Safari April 2016 ~ Day Four

Experience had now helped me to reach the conclusion that when Craig asked me “Are you awake?”, what he was really saying was “Wake up!”

It was a 05:15 start as we had to be up and vacate our tents so that the camp staff could dismantle the camp and move everything to a new location and set up a new camp.

Despite the earlier than normal start, I was yet again first to the breakfast table. As I tucked into cornflakes, toast and honey, and wonderful coffee, the sound of the quintet of lions roaring loudly carried through the still morning air.

As we ate, and listened to the lions, the camp was already being dismantled. Soon all that was left, was us and the dining table. The previous evening, the dining tent canopy had been packed away in preparation for the big move, so we had dined underneath the stars. Breakfast was therefor also enjoyed underneath the stars, although the first hints of daylight were appearing in the eastern sky.

We clambered into our two vehicles ready for another day in the Delta. N’cosie headed off in one direction and Shadrack in another, both in an attempt to find the five lions. I was onboard the vehicle being driven by Shadrack who towed behind a trailer carrying all our luggage. We were so close to the lions that the air reverberated to the sound of their roars. Suddenly, we heard a great commotion in the bush and Shadrack swung the Landcruiser (and trailer) off the track. He picked the best route he could through the trees and scrub bushes heading in the direction of the disturbance.

The noise was coming from buffalo, and after a few hundred metres we found them – a herd of a hundred plus. We stopped and Shadrack switched the engine off as the herd moved clumsily and noisily through the undergrowth. The were very restless and not very happy about our presence and close proximity. For ten minutes we watched them as they grazed, grunted, farted and intermittently giving us the evil eye stare.

Three buffalo looking out of the scrub

Buffalo watching us, watching them

Then, as if by some given signal, the whole herd turned and headed back the way they had come. The fact that we could still hear the lions roaring was an indication that they were not in hunting mode and probably, they buffalo were aware of that as well.

We withdrew back to the track and drove in the direction the buffalo herd was moving in. About 400 metres down the track we encountered two black backed jackals. We stopped to watch them and then the buffalo emerged from the trees into a more open area. Once again, we left the track and headed cross country to intercept the herd. The scene was one of great activity as several of the bulls were in full mating mode and were attempting to mount any cow they could.

Not all the cows were as enthusiastic as the bulls and would barge their way through the herd in an effort to escape from unwanted advances. This gave rise to a rather chaotic scene with moments of complete mayhem. Their behaviour explained the rumpus and noises that had alerted us to the herd’s presence in the first place.

Buffalo disdain

We watched and were entertained by the antics of the herd for about half an hour, by which time our nostrils had completely overdosed on the pungent smell of buffalo dung. We crossed back to the track and set off in search of our new campsite, and more importantly, fresh air.

As we drove along, Shadrack would stop the vehicle every now and then and show us the animal and bird tracks in the dirt road and tell us about the creatures that had made them.

Leopard Track

As he drove along he would lean over the side of the drivers door, checking the ground for anything of interest. We, (he) found a leopard track crossing the road but it was not fresh. But excitement levels went up when he found the tracks of African Wild Dogs… and these were fresh, very fresh.

We turned down a side-track towards a swamp area but disappointingly found no trace of the dogs. We returned to the main track and after about half a mile or so, we found the other vehicle with four wild dogs standing beside it. N’cosie had seen the dog’s tracks, stopped and mimicked the call the dogs use to locate each other in the bush. The dogs heard the call and immediately emerged from the bush, onto the track to investigate.

Wild dog standing on sandy road

African Wild Dog

It was a great sight to see. African Wild Dogs are one of the most endangered carnivores in Africa and I felt very privileged indeed to see them. Having established that there was no other dogs about the four slipped back into the bushes, vanishing almost immediately such was the effectiveness of their camouflaged coats. N’cosie made the call again and as quickly as they had vanished, the dogs re-emerged onto the track. This time, they only appeared for a few moments and were gone. A third call from N’cosie was completely ignored. African Wild Dogs are not daft.

As we approached the Moremi reserve, the clouds closed in and soon we felt the first drops of rain. We stopped the vehicles and donned rain proof smocks before continuing towards the gates to the reserve. Under the shelter of the gatehouse, we had a packed lunch of beef wraps with a side dish of grated carrot, pineapple and sultanas… delicious.

With the rain still tipping down we took a slow drive towards our new camp. We were in no rush as the camp staff would still be busily getting our tents erected, organising bush showers, digging long drop toilets, starting the camp fire and all the other jobs that went into making our trip as comfortable as possible.

We stopped for half an hour to watch a troop of vervet monkeys and some impala dealing with the rain. Further on, we found more impala and a solitary bull elephant

Young Vervet Monkey on branch

Young Vervet Monkey

About an hour before sunset we arrived at our new base. The tents were set beside the banks of a river under a canopy of tall, mature trees. The staff were waiting to greet us with iced tea, waves, cheers and smiles.

Craig and I identified our tent and we trampled down the long grass, past a large termite mound as we made our way to our home for the next four nights. I had spotted, about 300metres from the camp, a viewpoint on the track which gave great reflections of the camp in the waters of the river. I sought out Shadrack and asked him if it would be okay for me to walk back up the track to that spot and take some photographs. In a firm voice he replied “No – It is much too dangerous!”

I was disappointed, but it was Shadrack’s call and I resigned myself to staying within the confines of the camp area.

Colourful sunset sky

Camp Sunset

As the sun went down, the staff were putting out oil lamps around the camp. I took the chance to take a few photographs of the sunset. I then joined Craig for a seat under the porch at the front of our tent. Craig was reading his book and I was passing the time until dinner by writing up my journal under the light of my head torch. Other members of our group were starting to gather around the campfire in preparation for a drink before dinner.

I was aware that my head torch was starting to attract various flying insects, from tiny buzzing flies all the way up to close relatives of the helicopter. I decided it was time to put some insect repellent on and rose from my chair.

I unzipped the door to the tent, stepped inside and quickly zipped the door closed behind me. As I picked up my bag and started to rummage for the repellent, I heard someone shouting.

“Get in the tent! Get in the tent… and close the zip. Get in the tent!”

With that, Craig unzipped the door, charged in with amazing speed for a man of his size, and rezipped the door closed again.

“There’s a lion in the camp!” he said.

We both rushed to the mesh window at the side of the tent and pressed our faces up against it peering outside. Staring straight back in at us, illuminated in the light from our head torches, was a male lion. It was about 4 metres from us. We confirmed that distance the next morning and he could have covered that distance in one bound.

We could hear Shadrack’s voice shouting at us to stay in the tent. If ever there was a needless comment, that was it. Every hair on my body was as erect as its ever been and my heart rate qualified for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

One of the camp staff had been busy preparing dinner and had seen not one but two lions next to our vehicles. He called on Shadrack and N’cosie and the ensuing commotion made the lions slink back into the woods behind the camp. One of the lions was male and the other female. Both were about two and a half years old. The female made her way deeper into the woods and circumnavigated the camp at a safe distance. But the male was much more inquisitive and attempted to cross right through the camp area. The guides thought they had chased them away when he disappeared into the wood. But he sneaked back and emerged beside my tent.

Craig and I, at this time, were blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding at the other end of the camp. Shadrack was working his way around the camp trying to see where the male lion had gone. As he shone his torch around, he spotted the lion standing about 5 metres behind where Craig was sitting and where I had been about 90 seconds earlier.

An indication of where the lion was in relation to where we sat at the front of the tent.

It took about twenty minutes for the lions to be considered far enough away for it to safe for us to come out of our tent. We made our way, very warily, over to the campfire where most of the other guest were gathered.

I was asked if I would like a drink. If ever there was a pointless question, that was it. Although in lieu of a drink, I would have happily accepted Imodium.

Dinner passed nervously, but without incident. Beef stir fry and rice, followed by lychee and custard… and another drink, or two.

As I climbed into my camp bed that night, I had no doubt that my dreams would be dominated by lions.

Advanced Jungle Formula

To be continued…

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