Category Archives: Animals

A weekend in Choma

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A weekend in Choma

Choma is a small, friendly town located about 4 hours south of Lusaka, on the main bus line to Livingstone.  I thought it would make a fun weekend excursion and I was not disappointed.   This is still the rainy season and most places are under-occupied and have special rates for residents.  I did a bit of googling and discovered the Masuku Lodge, about 20 km off the main road.  It is located inside the Nkanga River Conservation Areas and is one of the area’s top places for bird-watching.  Over 400 species of bird have been sighted here, including Chaplin’s barbet, Zambia’s only endemic bird.

I got to Lusaka’s main bus station in plenty of time to get my ticket.  Unlike the first time, when I was there as a new traveler in Zambia, I had a better idea of what to expect and felt more comfortable looking around.  There is a central, covered area which functions as a market.  The various bus lines have their ticket booths around the edges.  Buying a bus ticket can be an adventure in and of itself.  On some of the bigger bus lines (like Mazhandu, the one I used) you can call ahead one day before to reserve a ticket.  But on most of the buses, you need to show up in person on the day.   (Buying a ticket online is unheard of here.  Most people who take the bus don’t have regular access to a computer.)

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What is curious is how ticket sales are handled.  As I walked around the market, representatives from the different bus lines would approach me.  (Note that “madam” is pronounced here with the accent on the second syllable.  “meh-DAM.”)”Madam!  Madam!  You would like a ticket to Kpari Mposhi?”  “Madam, where are you going?  We have bus to Livingstone!”   “Madam, you would like to go to Ndola today?  Very nice bus!”

It was as if they assumed that I had packed my bag and gone to the bus station on a whim with no plan and no idea of where I wanted to go!  The place was bustling with chaotic activity.  In addition to the market stalls, there were folks walking around holding merchandise for sale – watches, stockings, hats, clothespins, snacks, radios…almost anything you could think of.  Some were more aggressive than others – I watched as the clothespin seller shoved his wares literally under the nose of several seated women who were dozing off as they waited for their bus.  Most simply shook their heads at him, but one woman glared at him until he backed away.

(This picture shows the stairs used to attached over-size luggage to the top of a bus…not all have compartments underneath!)
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Finally, our bus arrived, everyone found their (assigned) seat and we drove off.  There was the inevitable gospel music playing and this time we had a real live preacher on board, who read scripture and walked up and down the aisle talking and praying for the first 30 minutes of the journey.  I was very glad for my Bose noise-canceling headphones!

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The bus ride took about 5 hours, with a couple of stops and a bathroom/food break.  When I alighted in Choma, Dorie from Mazuku Lodge was waiting for me.  She was a small, bubbly woman with great stories to tell, having lived in Zambia her entire life.  We drove down a well-graded dirt road, and then a less-well-graded one and then one that looked almost like a foot path.  We passed through several gates and then suddenly, there was the lodge, warm and bright against the night-time rain.  Dorie’s partner Rory came out to meet us with an umbrella and handed me a glass of wine as we entered the living room.  I felt very welcomed.

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The lodge and surrounding areas had been carved out of the bush.  There are six little chalets, roundavels with ensuite baths and a large main building which a beautiful dining room and large living area, complete with a fireplace and WiFi and even a TV with plenty of DVDs, should you want them.  Each chalet has a porch and there was a big garden area for sitting outside the main house.  The hot water for the chalets is heated by a large brick stove with pipes to the rooms. The lodge looks over the lake formed by the Ross Hot Springs Dam on the Nkanga River and there are birds of all kinds to be seen and heard.

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I was served a delicious dinner with a first course of butternut squash soup and then roast chicken, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, carrots and string beans, and home-baked bread.  Dessert was fresh carrot cake with warm custard.  Rory (who is the birder of the couple) was able to give me some ideas of where to walk and what I might see.  He was leaving the next morning to do a month-long training and exam course for the guides that are so incredibly informative in the national parks.  I was the only guest at the lodge for the weekend and it was a perfect retreat.

There were miles of dirt road trails to explore.  Because of the tall grass, not much game was evident (or should I say, visible!  It is possible I walked with feet of a zebra or impala and just didn’t see it!) but I saw plenty of fresh footprints. The countryside was green and fresh and the bird song was everywhere.  It was lovely to just be able to walk for miles in the Zambian air.

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I saw some interesting insects…some kind of worms, a pill bug, some army ants (marching in formation) and also many beautiful wildflowers.

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For some of my walks, I was accompanied by Jackal and Heidi, Dorie’s two affable black labs.

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When I wasn’t walking, I spent my time sitting in the garden, reading or just – well – sitting! 

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All too soon, it was Sunday afternoon – time to head back to Choma and get my bus back home.  The Choma “bus station” is next to a fast-food place and awash with street vendors.  I think at least five different people asked me if I wanted to buy bananas.  I declined – politely – each time.

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I plan to return to Masuku Lodge next August, during the dry season when game is more visible and also to take part in one of Rory’s “Bird Safaris.”  But I loved spending time there during the quiet season.  A wonderful, peaceful weekend…

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South Luangwa in the Green Season

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January through mid-April is the rainy season in Zambia and many of the lodges and camps close because of flooding or impassable roads.  However, there are some that stay open and to lure guests, they often have special deals during what they have taken to calling it “The Green Season” or even “The Emerald Season.”  I decided to take a weekend trip up to Mfuwe, which is a little village right outside of South Luangwa National Park with several all-season camps right outside the park.

I had treated myself to a pair of kick-ass binoculars and was excited to be able to try them out.  Unfortunately, my trusty Canon “Power Shot” camera, which has served me so reliably for a couple of years, went missing between Lusaka and Mfuwe.  (I had it stored in the front pocket of my backpack, which I had to check due to the plane being so teeny.  Perhaps someone gave in to temptation…alas.)  So, all these pictures were actually taken with the camera on my iPhone. While they are not of the best quality, they do give you an idea of how up close and personal we were able to get to the animals.

At any rate…our plane was a 12-seater prop plane which flew low enough so that I got a magnificent view of the valley and the escarpment and the river as we were coming into South Luangwa.  At first there were roads here and there and then…then there was nothing to indicate any civilisation at all.  Every once in a while, I could see a small cluster of huts…but no road or any discernible way to get there!  And GREEN!  Every thing was bursting with green…bright, emerald green.

Our pilot was a young woman named Kate, who said she’d been flying in Zambia for about three years.  She was excellent, and it was fun being able to see all the controls and buttons.

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Mfuwe is actually an “International Airport” because it gets flights from Malawi.  It is a tiny place, but has a decent tarmac runway and a terminal with a shop and some sculptures made by local artists.  And a customs counter, for international travellers…

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The driver from my camp was waiting for me when I arrived.  His name was James and he was also to be my guide on the game drives.  We drove through the “village” of Mfuwe, which is actually just a strip of road with some stores and markets on either side.

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By the time we got onto the dirt road to the camp, it was fairly dark…and one of the first animals we saw was a young hippo, trotting through the bush with what looked like flowers on his back! It looked like something out of a Disney cartoon.  James said that it was a plant called Chinese cabbage.  It floats in the water and sometimes sits on the smooth, flat back of the hippo.  We joked that since it was Valentine’s Day, this hippo was delivering flowers to his sweetheart.

(I didn’t get a picture, but it looked something like this…)
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When we got to the camp, I found that I had been upgraded to a large chalet, right on the river.  (There were so few people in camp that they decided to put us all together.)  I was very pleased…it almost made up for having my camera nicked.

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A late dinner and a glass of wine and I was ready for bed…the morning game drive was at 6:00am!

South Luangwa is a huge park! The southernmost of three national parks in the valley of the Luangwa River, it  is a world-renowned wildlife haven. It supports large populations of Thornicroft’s Giraffe, and herds of elephant and buffalo while the Luangwa River supports abundant crocodiles and hippopotamuses.  Founded as a game reserve in 1938, it became a national park in 1972 and now covers 9,050 km!

When we arrived at the gate, we were greeted by a bevy of baboons.  These are yellow baboons; smaller than the ones I saw down in Livingstone.  They were quite active and there was lots of flirting and grooming going on – we saw one female busily grooming a male while he sat in splendour and closed his eyes in ecstasy.  It was obvious that he would “get a little something” (as James said) later on that morning.

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The park was overflowing with new life.  Baby elephants tottered after their mothers, who often had an older calf as well.  We also saw a number of solo young male elephants, looking a bit bewildered.  When male elephants get to be about 15 years old or so, their mothers and aunts kick them out of the group, to prevent them from mating with their sisters and cousins.  We saw this happening – a large female with a calf by her side was pushing a young male with her head and tusks – forcing him away from the family.  This male was the same one we had seen a bit earlier, chasing a herd of impala and trumpeting loudly as he did.  Why? For fun!  Pure adolescent mischief.

Single males often form their own “bachelor groups” after a while.  Elephants are very social animals.  They are also extremely protective of their young and the only animals we viewed that did not take kindly to being gawked at by humans.  The mother would take her trunk and gently coax the baby away from the road…sometimes, looking anxiously back at us to be sure we were not following.

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We also saw numerous giraffes.  As giraffes age, their spots get darker, so you can often guess their age by their colour.  Giraffes tend to be solitary animals, although they do graze in groups.  A group is called a “herd” although there is a phrase “a tower of giraffes.”  At one point, we came upon a group standing in the road, nibbling on the trees.  They were quite reluctant to leave and blocked our way for quite a while.

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Birds were in abundance.  We saw several crested cranes; beautiful birds with a crown of feathers on their heads.  We were extremely lucky to see two of the birds in a mating dance – the male bobbing and weaving and puffing out his feather and the female gracefully circling around him.  My binoculars gave me a terrific close-up view of the romance-in-progress.

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Other birds included a marshall eagle, kingfisher, saddle-bill stork, a knob-billed duck and a bittern.  The knob-billed duck is a funny-looking creature; his bill looks as though someone stuck it on sideways.  It has a small knobby protrusion that gets bigger during mating season.  Apparently, girl ducks like guys with big bills! (Not my picture…but this is what it looked like!)

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There are several types of “weaver” birds who make intricate nests out of grass and hay.  The nests hang from the very edge of the branches. They look like they should slip off, but they don’t.

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Then, we were treated to an incredible view of a leopard.  Probably a female, she was resting under a copse of trees, waiting for nightfall when she could get her dinner – there were many impala grazing on the field in front of her. She didn’t seem to mind us at all; just sat there looking like a big pussycat, blinking and occasionally licking a paw.

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An enormous hippo crossed our path, making his way towards the river.  You wouldn’t think hippos could trot, but they can really move!  This big boy was not happy we were following him, but finally he stopped and turned his head so we could get a picture before he dived into the river with a huge splash!

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There are many buffalo in the park.  These are not the docile, cattle-like creatures we have in states.  These are ornery and mean.  We saw a trio of old bachelors living out their days in relative solitude.  Apparently, when buffalo get old, they get tired of the mating game and sometimes simply choose to “batch it” with a couple of other like-minded senior-citizens.  They turn and stare directly at you, and as James said, “They always look, but they never smile…”

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There is a huge baobab tree in the park that is over 2500 years old!  It has weathered storms, drought, floods and elephant damage and is home to many birds and a big next of bees. I loved this tree!

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There were some other trees that looked almost ghost-like.  Apparently, these trees were dead…but even after death, stayed standing for up to 30 years before finally coming down.

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I was hoping to see a hyena and we saw plenty of clear, recent tracks…but no hyena appeared.  We also came across the jawbone of a young elephant.

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Here is a hippo, eating his way through a pond full of Chinese cabbage. You could hear him chomping his way across the pond.

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And here I am, with my guide, James.

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It was a great weekend!

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The Bats of Kasanka

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In the northern part of Zambia, about 6 hours drive from Lusaka, there is a small national park called Kasanka.  Every November and December ten million straw-coloured fruit bats take up residence in one hectare of Kasanka National Park’s mushitu swamp forest.  This is not a “migration” as such – as the bats come from various places (such as Congo and Uganda)  It is more like a “congregation” as the bats gather to feed on the delicious mangos that are just ripening.

I had a 4-day weekend for American Thanksgiving and I thought since I wasn’t having turkey, what would be better than to spend some time in the forest, watching +/- 10,000,000 bats take to the sky?  I was not disappointed.

I booked accommodation at the rustic but charming Wasa Lodge, and arranged a ride from Adam, a sort of jack-of-all-trades who turned out to be a fountain of knowledge about landmarks, flora and fauna on the trip up.

As we passed through Kabwe, he pointed out the “Big Tree” monument (which is an enormous fig tree) and also several ancient locomotives – the town is still the putative center of Zambian railways, although employment on the railways has be greatly reduced.

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(We had a small adventure just south of Serneje – a mini-bus full of passengers had blown a tire and was tipped over on the side of the road.  The people were waving branches to try to flag down a vehicle, so we stopped.  There was a boy about 8 or 9 years old who had a sizeable gash in his leg, and an older man who looked like he may have had a concussion.  We piled them into the back seat, along with the little boy’s brother and detoured to the nearest clinic, about 20 minutes away.  Luckily, the gash on the boy’s leg had not been high enough to hit the femoral artery and although it was very deep (I could see the fat layer and muscle) it had not gone to the bone.  I  gave him water and covered the wound with gauze from the first aid kit.  The clinic was out in the middle of nowhere, but the nurses and orderlies came out with a couple of wheelchairs and we had some assurance that our unexpected passengers would be okay.)

We finally arrived at the lodge.  I was pleased to find that I had been “upgraded” and I didn’t have to share a bath.  I had my own little “chalet” – a terra-cotta coloured roundel, which had a thatched roof and was cool and comfortable.  The bath had cold running water and a “bucket” shower – when you wanted a shower, the staff would fill up a large container on the roof which was connected to the shower inside.  It worked splendidly.

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There was a large main building (also round!) which looked out over Wasa Lake.  They had a full bar and meals were included.  You could see puku (a kind of antelope) grazing across the lake and there was a sizeable pod of hippos in residence – you could hear them grunting as they surfaced and see their ears peaking out above the water.IMG_2022 IMG_2012 IMG_2017

Sam, the proprietor, greeted me warmly and said he would organize all the bat drives for me.  There are several “hides” from which to view the bats and there were drives in the evening (leaving at about 4:00pm) and morning (leaving at 4:00AM!)  I decided to go to all three available hides and did one twice…because it is a different experience in the evening, when the bats are on their way out, and in the morning, when they are returning, fat and tired and full of fruit!

Some of the hides were platforms in trees, (you climbed up a wooden ladder-like staircase) and some were right on the ground in a sort of marsh.  (To get to this one, we walked through a field of mint, which smelled wonderful!)

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There is no way to adequately describe viewing the bats.  In the evening, they would emerge from the dense forest beneath, where they had been sleeping all day (protected from the various birds of prey and other predators.)  They would hover around the tree-tops, circling and making their high-pitched bat-noise, and then descend again, as if to rally the rest of the group.  Each time, more and more bats would emerge, until finally, at almost exactly 6:00pm, they would ALL emerge – thousands and thousands and thousands of them – all heading off (as much as 60 kilometres away) to feast on the mangos.

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Our guide, Lloyd, told us that in the morning, they fly noticeably lower and more slowly, because they are so full…and that they sometimes bump into each other (I did see one collision.)  It’s like they are coming back from a night on the town…possibly muttering “Man, I shouldn’t have had that last mango” as they weave their way home.

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Lloyd was an extremely knowledgeable and interesting guide.  To become a guide, you have to take a 4-year sequence of classes and then pass a very stringent exam.  He had some great stories, including one where a walking safari inadvertently came between a mother elephant and her baby and another one where a guide actually lost his life protecting an idiot guest who was insisting on getting close enough to “see the eyes of the elephant.”

I loved the morning viewings best – you leave in the dark, with the stars above and then, as the skies slowly lighten, you hear and then see the bats returning…flying with the sun gleaming through the membrane of their wings, making them look golden.  There was no way I could possibly get a picture of this, no matter what kind of camera I might have had.

They roost for a while in the tops of the taller trees and then, suddenly, all swoop down at once – making it look as though the tree is shedding its leaves.  You hear their wings whooshing as they all descend back down into the forest. The trees in the picture below are FULL of bats…look closely!

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I met some interesting fellow bat-viewers, as well.  On the first drive, there were two guys from Spain, who had cameras that looked big enough to see the footprints on the moon!  They were very particular about their pictures.

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The following morning, my companions were three older Englishman who had been friends with David Lloyd, the founder of Kasanka National Trust and a real character, by all accounts.  He squandered half his fortune on wine, women and song and then used the rest to buy Kasanka.  These guys knew a great deal about the park and on our drive back, we detoured a bit so we could try to view some of the animals and interesting plants.  We saw a warthog and a kind of goose and had a fantastic view of a bateleur (a kind of eagle.)  I got a shot of it sitting in a tree, and then it swooped off and circled back over our heads, showing a spectacular wingspan. (I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture, but the sight of that bird, winging not 10 feet above us, was glorious.)

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We also saw some huge termite mounds and a field of smaller ones that looked remarkably like a cemetery! There was a magnificent “sausage tree” and several large sycamores.  And plenty of puku.

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The last day, I sat in the shade of the lodge’s balcony, just relaxing and enjoying the view.  It was fun to listen to the other guests come back from their bat viewings.  That night, I sat out by the fire with a glass of wine, watched the sun set and the moon rise and listened to the sounds of the bush.

And I was thankful, indeed.

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Come on a safari with me!

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The last two days of my week in Kenya were spent at the fantastic Maasai Mara Game Reserve.  I was accompanied by  my new friend Salaton and I felt extremely privileged to have the tribal chief as my personal safari guide!  We were driven in a 4-wheel drive van with a pop-up top, so I could stand up and take pictures.

This was my first real safari and I didn’t quite know what to expect.  I was expecting to see animals, of course, but nothing really prepared me for the enormous space of the Mara, or of how up close and personal we were able to get to the animals.  Since they have learned that these funny-looking two-legged creatures in the noisy contraptions are neither prey nor predator, they mostly ignore us completely…going about their business and allowing us to gawk.

I was able to see more than 30 different animals; most closely enough to get a good look and a good picture.  ALL the pictures here were taken with my little point-and-shoot camera.

We saw giraffes before we even got into the boundaries of the reserve…and later saw more, even closer.

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As I had hoped, we saw many elephants.  There were even a couple of babies…but the mother carefully herded them away as we approached.

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We saw several kinds of vultures…some in trees and a bunch feeding on the carcass of a dead elephant.

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I got a good shot of a malibu stork, which is the bird I saw flying from a distance on my bird watch last month.

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There were other birds, too….a secretary bird and a pair of Egyptian ducks with their little babies, no bigger than feather-balls.

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We saw a lot of zebras and wildebeests.  This was the end of their big migration (they tend to migrate together) and at one point, we saw a HUGE herd of them walking slowing across the plain.  There were also gazelles, impala, antelope and eland.

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We came upon a couple of water buffalo, which apparently is one of the more dangerous animals, as they have been known to charge a vehicle!  And we also saw some warthogs…and some adorable babies, trotting along after their parents.  (“The Kenyan express,” Salaton said.)  I was unable to get a picture of the babies, but did get a snapshot of one hog hiding under a bush.

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Of course, everyone wants to see the majestic lion.  We came upon four different male lions.  May I present: The King Of Beasts!

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Meanwhile, the female lion had made a kill and was guarding it carefully.  There was a flock of vultures nearby, waiting for her to be finished.

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We were lucky enough to see a cheetah – although not close enough for a good picture, I was able to view it through my binoculars.  It was sitting under a tree, looking like a huge housecat as it licked its paws and yawned.

Later on, we came upon a pair of lions.  Salaton said it looked as though they might be getting ready to mate, and indeed, the male put on a great show to the female – approaching her several times with his hips swaying and making huffing sounds.  He even went so far as to urinate most spectacularly right in front of her nose (and I got a picture of him doing it!) However, she was unimpressed and merely moved away from him.  He sat down again to wait for another opportunity.

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Just before lunch, we found a watering hole with at least a dozen hippos!  They did not come out of the water (which was probably a good thing) but we could see their heads and ears and hear their snuffling sounds…almost like whales…as they surfaced to breathe.

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More animals included a bushback (very rare to see; as they are quite shy…) a jackal, an ostrich (which is HUGE and looks like a mistake in design!), some mongoose and a couple of crocodiles, swimming near the hippos.

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We encountered some Maasai boys just as we were having our lunch and gave them all our bread-and-butter sandwiches.  I remembered to touch their heads and say “supa” to them – who knows what they thought of me, a mzungu woman with white hair, a big floppy hat and green sunglasses!  But they smiled and said “supa” back to me.

It was a fantastic way to end my week in Kenya.

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An incredible visit to the Chimfunshi wildlife refuge.

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The Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in central Zambia is a non-profit refuge that cares for a wide variety of sick, wounded or unwanted animals — but the primary residents are over 100 orphaned chimpanzees.  Last week, I was privileged to chaperone the 9th grade field trip to this unique and fascinating place…and to learn about chimpanzees – our closest cousins on the evolutionary tree, with more than 99% of our genetic make-up in common.

NOTE: With the exception of the photos of the school, these wonderful pictures were taken by my colleague, Heather PIllar, a professional photographer.

From their website: Chimfunshi was founded in 1983 when a game ranger brought a badly wounded infant chimpanzee to the cattle ranch of David and Sheila Siddle, a British couple who had lived in along the Zambian Copperbelt since the 1950s. The Siddles nursed that chimp – nicknamed “Pal” – back to health, thereby establishing a tradition of care and respect that forms the legacy of the sanctuary.  Once word of Pal’s recovery spread, the Siddles found themselves inundated with orphaned chimpanzees. Although many are confiscated from poachers who attempt to smuggle the infants into Zambia for sale as pets, an equally large number are rescued from dilapidated zoos and circuses from all over Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.  The Siddles bestow love and care upon the traumatized apes and gradually introduce them to the extended family at Chimfunshi. Five social groups inhabit the free-range enclosures that span 1,100 acres at the orphanage, including three 500-acre enclosures, the largest area ever set aside for captive primates.

More about Chimfunshi here: http://www.chimfunshi.org.za/  (And worth a read…)

After a long bus ride, we arrived at the main camp and got unpacked.  The camp is situated out in the bush; there are a number of rustic cabins, a central pavillion, a kitchen and a meeting room.  All electricity is provided by solar power and any kind of Wifi is non-existent.  We were given a introduction by one of the staff members and saw a video about the rescue of “Toto,” one of the chimps now at the orphanage.

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The next day, we walked to the enclosures…about 4 km down a dirt road. DSC02958 DSC02959 DSC02964

The enclosures are the “second stage” of the sanctuary.  Here are chimps that have been successfully integrated into family groups and live fairly independently in enclosures about 10 – 15 acres in size.  They are not ready yet to be released into the huge, 500 acre enclosures as wild chimps, but except for feeding time, they are pretty much left alone.  The staff never go into the enclosures and the chimps only come to the borders for meals.  This is so that the staff can ensure that the chimps are eating enough and monitor them.  We also got to watch them being fed…they eat vegetables and fruits and they love nshima (a kind of cornmeal paste.)  They will negotiate with each other for food and steal it from other chimps who aren’t paying attention.  But they can also be generous and will share with a youngster or a chimp who is their friend.

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Each student was assigned a chimp to observe every 30 seconds for one hour.  They had codes to record various behaviors.  Sometimes the chimps would be very active – grooming, vocalizing, interacting with other chimps, climbing a tree, throwing rocks, cuddling their babies and sometimes behaving aggressively, including loud hoots and shrieks.  But some of them simply seemed to like the easy life and spent a good portion of the observation time relaxing. (Much to the disappointment of their observer!)

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The next day, we visited the Orphanage.  This is where animals are taken when they first come to Chimfunshi.  Many times, they have been so badly treated that it is impossible to move them to the larger enclosures…but the staff still strives to give them as natural an environment as possible.  “Toto,” the chimp in the video who was rescued from a circus in Chile was there.  He had been captured at age 2, along with 3 other baby chimps.  (Also, sometimes 10 – 12 adult chimps will die trying to protect a baby chimp.)  The other baby chimps died on their way to Chile and Toto was kept for more than 20 years in a crate about a meter wide, taught to smoke and drink and wear clothes.  He was castrated, chained by the neck and had most of his teeth pulled out.  When, he finally arrived at Chimfunshi (thanks to many people from many countries) he had not seen another chimpanzee for almost 25 years.

When he finally was let out of quarantine, he was cautiously introduced to a little 5 year old orphan chimp named “Madonna.”  He approached her carefully, and then reached out his long arms and enfolded her in an embrace.  He paid no more attention to the humans, but focused all his attention on his companion – able to be with one of his own kind at last.  (Go on, watch the video!  It is quite moving.)

Video about Toto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqiEqUlB7V4

A website about his remarkable rescue: http://www.savetheprimates.org/happyendings/stories/saved-toto-the-chimpanzee

He’s an old man now…almost 37 years old, but he could live for another 20 years.  And although he cannot be released into the larger enclosures, due to his age, infirmities and the fact that he was castrated, he has bonded with several other chimps in a “family” and he is respected by them because of his age.

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We also met Sheila Siddle, the co-founder of Chimfunshi.  (Her husband David died a number of years ago, and she has carried on with the work.)  She was fostering a baby chimp whose mother had rejected her.  The baby is 4 months old.

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Chimfunshi also sponsors a school for the families who live in and around the area.  This is a one-room school house, for kids ages 5 – 11.  There are about 40 kids in the classroom…this is how it looks empty.

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Our kids came and introduced themselves to the students and even though all the students spoke Bemba and all our kids (except one) did not, they seemed to have a good time playing together.

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That evening, we were supposed to watch “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” but something went wrong with the DVD player…so some of our kids acted out the movie for us…it was hilarious.

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I thought Chimfunshi was a fascinating place and I really admire the work that is being done there.  Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, social, complex individuals who are suffering due to poaching, “bush meat” hunters, loss of habitat and general indifference.    Their numbers are decreasing at an alarming rate with only an estimated 150,000 still living in the wild.  Surely our closest living “relatives” deserve better from us.

“Chimpanzees have suffered so much pain and trauma at the hands of humans, yet they still have the grace to forgive us.”  (Sheila Siddle)

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A bird watch…and cows!

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Sunday, I joined the Zambian Bird Society (http://www.birdwatchzambia.org) on their monthly bird-walk.  It took place at the Kalamazi Game Ranch, not far outside of Lusaka.  I borrowed a pair of binoculars for the occasion (and really need to get some of my own soon!)  I was also armed with a camera, a couple of bottles of water, a hiking pole and sunscreen.  I had neglected to bring my hat, but I made do with my trusty bandanna.

We met at the “Bird Watch Office” and caravanned towards the Game Ranch.  There were 7 of us…and no one was really a “regular,”, it seemed.  Once we turned off the tarred road, I realized that I should have jumped into one of the 4-wheel drive vehicles as my little Starlet was not meant for rutted dirt roads.  When we hit the turn to the ranch,  which was little more than a dirt path, I parked my car and grabbed a ride with a very nice American couple who had a sturdy 4 x 4.

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As we drove in, we passed several flocks of guinea fowl, which are very common and have been domesticated.  They apparently make good eating!

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Birders can be an interesting bunch.  I was asked if I had brought my notebook – apparently it is common to record sightings and observations as you encounter different birds…or think you encounter them.   Everyone had a pair of serious binoculars and when a bird was sighted (or someone thought a bird was sighted) everyone would stand perfectly still, binoculars up and steady, looking to see if certain markings or beak colours could be discerned before confirming the sighting.

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Some people thought this bird was definitely a “lizard buzzard” but others were not so sure.  The light was not good enough to check to see if he had the requisite black stripes down his chest, as shown in the close up picture (not mine!)

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We came across a whole bunch of nests made by a bird called a “weaver.”  They weave their nests onto reeds and thin branches.  There are several kinds of weavers, some that make neat, tidy nests like these and others who are sloppy and make ratty looking nests with loose ends and bits of sticks and grass sticking out. .

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The game ranch is part of a farm that borders a large dam and the lake that has been created.  We walked around the lake to the mud flats, where we hoped to see some of the “waders.”  It was very pretty and there was a nice breeze coming off the water.

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We were able to see several kinds of birds – ones that were positively identified were the pied kingfisher, the stilt, a common bulbul, a jacana (also called the “Jesus Christ bird” because it appears to walk on water!), a black-necked heron (which could possibly have been a grey heron) and a bee-eater.

The stilt is a very attractive bird – long red legs and black wings with a white body.  And the pied kingfisher is unique amongst kingfishers in that he hovers over the water before diving for his prey.  The bee-eater is a very pretty little bird – bright yellow body with a colorful head.  And the jacanas really do seem as if they are walking on the water – they have incredibly long toes which allow them to navigate on even the smallest leaves or twigs.

 (Please note: the close-up bird pictures are NOT mine!  I would have needed incredible luck and a much more expensive camera to take shots like these!  But they show what the birds look like!)

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And then…someone told the cows it was time for morning tea.  One came down to see if it was ready.

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Then, using some unknown cow-communication, the rest of them slowly followed.

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These cows are quite unusual in that they have a hump between their shoulder blades, in some cases quite pronounced.  They are called “Zebus” or Brahman cattle and originated in Southern  Asia.   They are well adapted to tropical temperatures and used for dairy, beef, draught animals and also hides and leather.  Their dung is used for fuel and fertilizer.

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Most of the cows moved placidly down to the water, but every once in a while, there would be feisty one who would seem more curious.

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Behind the mud flats, there was a curious structure that I first took to be an old foundation of some sort.  Upon closer inspection, and some discussion, we discerned it to be a “cattle dip.”  The cattle would be driven into the shoot and into the deeper end, where they could be soaked with insecticide or cleaner…

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There was much interesting flora, as well.  Thorned acacia trees and various bushes and tall rush-like plants.

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And as we returned to our cars, we could clearly see a marabou stork wheeling about overhead.  This bird has a wing-span of almost 2 meters.  From a distance, it was beautiful, but it was considered to be one of the ugliest birds, with its short neck, featherless head and huge neck- pouch.

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Right before leaving, I found a long-discarded impala horn on the ground…

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It was a fun morning…and next time, I plan to have a stronger pair of binoculars (and my hat!)

 

 

 

 

Sunday Market and a mini-game drive.

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For the last day of our new teacher orientation, we all piled into the bus and went to the Sunday craft market at the new Arcades Mall.  This is a smaller market, with many local crafts such as rugs, baskets, masks, statues, fabric, furniture and other traditional African items.  It was a colorful scene and I could easily see doing most of my Christmas shopping here.  Vendors would stand in the middle of the aisle and if they saw you even glance at their wares, would try to coax you closer to take a look.  “Just a look, Madam!  Not to buy!  Just to look!  See what I have!  Just a small look!”

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There were many beautiful items.  I was looking for some baskets for my house and also planned to buy several lengths of colorful fabric to hang on the walls, as the house is very plain and stark.  I am proud to say that I stuck to my plan, although I was sorely tempted by the incredible array of masks and wooden carvings.  I came away with four beautiful hand-made baskets, two with handles and two bowl-shaped ones.  I think I got a bargain on those.  And I bought five 2-meter lengths of printed cloth to hang on the wall.  I think I probably paid too much for those.  But it all evens out in the end.

Then we piled ourselves and our purchases back into the bus for a trip to a nearby lodge and game farm.  This is not one of the huge game parks that are several hours out of the city, but a more sedate affair only about 45 minutes away.  It was called the “Protea Hotel Safari Lodge.”   A beautiful setting on a lake, with a delicious lunch buffet.  As is my habit, I tried some of the more unusual offerings.  The salad table had an enormous variety.  I had some kind of coleslaw-like dish that was made of thinly sliced turnip with a creamy dressing…very nice.  And a cold lemon soup – again, a light cream base and a refreshing taste.  I also had a skewer of marinated beef and what I think was pork, along with an eggplant dish and fresh green beans.  There was the ubiquitous nsmiba to use as a base.  And my dessert was something called “South African Friendship Cake” which was like a very light cheesecake with a crumbly crust.

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You could walk around the grounds and view the very tame impala and other deer-like animals who would come right up to the edge of the dining area.  And the lodge has three very old lions – a brother and sister and their father (the mother died of old age last year, apparently) who seem to spend most of their time just lying around, looking as bored as only a cat can.  Then some of us took a short “game drive” with a guide.  No really big game at this lodge, but we did see zebra, warthog, sable, impala, several beautiful large birds and baboons.   And some enormous anthills!  I was not able to get pictures of everything from the bumpy van…but I did get some!  Anthills!A "zebra crossing"Tree grown around another treeAnd baby makes three...A sable

It was a wonderful way to end a week of orientation.  Today all the staff returned and we started to really plan the year!