Finally we welcome the rains and another season in the Lower Zambezi comes to an end. Here’s an update on African safari holiday adventure and sightings from the last few days.
I am typing as I watch the sun rise over the Zambezi, perfectly calm after what was the most powerful wind and electric storm yesterday afternoon on this, my last morning in camp this season. Flocks of storks are gathering for the breeding season and time of plenty, indeed the first newborn impala has arrived, whilst we prepare to pack and go.
Our last guests of 2010 left Chiawa Camp yesterday (and those from Old Mondoro 10 days sooner) having had the most amazing safari – a pride of 12 roaring lions in surround sound, three leopard sightings like this one previously snapped by John, for good measure a few hefty tigerfish caught and released, a Livingstone’s flycatcher and “lifer” for the well respected Lex Hes (one of the best birders I have had the pleasure of being in the bush with) and hundreds of elephants. Literally hundreds of them, everywhere on every drive … and walk!
This has to be one of the busiest year’s for elephant sightings in my memory, most of them very close to camp in those magical winter thorn woodlands, one fondly named the “enchanted forest” with its greenery, water holes (4 Pels fishing owls spotted there this season) and amazing light making for just the best photos. Simply magical, huge bulls gently browsing on fallen pods, or not so gently shaking trees that dwarf their massive frames, families with the youngest of calves, some still unsteady on their little feet, others a little older and trying to master the use of their trunks which seem to at that age have a mind of their own. A couple of weeks ago I remember stopping in the shade, surrounded by these incredible creatures watching them interact, not only with the each other and their forage but also with other creatures like the impala, waterbuck, warthogs, a lioness and a huge herd of buffalo.
Some interesting sightings that I enjoyed over the past month included finding a young python strangling a squacco heron whilst dangling from a branch over the Zambezi,and from camp two superb kingfisher sightings, one of a sub-adult Malachite at breakfast time showing off for us and the second of a Giant Kingfisher proudly showing off his catch at the dock,not as impressive as the huge tigerfish and vundu’s we have seen caught and released this year but certainly hard earned!
What has been noteworthy this year, aside from all the elephants, is the big increase in number of kudu and bushpig sightings around camp. In the past we might see a bushpig every year or so, this year we had about a dozen sightings with sounders in excess of 15 members occasionally. The kudu were also much more apparent this year, big bulls, family herds, even a female in camp the other day. You might ask what the correlation is and my guess would be that both these creatures are typically thicket dwelling animals and would be more vulnerable to falling victim to poacher’s snares than others – CLZ and ZAWA have had some excellent success this year, attributed to hard work and the funding increase to CLZ when I appealed to all the safari operators earlier this year and set an example by committing guaranteed significant monthly funding from both Chiawa Camp and Old Mondoro – the other operators thankfully followed suit. As a consequence, whilst poaching figures are dropping significantly in the Lower Zambezi NP other parts of the country are having a tough time of it.
Last week I spent a couple of days at Old Mondoro, also enjoying the last night of the season there, and went out on a night drive. We were not disappointed, 4 leopards including a cub, hyena, civets, genets, wildcat – well we were genuinely disappointed to not have got an aardvark as Old Mondoro recorded 15 such sightings this year – not sure what other camp in Zambia can make such a boast?
And the leopards, well it is rare that guests at Old Mondoro don’t see a leopard as they are spotted on most night drives and usually it’s a couple of leopards on each night drive – surely Old Mondoro is one of the very best places in Africa to see the Prince of the jungle. The next morning we went out on a short game drive through Old Mondoro’s spectacular woodlands – this habitat is remarkable and again we weren’t disappointed by herds of buff, herds of ele, herds, of zebra, herds of kudu, and it was whilst watching a flock of ground hornbills performing that Levy’s sharp eyes spotted the King and Queen, a lioness and magnificent maned lion walking in the background. Bonus, a mating pair which between sessions of amour, gnawed on the hindleg from an impala they had killed the previous night, whilst a younger male lion waited, presumably in the naïve hope of a little of either the impala or lioness. As expected he got nothing!