Our ten week hyena internship was over, but we were not done with Zimbabwe yet, we had another two weeks here and had planned eight nights in Hwange National Park. This is the park that the social media famous Cecil the lion was from, but is known better by it’s huge population of elephant. We’d hired a car from a friend of a friend as hiring a car from Avis in Victoria Falls will set you back about $100 a day! We stocked up on food supplies and 200km later we found ourselves at our new home for the next week. The camp was quiet and we had a whole section to ourselves, it was basic but with firewood, boerewors sausages, and a beer what else do you need. Tired we turned in early, and fall asleep to the sounds of elephants and hyenas lighting up the bush with their rumbles and cackles.
It was time to explore and we were ready to go as the gate opened at 6:30am. We discovered quickly that although the roads are ‘good’, they are more suited to land cruisers, than a low bearing automatic, so I had to keep one eye on the road at all times for larges rocks and patches of sand! In fact at some points the road turned entirely into sand and there were a few hairy moments.
The habitat was quite dense with woodland in places, but opened up nicely into flays of grasslands where we would see dazzles of zebras and herds of elephant.
Our days were long and full of game drives, here are a few of the highlights from the week.
A highlight of the week undoubtably goes to three black-backed jackals. The park at this time of year is so quiet we barely saw anyone (one day we drove for 8 hours without seeing a vehicle), and we alone spent an amazing hour around these relaxed playful jackals. They unusually sat a few metres away from us as they groomed, played and dozed! What a privilege.
Later on the same day we saw a giraffe feeding off the ground, which was unusual for us as we’d never seen it before. This was followed by a cute dancing dwarf mongoose, that swayed from left to right as he was warming his back in the morning sun.
This was the best photo I could get, not that great, but had to include it as it was the smallest baby elephant we had ever seen. It still had pink patches on it’s legs and can’t have been much older than a week. He stayed close to his protective mother as he learned to use his trunk with amusing results!
Birds (the feathered ones)
If you’ve read our blogs over the last year you will know that we are keen birders, we like all wildlife and don’t like to discriminate agains the feathered variety! Hwange is full of birds, in fact has 400 species and we saw lots including Southern ground hornbills, Yellow billed hornbills (pictured below doing their characteristic display) and the Crowned lapwings also pictured below. Our bird count for southern Africa has now passed 200 yet we still see new birds, and for this week include Crimson-breasted shrike, Little grebe, Red-billed spurfowl, Red-billed teal, Southern pied babbler.
This large rapture below had us stumped when trying to identify it. We first thought it was a Western osprey, due to it’s size, white colour and proximity to water. But we concluded that we think it is a juvenile Martial eagle (the largest eagle in Africa). Being a juvenile makes it harder to identify as it looks very different to a fully grown adult. If there are any bird nerds out there reading this that disagree with our conclusion, please message me!
There was a makeshift bird bath at one of the picnic sites where we shot some Cape glossy starlings (with the bright orange eyes) and a Dark-capped bulbul having a drink and a bath.
Big friendly giant
One of the routes we took opened out to large grassland areas, akin to the savannah of the Serengeti, and these were filled with lots of large bull elephants. Our favourite experience went to a big friendly giant bull elephant, he chomped away at the grass moving slower towards us to within a few metres, and standing at least 12 feet tall from a small car seems gigantic!
‘Kudu’ take a look
Kudu are Africa’s second largest antelope and always a pleasure to see. They are pretty shy, especially the males. It is these guys that you always try and photography as they have their magnificent twisting horns. These horns always give you a good indication of the age of the kudu, as every full twist in the horn indicates about three years of it’s life. When you stop to take a photo the male kudu has an extraordinary knack of hiding behind grass, show us it’s bum, or as they most often do run away. But finally on our last day things came together and we managed to get this shot of the male below.
Now sable is another elusive antelope hard to get anywhere near, and in many cases peoples favourite antelope alongside the afore mentioned kudu. We were lucky enough to come across a family of 15 sable, who comfortable with our presence quietly chomped away on there breakfast as the sun rise in the woodlands. The photos below show a cute youngster taking comfort next to it’s mother, and also a cheeky shot of sub adult grinning at us! There was a large fully grown male amongst them, but in true antelope fashion he stayed hidden behind the rest of the family.
Brai’s under the stars
After long days spent on pursuit to find African creatures lurking in the bush, it was time to come back to the camp and have a hearty meal. As the sun was setting we would start the fire and prepare our feast of boerewors sausages or steak, baked potatoes, roasted butternut squash and baked beans cooked straight in tin on coals due to lack of pots and pans. It’s amazing how creative one can get when resources are scarce! We even had delicious cups of coffee after our meals cooked on the fire in a metal mug scavenged somewhere in the camp!
It doesn’t get any better when you dine al fresco under million stars, in the candle light with great company, to the sounds of wilderness all around you, and then, you have your bush friends coming to join you as well! Once a honey badger came to pay as a visit, he got very close too, sniffing around hoping we would share. Another day it was a jackal, but as soon as we shone a torch on him it appeared he was very confused with his own shadow so he run away. Also cheeky hyenas were visiting us at night and moving our bin in various places around the camp so we would have to go and find it in the morning – a game that never seemed to get boring! There were bushbucks, impalas, spring hares, bats flying kamikaze style – they all seemed to like our company.
As the temperature started to drop it was time to say goodnight to the crowd and go to bed. We would fall asleep listening to the mystifying sounds of the bush and dream of marvels that Hwange has to offer!