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 mound...so 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 behind...it'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 "Look...one of those blue birds!"

What an amazing day...it 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.

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