Hwange Update October 2018 - Part 2 of 2
Checking in at Makwa the pan looked glorious with lots of green weed and clumps of water -lilies sporting their delicate purple blooms, although we disturbed a large troop of baboons that were enjoying the facilities on the platform. At Sinanga we found a regal Bateleur Eagle dipping his feet and having a drink together with numerous Yellow-billed Kites.
Moving on, we set up camp at Kennedy Picnic Site before visiting the pan for a sundowner. We marveled at the sight of elephants coming to the pan from all directions in groups of twenty to thirty animals to drink - youngsters frolicking with gay abandon in the shallows, rolling and playing with relish in glorious mud, perhaps having a lovely scratch on an ant hill, then showering themselves with fine dust. We estimated three hundred or more pachyderms coming and going at golden hour - what a spectacle, and such a treat.
Invariably we were awakened in the early hours of dawn by the awesome roar of a lion, or in this case, three lions. We found them atop a mound close to the pan, Cecil's two well grown sons and their step-dad Bhubesi. Now almost four years old, the pair have been reticent to disperse, and have managed to stay under Bhubesi's radar for too long. The takeover of their pride by two new males, Netsayi and Humba, has forced them to go, but they seem undecided as to what to do. Sometimes they are still seen with their moms and sisters, sometimes with Bhubesi, and they have even been seen with the last remaining Somadada boy, Jericho's sole surviving son from his final litter.
The lions moved off to rest in dense shade, so we left them and were rewarded in one of the teak forest loops with a wonderful and rare photo opportunity of a pair of Racket-tailed Rollers with a juvenile that obligingly sat still for once affording us a chance to really enjoy them. Near Kennedy 2 we found a herd of eighty-eight zebra relaxing in the tall grass and a little further on a large number of wildebeest kicking and cavorting seemingly just for fun - a sight we haven't seen at K2 for ages. One ill-fated wildebeest had been killed and devoured by lions and there were many vultures still hanging about in the tree - a pair of White-headed and a few Hooded but mostly White-backed.
Magic Ngweshla seldom disappoints. The solar pumped pan was full and the natural pan close to the camp still held a decent amount of water as did several small dips and hollows. A drive round the loop in the evening produced sightings of a group of skittish young eland with one impressive bull, a herd of fifteen roan antelope, a tower of thirteen giraffe, several black- backed jackals basking in the sun, zebra, wildebeest, numerous elephants, kudu of all sizes, waterbuck, impala and a pair of ostriches.
But most fascinating of all was a Kori Bustard male strutting his stuff. Crest erect, neck puffed out, head cocked, tail fanned and vertical, he stood as upright as a ramrod, and uttered several booming, resonant notes ending with a bill snap, before standing to full attention. For all the world he could have been in a formal military parade. He was still at it the next day, and the several females around him unconcernedly went about their daily business pecking away in the grass and didn't seem to notice the poor fellow at all.
A majestic sable bull came in to the pan for a drink, and two troops of baboons were having a tremendous set to. Some large dog baboons, sporting massive canines, chased various unfortunate individuals repeatedly around the place with clear, evil intent, barking ferociously. Much shrieking and squealing ensued, and amid the ruckus and dust one poor female with a tiny infant was chased into the water where she stood in abject misery for a good long while, tail cocked, baby clutched to her breast, until she finally managed to creep out and dry off.
We heard lions close by during the night and spotted them across the vlei from camp at dawn. On closer inspection, we found Netsayi with Cecil's pride of five lionesses. We watched thrilled as they registered the approach of some zebra, and quickly moved into ambush mode. The hunt failed, the zebra thundered off in clouds of dust to live another day, and the lions settled down in the morning sun.
Netsayi was mating with one of the young females, an act that involved growling, moaning and biting. At dismount, she snarled aggressively and sprang away, sometimes rolling on her back, but frequently turning to swat viciously at his face. He took it without consequence and stood proud - no mistaking who is boss!
Humba is five years old with a dark tinged mane and is collared, while Netsayi is nearly four, blond and uncollared. They are from two different lionesses of the Nora pride frequenting Nehimba. Their sire, Seduli, currently holds territory around the Main Camp area with his cohort brother Mopane. Netsayi dispersed with Humba even though he's younger, and the pair displaced Bhubesi from the pride earlier this year. Both males have engaged in a period of frenetic mating activity with Cecil's female offspring, as is normal at takeover of a pride.
The two mature lionesses in that pride had young cubs to Bhubesi at the time of the takeover. Knowing the cubs would likely be killed by the incoming males, they took off in an effort to save them. We chanced upon them at Broken Rifle during the WEZ Annual Wildlife Population Census, when they came to the pan early one morning to drink. There were five cubs, three older ones, and two little ones, all with full, fat tummies. We had much fun observing their playful antics - rolling, pouncing, chewing each other's tails, stalking, watching us and
each other with bright, curious eyes, learning and practicing through play the skills they will one day need to survive. Their mothers looked on with fond indulgence, two wily, experienced lionesses who have done it all before.
Driving out of Ngweshla en route back to Main Camp, we spied six glorious White Storks in an African Ebony tree (Diospyros mespiliformis) by the pan, their pink bills and legs shining in the sun. Traveling via the Manga Pans, the birdlife was prolific. We spotted a Lizard Buzzard hunting along the roadside, several Marico and Spotted Flycatchers, three pretty Violet-eared Waxbills and a flock of diminutive, mustached Scaly-feathered Finches darting in and out of some thorny acacia bush.
The first pan at Masomamalisa was in a rather sad state with little drinkable water in a very muddy puddle. It's clear that the situation there needs to be addressed with some urgency. It was much the same at Manga 3, and although there is a good borehole with a decent solar system in place there, the pan is under severe animal pressure and one solar system is simply not enough. The situation is compounded because
Masomamalisa has little drinkable water, and there is no water at Manga 2 further along the road nor any prospect of it as the borehole there has been dysfunctional for ages, and several attempts to drill a new one have failed. Despite that we delighted in a pair of Common Ostriches with twenty-one darling fluffy chicks all busily foraging in the grass, a sounder of curious warthogs who gazed at us quizzically before making off, tails straight up in the air like antennae and a lovely group of zebras, resplendent in the soft morning light.
The contrast at Manga 1 was startling, a deep pan full of clear, fresh water and some Little Grebes as well as a pair of Hottentot Teal, thus far eluding us, leisurely paddling and dabbling around the pan.
We'd been invited to drop in at the new Verney's Camp, comprising beautifully appointed, tastefully decorated tents, each with a stunning view of the pan in front. This camp is 'green' with a large bank of solar panels to
provide necessary power. An attractive dining area, a sparkling pool, great cuisine and friendly, efficient staff make this a very attractive, upmarket camp. We were offered complimentary drinks, and an impromptu lunch of delicious thin-crust pizza which was scrumptious and appreciated all the more because the Mopane bees at Jambile, where we'd planned to cook up brunch, were awful and clustered round the vehicle in their thousands, all trying to find a way in to infest our noses and drown themselves in our eyes.
The water at Jambile was good but being so hot, 44 degrees C, and the middle of the day, all we saw there was a troop of baboons nodding off in the shade cast by the solar array. On to Dopi, where there was again good water in both pans, with a group of White-backed Vultures on the ground drying outstretched wings at the first pan, and some dazzling zebra and wildebeest at the second. Caterpillar, also contained plentiful water the top pan was flowing under the road into the lower pan quite strongly. We've been led to believe that a
pair of crocodiles have successfully bred at Caterpillar, and four little ones have been seen, but all we noticed was a large adult sunning itself on the bank, while six striking Ground Hornbills enjoyed a drink, and huge flock of beautiful iridescent blue Cape (Glossy) Starlings chattered and chirped in a tree close by. Also present was the inevitable parliament of resident baboons. Strangely, we found very little evidence of elephant activity at Manga 1, Jambile, Dopi or Caterpillar, and are not sure why.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip. We saw plentiful game, checked off a hundred and eighty different species of birds, the vegetation is generally abundant, and the water situation is better than we've ever seen it for the time of year. Sincere thanks must go to our donors who have and still do contribute so much, as well as to all the people who maintain and conserve the very special National Park that is Hwange. Without ongoing vital support, and donations large and small, this story could well have painted a bleak picture indeed.
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By Paula Del4
Trustees: D.C. Dell; B. Edwards; B. Wolhuter; D. St Quintin; Dr. K. Jenkins; G. J. Brebner
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