BIXA!!! BIXA!!!! I've found the answer. I asked. Just for you. I went 1400km there and back just to ask! Well, not really but it makes for a good story.
Previously you wanted to know about the shadow on a photo of a lion. Remember? Yep, it is a tracking collar. There are half a dozen or so in South Luangwa national park that are collared to monitor their movements. Am I good, huh?! The lengths I go to to answer a question. No distance is too far.
It's quite simple. If you don't like elephants, move on to something else. I like them and could watch them all day. Big, calm, intimidating, social, intelligent, perfectly adapted, all encased in what looks like two hundred year old skin. Besides, some of those characteristics fit me as well, especially the skin thing. This time away I just seemed to bump into them all around the camp I went to and close by. There was no getting away from them and as they are big enough to do whatever they want, I thought why not focus on them this time rather than trying to find the elusive cats or other game. They were there, so elephants it was. I don't know them well enough to identify every single one so I'm sure there is some repetition over the days, but we've never been introduced and I probably couldn't remember their names anyway. I'm terrible like that. Faces I'm ok with, names not.
First though I had to leave Lusaka. The journey to the park, South Luangwa, is around 700km and on Zambian roads, that takes a little time, to put it mildly. Most of the route, along the Great East Road, has recently been upgraded with funding from the EU, but constant stop starting and slowing down through villages adds to the time. Not only that, but the Police have recently had a splurge with stopping cars for speeding. It makes a lot of money for someone and due to the poor speed limit signage; it is easy to catch people.
Speed limit signs are few and far between. There may be one entering a village but none on the other side, or vice versa, or none at all. Plus there is a recent new regulation that means that even though there may be a speed limit sign, the regulation possibly overrules it. Weird and confusing, but I know there is (as shown in a previous report) a 120km/h limit on some of the road. However, I am hearing of people who have been stopped for doing 110km/h because the regulation states the maximum speed will be enforced at 100km/h. Plus, half the time and with half the road laws, the Police simply are wrong in what they believe. Either wrong on purpose, or by lack of knowledge. One example is concerning filter lights on traffic lights.
If you want to turn right (we drive on the left side here if you didn't know), you may come to a cross roads junction and as usual, stop on red. Then a right filter light can come on, on green, so you have priority to turn across the road to do so. However, the question is, after the filter light goes off (and there is no red light on that filter), and the green light comes on as normal for your carriageway, are you still legally allowed to turn right (if there is a safe break in the traffic coming towards you)? The Police say no, you must wait for the filter light to come on again and are fining people for doing so. Me, being how I am, am driving around Lusaka trying to turn right at every traffic light with a filter when the light is off and the normal green is on hoping to be stopped – whilst also carrying with me a copy of the relevant Zambian road traffic law allowing you to do so that I've printed off from the Zambian Government website. I enjoy being difficult sometimes.
On the way to the park I tend to leave mid-morning and stop off halfway, then continue the next day. Returning I do it in one hit. I did get stopped for speeding by the way, whilst going. Apparently I was doing 70km/h in a 60km/h limit. An instant K300 fine (roughly $30 usd) but I had several issues, as always, with this. Not only the aforementioned lack of signs, but the fact that I was closely following a truck and the radar gun they were using I am sure wasn't able to track my speed, only the truck's. Plus they never show you on the gun the speed and they were probably guessing mine therefore, never mind the fact that I'd want to know (in court if necessary) when the device was last calibrated, when the officer using it was trained, if at all, in its use etc etc.
But, before I either relent and just give in and pay the fine, or bring out the arguments, wanting evidence, start taking my own situation photos, backtracking to see what signs there were/were not, using my own dash cam footage and so on, I play the confused and simple foreigner, very apologetic, smiley and affable (I've even blamed my daughters for being in a bad mood and/or Mrs M for shouting at me), remorseful and respecting their authority, saying how stupid I was......... and see how it goes.
If I am absolutely certain I am in the right, I will deny and argue, as I have done previously on some posted dash cam footage regarding going through a red light. However, the very last thing I will do to try and influence them, unless outright asked for it, is to whip out the diplomatic ID I have. I feel an imposter for being given it and don't in my eyes, deserve it. I make no mention of it, make no fuss over it and if produced, will say nothing but leave it for them to decide what importance it may or may not have. This time, the very attractive female Police officer must have been taken in by my pathetic state, and possible handsomeness, I'm sure that was a factor, and told me to depart, unpunished, with my tail between my legs.
As usual I digress somewhat, but as I said, I left mid-morning but had to nip to the supermarket first to obtain essential survival supplies. I already had plenty of water so the next on the list, in order of importance was, as ever usual, salt and vinegar Pringles, Cadbury's chocolate, a bag of boiled sweets, a meat pie and/or samosas, and a few granny smith's (to make me feel I do have something remotely healthy). In the car park was a large marquee set up for a Zambian telecoms firm that was promoting the opening of a new money paying scheme by mobile phone. I pulled up just as the entertainment was starting –
Now, I'm not quite sure how "traditional" some of this was as I'm sure I saw some moves that I've seen in "traditional" Zulu dance (though there is a common historical link with Bantu tribes), but, and I apologise because I was facing the sun to get a better view, but this is what it looked like –
I set off and drove half days for the next two days, partly along nice new roads like this -
Scenery varied between tacking through hills to flat straight stretches. At times reminiscent of parts of Zimbabwe with granite boulders strewn around –
Eventually you come off a low set of hills and reach the Luangwa plain –
Greeting me on the drive approaching the camp the elephants made their appearance –
Notice the 'weeping' from the side of the head? This is from a gland and is quite normal. When it is quite bad you can see the side of the head is all wet and even the fluid runs into the mouth. Males have this and it is the gland usually activated when the animal wants to mate. That time is called when they are in "musth". They become unpredictable and violent and are to be avoided at all costs. Usually when you hear of a human being killed it is when the animal is in musth. "Musth is linked to sexual arousal or establishing dominance, but this relationship is far from clear." (Wikipedia) However, this has only begun to weep and as one of the owners of the camp is a zoologist, I always ask her about these matters. She mentions she has noticed a lot of weeping, none though extreme, that only seems to indicate the elephant is emotional, rather than linked to sex. Could be it is happy, or sad, or whatever. After all, they are extremely intelligent and have been observed to have emotions, use tools etc –
I thought I ought to take a few shots of the river as well. Whilst I was here, like -
A family of these came a calling. Look like a cross between a ferret and a meerkat, and had stripes. They were very nervous of me and would, like a meerkat, jump up onto their hind legs to look at me. Then run away. Very funny they were and I spent quite a time trying to catch them out by taking a photo. But they always knew I was there and never let me creep up on them. Banded mongoose I believe –
The sun began to set. It seems to do it every day –
So after dinner I sat by the fire. Only every evening, to shoot up again because the hippos had decided to come ashore to feed. Or should it be "abank"? Just as I was having a quiet moment to myself. Couldn't get them on camera though as flash photography is a no-no. You'll just have to take my word for it -
Nearby was a table with a couple of reasonably elderly American women. I took the following two photos, unbeknownst to me, he was plotting his attack –
He'd noticed one of the women was handed a blue plastic bag by one of the staff, presumably containing their packed lunch. She placed it within easy reach on the table. I saw him look. The king boss man waited while they were distracted, calmly began to walk towards the women but at an angle to pass by them a few metres to the side. I was watching him. He was watching the bag. His head came down a little and I shouted to the women to watch out for him. He veered to the left, took two bounding strides towards them and grabbed the bag. One woman, the closest one, fell backwards off her chair into the dust whilst victorious, he ran off up a nearby tree. The woman went arse over tit, her legs continuing on until she was now lying on her face.
I quickly went over to her to assist but she'd already rolled over and was in the process of getting to her feet. I righted the chair and she sat down again. Her immediate reaction was to blame the member of staff who had brought her the bag. I "mentioned" that probably, and knowing as you do that it is instinctual for them to thieve the food, violently if necessary, that instead of leaving it on the table it would have been safer for her to hide it away in her rucksack at her feet and, like I do when they are around, keep hold of the straps or wear it. Anyway, I have my doubts the baboon homed in on the bag because he knew it was food. He couldn't smell it or see it. In the local village and nearby, blue plastic bags are rampant and generally do contain food of one sort or another. He associated the bag with food, if you see what I mean. The bag was the trigger, not the food.
On one of the days I went locally for lunch. A place on the outskirts of the nearest village –
The choice was limited, which is an understatement. I expected this though. The choice was chicken and nshima, or nothing. I chose the chicken –
And the nshima –
The chicken is grilled/barbequed/braai'd, whatever your terminology is, and often has as much meat on it as my left eyeball. I think they save the good bits for themselves usually. The green stuff is, well, green stuff, usually a plant leaf called rape (not oil seed rape) and is mixed with a little of whatever they have to hand. The tomato sauce is unusual in that somehow they manage to take the taste of tomato out of it. The nshima/nsima, is as I've mentioned it before and in case you missed it, maize flour and water and goes by a plethora of different names around east/southern Africa. The whole thing, as evidenced by the number of usually served condiments, is tasteless but filling. The best thing is the chicken skin. Nope, I still do not have anything even close to a love affair with Zambian food. So much so in fact that I probably won't try it again, nor mention it unless I have something that does have some taste. It's a bit like having food served in kit form where you tailor it, with the condiments, to your requirements. Cost was about $3 usd –
To make matters even worse. I took some video! It's just like watching the holiday movies of the next door neighbour you don't really like but are being polite. Poor quality as it was from my camera, but it'll give you the idea. Over a couple of days I took some short films and have strung it together for your delight.
I'll title this piece, "Spot the W a n k e r" or, "How to be totally boring as a guide by mentioning you know some "really rich people in England" and then proceed to tell how they are buying up their village etc." (As a disclaimer, the 'guide', if that is what he is, is not part of the camp and just brought his victims round for lunch) You will also spot my heavy breathing due to a severely blocked nose and my dulcet tones exclaiming that we are more scared than the elephants are as I retreat courageously behind a wall.
The elephants seem to respect the fragile camp furniture with remarkable delicacy since they could just crash through and trample everything if that was their wont. The campsite appears to have had a delightful diversity of fauna, unlike what was in your plate for dinner.
When I was in Kenya, the baboons were anathema to every campsite. In Masai Mara, they made it very clear that every time a baboon figured out how to unzip the opening of a guest tent, it had to be killed.
Excellent report as always, Mark, although I can't wait until Mrs. M gets a position in the heart of the Amazon or perhaps in central Alaska for all of the photo ops that you will get.
Tremendous Mark! I have to go over your report several times to gather up all you experienced. The bird you snapped is one of two Starlings. I have never seen this species in Kruger (or here at home) but my bird book tells me it is either a Greater Blue-Eared Starling distinguished by it's dark blue-ear patch OR it could just as easily be a Miombo (Southern Lesser) Blue-eared Starling which is a smaller bird and the ear-patch is less extensive. I think it's the first one. Well spotted!
The lovely buck is a Bushbuck. Very attractive markings. I agree with you about the huge male Baboon. They are extremely dangerous. Will rip your face off in seconds and you won't get away. I even wind up my window when they stroll closer to the side of the car because they are on the lookout for foodstuff lying on the dashboard. Greased lightening they are!
Mark, this is an incredible thread! I really feel as though I've gotten a better look at elephants and their behavior than ever before. I too was impressed not only by how delicately they avoided the camp furniture, but by their "ecologically wise" style of grazing. I've heard of elephant herds wiping out everything in their paths, but I suppose that may be in areas where farming has wiped out much of their natural food sources. Your bunch look as though they take a little of everything, but leave a great deal for another day.
I can well imagine that the baboon is lethal, but he was naturally impressive, too. (not icky like monkeys -- sorry. )
Those elephants must have seen people in that camp any number of times. It's interesting that the babies stuck close to their grown-ups and didn't seem to look your way, but that the larger more impressive adults checked you out quite well and decided to let you live another day. The whole video is fascinating.
Loved the dancing kids. The girls were good but the boys were fabulous.
Can't say enough about the elephant pictures, but sincerely: wow! However the other pictures are wonderful, too. The one of the sun angling through the trees into the camp is as lovely as anything I've ever seen and all of the wildlife ones are informative as well as beautiful.
Re: 1400 km to find out about lion's collar ~ would we expect any less from you?!
Last Edit: Jul 16, 2017 1:38:24 GMT by bixaorellana: fix smileys
Mark - I must tell you that your last photo of the mists rising in the valleys beyond the road is simply stunning. What a shot to end your report!
I am puzzled about the elephants left to roam where they will even with guests in the vicinity. Ok, they were not big bulls but they were at the teenage stage and love to mock charge anything near them. They do this all the time in Kruger, giving visitors a dreadful fright. I think it's quite dodgy being so close, but there has probably never been an incident with tourists.
I have a few elephant photos to show you - the nearest elephant was a trunk length away but there was an electric (frail) fence between us.
The point is more about the guests being left to roam where the elephants are, I think. None of the camps/lodges have any fencing at all. Even though those seen may well be not the oldest and biggest, there are others around, big bulls, that do come and go from time to time. Incidents are fortunately few and far between. Guests are not allowed in the dark to walk between areas of the camp without a guard and the staff are very quick during the day to warn of the approach of anything. I prefer to have the feeling of being a guest in their place (the animals, that is) then they being a guest in mine, i.e. the camp.
I think the last death by elephant was in 2015, a female US researcher, but not in this park. I know an SA big game hunter was killed just a couple of weeks ago in Zimbabwe. At some stage decisions must have been made about some form of fencing but I have heard nothing about it and not thought much about it. I know what I prefer though. I await your photos with bated breath.
This is why I think elephants are amazing. Also note the one in the background the other side of the fence being very agitated as well. I can only assume the baby made a distressed noise that they all picked up on instantly and at the same moment -
Wow! I loved that two rushed over and quickly assessed what needed to be done, while another paced furiously in the background, doing the elephant equivalent of wringing her hands. I didn't realize until I re-read your post that she physically could not get over to help.
Saw another video recently showing the sensitivity of elephants. They were in a zoo being introduced to a new baby elephant. The way each came over softly and gently was so impressive.
Bixa summed it up perfectly - I had to watch it twice to appreciate the "OH, What to do, What to do" elephant in the background. I am even more amazed by the intelligent way they quickly worked things out.