Tuesday 13 September 2016

Elephant jam

We're used to it now - being inconvenienced by elephants literally in the road. It happened all the time during our three days in Zambia, and it was a feature today. The first was such a big bull, that would be unnerving enough, but he was also in musth, dripping a testosterone-rich oily secretion from ducts near his eyes. When this happens, they're very unpredictable and dangerous, so we backed up and warned other drivers who approached. Eventually, he moved off enough for people to dart nervously past, and we continued our drive through the reserve.
Thankfully, still, there were rhinos, since this is where they were rescued from near-oblivion back in the 1960s thanks, in large part, to the late but eternally respected Dr Ian Player. From here they were transported to establish herds all over Africa. It was a hugely successful effort - but now, of course, poaching to supply the ever-growing Chinese and Vietnamese demand for their (useless) horn has got their numbers plummeting. This particular park is now being targeted by poachers who are finding their previous main hunting-ground, Kruger, too well guarded these days. Poachers get their intel from wherever they can, even Facebook, so I'm not posting any photos or saying any more about them. It's sadly absolutely no exaggeration to say that their extinction is looming.
We were heading for Hilltop across the road in adjoining Hluhluwe National Park, but we didn't get there - there was too much happening. A lion hunt, for a start. Alerted by other vehicles parked along the road, we stopped and grabbed the binocs, and spotted three lionesses in the scrubby bush, creeping so slowly and cautiously up on three giraffes feeding beyond. It was a bold choice, especially since there was a herd of impala and some zebras near them, which are excellent look-outs, as well as a few hefty buffalo, which aren't shy about standing up for themselves. The lions, without appearing to communicate, were the essence of patience, easing themselves closer to the giraffes, which were so blissfully unaware of the danger that one of them actually sat down.
Of course I'd now like to go on and describe the horribly gripping drama of the kill - but we didn't have as much patience as the big cats and, after watching for about an hour, drove on to find more action elsewhere, leaving them to it (when we passed the site again, much later, all giraffes were still present and correct, the lions still, presumably, hungry). 
We found zebras, cute and Mohicaned, if not quite as striking as the Cape mountain variety that stole our hearts a week ago. And birds, and warthogs, and then more elephants, a big bunch of them on the road, drinking from a drain that ran under it, feeding on trees.They eat the bark, as well as the leaves, said Shelley (who knows everything about African wildlife and is the most excellent guide). They roll bits of branch around in their mouths and then spit out the wood. They were indulging in a bit of in-herd argy-bargy and were in no hurry at all to clear the road for all the cars lined up in both directions.
And then, eventually, we got back to the tent again and had another braai, Shelley's powerful torch at hand to keep shining into the surrounding undergrowth as the boerewors cooked. With good reason, it turned out, not one but three hyaenas prowling beneath the deck as we ate, hoping for leftovers. 
They're much more appealing than you would think (no thanks to Disney for that) with furry round ears, big eyes and hairy feet - but "Stick your hand or foot down through that railing, and that would be that," Shelley said. "Their jaws are incredibly powerful." When they'd given up and gone to try their luck at another tent, some prettily spotted genets turned up - much less the stuff of nightmares.

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