October is traditionally a very hot and dry month here in Zimbabwe. The thought of this heat deters some guests from coming to Zimbabwe during this period, however there are some really big plus points to this season, so much so that this is one of my absolute favourite months for safari. I’ll tell you why…
Here at Singita Pamushana Lodge, located on top of a hill with stunning vistas, guests enjoy the refreshing breezes and escape the heat of the day with cool air-conditioned villas, swimming pools and shaded gardens. But that’s all for us to enjoy after we’ve had our sightings-filled safaris! Because the air is dry and the days are hot the plant life has, for the most part, dropped its leaves and thinned out as a way of retaining moisture content. This allows for much better viewing as we can see further while on game drives, and the openness offers awesome walking opportunities too.
Some of the plants such as caper bushes, gardenias, pod mahoganies, wild coffee and many more are flowering with just the most amazing scents that enchant you as they tickle your sense of smell. The main and most exciting plus of this month is the wildlife opportunities. Water is scarce at this time and, as a result, whatever little water is around is a huge drawcard for the animals, so waterholes become one of the primary focus areas for us guides. Animals such as kudu, impala, nyala, buffalo, rhinos, warthogs and baboons visit the waterholes to come and enjoy a drink or just to wallow as a way of cooling off. The hotter the days, the busier it tends to get. In turn all these animals draw attention to themselves from predators such as lions, hyenas, leopards, wild dogs and even crocodiles. As the heat continues day by day, the water evaporates and the water reduces, putting more and more pressure on the living. Fish become trapped and exposed in the shallows and this results in large varieties of fish-eating birds descending to take advantage. Storks, herons, egrets, kingfishers start spending time at the buffet that the shrinking waterbody is providing. With all these birds and animals chasing this precious resource, it’s only a matter of time before something happens…
Recently I’ve been spending a bit of time at one of the permanent water bodies located here at the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, while we await to reopen after the Covid pandemic, and what a sightings spectacle it’s been. One morning I decided to sit quietly and patiently at Simbiri Dam and wait to see what may happen, binos in one hand, a cup of freshly ground coffee in the other. It wasn’t long before the peace was broken with a massive splash on the one side of the dam, and Egyptian geese flapping backwards and heckling away at the water. I counted the members of the goose family…1… 2…3…4, 5, 6 and 7. Phew! They were all there. I followed the flow of ripples and spotted a huge crocodile powering away with a large water monitor lizard in its jaws, the lizard still thrashing about.
Things went quiet for a bit, however it wasn’t long before I saw a beautiful saddle-billed stork approach the Egyptian goose family in a challenging manner, clearly trying to move them off. Alas, his moves were thwarted by the father goose who, without hesitation, charged and attacked the stork’s leg. The stork took off in panic, screeching. This havoc caused a grey heron that was trying to fish, to take its eyes off the water just for a moment in a bid to see what was going on… Bang! A massive explosion of water, a final shriek from the heron, and the crocodile swam back to deeper water with a jaw full of feathers.
Later that same day I returned in the afternoon to watch and wait again. It didn’t take long before I heard the goose family shouting. I payed close attention to see what they were upset about. I could hardly believe my eyes as an adult female leopard walked out of the bush and down to the water, while snarling and hissing at the noisy geese. Presumably the cat was annoyed by the disturbance the geese were making as they clearly were trying to draw attention to this secretive cat. In true cat style the leopard flicked her tail and sauntered down to the water’s edge, then took a bit of time to look around before enjoying a long drink. Then she sat up, and looked around. Something caught her attention in the water. Carefully she moved up and down trying to get a better look, found a spot that worked for her, balanced, and reached into the water. She flicked her paw on the water surface as if she were clearing floating debris. Finally she pulled her paw back to the bank and picked something up in her jaws. With my binoculars I could now see, she had a fish. I could see that the fish was not caught alive, presumably it was dead and floating when she spotted it. The leopard, now very proud of herself, took her catch, climbed up on a nearby rock and enjoyed eating the tilapia. After she had repeated this behaviour and eaten two such portions of sushi, as well as getting hackled continuously by the goose family, she decided she needed some peace and quiet from the riff-raff, so effortlessly melted away into the bushes.
On another morning eight hyenas came down to the water. They began to drink and wallow. Two curious young hippos came over to investigate the hyenas, and both parties stood staring at each other. Suddenly the young hippos charged out of the water at the hyenas, and the hyenas scarpered. The young hippos stopped to sniff the ground where the hyenas had been, and the hyenas used this as an opportunity to try and surround the young hippos. Before the hyenas could get fully into position, the young hippos realized the hyenas had different ideas and, without any further delay, ran full tilt to take refuge in the water, with the excited hyenas chasing right behind, only to be stopped by the water. The young hippos decided to stay with the adults and celebrate with some hippo laughter while the hyenas stood around trying to figure out how to swim…
However, all this commotion had drawn attention and the hyenas were about to learn that they were not the dominant predator here. While the hyenas mooched around I saw one suddenly run towards my position whilst squealing, and I mean run like its life depended on it! The other hyenas were instantly alert but, like me, were perplexed for a moment. Then the bushes near the hyenas erupted with a violent roar and a blur of tan. Hyenas shotgunned everywhere! The cause of their sudden Olympic skill set was due to two dominant male lions. Lions and hyenas do not like each other as they compete for resource and these two males, who are from the River Pride, have had their fair share of conflicts with hyenas and saw this moment as an opportunity to deal out some discipline. In split seconds it was a case of, “What hyenas?” Every hyena had cleared out of the area. The one male lion, that I call Scar Face (as he has a huge scar from a previous wound under his right eye), came right up to my seated position. He stood there for a moment, looked around, looked at me sitting quietly and by now forgetting I was holding a hot cup of coffee, then started to give his victory roar. When it is being broadcast from a mere 20 yards away, and aimed in your direction, the sound travels right through your body, your coffee leaps out its mug, and your mind instantly knows who The King of The Jungle really is.
So, please remember, with every con, there is always some pros to be had – we just have to know how to track them down. I invite you to visit us in the HOT months!
Simbiri Dam – the scene of all the action, on a much quieter day! Photo by Jenny Hishin.