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    Volume 6 Issue 9 | March 9, 2007 |

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Food for Thought

Safari Stories from Mfuwe Lodge

Farah Ghuznavi

A short drive through South Luangwa National Park took us to Mfuwe Lodge, one of the premier safari destinations in southern Africa, where our arrival was heralded by the screeching of what appeared to be a few dozen monkeys! As excited I was to have finally arrived, my pleasure was tempered slightly by the prospect of a closer encounter with the inquisitive primates. Nor was I reassured by the staff member welcoming us, who made a point of asserting that we should NEVER walk round the grounds carrying fruit or any other kind of food, as it would ensure that the monkeys approached us to ascertain whether our food might be of interest to them...!

The main lodge was a short walk away from the individual chalets where guests were accommodated, and I was impressed by the beautiful wooden constructions, set alongside a large pond, with balconies overlooking the water. In the African summer, the chalets - while well appointed - were not cool enough for me. Though having said that, I have to admit that our chalet had a sunken bath, in which you could sit and watch the hippos wallowing in the small lake outside the window, so it could hardly be considered roughing it…

The chalet had a large balcony, which was about 5 or 6 feet away from the edge of the lake, and therefore, around 15 feet away from the group of about two dozen hippos that stayed in the water for most of the day. I have to say, they were entertaining enough to keep me occupied for some time. The first evening, I stayed on the balcony and watched the hippos for a long time. In the mellow golden light of the late afternoon, they grunted and grumbled at each other, swam up close and then moved away, and every now and then, opened their huge jaws to display some mild hostility.

In Africa, hippos kill more people each year than lions do. That too, despite being vegetarians! The fact is, they can be ferocious if they feel that their young are threatened; for example, by fishermen whose canoes pass too close to them. Newcomers to safari are informed (with relish) that an enraged hippo can bite a person in two…

In spite of knowing this, I have to say it's amazing how sweet and harmless they look when they sink into the water, occasionally blowing a plume of water upwards, as they clear their nostrils. Their huge bulk stays hidden under the water, with just the tiny eyes and those ridiculous little ears showing. Sometimes they even waggle their ears back and forth endearingly!

As I was watching the animals, they suddenly started climbing out along the banks of the lake, in ones and twos, heading off somewhere in what was almost an orderly single file. But then, as one of the lodge vehicles unexpectedly returned from a game drive, around 10 or 15 hippos clambered back into the lake, with a speed that belied their enormous size. It was sometime later, before they could again summon up the nerve to leave the lake and disappear into the approaching dusk, in search of food.

The balcony would prove to be a favourite spot of mine. Because it also looked onto the main road leading to the Lodge, which lies across the lake, I could see the safari vehicles coming back and forth from game drives. In between though, I saw some deer, and a few baboons, which had come to drink from the lake.

In fact one monkey provided a closer encounter than I had bargained for. I was minding my own business and admiring the hippos when a large baboon bounded on to the balcony, sending me scrambling for cover inside the chalet. The next few minutes were nervewracking as the baboon and I eyeballed each other through the mesh screen. Finally the puzzled monkey deduced from the bizarre sounds I was making that I was clearly some kind of deranged fellow primate and probably dangerous to boot. He disappeared as quickly as he had arrived….!

What I didn't expect to see, on my last day, was a beautiful specimen of an African elephant very calmly walking down the main road. He ended up in the Lodge Garden, where a lot of people went a bit closer to look (albeit from a safe distance, since the African variety is rather more aggressive than our domesticated elephants in South Asia). On the same day, I spotted a small crocodile about 10 feet away from our balcony. So really, even if you just stayed in the chalets for a couple of days, you would have come across at least five kinds of animals!

On my first game drive, we had been driving for less than five minutes before we came across a giraffe - standing about 10 feet away from us! This one belonged to a special breed (only found in Southern Africa), known as the Thornycroft giraffe, a little smaller than the other varieties, with uneven patterning in lighter and darker colours on different parts of its body. It happily ignored us, as we sat there slack-jawed, while it delved deeper and deeper into the vegetation for tasty morsels...

A few minutes later, we came across some elephants moving purposefully into the bush. Since we were told that the African elephant is known for occasional attacks, I was pleasantly surprised to see that these - although very close - were ng very pleased with himself, for reasons we couldn't quite fathom. It was clearly a bit of a fighter, since it had one long wickedly curved tusk, while the other tusk had been partly broken off. Clearly, the broken tusk was not cramping his style…...pretty much ignoring us too! And then behind one elephant, trotted a jaunty little warthog looking very pleased with himself, for reasons we couldn't quite fathom. It was clearly a bit of a fighter, since it had one long wickedly curved tusk, while the other tusk had been partly broken off. Clearly, the broken tusk was not cramping his style…...

Shortly afterwards, we drove to a spot where a lion had been sighted the day before. It had killed a zebra and was gorging itself on the kill. It was a lone male, so basically was trying to eat as much as it could before the meat went bad! By the time we got there, it must have eaten enough to be near bursting, because although (to my horror) we were taken to within about six or seven feet of it, (in an open vehicle!) it was lost in a truly profound post-meal siesta. With my binoculars, I could see ALL its teeth, and was only too glad to move off! The zebra didn't smell too good either...

(To be continued)


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