Sometimes The Urge to Sing…

The unfenced campsite at Ivory Lodge, Hwange is outside the lodge itself. We were on our own the first two nights we were there and, with leopard and lion supposedly around (plus elephants very much in evidence) Judith and Tamsin said they’d prefer to pitch the ground-tent wedged between the car, the cooking shelter and the shower block – in case a rapid exit was needed to safety in the middle of the night.

There certainly were plenty of elephants around the camp. View from The Penthouse the evening we arrived:  
But the lion and leopard didn’t materialise. 

What did materialise, eventually, was other campers. And that meant that a stream of visitors to the ablutions. This produced a constant squeaking from the doors throughout the night every time someone headed to the bathroom. 

Squeeeeeak, as they went in the entrance door.

Squeaaak, as they closed the door behind them. 

Squeeeeeal, as they went into the shower or the loo itself.

Squeaaal, as they came out. 

Squeaaak, as they opened the ablutions door to leave. 

Squeeeeeak, as they closed it behind them.

That was particularly un-funny at 5am one morning when a party of 8 Japanese were leaving – it’s hard for them to do anything quietly. Still, at least they weren’t singing, they got that out of their system before they went to bed.
For heavens sake! As someone once said (maybe it was me?) “The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.”
Thankfully, we were also getting up early that morning to take a dawn drive into Hwange. Up at 5.30 and gone by 6am. The Japanese were still doing the tour bus aerobics: waving their crockery and plates in the air to dry them (dishcloths are frightfully unhygienic, don’t you know).
Fortunately, being a Land Rover driver, I carry copious amounts of WD40 and used up at lease a month’s supply on all the doors to the ladies ablutions. There’d be no repeat performance that night.
We arrived at Hwange National Park gates just after dawn and only took about 10 minutes to pay the $20 car entry and $20 per head. Very good value compared to some of the parks we’ve been to.
Hwange is a beautiful, huge park with areas of thick bush, low rocky outcrops and sandy pans… 
During the 2 day drives and 1 evening drive we did, we covered only a fraction of it. I can’t wait to go back.

Within only an hour of entering, as the sun started to rise, we were on our way to a viewing platform at one of the bigger waterholes when we spotted a couple of shapeless lumps at the foot of a termite mound.
To borrow a line from my pal Martyn Amey: sometimes the urge to sing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight‘ is just a whim away…

…a whim away…

…a whim away, a whim away… 

We sat and watched these guys for almost 3 hours in the end, as the sun crept into the sky, around the termite mound and robbed them of their shade until they finally headed a couple of hundred yards further into the bush to find a cooler spot. They were keeping an eye on us as much as we were on them, but a lion is slightly too big to get through the gaps in a Land Rover’s doors. 

I think Judith and Tamsin were starting to understand how our days can sometimes just fly by. Each of our drives was around 9 hours and, although it was pretty cold first thing in the morning, and stifling hot during the day (no A/C in the Landy), it was still a disappointment each time we left the park.

It was so hot that the few waterholes were jealously guarded… 
However, size and numbers go a long way to making a waterhole your own private territory. Some of the streams of elephant that come down to drink can hardly contain their excitement and end up bowling in at a very brisk trot. 

Once you’ve staked out your turf, it’s important that everyone knows it’s yours. Anything else that wants to disturb your drinking fun (like these beautiful male Kudu) need to be reminded who’s boss and will just have to wait their turn… 

Perhaps the safest course of action is just to find a little shade, and be patient… 

Actually, perhaps the most aggressive action we saw at the waterholes came from a small group of beautiful Grebe. 

They look like harmless little balls of fluff – more like balls of steel. I don’t suppose they’d take on an elephant or a croc, however any time another bird (particularly another Grebe) encroaches on their patch of the pond, they instantly dive underwater and, racing like a torpedo under the surface to bob up alongside the intruder a split second later and start a major brawl. Hardly ‘Big Game’, but one of the most fascinating turf-wars in town.

Other animals are much more understated. Sheltering in the shade of a fallen tree, blending in beautifully with its colour scheme, we almost passed by this absolutely beautiful Black Backed Jackal. 
I’d been a little concerned as we originally headed for Hwange. We’d met people a few months earlier who said they saw little game on their way through. 

Maybe we were just lucky: each evening we jotted down the new species of animal or bird we’d seen (those that we could actually put a name to anyway) and came up with a list of almost 50. That seems pretty good to me.
But it’s the elephants that steal the show at Hwange and the viewing at Ivory Lodge is almost as good as that in the park itself.  
No matter how many elephants we’ve seen, it’s still easy to let hours slip away watching them interact as family groups; posture as young, practicing, dominant males; protect their calves;  

…and chase off other herds who invade their space; 

Their demeanour and manners are fascinating, but when you get to see them really close up, it’s the details and colours that are so beautiful. 

They may look like a great big grey blob, but even the texture of their skin is fascinatingly developed for the most flexible of movement. It’s easy to imagine that there really are 4,000 muscles in an elephant’s trunk… 

Even their feet are amazing. They may look huge and clumsy, but they never make a sound when they walk. Their skin is so tough, yet so supple, sensitive and flexible that they are able to walk through dried leaves without you knowing they’re around. This girl could do with a pedicure though… 

They can put on a huge burst of speed, but most of the time are content not to. They just potter about, day after day. Constantly eating, constantly moving (they don’t sleep, but nap standing up for 10 minutes at a time), doing everything at their own steady, continuous pace.

They say a rolling stone gathers no moss. Well a rolling elephant can…