The rainy season has finally come to an end, but the bush is still alive and kicking.
At least we brought her back some chocolate.
May is always a lovely month. The rainy season has finally come to an end, but the bush is still alive and kicking. The valley cools down and all the roads in the park are finally graded and opened for the busy season ahead. Wildlife Camp is also still alive and kicking – Herman and I went down to Indaba and I’d like to thank everybody that took the time to come and see us! Dora is back from her holiday in Switzerland and Retha is the only one who hasn’t seen a shopping-mall in the last couple of months – at least we brought her back some chocolate!
In this month’s newsletter I shall give some feedback on an animal that we have all grown to love. There’s also some bragging to be done, and as usual the moment of the month caps it all off – Enjoy!
Living next door to Alice!
Many previous visitors to South Luangwa might have heard of, or even spent some time with Alice and her two cubs – the now famous leopard threesome that hangs out at Mbangula lagoon and Wamilombe-plain. I am 99% certain that over the last year or so more photos have been taken of them than any other three individual animals in the park. That is because they have gone out of their way to please guests.
More than once Alice have ended up in the shade of an unexpecting safari-vehicle – while this sounds like a great sighting, it’s not! You can’t see the sleeping cat underneath the car, and neither can you start the vehicle and drive off as you might put a kink in the cat’s tail. So, you end up with other cars stopping next to you, pointing and laughing and then taking videos and photos before they leave you there, stuck with a large spotted cat under your drive shaft.
Alice has also caused much confusion among the guiding community, with leopard sigthings as far and wide as 10km’s away from her area being described as “we saw Alice.” I vividly remember a moment when a male with massive testicles (it was impossible to miss them!) walked along the river bank and a guide from another camp told his guests all about Alice, and how she is rearing two cubs!
Because the three are so famous, and the cubs are growing up rapidly, I decided to use this newsletter to provide an update on what they have been up to.
Alice in wonderland.
Leopards normally have two or three cubs after a gestation period of just under 100days. The cubs weigh roughly 600grams at birth and are weaned at the age of three months. They become independent between 13 and 18 months and males will be sexually mature at 2 years.
And that is where the interesting part comes in: Alice’s two cubs, yet to be named, have now reached the age where independence come natural to leopards. But for these two, the comfort of knowing that mom is always around, usually with a fresh piece of meat hanging from a sausage-tree branch, is just too much. They keep following mom at a safe distance. But to be fair to them, they have tried their best to grow up: We have seen the two youngsters trying to hunt for themselves, without much success. Sometimes they go for prey much larger than themselves, as witnessed on a drive in January when the young female set off after a hippo. Other times they spend all their energy going for small prey like squirrels, guinea-fowls, and even a porcupine (the porcupine hunt was successful, yet painful!) We have also seen the male, who by now is bigger than his mom, steal food from Alice, and witnessed the younger female, still scared of mom’s sharp claws, wait for Alice to go for a drink before grabbing chunks of meat and heading for the hills.
But we know that this excellent value-for-money entertainment will not last much longer. Alice has been seen with another male recently. New cubs will change her relationship with her ‘old’ offspring completely, even turning it into a hostile affair. We suspect it must be the same large male that has also been seen chasing Alice’s male cub away, very nearly inflicting serious harm on more than one occasion. I saw Alice a while back and she seemed to have aged a lot over the last few months – she is now an old lady and if cats have nine lives, I guess she is at number six or seven already.
One thing that still set them apart from other leopards that I know is their absolute comfort, and even willingness, to entertain people. And for now we have to enjoy it, as it will not last forever. But we must always keep in mind that they are still wild leopards, that they still need peace and quiet to hunt, that they still want to lie in a tree all day long without the click of cameras and that they still need to fight for themselves in a bush that often favour other animals above them – that we must respect!
Photos from top to bottom:
1) Male Cub roughly 8 months old
2) Female Cub roughly 8 months old
3) Male Cub almost grown up
4) Female Cub almost grown up – look at her sitting on the road, not minding the car!
5) Alice (the mother), a couple of weeks ago.
6) My skinny legs and Alice strolling past the car – that is her way of playing practical jokes on the guides!
7) Alice back in 2010, dragging a kill right past the vehicle.
Congratulations to us!
For the second year running, Wildlife Camp received a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel-website. That puts this little owner run safari-camp in the middle of the Zambian bush among the top 10% out of 2.5 million businesses listed on TripAdvisor – a fantastic achievement for a camp that also pays more than $50 000 per year towards the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia!
If you have been to Wildlife Camp before, please help us in keeping up our record by click on this link to review the camp. http://www.tripadvisor.com/UserReview-g479226-d614516-m11765-The_Wildlife_Camp-South_Luangwa_National_Park.html
Moment of the month
This month’s best moment is not an action-packed carnivore hunt like last month’s. There is no speed and no blood involved. In fact, it’s probably the most boring moment of the month we’ve had in a very long time – it’s about two animals walking over sand, and that’s about it. Here is what happened:
Late one Thursday afternoon a hippo appeared out of the river in front of camp. Now there is nothing unusual about that – tons of hippos come out of the river towards camp each day. But this hippo had a fresh-out-of-the-oven, as-big-as-a-loaf-of-bread, still-not-strong-on-its-feet, cute-as-a-kitten mini version of herself following her!
Baby hippos are born underwater at a weight between 25 and 45 kg and must swim to the surface to take their first breath. This baby must have been born not much more than 24hours before we saw it – it was tiny and obviously struggling to cope with the soft sand that it now had to run over in order to keep up with its mom. Herman, who has spent basically all of his life in the bush, said that he had never seen a baby-hippo that small!
For the next 20 minutes the mother paraded her new calf all along the beach, patiently turning back each time the calf dropped down onto the sand for a breather. Every time she noticed me, however, she would raise her head and intimidate the living daylights out of me, going from soft as a mother’s touch to one of the most dangerous animals in African in the blink of an eye. Darkness eventually fell over the Luangwa Valley as the two disappeared into the maze of white-berry bush in front of camp.
These two definitely deserve our moment of the month prize. When we uploaded a photo of them onto Africa Geographic’s facebook page the two got liked 2939 times and shared 788 times! Not bad for two animals walking over sand!
I also uploaded a full album onto our facebook page: www.facebook.com/WildlifeCamp
And that is it for the May-edition of Wildlife Camp’s newsletter. We are going into the colder months now and if you are planning on coming to the Luanwga Valley between now and the end of August, do remember to pack a warm jacket for those early mornings spent on safari!
Kind Regards from all of us.