If we didn’t know it before, we discovered pretty quickly that no two game drives are the same. While Makalolo Plains keeps a log of the types of animals that guests could probably see, they cannot offer a guarantee.
During September, the time we in Hwange National Park, there was a high probability of seeing elephants (100%), zebras (100%), waterbucks (100%), widebeests (93%) and steenbucks (90%). But because of the size of the park, the animals have many places to escape the sun so sometimes, we’d drive for long stretches before we’d see anything.
However, the guides are very knowledgeable of the animals’ habits and hideouts and would use every method – from communicating with other guides to following animal tracks in the sand – so that we’d have a good experience. We were very lucky to see four of the Big Five – elephant, lion (60%), leopard (17%) and buffalo (57%) – and witness some pretty interesting animal behavior.
Game drives were never boring. While we jaunted along, different things caught our attention. Take our first day out, for example. We spotted vultures sitting high atop several trees. Others were circling and a few more were flying in – a sure sign that they knew a meal was waiting.
Godfrey told us that an elephant had died the previous day – probably from old age. As guides, they’re not allowed to interfere in animal activities. However, since the elephant had died close to the path, they had moved it out of sight so as not to upset us. We saw part of the carcass – and we could definitely smell it.
Since Hwange is a natural habitat, life and death exist side by side. Seeing the carcass was a reminder but if we hadn’t seen it, there would be other reminders as the bones of dead animals were everywhere.
Elephants are the most destructive animals and as we drove around, we could see evidence of where they had been. Branches were split clean off but mostly, we’d see healthy looking trees that had been snapped like dried twigs.
Each morning, as we left our tent, we’d see elephant tracks in the soft sand.
And after a few days, we could tell where they had congregated the night before and where they had dug holes with their tusks to search for much needed minerals.
And where there were elephants, there were patties.
But theirs weren’t the only ones we saw. Since many of the animals are herbivores, their patties contain seeds that begin to sprout after a while.
Several species of the antelope family – eland, roan, steenbucks, waterbucks, impalas and kudus – can be seen in Hwange. Beautiful, graceful and shy, with bright eyes, most times, they would dart behind the bushes as soon as they saw us.
I was surprised how small the baboons were. During the day, we saw them in large packs but on a drive to Mbisa, we watched a few as they climbed a palm tree to retire for the night.
I especially liked to see zebras with their dizzying and unique stripes. And whenever I saw them with impalas, it made for a beautiful photo.
Four hundred species of birds live in Hwange, nearly all of which I’d never heard of before. Among them, the coqui francolin, kori bustard, guinea fowl, crimson breasted shrike – a small black bird with a beautiful red underbelly – ostrich, secretary bird, with its long legs and tail, and the beautiful lilac breasted roller.
So while we go for the animals, don’t forget: there’s a lot more to see on safari.
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