April 2007

06 April

I must just tell you of a fascinating incident that I had the pleasure of observing last night… I was sitting in the dark in the office, waiting for the guests to finish chatting in order to make sure that the ‘night watch’ was ready to escort them to their rooms. I heard a slight knocking sound from one of the cupboards so I shone my torch in the general direction. Two of the neatest, tidiest little mice ran across the floor. On watching them I realised that they were chasing each other. Then – oh my! A real boxing match, jumping in the air, tails flashing and boxing each other like tiny prize fighters.  Then a little dash, then a jump, and another ‘fisticuff’. Whether it was just a ‘fun joust’ or a fight to the death I do not know as they kept darting around and then having another sparring attack with long tails shiny in the torchlight, dark eyes shining in neat, tiny pale faces looking quite serious and oblivious to the torch light.

When we were finally ready to go to bed they disappeared behind the cupboard. I have no idea where they went to from there.

As we walked home, with Edward, the ‘night watch’ tottering along, his torch searching out the shadows, the little barred owls calling in the night, a screech owl screeching nearby and the lion roaring sounds coming closer and closer, suddenly a loud Hyena whoop, strident amidst the other softer sounds.

It is always such a lovely nightly bush serenade as one walks up to our hut, and always so different.

As usual, I was asleep as my head hit the pillow, but was woken up with a very loud lion roar very close to our hut. I listened drowsily for awhile, but must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, it was 5 am and time to get up.

Only hippo ha-has as I walked through the slowly lightening dawn to Main Camp. Anyway, wish you were here.

17 April

The bush is so stunning at the moment, and we have wonderful lions all around the camp- It is such a joy! We have had a couple of years without much lion activity in or around the camp.  I hope they are here to stay as they add an exciting cutting edge to an already perfect camp life. Chris saw a lovely, big (though quite young) male and a female lion yesterday and watched them for over an hour. This is a real treat and privilege. The night before last one of our guests was woken by a lion roaring near his hut. He got up and saw a big male standing about five metres from his veranda. He was totally thrilled with the sighting. This morning, as I walked down to main camp from our hut, I was walking along to the sound of a lion also walking parallel to me along the dambo somewhere. It sounded so close I expected to see his golden head appear through the golden grass at any moment. I do admit to walking with extreme caution though. It is now 7.45 am and he is still making the low moaning sounds that they make when communicating without full roars.

The light at this time of year is so special – crystal light I call it, because everything is so crisp and the sunrise literally transforms the whole bush scene into pure gold. Nothing escapes this golden glow. Grass seeds, impala horns, ears, leaves, elephants tusks and ears, the river – all is a molten flow. The egrets are not white anymore, just gold. Hippos are transformed into bronze andgold statues, making golden ripples in the water. Of course it doesn’t last and by mid morning we are back to normal colors, brilliant greens, trees and leaves, dramatic yellow leaves, pale beige and brown grasses, cobalt blue skies, grey green swirling river, pink / brown hippos. Yet if one tried to paint such early golden splendour I think it would just probably look tacky.

Our resident bathroom tree frog is such a handsome fellow, with pale soft grey morning suit, pink cravat and exquisite yellow legs. It seems to be a tree frog ‘thing’ to do the back leg ballet stretch, showing off thigh muscles and elegant toes. He seems to take great pleasure in watching anyone in front of the mirror. Yup, he sits on the top of the mirror, watching us, his great, shiny dark eyes with their golden slit pupils occasionally blinking, and throat pulsing, as always the only signs of life in an otherwise statue like frog carving. I really enjoy his company.

As I work on the computer it’s the middle of the day, hot and still, a few desultory bird calls, occasional whispering snort from the hippos in the water, a hunting wasp buzzing along busily, the drowsy buzz of a bumble bee (very smart in his striped yellow and black body), and a small skink has just made me jump out of my skin. He popped his rather snake like head out from under the computer, which is angled on a twig to allow the air to flow through and keep it cool. He is such a nosy little fellow. He has emerged, and is really beautiful. His brown shiny scaled body, elegant yellow stripes and such an inquisitive stare, tilting his little head to one side and exposing the strange small holes in his side. I think he is after an unfortunate ant that is bustling towards him. He seems totally unconcerned by my tapping away at the keys. Now he has emerged totally and is walking towards the books on the corner of the table. (Nice to share one’s desk with a lizard). The bushbuck and the monkeys are making their alarm calls which may mean that our lions are going to the water’s edge to drink. I am starting to feel the soporific effects of the mid-day sun, so will probably take a nap.

19 April

Charlotte left early to go to Lusaka, and the night watchman came to wake her when it was still dark. He looked rather shattered, as he sits outside the kitchen, and last night saw 2 lions, a hippo and an elephant within 20 metres of where he was sitting.

I had a rest at midday today and since then have heard, to the east, leopard grunting, elephant trumpeting, hippo in the river and seen bushbuck and a flock of guineafowl nearby .

Jeremy Bonnett wrote the following to me on April 20, 2007

“Hi Chris,

Judith and I are going camping this weekend. We are going to watch a release of California Condors back into the wild. Should be fun if it doesn’t rain too much.

Wow, lions elephants and hippos all in the same night!!

How is Simple Simeon doing? Still enjoying those sausages?”

(Simple Simon is the hippo who sometimes sleeps in the camp, and visits ‘his’ sausage trees there).

Strangely, these hippos do NOT seem to eat sausages in the rainy season, only in the dry season, especially, it seems, (but no firm data available), towards the END of the dry season, or just before the rains, when the seeds they spread when they defecate would be, presumably, at their most viable and soon irrigated by the rains? I need more data to confirm, but it is interesting. 2 Big ‘sausages’ have lain uneaten near SS’s chalet for some months. He is elsewhere at the moment, perhaps up the Mushingashi stream and I hope he is in good health. Could it be that the ‘sausage’ taste better when they are ‘ripe’ and the seeds therefore viable, and fertile?

If this is so, without hippos (and also without rhinos, which eat them as well – there are no rhinos left here), sausage trees would be biologically dead, unable to reproduce.

We saw a hippo in camp the other night, but all assure me it was NOT SS.

20 April

Today is a really beautiful, windless day, with a perfect temperature – not too hot, not humid, not cold. A leopard is calling just south of the Mushingashi stream.

An elephant is loudly pulling down trees in the camp in the dark. I heard him from my room (Francolin house, near the kitchen) and a lion has commenced roaring 1-2 kms east of where I am. Impala are rutting closer to camp. This lion is behaving exactly like TLO did, roaring almost incessantly when not hunting, presumably. Almost a year after TLO’s disappearance, a year of relatively very few lion roars compared to when he was here, we are back, with great thankfulness, to ‘normal’, or what we like to call ‘normal’. (The Lonely One was a male lion who vanished about 18 months ago).

21 April

The first thing I saw on coming out of my hut this morning was a francolin sunning itself, a pleasant, relaxing sight. I then went to inspect, with the night watchman, where the elephant had pulled or pushed a tree down last night. It was a large acacia, about 50m away, but the roots are mostly still in the ground, so it will continue growing up from the near horizontal trunk. Another medium-sized jackalberry, was also pushed nearly horizontal, but the roots are also all intact.

Although it is already 8.30a.m, roars are still coming from Spring number 3, exactly as for TLO. These lions are frequenting the same places and probably using the same routes as TLO.

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