As we enter October, what we call suicide month, the temperatures rise and the summer becomes deadly, with rain desperately needed. The Mopane woodlands resemble a tree graveyard, with their grey twisted branches, and only a few of brown dried butterfly shaped leaves clinging on, not a drop of green to be seen. The ground is dry, cracked and thirsty for water. As the temperatures soar and food and water become more difficult to find the plains game are found closer to the main river and the oxbows which results in amazing sightings.
My writing of this newsletter came to a sudden stand still last night, around 9:30pm. While I was sitting in bed typing away (and singing along very loudly to my ipod). I heard the bellowing of a hippo, before I could register what the noise was, Lucky our watchman, was knocking on my door. Five lionesses had taken down a young hippo, on the river bank in front of our Herman’s, Dora’s and my house. I hopped off the bed and ran outside to watch. We all congregated just in front of Herman’s house. We must of looked a bit silly, the 3 of us standing watching lions in our P.J’s. The lions were tearing away at the little hippos stomach and feeding on the intestines and stomach contents. We watched in awe for about 5 minutes, when suddenly a large female hippo appeared in our torches beam, she charged at the lioness, flinging one into the air with her large head. The lions scattered for a few seconds, which was enough for the little hippo to get up and make a run for the river. The lions chased but the little hippo escaped into the Luangwa river. The wound to the stomach was bad and we had no hope for the hippos survival from the wounds or from the hungry crocodiles and as predicted the crocodiles could be heard death rolling through out the night. The drama of the night did not end then the hyenas were late on the scene, giggling and whooping at the excitement and prospect of getting fed. At about 2 am there was a lot of noise, and a few nervous giggles, I think the hyenas may have stumbled across the hungry lions. With all the excitement, I can say that I did not get a lot of sleep, but it was well worth the excitement!!
Due to such extreme heat, just a few things to remember when coming to visit us in the hot months. Carry your hat and sun cream in your hand luggage. The trip from the airport to the camp takes about 40 minutes and can be very hot. Sunglasses are also a good idea as there is a lot dust in the air. The most important thing is too drink lots of water. Keep your body hydrated at all times and bring your swimming costume as the pool is the perfect place to sit and watch the game come down to the river.
We have had a busy but good month for us. We were asked to help with Dave and Kate’s wedding. They both work here in the valley and had a 5 day wedding celebration with various activities. We had sundowners for 80 people on the river bank in front of the campsite. It was a great night with lots of delicious snacks, well done to Dora and the kitchen team. Patsy made sure the Pimm’s were perfect and ice cold! We catered again for a bush breakfast for 80 people. Patsy and I entered the park early Saturday morning armed 2 chefs, and 3 waiters and a landrover filled with food. The fresh fruit kebabs, a great choice of sweet and savoury muffins and other baked goods as well as BLT rolls, with the bacon cooked in the park on an open fire made sure everyone was catered for. The Buck Fizz and iced tea were enjoyed by all
Herman and I attended the wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony and a great reception. The Luangwa valley is a great setting for a wedding.
Last month I mentioned the birth of the Giraffe, I was sent some pictures of the birth. Thank you Nellie and John van Herk for sending them on to us to share with you below.
I thought I would take the opportunity to share a bit about the Thornicroft giraffe and their cousins found in Africa.
The Giraffe is the tallest of all mammals, on average they are 6ft tall at birth. They are well known for their long necks, long legs, and spotted patterns; each giraffe has its own unique pattern. Giraffes have small “horns” or knobs on top of their heads that grow to be about five inches long. These knobs are used to protect the head in fights.
Their long necks help giraffes eat leaves from tall trees, typically acacia trees found in the African Savannah. The Thornicroft have been recorded feeding on 90 different plant species including the acacia. The tongue of a giraffe can be as long as 45 cm and is a unique adaptation for feeding on leaves, and pulling them into the mouth, while the teeth strip the leaves from the twigs. The tongue and lips are covered with hard skin that protects them from the sharp thorns found on many of the plants that they eat.
If they need to, giraffes can go for several days without water. Instead of drinking, giraffes rely on remaining hydrated from the moisture content in the leaves they feed on. If you do get to see a giraffe drinking, it is a funny sight with the legs almost in a split position as it lowers its long neck down to the water.
Males weigh between 2,400 and 4,000 pounds and are up to 18 feet tall. Female giraffes are smaller and lighter in colour, and weigh between 1,600 and 2,600 pounds and grow to be about 16 feet tall. Giraffes live for about 25 years in the wild.
The gestation period for giraffes is between 14-15 months. Generally there 16-month period between calving since this is such a long gestation period. Breeding can occur at any time of the year, with the conception peak generally happening in the rainy season. A giraffe calf can be up to 6 ft tall at birth. Females give birth standing up so a baby giraffe starts life with a bump, being dropped on its head from a considerable height! The baby is born with horns – another feature unique to giraffes.
For many years there was thought to be only one species of giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) with somewhere between six and nine subspecies. Each subspecies of giraffes has been defined by differences in their spot patterns (pelage), number of horns (ossicones) and skull shapes. There are striking differences in spot patterns between many giraffe subspecies. For example the reticulated giraffes of northern Kenya have bold regular patterns compared to the jagged star-like patterns of the Masai giraffes of southern Kenya and Tanzania. Recent studies of the genetic differences between several giraffe subspecies across Africa indicate that there may actually be at least six distinct species and possibly more. Some of the potential giraffe species, such as the Nigerian and Rothschild’s giraffe, may be in danger of extinction and require serious conservation action to prevent their disappearance.
The endemic Thornicroft’s giraffe – a unique giraffe population that lives only here in the Luangwa Valley, is a potentially a unique species. They are smaller than their cousins, and the shape and colour of their markings are different with neat brown patches on the body, and star like shaped patterns on the neck. The lower parts of their legs have no patches either.
A few months back we had a team of Giraffe researches staying with us. They darted several giraffe and took samples to analyze whether or not, the Thornicroft are a different species or a sub species. As soon as we get more information on the results, I will let you all know.
Anyway that’s all from me, until next month,
Colls has filled you in on all the excitement in the animal world plus the wonderful wedding and now I must also give some sad news and a dedication to Jojo Harris – a better friend I am yet to find.
You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die, or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live.
Jojo lived with complete passion. She worked at the camp for many seasons and helped us in many ways Sadly Jojo lost her fight to cancer and her family brought her back to Zambia – where we have scattered her ashes in a very special place, where the elephants cross and the moon rises.
Jo loved Africa, especially this valley, many times she considered leaving but kept on returning and this is a place where she can be remembered in the sunsets, the birth of the elephants and the harsh reality of life. Thank you, Jacqui, for having the courage to bring Jo back to Africa.
“Carpe diem – the past at least is one’s own, which is one reason for making sure of the present.”