Somebody told me the other day that Africa has the best sunsets they have ever seen. And in Africa, Zambia’s sunsets are second to none.
This somebody was obviously an expert, because he had seen sunsets on all the different continents that Mother Earth has to offer. But what set the African sunsets apart, according to my sunset-expert, was the drama, the colours and the idea that somewhere in the bush stretching out in front of you there is a leopard getting ready for a night on the prowl.
So, I asked Dora (Vielen Dank Dora) to pick random times in the month of January to snap some South Luangwa sunsets for you to enjoy. Just mix your own G&T.
Byron & Tara, at the ages of nine and ten, left their little bush-school in January to go to a proper school for the first time in their lives.
The school is on Zambia’s copper belt, and so proper is it that, according to Tara, they “even have to wear shoes!” Wearing shoes when growing up in the Luangwa Valley is a pain only enforced upon kids when “going to South Africa or maybe when we go to the airport” – or so says Byron, the elder of the two.
When asked what they most look forward to about their new adventure they both agree to the friends which they’ll meet there. Byron is quick to add “soccer and rugby and cricket and swimming and maybe even tennis” to his look-forward list.
Growing up in the bush has definitely given these two kids a completely different set of skills than that of their normal concrete-jungle counterparts. Tara, for example, can tell you the difference between a male and female giraffe. Byron, on the other hand, can drive much better than many adults I have met in my life. In fact, in the peak season when things get really busy, I have once or twice relied on him and his old land-cruiser called Dennis to ‘pick up the water drums from the bushcamp.’ So, when I asked him in January, just before they left, what he’ll miss most about Wildlife Camp and the Luangwa Valley he responded: “Driving Dennis and also my dad and the animals… but mostly driving Dennis.”
We’ll miss them too!
Moment of the month.
While having a cup of Zambian coffee with Herman and my brother, who was in the Luangwa Valley for a visit, we noticed vultures coming in from far and wide, landing not too far from the lagoon-side chalets.
Knowing full well that curiosity will eventually get the better of us, my brother and I jumped in a Land Rover and headed off in the direction of ‘vulture airstrip.’ There we found anything between 50 to 80 White-Backed Vultures pecking and ripping away at a hippopotamus bull that must have died the night before in a territorial clash with another hippotamus amphibious.
The birds made for an amazing spectacle and gave both of us a new appreciation for vultures who, like their scavenging counterparts the hyenas, are often thought of as the ‘bad-guys of the bush.’
Gyps Africanus (White Backed Vultures) has a wingspan of over 2meters and can weigh well over 6,5kg’s. They have been recorder to live up to 19years in the wild. They occur in most sub-Saharan countries (they are natives here in Zambia) and prefer habitats that are able to support large quantities of herbivores likes hippo, buffalo and antelope. The herbivores will eventually become their food. After watching the White-Backed Vultures in action I can confidently describe them as “gregarious yet aggressive feeders” – They can consume as much as 1kg of meat in 2minutes after which they’ll spend the next 30hours up in the trees digesting it. They fight with all they have, kicking and biting and swearing at each other to get their fair share. While this distracts some of them, others will sneak in, sticking their heads and long necks deep into the carcass to get hold of the best parts. But what fascinated me most was the Jurassic-Park noises they made.
Unfortunately, as with most of what is left of the world’s creatures, the future of these magnificent birds (and now I refer to vultures as a whole) is bleak. White Backed Vultures were given a “near threatened” conservation status in 2007. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species there are still about 270 000 of these vultures left in the wild. However, their numbers are declining rapidly, especially in areas such as Sudan and Kenia where the conversion of habitat for agricultural use has made life very difficult for these birds. The White-Backs are strict meat-eaters, relying heavily on the circle of life to provide them with carrion. The loss of wild ungulates in areas such as Western Africa has also lead to a reduction in the availability of carrion for these majestic birds.
Good news is that, here in the Luangwa Valley, bird-life is thriving. As I sit here in the office typing this letter, I can make out at least five or six different calls in the back-ground. There is a White-browed Robin Chat, a young Lilac-Breasted Roller, a Bleeting Warbler, the shrill call of the Long-tailed Glossy Starling, a call from one-or-another LBJ (Little Brown Job) that I fail to identify, and in the distance the odd call of the Western-Banded Snake Eagle. Wonderful!
That is that from all of us here at Wildlife Camp. Retha will be out of the office until the middle of March, but Dora will be ready to answer all enquiries. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org