July 2012

04 Jul

It is such a sad tale. The saga of Lucas and his doomed friend, who looks very like him, continues.

As I told you the other day the youngish hippo was lying near Mushingashi House, looking badly injured. We thought that  it may be Lucas, but it has transpired that it is not Lucas, but his ‘look-a-like’. Two days ago we saw Lucas walking quite normally to his “nest” near our hut. So we thought, ‘oh well he cant have been so badly hurt’. Bbut then saw his ‘look-a-like’ walking very slowly past our hut in the dambo, and he looked very badly hurt. He took only a few steps and lay down, lying there all day in the blazing sun. We were so worried, but any approach on our part seemed to make him anxious and lift his head, so, as we did not want to stress him, we left him be. Poor thing, it was so hot. I worried about him all day.

At about 4pm, he heaved himself up and went into the water, his head facing the river. When I went back to check later his backside was facing the river and a very sad eye was showing from under a piece of grass. It was such a sad eye, it looked as if he was crying.. Oh gosh, I know it is wrong to anthropomorphise, but difficult not too when you live in close proximity with all these special wild creatures.

It was such a very cold night. One truly hoped he had died in the night, but the next morning he was again on the land, lying on his side. Another blazing day. All one can do is pray that he dies soon or that a miracle occurs and he is miraculously healed. But to lie in the blazing sun with such awful injuries is too ghastly to think about and he makes such awful moaning sounds every now and again.

Lucas continues to skulk about, using his nest near our hut as a safety refuge from the big bully Welheilm. I just hope he has the sense to leave his natal territory before he is attacked like our poor wounded Hippo.

Well, a sad, yet relief filled end for our poor injured young male hippo. We were given permission to end his suffering and our very professional young game scout did the deed, putingt him out of his misery, much to our relief. His injuries were horrific. His front leg was completely broken. There were great gaping wounds near his chest and brain. There was no hope of recovery and, as he was obviously in good condition, before the fight, may have taken a long time to die. We are very grateful for the humane and kind understanding of the authorities.

I find it interesting that such great, almost cumbersome animals can be so fragile too. Walking along a hippo path, seeing their almost flower like footprints, the occasional whisker scrape, as they go on their nightly grazing foray. The mothers with their minute babies, looking like little pinkish ticks, teenagers standing close to big mamas, and then suddenly, they are adults and the males are subjected to these horrendous attacks from the pod male, who is vicious and cruel with those great slashing teeth inflicting mortal wounds. The young males don’t seem to realise until it is too late that they are no longer wanted. We saw another dead hippo lying in the water, being consumed by loathsome crocodiles. From what we could see, he also died of horrific wounds.

We are custodians of nature, so it would be quite wrong to see and allow suffering to continue. Man has interfered with nature so much, and caused so much suffering in all aspects of nature, that I think it is our duty to do all we can to try to normalise and protect what is left of our fragile natural inheritance. If it means putting an animal out of its misery and suffering, we should do it. If it means stopping a tree being cut down for wrong reasons we should do it. We should have the courage to protect and safeguard that which cannot protect itself against mans’ unhalting march of greed.

06 Jul

…well, after the sad saga of Lucas’s friend, we went on a walk this morning. We were much relieved and lighter of heart as the suffering was now over for our poor wounded young hippo male.

It was really chilly as we started out, out warm breaths making smoky patterns in the air.. We spotted some very fresh elephant spoor on the road, and on top of that, fresh leopard spoor. Seconds later we heard a close by leopard cough. As always, we all point our fingers in the direction we think it is and look at each other in anticipation. The sun was a lovely red ball, and back lit all the trees, grasses and leaves….really beautiful! Slowly we walked towards where we thought the sound had come from. We stood for a moment, listening to the sounds. Several puku grazed nearby, lifting their heads and also listening. A big grey warthog rootling on his knees. More puku grazing, with one or two looking intently into the distance. We all looked to the direction they were looking but saw nothing.

As we crept slowly towards an anthill, a small furry creature suddenly bounded joyfully across our path. Oh my goodness! It was a young leopard cub. We froze, and he went onto the anthill in front of us. We were not sure whether he would run past or……? But he stopped, just out of sight. Then the funniest, furriest little face peered over the top of the anthill. My camera was ready, but a branch obscured the face so I moved fractionally. I just had to capture that little face. As I moved, he suddenly turned away, and went back behind he anthill. Blast! I only got his side view. We then crept after him but did not see him again.

So on we walked and began looking for the puku kill that our staff had seen on the drive the night before. We suddenly heard a terrific growl and were just in time to see a very large cat slink away. I was not sure if it was a big leopard or a lioness as she was backlit by the rising sun.

We finally found the kill, a young male puku. His face was untouched and it looked as if he was asleep. There was still a lot of meat on the remains though so I am sure that the leopard and her cub will be back.

We crossed the Mushingashi. It is always so exciting creeping into the leafy, dappled cool river bed, the soft sand showing all the nights activities, which did include fresh lion spoor. We crossed onto the other side into a sparse, recently burnt area and walked through a wonderful part of the bush which looks like an orchard, with huge big trees in clumps, dotted with intricate ants nests, leopard orchids, black collared barbets, parrots flying overhead, their excited shrieks filling the air. A lovely young male bushbuck was watching us curiously through a gap in the trees. Then we saw one of my favourite sights. A family of bushpigs came bustling into view, so bossy and busy, noses down. They started to snuffle under the big glossy Mbola Plum tree. It was such a big family. I counted nine altogether. The puku were just grazing under the tree as well. A peaceful, pastoral sight. The bushpigs bumbled off into golden grass as we ambled on.

A lone waterbuck female was watching us with big donkey ears alert. Impala were chasing each other, A scarlet chested sunbird was glowing on a dead branch. Vultures were sailing in the cloudless sky. We headed back towards camp, back through the wonderfully mysterious riverbed, always a hushed feeeling as you creep through, and back to camp through herds of relaxed grazing impala and puku, and nosy, well warted warthogs watching us with bristles and tusks gleaming. It was now getting very warm and we arrived in time for a delicious blunch (which is Zambian for brunch).

10 Jul

We have not seen Lucas for some days now. His snug little nest lies empty. Yesterday we saw a very big hippo walking along the river’s edge then he lay down and seemed to be sleeping. He was full of slash and bite marks, poor chap…but quite relaxed. I was watching him through my binoculars and scanned the beach near him, to see most of the hippos resting like great fat sausages on the beach in front of the camp. However one very big hippo started walking in a slow, menacing way towards the resting hippo, who put his ears back and rose up. The other one suddenly did a dart, ears back and mouth open. Our poor scarred (and scared!) hippo backed into the water, opening his mouth and making piteous sounds. He really looked very frightened. Once “Scar” was in the water, the big chap stood, rather meanly, swishing his tail territorialy, and grimacing in a spiteful sort of way. One of our guests captured the moment beautifully on camera.

Last night was a night full of sounds. The hyenas were gathering clans with their eerie whoops and wails, and the two lioness were protecting what was left of their hippo carcass with ferocious growls and snarls. Some terrific tussles seemed to ensue, judging by the noises we heard. I think, as I drowsed off, that the hyenas had won, indicated by that ghastly, greedy cackle they make when eating. (Imagine sharing a table with that!!!). It was not too much of a worry as our beautiful golden eyed lioness were so bellyfull they could hardly move.

The dawn this morning was quite glorious, starting with a rose glow on the horizon which slowly became more vibrant and dramatic, every shade of orange, red and gold blending into brightness. All the trees were etched blackly against the emerging colours. There were hyena whoops, the grumbling conversation of ground hornbills, the kingfisher’s shrill call, and Hueglins robins operatic sopranos. Linda was in for her morning sugar, “how’s father’ a soft murmur in the background. Then the big golden red ball rose shedding rays and golden warmth. What a perfect start to the day. Today we will spend it on the river, drifting as the current and mood takes up, with hot coffee and bread and cheese. It is a lovely still day, so we should be able to hear lots, and arriving at the Fly camp for a simple brunch.

14 July

Our resident francolin family are still a tad ruffled with us, as we burnt firebreaks around the camp and in doing so disturbed their snug little resting nesting place. So with much feather fluffing and chattering they have moved into camp, actually into a much ‘nicer’ abode, as it is under a big, sprawling branch, whose leaves touch the ground in places. There is some grass and ground cover, very cosy. The only problem is that people walk past during their ‘nap time’ and this causes great consternation and fluffy annoyance, and much grumbling squawks. They are a great pleasure to watch and Mama and Papa have cleverly managed to raise their brood. We thought one had been taken by an eagle, but he seems back in the fold, so was probably being a typical teenager and hiding away. In the early evening when the camp is quiet, all guests out on a sunset drift, they all come out and look like little brown muffins pecking and dust bathing in the area all around the library, with the setting sun highlighting their little puff dust clouds. Its a wonderful and peaceful sight.

Yesterday afternoon was a true bonanza time…. This magnificent big male elephant wandered around the camp, his movements slow and measured, chewing a branch here, a tuft of grass there, and then he walked into camp, right bang on tea time, when everyone was gathered for tea and cakes. But the big, gentle creature just came up to the bird bath, savoured some of that tree, came behind the dining room, tasting and enjoying nibbles. We were so awe-inspired by his massive size. It was amazing to be so close to an animal of such massive proportions, but he was so relaxed and gentle in his snacking, seemingly quite unaware of our presence. We all took photos, but he was really too close to focus in many snaps. He stayed and stayed and we all enjoyed him so much. He is missing a tusk, and one wishes he could tell us his story of what happened. What a wonderful, special afternoon. He stayed for such a long time, sharing the camp with us before slowly wending his way to the Mushingashi, where, like a great actor, he disappeared behind a screen of waterberry trees. It was wonderful, special! We felt as if we had all had a feast!

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