Elephants, and MORE elephants!

Elephants, and MORE elephants!

The first elephant herds would arrive at the camp waterhole at about ten in the morning. The last animals would leave at dusk……and in-between these times, there would be a constant stream…like ships or barges moving through a canal….interspersed by dazzles of zebra, impala and loping baboons who would drink with pursed lips, shifty eyes and bottoms much elevated.  Piles of dung lay scattered around resembling a myriad termite mounds on a gray plain, literally scores of them on the well trodden, flat gray soil around the waterhole.

Elephants at Somavundhla Pan

Elephants at Somavundhla Pan

Wherever we drove there was sign of elephant feeding behaviors. Broken shrubs, debarked trees of several kinds, dung piles, pathways like smooth two foot roads crossing the sandy track either leading to or from a waterhole, even a distant one.  Shuffled sandy crossings were common on the road, and silent gray forms often stood like shadows, motionless except for a periodic ear movement during the heat of noon. The younger members lay down to be rounded lumps amongst a cathedral of pillar legs.

The best part was at sundowners.  We would be drawn to the larger pans like Somavundhla and Little Sam’ to see what animals were there….apart from elephant. Sable, roan, buffalo and baboons were the common creatures found there. Lions too, once. Then herds upon herds ….family upon family, each lead by a matriarch would either be marching in or be there already, sucking the water up through their trunks and blowing into their mouths with gusty, watery sighs.

 

 

Drinking herds

Drinking herds

The smokey atmosphere created ideal conditions for photography, and I made the most of it, despite the limitations of my small camera.  All three evenings we stopped to enjoy G&T’s at waterholes, and each event was memorable for some particular reason. The reds of the sky, changing hues with time or the proximity we allowed ourselves to be to the bustling, skin-rubbing, dribbling animals. It was a great privilege to be able to be so close to them without their concern.

Water was far more important!

 

 

 

 

 

Last sundowners with elephants

Last sundowners with elephants

 

Broken tusk

Broken tuskAt one waterhole we found a piece of tusk, broken during a tussle perhaps or digging for minerals, lying on a bed of dung and sand. We left it there….part of the scenery in this wilderness of elephants.

At one waterhole we found a piece of tusk, broken during a tussle perhaps or digging for minerals, lying on a bed of dung and sand. We left it there….part of the scenery in this wilderness of elephants.

 

Zimbabwe first stop…Land of the Giants!

Bulawayo receded into the smoke-hazed distance as the Pilatus climbed steadily to a safe 20 000 feet, above the layer of brown haze thickened by the seasonal bush fires that proliferate in July and August.

The patchwork subsistence cultivation patterned the dry bush below us and we dozed in companiable silence. I glanced out of the oval window and recognized some of the local landmarks of this national park, which is an area the size of Wales. The waterholes that lay like carelessly scattered coins across the bush had tiny dark dots clustered around the edges…..I smiled as I recognized them for what they were….elephants!  I leant forward and tapped one of the ladies on the knee as she dozed…’Hey Diane, we have your first elephants..’. Immediately, her eyes sprung open and she peered out of the window.

We spent three nights at Little Makololo, and saw possibly 1000 elephants in that time!

We also saw a respectable number of other herbivores and carnivores as well, but first, let’s land and drive to camp. The aircraft flared and landed perfectly, the bumpy runway announced a Zimbabwe touch-down. The pilot had thoughtfully banked over a waterhole on the approach, exposing about sixty elephants drinking there! The first antelope we saw were a goodly herd of eland which skittered off a short distance as we slowly approached, the elephants ignored the vehicles as they drank and pushed and squealed at the round concrete trough.

Matriarch and calves at a waterhole

Matriarch and calves at a waterhol

 

 

I looked around at the faces in both vehicles…..a rewarding sea of smiles and excitement. I sighed happily….THIS was going to be good!

Pamberi ne Zimbabwe.

 

 

 

 

 

Lolling, replete lions ignored us as we drove by.

Lolling, replete lions ignored us as we drove by.

We spotted a group of lions at the next waterhole en route to camp. They lay replete, confident and ignored us too…later we discovered they were full of sable meat. A female by the look of the mane we found in the bush.  Whilst we watched the lions in awe, a large roan came strolling warily out of the bush and immediately spotted the lions. He stared fixedly at the cats, and then trotted off a distance before turning briefly once again to stare at the lolling lions.

 

 

 

 

 

The warmth and soft glow of the fire.....

The warmth and soft glow of the fire…..

The campfire held us all in its soft glow that evening, as the temperatures slid down the scale to minus 2C!