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     Volume 6 Issue 11 | March 23, 2007 |

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Food for Thought

(More) Safari Stories from Mfuwe Lodge

Farah Ghuznavi

We returned to the Safari Lodge, after some time spent admiring the lion sleeping off his mammoth zebra meal (I swear, his stomach was bulging like a python that had swallowed a whole goat - no wonder he was lying down, I don't think he would have got very far carrying that load in his midriff!).

It was around this time that I realised that visitors to high-end safari lodges are the beneficiaries of an excellent theory of animal behaviour i.e. if you keep them well-fed you keep them happy! Upon our return to the main lodge, we were received with a refreshments table groaning under the weight of all the goodies it held. Exhausted by the rigours of our game drive, we fell upon the offerings with gusto.

By the time we had finished eating, it was getting darker, and most of us were inclined to follow the example of the comatose lion and sleep off our meal. But that was not to be. Instead, we were shepherded off to experience the night drive, when game guides use a powerful spotlight to find nocturnal animals.

As we drove further away from the lodge, we started to see the occasional hippo, which had come out of its wallowing spot (its refuge during the hot day) to find its evening meal. At one point, we came across a hippo just a few feet away from our open vehicle, suddenly caught by the spotter's torch. Given the hippos' reputation for ferocity, it was quite a relief to see it amble away quietly - it must have been hungry (and weren't we glad that hippos are vegetarians)!

In the next hour, we saw a number of smaller nocturnal animals like the elephant shrew (basically a large mouse with an enormous nose!) and the scrub hare (which did a very good impression of a rabbit caught in the headlights, which is basically what it was). Less exciting were the swarms of flying insects we had to navigate our way through (making very sure not to open our mouths and risk inhaling any!) because lots and lots of bugs were attracted by the giant spotlight.

The highlights of the night safari included the beautiful little Genet - the size of a domestic cat, but with beautiful markings and a big fluffy tail. We also came across a pair of huge black, stiff-quilled porcupines, which (unfortunately for them) were caught out in a field, so that they couldn't really get away from the torch...This was particularly nice for me, since family legend has it that - upon being taunted as a child for not speaking as much English as the rest of my family - I insisted that I knew English, suddenly bursting out with "porcupine!" to prove my critics wrong!

The following morning, we were taken out for a "bush breakfast" (i.e. a lavish fry up in the outdoors, somewhere in the park). Interestingly, the ride to the bush breakfast ended up being a mini safari in itself. An enormous land monitor lumbered past, looking like a miniature dinosaur. We then saw three successive herds of elephant, really beautiful animals (I have a weakness for those lovely ears on the African elephant), as well as a number of hippos wallowing contentedly in cool mud spots or lagoons.

In one place, we came across five or six giraffes moving in a group, including an adorable, long-legged baby giraffe. This was one of only two sightings of a giraffe group during our stay, and was followed by the sighting of another tall and stunningly beautiful lone giraffe, which was just standing out in the open under a tree. We were able to get very close, getting a completely unrestricted view of the animal, which had obviously just located a particularly juicy-leafed tree and decided to hang out there for a while...

We were also introduced to an interesting tree known as the sausage tree, because the fruits that hang off it look like sausages (or, if you are South Asian, gigantic tamarinds). This tree is a magnet for all the animals, because the elephants and giraffes like the leaves, while the monkeys, deer and even hippo like the fruits (which are, incidentally, supposed to be very sour). The monkeys, of course, are the only ones who can climb up and pick them, so the deer and the hippos have to wait until they fall on the ground and graze on them thereafter!

Speaking of deer and monkeys, there were a lot of (fairly large!) baboons in our camp. Luckily, none of them were inclined to come too close, because I personally find monkeys at close quarters somewhat creepy (too intelligent, and therefore scary). However I later found out that the monkeys actually serve a dual purpose. Apparently, because the camp is in the middle of the park, wild animals regularly wander in there at night. But whether it's day or night, the baboons start screaming if there are any dangerous animal (e.g. lions) around. I had to remind myself of that on the occasion when I was alone in the chalet, and was less than excited by the baboon that decided to grace me with its (uninvited!) company.

But in fairness, I have to admit that a close encounter with an over-curious baboon wasn't so bad. On another occasion, a hyena was spotted walking along the path in front of our chalet! And the previous week, three lions had been seen ambling along on the same path (perhaps looking for a late-night snack??). Presumably that is why we were repeatedly warned that in the evenings we would have to be accompanied by the camp staff when walking between the main lodge and our chalets - an instruction we were all only too happy to obey…!

There was even a sign put up by the lodge management, warning us to "Beware of hippos", accompanied by a pictorial depiction of that beast for the species-identification challenged...

Clearly, these hippos were a far cry from the famous hippo that lives at one of the competing establishments, Mukambi Lodge, and it's commonly seen wandering around the lodge premises. Indeed, a friend's child had once met that hippo coming up the stairs when she was going down. Panic ensued, but no harm was done, and the hippo was later spotted lurking around the bar area (perhaps in search of a wee drop to help it deal with the trauma of being shrieked at by a panicked 10-year-old in the privacy of its own home...!)


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