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Safari Day 6 (July 14, 2011)
Itinerary: morning safari drive and walk, lunch/siesta, afternoon/evening safari drive
Animals spotted: Kori bustard, buzzards, baboons, black backed jackals, lions, sable, wildebeest, white-backed vulture, cape vulture, hooded vulture, giraffe, impala, duiker, steenbuck, dwarf mongoose, elephants, warthogs, golden crowned crane, waterbuck, slender mongoose, spring hare, zebras, kudu, hippo, vervet monkeys, white-tailed mongoose, ostrich
Some of the guests and staff heard a lion roaring in the distance last night, but we slept through it all. This morning didn’t seem quite as cold as previous mornings. Other than that, we had a pretty typical safari morning with the wake-up call at 6:30, breakfast at 7:00 and out on safari when we were ready.
We said goodbye to the Swiss-German group and our American friend, Jennifer. Today we are the only guests at Davison’s Camp. Bryan took us out on a game drive that would include a walking safari as well.
Our most exciting encounter this morning was when we spotted the lions! We found 4 older lion cubs (who had already left mom) sitting on a termite mound watching us with curious faces. Then, further off in the grass we found an older dominant male lion in the grass. He was incredibly uninterested in us. The group of 4 cubs included 2 males and 2 females. The males almost had a start of a beard under their jowls, but otherwise were mostly mane-free. At this age they do look very handsome.
Many animals will use termite mounds as a way of getting high off the ground to watch the landscape. The termite mounds look and feel closer to hard soil/rock than dirt on an anthill and get quite high. Most of the ones we saw were several feet tall and some were taller than 6 or 7 feet. A termite mound can be hundreds of years old. A queen termite lives about 30 years! That’s a very long time for an insect to live! Once the queen dies, another might take it’s place or another termite family might take over.
Anyway, back to the lions. We were very excited to find the lions. We must have driven past them twice before our guide spotted them from a distance. We drove up to the cubs first. They were just as curious about us as we were about them. Of course they were adorable with the cutest faces. One of the males had a tuft of fur sticking up from the middle of his head giving him a playful look about him. We only first saw 1 cub, but later the rest came out to see what was going on. We were able to get as close as about 60 yards. The dominant male was sitting in the grass further away from the cubs, so we drove over to him only about 20 or so yards away. He was easier to spot since he had dark brown hairs in his mane. Lions get the darker hairs after about 7 years which actually puts them at a disadvantage in the straw colored grass as they are easier to find. This lion could care less that we were here and didn’t even turn to look at us. He sat facing away, just laying in the grass. By this time we had called over the other 2 safari vehicles and our land rover herd was 3 strong.
Mr. Lion slowly stood and started ambling towards the cubs. We saw where he was headed and drove down the road to intersect him. Boy howdy did we pick the perfect spot to park our vehicle. He strolled right up to us and cross the road just feet in front of the car. I had quite the time taking photos of him. I had my telephoto on maximum zoom taking photos as he got closer, then zoomed out as wide as my zoom lens could go. And when he filled the frame, I switched to my second camera and started taking wide angle shots as he crossed. He barely gave us a look and kept on walking towards the cubs on our left. He must have found a good place to lie as he disappeared into the trees and we spent some more time watching the 4 cubs lounge around. How exciting!
After we got our fill of lions…well after our guide got his fill and we agreed we better move on, we found a spot for a walking safari. We made a loop around in the trees for about an hour. The guide took a rifle with him and we were to stay behind him in the safe zone. For the most part we felt very safe walking around in the bush, but just the fact that we had to carry a rifle with us made the walk that much more thrilling. Just a little bit more adrenaline than a usual hike.
It is so nice to get out of the jeep and take a break from all the noise and bouncing along. It’s good to stretch our legs, too. While we are in the jeep we hold ourselves inside with our legs (no seatbelts) and try not to bounce out as the car swerves around and bounces down the roads. Plus, I’m holding on to two cameras. It is always quite the roller coaster ride, but without the harnesses.
Along our walk we learned so much more about the vegetation, the bugs, the trees, and of course the animal tracks on the ground. Elephant tracks are pretty easy to spot as they are very large circles with wrinkles inside. Baby elephant tracks, though are harder since they are small and don’t have the wrinkles on their feet yet.
A herd of giraffes up ahead prompted a discussion on what groups of animals are known as. Standing giraffes are a tower of giraffes, walking ones are a journey of giraffes, and running ones are another name entirely. Mark and I were happy to find some mongoose as we’ve never seen those before. The guide found it rather funny at our excitement at the mongooses.
Then we met our first 2 elephants. Elephants are much more impressive when you are walking around. The guide kept us safe behind some fallen logs so we could hide there if necessary. We found a huge bull elephant of maybe 40 years (they live to 60 years) with only one tusk. That one tusk was very broken and used. His eyes were very wise looking showing his age. His skin was scarred and his trunk was calloused where he has used it so much to knock over trees and shake down the fruits from the trees. A young bull was following him to take advantage of the big bull’s strength to shake the fruits from the trees. Surprisingly the big bull was allowing him to stay. The wise, old bull had many cuts along his trunk showing off his age and experience as well. Amazing.
Later in the hike we found another bull elephant with only one tusk, but this one seemed less calm and the guide did not let us stay long. We circled around him quite wide as the guide whispered instructions to us if things started going poorly.
Our land rover was sitting just as we left it, looking like a large golf cart from this far away. We had tea and snacks before heading back to camp. Along the way we spotted a large bull kudu with long spiraling horns. The horns can get to be 60-70 inches long with the spirals. We also drove by some warthogs and I was surprised to learn that the hair on their backs only stands up when they are scared. The warthogs we found looked strange to me without the back hair.
After lunch and during siesta time (It’s funny to me that it’s still called siesta even in Zimbabwe) we sat in the room and watched all the commotion outside. Another parade of elephants came by the waterhole. Also a herd of beautiful sables came by and quite close to our cabin. The one black, and most likely dominant male of the group really stood out. He watched me carefully while I snapped photos of him. Just outside our door several birds spent several minutes fluttering away and fighting over something on the ground. Baboons climbed and played in the trees. But most fun of all was a group of about 10 warthogs down by the waterhole running around. One very large one kept chasing all the others to put them in their place. Davison’s Camp is really an amazing camp that I would recommend to anyone coming to Zimbabwe.
At 3:30 we headed out again. Right away we found a large male waterbuck very close to the road eating under a palm tree near the waterhole outside Davison’s. He didn’t mind us at all and we watched him graze. We were close enough to study his features through the binoculars and see his color patterns, hoof configuration, and even the ridges in his horns.
At this point we aren’t stopping for many antelope anymore unless they are unique or very close. We did stop to see a mongoose on a termite mound, however. Today must be mongoose day. We also got excited to find cheetah and leopard tracks along the road. When we found tracks, the guide would swing off the road and look over the side of the jeep at the tracks to try and figure out who it was and where they were going. Mark and the guide were always on the same side, so while they studied tracks, I usually scanned the area or took some photos.
We drove around the area looking for the spotted cats with no luck. Every rock, tree limb, and termite mound looks like a cheetah when you are looking for one. Without much luck, we headed back to where we saw the lions this morning to try and get another look at them. Another camp’s jeep was parked in the area watching a lioness walk and call out to her cubs. She must be trying to find the cubs we found earlier that day only they weren’t here. She would walk along and call out every few steps. She didn’t care at all about us and headed along her trail looking for the cubs. Bryan knew where she was headed and was able to magically figure out how to find out where she’d pop out of the bush. We made a large loop and found ourselves on another road next to the path Bryan was sure the lions would pop out of. He was sure she’d find her cubs and they would all come out together.
The other jeep followed us and to Mark’s and my amusement, we parked on either side of a path, both facing in and sat to wait. We couldn’t hear anything yet, so I started searching for the full moon and the three of us were chatting about lions. Meanwhile, to our amusement again, one of the tourists in the other jeep put his finger over his lips and uttered a loud, “shhhhhhhh!” It was hard not to burst out laughing at this point. The other jeep were the typical retired American tourists and they were just too funny.
We did start to hear the lioness calling and coming closer to us. Meanwhile the other guide radioed over to us in a hushed whisper, “she’s coming, you can hear her.” our radio was turned up louder so it came out very loud on our end, though we could tell he was trying to be quiet. More amusement for us.
Finally the other jeep gave up or got too cold waiting and headed back to their camp. We turned around to get a better view and waited some more while having snacks. Eventually we heard the lioness’s calls get louder and louder and then we could see her coming down the exact path Bryan had picked out. Amazing and great tracking on his part. She came out of the bush still without her cubs and kept walking down the road. She let us follow her slowly in the jeep for a while. We kept turning off the engine so she could hear if her cubs were calling out to her. When she entered the bush again, we left her and decided to go hunt cheetah and leopards now that the sun had set. It’s amazing to be so close to these lions.
Instead of finding the spotted cats, we came across more lions! Today is turning into quite the lion day. This time we found another lioness who looked pregnant walking along the road towards us. We let her pass and kept driving. But then we came across the rest of the pride including the cubs we had found earlier today. About 7 of them were just laying in the road. They could care less that we were on the same road and just let us shine our red spotlight on them while they lay there blinking at us. We pulled off the road and watched until they had enough of us and got up to walk away. What a treat.
More driving and we came across the same pregnant lioness on another road. We drove up to the back of her walking along the tire tracks. They stick to the roads because it’s easier to move around the park. She wasn’t going to move out of the way so we could pass her and the sides of the road were too bushy to pull off. So, we just crept along behind her. Bryan told us that this was a bush traffic jam. Hmmmm, he should go to Houston sometime. haha. Ms. Lioness walked into the bush and Bryan was sure she was looking for 2 cubs she had hidden earlier. He knew there were two little cubs in this pride and was sure they were hidden around here. We didn’t spot them, so we kept on driving. It would have been fun to see the little cubs. But the 1year and 2year old cubs will have to do for now.
No spotted cats for us, but we came home happy after all the lion sightings. The night felt chillier than it had been with a nip in the air. Amazingly, though, the wind looks like it has stopped and the waterholes are completely still and showing off the reflections of the full moon moonlight. It is a gorgeous night out tonight with no need for a flashlight to get around. All the animals seem up and about in the moonlight.
With just us, dinner was pretty fast, and we chatted with Bryan and Flora at dinner. We retired early to our room with our armed escort so that we could pack up for tomorrow. Our flight is going to be at 7:45am which means we need to leave here by 6:40am. It’s going to be an early morning. With our private charters and many problems with Zimbabwe flight schedules, you don’t know until the day before what time your flight is going to be. Now I understand why we had no flight times in our itinerary.
Walking to our cabin, we saw many spring hares surrounding us. While we were packing up we heard quite the commotion outside. An elephant was trumpeting and stamping and a lion was roaring. Several other animals were hooting and hollaring as well. I can’t believe a lion went after an elephant, but who knows what was going on. Sweet dreams!
I’m getting to the point where I have more photos than I should really include in one post. Below you’ll find a slideshow from flickr showing more photos. If you are receiving this post via email or an RSS reader or facebook and the slideshow does not appear, please click on this link to see the original post: http://thetravelgeeks.com/?p=373 and scroll to the bottom. To view the slideshow, click once on the play button, or triangle, in the middle of the image below.