Selous Game drives Part 12
Phew, it was hot sleeping in the tent last night. Those in our group whose tents were close to the oxbow lake (I think I wrote in the last blog our camp was by the river) said they had a nice breeze but the cooling wind didn’t reach our tent. Paul and I still slept sound enough that the only night music we heard was the grunting and complaining of feeding hippopotamus. Brian and Daktari had a Cape buffalo behind their tent that they startled during the night, sending the frightened buffalo crashing through the bushes. I’m glad we didn’t encounter that beast. Nyama and Ngruwe heard something eating next to their tent and I believe that it was Mawe and Uchunguzi that listened to an unidentified animal as it lapped up water from the river.
I did hear Sahidi (sp) our night watchman singing in a soft voice near our tent last night. When I asked him about his singing this morning he gave me a puzzled look and said he wasn’t singing. The mystery is solved at breakfast when I ask if anyone else heard singing last night. Our next door neighbor, Mkatagiza Usiku laughs and said that Njema was singing in her sleep. Ha, I wasn’t dreaming and I compliment Njema on her voice, it was quite lovely. Speaking of Sahidi, it seems the only thing he had to chase out of camp during his watch was a bush baby trying to get into the kitchen garbage bag.
There is a beautiful sunrise this morning and everyone is taking photos as the rising of the red sun draws colorful lines in the water. We are all up early this morning as the guides want to get out of camp as quickly as possible. After our breakfast we gather our gear and are exiting the camp by 8 a.m. Kevin wrests the Rover through the winding road leading from our camp until the narrow lane intersects with a main road.
The road takes us along the edge of one of the many oxbow lakes found in the Selous Refuge. Our guides drive the Rovers over dried up fingers of the lake to get us close to the edge of the water. These areas are pitted with the hoof prints that hippopotamus made when there was water here for the river horses to wallow in. As we bounce over the pockmarked ground, impromptu grunts and groans escape through our lips. On this game drive and the remaining game drives, whenever we see that our vehicle is going to cross another dry area of a lake a resigned murmur of regret filters through the truck. These rides were, to say the least, not comfortable but we certainly got close to the myriad of life along the water’s edge by enduring the bone jarring rides.
As we tour the lake shores, we observe the ubiquitous hippopotamus and crocodiles, plus an array of water birds. We see African Jacana whose long toes and big feet allow them to step around on the vegetation that covers the surface along the edge of the lake. There are Black-winged Stilts strutting in the water sporting bright pink legs, Three-banded Plovers, Herons, and Egrets and on and on. A birders paradise indeed.
Our convoy leaves the lake behind and we drive further into the interior of the Selous on the quest for land mammals which hopefully will include wild dogs. The landscape is dry and dusty and I often pull out my bandana and hold it over my nose and mouth in an effort to filter out some of the red dirt that is kicked into the air by the lead vehicles. This means I am hanging on to the roof tubing with only one hand, so when we hit the inevitable bumps, I ram into the side of the truck even harder than normal. In fact Nyama and I have traded seats at Nyama’s suggestion, and I paraphrase, so we will have both sides and arms equally sore instead of just one arm and side bruised and aching! At this rate, my left side will soon catch up to the soreness of my right side!
This morning, as was the case yesterday, we find numerous giraffe along our route, most of them staring curiously at us with their liquid black eyes. One exception to the placid giraffes is a pair of male “teenagers” that are practicing for combat that they are bound to take part in when they become adults. I wish I could share the video I have of the two playmates that shows their fighting technique. The youngsters will cock their long necks back towards their sides and then swing their long necks towards their opponent. The giraffes then land a blow with their head on their opponent. Imagine the similarity to a human holding a mace and cocking their arm back as far as they can, swinging the weapon through the air and landing a blow on their enemy with the maces head. The young giraffes are just goofing around but even so their heads land with some hefty thumps on each other’s body. What a battle must occur between adult male giraffes when they are fighting for real!
When we stop for a choo break, Brian asks if anyone wants to challenge him in a dung spitting contest. No, I’m not kidding you about this! Paul has already participated in this safari game in the past (I declined both times) so decides to forego the fun. The only human taker to the challenge is Vidole Juu, who takes it in stride when he learns this contest doesn’t mean you spit on dung, it means you put some dung in your mouth and see how far you can spit it. Impala dung is prevalent here and the dung is a nice, small, round pellet which works well, so I’m told. Vidole Juu gives it his all but comes up well short of the distance that the professional dung spitter Brian sends his round, black pellet. Paul decides our friend squid should give dung spitting a try but squid proves to be a poor participant and the impala poo lands at Paul’s feet.
I might as well give you a short background on why we have a plastic squid traveling with us. Squid came into our lives when someone, (Paul’s sister Joy), found her lying on a beach and stuck the drink glass decoration in my purse while we were in Puerto Rico. The unwanted orange piece of plastic was snuck back into Joy’s possession before we left that beautiful island. Since then squid has been shuttled back and forth between Colorado and Kansas until we all ran out of ideas or friends who would help us in getting the wayward squid into each other’s house. We both began taking squid on our various travels, trying to outdo each other with photos of squid enjoying or in trouble on our respective vacations. We even got our Rover pals to help show our horror when squid was accidentally dropped out the window on one of our game drives in Ruaha and was consumed by an elephant! You will be relieved to know that we later discovered an intact squid in a pile of elephant poo :). Many of you probably think this is a bit silly, but we have had a lot of fun with our adventures with squid. Right now squid is in Paris with Joy, and seems to be enjoying her foo foo French holiday after the rough travel of Africa.
After our break, we travel on through areas that have a park like appearance. Tall acacia and other thorny bushes and trees are thinly scattered over grassy expanses. We find herds of impalas, zebra, more giraffe and a large herd of wildebeest, the first wildebeest we have seen in the Selous. We do not find any elephant.
As we are driving back to camp for lunch, we come across a small group of impalas in genuine alert mode. They are staring at a dense stand of brush, snorting and stamping their front legs. In time the females lose their nerve and take off running, but two males stand their ground and continue to sound the alarm. Our vehicles begin to drive on but we beg Kevin to wait a little bit longer since the bucks seem so sure that danger is lurking nearby. We stare in the same direction as the nearest male is looking, and soon a shadowy figure is seen walking in the bushes. Hyena! Oddly enough, this is the first hyena we have actually seen on our safari although we have heard plenty of the skulking beasts calling at night.
The young hyena has no fear of our vehicles and continues ambling to the edge of the brush line where he lays down on the far side of the nearest bush to our vehicles. Our sister vehicles drive to where the hyena is lying in order to get a clearer look at the creature. When our companions finish observing the hyena we take their place so we can take a few photos before leaving the sleepy animal alone. The heck of it is that when I am going through my photos of our first hyena sighting, I think I am hitting the protect button for these photos and instead I have been deleting them! Brother, I have mistakenly deleted photos before so you would think I would have learned my lesson. I only have one photo, see below, of the hyena peering out of the bush when he walked to the edge of the brush line not far from our Rover.
After lunch, and I have no clue what we were served but I’m sure it was excellent, we take a break and rest from the rough drive of this morning. In order to get some air through our tent we follow the example of our safari leader and a couple of other safarists and open both ends of our tent. There doesn’t seem to be many bugs around and this is definitely worth doing as it makes the interior of our tent much more comfortable. There is a convoy of ants that discover the opening in the back of our tent, but drawing my finger through the dirt forms a barrier that the small brown insects will not cross. Why does that work??
It’s midafternoon when we leave for our afternoon game drive. Our drivers are setting a good pace and seem to have a destination in mind, as they don’t seem to be looking too hard for game. We pass by a large herd of wildebeest lounging in the shade of the trees, well back from the road. In Paul and my memory which very well might be wrong, we lose sight of the other two vehicles and Kevin must get directions from Mochie over the radio in order to find our fellow safarists. When we see our friends they are parked near the road underneath a couple of acacia trees. There are clumps of ground plants with spiky, palm like leaves growing around the acacias. When we drive up to join the rest of our group the first thing we see is a Wild Dog lying flat on its side. The male dog’s bloated belly is protruding into the air, and if I couldn’t clearly see that this animal is a male, I would have guessed it was a pregnant female! Alright, Paul and I can finally add the sighting of wild dogs to our African safari highlights!! This is no small feat, as the wild dog numbers are on the decline and only found in a few places in East Africa.
Brian is riding in our vehicle and is as excited as any of us at the sight of these interesting canines. Judging by the first dogs extended stomach, it appears that the pack is lying around digesting their lunch, while also escaping the blazing sun as they nestle among the ground palms. It is easy to see why wild dogs are also called painted dogs since the mottled coats of the animals look like someone lobbed pellets of yellow, white and black paint at the canines which decorated their hides in a modern art style. If you’re a horse person I suppose you could call them the Appaloosa of the canine world.
I didn’t record in my journal how many dogs there were in this pack but it seemed that when you thought you had seen them all another one would stick its nose out from the serrated leaves of one of the palm like bushes. Often, one of the long-legged dogs emerge from its resting place, panting from the heat, and walks a short distance to crawl into a neighboring bush, making the palm leaves rattle like a bamboo wind chime. Several of the dogs were content to lay, sit, or stand in the open under the tall acacias oblivious to their human admirers.
There is one male who seems uneasy with the closeness of humans and he whines then gets to his feet walking across the road to hide in another bush. The slender dog reappears and trots off down the road and then returns. Eventually he entices a couple of his pack mates to follow him and they walk into a patch of tall grass and disappear.
As I am watching the dogs out the back of the vehicle, we begin to move and I ask out loud “what are we doing”. The next thing I know Kevin has driven the Rover up to a Palm bush and tapped it with the bumper. No one can quite believe what Kevin just did and Brian admonishes him and tells him not to scare the dogs, which we did of course! I’m not sure if it was Bacari or Mochie who performed the same stunt on a different bush almost simultaneously with Kevin. I wonder if our drivers have pulled this trick before because the result is that several dogs jump to their feet and exit their hiding place. None of us are happy about the incident and Usiku tells us later that Njema declares that we are harassing the painted dogs and insists that they leave immediately. Good for Njema. I am puzzled by the action of the two drivers because I know they have a genuine respect for the wildlife.
We have a long trip back to our camp and on the return trip we catch a glimpse of a Red Duiker. We nearly drive by a tree full of Black and White Colobus monkeys that are feeding. Most of the monkeys scamper away through the treetops when we stop to observe them. Two braver monkeys continue to forage and one of them performs a gravity defying reach for a particularly tempting morsel. I wonder what the purpose is of the long mantle of white hair that grows from these monkeys shoulders. Whatever the reason the silky white hair is very striking.
As we are driving along the lakeside, Kevin stops and points out a Black Stork which is also known as the Umbrella bird. We are astonished by the hunting tactics of the bird and I swear my mouth is agape as we watch the jet black bird search for food. The Stork will take two or three steps, throw its wings into a circle that completely covers its head and body, rustle its feathers and then when it drops its wings, there is often a small fish wriggling in the bird’s beak. All of us are quite taken by the Umbrella birds performance and someone, (was it you Ngruwe?), quips that all we need is some Dracula theme music to accompany the show. That is a perfect analogy, because when the bird throws his black wings over himself it is akin to Dracula throwing his black cape across his face!
Well, the day is waning and we have returned to camp ready for a feast from Christophe. We line up for the showers and keep the camp workers busy pouring hot water into the bucket showers. What an exciting day we have had with all our animal and bird encounters. The icing on the cake naturally is seeing the elusive and rare Wild dogs. Supa!!
Next blog, one last full day in the Selous. Nancy