As one gets older, January and February seem to March into April, and May comes around a lot sooner than usual. This year has proven to be no exception and the pre-season preambles and preparations in Harare have once again rushed into the offices of Goliath and kicked our butts back into action.
Stretch's off-season flurry of farming, yoga and daydreaming is over and our recent trips into Mana have predictably and favourably readjusted our mindsets and pulse rates to that of our four-legged friends. We're back on track and tracks.
Oblivious to the goings on in the "real world", the animals in the valley have continued throughout the off-season to do what they do best, and that is to co-exist peacefully.
Their food chain operates within this agenda and no activity is carried out with cruel intent or wasted energy. They eat and drink, they rest and recuperate, they communicate and they copulate; they respect and learn from their elders and they protect and teach their young. They're civilized and they're a functioning society, hopefully one day we humans will be too.
On the "flaural" front , the most heart-warming sight for us is undoubtedly the proliferation of grass cover.
Good soaking rains did the job perfectly and despite our fears that the large flocks of quelea on the floodplain in October may have decimated the seed stock, we were proven wrong. They may in fact have dispersed it.
The islands are now a carpet of lush green palatable grasses and dense reeds; the floodplain trees have tangles of grasses growing beneath them and the tawny dry savannah above Long Pool is thick and healthy. The indigofera is not as tall as previous years and it won't be long though before the impala have nibbled away the leaves, leaving the woody stalks for the buffalo to trample down or the elephants to chew on. The channel running alongside camp is a verdant mesh of foliage and is home to all sorts of hidden treasures. Snipes sneak around the edges, jacanas walk on water and woodland kingfishers watch from the trees with eagle eyes. Elegant egrets, stately storks and secretive herons flush out amphibious delights while ducks and geese squabble in the shallows. It's all as it should be....and it's time for a walk in the park.
May and June are the gourmet months for birding as the last stragglers of the migrants may still be seen and the pans and channels are filled with twitching delights. Our favourite sighting on our last trip was a tree full of White Storks using Mana as a resting place on their paleartic flight northwards. How different their views will be from the chimney stacks of Europe where they return to nest in the northern summer.
All this greenery and groundcover will make the pieces in the puzzle of the predator playground that much harder for Stretch to put together at the beginning of the season. Have the wild-dogs chosen their den sites yet and have all nine pups survived the ambushes of lion and hyaena on windy nights? As everybody's favourite, we wait with baited breath for news on this front. While they're denning it's hard to do a head count as some stay behind to guard the den while others go out hunting. Only when the pups are about 3 months old will they all leave the security of their maternity home. The sight of them all free ranging makes our hearts smile and we can't wait to see how many pups there are each year.
On the lion front, which of the lionesses will be pregnant and which of them will already have had their cubs? Will the four cubs of the Spice Girls have all survived? Do the Backstreet Boys still reign supreme and more interestingly, will they have kicked their four sons out of the pride yet. If the boys have all survived and stuck together, they will be a formidable coalition one day and just what Mana needs to stabilize its lion population. The Nyamepi pride numbered a healthy sixteen when they all came together last season, a first for many years. Long may their reign continue.
Although busy with the camp set-up, we have had some down-time to try and catch up with who's who in the elephant world. The old statesmen Boswell and Big Vic are still around, as is the irascible JD who stopped for a brief and uncharacteristically nonchalant moment with Stretch on our last visit. The usual teenage bulls are wandering around on their own, waiting patiently for their turn in the pecking order of askaris to the big bulls. Unceremoniously kicked out of their pachyderm nest by their doting mothers, they face quite a few years of insecurity before they are able to come into their own and fight for a place in the mating pool.
JD is at that stage now and has been seen to challenge Big Vic on a few occasions; he however stays well clear of Boswell who doesn't have the same tolerance for older upstarts in his neighbourhood. The big breeding herds of cows have no need to be down on the floodplain just yet, there is still ample water inland and so it'll be a while before the full posturing by the bulls in musth begins.
Talking of male hormones, it'll soon be time for the antelopes, in particular the impala, to start their rutting ritual. Oblivious to all else but securing a harem of females for themselves and fighting off any would be challengers, they become easy prey for predators. Some of the prime males die through a cruel twist of fate when their massive horns become so intertwined that neither can free itself from the other while others die from the stabbing wounds inflicted by their rivals. All through this the females keep wondering and wandering....
The male predators however don't follow this exhausting pattern. In fact they don't have a pattern. If you're a lion or leopard, it's all about age, size and strength and making sure your genes reign supreme. If you're a wild-dog, you're monogamous and remain the alpha male for as long as you can, and sadly if you're a hyaena or cheetah, you soon learn that the females rule.
And on that final note of sense and sensibility, we sincerely look forward to hosting you all again in Mana. The team at Goliath is particularly proud of Stretch who last year was mentioned in numerous articles and awards ceremonies as one of Africa's premier guides. After thirty years of loyalty and dedication to guiding in Mana, these accolades are well-deserved and we applaud him as they were certainly never coveted. However having said that, lest he should imagine that he is at the top of any pile, we will be relying on you ladies, as always, to bring him back down to earth when he falls asleep at dinner, gets grumpy, tells the same joke or, heaven forbid, says............let's get serious!
Keep well, keep safe and take care of those you care about.
Newsletter from Goliath Safaris - April 2014