Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Elephant Poo...All You Need to Know

We were up early for our next game drive. Ganny showed us how to spot elephant tracks, not only by their footprints, but also by the marks that their trunks leave when they swish them on the ground. Here he is explaining the benefits of elephant dung. We probably heard at least one poo story every day!

This water hole was originally part of a termite mound. Animals come and eat the mineral rich soil for nourishment, gradually eating down to the point where the hole collects water. In the dry season, the water evaporates leaving this indentation.

Elephants will shake the grass to release dirt, sand and seeds before eating it.

Are these ossicones bald or do they have fur? I would guess bald, therefore a male. But I managed to guess wrong most times! This guy was right on the side of the road (hence the power lines). Animals will often feed there as water will run off the roads into the ditches so the grass is greener, and also people in vehicles might litter and throw out a tasty treat.

Our next stop was the Painted Dog Conservation area.

The painted dogs are becoming extinct due to poachers. For the last 15 years, the conservationists have been going to schools to teach children about the painted dogs and how everyone has to do their part to stop the trapping of them.

We were going to walk to the rehabilitation facility to see some of the dogs they are currently treating for illness. We had a choice of walking 300 m to the left or taking a lovely 800 m walk along the raised boardwalk. Of course, we chose the long way!

It was a beautiful day and a lovely walk...

And we arrived at the rehab centre, which was quite depressing...

There were two dogs being treated. They looked so sick and so sad. It was hard to watch.

We went into the research facility where they spoke to us about their efforts to preserve the breed. They had a little gift shop where I was happy to buy a cloth bag to keep all my "stuff" in and to support their work.

We left that area and headed back on our game drive. Not one of us spotted this lion until we had gone by and Ganny started backing up. Good thing the guides have good eyes!

A beautiful male lion just trying to hide in the shade...

And when he did this, we kind of freaked. We thought he was getting up and going to attack us. Crazy tourists. But, at this point in our safari, no one had told us that most of the animals just see vehicles as big blobs. They don't see us individually, unless we do something crazy like get out of the vehicle. So the people in the back were saying "Let's go. Let's go." And Ganny and Manuel thought we were crazy because we didn't want to stay longer and watch the lion. Manuel only told us that story later. we know. Sadly, we never saw another lion like this one.

Pretty much what a day in the park looked like. Lots of blue sky, beige and brown scenery, and acacia trees.

We stopped to let these elephants go by, and now that we knew they weren't interested in us individually, we all sat quietly as this guy came right up to us and then turned and walked in front of the vehicle. They've been seeing vehicles in the park for many, many years, so it's a common sight to them.

Love the little babies...

And with that day over, it was time to head back to the camp for another lovely sunset.

Gathering at the bar before dinner...Pat and Robert on the left; the wonderful bar staff; and Bruce and Jim.

And a group photo...

This was Norma, the chef at Elephant's Eye. She was so sweet and shy. Each night she would come out and tell us what she had prepared. This is Elephant's Eye's third year in operation, so we had a birthday party with champagne.

The next morning, we were up early as we had 600 km to drive to Nata Lodge in Botswana. Your wake-up call would be someone outside your tent nicely saying "Good morning" until they got a response from you. It was cold and dark. These ladies were beyond helpful and kind to us. We loved our stay and were sad to move on. New adventures awaited!

We were heading to No. 3 on the map, the Nata Lodge on the salt pans in Botswana. You would think it would be a short drive, but because one of the roads was in poor condition, we had to go all the way up to Kasane, near Victoria Falls where we had started.


It looked like the Prairies...

This is a lay-bye where you can stop and rest. The sign behind says "Disclaimer. This is a wild animal area and you are stopping at your own risk." OK...

We made a stop in Kasane at the medical clinic. What trip would be complete without a visit to the doctor? Jim had been having pretty serious nosebleeds due to the dryness and using his cannula for his oxygen was only making it worse. Two others in our group saw the doctor as well, so we didn't feel like we were holding everyone up. The doctor was great and, with a visit to the pharmacy, we were all set to go.

I found this on the wall in the clinic. Divide by 10 and you'll get an approximate price.

Time for a roadside lunch. We had left Ganny behind in Zimbabwe and Manuel and Mbusi found us a shady spot to set up for lunch. This vehicle was designed by Jenman especially for safaris of this type with 10-12 participants.

And then we would all pitch in...hmm...wait a minute, the women would all pitch in. Love you, guys!

Here we are arriving at our next camp, the Nata Lodge.

So, the shower routine went like this. It was too cold and too early to shower in the mornings, so we would normally shower when we got back from our game drives before going to dinner. We only had time to deposit our bags in our room as Manuel wanted to take us to the bird sanctuary. No shower yet...

The lovely pool which was heated, but no one had a chance to try as we rushed past...

The drive to the sanctuary was like a washboard and we were already tired having driven 600 km that day. There were supposed to be flamingos, pelicans, and other birds, but there wasn't a bird in sight. However, there was a breathtaking sunset.

No comments on hair, please, anywhere in this blog. It was bloody hot and most times we had hats stuck on our heads.

Sister Wives at sunset...

It was gorgeous and peaceful...Manuel had a cooler and we all enjoyed a beverage and were happy that we had come to the birdless sanctuary!

Our group photo! Manuel and Mbusi in the middle...

And that was a lovely ending to a long day...

We had a dinner reservation, so there was no time for a shower before dinner. Hopefully tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Elephants Roar in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

The route we will be taking on our safari is outlined in orange. We're starting on the top right in Zimbabwe, working our way across Botswana, up to the tip of Namibia on the left, back into Botswana, and back to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Today we were driving from Victoria Falls to Elephant's Eye Lodge in the Hwange National Park.

Our first stop was the bank. We found out we will need Pula for Botswana. As the currency in Zimbabwe is the $US, we thought we could get away with that and credit cards, but that won't work in some of the smaller camps we'll be visiting. Loved this sculpture outside the bank called "Playing with Mom."

This was our road vehicle until we got to camp where we would change to an open-air land cruiser. Our drive for today was 190 km.

Women are trained from an early age to balance things on their head. It does lead to neck problems later in life.

We saw many of these trees with "balls" on the side. They apparently are always on the west side of the tree, so if you're ever lost, it can act as a compass.

Elephant's Eye is a lodge owned by Jenman Safaris, the group we were touring with. We would be there for 3 nights.

Everything is done with conservation in mind. Even the paper in the room was recycled. There are currently 8 tents; we were in No. 2 "Hippo Flower" looking out at No. 9, the waterhole.

The staff was wonderful. There wasn't anything they didn't do for you with a smile. We were met with a refreshing drink.

I fell in love with the paintings. We would have liked to bring something home, but tried to remember our motto of "admire and move on."

The reading area where we were given a quick overview of the property.

Manuel, our guide, made his way to the bar area. We noticed that many of the local men are big Coke drinkers. The area above the bar had a lounger and chairs for an elevated view of the grasslands.

This is what the tents look like. They were beautiful and very spacious. Three nights here was going to be a pleasure.

I did a quick video of the accommodations...

Looking out at the waterhole we could see some animals and, with the binoculars, we figured out they were baboons.

Jim is looking pretty content...

We were told to stay on the path, but it was a long way around to get to the dining area. We figured at night we would stick to the rules, but hop the fence during the day. Barb was game. This so reminded me of a picture I took of her in India!

The dining area on the left, bar in the middle and the reading/relaxing area on the right. It really is a beautiful lodge.

Ready for lunch...Pat, one of the New Zealanders (who we will now affectionately refer to as the Kiwis), introduced me to Savannah Dry Cider. Oooh...loved it!

The pool, which was quite cool, but lovely.

That night we enjoyed the campfire and a beverage while we waited to be called to dinner.

The sunset is early and beautiful...

When we got back from dinner, the mosquito netting was ready for us. Over the course of the safari, we had many different types of netting. Some we never figured out how to arrange and gave up on. Others, like this, were pretty straightforward.

We slept well and the next morning were up very early for our first game drive. It was a chilly 8 degrees and we ate a cold breakfast outside. Brrrr...

The sun came up quickly and we hopped into our new vehicle. The Kiwis were smart and came prepared with toques, gloves and fairly heavy jackets. Driving 50 km/hr in 10 degree weather in an open air vehicle is very chilly. I thought we would never warm up, but by noon hour everyone was shedding their outer layers.

On the way to the resort the day before, Manuel had told us the story of Cecil the lion being killed in Hwange National Park by an American dentist. It caused a huge international uproar, but really was hardly on anyone's radar in Zimbabwe other than the safari companies. Cecil was so accustomed to vehicles in the reserve that he would come very close to them, which was a huge draw for tourists. Manuel said he was almost like a pet. Manuel was very firm in his story that the dentist did nothing wrong (other than wanting to kill a lion in the first place, in my opinion). He paid $50,000 US and trusted the guides to make sure that everything was done correctly. Sad story...

This railway is the boundary for the reserve, and is part of the straightest stretch of railway in Africa at 114 miles. The animals don't know it's the boundary and will quite often be seen outside the reserve.

Our first close up sighting of animals...these are sable antelopes, which are herbivores. They are most at risk from lions, leopards, hyenas and crocodiles.

This large bird is the Southern Ground Hornbill. They have a long life expectancy, feed on reptiles, frogs, and insects, and rarely drink.

Ooohhh...our first elephant herd, the first of many. We learned a lot about elephants and a lot about elephant dung. They only digest about 40% of their food, so their dung is used by other small animals who eat the undigested parts, including seeds.

They stared at us and we stared at them...

They are very protective of the babies and will often encircle them. Elephants eat up to 5% of their body weight in food every day. If they don't have food for a week during the dry season, the older and weaker ones will die.

This elephant was very upset when we came between him and the rest of the herd on the other side of the road. The first time he bellowed, I almost jumped out of my seat. It was so loud! And he isn't even that big by elephant standards.

Our first look at the impala. They are known as the McDonalds of Africa because of the M on their bums.

Here we are the park offices...still not quite warm enough to shed the hoodies.

I believe this is a steenbok, a common small antelope. They are typically solitary, except when they come together to mate.

Another of the "ball" trees with a termite mound in the background...these became a point of interest as well. Some of the mounds are huge.


Another steenbok...look at the beautiful ears.

A wildebeest...they are considered one of the Ugly Five.

We stopped at this observation tower, which overlooks a waterhole.

Washrooms! They weren't the cleanest, but they weren't a bush or a tree.

Hippos in the waterhole. They are semi aquatic and are very unpredictable and aggressive making them one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.

Wildebeest and zebras co-existing...

Other vehicles arrived and the tower became quite crowded. That is Ganny, our local guide, coming with some coffee and muffins. Mmmm...breakfast was a long time ago. In each park, we would have a local guide, as well as Manuel, our safari guide.

This reminded me of a scene from the Lion King...a wildebeest, carcass bones and a crocodile.

Back in the vehicle, Ganny and Manuel spotted a lion in the distance...

This lion appeared to be on a mission, so we stopped by the side of the road and watched...

He was tracking a warthog, who didn't appear to notice he was on the lion's radar...yet.

The lion would stop and lay down and then get up and start walking again...

And was soon joined by some friends. It wasn't looking good for the warthog. All of a sudden they took off running and so did the warthog. Last we saw, the warthog had escaped and that's what I want to believe happened.

This is a pale billed hornbill...I think!

Our first look (of many) at kudu...loved the distinctive stripes on their bodies. They are rarely seen in the open and use bushes and thicket as camouflage.

A beautiful zebra...look at its mane. How could you not take a picture (or three) of every one you saw?

We were all watching for wildlife, but it was usually Ganny or Manuel who spotted them. Actually Sue, one of the Kiwis, had great eyes as well. Giraffes lurking in the background...sometimes it was just plain hard to pick them out of the surroundings.

Looking pretty pleased with ourselves!

They were curious...

Look at the birds on the kudu. They live in harmony as the birds pick the bugs off them.

Works on zebras as well...

A snacking giraffe...

Males can be distinguished from females by their horns (ossicones). The males are normally bald on top and the females have hair.

I'm no help...they all looked bald to me!

We stopped for lunch at the Kennedy camp site. You are allowed to camp at certain spots in Hwange and this is one of them. It has a few facilities including some shelter from the sun. Manuel and Ganny made us lunch. I can't remember what it was; most lunches were basic, but good.

Another termite let's talk about those!

"These dome- or tower-like structures can be taller than a person. They are made from particles of soil and termite excrement glued together with salivary secretions. Some species build mound-like nests on the sides of stumps, trees or poles.

The typical mound has multiple chimneys and tubes that allow air to circulate through the structure. The inner layers of the mound contain galleries in which the termites live and raise young. The king and queen usually live deep inside the mound, where they are well protected from predators and the elements. Some mound-building termites are gardeners. They use underground galleries to grow symbiotic fungi.

Termite mounds are strong -- they can survive fires and floods, although water can enter the inner chambers through the ventilation shafts and drown the termites inside. Concealed nests also offer termites protection from weather and predators. But neither type of nest is invulnerable. Animals like aardvarks, anteaters and pangolins have strong claws that allow them to dig into termite nests. Birds, bats, primates and even people also use termites as a food source. This is one reason why termites play an important part in many ecosystems--they act as food for other animals."

Nature is amazing...

Some skulls left's the circle of life.

We left the picnic site and came upon this huge herd of African buffalo, one of the Big 5. The Kiwis are sheep farmers so we left it to them to count. I think they estimated several hundred.

This herd of elephants was close to the waterhole and you could see them start to move more quickly once they were near the water. They were drinking and splashing water and mud on themselves. Elephants drink about 200 L of water a day.

This guy in the video just wanted to be alone. He was in the waterhole first and, when the others came along, he moved off to a small hole of his own. You can hear how quiet we were trying to be.

And then he was happy...

These giraffes made a perfect duo...

We arrived back at the observation tower as we were leaving the park. Washrooms! Ganny waiting for us to get back on board...

These school children arrived. Loved the bright colours...note the guard with the gun.

The hippos were out of the water now...

And baboons were out in full force...

Along with a couple of ostrich...

See that vehicle leaving in the distance? The baboon couldn't wait to see what they had thrown in the garbage.

A perfect ending to our animal-filled day. This is a beautiful lilac-breasted roller. We would get pretty excited whenever we spotted one of these. Half the time we couldn't remember the name, so it would simply be a call of " of those blue birds!"

What an amazing was long, but we saw so much. Lions and elephants and giraffes and zebras, oh my! Tomorrow we'll spend another day in Hwange, before heading on to Botswana.