Game Drive …

Dawn found us on the banks of the Nile, our taxi was first in line for the ferry …

The savanna awaits on the north bank along with a severe case of pixel intoxication …

Waterbuck (m)
Waterbuck (m)
Denham’s Bustard
Northern Carmine Bee-eater
African Elephant
Hartebeest
Patas Monkey
Rothschild’s Giraffe

What about that sky, the light was magical, and surprisingly not a drop of rain fell.

And then we encountered the lions …

 

 

The some very sharp eyes found these for us.

the Leopard is a very secretive animal. And if you delve into his secrets it could be quite dangerous for you…

Geoffrey Muhanguzi.

Leopard

This is just a fraction of what we saw, and we racked up quite a bird list to go with the mammals. Choosing which photos to include here has been very hard. If I went through the exercise again there might not be too much of an overlap.

All too soon it was over, we had to make the 11 am ferry in order to be out of the park before our 24 hours were up and we all became liable for another 50 bucks.

My advice, if you are visiting Murchison Falls National Park, stay longer and explore the possibility of staying in the northern section of the park.

Wet foot safari …

Although the tourist concession in Odzala is in the hands of Wilderness Safaris you must deal with a travel retailer if you want to go there. One such is Classic Africa. I particularly like this little quote from their webpage …

The Odzala Safari is unlikely to be the ideal choice for a first safari, due to the remoteness of the Park and the specialized nature of its wildlife.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the first half of that sentence but I don’t think the reason has anything to do with the second half. In the typical safari setting you jump into a vehicle early in the morning. An experienced, knowledgeable driver/guide pilots you to the first target species. Parks with the light behind you and does his David Attenborough impersonation as you take photographs of creatures that you know well from your television. Just as safe and effortless, if somewhat more expensive, than staying at home and watching your television.

In Odzala you jump into your shoes, walk out of the camp and get right in amongst it. Here is a pretty little scene near Lango camp …

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It’s actually the path, hop in …

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Getting deeper …

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It is entirely possible that you will meet an elephant or buffalo coming the other way.

This is more than a safari, this is an adventure.

 

 

Walk … ?

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.

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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.

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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 …

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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.

 

Run …

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We were moving slowly and quietly along the bank of a dry river. In the river bed there was a gathering of elephants of all ages. They were drinking from small pools that had been scraped in the fine gravel or waiting their turn. We made a fairly close approach to one group. Elephants have poor eyesight but good hearing and smell. As Leon Varley puts it in his webpage

To approach a single elephant on foot is worth a hundred sightings of elephant from the back of a vehicle. When you’re afoot everything is of significance. Wind direction, terrain, vegetation, how the animal is behaving. To walk in Africa is to be part of Africa.

The group in the river bed was on our right the wind was from the right. The bank was lightly wooded with Mopane just like the photograph above. It limits visibility but one can walk through it fairly easily. Off to our left a male elephant caught our scent, trumpeted and charged. It came through the Mopane scattering the bushes. Four puny humans turned and ran. Because of our starting position the two tourists were bringing up the rear. Obeid, the tracker, was magnificent. After a few steps he stopped and stood his ground with his hand gun raised. “Run” he urged as we passed him. Leon led the way.

In the gravel of the river bed progress was slow, I was thinking that four large flat feet would find it rather easier than my two size nines. Then behind us Obeid burst into gales of laughter and called us to stop. He beckoned us back. I could think of a number of better directions to take but Leon was keen to see what the story was. Obeid was excited, his usually good English was unable to keep pace with the retelling. So in a mixture of English, Ndebele and charades we were treated to the story of the elephant that charged, snapped the small Mopane like match sticks but finally hit a tree that withstood the onslaught. Only just, it was now standing at a crazy angle with the bark missing from a large area on one side. The force had caused the elephant to lose its footing and stumble. When it picked itself up it decided it didn’t need to charge any more. Obeid’s grandchildren will hear this tale and thanks to him so will mine.

It was a big day for wildlife. We had already seen Spotted Hyena and Wild Dog and later in the day we would encounter a pride of Lions.

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It was late morning and getting very hot. The lions were asleep in long grass. We were blissfully unaware of each others presence. We were moving almost silently. Obeid pointed out some tracks, Leon said “Lion”. Twenty metres away five lions got the shock of their lives and scattered in random directions. For a moment two were heading straight for us but realised their error immediately. And they were gone. All over before the scene could be processed, no chance for a photo.