Day 6: 21 December 1996 

Saturday 21st of December. After breaking down the wet tents and executing the dishes, we left at about 8h00 the campsite in Bulawayo. Buying some beers and some last souvenirs on the market, were the last activities in the nice center of Bulawayo . I bought some more status in soapstone, 2 small Rhinoceros, this was of course due to my strong feeling for Rhinoceros the day before, and also a wooden Hippopotamus and I could batter for an owl for Annelise , so we both were happy and we drove direction Hwange National Park at about 9h40.

 

During our drive to Hwange National Park the sun tried to do some efforts, but clouds had the upper hand. I borrowed a book from the aquarium library, a book concerning the African flowers. The flowers Annelise and I found during our trip in Great Zimbabwe ruins, still had to be analyzed. The purple flowers which were seen everywhere are the Jacaranda flowers and the Bougainvillea .

It was 12h15 when we crossed the Gwai river, and the whole morning the way from Bulawayo to Gwai river , we drove through Matabeleland. In the environment of Gwai river we drove on small sandy roads along small bushes towards our campsite. It was a beautiful campsite in at the border of the Hwange national park, which had as consequence that the animals didn’t know what is park and what isn’t park, so animals do not know borders. Dylan warned us to be careful and not to leave the campsite in the environment of a 10 meters. He wanted to see everybody of us, so no full actions or no games, it was serious. 

The shower was a pocket of leather, which you could fill with water incase you wanted to take a shower and the toilet was one of the bones of the elephant.

    

Hwange shower and the Hwange Toilet

 During my first visit to the toilet I discovered already some remarkable huge beetles. After our lunch, some bread with cheese and tomatoes, everybody did a small siesta. I was laying in the strong sun, continuing my letter.

After our siesta , two jeeps entered the campsite, so Annelise, Catherine, Liz John , Tara , Sharyn and I jumped into the jeeps ready to find the game in the Hwange National park. The Hwange National park covered an area of about 17.665 kmē and became national park in 1920.

Our guide knew a lot and explained everything very clear. Each flower, bird or game was explained. Just because of the period of the year, a lot of flowers were blossoming. The white Boginia , the white Jasmine both flowers are admired by the elephant who like soft vegetation. Just before entering the park we saw already 4 Sables Antelopes. On the border of the national park we crossed the very long railway: The longest straight railway, it is straight for 96 kilometers a 54 miles. This railway starts already in South Africa and pass the Victoria Falls. So once crossed that railway the message was: find the game.

The landscape was differs. Huge ant-hills in extensive areas, alternated with bushes. 

2 Crowned Cranes , 100 cm high birds, welcomed us to the park. The Crowned Crane is a distinctive , long -legged bird with a conspicuous golden-yellow tuft on the crown, a bold white patch on the cheeks, a black forehead and red wattles. The upper parts are slate gray, the under parts are paler, and the wing is blackish with a distinctive white-tinged chestnut patch.

Afterwards a 5 female Kudu’s could be find, so no horns, light brown color with white stripes on it. I started to count the animals but after a 10 minutes I couldn’t follow at all, it was a mix of giraffes, zebras, wilde beest, impalas and baboons during the first part of the afternoon. It was funny to hear that the baboon has as recreation an interesting activity: sex. 

The Saddle -billed stork , a 168 cm high bird was sitting close to us. It is a black and white stork , with a massive red sharp pointed bill with a black band around it and a distinctive yellow shield at its base. The black body often has a purple -green sheen. The legs are black with dull red joints and toes. There is also a bright red spot of naked skin on the chest.

Further we saw the Carmine Bee-eater: It is a 38 cm large and the unmistakable bright carmine red bee-eater has a long pointed tail. The head and throat are dark-blue-green and the rump is light blue.

A yellow-billed Oxpecker was sitting on the back of a zebra: It is a 19 cm bird with a distinctive red-tipped yellow bill and red eyes. The upper parts are ashy brown with a pale buffy rump. The throat and upper chest are ashy-brown merging to buff on the belly. Oxpeckers are especially adapted to feed on ticks and other insects found on mammals. Their claws are sharp and strong and their tail feathers are very stiff, similar to a woodpecker.

A bit further we could see the white Browed Sparrow. This bird always built his nest at the west side of a tree, to get more sun light.

While a 8 Blue Wildebeests were playing really wild and shaking with their head another group of baboons were playing with a snake. Well it was the baby baboon which was playing with the snake, but the father couldn’t stand this at all, and run after the small baboon , who was not that fast and had to give the snake to its father. We found it not fair, it was the young one who caught it …but life is not fair.

A Long-Tailed Fiscal was sitting on a branch, while we were passing. It is a special kind of Shrike. It is 30 cm big , his upper parts of this shrike are black with a gray rump and lower back and an entirely black tail. A small bar is visible in the folded wing. The under parts are white .

More warthogs were playing and an ostrich passed us royal. Then another new unforgettable moment started. 4 elephants laying and rolling in the mud. The young man elephant had a more rounded head than the female one, who had a more squared head. While we were observing the elephants with the binoculars , the other jeep was joining us. While explaining to each other the already passed stories of that afternoon the elephants didn’t left, they just saw us and staid at a certain distance. That morning we were told that there was a possibility to see the big fife … so the first question was …and did you saw them all. But so far we only saw elephant as one of the big five, the black Rhinoceros , the Lion , the Leopard and the Buffalo were not seen so far by us. So after a short chat we proceeded our safari. A few minutes later we saw already a second animal of the big five… the Buffalo. 

The buffalo is the only wild cattle occurring in Africa. The buffalo has a height of 1,4 meters and are massive and heavily built animals. The male has a weight of about 700 kg. The adult bulls are dark brown to black in color but cows are usually more brownish and calves are red-brown. The large horns are characteristic and when viewed from the front form a shallow W. We found not only one, but huge Buffalo’s were looking in our direction. They had very big shoulders , which have as function to keep up their horns. So we didn’t stand there for long. A new tool to find the animals was explained, the analyze of the foot prints. We found a big foot print, the guide could distinguish it. It was the foot print of a male giraffe. The footprints of male and female are different. We saw some more foot prints of elephants. 

Some Steenboks were jumping in the high grass. The Steenboks are only 50 cm high , but they are the most distributed of the so called dwarf antelope and the one most frequently seen. The large ears are distinctive. There are no characteristic markings and much of the body is covered with rufous-fawn hair, but the under parts and insides of the legs are white. The rufous-fawn tail is short. The ram has short sharp-pointed , vertical horns. The steenbok show a preference for open areas where there is some cover. While observing some more giraffes, the guide explained the difference between the female and the male giraffes. The male can have flatted horns, due to strong fight between the dominant males. When they meet each other , they threat each other and keep a show fight to make impression on the female. The males twine their necks around each other and gave slight pushes with their head , this can cause injuries at their horns.

When observing really silent we could detect a whole fox family. 

It was the Bat-Eared Fox. It is a small up to 5 kilo, 35 cm , jackal-like carnivore with very large distinctive ears (14 cm long). The body is covered in quite long , silvery gray hair with a distinctly grizzled appearance. The legs are black, as is the upper surface of the bushy tail. Those animals dug their own burrows , but also take over those dug by other species.

Later we saw the Lilac-Breasted Roller, a 40 cm high bird who had a lilac throat and breast and elongated outer tail features are distinctive, it had brilliant blue wings. It had a 14 different colors

Also the Yellow-Billed Hornbill was seen. The yellow-billed hornbill is similar to the red-billed hornbill but larger and with a distinctive large yellow, not red, bill. The two pink-colored patches of bare skin on the throat and the yellow eyes are also diagnostic.  

Later we saw the The Tawny Eagle ,a 70 cm and a mostly uniform brown eagle, although the plumage can vary considerably from dark brown to almost white. The bill is a bit smaller than the Steppe Eagle and a yellow gap is seen to extend as far as the center of the eye.

Also the Blue Eared Glossy Starling was detected, a 20 cm high bird. The upper parts of this starling are glossy green-blue and there is a row of black spots on the wing coverts; the under parts are bluer , darkening on the belly. The eyes are striking yellow-orange and the ears coverts are dark.

All those birds made it very difficult to distinguish, but most of the time we had time enough to observe those birds and find our self their characteristics. Due to all those birds we almost forgot to detect the ground. Fortunately some of us saw enough birds and were observing very carefully the grass. 

We found the Black-backed Jackal, a 40 cm height , medium sized dog-like carnivore, with a white -flecked , black saddle which is broadest at the neck and shoulders and narrows towards the base of the tail. The face , flanks and legs vary from color from gray-brown to reddish-brown and there is white on the lips, throat and chest. The bushy tail is mainly black. They have a characteristic screaming yell which ends with tree or four yaps.

In the beginning I had some difficulties to distinguish the black backed jackal from the bat eared fox, later it became clear.

Later in the afternoon, some more special birds could be detected, like the Abdim’s Stork , 3 Ostriches, who were almost that high like a Zebra. The Abdim’s Stork has following characteristics: this is a small stork, only 86 cm high, and has black and white colors. The head , back and wings are black with a purple -green gloss and the lower back, upper tail and under parts are white. The bare skin around the face is greenish and there is a red spot in front of the eyes. The bill is greenish with a red tip and the legs are dull greenish with red joints.

Later the guide explained some curative plants, like the Silver Tilminanean, which has roots of 15 meters. This leaves had a silver glossy. Elephants like this very much.

Very close an other elephant was turning in the mud, he liked it to keep the insects away from him and it also keep the heath away. 

A bit further we saw the Marabou Stork , a large (150 cm) ungainly looking stork with a massive bill. The bare pinkish skin of the head , neck and chest are sparsely covered in down. A distinctive, pink - colored air sac hangs from the base of the neck. The wings and tails are glossy green-black and the bird’s under parts are white.

When the sky was almost purple and the next day would be the longest day in the year, we were enjoying this atmosphere, we were witnesses of all those wonders of the nature … but also witnesses of the attack of an elephant to us. We tried to come closer to one of the big elephants, who walked close to the main road of the park. He made some strange noises, but could stand our presence … we thought. Annelise asked the guide to drive closer to make some close up pictures of this elephant, I was not so sure about this, but the guide drove closer and suddenly the elephant walked towards the main road, 

     

Elephant approached very close ...

we first thought he would cross the road, but instead of crossing the road, he turned his big ears, made an enormous noise and run after the jeep. The jeep which was not in the best condition, fortunately drove immediately away. Catherine had the good reaction to film everything , I had the bad reaction to scream …Of course we had again ‘ a story of the day: attack by elephant’. Even half an hour later I was still quit. It was really impressive how fast an elephant can run …, fortunately he gave it up, before the jeep gave it up.

It became dark, we changed from clothes , some warm pullovers were needed, once the sun was away. 

Waiting for the night safari

At the border of a river we rested for a while to continue our night safari. After a Zambezi we had enough energy to drive further. At the border of the lake a Crocodile was lying near, so nobody went too close. In the distance we could see enormous flash of lightning . I tried to take pictures of this, without result.

 

So we continued with the spots on. The major tasks of the night safari was to find lions. The first animal we saw during the night was a bird, the White Stork , a 100 cm high bird . This large white stork has black wings a bright red bill and red legs. It has a dull reddish bill and dull red legs.

So we continued scanning the left and right bushes, suddenly we saw the spots of the other vehicles, it were the other ones. They stood very silent, shining to the left direction, a few of them looked through their binoculars, so something impressive was to be seen . So we drove very silent to the other jeeps, and whispered to the others , to ask what they saw. 

Four Lions laid under a tree, ignoring our presence. I jumped on the roof of the jeep to cast a glance, but unfortunately it was too late … I didn’t see them.

So we continued , the tree jeeps drove slowly after each other, suddenly the first one braked. We couldn’t see why , no animals in the bushes, no noises … it took ten minutes before the first jeep continued … so we became nervous, just because we didn’t now what happened. After 10 minutes the first jeep, made a kind of detour on the main road, really very slowly, so the moment we arrived at his place , we could see an enormous snake , who didn’t care at all our presence and just crossed very slowly the road. It was a Black Mamba. Afterwards we heard it was really surprising that the snake took its time, because the Black Mamba is the fastest snake, it can reach speeds of 15 km/hour .

Again we continued our nocturnal adventure, scanning with the spotlight in all directions, the only disadvantage of this was that also the mosquito's and gnats were attracted. So we had to smear each other with the anti - gnats oil. Of course everybody was afraid to get bites of them … who wanted to have malaria ?

….It became cold and everybody was tiered , so the only way of course to keep us in the mood was to joke, of course it had its consequences on our safari, the animals heard already from far away where the jeep of Annelise was.

Lot of fun during the night safari

 She learned us some South African sentences, which we had to tell Dylan, the moment we arrived in the camp. Even we didn’t know the real meaning, Annelise told me afterwards, and it was not the most kind sentence you could tell one " Wa es ons kos, jou pilkop’

The other jeep didn’t give up and found in the bushes some red eyes …so we wanted to find them also, we succeeded so far, we found the Springhare. The Springhare is a 80 cm true rodent and not a hare. It is a kangaroo- like in appearance , with long powerfully built hind legs and tine forelegs used only for digging. They move by hopping on the hind legs which have three of the four toes well developed and white large claws. The tail is long and bushy with a black tip, and the ears are long and pointed. The ears can be folded back to prevent sand and dust entering the passage, and the nostrils can be closed for the same reason. The soft fur of the upper parts is reddish-fawn to yellow and the under parts are paler

A few meters further we found the African Wild Cat , we found her also back due to the reflection of her eyes in the spotlight. The African Wild Cat is a 35 cm high cat and very similar in general appearance to the domestic cat but it is larger and has proportionately longer legs. The extend of dark markings on the body and legs varies greatly but the short, reddish-brown hair at the back of each ear is characteristic The relatively long, well haired tail is dark-ringed with a black tip.

So the game to find animals back by means of their reflection of their eyes was funny, but also a bit scared, because we were driving on very small paths, close to the bushes, so you never knew which animal could jump to you , or attack the jeep. I had cold and it could be partial due to the tension and suspense of this night game, remain silent, listening very carefully and try to analyze the different noises, trying to detect red spots in the bushes, … it was a fantastic night.

Well, night, it was only 21h00 when we arrived in the camp site, were Dylan, our daddy, was waiting for us. I was tired , but satisfied of this perfect day. I was thinking to the main heights of that day especially the pursuit from the elephant. The fact that I could distinguish already a lot of those antelopes, even recognize some birds. So everybody was telling and repeating his feelings of that day, only enthusiast faces could be seen. While eating and sitting around the campfire Dylan warned us again for the spiders and snakes. 

Back in the main camp !

Told us what to do … in case. He warned that it was possible that we would be attacked by a wild animal that night, just because we had our campsite on the edge of the Natural Reserve. So if an elephant would enter the camp, we were not allowed to take our torch and to shine into the eyes of the elephant. The elephant become really angry from this action and shall attack. The same if a Hyppothamus would enter in the camp, never shine with a torch in his eyes. If we asked what we had to do then, if we heard one entering in the camp, or if we saw one next to our tent. Dylan said with a funny voice: just turn on your mat and sleep further. So Dylan, what shall we do if we by accident shine into the eyes of an elephant or a hyppothamus ? Run , as fast as you can. So after all those heavy stories we tried to go to bed and tried to sleep.

Next Day: Day 7: 22 December 1996
Previous Day : Day 5 : 20 December 1996