It’s Monday 10th May 2010 and it’s the small things that fascinate

With Nsefu and Tena Tena due to open in the next few weeks, it’s been a busy week for RPS . Here at Nkwali Camp , life continues as usual and as guests have come and gone, I’ve continued my role of hostess and hearing the many thrilling tales from their adventures in the bush. Just yesterday, a new couple arrived and on their drive from the airport, they not only spotted elephants and Thornicroft giraffes, but also a leopard on the side of the road – not a bad start to their stay! The night before, guests had spotted not one leopard but three, each one solitary and stalking prey from the cover of the bushes.

Leopard, South Luangwa, ZambiaGiraffe, South Luangwa, Zambia

Nkwali’s highly experienced guides constantly amaze the guests with the depth of their knowledge. They teach people that the big game are not the only things worth seeing in the park and remind them of the breadth of wildlife here. Most guests leave here realizing that the animals that may be less outwardly impressive than a leopard, have their absorbing stories too – the scrub hares, mongooses or tree squirrels, for example, or the chameleons, insects or birds. They become more inspired by animal behavior and more eager to learn fascinating facts and details that they would never otherwise have known. This week, the camp has been abounding with avid birders and perceptive wildlife fanatics whose keen eyes have missed nothing.

Chameleon, South Luangwa, ZambiaGenet, South Luangwa, Zambia

On a walking safari, you cross the countryside as a fellow creature rather than an invincible machine. To see elephants and giraffes from the ground is somewhat formidable but it’s the small details which are all the more enthralling. For instance, coming across a fresh pile of dung out in the bush suddenly becomes an exhilarating find, not because it’s fun to see the giant excrement of an elephant but because it means that the elephant might be close by. Likewise, finding the tracks of a leopard or lion will spark some nervous glances into nearby bushes. Even the tiniest of creatures have their appeal. The dung beetle, for instance, is not only officially ‘the world’s strongest insect’ able to pull an astonishing 1,141 times its own body weight, but also, in a show of chivalry, the male will carefully select the most beautiful dew drop he can in order to woo his chosen lady. Maybe a small insect, but it enthralls!

Mushroom on elephant dung, South LuangwaLeopard track, South Luangwa, Zambia

Moreover, birds are often overlooked by safari-goers. As well as the storks, herons and kingfishers that are abundant or the red-billed oxpeckers who you’ll frequently spy on giraffes, impalas or buffalo helping themselves to the fleas and ticks they find there, you might be lucky enough to glimpse the spectacular martial eagle with its impressive three-metre wing span; at the other end of the spectrum, perhaps you’ll glimpse the white-fronted bee-eater flashing its colourful plume in the sunlight. And recognizing the bird when you see it is only half the challenge – the next is knowing whether it’s male or female, young or old and finally recognizing its call too!

Giraffe & Oxpeckers, South Luangwa, ZambiaLilac Breasted Roller, South Luangwa, Zambia

Guests have relayed anecdotes where the animals’ behavior has intrigued them. At this time of year, in fits of machismo and ego, male impalas, pukus and zebras are at war; even two monitor lizards seemed at each other’s throats earlier today over a female monitor. I have witnessed some horrendous injuries from such warfare, for instance, once we came across a beautiful kudu by the track, standing proud and alert just ten metres away. I then noticed that it had just one horn, once again revealing a story; it was clear that it had once come off worse in a fight. Similarly, on one drive I came across a limping crawshay zebra with a horrific gash in its front right leg; perhaps it had been caught by a lion and somehow escaped or perhaps it too had got into a disagreement with another zebra? On the same drive, I saw an elephant with a gaping hole in the side of its trunk, perhaps from another bush brawl?

Impala, South Luangwa, ZambiaKudu, South Luangwa, Zambia

Another time, some guests and I spotted a white-tailed mongoose dashing along the track away from something other than us. Then in the spotlight appeared the tell-tale momentary flash of gold and black before the leopard cub burst into view, hurtling down the track in hot pursuit of the terrified mongoose. The excitement was short-lived; the cub’s mother – who we presumed was giving the young cub its first hunting lesson – appeared, and within a few seconds the pair had disappeared into the dense bushes. Animal behavior makes gripping viewing; you’re witnessing real wildlife.

Puku & Zebra, South Luangwa, ZambiaVervet monkey, South Luangwa, Zambia

It’s impossible to know everything about the South Luangwa’s wonderfully diverse flora and fauna. It does, however, make a huge difference if you can look beyond the animals as a tick list or photographic subject; instead, observe them as living creatures in a thrilling ecosystem and recognize that the seemingly insignificant animals such as impalas, birds or dung beetles, are just as captivating as a lion or leopard, if not more. I will leave you with a few fascinating facts about the creatures of the African bush to tickle your minds this week:

1. Crocodiles eat rocks to aid their digestion.
2. Snakes can see through their eyelids.
3. A chameleon’s tongue is as long as its body.
4. A hippo can stay underwater for up to 30 minutes and can open its mouth up to four foot.
5. Ants will attack a live moth fifty times its size.
6. A bush baby can jump up to 5 metres to catch a frog for which it’s been lying in wait.

Have a fantastic week and until next Monday!

Laura Griffith-Jones (Nkwali Camp)

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