We were five days with Leon Varley. I developed a considerable respect for him and Obeid, the tracker and especially for the large wild animals that we encountered. The bird list mounted up and I added Honey Badger to my life list of mammals. Leon made sure we got our 20 km a day, three square meals and a drink. Our lunch time vigil overlooking the little water hole paid dividends. We learnt that in the animal world’s game of rock paper scissors warthog beats baboon. No matter how large the baboon, time at the water was up as soon as a warthog arrived. The poor birds had to wait until all else had vacated.
That’s a Bushbuck above. We encountered elephant and giraffe every day. We saw Lions on two days. On only one occasion did we get close to Burchell’s Zebra.
On a couple of occasions we encountered fresh tracks of Black Rhino but we could never find the beast itself. Perhaps just as well, the last few years have seen many rhino killed by poachers. There are possibly as few as nine left in Hwange, the future looks very bleak for impotent Chinese, they may have to switch to Viagra.
On the other side of the coin the park is overburdened with elephant. They are doing considerable damage to the Baobab trees which are soft enough for elephants to eat. Leon predicts that there will be next to no mature Baobabs in the park within a few years.
The most interesting piece of botany was represented by this very attractive flower …
This is Strophanthus kombe, it’s one of the poison arrow plants. An arrow coated with a paste containing just three seeds will kill a giraffe.
So, is a walking safari for you?
The accommodation is a tent with an outdoor shower and toilet en suite. Luxury no, but you will survive so long as you don’t walk off the cliff in the dark. Food is pretty good for camp cooking. Alcoholic beverages are included.
You need to be fit enough to back up a few long hot dry days of walking with enough in reserve to run on demand.
It’s not for you if you will spend all your time frightened that the animals might kill you. They might … we all have to die some time.
Leon delivers what Leon delivers, that is a lot of walking and as many of the big five as he can find. I think if you said to him at the outset that you were only interested in hairy caterpillars he would go out of his way to deliver a lot of walking and as many of the big five as he can find! He really has no idea why hairy caterpillars or, for that matter, little brown birds are of any interest to anyone.
If you are primarily interested in photographing the wildlife you would do better from a vehicle. Animals permit closer approach of vehicles and a good guide will anticipate an animal’s movements and put you in position, sun over your shoulder for that perfect shot. On foot you have to take what the situation permits.
I loved it.