It’s September 2002 and …


It’s Monday 2nd and the curse of the honeybadger

I hope this week’s newsletter finds everybody well. Here in the Valley things are HOTTING UP slowly but surely. I can hardly believe we are already at the beginning of September – where does the year go, I ask you??! Yes, the days are getting warmer, the nights are no longer cold and there is much haze and dust in the air. Soon we will be able to watch the Carmine Bee-eaters nesting in great colonies in the walls of the riverbanks – always something to look forward to!

I must make a tiny correction from last week….Rod and Guz kindly pointed out that they had SIXTY guests at their recent wedding, not forty! Sorry for the 20 who I left out!!! Certain wedding guests finished their visit to Zambia IN STYLE. We all sadly farewelled Karen & David Back, Possum and Chris Holt last week for their return journey to the UK.

No sooner had they arrived home when Chris sent through a quick email to announce that (text edited here for spelling!!)

“what do you know but the four of us were upgraded to Business Class on the way home – there was a dodgy moment when the guy looked at Poss/Karen/Dave and said they were fine but as for me, did I have a tie? a clean shirt? better trousers?? To much general hilarity, an impromptu striptease then took place at the check-in desk before we were OK’d – what luxury, champagne cocktails all the way home”.

Perhaps our readers might like to consider the “Holt” Upgrade Method when next standing in front of the BA check-in officer? I would be very interested to find out how successful it is!! Well done Holty!

Back to the Valley and to many of the other species of wildlife viewed as nature intended….there has been excellent all-round sightings and others which are quite rare. Quite unexpectedly, on a recent moonlit night, Issy spotted a Pel’s Fishing Owl perched on a branch in the Nkwali lagoon! Simon was very excited….we don’t very often see them around Nkwali. It sat on the branch and stared at us for quite a long time.

Another Nkwali sighting – a ‘baby’ bush baby was seen suckling with its mother up a tree at night…it looked very cute according to Shanie.

Robin saw Palmnut Vultures on his most recent mobile walking safari – another rarity. Following Robin, Jason Alfonsi and Simon Cousins took separate groups on mobile walking safaris within days of each other along the Mupamadzi River. In that time Jason’s group spotted a Lesser Jacana and Simon’s found a Fiscal Shrike...both at Zebra Pans! Both birds are uncommonly seen in the Valley. On their way out of the walking camps, Simon also saw a large bushpig in daylight – it was “running like hell” away from the vehicle! This was Simon’s third bushpig sighting in the South Luangwa National Park. They are more common in the North Luangwa as it has a slightly different habitat. Overall, excellent plains game up at the Mupamadzi area…large numbers of eland, kudu, waterbuck and zebra. They also had good lion sightings (around 8 – 10 of them hiding in the grasses) and whilst walking from Camp 2 to Camp 3, five roan antelope were spotted in the kopje on the Chifungwe Plain. And along the river bed, the area is now bursting with bright new green leaves from the sausage trees – so much colour and fantastic gameviewing!

Simon’s guests on this four night Lundu walking safari were three American brothers. A great rapport quickly developed and one night there was much laughter around the campfire as certain characteristics of the honeybadger were discussed. Founded or unfounded, honeybadgers can be quite aggressive creatures and have a reputation for attacking the private parts of many male animal species. It sounds like a very clever method of defense – OOUCH!!!

And so, during the following morning’s walking activity, Simon and the brotherscame across a honeybadger popping out of a hole at the base of a tree. In fright and in unison, the three brothers grasped their nether regions – prompting what must have been howls of laughter and later, relief that they had all survived the morning completely intact!

Kitty-lovers will be pleased to know that Nkwali’s ‘Kitty’ is alive and well and continues to spend many of her daylight hours sprawled all over the office reservations files! Last week I noticed that she was perched uncomfortably on my desk and on closer inspection was horrified to see a rather large acacia thorn sticking vertically out of her lower arm! Poor Kitty! She must have jumped onto it somehow and the thorn was quite deeply embedded into her arm. The thorn was easily removed but it was thought that the top end of it was still stuck inside. Matthew quickly found Issy (a qualified nurse) and some local anaesthetic and they carried Kitty off to the cage, closed the door, wrapped her in a blanket, and with the help of a few others, tried to perform some minor surgery. Kitty struggled and howled for a few minutes but then realised any attempts at escape were futile. She succumbed bravely to the nurse and her assistants with a rather sorrowful look in her eye. Anyway, no other part of the thorn could be found so she was soon patched up and let out of the Cage. I’m happy to report she is 100% recovered and can now be seen rolling around in the dust outside of the office – what a life!

And finally…Shanie’s just rushed in to tell me that there are moths everywhere outside. I concluded that she had finally lost the plot and ignored her, but on looking outside I see that she is correct! They are EVERYWHERE!! Very interesting – apparently they are attracted to the sausage tree flowers which are now blooming in large numbers. They will quickly disappear again when the flowers are finished.

On that note, all the best for a wonderful week ahead.

Jeffrey

It’s Monday 9th and lessons in Divinity

Mention in last week’s newsletter about certain ex-RPS staff being successfully upgraded onto their BA flight from Lusaka prompted a number of replies. It appears that some of our guests have been happily upgraded as well…but thankfully they didn’t have to resort to drastic measures at check-in to ensure it! And once onboard some opted not to throw back champagne cocktails all the way home either…probably a very sensible move, proving that it IS possible to arrive home refreshed and revitalised!!

I have a very interesting tale from our mobile camps up along the Mupamadzi River. Perhaps a group of scientific minds might like to put together a safari group and come along to ‘confirm or deny’!! Jason Alfonsi, our jovial and mostly-respectable senior walking guide, led a walking safari this week and Issy, our mobiles caterer, decided that she wanted to test the theory of finding water with divining rods. She wanted to see if these rods could be used to find animals too! Jason would like to point out here and now that it was HER idea and not his – he has a serious guiding reputation to uphold after all (those were his words)!!

Divining rods are two little bent pieces of wire (for example two metal clothing hangers unfolded). Zambians have traditionally used them to find water by holding one rod outstretched from each hand. They are held lightly by each hand so not strong enough to grip and not loose enough to drop. The holder of the rods would then ask out loud if there was any water nearby. If water was close the rods would move in the direction it is likely to be located and if they were literally standing on top of water, the rods would cross over each other without any effort at all! And apparently it works!

So the other day Issy suggested that they use this method on a morning walk to see if they could ‘locate’ certain animal species. The guest was keen so Jason led them out from Camp 3 to ‘the garden’ with Peyela the armed scout.

The Garden is a big open floodplain with the river crossing through and a ridge on the other side of the river. The divining rods were asked if there were lion about and they promptly ‘pointed’ to a thicket of reeds by the river. On the other side of the river there were some buffalo feeding on more reeds – about 10 old bulls. Jason led the walking party over to the thicket of reeds and, when asked where the lion were now, the rods bent right across each other…which means they were ‘right there’!! A swift look around and there was no sign of any pride but difficult to tell with the thickness of the reeds. Jason thought he would lead the group away for a while, keeping the buffalo on the other side of the river within sight. Half an hour later the group had come around the floodplain and were standing at their original spot away from the reeds. Suddenly they heard the mournful bellowing sound of a buffalo under attack. The buffalo ran out across the ridge with a pride of lion chasing behind them! In the short time Jason had led the walking group away the lion would have left the thicket, crossed the river and did their best to capture a buffalo…without success!!

A new day followed and out at the Chifungwe Plain Jason’s little walking group came across a lone male oribi, an uncommonly seen antelope in the South Luangwa. Jason has not seen one of these in the Valley before and Robin saw one years ago. It took them a while to confirm what type of antelope it was.

It is smaller than a puku, about the size of an impala, with a reddish brown coat and a black tail. They then moved away for morning tea and once more those rods were brought out for another test! When asked where the oribi was the rods then pointed in the completely opposite direction and towards where the oribi was seen – spooky! Apparently the divinity rod is also a useful measure of distance. When asked how far away the oribi was (if it was 100 or 200 metres away no movement but on 500 metres they moved closer together) its answer was correct!! The oribi was spotted about 500 metres away.

Peyela then bemoaned that they might as well do away with an armed scout in the bush and rely on those rods!!! Somehow I doubt that this will become company policy but certainly an interesting findings nevertheless!! On the last day of the walking safari Jason brought the rods out one last time and asked it where the cheetah were…and the rods pointed in the direction of Camp 2!! Cheetah haven’t been seen in the Valley for many many years – just imagine….?

A news flash from Nsefu – the carmine bee-eater colony on the riverbank in front of the ebony grove is in full swing! It is such a large nesting colony and an incredibly colourful spectacle. Nsefu guests are also enjoying the immense quelea flocks taking off from the salt pan at sunrise. These flocks resemble a moving wall – WHAT a sight!!

Until next week…..cheers to the power of the divining rod!

Jeffrey

It’s Monday 16th and bush ballet

On Tuesday last week I told somebody that “it never rains in September”.

Now I have to say that this is not necessarily the case! The mercury was rising rapidly (typical of this time of year) and then suddenly there was humidity in the air rapidly followed by thick black clouds!! The wind picked up and cooled everything down beautifully and I thought that that was going to be the extent of it. But no…suddenly a great gust of wind blew all the cushions off the Nkwali chairs at the bar and then it started to RAIN!! It rained steadily for a couple of hours. This freak of nature wasn’t over yet – it remained overcast, cool and windy until yesterday!

We had three nights of light rain with many more featuring lovely thunder and lightening displays far off in the distance. We therefore enjoyed temperatures normally reserved for June/July – cool at about 30 degrees maximum with lovely breezes and no piercing sun! Great for walking activities…and cooling off… and sleeping soundly through the night!

And looking out towards the Muchinja Escarpment from Nkwali there have been some large bush fires, despite the rain. The air is as clear as a spring day now that the dust and haze has settled…except for where the fires are burning with the air resembling thick storm clouds! At night we are treated to a lovely red glow over the horizon! Overall it has been a very interesting week that mother nature has brought us!!!

Carmine Bee EatersI joined some Australian friends at Nsefu during the week. It was brilliant to be able to witness the carmine bee-eater nesting colony and the queleas as mentioned in the last newsletter. The carmines provided a spectacular performance of colour, movement and sound. We parked our vehicle above the colony (which is opposite the second ebony grove) and watched for a while.
These beautiful birds sat in large groups on the tops of every tree and bush surrounding the vehicle. The colour was striking! Much noise came from their nesting site – embedded into the walls of the riverbank below us.

Carmin Bee Eaters in FlightEvery few minutes a great flock of carmines would fly out of the wall to the centre of the river then pirouette back to their nests again – my friend Amanda said it was like watching a ballet! The following morning, before dawn, we drove with Jason Alfonsi out to Chris’ Tree where the enormous flocks of quelea were nesting. The drive from Nsefu to the viewing spot took about 15 minutes and I took the opportunity to do some night spotting along the way! In those fifteen minutes darkness turned into bright light with the moment of sunrise not far off! We parked on a small rise, with coffee and cake, to watch what promised to be another natural performance-spectacular!

Carmine Bee EatersAll we could hear was the dull hum of these little birds waking up! They nest in the combretum & capparis bush, of which there were hundreds dotted along the otherwise sparse plain. Suddenly the first glow of the sun peeked over the horizon and the hum notched up a couple of octaves. Far off in the distance a huge sheet of black suddenly rose from the bushes and flew low along the horizon towards the river, passing in front of an extremely large and bright red sun. A picture perfect sight! On some moments you could actually see individual birds flying across the sun! These black sheets appeared to get closer until the quelea nearest to our vehicle finally took flight in massive waves. The sound is incredible and there must have been several hundred thousand quelea flying past.

Quelea

We also managed to spot several eland not far from Tena Tena – very exciting and the only time I have seen them this year!

At Nkwali it has been all about the elephant. They have provided some marvelous family displays for guests this week! During a casual bar lunch on Tuesday, before the cold snap arrived, a group of 22 elies appeared into view, walking along the middle of the sandbank in the river. There were lots of young of various ages, including a very small one of about two years.

They drank and swam and washed and rolled about before heading off into the bush, disappearing altogether from view. The littlie was obviously having a ball in the water – when it followed its mother out of the water it stopped & turned around looking at another youngster still rolling around in the river. It suddenly started running back to the water to have some more fun then reluctantly stopped and turned back to its mother – it really DID look like the baby was saying ‘I want to play some more’ before grudgingly walking back to her! The youngster then had difficulty getting out of the riverbank – providing much entertainment!

The following lunch proved even more entertaining. This time guests were lunching next to the lagoon when the same herd of 22 elies appeared from the bushes and came down to drink and cool off! We all moved inside the dining room to watch from safety as the elies came down in family groups to drink, bath and roll about before having a mud bath and a sand wash. Watching them from close proximity was so exciting – and hilarious! – watching the littlies playfully falling onto the muddy rise and sliding back down to the water again! They really do possess so many human-like characteristics!!

WarthogsOther interesting sightings this week include the first baby warthogs for the season. Jason Gifford spotted five of them south of Tena Tena the other day – all of them very tiny! And whilst Simon were doing a midday transfer they quite unexpectedly came across a serval pouncing on a mouse!! And this was right next to the Mfuwe main gate!!!

Never a dull moment!

cheers
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 23rd and hippo rodeo

You guessed it….last week’s cold snap didn’t last for long! Weather patterns are now firmly back to normal with long hazy hot days – great for animal viewing! All the action is taking place along the Luangwa River as all the smaller rivers and lagoons have now dried up. The animals have all been coming down to the river to drink which has been great for those watching from Nkwali. Buffalo drinkingThe other afternoon about three hundred buffalo wandered down to the water’s edge, right in front of camp. They hung around for quite some time before going back to dry land. They then walked along the edge of the bank eating grasses along the way – they were well spread across the length of the camp on the other side and it looked very interesting with their funny helmets peeping out of the bushes!

On Friday at sunset we were lucky enough to see 9 elephant cross the river to Robin and Jo’s house…. and they tried to climb out of the river at this point but the slope was too much for them. So they walked along the river edge and continued trying to get up the bank in front of chalet 6, then chalet 4…and then in front of the bar! We were all standing above them (at a great – and safe – height!) watching. Suddenly they noticed us and turned quickly, walking back across the river. By this time it was dark with a glorious full moon so the silhouette and accompanying sound was spectacular!

Giraffe near the Nkwali pontoon July 2002Enjoying the water near the pontoon were a pride of 7 adult lion (six lioness and one male) and 8 cubs – frolicking on the sandbank. I’m breaking my self-imposed editorial cat curfew this week!! The pride provided lots of entertainment for viewers. On the other side of the river a young male giraffe had died from natural causes – quite an unexpected surprise for gameviewers to suddenly come across this untouched carcass! We all went for a look at the end of the day and by then only the vultures had made a start on it by eating the eyes (no, not a pretty picture!). It was fascinating for us animal enthusiasts to get a very close-up look at a giraffe. It’s coat was quite smooth and felt like that of a dog but much shorter.

Up in the Nsefu sector the cat viewing has been exceptional this week. We reported a month or two ago that Nsefu and Tena Tena were enjoying lion and leopard viewing like the ‘days of old’. Sightings remain good but of course there are always periods where they are few and far between – sightings are not always guaranteed!!! Over the past week Nsefu has enjoyed quite a variety – Jacob came across a pair of mating leopard, other guests saw a dead male lion which was possibly killed by the horn of a buffalo and on one night all three night drives came back with interesting feline tales.

Firstly Mr. Gifford and guests sat for forty minutes at sunset and watched as a female leopard went about her business. She was climbing up trees, down trees, sniffing inside bushes & generally wandering about. A classic leopard sighting.

Meanwhile Jacob and his troops came across two male lion hunting a hippo on the edge of a riverbank. One lion went for the hippo, missed, and sailed over the riverbank, landing on the sand below – ouch!! The other lion leapt onto the back of the hippo and went for a rodeo ride! The hippo shook the lion off then it chased him to try to take a bite out of it – very entertaining stuff! It was only after another 10 minutes that the lion who flew over the edge staggered back up!! The hippo lived.

LeopardAnd finally Mr. Alfonsi’s group were up near the stork colony when a lioness crossed their vehicle ahead of them. Jason decided to follow the lion and this trail led to a leopard eating its kill. A hyena moved in and took the kill, leaving a very unimpressed leopard with no option but to sit and watch its meal disappear. The lioness then decided it was her turn so she chased the hyena off the kill and settled in. The leopard decided to try and stalk the lioness!! After a few nail-biting moments the leopard abandoned this attempt and started to walk away…..the result saw a role reversal with the lioness stalking the leopard!! What bizarre table manners these wild animals have!

Tena Tena also reported great gameviewing with huge herds of buffalo in the area and lots of cats – at one point guests saw a few lion swimming across the river!

Robin and Jo took the opportunity this weekend to visit Kutandala in the North Luangwa. Robin hasn’t been up there for a number of years and was looking forward to some walking with Rod (and no doubt enjoying some of Guz’s cuisine!). Hopefully we will be able to bring you some tales when they return later today.

Meanwhile, with Nkwali’s guests all out of camp, the staff decided to have lunch by the pool and cool down. Shanie prepared a sensational spread which was laid over tables under the shade of a tree. I have to say that this is definitely the way to lunch during the hotter months. We also played a game of Trivial Pursuit. There were three levels of difficulty we could choose from – children, over 14 years and adult. We unanimously chose the kiddies version – I wonder what that says about us??!

Have a safe and wonderful week!
Bye
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 30th and Food Shortage Update

Jeffrey here, to introduce this week’s newsletter proudly brought to you all by Matthew, our fabulous General Manager!

Over to you Matthew……

RPS BUYS 60 TONNES OF MAIZE –
ENOUGH TO FEED 3200 PEOPLE FOR 3 MONTHS.

It has now been some time since mention was made of the food shortage situation within Zambia and it may be that international media attention has been otherwise focused.

Following on from our It’s Mondays of 5th August and 18th August , we were very encouraged by a lot of responses received with folks expressing genuine interest and commitment as to how they might be able to make a direct impact in helping.

We have subsequently been giving this some thought and are now in a position to advise on progress made. It is very easy to say that RPS will make a commitment to Food Shortage Relief but once committed, it proves quite tricky to actually determine how best to go about this!

One of the most glaring observations is that maize is presently readily available locally but what actually happens is some less than scrupulous traders will be profiteering by bulk buying now, then later releasing maize in more limited quantities. This in turn drives the price up as the rains set in making it beyond the reach of most families at this already difficult time of year. An example of this is that in November last year, the local price of milled maize went from ZK27,000 per 25kg bag to ZK60,000 per bag in only 6 weeks. In our opinion, profiteering and greed of the very worst kind.

This is where we feel we may be best able to assist. Funds permitting, we have sourced upwards of 60 tonnes of maize at a fixed priced of US$230.00 per tonne near Lusaka. Hiring a truck, we can then transport it into the valley over the next 4 – 6 weeks. A suitable storage facility has also been identified which is secure, dry and can be protected against pests such as vermin and weavels. This maize is then available for purchase at a subsidised rate ie, the cost price now rather than an inflated price in 3-4 months time when speculation takes hold.

RPS is fundamentally opposed to any maize we source being distributed on a gratis basis for a number of reasons. It has been demonstrated elsewhere that in order to avoid a reliance on aid and engender dependency in the long term, normal retail practice should be encouraged wherever possible to maintain self-sustainability within the local community.

Further, if the maize is purchased, the income generated can then be re-invested into a Revolving Fund which in turn allows for future maize procurement next season at a time possibly earlier in the year, even shortly after harvest when volume purchases are more cost effective.

In order to mitigate against lower grade profiteering within the local community, we are currently discussing ways and means of ensuring limits are set to the quantities of maize available to each household. We view this as the hardest part of the undertaking and to avoid potential conflict, have tapped into 2 existing local mechanisms – the Village Action Groups (VAG’s) and Area Development Committees (ADC’s) to ensure an equitable distribution and availability.

The members of these groupings are elected locally at grassroots level with no interference from political or traditional leadership, are respected and trusted members of the community and the VAG/ADC charters and constitutions provide for transparency and accountability. RPS will also provide logistical support and management in assisting distribution through the involvement of both Nkwali Camp Manager – Keyela Phiri and Tena Tena Camp Manager – Daudi Njobvu. Both will be able to give some considerable time and attention to this project as we would be looking to commence distribution in January when the camps are closed.

Should anyone wish to make a donation, please feel free to email us directly and we will be happy to advise how to go about this. We will in due course give updates on how things are progressing and targets being reached.

AN UPDATE ON MY BINOS

It is always nice to finish with a good news story.

Some of you may recall a couple of months ago where Jeffrey regaled (with a tad more glee than I thought was warranted I might add) the slightly distressing tale of my 4 year old prized Swarovski binoculars having been partially destroyed by a despotic hyena.

Whilst failing to see much humour in the episode I am both relieved and delighted to give an update and in doing so, give the manufacturers a bit of a plug.

When sending the remains to the Swarovski agent distributor in South Africa, I dug deep to come up with my most original letter of appeal citing every reason why Swarovski couldn’t let such a marketing opportunity go by. I hoped that the Research and Development team at the factory in Austria might look favourably on the hyena spittle-encrusted bins presented to them and thus might extend their warranty to cover such malicious damage given the rather unusual circumstances surrounding their demise.

It seems my tale of woe might have struck a cord as you can imagine my delight when I opened my binocular case and found not my repaired bins but a brand new replacement pair of Swarovski’s staring back at me!

I doubt whether the same ruse would try a second time around and do not recommend such extreme replacement tactics to others. But in this instance, I do feel that you get what you pay for, that such generous customer loyalty is unusual these days and that such loyalty is to be both recognised and applauded.

Have a great week
Matthew

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