Hwange National Park

I went to sleep last night under a single sheet, it was hot. All the screened windows of the tent were wide open. Sometime in the wee hours, I woke up cold and had to get up to get a blanket. As the sky lightened, birds started chirping and screeching, some quite loud.

At 6am one of the guides came through camp waking everyone up. We had some oatmeal, then climbed into the safari vehicles for our first game drive. It was nice and cool with just enough breeze as we went down the dirt track at 10 mph. Within 2 minutes, our guide, Victor, stopped and pointed out leopard tracks in the road dust. These guys are amazing to spot this stuff while driving.

Victor shows us how kids compete

On we went. The ground was sandy, dusty from little rain. The leaves were mostly vegetation free so visibility was good. Victor said if the leaves were out, we wouldn’t spot an elephant 30 feet away. We didn’t spot any elephants with visibility of several miles, despite the alleged population of 47,000 in the park. It’s a problem as the park is large enough (about the size of Belgium) to support maybe 15,000. The elephants destroy trees which are a food source for many other animals. They can’t cull their numbers because outfits like the World Wildlife Fund make a stink. And it’s no simple task to relocate a single family of elephants to a place that could better support their numbers. Imagine the shipping costs. Maybe when the Chinese are given the rest of the park for the coal mine, that’ll take care of the elephant problem.

Because of corruption, Zimbabwe is an economic basket case. So it seemed appropriate that the first giraffe we saw in the country was lame, hobbling on one of its front legs, alone, unable to keep up with the herd. It’ll be someone’s dinner in a couple of days.

Giraffes were the big find this morning. We saw maybe 15 in groups of two or three. We saw a herd of impalas running through the trees, gallop, gallop, big leap, very beautiful to watch them run.

Guinea fowl and warthogs made appearances. Maria was finally able to get a photo of a Red Billed Hornbill, which we had seen several times in Namibia, but which always flew by away just as she pressed the shutter. The prettiest bird around here is the Lilac Breasted Roller (featured at the top of this page), which is a bit larger than a robin, and which, during courtship, flies high then tumbles and rolls like a stunt pilot. We didn’t see the rolling, but this colorful bird looks good when it flies away.

Back to camp at 11 for a siesta during the heat of the day.

Early this afternoon, Berv held a learning and discussion session about the sorry history of Zimbabwe from when the English colonist Cecil Rhodes used highly trained, well-armed British soldiers to squash the spear-wielding indigenous leaders, took all the land and began exporting the mineral wealth of the country. British settlers came in and were granted farms that covered hundreds of square miles each. In the 1960s and 70s, black liberation groups agitated for, then fought for self determination. Robert Mugabe took the reins and built a textbook corrupt African strongman government, including the genocidal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of a minority tribe that was asking for equal representation. This in the 1990s, bet you never heard of that; me neither. In 2000, he expelled the white farmers, took their land and gave it to his cronies, transforming Zimbabwe from the bread basket of southern Africa to a pariah state that can’t feed itself with inflation so high, we can get 500 billion dollar bills as souvenirs. Mugabe could have been a hero of the revolution. Instead he turned out to be a colossal failure. Fortunately, he’s dead now.

On our afternoon game drive, there was a haze in the air, it looked almost like fog. Our driver Victor said it was probably coal smoke from the power plant. He drove us to the top of a ridge maybe 100 feet high. When we got to the edge we looked down and saw a herd of 100 Cape Buffalo in a large clearing. We hopped back into the vehicle and drove down close to the herd. They are huge, with a low brow and a pair of wide horns that look like hair parted in the middle.

The sun was getting lower. We drove on and just as Maria complained that with the big elephant problem everyone’s complaining about, we ought to at least be able to see one, and we came upon a good size herd of about 20 elephants on the move. The big male took a step toward us and checked us out as the others passed by behind him. A youngster started running, wait for me! and an older sibling waited up for her. After most of the herd had passed us, and we had started to drive away, we heard an elephant trumpeting. The boss male was doing a mock charge on the other vehicle carrying the rest of our group. They showed us a video of four elephants standing in a row facing their vehicle. Those folks were suitably impressed. 

As we continued on our way back to the camp, we ran across a water hole that had two hippos, a crocodile and two little baby crocodiles less than a foot long.