2010 came and went and now the first month of 2011 has also had its time. The new month did not provide us here at Wildlife Camp with too much time to lull over new-year’s resolutions, hence nobody at Wildlife Camp will go on a diet (the food is too good), be more impulsive (there might be elephants) or write a daily diary (our photos are enough proof of what we do). Yes, we shall stick to our old recipe, which has been working so well since 1992 when Herman started the camp.
In this month’s newsletter I will give some feedback on Wol the orphaned Owl. I am also interviewing Wildlife Camp guide Sylvester to find out more about the days he spends in the bush and off course there is the sighting of the month.
How is Wol?
Wol is a wood-owl that fell from its nest next to a chalet here at Wildlife Camp. After considering all rehabilitation option, we decided to give it to Steve & Anna Tolan at the Chipembele Educational Centre to look after it. Here is Steve on Woll’s progress:
His name is ‘Wol’…a deliberate misspelling of ‘owl’, and was the name of the owl in ‘Winnie the Pooh’. We’re not sure if he’s (?) male or female. We read that the females call is higher than the males, but have nothing to compare ‘him’ to!
We got him from Wildlife Camp on 23.10.10 as a fluffy chick. He matured quickly and in early December we took advice from an expert and opened the cage door and he (?) had gone by morning. We had a huge storm the first night and he didn’t come back for two nights. We were worried about him but on the third night Anna found him calling in the trees behind our house and after a couple of hours coaxing he eventually came down and took some food.
Since then he has been coming either very early in the morning, but certainly every evening. He calls to us at dusk and when Anna calls him, he comes right to us, generally flying up close, then running. One day I instinctively put my arm out and he landed on my wrist! He has also landed on my foot.
He eats 1-2 cut-up (domestic) chicks at a time (which are delivered from Lusaka). He is mostly insectivorous in the wild, and is finding his own food too. When we had a huge termite hatch around the house and he swooped down into the light to feed on them right next to Anna. I’ve seen him chasing all sorts of insects on the ground at night…even the 6″ long biting centipedes. He roosts about 200 metres from the house in thick vegetation, where he spends each day. Every night he’s active in and around the house. Sometimes he gets into the house through an open window and refuses to leave! He flies from lampshade to lampshade and is not easily chased out! We get lots of nocturnal butterflies on the ceiling after dark and he hunts them by hanging upside down from the internal thatched roof when he pins one in his talons and eats it. On rainy nights we sometimes allow him to stay, and he’s usually gone in the morning.
We are cutting the chicks into larger pieces now to force him to fly off with them and learn to rip them apart with his beak while it holds it tight in his talons.
Africa-wide, the safari guides of South Luangwa National Park are considered to be among the best in the business. Since the invention of walking safaris, which has its roots in South Luangwa, the guides of the area have been setting guiding trends. Not only is their depth of knowledge something to behold, but the way in which they present their facts mean that even watching an impala urinate is interesting. Sylvester Mbaama (31) is one of the best of the best – I decided to ask him some questions about his extraordinary work.
How long have you been in the guiding business?
This is my 5th year.
What makes South Luangwa National Park so special?
The indemnic species, especially the Thornicroft Giraffe, but also the other ones such as Cookson’s Wildebeest. Off course, the night safaris on open vehicles are very special.
What do you like most about your job?
I really like the challenge of interpreting wildlife and explaining to guests what their behaviour is all about. Meeting people from different countries and backgrounds is also a big plus and I learn new things from guests every day.
Which animal is your favourite?
Which bird is your favourite?
The Crested Barbet
To which animals do you usually get the best response from guests?
Leopards for sure. Sometimes we’ll find 5 leopards within two or three safaris but every times is different and every times guests react very excitedly towards these cats. I myself never get tired of watching them.
Do you sometimes stay in contact with guests that you took on safari?
Yes – we email, they send me photos of the safaris I took them on and I receive letters from all over the world. Many guests have come back to Wildlife Camp and have asked that I be their guide again.
What can guests do to make your life as a guide easier?
Guests who ask questions and contribute to the conversations make my job a lot easier. There is not really such a thing as a bad question when it comes to nature. It is also good to get feedback from guests.
Are there animals in South Luangwa National Park that you have never seen before?
Yes. The Caracal and the Pangolin. I have also never seen Hartebeest here in South Luangwa, although I have seen signs like tracks and droppings for all these animals, so I know they are here.
What is the most important thing you have learnt about nature during your years of guiding?
If you look after nature it will look after you. Not only in a manner where nature provide us with food and resources. I have also found that if you see an animal that is uncomfortable with your presence, you should drive on. Soon you’ll find another one that is more than happy to pose for some photos.
Some more stories
What is the saddest thing you have seen in the bush?
My guests and I were having bush-coffee one morning when we heard alarm calls. We got on the Land Rover to investigate and found lions stalking a lone warthog. While watching them we heard the distinct distress call of a buffalo, and we found that three lions had brought down a calf. They were part of the pride of seventeen. What was interesting is that they did not kill it. At that stage it seemed to me as though they wanted the calf to cry out, because they knew that a bigger buffalo would soon come to its rescue. And that is exactly what happened. The mother emerged from the herd and as soon as she was isolated got attacked by the rest of the pride. By this time the calf was paralyzed, but still crying out and the lions holding it down joined in to take down the big cow. They killed the mother and eventually the calf within 5metres of each other. It was a sad sight.
What is the scariest thing you have seen in the bush?
Very close by the main gate to the park we were watching lion cubs play next to the road. Naturally curious, they all came over to the car and played underneath it. Suddenly the mother appeared and also approached the car. Slowly she walked right up to me – remember, the safari vehicles do not have doors next to the driver and I was totally exposed. She came closer and closer to the point where my spotter asked whether he should hit her with the spotlight. I responded that he must only take a swing if she starts biting… It was in summer so I was wearing shorts… The lioness took two good licks on my shin, turned around and led her cubs back into the bush.
What is the funniest thing you have seen in the bush?
I was on my way to a favourite sundowners-spot of mine when I spotted a car from another camp stuck in loose sand. When I approached I found that a lioness was staring right at the vehicle – obviously the driver could not get out to lock his wheel hubs. After deliberating for a short while, the two of us had an ingenious plan – I drove off about 50metres and switched off my engine. I started imitating a Puku-alarm call – the noise they make when they are being threatened by a predator. After the third or fourth call the lioness lost interest in the stuck vehicle and came over to investigate my calls. The driver quickly jumped out, locked his wheel-hubs and was able to drive himself out of the sand. We all had a good laugh.
What is the most amazing thing you have seen in the bush?
I was lucky enough to watch a giraffe give birth. This is a very rare thing to see. The baby was born with the mother still standing, and as you can imagine, the drop to the ground must not have been a pleasant “welcome to this world.” Despite the drop, the baby was ok, and 45minutes later got to his feet and walked off with the mother.
As you can gather, the South Luangwa guides all have amazing knowledge and stories, and they are always willing to join you for a cup of coffee in the Wildlife Camp Restaurant to tell you all about it.
Sighting of the month.
There is one animal among the big five that often has to play second fiddle to the other four: Syncerus Caffer a.k.a The Cape buffalo. Old bachelor buffalo bulls are commonly found outside the mega-herds of up to 1000. These ‘dagga-boys’ as they are affectionately known form small herds of around a dozen or so and that is how we found them at Mbangula lagoon, with Billy Nkoma behind the steering wheel. After seeing how the very dry summer affected their condition during October and November it was great to see these beasts in January looking strong and bulky again. They were half-way in the mud feeding on Nile Cabbage and covered in Cattle Egrets. It made a good sight, the fresh green of the grass, the dark brown mud-caked skins of the bovines and the dashes of white fighting for ticks. The impressive thing was, as soon as they had enough of us, one particular bull took it upon himself to show some aggression towards the Land Rover. That was our cue to leave – Neither Billy nor his spotter Isaac were embarrassed to confess that they felt intimidated by the charging buffalo. The power that these animals have is truly something to behold and not something to play around with.
That is it for January 2011.
Retha will be out of the office for the month of March, but Dora will be in camp to answer all your e-mails. You can find her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kind Regards from myself and all the staff here at Wildlife Camp, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.