It is really the most perfect african evening. The sunset, a palette of pale soft orange and peach hues, the sky melting into mauves and blues. It is still still, with no wind, and the muffin brigade (the whole francolin family) fluffed up little brown blobs, dust bathing and searching with great dedication for tasty morsels, highlit with the gold of the setting sun. The resident male puku is standing in front of our hut, grazing. Three glorious bushbuck emerge slowly through the golden grass, white spots turned to gold and their tawny coats gleaming as they walk past, seemingly unaware of us. The chirping good night calls of roosting guinea fowl, and Lucas snuggled fatly in his nearby cosy little bed. He makes me feel a bit sad as he seems so lonely, but he is such a clever, young hippo. He comes out in the middle of the day and grazes, and then as the evening approaches, he comes back to his little room and snuggles down. We have actually heard him snore on occasion! With this routine he avoids the attention of the big bully Wilhelm, who patrols through camp, swishing his tail and looking ugly and bossy.
The calls of the cricket, still, soft night calls of the little golden eyed Barred owl, the rough grunting of our resident camp leopard who leaves his lovely footprints throughout the camp paths most nights lately. It really is so perfect and peaceful.
The other morning we were on a dawn game drive. It was so, so cold. We looked as if we were all smoking as our breaths made such puffs in the cold air. We were in time to see the great red ball of sun creep over the horizon, staining the pale sky with all shades of rose and vermillion, and highlighting the different grasses which had not been burnt. As you know, everywhere is burnt at this time of the year, so the plain looked quite black in parts, but the lovely new grass is bursting its bright green shoots through. Walking across the plain was a really big, slinky, gorgeous leopard. We quickly did an about turn and drove back, only to see another leopard climb with sinuous ease up a tree, where dangled the half chewed remains of a large puku female. What an amazing morning. We switched the engine off and listened to the far off roars of our pride male lions, puku whistles, and birdsong everywhere.
Utter peace this afternoon…bliss. Lucas got up, as is his wont at lunch time and gave a monumental yawn. I managed to get a brief snap of it. If you dont already know, Lucas is a young hippo who is being threatened and chased by the big male hippo of the nearby pod. So he has taken refuge 15 metres from our chalet, where he sleeps. He grazes by day to avoid the herd bull, who grazes by night.
Muffin territory round our hut. All the francolins, nine of them, are huddled down, looking exactly like little brown muffins, pecking the sand and dust bathing, making their soft mewing sounds.
New insight into the Babbler gang. They were all huddled together on a branch outside our room, grooming each other with looks of utter bliss on their faces, their angry red eyes looking quite dopey as they were groomed and de-bugged by each other. One of them is called Hester and she is quite bossy. She leads the grooming and the raiding! (The babblers work as a gang chasing other birds off food…)
Last night was amazing. I woke up hearing a throaty raspy sound near our hut, so sat up to see if I could see anything, The night before I had left my hut door open. I had been awake and sitting up in bed listening to night sounds when I saw a head appear in the moonlight. I got quite a fright as I thought it may be a Leopard until I saw its whole body, and realised that it was Percy, the civet, our nightly camp visitor. A soon as he was past the hut, and I could hear his soft footfalls passing amongst the now dry fallen leaves (a residue of Lysander’s (the elephant) last visit when he showered the camp with leaves), I quickly got up and closed the door. Anyway, the door was closed last night, but the raspy sound continued around the hut. I could not see anything, but this morning the staff and I found the tracks of a big leopard, who had walked through the camp and past my hut, twice, going past and coming back. I was glad I had closed my door as the pathway he used is about one metre from my doorway. There were lovely night sounds of the little golden eyed barred owlet and the nightjars continuous plaintive cry. Otherwise is was a quiet , windless, silvery night.
Lucas is not in his bed yet Usually he is in bed by now. He has taken to giving a big yawn just before he lies down, quite a frightening yawn with that huge mouth and big teeth, but once snuggled down he looks like a big gentle grey cushion.
Thought I’d tell you a bit about Lucas, our present Camp Hippo. He is a very endearing chap, not over endowed with quick thinking, but certainly an intelligent chap on the whole, as he seems to have reversed “HIPPO TIME”. He rests in his little “hut” next to ours most of the night when all the other hippos are out and about socialising and grazing. Then at about mid morning he slowly gets up, a cumbersome process I promise you, stretches, and then very slowly starts walking towards the dambo where he grazes right throughout the middle of the day (and it is jolly hot at the moment). Then at about 2.30-ish, looking very sweaty, he slowly ambles back, spends an awful lot of time sniffing,and testing his bed, and just standing about, then slowly lowers his bulk into his ‘bed’ and there he rests, occasionally twitching an ear, blinking an eye, but otherwise quite comotose.
Last evening, he got up, and slowly, oh so slowly, walked towards our front door, munching on a bit of sand on the path, a change of routine we thought, then he turned around and went towards the kitchen. I think he was just stretching his legs as he soon went back to his bed where he still is, fast asleep, all the other hippos are making their way back to the Kafue River, along their private freeway, the Mushingashi River while communicating in their deep, guttural voices. As always, far off sounds that make you happily aware of being in the bush. Distant lion roars from our two pride males, a lone and eerie hyena call, Hueglins Robin’s operatic singing at dawn, soon joined by the black eyed bulbuls, and then the rest of the bird chorus, Hester the leader of the Arrow Marked Babbler gang arrives to check the Robins feeding tray. We tell her to buzz off, which she does with much muttering, taking her gang with her, all looking decidedly rattled!
The sun is rising (my goodness it is stunning), a great scarlet ball rising into golden skies. Every day the sun rises and every day it is so beautiful, and so different. There is a start of early, cool winds. I hope that does not mean an early rainy season which would not be fun. I’m enjoying this hot, dry time, everything golden and sounds so are so amplified. In the rainy season they seem muted, I suppose due to the moisture in the air. Yesterday morning, which was another perfect dawn, there were two very big bushpigs walking across the plain, their white manes ruffled and glinting in the sunrise, those white whiskery, old man faces snuffling and searching for snacks. I was watching them through my binoculars and a group of puku were watching them too, with mild interest as they disappeared into the long grass.
Talking of Lucas, he really has taken our heart. He is just so sweet, a real little boy hippo, (though he is now quite big), spending time avoiding being bullied, so of course we feel like protecting him. Last night there was a lot of scary hippo fight noises coming from the front of River House, so I ran over to see what was happening. Chris came with his big spotlight and I saw that one hippo, presumably Lucas, was being tormented by two other hippos much the same size as Lucas, who is not fully grown yet. They made an awful racket. Really loud and mean sounds, but no amount of yelling detterred them. It soon calmed down and we waited with bated breath too see if Lucas would be back in bed next morning. He was thankfully. However I noticed when he went off for his mid-day browse/graze that he had some bite marks on him, so he must have been in the scrap. I wish he would just wander off and find a new patch, as these nearing sexual maturity youngsters are at great risk from the pod male who will fight and often mortally wound them. Many a youngish hippo is seen floating, dead, feet up, down the river, with a flotilla of crocodiles following. It is not always a quick death, as you know, the wounds inflicted are mortal, but it can take days for the hippo to die.