Its Monday 23rd December 2013 and Simon’s Liuwa experience.

Well Christmas is just around the corner now and i hope you are getting into the spirit of it all! This week we will hear from our old friend Simon Cousins who ventured further field this time to the majestic Liuwa Plain. Over to you Si.

“There are not many great superlatives to describe the wonder of the Liuwa Plain experience with Robin Pope Safaris. Lucky enough to hop on a trip to Liuwa I grasped it with both hands…and feet!!

We landed at Kalabo airport and were met by Robin and Jason – it was wonderful to meet up with old friends again. Simon and Claire Marinker, the other 2 guests on the trip, and I climbed into the game viewing vehicles and headed for the park, through the villages and the woodland that borders the plain. The first sign of the vast open plain was breathtaking………. Until Robin informed us that what we were seeing was small compared to what was awaiting us passed the next bunch of trees!! And he was right……!! It is hard to describe this huge expanse that lay before us. We could see the curvature of the earth!!

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After a typically delicious RPS picnic lunch next to a lagoon we headed on to Matamanene Camp. We had not been in camp more than 20 minutes when Wendy, the camp hostess, reported that the African Carnivore Program team, who is out on Liuwa Plain doing research on the various predators there, had found the 2 cheetah sisters not far from camp. We hastily jumped on board the vehicle and rushed out to find them. What then ensued was one of the most exciting periods of game viewing I have ever seen. The 2 cheetah got up, stretched, and then moved out onto the plain towards 2 herds of wildebeest. After a short while they individually began to target the wildebeest calves in the herd with numerous attempts – all of which failed. What was most interesting was behavior of the adult wildebeest, particularly the mothers, when the cheetah were close they would get themselves between their calves and the fast approaching predators and turn sharply whilst omitting a deep grunting to try and put the cheetah off its stride. This they did successfully at every attempt!!

 

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The cheetahs then gave up on these 2 herds after about an hour of repeated attempts and moved onto find another herd to have a go at. After finding another herd and failing on several occasions to bring down a wildebeest calf they switched tactics and began hunting oribi in longer grass. This proved a much better option as they proceeded to kill one within half an hour! From the start of the first hunt to the completion of devouring their oribi kill took them over 3 hours and we were able to watch all the drama and action play out before our eyes! What an amazing start to our 5 days on Liuwa.

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No rest for the guests as Robin and Jason had us up at quarter to five the next morning as they had recently found a new hyena den and they wanted to get us out to see them as they are more active in the early morning. Hyenas are one of the top predators on the Liuwa Plain and are very relaxed with the vehicle and even inquisitive, often approaching right up to us. Wonderful viewing. With the hyenas, and their pups of varying ages, being so relaxed we were able to watch their complex social structure playing out right in front of us before the adults left to go and find a nice muddy waterhole to wallow in when things got a little warmer.

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The vastness of the place never ceased to amaze. At a glance you couldn’t see a great deal out there but after lifting your binoculars up you noticed the place was teaming with game and abundance of birds, ranging from the noisy larks to the elegant cranes, secretary birds, bustards and korhaans. With over 40,000 wildebeest in Liuwa Plains there is always some comical behavior to look at. Initially I made the error of calling the wildebeest ‘stupid’ in front of Jason – a big error!! Jason jumped to the defense of these maligned creatures and carefully explained how clever they actually were. I reluctantly had to change my description of the wildebeest to mad or crazy in appearance – something he could not argue with!!!

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Two huge electrical thunderstorms over 2 consecutive nights began to transform the plains as the lilies and various other flowers burst forth. The overcast mornings also allowed us to be out in the park for a much longer time as it was so cool. Once such morning we caught up with the resident pack of wild dogs comprising of the mother and 12 ‘teenagers’.

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They had recently killed a wildebeest calf and had polished it off quickly excepting for a few bones and the mane with which the younger ones proceeded to play with eventually taunting a lone hyena with the remainder of the mane and ‘allowing’ it to come in and steal it before the pack of youngsters chased it off !!!

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The dogs then suddenly got up and took off across the plain in pursuit of something else to eat – another herd of wildebeest was the target. Interestingly this time they had little chance as the female wildebeest ‘corralled’ the youngsters in the middle of the herd and the dominant bull faced the dogs down. With the wildebeest not running it almost seemed like the dogs did not know what to do and soon lost interest and went in search of something else to kill before eventually giving up and lying down in and around a lagoon for the rest of the day. We left them to it for the heat of the day before returning in the afternoon and had sundowners watching the pack – what a way to spend the day!!

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Although most large storms are life giving for most creatures on the earth it appeared not to be the case for 2 zebras………… the only conclusion that we could come to is that a lightning strike was what killed the 2 beasts as there was no other signs of ‘foul play’ around them. Their demise did, however, benefit the numerous hyenas and vultures around the place, though!

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One of the most famous animals on the plains of Liuwa is, of course, Lady Liuwa, the last lioness living out there before more lions were introduced to Liuwa Plain. She is amazingly relaxed with people and regularly sort their companionship by spending many hours in camp before her new companions were brought in to join her. The new male lion and his lady friend have formed a very close friendship with the old lady and they spend much of their time together apart from when the male wonders off to survey his new territory an harass the resident population of hyenas!! Apparently he has developed a deep hatred for the hyena’s on the plain and has killed quite a few of them. As you would imagine, the hyena’s have developed a healthy respect for this magnificent lion and steer well clear of him and his ladies!

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The good news is that the young lioness is pregnant and due to give birth very soon – we await the news of the youngsters and look forward to hearing from the RPS team when they return in April / May 2014.

As with all these trips – time passed by too quickly and before we knew it our time had come to an end. We were heading back to the little town of Kalabo to fly out back to Lusaka leaving behind one of the most special places I had ever been to. It is all still sinking in – the amazing wildlife and abundant birdlife ( we notched up over 150 different species ) of Liuwa Plain and the wonderful service of Robin, Jason, Wendy and the superb RPS team will remain with me forever!”

Thanks Simon for the update as well as the fabulous pictures (as always!).

Thats all for this week, i will catch up with you again next Monday for the last It’s Monday of 2013.

Merry Christmas!

Cheers

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