It’s Monday 31st March 2008 and Robert escapes the lion’s jaw

It’s Monday 31st March 2008 and Robert escapes the lion’s jaw

From Fiona: This week I’m handing over to Mike and Linda Whatmore, who spent almost two weeks with us at Nkwali. Enjoy!

Mike and Linda’s story …

We met Robert on our first game drive. As we walked from the harbour steps to our game viewer we were met by a large warthog making a sound like a truck engine ticking over. This, we were told, was Robert – who was raised at Chipembele Wildlife Centre and was successfully reintroduced to the wild. He is still habituated to cars and people, but is gradually becoming less and less so.

Meet Robert the warthogMike's birthday celebration

We were back at Nkwali for the first time since 2000, having been regular visitors in the nineties. The excuse was to celebrate Mike’s significant birthday. It was a day to remember with a bush breakfast (where an elephant joined the party), followed by cake and a performance by the choir at tea time and finished with special sundowners. Our plan had been to spend a few days at Nkwali, then fly to Bangweulu Swamps to look for shoebill storks before returning to Nkwali. However a wetter season than usual left the Bangweulu airstrip unusable, and the only option was to spend 12 hours in a banana boat from Kasanka each way. Even Zebron, who was going to come with us, agreed that this was not a good idea, so we accepted Keyala’s offer to stay at Nkwali.

Any regrets about this decision were dispelled the next morning with one of the best game drives we have ever had (and we’ve done a lot!). It started as we crossed the river and saw a pride of lions (mum and three adolescents) on Wakumba. A little further on we were met by Robert (the warthog). With the lions close by we were a little concerned – all were hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst with the cameras at the ready. One young female hid behind a bush as Robert ambled up the road. Robert walked to within 5 metres of the bush and then both warthog and lion sprang into action, with Robert reaching safety. Watching the video later proved that Robert saw the lion and moved before she did, leaving skid marks in the gravel as he sprinted away. The lions played for a while before heading into the bushes for a sleep.

Lions very interested in RobertLion chasing Robert

Heading south we found five wild dogs asleep by the side of the road. We watched while they woke up, stretched and followed as they trotted down the road towards a group of giraffe who looked down their noses at the dogs. Further down the road, the dogs found fresh elephant dung in which they rolled enthusiastically, before carrying on. We observed them set up a hunt, scattering impala and puku in all directions but failing to actually catch anything. We lost the dogs after they regrouped and moved through the bushes, but Claire from the wild dog research team found them shortly thereafter. We joined her to watch the dogs finish an impala they had caught in the meantime. We had been privileged to share their lives for two hours. The dogs were not seen again for four days but then re-appeared to thrill those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Yawning wild dogDisdainful giraffe looking at dogs

This combination of active lion and wild dog in one morning was special and the Luangwa continued to show us memorable scenes throughout the week. One morning after coffee we stopped by a small pond to watch a fishing party of yellow-billed storks, egrets and herons at work. Using different techniques, they decimated the fish trapped in the shrinking pond, juggling their catch in their beaks before swallowing it whole.

The morning after a full moon, we got up extra early and Daudi took us in the boat into the middle of the river to watch the moon set. This is much like a sunset, except white light is reflected on the surface of the water.

Yellow-billed stork  juggling its catchMoonset

We suggested walking along the Katete River, through the shallow water. This proved to be a wonderful way to walk, as the water is so clear. It is mostly ankle deep, although a few spots of sand gave way and a foot would sink to mid-calf. All enjoyed it, including Kefos the scout, despite getting his boots and trouser legs soaked. Everyone was keen to do it again, and this time Robert (the warthog) tried to follow, but after some diversions we managed to lose him.

Walking the KateteLess than a week old baby ele

The baby animals were as photogenic as always (except the fleeting view of a leopard cub close to camp). A teeny giraffe was on Lupunga all week, and baboons were in a playful mood. The highlight for us was the tiny elephant, less than a week old. It still showed its umbilical cord, wobbled as it walked and struggled to suckle, but eventually managed to stretch up and drink, while its mother placidly munched the lush grass. We wish that calf a long and peaceful life and hope that we will see it many times over the coming years.

Mike & Linda Whatmore

Wild dogs enjoying themselves rolling in fresh ele dung

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