that Peugeot was not aware of… Whatever the reason, we crossed, just, and we were able to move on. “Oh, Oh” said Paul, “the speedometer stopped working!” Although this was bad news for a new car, it was not surprising after what we had gone through and, as it was of no relevance for our present situation, it was largely ignored after a couple of brief polite comments.

Encouraged by our success we moved on as going back was no longer an option! We continued our advance on the muddy track that was now cutting through thick forest. After a few kilometres we came to a bend and a junction and deep truck ruts appeared. Despite Paul being a good driver, soon the car’s belly was resting on the road and our back wheels could not turn anymore. To make matters more entertaining, it started to drizzle!

I hate getting my head wet and I could not find my hat! So getting wet we inspected the situation. It was bad! Jacking it up was not an option as 504s did not have good jacks and the latter, instead of lifting the car, would have become buried in the mud.The only possible solution would be to push the car back, and then again gather speed while my wife and pushed it forward hoping that it would gather enough speed to go through the muddy spot. But first we needed to unstuck the car and push it backwards! That took some doing as we had no shovel, but eventually it moved to the relief of our “wet selves”!

Paul -after all he was the owner of the creature- decided to go for it and my wife and I positioned ourselves in a place we calculated some extra push would be needed. Paul came fast and we joined our energies to the car’s to no avail. After a short meeting we concluded that the only chance was for my wife to drive and Paul and I to push. This had a small drawback: she had not driven very often and -in addition- she was not familiar with this particular vehicle. As there was no time for her to learn more and we were properly stuck, we had no choice. We explained the expected move to my wife and positioning the car for her, we placed ourselves to wait for our turn to push the moment she passed by.

Before I go on, I have some relevant additional information. I have always had a weight problem and only a few years ago I managed to get on top of it. However, at the time of this safari I was trying to lose weight through the Scarsdale diet. After five days I had lost a couple of kilogrammes but I was feeling a bit weak. That Saturday was day six and the menu recommended the consumption of as much fruit salad as you wished with coffee/Tea/diet Soda/water. Only dinner -if we were ever to have it- would bring some “real” food in the shape of roast turkey or chicken!

Kindly -and luckily- my wife had prepared a very large bowl of fruit salad and I tacked into it trying to increase my sugar level for the push. While I added energy to my weakened body, Paul explained my wife again what she needed to do. When the instructions and my refuelling were complete we were ready to go.

My wife, following the instructions, started the car and soon engaged second gear coming flat out towards us, clearly barely controlling the car and with a scary look on her face! Luckily, with the wheels well into the furrows there was little to deviate from! When the car started to slow down both Paul and myself pushed as hard as we could and, to our relief, it came unstuck! We had a brief instant of joy before we realized that the car did not stop and continued on its way, leaving us behind! We jumped and gesticulated wildly for my wife to stop until, finally, it stopped when it got lodged in a nearby bush. My wife got out visibly shaken and upset so we refrained from any comments. I collapsed in a mixture of exhaustion and mirth.

After a while, Paul -visibly pleased that we were unstuck- inspected his no longer new car for any additional damage while my wife and I sat nearby. She was trying to recover from her nerve-wrecking experience and I was tacking into the fruit salad bowl in search of sustenance! Eventually Paul announced that the car was fine and that we should move on as we were now after lunch and -according to his “GPS-less” calculations we still had a long way in front of us.

We moved on but things were still not looking good as we entered a forest concession and there were more ruts and mud ahead. As expected, after a few kilometres of what I would define as “heroic driving” by Paul, the car’s belly started touching the road and eventually it accumulated lots of mud underneath until it became hopelessly stuck, sitting on its belly! This time no amount of fruit salad consumption would have helped, as the situation was really hopeless. We were on a tight spot and the rain continued to soften the red mud!

While busy discussing our rather desperate situation, my wife interrupted us and told us to be quiet. “I can hear an engine”, she said. I could not but -as usual- she was correct and after a while we could all hear it. It was a slow revs engine and a long way away. However an engine meant a possible pull and -while waiting for it- we decided to open a Tusker beer to celebrate our luck and wait for the help coming.

The old red tractor arrived slowly pulling a trailer loaded with logs and puffing blue smoke. We did not need to say anything to his elderly driver. We were blocking his way anyway! Quietly, he unhooked the trailer and manoeuvred the tractor in front of the car. He then tied a wire to its underside from the three-point linkage and started to pull gently until the car moved. While Paul sat in the car my wife and I jumped on the tractor. The pull lasted for about ten kilometres until we reached a point where the forest estate ended and with it the groovy road. The old man untied us and assured that we should be fine from there to Sasumua. He turned back while we could not thank him enough!

We set off gingerly and managed to cover quite a distance through a now more populated area. The rain had been heavier heree so this time we just got stuck in mud. I had finished my fruit salad and did not have any strength left so I went for some solid food knowing that my Scarsdale gain –or rather loss- was going down the drain. Luckily this time there was people nearby and we managed to walk ,still under the rain, to a small village where we explained our predicament.

As usual they listened attentively and respectfully and eventually informed us that they had charged Safari rally drivers KShs 1000 to get them out and that this was their fee. We tried to explain that we were not rally drivers but fishermen but we only managed a small discount! We did manage to agree that payment would be the moment we were clear of the obstacle. The push was a formality as all able men from the small village came and we were out and also out of pocket at the same time.

By looking back at the mud hole I could not help feeling that we were probably the victims of a mud hole “improved” by the villagers by making it deeper and wider to make an additional income from Safari rally “victims”. I had seen this earlier in Maasailand and I could expect the same or better from the Kikuyu ingenuity to make some extra cash.

We eventually got to the high, cold and wet dam at night. We were very cold and soaked wet but we managed to find the forest huts and, luckily there was dry firewood. Soon we had a roaring fire going and we soon warmed up, ate well and had a good early night sleep.

Fishing the next day was the usually futile affair but somehow made enjoyable by having survived the earlier day’s ordeal. Luckily the return road was good tarmac and asphalt and only then Simba could demonstrate why it was so famous in Africa at the time!

On the positive note for Paul, the speedometer was not working so the car kept being new for quite some time!

 

[1] He eventually land one that was actually close to the Kenya record!

 

 

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Breaking News: proof that unicorns exist!

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Noah’s Ark by Aurelio Luini.

In July 2015, after finding this beautiful painting of Noah’s ark in Milan, I produced a post on unicorns [1]. The following is a quote from it:

“… However, the most interesting feature is the pair of white unicorns joining the queue, just in front of the elephants. Why are they there if they did not exist? We will probably never know the reasons. But what if they existed and became extinct after checking in? There is a rumour that they got chewed up en route by the lions…”

I then mused on finding a scientific name for them and I concluded that Equus monocornis would be appropriate. I was really proud but, unfortunately, equally wrong!

Last October, while on safari to the Kalahari Trails in South Africa, without much hope of finding anything interesting, I placed the camera trap at the waterhole in front of our bungalow. What I found the next morning came as an unexpected shock: a live unicorn!

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Based on this initial picture, strenuous walks over the red (and sometimes white) dunes of the Kalahari followed in search of the beast that had eluded humankind for milennia. Finally I found it and, despite my sweaty hands (emotion or heat?), I managed to take the necessary picture that proves beyond any doubt that unicorns do roam our planet, though undetected because of their scarcity.

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Before you point it out to me, I am aware that the animal strongly resembles a gemsbok or oryx (Oryx gazella) but the sole horn is clearly the defining factor…

The finding forced me to review my previously proposed classification of the unicorn. It now stands as follows:

Kingdom:        Animalia

Phylum:          Chordata

Class:              Mammalia

Order:            Artiodactyla Perissodactyla

Family:           Bovidae Gray, 1821 Equidae Gray, 1821

Genus:            Oryx de Blainville, 1816 Equus Linnaeus, 1758 

Species:          monocornis Bushsnob, 2018 monocornis Bushsnob, 2015

Pleased with my discovery I have chosen to ignore those people that have suggested that I should include the word “sundowner” as part of its name.

Below I present you with the best picture that shows the beast in its full glory:

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The perfect unicorn!!! I hope the issue has now been settled for good.

 

[1] See: https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/07/19/noahs-ark/

Spot the beast 35

We found this beast while driving from Twee Rivieren to Nossob while heading towards the Mabuasehube area of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Although we did not have time to spare, we stopped and watched.

See if you can find it and identify it…

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A zoomed version looks like this:

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We found four African wildcats (Felis lybica kafra) that morning. Here is another one, also quite difficult to see as it moved away from us through the tawny grass.

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A close-up.

It is the second time we see these interesting cats. Earlier last year we had a fleeting encounter with one while staying at Mopane rest camp in Kruger National Park.

Of interest is that these cats are threatened not by poachers or poisoning but by their tendency to interbreed with domestic cats anywhere near human habitations threatening the genetic purity of this subspecies!.

 

Vundu!

Tiger fishing is one of the top sports in Southern and Central Africa and Zimbabwe is no exception. We had fished for tiger several times before not only in Zimbabwe but also in Lake Turkana and Tanganyika. Luckily I had caught a few good specimens that we always returned to the water. But, if size matters to you and you wish to display your catch, there is no need to kill your fish as fibre glass models exist that would fit your fish if you take a couple of quick measurements in addition to its weight!

Apart from tiger fishing, many people visit Kariba in search of bream (Tilapia spp.) but relatively few are after vundu (Heterobranchus longifilis). Excluding bull sharks, the vundu is the largest freshwater fish in southern Africa, reaching up to 1.5m in length and 55 kg in weight, quite a large fish for my coarse fishing standards! Interestingly, vundu only live below the Victoria Falls as none have been caught above the falls [1].

My wife’s dentist is one of the few fishermen I have heard of that “specializes” in vundu fishing and the re-telling of the fishing prowess of the dentist (30 to 40kg vundu caught!) had an influence on me when deciding this trip.

So, aware of the family’s love for nature, our daughter’s keenness for the sea, our son’s need for resting as well as my desire to fish for vundu, in mid 2017 we booked a trip in Lake Kariba. Unfortunately our son was not able to join us because of work and a couple of invited friends also declined our offer because of pressing domestic commitments. When it looked that we would be just three on a now rather outsized houseboat, Clara, a friend of Flori (our daughter and part-time Ed.) decided to join us all the way from cold Stockholm, her first trip to Africa, almost straight to the bush (and, after the experience, perhaps the last?).

Our final destination was the Ume river, quite far from Kariba town, the place where houseboats leave from. We were told that to reach those far off places you required a minimum of six nights in the lake. After a long search comparing prices and comfort we had booked a rather spacious houseboat known as O B Joyful. We agreed on a self-catering basis so it was our responsibility to organize all food and drinks to last for the week as well as all needed items regarding fishing.

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The moored house boat.

With a crew of four (Godfrey, the Captain, Warren the cook, Pilot the sub-Captain and Silas, the handyman) we sailed from 2 to 8 of January. They were really first class and pampered us thoroughly.

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Plotting the trip’s course.

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From left to right: Silas, Pilot, Godfrey, Warren and the Bushsnob.

Although we had visited Kariba several times before, it is easy to forget its size and the incredible beauty of its blue water, green islands and grassy flood plains framed by the spectacular and distant hills, a hazy blue in the distance. The abundant birdlife, numerous hippos -both in and out of the water- and the usual elephants complete the general picture. Abundant fish eagles were a constant sight and their wild calls are missed now! In addition, we also watched a couple of fishing ospreys.

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Lake Kariba at Elephant point.

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Kariba sunset.

At night you are immersed in a different world with a star-full sky where with patience you can detect a number of known constellations while listening to the noises of the night, particularly owls, frogs and toads with the occasional lion call and hyena whooping [2].

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We also went of game watching trips.

Luckily Godfrey was keen on fishing and helped us all the way, not only getting us to potentially good vundu spots but also on the bream fishing as well. His patience with worms and fish netting was really remarkable! Luckily, fishing bream became a great entertainment for the whole group while waiting for the vundu to strike and we also had some frequent visitors to keep us busy…

 

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The surprises of fishing in Kariba!

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Flori and elephant returning.

Although we knew that the Ume river was as far as we would go, the rest of the itinerary was open as we decided that we could chose where to spend our time. In addition, there was a factor we did not plan for: the weather! Storms are feared in Kariba and the fact that it was the rainy season added some uncertainty to our planned itinerary. Luckily, although the first two nights were stormy, the weather cleared and we were able to move at will.

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Storm looming. Luckily it did not come our way.

Briefly and for reference, our first night was spent at Changachirere and fishing only produced a few bream. The place was clearly used to spend the first night at the lake by most houseboats so we were about eight boats. Luckily there was still ample space to moor. Following Godfrey’s advice the following morning we sailed towards Elephant point, five hours away. It was a good decision as clouds were gathering but we got there in good time and anchored at a safe spot. The boat was secured not only by tying it to some of the dead trees but also to some sizeable iron spikes that were laboriously hammered into the stony ground for about one metre!

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The houseboat moored at Elephant point.

Safely tied we organized ourselves for the next morning fishing. While Godfrey went to bait an area with the aid of a cattle-licking block (a new gadget for me!), we watched the hippos grazing out of the water and the elephants in the distance.

The next morning we were up early and headed for our baited spot but, well before arrival, we noticed that a rather large boat was fishing at our spot as they had also baited it and had arrived there earlier than us. Crestfallen, we moved off to another spot near our houseboat where there was no baiting but it was a deep channel that offered good possibilities. Godfrey was correct.

As soon as I finished casting my “vundu rods”, I hooked a tiger fish that I managed to land after a few nice jumps and a good fight. It was not large but fun and, as soon as I casted again, another one took the bait and it was also landed, luckily.

Too much -unprecedented- success prompted me to share my luck with Flori as she is a very keen fisherwoman. It only took a few minutes until one of the reels started buzzing and she landed a nice African Sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus).

Things did not end there! As soon as she re-casted, the run that followed was “serious” and we all knew that she was into a good fish. After about ten minutes of reeling in, runs and more reeling in, she finally landed a nice vundu, the first one the family ever caught! As we had forgotten the fish scale, we estimated it to weigh about 12kg or more!

We were thrilled but we were also aware of the time and we needed to stop fishing to be able to sail our way to the Ume river.

Although we were quite close from the Ume, because of its size, our boat needed deep water. This meant that we needed to get back out on the main lake, turn and then enter the mouth of the Ume. Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy and windy so we had a wavy lake. It all went reasonably well going out but, the turning was tricky and we had a few serious shake-ups before we changed direction towards the Ume where we arrived five hours later.

We entered the Ume until we found a good bay where we could moor. The area was no longer open floodplains but hilly with bush and forest that would reach almost to the shore of the lake making game-spotting very difficult. Fishing was also a futile exercise and we unanimously decided that the next day we would spend it back at Elephant Point where not only our fishing had been good but we could also enjoy the landscape and its dwellers.

The following morning we left early and, with better weather now, we got to Elephant point faster and moored near the spot we had been before. Next morning we were fishing again and this time we had some party members going for bream “for the pot” while I was still attempting to catch the elusive vundu. Luckily, after about an hour of watching my companions pulling bream in I had the first strike and, after some work, brought in a vundu that weighed 9kg as this time we had the scale with us. I was moderately impressed…

Fortunately, an hour later I had another run and hooked another fish that gave me a lot of work to bring close to the boat. Eventually I managed to bring it and, while still in the water, we could see that it was a nice size. Suddenly I saw another fish coming towards it and I thought it was its friend! “That is interesting” I thought but Godfrey brought me down to reality when he identified as a crocodile having a look at “my” fish!

Luckily, the croc -smaller than the fish- only came up and then it was gone without damaging the fish and I could recover it whole! The vundu “busted” our balance that would only go to 25 lbs so I assume it to have been about 15kg and I was much more pleased with the achievement this time. Still, it was a far cry from the dentist’s 40kg ones!

All in all, my vundu “thirst” was by now somehow satiated and it was better that way as those were the only two that decided to offer themselves to my rods during the days remaining! I did have a few more bites and runs but missed whatever these were.

Although we did not get more vundu, we still had great fun catching bream and watching birds and mammals all the time. In addition, life on the boat was extremely pleasant and we had a good rest (those who needed) as well as lots of entertainment. Time passed really fast and we needed to return back to Kariba.

It was a great trip that left me still wanting as I realized not only the beauty of the area but also that there are still plenty of vundu lurking in Kariba’s depths and we are already thinking on ways to get them the next time.

 

[1] See http://www.karibahouseboatsafaris.com/vundu-catfish/

[2] We found the iPad app SkyView Lite a useful aid to identify the various celestial objects.

 

 

 

 

 

Seriously cute!

If you like chameleons like us, there are few things nicer than the start of the warm season when they become active and appear in the garden. They are incredible animals.

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They are not only able to change their colour to adjust to their surroundings but also to independently change the colour of each side of their bodies in a feat I find amazing but that I only observed once and could not photograph.

Apart from that, I am also fascinated by their ability to move their eyes in all directions, another of their special talents.

However, you have seen nothing until you find a baby chameleon and yesterday Stephen (our caretaker) find not one but two of them!

The gestation period of the flap-necked chameleons (Chamaeleo dilepis) lasts about 30 days and the female bury the eggs that would hatch only nine months later, quite a long period for such a small animal!

But I do not delay you anymore and present you with a few pictures of our find.

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We released them immediately after taking these pictures to avoid them getting too stressed and we hope to see them as grown-ups next year!

Camping dangerously

Over the last few days I described our experiences at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park when we visited the area this October. Although I still have one post pending as it will probably be published somewhere else, I have one more, perhaps the last, story about this trip.

As I told you earlier we camped at the Lesholoago pan campsite during the 18 and 19 October 2017 and there was great fun both days. It is always exciting to camp in non-fenced areas and Mabuasehube strongly reminded us of our “wilder” camping days in Kenya and some of the more recent camping experiences in Zimbabwe (Mana Pools and Hwange). There is nothing that compares to a night under canvas in the proximity of wild animals.

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Lola and mongooses.

I always think of a safari as a visit to an area that gives you a snapshot of it and then you go away. However, the animals that tolerated you remain there and life goes on! At Lesholoago we entered the territory of a few mammals including Ground Squirrels and Yellow Mongooses. At first I thought we were responsible for the two species mixing and expected some confrontation. As this did not take place, I realized that they coexisted, respecting each other.

Although the squirrels kept their distance, the Yellow mongooses would be moving about camp apparently oblivious to our presence. They would dart in and out and feed on any scraps they found but never showed any inclination of raiding our food supplies or trying to steal from our plates the way other creatures do. In the evenings we saw the arrival of Black-backed Jackals that watched us from a distance.

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The bushsnob getting to know the jackal…

Things started to get interesting after we had showered in the evening of the 18th. My wife was the last to shower and soon after twilight gave way to darkness, as there was no moon to speak of. At that stage Lola -who had a knack for spotting action- pointed out some eyes just behind the shower area that also happened to be behind their car-tent. A rather cursory look (by me) revealed that the eyes belonged to one of the visiting jackals so I dismissed it and headed back to my evening duties that, at the time, were rather complex: sitting down, talking and having a glass of wine!

However, before I reached my chair I heard a loud and alarming shout unquestionably originating from Lola: ” Fraaaannnnkkk, look, there is a leopard just here!” She was pointing to the area where I had made the diagnosis of “jackal eyes, do not worry” a few seconds earlier! Although I imagine that Frank went to Lola’s rescue, I reacted sluggishly (no, it was not the wine) and I was the only one that did not see the cat! However, I did recover fast by getting into the car to follow it.

As I drove towards the area, the leopard’s derriere was seen wobbling away for a few seconds before disappearing into the thicket where we lost sight of it. Although we drove around the area where it had disappeared, we failed to get another sighting. Clearly it just had to crouch to become invisible. We continued our exploration and drove to the pan’s water hole, located about a km away on the other “shore’ of the pan. Although we saw lots of Springhares and Bat-eared Foxes, the leopard was not at the water. To compensate, we had a very nice view of a Barn owl at the water’s edge.

Back at camp later, the unexpected leopard visit gave us a topic of conversation (not that we needed another one!) that lasted well after dinner and delayed our usual early night. We could not ascertain why the animal decided to come within a few metres of us, as normally leopards are very secretive and reserved [1]. We went to bed later than usual, still thinking about our amazing encounter and hoping that the animal had walked in front of our camera trap so that we could have proof of its presence.

The first thing we did the following morning -even before breakfast- was to follow the “leopard walk” to check its pawmarks in the sand and to retrieve the card from the camera trap to check for images. Success was partial. We did find the footprints but also realized that my camera placement had been -to put it mildly- rather inadequate. The leopard had walked too near the camera that only managed to register its over-exposed silhouette in the first camera burst, followed by a flash of light in the second. The latter was of us in the car looking for it. Luckily, this second burst had one shot where the leopard’s spots can be “spotted”, albeit poorly.

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The following day, inspired by our night visitor, we decided to spend the morning driving around in search of game, focusing on the various pans in the neighbourhood. We did not find large predators but enjoyed the time spent at the water holes, mainly bird watching.

We came back to camp in late morning and as soon as we arrived another visitor arrived, this time a human! It was a German camper that came to -curiously- ask for a glass of water! Although we offered him more of our precious resource, he only took one glass while asking us whether we had seen lions as -according to him- they were coming our way. We exchanged some information on the area and soon he was gone after telling us that he would be at Camp 1, just on the other shore of the pan, close to the watering hole.

Some discussion ensued about the reason for his visit as some of us -me included- thought that there was an “ulterior motive”! [2] As it was rather hot after lunch, my usually solitary siesta this time featured the company of most of the others. It was a good strategic move to wait for the day to cool of.

After the rest, I decided to improve the placement of the camera in case of a very unlikely second leopard visit! This time I convinced myself that I had done a good job. I was now free to spend time watching the constant stream of small birds to the water. Soon however, the Yellow mongooses started to behave differently and attracted my attention.

They were all standing on their hind legs and looking fixedly at a point near our toilet while uttering their calls. My first thought was that someone was using the toilet but soon I realized that something more serious was happening as they persisted and became increasingly agitated, so I decided to have a look. For a while I saw nothing and then I realized that something was moving in the tall dry grass. I realized that it was a young adult lion and I shouted “Lion!” to alert the group.

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First pictures of the lion.

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It was looking at us from behind our toilet and finally I understood the reason behind the small windows placed lower down on the toilet walls. They are there to allow you to see what is outside before you come out!

My wife immediately came to have a look and joined me taking pictures and keeping a watch on the cat. It was soon clear that, although it had us “covered” we were not its target but rather the water hole at the other end of the pan. At no time did it attempt to come our way and only gave us a couple of cursory looks before showing its derriere and continue its walk towards the pan.

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Clearly I was also affected by the general excitement!

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The improved version!

While these events unfolded, Lola and Frank went AWOL. Suddenly from the corner of my eye I caught movement behind us and I saw them. Lola was inside the car and Frank was standing on the ladder leading to their roof tent. Although they claimed that they were searching for their cameras to immortalize the lion visit, I believe that they were actually moving away from the lion exercising great prudence and speed! [3]

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Lola and Frank going AWOL?

The lion passed by us a few metres away and walked on towards the pan escorted at a distance by a solitary Black-backed jackal that was clearly hoping for a kill to enjoy the spoils. We followed the lion’s trajectory from the camp while it crossed the pan. We then drove towards the water hole and watched it drinking. It drank for a long time and it was dark by the time it filled its belly. It then walked in the direction of Camp 1 where our German camping acquaintance was very excited to see it and ready with his various spotlights.

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Lion with jackal escort.

We decided to leave him to enjoy the cat’s visit as it was time to go back to our camp and have dinner. Our return was further delayed by another unexpected find. A yellowish lump at the water hole became a crouching caracal drinking! For us this was a great find as a caracal in the wild is a rare sight. We watched this beautiful and elusive cat for a few minutes until, its thirst satiated, it moved off and went into the darkness. It was an unforgettable sight and we almost forgot all about the lion!

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Despite the excitement and the long post-dinner talk, we slept soundly. The following morning I collected the camera trap but, as we were leaving, I had no time to look at it until later. However, the location of the lion’s pawmarks gave me confidence that I had caught the lion on camera.

It was only later in Harare that I had sufficient time to examine the camera trap pictures and I was happy to see that it had registered the lion.

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What I did not expect was that we had also caught the lion on camera when it returned late during the night while we were sleeping! Of course we did not hear it at all and Lola and Frank will only know that this happened when they read these lines (if they do!).

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[1] Later I saw a leopard “exploring” another campsite so these visits may not be as rare as initially thought? See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zZZFHc0YmU

[2] We believe that he wished to find out for how long we would be staying at Campsite No. 2 as he was in Campsite No. 1 and preferred ours!

[3] In the absence of any pictures of the event taking by neither Lola nor Frank, I am still unconvinced!

 

 

Spot the beast 34 (ID)

Regarding the post on the moth I published yesterday (Spot the moth 34) , I am now able to name it as the Mealy hawkmoth (Platysphinx piabilis). This moth feeds on plants of the Fabaceae family such as Peawood (Craibia zimmermanni), Giant Umzimbeet (Millettia sutherlandii), Cork bush (Mundulea sericea) and Pterocarpus spp. 

My thanks go to Mr. Roy Goff that helped with the identification. Roy manages a great moth identification site: http://www.africanmoths.com/index.html that I find a great help.

Here is another picture of the moth for you to enjoy.

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Reference

http://www.africanmoths.com/pages/SPHINGIIDAE/SMERINTHIINAE/platysphinx%20piabilis.html

Spot the beast 33

Now, this one is really tricky… We spotted around Shingwedzi Camp in the Kruger National Park last October. See if you can spot it…

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A better view may help?
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OK. I reveal it below:

 

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It was a different pot the beast!

I imagine that the terrapin had been buried somewhere safe and moist waiting for the rains and we found it moments after it re-emergence while crossing the road to get to the river.

And then, after the photo opportunity, it just continued on its way.

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Smart cats

Before we even got to Twee Rivieren in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park last October, for some reason, Lola and Frank had convinced their Spanish friends that we were good at spotting lions! Although my wife is good at spotting any game -including lions if they are around- I was somehow taken aback by being attributed such a fame that generated baseless expectations… maybe I oversold myself…

So, when we arrived at Twee Rivieren there were anticipations and I was overwhelmed by the responsibility that had landed on my shoulders…

Luckily for me, it was the visitors themselves that found the lions. Well, at least they overheard the whereabouts of the lions! So, all we needed to do was to follow our visitors’ advice to find them and in this way avoid a sure embarrassment!

The lions in question (two males) were, of all places, about one hundred metres outside the camp gates and, according to our night safari guide, these pair come to this area every few weeks so we were fortunate to see them.

The predators were near the camp’s waterhole where they had killed a gemsbok a few days back so we set off to find them as soon as we had an opportunity.

It was not hard to find them as, in addition to the gemsbok that we did not see, the night before they had also killed a wildebeest and the latest kill was rather obvious!

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The kill happened very near the camp. Behind is Twin rivers staff accommodation on the Botswana side of the park.

Apparently, the cunning cats have learnt to use the strong camp fence in their favour by cornering their prey against it. Clearly this had happened in this instance as the victim was still somehow entangled in the fence where first one and soon both were seen feeding.