April 2005

8 April 2005

To explain the setting here….

In front of us, to the West, running roughly north-south, is the Kafue river, c. 350 m. wide and varying in depth from 4-1 m, depending on season and topography of the river, whether pool, rapid – none here – or run (a deep rapid).

200 m to our left, the Mushingashi stream joins the Kafue, more or less at right angles to it. This is small, and seasonal. This stream flows, when it does, roughly east-west. Hippo paths run up it on both banks, providing very good paths to walk on.

Beginning from a few meters north of the Mushingashi, and running north-south, is a raised strip or tongue of land, composed mainly of old and very large termite mounds, about 100 m. wide and 1 km. long. Our camp occupies the first 600 m. of this tongue.

There are enormous trees on this area – leadwoods, knobthorn, albizias, and an understory of flowering shrubs of many different species – and many different species of birds and animals.

On either side of this tongue, and also running north-south, are grassy areas too wet for trees,called Dambos.

At the back – East – of the camp is a plain, 1 km by 0.5 km, roughly circular, full of Puku (reddish antelope bit bigger than an impala), Impala and others, and Bushbuck on the antheaps (termite mounds) where there are trees. I once counted 85 animals on this plain one morning.

Charlotte knows exactly what is going on in the camp. This morning she mentioned that the Francolin (looks like a partridge) family which had recently had 5 babies has moved from the front of the camp (south end) to beyond the second or so big termite mound, where the elephant pushed a tree down, and she hopes the big mamba (snake) living in that antheap doesn’t get them. And a young male Bushbuck has moved in near the north end. Also a female bushbuck moved in near the south end, where the dining room is. And a Spotted Flycatcher has moved in, I don’t recall seeing it before. On this plain this morning was a large hippo, could be the aggressive one, grazing at 9.30 a.m. very strange, they normally go back into the water before first light. And yesterday afternoon, we heard 2 male lions, the territorial males (enormous, 1 black-maned, the other golden) roaring softly as they walked towards the camp, west along the Mushingashi. Charlotte called me, all eagerness, to go and see them and photograph them. We walked towards the soft roars for a while – they were walking towards us, and I counselled retreat to a place further back where, if they walked out into the plain (Northwards) we would see them. Charlotte was disappointed, but complied. Then they went quiet, they probably smelt where we had been, and we did not see them. But this morning many vultures flew up from where we nearly saw them, so we’ll go along later, when the hippo has gone, and see if we can find a kill. Charlotte explained that she felt very joyful, and just wanted to see them and photograph them. My feelings had a large component of fear in them, though I am generally all right once I have seen them.

This morning, south of the Mushingashi, The Lonely One roared for a long time. There is the Mushingashi stream between them at the moment (we saw a big crocodile in it yesterday).

So the 2 pride males came down to warn him off their territory, as they have done many times before – that is why there is so much roaring here, whereas over the river (west), where there is  far less roaring, mainly when males patrol territorial boundaries, one every 2-3 weeks. This frequency of patrolling may be linked to the length of time the scent from their spraying lasts (urine mixed with the secretion from a gland near the anus).

But on the eastern bank, our bank, this roaring happens nearly every night, which is great.

We have a new lap-top, much faster (saves money over the SAT phone) and a CD player for Mozart again!

Our small house – thatch roof and walls, bathroom, bedroom and small sitting room – is about 350 m. from the camp, to the North. This means that every night we have to walk this distance, and run the gauntlet, though torchlit, of possible meetings with hippos, leopards and lions, also elephants. It is nerve-wracking, but we have been lucky so far, no incidents.

This afternoon I walked out the front door, on my way down to the camp, and there were a good number of Puku and Impala grazing right in front, about 180 m. away near the river bank.

The Impala, my favourite antelope, are rutting at the moment, which means that the males gather together a small (20-30) herd of females, and chase, with their white tails waving (a sight not seen at other times) all other males away from them, while making a sort of rolling, growling, gurgling sound interspersed with alarm call-like sounds, where they emit air sharply through their nostrils, producing a sound like a whiplash – as if the air is being cut by a whip, a sharp crack which makes it one of the most effective of alarm calls, impossible to miss or to confuse with anything else – and all this goes on, intermittently, by day and by night. I heard the last one about 30 seconds ago. The young are born in October/early November, just in time for the rains.

There is no wind at all (5.05 p.m.), and the temperature is perfect, not hot and not even slightly chilly. The rainy season is virtually over, everything is fresh, and drying out. The hippos to my left, near the bank c. 250 away, have not moved since they came back early this morning (except for the one we saw grazing late) after a night’s grazing. They’ll begin moving after sunset.

Since 5.45 p.m., there have been 2 lions roaring across the M. stream, one no more than 300 m. away, a wonderful sound, very loud – the other further up the Mushingashi. I walked along the M. for a while, in the hopes of seeing him through a gap in the riverine bush which gives a view of sorts across the stream, but could see nothing on the small plain on the other side. He was in the trees, and has been in that area, though not only in that area,  since Sept. 2003. Charlotte thinks the close one is The Lonely One, and the further one, one of the two territorial males.

We eat our dinner to the sound of two lions roaring. For two people who like lions, what could be better?

Now (about 7.30 p.m.) the two have joined, and are roaring together over the M. stream (Impala rutting noises carry on). So what could have happened, is: The two (roaring again now) territorial males came down yesterday evening to chase TLO, whom they heard roaring over the M. stream roughly where they are now, and could not cross the stream. So they later went about 4 kms. upstream to where they could cross, and came down on TLO’s side of the river to warn him off, landing up right near the Kafue R. and near our camp. We’ll see.

Now they appear to be going down the Kafue (south), looking for TLO. I hope he’s running away as fast as possible. He’s no match for two.

9 April, 2005

I awoke at 3 am this morning, and the two males were still roaring; they had probably been roaring the whole night (and went on roaring till after sunrise). The amount of energy, just in this one night, they put into patrolling, roaring, and probably spraying trees and shrubs, is amazing. What seems to have happened is that when they had gone some distance down the Kafue, looking for TLO, they turned round, came back north, then near the M. stream turned East to find a crossing place further up, then crossed and headed north again to their territory heartland. When they were safely far enough away, TLO started roaring again, so he’s all right. I think he’s used to this, its happened many times before.

It’s a good example of why there is almost never only one pride male.

The first pangs of winter are apparent, which means, Charlotte says, that it will be a cold winter. That is probably the equivalent of a scorchingly hot summer in Pennsylvania. Our climate here is quite remarkable. We are at 3,700 feet above sea level, so it never gets very hot (or cold, as its near the tropics), unlike many game areas in Africa which are at 1000 feet or less above sea level, and in the hot months there, you simmer, and render if you are not lean. But we are on the central African plateaux, and the climate is lovely. You need at least two blankets to keep warm in winter, but only a sheet in October, the hot, dry month. In November it starts raining, and can get chilly.

10 April

I heard a leopard “coughing” (bad description, a very dramatic, deep, rhythmic sound, the leopard eqivalent of a lion’s roar) outside our door on the “lion” path (we once saw, from the bathroom window, the two pride males, huge, like oxen, walking past our hut in the moonlight on this path – range, less than 10m – one must have seen movement, for, instead of walking past, like the first one, it advanced on the window – no roof on the bathroom- we moved smartly inside) in the early hours of this morning – say 3 am?- but Charlotte tells me that before that it had tried to catch a Puku, close by, and missed. There was jackal spoor through the camp this morning – this is the side-striped jackal, not the common one of the bushveldt, and its call is a single “yap” rather than the more haunting yodel-like call of the bushveld one. It’s a lovely animal, neat and pert looking.

The lions roared frequently, two roaring, quite far up the M. stream, no sound of TLO.

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