It’s January 2002 and …


It’s Monday 7th and Crocodile Man!

Happy New Year!

It’s the start of a new year and Zambia has a new President! The ruling party’s candidate was returned to office, and The Hon. Mr. Levy P. Mwanawasa was recently inaugurated as President of the Republic of Zambia. There was some uncertainty in Lusaka when a high voter turnout lead to a delay in announcing the election result. Everything has now returned to normal. We are very pleased to have this election result behind us and can look forward to the nation returning to business as usual.

Back in the bushes, the 2001 season’s last guests departed Nkwali on Thursday. Simon, Shanie and Keyala wasted little time in packing up the camp – quite a big task as you can imagine! Keyala, Daudi, Jacob and Paul leave today with Marcus returning home to Kitwe tomorrow. Simon and Shanie will load up the truck and wave farewell tomorrow morning on the start of their journey to Durban. Along the way they will visit friends in Lusaka, Livingstone and Johannesburg. They are planning a wonderful holiday which includes relaxing in South Africa, visiting friends in the UK and skiing in Italy!

So from tomorrow Nkwali will be a very quiet place indeed – Sara, Matthew, Kevin and I will be entertaining each other over the coming two months. Over this period we shall take our own annual holidays and Jo and Robin will return to plan for the season ahead. The rains are a truly special time here – everything is lush and green, the river is flowing fast and the birds are singing. And we have Nkwali all to ourselves in which to enjoy it!!!

The year certainly commenced on an adventurous note. Marcus decided to fulfill a lifelong ambition and catch a crocodile with his bare hands!!

Heading out of camp in the Hearse on Friday night to have dinner with other Valley locals, Shanie, Kevin and I came across Simon and Marcus stopped in the middle of the road. As we came closer we could see that Marcus was holding a young one metre-long croc!! I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me as I’d only had two Mosi before we left camp (and I wasn’t driving!!).

Simon was on the floor howling with laughter. He said that they saw this croc moving across the road and stopped the vehicle. Before Simon could say a word Marcus leapt out of the car and shouted “I have got to have it!” before darting off into the bush in hot pursuit of the terrified reptile. He grabbed it by the tail, behind the back legs, and it promptly turned around and bit him on both hands! Marcus eventually managed to secure it by the back of the head and brought it out to show us all. Unfortunately by now he was bleeding profusely from his wounds but the glint in Marcus’ eye showed that he thought it was all well worthwhile!! He soon let the bemused, blood-splattered crocodile go and it scrambled off quickly into the bush. We are pleased for Marcus that he has achieved a certain (if not very bizarre) goal in life, at the start of a new year! He is now sporting a some very macho scars and received jab in the arm with a tetanus booster for his efforts!

Sara and Matthew took Sara’s parents, Bud and Marie and younger sister, Rachel, out on a very eventful nightdrive recently. They were near the airstrip inside the Park and came across 3 lioness feeding on a warthog by the side of the road. On the other side of the road and trying to get a piece of the action were about 8 hyena, whooping all the while. There was one lion cub at the kill and one of the lioness knocked it out of the way so that they could feed first. Sara said that it was possible there were other cubs hidden inside a nearby bush because the hyenas were starting to get very close to it. Suddenly one lioness went to chase the hyena away from the bush. Another lioness went to her assistance and then the cub near the kill started following her. The hyena then started to close in on the little cub! They stood no chance – mother lion collected her cub and took her back to the third lioness at the kill and the other lioness chased the hyenas away, once and for all!

On the same gamedrive they saw a puku alarm-calling. It scattered from the area and as the group drove on a male lion was spotted behind a bush, on the hunt! The also saw 2 giant eagle owl take a mouse and fly off into a tree, they counted about 14 genet and saw a python by the side of the road. They also watched a crocodile feeding in a lagoon. Lots of action during the rains!

Until next week, we hope you are all enjoying a great start to the new year!

Cheers
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 14th and no title!

As is the way at this time of year, the exodus continues with the past week seeing the seasonal migration of many of the crew. Your regular correspondent Jeffrey and Kevin having also fled for drier climes on their respective annual leaves yesterday. Thus a process of natural attrition has brought me out of my semi-retirement to pen this week’s epistle from the bush.

With only Sara and myself here, together with a small number of the camp and workshop staff, Nkwali suddenly takes on a different feel. Normally the home to so much laughter and joviality, a slightly eerie quiet has descended, punctuated only by the calls of the cuckoos, a fish eagle and the grunts of hippos.

Having said that, it has been a busy past week with much frenetic activity in camp closing, last minute bag packing and general celebration. Last Wednesday saw our Annual Staff End of Year Party. Owing to the staggered closing of the camps, we have in the past held smaller parties for the different camp teams but it was decided this year to stage one bigger event for all the guys. We commandeered Daudi’s Bar “Cool Runnings” for the evening and supplied:- a) transport, b) entertainment, c) food, d) beverages and e) paracetamol as required!

Management and Guides were tasked with looking after the bar and serving the guys with their meals, whereafter an impromptu dancing competition was held amidst much general merriment and some falling over. Aron, one of Nkwali’s Kitchen Assistants was deemed the winner for his most creative interpretation of a traditional dance! All in all, a great success and a fun evening.

Giraffe and ImpalaLast Friday also saw us out and about quite late. Flatdogs Camp was holding it’s last Friday night for the season so the majority of those left in the Valley were in attendance. On the way there, we happened upon a simple yet wholly satisfying sighting – a journey of giraffe together with some zebras, an Impala nursery group and a troop of baboons all gathered in a small area of lush, lush grass quietly going about their business. While not possibly as dramatic a sighting as some regaled during the course of this season, their close proximity to each other all within a photo frame, the evening light striking their contrasting skins against the backdrop of ominious clouds made a powerful impression. However, there was a further surprise in store later.

When we arrived back at camp and retired to the house a little after midnight, my attention was drawn to the cat (the most alert “Guard- Dog” I have ever encountered) behaving in a very cautious manner – her hackles raised and emitting a low growl. In the past when we have seen this behaviour, a glance outside with the torch has confirmed a civet or hyena passing the windows and on occasion a leopard. However, I grabbed for the trusty maglite and looked through the mozzie gauze to reveal an Aardvark not 10 metres from the window!

My animated squeals of excitement and unintelligible banter brought an ever alert Sara running to my side armed with the Savlon and the “Snake Doctor” an electric shock device – she thought I had been stung by a scorpion!

We then sat and watched this extraordinary creature for no more than a minute before it was lost to the undergrowth. The best term I can use to describe it’s actions was to say it was “snuffling” – probing the ground with it’s bizarre snout, inhaling, sneezing, moving on – possibly akin to a pig hunting truffles in a French woodland. Our only frustration in happening upon such a sighting? The fact there are no guides around to whom we can gloat!

Have a good week

Matthew

It’s Monday 21st and the Nest Raiding Boomslang

Another week passes in this green and damp valley. We have had plenty of rain and the river is high.

One of the treats of being here at this time of year is for us office boffins to be “allowed out” as it were and enjoy our lunch each day at the bar. Last Thursday we were doing exactly that when we heard alarmed chattering coming from a combretum bush very nearby. We went to investigate and found a pair of terrestrial bulbuls clearly distressed and darting amidst the thicket. Closer inspection revealed a 4ft boomslang sinuously en route to the bulbuls nest. We watched helpless as the bulbuls put up a valiant defence both launching unrelenting attacks at the snake simultaneously. At one point, the boomslang reared and struck at one of the bulbuls – causing it to spiral some 9 feet to the ground where it hopped around and into the thicket, it’s right wing hanging damaged and limp.

Sadly, this performance was not sufficient to deter the snake from it’s objective – the fledgling bulbul in the nest which it proceeded to strike and consume. Satiated, the boomslang moved into the higher canopy of the combretum and was gone.

Our attention then turned to the injured adult bulbul and fearing the worst we inspected the bush to see what was happening. We were both therefore surprised and delighted to find it on a low perch, calling to it’s partner and in due course, it returned to the nest seemingly none the worst for wear. We can only hypothesise that the bird had intentionally feigned it’s injury in an vain attempt to lure the boomslang from its prize.

I am sure that mention has been made before of the 100 Club – a loose grouping of valley residents who head out each Saturday morning during the rains on birding trips. The idea is, the vehicle does not head for home before clocking 100 birds either by call or visual identification. This may seem like hard work to some but going out with such knowledgeable birders is both an abject lesson in humility and an awakening in terms of the acquisition of knowledge. Neither Sara or myself would count ourselves as twitchers but we greatly enjoy the experience and the value of time spent in such company.

Our trip on Saturday morning saw us around the all weather road network around Big Baobab, Zebra loop and a very wet Lupunga Spur, and it is around the shallow ponds that have formed that so much activity takes place. Notable sightings and calls (for me at any rate) were Cape and Meyers Parrots, Diederik Cuckoo oft heard but not seen, a hidden pair of Thrush Nightingales in full chorus clearly hell bent on outsinging each other, an uncommon Reed Cormorant and a handful of galinules and broad billed rollers for sheer colour and exuberance!

The other refreshing aspect of a birding trip is that your attention is drawn above ground throughout so any mammals such as the Marsh Mongoose you do encounter come as a bit of bonus. We again found the small pride of 4 lioness’ with the cubs Jeffrey mentioned recently though could not confirm the number of cubs nor their condition as they were well covered in thick bush. The 3 females clearly visible were languishing on the roadside and were doing exactly what lions do for some much of their time – absolutely diddly, barely managing to bat an eyelid to us!

Enjoy your week.

Matthew

It’s Monday 28th and the Return of “He whom must be obeyed!”

No It’s Monday would be complete at this time of year without reference to… you guessed it – the river and the rainfall!

Let’s get it out of the way then shall we? January has been the wettest month since Feb 1998 with 13 wet days dropping a total of 264mm of rainfall for the month to date. However, the river level has dropped dramatically – obviously rainfall further upstream has not been as heavy as at Nkwali.

Last Tuesday saw a flying visit by the veritable Mr Robin Pope who is with us for a 5 day “Bush Breather.” For him, I am sure a return to normalcy in between bouts of trudging the endless ministerial corridors of Lusaka – a vital undertaking at this time of year renewing contacts in the Big Smoke, at Zambia Wildlife Authority headquarters and the relevant ministries.

However, both he and Jo spent some time over Christmas and New Years in Tanzania before Jo headed to South Africa to enrol in the flying school to get her PPL.

Have a great week and I now hand you over to Robin to take up the story…..

Cheers
Matthew

“We have just returned from a most satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable Christmas Escape to Central and Northern Zanzibar, and then on to the north of Pemba Island – all part of the Union of Tanzania. My favourite places being Stone Town for the atmosphere, the nooks and crannies, and also the north west of the island for it’s accommodation although simple, wonderful white coral sand, blue blue seas and delicious seafood.

A comfortable, quiet, fast (1 hour) crossing by large Russian made high speed ferry connects Zanzibar to the island of Pemba.

Pemba Island is quite similar but with much more luxurious forests with it’s resident Red Columbus Monkeys and Flying Foxes. We also enjoyed some good scuba diving and snorkelling. We stayed on moored ocean going yachts in the middle of a huge bay. While these ketches are not brilliantly comfortable (even for bush wanderers such as us!) with lots of cupboards and compartments to bang your heads on or stub your toes on cleats, bollards etc, the wonderful views from onboard more than made up for it. That and being able to snorkel just over the side. Overall, a very relaxing break.

Meanwhile, back to the green jungle of Nkwali. The Luangwa River has again woken up and on my arrival was 3/4 full but has now fallen to just under 1/2 full. Today, we have crystal clear skies – the first for 5 days and late afternoon yesterday, the river and opposite banks was bathed in glorious champagne colours.

Having spoken to Jo, she reports that she is doing very well in the theory and examinations parts of the course and has successfully gone solo. Today she will be doing her solo spins which sound rather horrific but she will feel more confident afterwards. I believe we all will.

The baboons are getting the hairy eyeball for stealing some prized apples from the office yesterday and last night, a pair of leopards called to each other, one as it circuited past Matthew and Sara’s house through camp and up past my house very close by, the other calling from behind the workshops. At 2.15am, the moon was clear and bright, however the leopards were not spotted in the dappled light.”

Best wishes to all for 2002
Robin

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