Love – the actual word, not the feeling – has created many difficult situations in boy/girl relationships. When to say “I love you” the first time? Who should say it first? Should I say it every day or every time I say goodbye? So, it is easier to refer to love as just “the L-word.”
The tree where love is to be found.
When it comes to the relationship between a safari-guide and his clients, there are not one, but two L-words that can cause friction if used inappropriately – Lion and Leopard. And that is the last time I’ll use those two words in this newsletter. These words tend to be mentioned before the relationship even gets to park’s gate, and that puts a lot of pressure on the guides.
You see, just like love is hard to find, these other two L-word creatures are even harder to find in the African bush! Shakespeare wrote “The course of true love never did run smooth” and the same applies to looking for “love” in the bush – sometimes you follow love’s-tracks for an hour without finding it. Sometimes other people find love, and tell you where to find love, but when you get to the tree where love is to be found, then there is nothing but a tree.
Love is also blind, google tells me. Africa’s two L-words blind safari-goers all over this fascinating continent to the other wonderful animals on the check-lists. Seeing a Zebra is often not enough – seeing a Zebra chased by an L-word… Now there is a relationship made to last!
And so, if you find yourself early one morning out on safari, watching a beautiful herd of elephants gracefully crossing the Luangwa River, the first light of day touching their mud-caked skins, and somebody politely asks, “Do L-words sometimes hunt elephants?” please think back to this newsletter and remember that is not all about the l-words. There is so much more to appreciate here in the Luangwa Valley.
Only a decoration?
Take the impala for example. Probably to most common animal in Southern Africa but often seen as a mere decoration in the bush.
But, did you know that an impala can achieve a prodigious leap of 9 meters far and almost 3 meters high! Did you know that during the impala rutting season (April here in the Luangwa Valley) the male defends his territory and will herd up to 50 females back to the center, or feigns danger just beyond his boundary by taking a stance and a snort normally used as a warning sign. The females get scared and move back into the heart of the male’s territory.
Did you know that female impalas have been known to hold back the birth of their babies until the first rains arrive? Did you know that, unlike other antelopes, impalas have large, brush-like tufts of long, coarse black hair that cover a scent gland located just above the heel on each hind leg, and that scientist still are not 100% sure of its function. Only a decoration? I don’t think so.
When a baby monkey screams.
While watching a herd of impala picking up fruit-pods underneath an Acacia tree, look up into the tree and see the vervet monkeys dropping down these treats to their animal friends that can’t climb. Vervet monkeys are very common here around Wildlife Camp and in the park. But I vividly remember someone tell me the other day: “I don’t want to look at the monkeys – I am here to find love.”
But, did you know that vervet monkeys have a vocabulary of close to 40 ‘words’ and that they use more than 60 gestures to communicate with each other. Included in this vocabulary are acoustically distinct ‘words’ for each different threat that they encounter in the bush, such as ‘eagle’ and ‘snake.’ Sub-adult females will do everything possible to be allowed to groom and hold another monkey’s baby, a process known as allo-mothering. Have you noticed that when a baby monkey screams, only the mother will look in its direction, while the other monkeys will first look in the mother’s direction, and then at the screaming baby. Yes, they are very common, and tend to steal muffins from our kitchen, but they form an integral part of the bush and should be appreciated more!
Meet Mr Civet
South Luangwa National Park is famous for its night-safaris. But what can one see at night that does not involve any L-words? Meet Mr African Civet. These solitary and nocturnal mammals are famous for the secretions from its perianal gland, known as ‘civetone’, which are traditionally used as an ingredient in perfume production. Brands such as Chanel, Cartier, and Lancôme have all confessed to having used civetone in their products in the past. Civets eat anything from small vertebrates and invertebrates to eggs, carrion, scorpions and vegetable matter. They are one of very few animals that eat millipedes. Their prey is usually located by using smell and sound rather than sight.
The African Civet’s asian cousin, the Asian Palm Civet, produces the world’s most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak, which retails for at least $250 per pound.
It is true that the L-words give you butterflies in your tummy each time they “walk into a room”. But it is also true that there are many other mammals, birds, reptiles and plants here in the Luangwa Valley, each with its own story. So, next time you park next to a herd of waterbuck, stop scanning every tree because there might be something better in it. Sit back and enjoy the waterbuck!
Moment of the month.
As the Luangwa Valley moves through one of the driest seasons in a long time, it is to be expected that many animals won’t survive until the first rains in November. Already this month we’ve seen crocodiles take care of a hippo carcass in mushroom lagoon. We’ve also had a dead giraffe not too far outside of camp. Even though her death can be attributed to birth-complications and not the increasing drought, this month’s best moments is not about the dead animals, but the efficient way in which Mother Nature takes lemons and make lemonade.
The giraffe carcass took only 6 days to completely disappear and fed a variety of animals including vultures, hyenas, a cat with spots and a civet. And just as I started putting this newsletter together we received a radio call from the campsite: “There is a hippo on the sand in front of the en-suite tents and it is not moving – I think it is dead.”
Naturally, we removed the carcass from in front of camp and currently it is just out of smelling distance from the reception and the restaurant. As the dry season continues, the river gets smaller and smaller leaving less space for hippos. This often results in bulls fighting to the death over the last remaining pools. This young hippo bull got in the way of another, bigger, more powerful hippo bull.
But yet again, nature’s clean-machines will remove a 2 ton piece of meat within a week, and for that, the crocs, hyenas, vulutures and even the maggots receive our best moment of the month.
If you’d like to follow these moments visit our facebook page at www.facebook.com/WildlifeCamp and click on the album hippo-funeral where we’ll post images of the bush in action.
That is all for this edition of the Wildlife Camp newsletter.