Safari April 2016 ~ Day Three

Camping Safari Day 3

The noises of the bush do not allow you to sleep in for breakfast. But at some point, through the night – I have no idea what time – a hyena came to call – literally!

I was awakened from my slumbers by the hyena, right outside my tent, suddenly erupting with a series of calls that fell somewhere between a bark, a scream, a howl, a roar, and hysterical laughter. The noise shattered the night, as well as my nerves. I listened intently, with my head propped up by the hairs on the back of my neck. Snuffling noises came from the front of the tent. This, I convinced myself, was the sound of a hyena trying to undo the zip of the door. The noises moved slightly further away and then faded as the hyena disappeared off into the night. For some time, I lay there with my ears on full alert before drifting back into a rather nervous sleep.

Breakfast was at 05:45 and, once again, I was first to the dining table, keen to get started on another day in the Delta’s bush.

About 06:30 we headed out of camp for our first game drive of the day. We made our way around the same tracks that we had been following since our arrival in the area. Impala, zebra, waterbuck and kudu were all prevalent.

Zebra and foal relaxing


Shadrack answered a call on the VHF radio from N’cosie in the other vehicle, and then set off with great purpose. We found N’cosie parked up beside a hyena den which had been excavated in and around the roots of an ancient tree. At first, we couldn’t see what the others were looking at and then, there they were… two ears. Moments later the head belonging to the ears appeared. It was a young spotted hyena pup. He was beautiful.

The Shy Hyena Cub

Hyena house rules dictate that the youngsters must not leave the den whilst the adults are away hunting or terrifying people in tents, and this young lad was being very obedient. We saw no more than his head as he studied us with great interest. Shadrack switched the engine on and off again to see if the cub would react, but without success. Lunch time was approaching, and we had to return to camp. Just as Shadrack started to pull away from the hyena den the cub partially emerged giving us a glimpse of his shoulders and part of his torso. Shadrack spotted this out of the corner of his eye and immediately stopped again. As quickly as Shadrack stopped, the hyena cub ducked back down into the den and disappeared.

After lunch and the half bucket shower experience, seven of us went walk-about under the care of N’cosie. He was armed with a large calibre hunting rifle with rounds that resembled anti-aircraft ammunition.  On bush-walk we were instructed to walk in single file behind N’cosie. The reason for this is, if you should unexpectedly come across an animal, you pose much less of a threat than a group of people spread out over a wide area. I thought it a good idea more from the point of view that I would be well behind the man with the gun.

N’cosie our Bush-Walk Guide

Before setting off we were given a quick lesson on bush-walk hand signals. These included gestures which would tell us to stop, be quiet, crouch down, back away slowly, etc. I noted that there was no signal for ‘Run!’

We spent an hour or so walking quietly through the bush where we had heard lions and hyena calling. Some of the first of many tracks we found were those of a leopard. Despite the undoubted presence of large predators, impala and zebra were the only thing we came across.

Impala herd

Safely back in camp, and after a cuppa, we boarded the vehicles and set off to find the lions that we had all heard roaring. A call came over the radio to say that they had been located. When we arrived at the scene there were four other vehicles present. The lions, five young males, were sound asleep under a bush.

There were three brothers and two of their younger half-brothers. Between them they formed a coalition that was just about ready to make a powerful bid to take over the local territory.

Gradually, as the sun started to set, the lions woke up with great yawns and big stretches. One by one they stirred, looking particularly sleepy. As someone who is not great at wakening up, I could relate to some of the behaviour displayed by these deadly, carnivorous predators. One lifted his head and looked around before the effort became too much for him and he flopped back down again. It was undoubtedly the lion equivalent of saying, “I’ll just have another five minutes.”

Waking up to the sunset

In perfect evening light they slowly got to their feet and made their way down to some nearby water to drink. Thirst quenched; they started to make their way towards some thick bush. The two youngest lions took a few minutes to lay down beside one another and have a cuddle and a roll on the ground. Then, when they realised the other three had disappeared into the bush, they got back to their feet and followed, just as the sun slipped below the horizon.

Brotherly Love

As the darkness of the night set in we switched on the search light and our hunt for nocturnal creatures commenced. Out first sighting was of a huge bull elephant who, despite his enormous size, was really difficult to pick out in the gloom. We could hear the lions roaring not far away, and then suddenly, there was a great commotion in an area of thick scrub and bush no more than a hundred metres away. At first, we thought the bull elephant and lions had crossed paths, but the eventual consensus was that the five younger lions were simply broadcasting their presence to the two much older resident males. The rumpus in the bush was coming from two male elephants having a set-to, and in the process destroying all the trees and bushes around about them.

Even though we couldn’t see what was going on, it was an amazing experience to sit there in the darkness just listening to all the night’s drama unfold around us.

By the beam of the searchlight we encountered hyena, kudu, impala, a genet, and just as we neared the camp, we found two ostriches settled down for the night. With their bodies lost in the long grass, they looked like two periscopes popping up out of the ground, watching our progress as we came down the track.

Dinner by oil lamp was of roast kumara and breaded pork fillets, followed by sponge cakes and a few drinks and a chat around the camp fire.

Our Camp Fire

My head filled with all the wonderful sights and sounds of the day, I made my way over to my tent, serenaded by the most amazing singing from the frogs by the river. As I crawled into my camp bed I wondered why my large tent mate had such a tiny bladder and how many times he would have to empty it through the night.

Or en-suite facilities consisted of the bucket shower, a toilet seat over a long drop toilet, a trowel and bucket of ash from the campfire, which was used to ‘flush’ the long drop after use, a small table with mirror and wash bowl, and a metal bucket for peeing into. The en-suite was screened off for privacy and accessed via a zipped door at the rear of the tent.

During the night, when my companion’s walnut sized bladder had reached capacity, he would check to see if I was awake, by asking me. He would then get out of bed, switch on his head torch with a beam as bright as the Bellrock Lighthouse, and unzip the back door to the tent. Zzzzzzzzipp.

He would then step out into the en-suite, turn around and close the door to keep insects out. Zzzzzzzzipp.

He would then pee into the metal bucked, thereby converting it into an amplified percussion instrument. In the still air of the African night, I’m sure there were many creatures who stopped in their tracks and cowered, terrified by this unearthly racket reverberating through the darkness of the Okavango Delta.

Bladder empty, he would then unzip the door, Zzzzzzzzipp, step into the tent, turn around and… Zzzzzzzzipp the door closed.

Safely back in bed, the Bellrock Light would be extinguished.

Three times nightly he performed this ritual. Usually, by the third time, I was laying there wondering if I should hit him over the head with a heavy object and leave him outside for the lions and hyenas to dispose of.

Night Time Percussion Instrument

To be continued…

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