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October 25, 2022

I got lucky again today!

After work I decided to head east, along the Jangada Road, all the way up to the pontoon on the Urema River.

The drive to the Urema River goes along the old colonial road, through dense thicket, and it is good for spotting unusual species like Natal Red Duiker, Samango Monkey and Four-toed Sengi (after dark). A few weeks ago I could have sworn I also saw a Palm Civet in the riverine forest.

I’ve seen big Sable bulls in this area. Hoping to catch one or two with my camera, I decided to branch off into oxbows, pans and lagoons in the Sable Pan area. I heard we recently reintroduced hyena and they had frequented the place as well. Who knows, I might get lucky?

As I wound through the thicket I spotted Nyala, Impala and a Bushbuck. Then the bush opened up into a beautiful long oxbow, perfectly positioned east to west, with the slowly setting sun right at the far end. A few Waterbuck stood by and casually watched a troop of baboons do their thing before bedding down for the night.

As it turns out, half of the babooms were actually another pack of Wild Dog. I saw three of them break away and give playful chase to some of the monkeys, no doubt to get their blood flowing and adrenaline pumping before another hunt. They surrounded the car and I didn’t quite know where to aim my camera…

The dogs split off into the bush and I tried to follow them in the low palm scrub. By now the sun had dipped below the horizon and I didn’t want to loose my bearings. You can get horribly lost in this stuff.

I turned the car around and decided to rather pace up and down the oxbow slowly, seeing if I could pick up some dogs again. I came across one dog, picking on a warthog, clearly hoping his yaps and squeals would attract his mates. The warthog gave him a run for his money and he disappeared off into the shrubbery. Two more dogs popped out 300m further west, coming for a quick drink at a remaining pool of water. There were at least a dozen vultures there, of three species, and a few carcasses, including a day old juvenile waterbuck.

Before heading home I decided to see what is on the far end of the oxbow as it was just so pretty in the twilight glow. I saw a big male Kudu, some Bushbuck, hundreds of Waterbuck and then, low and behold: three hyena. I casually parked off by another permanent pool of water. The ubiquitous Impala didn’t seem to care much, nor did they for them.

Hyena have been picked up on camera traps in Gorongosa before and oddly, I’m told a Brown Hyena was captured in the community some years back. I’ve personally found scat of Spotted Hyena in the north east, close to the Pala Pala outpost, but never a live animal. Along with Leopard and Zebra they have been missing from my Gorongosa checklist.

A few months ago we brought in four hyena from Karingani and were recently released from the boma. I did not spot the alpha female, she didn’t take too kindly to cars and people when she was still confined and seems to have distanced herself from her clan. These three seemed fine and allowed me to approach within metres, chilling in the dust and periodically twisting, turning and twitching like an epileptic under a strobe light to get rid of the pesky Tsetse flies.

Fearing I would not be able to follow my tracks home if night fell entirely, I turned around with the last remainder of the twilight guiding me home and left our hyena pals to slumber. We’re receiving another small clan from southern Mozambique in November and it will be very exciting to see their population start to thrive here in Gorongosa!

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Monday, October 24, 2022

Mondays are typically not days I get out into the field. Today was an exception.

I went west of the Mussicadzi, to look for some Wildebeest and Hartebeest to photograph against the beautiful setting sun. Wildebeest I found plenty off, Hartebeest none, a setting sun; only one. I did come across a lot of pretty reedbuck and lots of Oribi, including a mom with a baby, which I’ve not often noticed before.

On my way back I decided to turn off on the Zebra Pan road in the hopes that I would find a zebra (I haven’t seen any yet here, they’ve never really bounced back).

It appears that the large pack of Wild Dog which used to hang out closer to Chitengo now made it across to this side, with over a dozen large pups in tow. It was difficult to count, but I would say that there were close to forty dogs or so.

Within seconds they took off, playfully chasing after some Oribi. I followed them with the lens of my camera, figuring they would soon disappear on their hunt. Fortunately for us, they flushed some Waterbuck almost immediately and turned and chased after a young bull. Within seconds it was down, within minutes it was consumed.

Two dogs broke off from the frenzy and started looking for alternative snacks. As they slowly made their way back to the pack they must have stumbled across a Warthog laying low in a burrow as the pig exploded out the dry grass with two dogs in hot pursuit.

They gave up after a few hundred metres, probably a good idea as this boar would have made mince of them. The rest of the pack certainly still seemed hungry and were on the lookout for more. I left them to it.

Not bad for an after work drive!

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October 9, 2022

I saw this beautiful cat this late afternoon at the junction.

I managed to drag myself away from my laptop after a long holiday weekend of work, and took myself for a drive. I’m very glad I did, as sightings like this one don’t come around often!

I explored the area around road 8,6= the south-east of the main safari circuit. It is stunning there; beautiful open areas with a few remaining pans full of Marabou and Yellow-billed stork fishing for catfish, fringed by tall Fever Trees. I saw the usual: Impala, Waterbuck, Nyala, Warthog and Baboon as well as a beautiful Kudu bull standing on an anthill. A single Civet made an appearance around 5 p.m, before the sun had even set, marking tussocks of grass on the road in front of me. I had hoped for Wild Dog, which have been a bit hard to spot lately, but alas… no luck.

When I came to the junction in question I grabbed the map to get my bearings and decide if I should try make it to the edge of the floodplain before dark or take the shortcut home. As I looked over my right shoulder to look for the road markers I saw this beautiful feline casually walking in the middle of the dirt road, away from me.

Only my second Serval sighting in Gorongosa, and probably in my top three Serval sightings to date.

——-

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September 19, 2022

The Urema River drains Lake Urema, the beating heart at the centre of Gorongosa, at the bottom of Africa’s Great Rift Valley.

The old colonial road runs east to west and used to be how people traveled to and from the Park (primarily from Beira) back in the day. These days we drive all the way around to Inchope as the river cannot be crossed when in flood.

A few months ago we put the ‘jangada’ back in place, which carries one car and a handful of people at a time across the river. It is a pontoon made of empty oil drums and a structure just about wide enough to fit a car (or not, depending on your aim). It is hand drawn across by pulling yourself along the steel cable suspended from one bank to the other. Its a great bit of exercise and will put some callouses on your hands; it is very difficult to do on your own.

Until recently one would have to paddle across this quite literally croc-infested river in a rickety mokoro (dugout canoe) to fetch your ferry if you found the pontoon left on opposite bank. We resolved it by tying another cable on either side and anchoring it so it can be pulled back across by hand or by tying it to the bull bar of your vehicle and reversing.

It’s quite a balancing act and requires a bit of skill. Six weeks or so ago, the approach was on the shallower bank and pontoon had the tendency to sink in the mud with the weight of the car. One would have to slowly drive it forward, careful not to go too far and tip forward into the murky water, until the rear end came loose. Your passenger(s) would then quickly push off into the deep end and the driver simultaneously rolls the car back a metre or so to restore balance.

To help visualize Miguel Lajas and I shot this little video yesterday, crossing just before sunset, coming from the east of the Park. One cannot see the monstrous crocodiles, but trust me. They’re right there, waiting for somebody to slip off the floating oil drums!

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July 26, 2022

We woke up to the sound of palm leaves rustling and branches breaking.

A herd of elephant were moving along the fringes of our backyard. The ellies also spotted the workers on one of the building sites and the matriarch let out a loud trumpet. The troops retreated and we engaged in some environmental education from the safety of our veranda.

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July 16, 2022

Not the best photo, but it captures the scene fairly well.

These six lions have been around for a while now, we spotted them Saturday and they’ve been sighted by staff and tourists up and down the main road over the past week. I’m fairly certain they’re the same ones which took up temporary residence at Chitengo six weeks ago or so, making regular appearances at Chikalango Restaurant and the back of the staff canteen. For a few weeks their spoor were scattered in the mud throughout camp every morning when I would walk to ‘the office ‘.

We had a few minutes with the same lions this afternoon, before looping across the flood plain to the Lion House and along the Mussicadzi River (where we saw a beautiful solitary bull elephant). They were fast asleep and didn’t show much interest in us, or their general surroundings.

On our way back they made their way across the road, where we watched them from mere metres away as they were rolling in the dust, stretching and clearly getting ready to start the day’s activities just as ours wound down. There is something special and rather intimidating about locking eyes with a fully-grown lioness and feeling the intensity of her stare. However, to see a pride of lion walking with purpose slowly fade away in the twilight, knowing they prowl the night, makes one feel even more insignificant and humbled. There is no doubt that they’re in charge here.

We had some roast chicken, from Shoprite. They likely took down a Waterbuck, on their own steam!

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July 8, 2022

Gorongosa pulling it out of the bag on a casual Friday afternoon after work. Ellies too, but in among the reeds.

I thought that these cubs might belong to the same lioness I saw having an affair with the 2M brothers back in February. I saw her again in late May not 100m away from this site, and she seemed about to pop. However, this new mother did not have a collar as the other one did so it means it is another female showing us her progeny. Cannot wait to see these little ones grow up alongside our own!

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May 23, 2022

Went for a drive and came across this lady.

I forgot my camera of course and couldn’t capture this moment in all it’s glory: A roaring lioness on an emerald green floodplain with hooting Crowned Cranes and nervous looking Waterbuck and Oribi in the background against a backdrop of an African sunset over Mt Gorongosa.

This fantastic feline had a bulging belly, but not due to her habit of snacking on ‘hogs. Rather, she is as pregnant as can be. She’s not more than a day or two off, I think. Apparently the Wild Dogs are denning too.

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