Friday, 26 October 2018

White Rhino Encounter

White Rhinos are an endangered species and the opportunity to see them in a wild environment is one not to be missed. The rhino reserve outside Livingstone in Zambia offered us the unique experience of trekking through a bushland habitat while our guide explained many things about the bush, its plants and animals with a special emphasis on the behaviour of the small group of white rhinos that live in this area. After a couple of hours he located a solitary male feeding in a clearing.
We were close but tactically downwind. Rhinos have a wonderful sense of smell, reasonable hearing but woefully bad eyesight. An irritated animal can be very dangerous and we approached the massive animal with great caution.

The term white in the rhino’s name is thought to be an English misunderstanding of the Africaans word ‘wyd’ which means wide and refers to the rather wide square mouth of this grazing rhino as compared to the narrow, prehensile upper lip of its browsing black rhino cousin.

This rhino sanctuary is one of several places in Africa where these magnificent  animals are protected and an armed guard accompanied on our quest; not to protect us against the rhinos but to ensure that poachers do not further deplete the already dangerously low numbers.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Zambezi Giraffes

We had been following the dusty trail along the banks of the Zambezi River for the last half an hour. The usual suspects; hippos, crocodiles and a variety of water birds; were prolific along the shallow edge of the river. A few puku were drinking near one sweeping sand bar with a dominant male keeping a wary eye some large crocodiles basking nearby;  typical African afternoon on the mighty river.

We rounded another bend and came up on a raised embankment where our guide had chosen a safe place for an afternoon snack and drinks when the ‘wild-scape’ took an unusual turn. There, by the edge of the river were half a dozen giraffes; four calves and two adults close to the water with several more adults further back in the bush (a group of giraffes is called a tower).  The adults were watching the youngsters frolicking by the water in what appeared to be a kind of crèche situation. Quite a scene to enjoy while we sipped our drinks and munched on home-made cookies.

Though we encountered many more giraffes on our safari drives in the South Luangwa Natonal Park this was, without doubt, the most memorable.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Swamp Elephants

                 Swamp Elephants

The lake is choked with Nile cabbage an invasive weed that can take over large areas creating problems for wildlife but not for the ever present crocodiles. I can see the heads and eyes of several massive specimens from the shoreline where we are having a morning break. We have been following a herd of elephants for the last half an hour and they are now gorging themselves on vegetation plants on the opposite side of the water.

The big male seems to be keeping watch while the females and their calves approach the water. They are wary as crocodiles have been known to snatch a calf and even lock on to an adult’ s trunk. Eventually the male wades into the swamp and starts to fed. However the rest of the herd is more circumspect and continue to watch him from the relative safety of the bank.

We observe the herd for the rest of our break then move on to another location where our guide thinks there is another group with several nursing females and some young bulls in the vicinity.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Southern Ground Hornbill

Southern Ground Hornbill
We headed out from the camp in the early evening and pushed the 4WDs along a stony creek bed occasionally venturing into the shallow water. There were both crocodiles and hippos in the deeper pools but they seemed unconcerned by the vehicles. The guides were looking for elephant tracks that lead down to the water.  Finally they found the most recent signs of pachyderm activity and shunted the powerful vehicles down a cog or two to climb the steep bank.

Just as we emerged from the scrub one of the guides stopped and listened carefully. The low grunting boom was just audible over the sound of rushing water and the idling motor.  We waited for a few moments and then several large black birds, about the size of a turkey, emerged from the bushes, turned their red billed heads to look at us before disappearing back into the undergrowth.

I had often seen the smaller yellow and red billed hornbills in both Zambia and Botswana but this was my first close sighting of the much larger southern ground hornbill. They certainly were spectacular birds with their massive bills and confident manner as the small group meandered through the scrub searching for prey which included reptiles, insects and even small mammals. 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Chacma Baboon Behaviour

Grooming and suckling

 Several paths lead out from the back of the Victoria falls Hotel. One goes to the falls while the others snake through the bush that surrounds this lovely old institution.

Despite the proximity of human habitation there is no shortage of game along these trails. Elephant, giraffe, warthogs and numerous antelope species are common as are the wide variety of birds from hornbills to birds of prey.

My walk took me towards the falls alongside quite a steep valley. I took an experienced staff member with me as there is always safety in numbers and wild animals are not the only threat that a tourist carrying expensive camera gear might encounter.

About a kilometre from the hotels boundary fences we encountered a troop of chacma baboons. It included adult males and females, juveniles and several babies. This was the ideal opportunity to sit and watch the kinds of primate behaviour that one reads about or sees in zoos and wildlife parks.

In the half an hour we observed the troop we noticed dominant and submissive poses and facial expressions grooming and pseudo-sexual interactions between both sexes.... a real lesson in biology in the most wonderful surrounding with the mist and thunder of the falls in the background.    

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls
Although I have spent a lifetime trying to capture the best wildlife images that I can; on rare occasions it is the locality that dwarfs the animals. Victoria Falls is such a place.  With its rugged setting, thunderous cascades and luxurious bushland it is a wonderland, an enduring symbol of nature’s power and beauty.

Dazzled though I was by the falls, the wildlife that lives in its misty surrounds are no less fascinating. Tiny jewelled birds flitted amongst the canopy while equally colourful butterflies sought out blossoms. Diminutive squirrels and mongoose occasionally scuttled across the pathway that hugs the edge of the chasm that has been cut into the landscape by the mighty Zambesi River.

There were larger animals too. Waterbuck, wart hogs and baboons were just a few of the numerous mammals that can be found close to the falls while in the calmer waters upstream hippos and crocodiles are common.

In such a complex environment there are also those special sightings that make Victoria Falls so memorable; a huge water monitor scrambling along a watery cliff face behind a curtain of spray and a fish eagle perched in a tree overhanging the river’s thundering course

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Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Farewell to Africa...elephant style

Farewell to Africa...elephant style

Our time in Botswana’s Okavango Delta had been wonderful. Over the last couple of weeks we had encountered all of the wildlife we had hoped to see in one of the most natural and stimulating settings on our beleaguered planet.

Elephants had not been in abundance rather we discovered small transitory groups that seemed to be intent on avoiding close contact which only added to the excitement of each encounter.

However there comes that day when it is time to leave. With regret we packed our bags and waited at the camp for the light plane to circle before landing a few kilometres away on the bush landing strip.

One last short drive and who knows what delights the Okavango had to offer to farewell us. And it turned out to be a rather ill tempered bull elephant that barred our way for a good ten minutes; stamping its feet and flaring its ears, before finally acquiescing and letting us go on our way.
A fitting farewell.

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Sunday, 1 April 2018

Hotel Safari by the Falls

Hotel Safari by the Falls

It is rather a unique experience to enjoy the company of baboons, vervet monkeys, giraffes and zebras wandering freely around the grounds of your hotel. But that is just one of the unique experiences that the Royal Livingstone Hotel provides. A walk around the grounds always leads to a variety of encounters with these classic African species as well as sightings of exotic birds, the occasional lizard and some interesting insect species. And to complete the day just sit on the decking by the mighty Zambezi River, listen to the ‘smoke that thunders’ and watch for passing hippos. Such a truly majestic place.

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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Hippo and Cocktails

Cocktails aboard  a cruise down the Zambezi  is not to be sneezed at especially when the sunsets are glorious and there is a good chance of catching sight of some wildlife.  We had driven from Victoria Falls Hotel to a little landing not too far from the Chobe National  Park and  were not expecting to start our serious wildlife viewing until we flew into The Okavango Delta the next day. But an aggressive male hippo who took exception to our presence in his territory provided some lovely late afternoon excitement.  He followed the boat for several hundred metres displaying his disapproval with toothy yawns and several mock charges at the boat. Later in the delta we saw this behaviour on many occasions but that first encounter over a daiquiri and hors d’oeuvres was rather special.

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Saturday, 17 March 2018

African Reptiles

Gecko on bark, Zambia
Sometimes it is the smallest things that bring the most pleasure.  Our journeys through Zambia’s wildlife parks had been all that we could have hoped for and now we were spending a leisurely day and night at a little wildlife sanctuary on the outskirts of Lusaka before flying home.  Part of the park was designated for orphaned elephant rehabilitation while the rest was lawned areas surrounded by some scrub bisected by a small creek. Despite the elephants, antelope and giraffes that wandered freely through this enclosed park it was the squirrels, lizards and butterflies that caught my attention. This little fellow was perched motionless on the bark of a tree that shadowed our roundel. He seemed to be there most of the time scuttling away if I ventured too close.
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