It’s July 2002 and …

It’s Monday 1st and moonlight action

BaobabIt’s hard to write about anything other than gameviewing related activities at the moment…it has all been rather spectacular! However I will start by saying that Robin came across one of the biggest baobab trees he’s ever seen in the South Luangwa! He was up along the Mupamadzi River this week to survey the road leading into our walking mobile camps and to site a new camp – Camp 4! A fourth campsite will simply provide alternatives (eg more shade in warmer months). This baobab tree overlooks the Lundu Plain on the southern side of the Mupamadzi River. It measured 26.5 metres in diameter with an enormous room in the centre! There were 3 extrusive beehives attached to the tree – keeping guard over it and preventing anyone from getting too close. It was a very impressive sight!

Robin said that along the Mupamadzi there were lots of buffalo and lion tracks. He saw eland and lots of small game in the area. Simon comes out of the area this afternoon from his first walking safari for the year – an update will surely follow next week!

A brilliant moonlit week at Tena Tena with Ross spotting 13 leopard in 11 night drives! On Saturday night Ross and his troops were out admiring the sight of leopard hunting puku followed by 3 lion, 2 honey badgers digging in the sand, 3 porcupine, lots and lots of civet and genet and a Pel’s fishing owl to top it all off! On another occasion Robin, who has been spending the last few days up at Tena Tena, watched leopard hunting baboons!

LeopardI spent last weekend at Tena Tena with some Australian friends and one night as we were driving with Ross, my friend Robert was holding the spotlight whilst I made the comment in the back about how I would just love to see a leopard (having written about them frequently I decided that it was my turn!!). As though we were in the middle of a perfectly stage-managed performance, Robert’s spotlight fell on a stunning male leopard as he emerged from the bushes and began walking along the edge of a dry lagoon We sat admiring him pass in front of us until he disappeared from sight. Robert turned the spotlight back to where the male entered, stage left, and a female leopard then repeated the process and gracefully followed the same path as the male until she came to lie down under a large sausage tree. Quite a lovely sight to witness a mating pair. Five minutes later we came across those honey badgers digging once again!

The following morning, just behind Tena Tena, our vehicle swung around a large termite mound and arrived at the scene of mating lions in the middle of business. A first for me and all a bit much only after just one coffee in the morning!

Nsefu’s week has also been full of surprises. Lots of Pel’s Fishing Owl (Jason’s favourite!) including four spotted in one night. In camp last night he could clearly see a leopard on one side of the bar and six lion on the other!! I wonder if he then poured himself a double whisky?! My visit north last week also included Nsefu, my first visit for the year. This camp is such a gem – it just looks better every year and Jason & Buffy are doing a superb job.

Last year visitors will remember an enormous sandy beach that stretched a long way out from camp towards the bend in the river, a perfect spot to sit at the end of the day and watch the sun turn red over the horizon. It only took one rainy season to dispense with all of that! The river changed its course ever-so-slightly by moving the beach to the other side of the river, leaving a new vertical riverbank drop from the grass down to the water below where once there was a gradual decline onto the sand! My jaw dropped when I saw it! Didn’t take long to get over it with Buffy’s wonderful champagne and pate sundowner special – my Australian friends, fresh to Zambia, were quite literally breathless with the beauty of the Nsefu sunset experience!

Behind the scenes at Nkwali it has been another story altogether. There have been several occasions over the past week when Shanie has been unable to get the kitchen staff or the bedroom attendants to put duty first. For that matter, the entire population of Zambian staff at Nkwali showed a unanimous urge to down tools in the early afternoons! No, it wasn’t a potential industrial dispute – it was the World Cup! They all piled into the staff TV room to watch the semi-finals and then the great finale yesterday. I could often hear cries of delight or shame from afar as I kept the flag flying in the office!

So if you forever thought that we all sat here in the bush and sipped gin & tonics all day without any contact with the modern world then I’m sorry but I have just shattered that illusion! It’s true – our staff satellite television hides ‘out the back’, keeping us all up to date with what is happening out there. We do encourage our staff to watch the news – it keeps them up-to-date with main events so that they are ‘informed’ whilst up front with our guests. Even without the television the Nkwali guys would have found a way to hear the World Cup in action last week. Watching it on the big screen made it a lot more fun. And now that it is all over, the guys are smiling because Brazil has won and Shanie is delighted because everything is back to normal!!

Until next week – take care.

It’s Monday 8th and It’s Jo

It has been a long time since I have written to you. I have to say that Jeffrey’s writing is so good that I let him get on with it but today he is in Lilongwe, no doubt feeling pretty grotty after a huge party last night. So here I am.

I have been in the UK for a week to meet my new nephew, Mzuzu. He is only 7 weeks old and is the first of the next generation. With myself and two sisters, all in our forties (roaring? – I think not) you can imagine the delight of the family. I spent the week being “nanny” – feeding, burping, changing and cuddling which was a very different experience from my usual life. I have to say that I am totally in love with the wee boy and contemplated a change of career (to nanny that is, NOT mother!). But although I miss him it was wonderful to come back to the bush, sunshine and news of the gameviewing.

The weekend before going I took a few of the Valley managers to Bangweulu Swamps in my plane. We went for a marketing meeting and I thought it would be good to go somewhere away from our camps for a couple of nights. The Swamps are 45 mins flight from Mfuwe, across the Valley, over the escarpment and up onto the plateau. The low-lying basin containing Lake Bangweulu and its swamps receives the highest rainfalls in the country (1400 mm per annum). The seasonal swamps, a vast area, feed the lake. This is a unique place and the big draw card is the rare shoebill stork. Massive, blue-grey, with a huge flat bill the shoebill breeds in the papyrus beds here and nowhere else in Southern Africa. You have to paddle (well – to be honest be paddled) along narrow channels in the reed beds trying to spot these elusive birds. We found some after a few hours – and in the end had 9 sightings (probably 5 individual birds). Very exciting.

And the area has thousands of other birds – many not seen in the Luangwa Valley. An amazing birding place. The other extraordinarily sight is the huge herds of black lechwe. They are endemic to the area and herd in groups of up to a few thousand. With the flying we did over the swamps and the driving on the ground I estimate that we saw around 50,000 lechwe. Breathtaking. Oh yes – and buffalo, zebra, a herd of 9 elephant and a scattered group of around 100 tsessebe. Along side all this fauna there are fisherman and their families living in simple grass dome-shaped huts. On the final morning I had to ban all activities and insist on a full morning meeting as we were not getting the work done! The Luangwa River from the airThe low level flight back was fun. We spent over an hour exploring along the escarpment of the Valley, circling waterfalls, spotting game along the Mupamadzi and flying over the Nsefu Sector. A great way to have a market meeting.

On my return I always find out how the camps are going, is everyone happy?, have there been problems?, etc etc. I have to say that I really do not need to be here – all runs perfectly without me! And from the thank you emails and letters we are receiving I would say that the team are doing an amazing job – as usual. But catching up on the gameviewing is also a must. It seems to have been a week of leopard cubs! Ross at Tena Tena watched a leopard teaching her two cubs the ins and outs of hunting as they practiced on a civet. And 2 nights ago at Nkwali, the guests returned from the nightdrive almost in tears. After seeing a leopard in the afternoon they came across a female leopard trying to hunt with the cub. The cub was far more interested in suckling and the mother had to keep pushing the insistent cub away.

When I came back from the UK I was told to be very careful about walking around my house. There had been 6 lions with a couple of 7-8 month old cubs hanging around the day before. It is quite easy to walk along without watching and it is a good reminder to ALWAYS keep your eyes open and stay alert!

Robin spotted a snared lioness when on a drive with 2 American guests – Helen and Bob. The area was the Kauluzi River which is the boundary of the Nsefu Sector of the park. There is a snaring problem there as the fisherman live only a few kms away. Robin radioed down to Jake of Flatdogs, our self appointed vet of the Valley, and he came up with a dart gun. Gerd the German doctor doing a short stint at the clinic and his brother, by chance a vet, accompanied Jake. After a search they found the lioness, with her cub and other lions, including a big male hiding in the grass. It is never easy!

Darted lionThe lioness was darted in the shoulder at 3 in the afternoon. The cub ran to another lioness who, it turned out, had a bleeding wound on the inside of her leg from a buffalo! The darted lioness crossed the river, walked towards Jake and then collapsed. Very thoughtful of her as she had left the other lions in the process making the work much safer for the crew. She stayed semi conscious throughout the whole procedure which is amazing. I hear that Jake was typically putting his hand in her mouth, on her paws etc as he put water over her to keep her cool. Mad I say – no way would I do that!

The snare was around her waist but had only cut through the skin and not the muscle. Luckily her lactating nipples were also unaffected. So she was cleaned up, given shots of antibiotics but the doctor and vet did not recommend stitching her. A number of years ago we had a similar situation and ran out of the thread so had to stitch her with dental floss. Everyone at the camp donated what they had! But Doc Gerd thought that she would only lick the stitches out. A darted animal is very vulnerable to other predators so we have to keep a close eye on them until they totally recover. She lay there until 9 that evening, then woke up, wobbled about for a while and finally walked off into the grass. A success story!

There is nothing like going away for a while to be reminded of how wonderful something is that you have every day. I love living with the wide Luangwa river, full of hippos, at my front door. The pair gymnogenes that nest nearby and fly up and down the river every morning and evening. Being called from the office to watch a baby elly playing in the lagoon near the dining room. The butterflies flitting around the bushes. All around us, there is always something happening. And of course the sunsets – spectacular. Lucky us!

That’s it for the week.
Have a great one and don’t forget to pick some daisies.

It’s Monday 15th and action in the community

Well, Auntie Jo received LOTS of replies to last week’s newsletter…the first she has tapped out in quite a while! I know she’s itching to write more of them so I’m certain to be cast aside again later!! Auntie was even offered a job as a nanny on the basis of her recent baby-burping experiences. Imagine a nursery under Jo’s charge….she would have applications flying in from all over!!

As you know, Jo’s day is quite varied…as I type she’s off to speak to a group of American Peace Corps who have recently arrived in the Valley. Her topic is the relationship between safari operators in the South Luangwa Valley and the community with respect to health, education and conservation. Of course there have been a large number of benefits brought to the community over the years by tourism but there are negatives. The local population has expanded tremendously and there is a lack of infrastructure to deal with the increase. Many people now living in the area have improved their standard of living and community expectations have therefore increased. For many without employment these expectations are not being met. A further issue is the tremendous pressure that has been placed on the environment as a result of the increase in local population – a perfect example of course is firewood collection.

After hearing Jo speak this morning the Peace Corps members will disperse into the Zambian villages around the Northern Province and there they will remain for 3 months. They are not allowed out of the village areas during this time nor mix with any Westerners! They must immerse themselves fully into village life and make themselves as useful as possible! If we spot any of them sneaking back to the Mfuwe area they will be marched right back to their adopted villages!

And whilst on the subject of broader Mfuwe community issues, we have just seen the arrival of another doctor to the area. The doctor’s clinic, which Jo spearheaded from the start, is going from strength to strength. After about three years of operation it is now a very successful clinic and the overall scheme has improved enormously. In this time only six weeks have gone by without a doctor in the Valley and over the last 18 months a staff facilities block has been added – including toilets and showers with running water – plus a laboratory which can now routinely test for malaria, bilharzia and for pregnant women, anemia. The doctor spends his or her day in the clinic, benefiting the whole community. The doctor is always there for guests, staff and visitors of all the safari operations in the South Luangwa – in an emergency the doctor can be on location quickly! Dr Frank Brennan returned last week after spending 3 months over two years ago overseeing the early stages of the clinic. Dr Frank, a lively red-faced Irishman, is warmly welcomed back – after spending a long time working as a doctor for the blue-rinse set on cruise ships sailing the world he’s re-adjusting back to third world conditions quite easily!!

One of Dr Frank’s first patients last week was one of our very own employees. He returned from his home village after his allotted four days off and was incredibly sick – he couldn’t keep anything down and was terribly dehydrated and weak. We were thinking malaria. The day before Dr Frank arrived Matthew had to adopt the role of nurse by inserting a drip into his arm to replace the fluids he couldn’t take by conventional means. Dr Frank arrives and the patient is transferred to the clinic for overnight observation. It turns out that the patient had gone on a drinking binge back home, consuming large quantities of a lethal home brew which is possibly strong enough to strip the paint off one of our vehicles!! Doctor’s diagnosis was alcoholic poisoning and after a few days bedrest the patient was discharged and is back at work pretending nothing has happened! Sara, adopting a concerned manner on enquiring about what had happened to him, was told rather bluntly: cerebral malaria!! I think he’s been frightened off the paint stripper and we shall let the matter rest for now!

I’ve left little room to talk about the SENSATIONAL gameviewing observed across all camps and walking safaris this week! Therefore much to tell next week – lion mating, leopard at Nsefu and Tena Tena, Robin and his walking troops near Camp 2 observing a lion pride with the remains of a buffalo kill, teeny lion cubs playing on a log, ground hornbills, striped polecats, a record number of squirrels, tawny eagles, Tena Tena and Kim’s first experience driving guests to Kawaza Village and Nsefu Jason’s hidden lagoon saga in the Nsefu Sector!

However I must say that here was lots of commotion at Nkwali last night!!
Firstly a large bull elephant trapped Nkwali guests inside the bar and away from their waiting dinner table! He was munching around the bar taking his time to enjoy his own evening meal and was not going to move! There were much grunting and burping to be heard, and late at night once everyone was able to get to their dinner and safely tucked up in their chalets, much branch snapping and movement – there were many elies in camp and they made SUCH a lot of noise! Fresh elie droppings all over the place this morning – lovely!!

Hold that fresh thought and have a brilliant week!


Its Monday 22nd and Hawk Eyes Fanton

Well Jeffery is up at Tena Tena for a couple of days again, so you have me – Jo!

I have a pile of notes written by Kim, Buffy, Jeffery and Mike Poyser, a guest who was staying at Nsefu after a 4 day walk on the Mupamadzi (Lundu Walking Safari). So where to begin…..with the new book!

Paul Joynson Hicks came to photograph our camps last year for our new brochure. He so loved the South Luangwa and RPS that he convince me that we should do a book together. He returned in October for 3 weeks to take lots of wildlife shots. During the rainy season we had a number of editing meetings (in Hampshire, UK, in Cape Town, then in Dar es Salaam and finally back in the Valley!). And now I have 3 advance copies of the final product on my desk. Sooooooooooo exciting. I am delighted with the outcome. A coffee table book with 156 pages of superb photographs. No one here believe that he took so many great shots in just 3 weeks! We called the book “Safari Dreaming“. The 5000 copies are on the high seas from Singapore at the moment but when we have them I will advise you how to order one!

So onto Mike’s report – quite a drive.

“Under the sign of Scorpio” – Nsefu Leopard Sighting 17 July.

“We set out on our afternoon drive with the excellent guide, Jacob, and his trust spotter “Hawk-eyes” Fanton. We headed towards the stork colony area for the promise of sundowners watching giraffe. En route we saw buffalo (being chased by a young bull elephant!) and the rarely seen Pel’s fishing owl (our 4th in 3 nights). While sipping gin and tonics and watching the giraffe, as promised, we heard an explosion of noise from a troop of baboons. We then saw two hyenas approaching the plains to investigate the commotion.

Jacob assured us that there must be a leopard around so we climbed back into the vehicle, drinks in hand, and went to inspect the gulley running through the plain. Sure enough, Fanton found our leopard lying in the gulley with it’s jaws around an unlucky impala’s neck. The leopard then began to eat the impala as a hyena paced up and down the bank of the gully. After missing the leopard twice, the hyena stopped, turned and caught sight of it’s target. It quickly approached and the leopard fled further along the gulley. After a hearty meal, the hyena walked away from the carcass. The leopard then seized the opportunity to return for more, but didn’t get a chance to take a bite before it was spotted and chased away by the hyena. The leopard tired this strategy several more times, with more hyena approaching on the scene. Every time the leopard was chased away, once even up a tree. In the end the four hyena finished off the impala, while the leopard had to make do with the intestines left in the gulley. To add to this amazing scene, Fanton spotted a second leopard across the plain. But since we were already late for dinner, we didn’t hang around for the adventures of this one. What a night!”

Tena Tena reports….

” ……Crystal and John had a wonderful drive with Ross seeing 3 leopard, 4 lion on a zebra kill and a striped polecat. The polecat is a very rare sighting (editor Jo – I cannot remember when one was last seen). However, Ross did not see it, only the guests but after long discussion with the books out it had to be a polecat! Kim was driving guests to Kawaza Village and experienced her first elephant mock charge – handled with cool, calm expertise of course but she had to wait 20 minutes for the elephants and her little calf to move off the road. Then around they corner they came across Robin and his guests blocked by 3 lioness and a cub basking in the middle of the road. So a late arrival at the village but well worth the delay. All thoroughly enjoyed the day at the village and Kim proved to a be an expert hip wriggler with the dancing ladies (according to Lawrence, the Tena Tena chef, who witnessed it!).

But to cap it all……Daudi was walking guests from Tena Tena to Nsefu.
The walkers spotted 2 male lions lying near Lunga Lagoon. After watching them the walkers moved on. A group of impala ran toward the lion and one was grabbed. Only the legs of the impala could be seen so the walkers quickly climbed a large anthill from where they could see the whole scene. As they were quietly watching, two hippo chasing each other ran towards them, passing by at 50 meters. With no where to go the walkers just watched from their anthill. Much excitement! And a lioness was seen an hour later. Quite a walk!”

And there is more – what a week of kills. Jason A, staying at a bushcamp, reported that their quiet campfire drink was interrupted by a scuffle and distinctive strangling noises. Putting on a spotlight, they saw a male leopard with a young puku….close….very close…20 meters from the fire. The night was spent listening to the noises of ripping and crunching!

Robin’s first mobile of the season was rewarded with a story unfolding. On the third afternoon the walkers saw a large herd of buffalo near the camp. During the night the lions were nearby, calling loudly. Then the sounds of a buffalo kill was clearly heard. The next morning Robin tracked the buffalo for quite a while and started to feel that they would not find the lions. Suddenly there was lion spore over the buffalo tracks and they saw a tawny eagle dropping into the bushes. The group, very very slowly and very very quietly creeped through the bushes and saw 4 lioness with 3 cubs feeding on the kill. By the next morning, there was only a skeleton left. All the guest said how exciting it was to have such a build up to the scene.

I could give you more, but enough of kills……

Marcus from Nkwali finally saw the new cubs of the Chichele pride – 3 tiny minature lions emerged from a bush. After playing with mum’s tail they endlessly tried to climb over a small log and continously fell off – much to the amusement of the guests. And the pride that live behind Nkwali have been feeding on a buffalo or hippo 100 meters from Matthew and Sara’s house. The game drives have seen the lions drinking at the river – from the opposite bank. After a few days Matthew mentioned to me that he had been hearing lots of hyena activity at night. I said – well not surprising – there is a lion kill near you. He had no idea – “thanks for telling me” – and looked rather sheepish that we all knew and he did not!

Robin has put a new road from Camp 3 on the Mupamadzi, across the Lundu plain, to be used on the journey out of the area. Driving through the open plain with the early morning light touching the golden grass is a beautiful experience. And there is the boabab. Jeffery has already told you about it – 27 meters in circumference, 9.3 meters in diamater – it is a HUGE tree.
The guests are all coming back saying it is quite the most awe inspiring sight. And a few have said it is a “religous” experience. I am going to have to drive there to see it But you have to brave the bees from the 5 huge bee hives in the branches.

Jan, an American who was with us a couple of years ago, was the first guest to spend a week at Kawaza Village. She had a truly wonderful time enjoying daily village life preparing nashima, fetching water, working with the children at school and evenings around the campfire singing, dancing and story telling. Now she is busy planning her next trip!

The “Brigadoon Lagoon” saga at Nsefu…..Jason is adamant that there are two beautiful lagoons around the Hidden Lagoons area behind Nsefu. He has walked in the area this year a few times trying to find them but has failed! Much to the amusement of the staff he has now asked Lameck, one of our tea bearers, to help him. But each time Jason comes back from the area he has an excuse….:well I am sure we were walking in the right direction but our efforts were thwarted when we came across a fantastic herd of elephant so had to detour!”. Yeah yeah – sure J.

And a few short ones…..the lioness who was darted to remove the snare at Tena Tena is doing well. And her cub is still with her….. and the male who was desnared last year is in the same pride and is busily mating away! Nothing wrong with him….. Robin also saw a ground hornbill coming out of a hold in a tree – possibly doing a recce for a nesting site. We will keep an eye on the whole…..and the Nkwali guests were trapped in the bar for a long time the other night, delaying dinner, as a huge male elephant nonchalantly hung around – feeding on a bush.

A long letter this week, but I did promise the various reporters that I would put their story in.
In the rains we report on the river level and the weather. In the dry season it is hard not to tell you about all the amazing lion and leopard stories.

So have a great week.
Take care

PS – Wendy has just returned from a morning drive – she saw her first Palmnut Vulture! She is jumping on the spot with excitement.

It’s Monday 29th and farewell to winter

Almost as soon as it started it was over. The cold snap of winter finished quite suddenly last week with long pants and shoes normally worn during the day cast off to hide in the wardrobes! One can almost dispense with long sleeves at night too! The Natal Mahoganies are flowering early and the game is starting to move down to the river and to those lagoons with water remaining in them. The sky is hazy and everything is drying up! There is also that distinctive smell of the warmer, dry months in the air once more.

This is certainly a lovely time of year with warm days and comfortable nights! No small wonder then that we are about to see the return of many our regular guests! Everyone here is looking forward to seeing these familiar smiling faces again.

On a very sunny day yesterday the Popes went out for a picnic! Adam Pope, his wife Clare, and Fergus, the son of a family friend and celebrating his 16th birthday, joined Robin, Jo, Simon, Shanie, Matthew & Sara for a relaxing afternoon down on a sandbank by Chichele. They enjoyed a perfect view of Chindeni Hill, frisbee on the sandbank, delicious food prepared by Shanie and lots of beer & wine. Then back to Nkwali for a campfire dinner and early to bed – perfect Sunday activity!

Fishing PartySimon tells me that the fishing parties are forming again! For the unfamiliar, this does not entail Marcus, a cool box full of Mosi and a fishing rod. It is the wonderful sight of a large number of water birds feeding off the fish stranded in water that is drying up. We are beginning to see Yellowbill stork, Marabou stork, spoonbills and egrets congregating around these waterways. Sometimes there are huge flocks lining the water edge and it quickly becomes a feeding frenzy – a photographer’s delight!
Apparently the Eastern White Pelican has not been seen yet. They are localised migrants and will appear soon.

A more amusing story from John and Ross during a Tena Tena night drive recently. A civet was seen killing a spitting black cobra – the wriggling snake was almost dead by the time the troops arrived on the scene. Once it was finally dead the civet moved off with the snake in its jaws. A remarkable sight in itself! After a snake dies it takes a while before the muscles stop contracting so the body continues to slither and move…giving it the appearance of being very much alive and dangerous! So it happened that this snake’s body curled over a log as the civet was making off with it. Noticing the movement, the startled civet dropped the snake, let out a loud bark in fright and ran off into the bush!! What a waste of a good meal!

Last week, as I reclined in my chair at Tena Tena and looked out over the river, I knew that Jo would be hard at it putting together a rather LONG It’s Monday!! There was so much to talk about and a lot of it focused on the big cats. We’ve had a spate of excellent sightings over the past month and it looks set to continue. However what we don’t want is the formation of a universal impression that a stay with Robin Pope Safaris will guarantee excellent lion and leopard… we are not going to talk about them for a while!

Lions at the Salt PanBefore this self-imposed censorship begins I cannot resist sharing a report from Nsefu by my friend David from Sydney, on his first visit to Africa, of the remarkable sighting of a pride of 18 lion up at the salt pan!! Over half of the pride were cubs and it made the most fantastic sighting.

And according to Robin the “good old days” have returned to Tena Tena with the rise in leopard numbers seen in the area – in one day last week he saw five of them!!!!

Speaking of David’s first ever visit to the African bush…his experiences remind me of why we are all here! From the moment he disembarked the plane his enthusiasm for everything was patently obvious…he marveled about everything he saw, smelt, tasted and heard! I just loved watching how a long-suffering urban creature adapts to the wilderness! It was what he expected but much more and as each day went past the boundless energy and excitement evolved into peaceful thought and total immersion with nature.

He walked a lot (including a walk from Nsefu to Tena Tena, passing about 300 buffalo watching him!), He bounced around the Park in our gameviewing vehicles, he spent a whole day at Kawaza Village soaking up Zambian local culture and he met lots of guests and staff with whom he engaged in conversation a great deal. It was a pleasure to witness somebody making the most of every moment, enjoying it all and admitting at the end that it was a ‘life changing experience’! As David said
you couldn’t do anything BUT have a great time here“!

Until next time, have a wonderful week!


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