Supermoons & Baby Baboons

Goliath Safaris • 2 October 2014

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News blog from Goliath Safaris, who operate a luxury tented camp on the banks of the Zambezi River.

"As the sun set swiftly in early August, the see-saw of astrology flung the full moon up over the opposite horizon with nearly a third more illusory size and luminance than is normal. Beaming through the boughs it didn’t disappoint and indeed appeared super.

Scientifically known as a perigee moon and casually as a super, the predators and prey of Mana must surely view it paradoxically though. The moon as a balloon certainly makes it easier to feed but also easier to be fed upon, and so the antelopes, ungulates and primates are wary and vigilant; the bigger cats know this and hence also don’t bother with what comes naturally to them under the cover of darkness. The result is a loss of feeding for both hunter and hunted. Add to this a loss of sleep for the quarry and it’s obvious why the big moon days are filled with sightings of impala, waterbuck and zebra resting in the shade. It’s been a hard day’s night for them!

Long nights however will soon give way to long days as summer-time infuses the floodplain. Spring in Mana is a mere transitional phase but it does bring with it the first flush of colour to an ever-increasingly arid vista. The cassias, with their bright yellow flowers, always herald the end of winter. Their visual display may be the brightest and earliest but it won’t be long before the maroon flowers of the kigelias carpet the bare earth. Harshly scented to attract bats for pollination, they are luckily overshadowed in this department by the sweet fragrance of the mahoganys and capparis. In addition the shaving brush and flame combretems, the lone gardenias and the pink jacarandas are coming into flower and the acorn diospyros are venturing into new leaf, all of this a welcome respite from the barren palette that is to come. Soon, the carmine bee-eaters resplendent in their crimson plumage, will  be the only bright colour about as everything on land, including Stretch, becomes coated with a thin layer of dust. Any scratchiness on his part is always attributed to this!

According to him, it’s responsible for his brakes binding and his teeth grinding, for his brain frying and his humour drying, and by far, the worst of all, for the disappearance of his beloved tracks. However, with his photographer’s hat on he knows that this is the very essence of the great moments that are to be captured by camera at this time of the year. Mixed together with the smoke in the atmosphere, the dust particles create the haze that is indigo blue by day and deep yellow or red at dawn and dusk when the sun rays filter through at a lower angle. This all helps create the magic that is Mana.

Speaking of moments magical, there can be no better afternoon passed than one in the company of a troop of baboons at a pan. Given that they are a menace in campsites, they are a pleasure at a pool. Never still, they interact in a manner which smacks of random domestic violence but is organized and disciplined and constantly protected by a posted sentry. Although ostensibly ruled by the dominant male, an individual’s standing in the troop is entirely dependent on his or her mother’s birthright.

Progeny of high-ranking females are deferred to, while the hapless young of the lower ranks are bullied by all. These minions of the troop will have been sired by a low-ranking male and so will attract no protection from the big dog and even less respect from his henchmen. All of this social and physical snobbery notwithstanding, they do form a cohesive and close society. Although some of the females are promiscuous and some are aloof, all are good mothers and for their part the youngsters are mischievous, adventurous and incredibly cute. Their antics, attitudes and expressions are of cartoon quality and can and do provide hours of amusement to us all.

Whilst on the subject of good mothers, it won’t be long before the wild dog pups and the alpha females leave their respective dens and range free with the adults of the pack. The Ellis Robins gang, having denned again in the Mopane and being the biggest and most diverse pack, always attracts the most attention when the adults laze about on the floodplain after their early morning hunt. The oldest floppy-eared members, who were their trade-mark, have now all sadly passed on but the new pups will, as always, bring a smile to the even the hardest heart when they join the adults shortly. The Chiruwe gang have been conspicuous by their absence early in the season, spending most of their time deep in the Wilderness Area.

Conversely the friendly Seven-pack with the distinctive white marked dog are often seen running on the main road (pictured) while Stretch, much to his chagrin, is tracking them in the Jesse.

While the dogs have been all domestic about denning, the lions have been mating, mating and mating. The Backstreet Boys have had no rest for a few months, spending most of their days covering the Spice Girls and any other females on offer. They’ve reigned on the floodplain for a while now and must surely feel that their days at the top are numbered. The big pride of seventeen from the Nyamatusi that often ventures far into their territory has three very healthy males in their midst and so a takeover bid may soon be on the cards. Over time, Black-eye, the leader of the Spice Girls, has taken over the mantle of Granny in the Nyamepi pride. She has sustained a few nasty injuries during hunts but now seems to be recovering well. Dim Jim, a nervous and confused young adult, has remained with his mother and her cubs, his brothers having moved on without him last year. Lately though he has gained confidence and proved his manhood by defending his kill from hordes of hyaenas, all much to Stretch’s delight as he had serious misgivings about his abilities. Periodically the Spice Girls’ sub-groups and the

Backstreet Boys are seen together at a kill or for a session of bonding. The hot months ahead will make hunting a lot easier for them all as the big buffalo and eland herds arrive and daily temperatures of above 40 degrees make easy pickings of the weakened calves or stragglers. The warthog population will have a welcome relief from ambushes in the channels and being dug out of their holes at night!

While all of this activity has been happening at the top of the food-chain, the mere mortals at the bottom have their own struggles to contend with. A dry floodplain means less fruit and fewer insects and so the squirrels and mongoose families have further to travel to collect their daily pickings; all of this carried out with very little cover and under countless eagle eyes. They can be seen scurrying from log to log and tree to tree, their short little legs driven by the frantic pumping of their hearts. Their struggle, as for most animals, is for food but also in the process to avoid being food.

On the subject of food, the elephants on the floodplain were treated to a feast recently when the lone acacia, to the left of camp, came crashing down early one morning.  There was no hint of what was to come, no nudge or tug from a big elephant bull, no rotting core, no dying boughs; just the sheer weight of it’s own existence seemed to send it to it’s early demise. The sound of a falling tree means only one thing to the elephants in Mana ... fresh food. Within minutes they started to arrive; cows, calves, young bulls, old bulls  and finally, to keep everyone calm, Big Vic rolled into town. While our hearts sank as one of our sentinel trees disappeared before our very eyes, we knew that it was part of the natural cycle that is nature.

As the biggest players in the nature game, Big Vic and Boswell continue their reigns as the elder statesmen of the floodplain. Elsewhere, amongst the mature bulls, JD still wanders around alone looking for somewhere to cause havoc, while Fred Astaire, with his ability to get up on his back legs, is building up his own entourage of followers. When Stretch gets especially scratchy under his layer of dust, a few minutes spent in the presence of these gentle giants of the floodplain quickly reminds him that he has the greatest office on earth.

And on that final note of fortune and fate, we at Goliath wish you all a superb September. Whichever hemisphere you may inhabit, this month heralds the change of seasons and with it a change of scenery.

From Mana, we send to you as a gift, an image of the magnificent Big Vic wandering alone through the albidas at sunset; set to the soundtrack of carmines chattering, fish eagles calling and all enveloped in the late evening scent of the capparis.

Thank you, as always, from all of us, for your continued support, interest and encouragement and above all, for your very valued friendship."

For more information see:  Goliath Safaris

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