Beaks, butterflies and behemoths

by Goliath Safaris • 10 June 2009

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News from Goliath Safaris - June 2009

Somewhere deep in the recesses of our hearts, in chambers that are more ethereal than physical, lie our most treasured memories, be they images, scents or sounds. In times of stress or strife we reach down and gently lift out those that are soft to the touch, easy on the ear and quiet on the mind.

The first half of this year has not been without its stresses, which is why we count ourselves as some of the luckiest people on the planet. Our Mana memory banks are topped up daily with reserves and riches which will last us a lifetime. A rainy season that originated in animal heaven has made the heart of the Zambezi Valley smile and as winter gently nudges summer aside, grasses gold and stately trees abound. Baobabs laden with their globe - like fruit form stark chandeliers against the clear blue sky whilst the majestic mopanies prepare for their transition from green to gold. Towering Terminalia prunoides form a princely purple rain and the rain trees provide their soft grey antidote. Down on the ground, from panicum maximum to little tufts of natal red, the grasses try to out-seed and outshine each other.

In amongst this sea of content, the pans are slowly starting to dry up after being full to the brim for longer than usual. Owners of beaks or bills do more than chirp or cheep as they poke around the diminishing pools for their amphibious snacks. Thick vegetation and plentiful supplies of surface water have given our feathered friends, both big and small a chance to shine. Whilst the lions ruffle Stretch's sparse feathers by melting into the grass right before his eyes, it does give the guests a chance to look skywards and plump up their bird-lists. From openbills to waxbills, Jan and Fi Teede managed to record over 120 species on their May safari, a record that may prove hard to beat.

Talking of lions, the new cats amongst the pigeons are without doubt the Nyamepi pride. Numbering up to 17 at times, they continue to play their cat and mouse game with Stretch. The mane-man entices him with his plate size pugmarks, the cubs tease him with their little ears twitching in the grass and the old girls bewitch him with their golden eyes and throaty 'don't come any closer' growls. The tracker in him won't give up, but like expert chess players they disperse and regroup to no set pattern and in so doing increase the creases on his already furrowed brow. The old girl, who we were so worried about, has a new spring in her step and a glint in her eye which may have something to do with the appearance of the mane- man. She continues to astound Stretch with her resilience and may even surprise him further as there have been reports of her regularly mating with the new boy on the block. In general, the lion population of the floodplain certainly seems to be in a state of good health and excellent stealth and Stretch has regularly found them on an eland or buffalo kill which is ample proof of this. No impala or warthog toothpicks for them, but instead a smorgasbord of big game steaks.

Their canine cousins, the wild-dogs have left their calling cards for Stretch too. Fresh droppings and spoor, and fleeting sightings have ensured that his nose is to the ground and his tail in the air as he follows 'Whiteback' and her pack. As the alpha female, she has always had a special place in our hearts as we've watched her transition from pup to princess. Will she den in the same place this year, away from all the feline activity or will she venture back into the territory of her mother ' Broken-leg' who has always favoured the Mopani forest of the Vundu area.

On the antelope front, the eland may be a little vulnerable with the poor visibility and thick cover at the moment, but the impala rams are even more so with their minds wholly focused on the annual rut. Triggered by the shortening of the days at this time of year, their hormones kick in and May becomes an exhausting time as the rut reaches it's peak. With the undersides of their erect tails showing like white flags and their heads and horns horizontal, the dominant males chase off any rivals, real or imagined. Barking and snorting they expend enormous amounts of energy guarding their territories and herding their girls. Their one track minds in May result in a huge loss in condition and also easy pickings for passing predators. Any human male lying tucked up in his bed at night, listening to a baboon sentry barking, a lion roaring or an impala ram snorting must surely realize just how easy he has it when it comes to keeping his woman safe and happy.

Bruce, our resident hippo bull has had a hard time of late defending his territory too. Rivals periodically ruffle his hide as they become brave and venture onto his turf. Choosing sunset as their backdrop, the water in the channel in front of us erupts as they lunge and charge at each other, huge mouths almost 180 degrees agape. In the hippo world, size does count and so Bruce normally emerges the victor sending his foes packing back into their corners. Returning to lurking in our channel, he periodically surfaces to remind us all who is boss.

The vegetation on the island in front of us is thick and lush and certainly a hippo's delight. Like fat ticks, they dot the land as they mow the lawn or just lounge around in our front garden. Their lazy days of wallowing in the shallows of the Zambezi must surely be one of life's better career choices. Stretch's one follows a close second although it involves very little lounging around. Muttering into his beard about showers roses, battery levels or the early morning chill, he knows at heart that there are very few that wouldn't swap their offices for his.

Getting back onto the subject of behemoths, the big elephant bulls have returned again after a brief sabbatical on the islands or inland. Slot - ear, Spot, Ragged Ear and a few of their contemporaries have already come into the camp office to pay Stretch their respects. Reports of our favourite bull Mana sunning himself in Zambia have reached our ears and so we're not sure whether he will return to our shores again this season. His gentle and regal manner is sorely missed but Slot has made a concerted attempt to usurp his position as our favourite. He wanders through camp at leisure, gingerly stepping over our new tent ropes and peering into our newly installed outdoor showers. The albidas in camp are in full leaf and well into podding and so it won't be long before we get to share our dining room with a few more of the big boys.

Whilst on the subject of big boys, Stretch pulled out all the stops for our recent re- returning guests. As they've visited so many times, they are now considered family and so Robyn, Debbie et al were piled into the vehicles as willing guinea-pigs for our first dinosaur safari. Although not normally interested in old or obvious spoor, Stretch still managed to find the tracks before us. Whether it was his Fossil sunglasses or just recognition of a kindred shoesize, he brushed aside all offers of GPS co-ordinates and put his tracking cap firmly on. The trip to the tracks in the Ntumbe riverbed is not for the faint-hearted, but together with a picnic lunch and riverbed swims it is a day to remember. Should you be coming on safari for longer than normal this year and have within you a little Jurassic interest, we promise that we'll include it on your agenda too.

From behemoths back to beauty, Mana has recently been beset with a butterfly influx that would make a lepidopterists heart flutter. Brown veined whites in their millions have transformed the road into the valley into a most incongruous but beautiful sight. They flutter about alighting on the first sign of moisture or food and without doubt their favourite is a freshly laid pile of elephant dung. Sucking up water, salts and other nutrients, their 'mud-puddling' activities are a visual delight. When disturbed they all take off and the air is filled with thousands of snowflakes falling slowly back to the ground as their butterfly brains urge them to settle again. The conditions for them this year were obviously perfect and weren't we the lucky ones to witness this beautiful metamorphosis. We may not however, have said the same had we witnessed their earlier larval stage. Unlike humans, they have got it right and reserved their beauty and energy for this last chapter in their lives.

And on that note may we remind you that it is never too late to have a happy African childhood. Smoke yourself over a Mopani fire, get stoked by a lions roar and soothe your soul with a sultry sunset. If you are blessed with a safari on your wish list this year, we look forward to seeing you soon and if not, drop us a line and we'll send you an image to warm you to the core. May June be the jewel on your calendar. If you share the Southern hemisphere with us, may it add to your winter's content and should you be our northern cousins, may it be the sunshine in your summer.

With kindest regards

Flo Coughlan

Goliath Safaris

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