Zambia

Namibia – Gin and Tonic With The Lions

The white saltpans of Etosha National Park in the central north of Namibia are vast. The saltpans stretch over 20,000 sq km. Etosha means “great white place” and was once a super-lake. Today, it is dry, flat and hot with very few rivers and creeks which only run during the rainy season. At that time, as the saltpan fills, thousands upon thousands of water and wading birds migrate to it. There are also many man-made waterholes which surround the enormous saltpan that stretches as far as the eye can see. The most amazing of all the animals that congregate around the waterholes are the Etosha elephants. These wonderfully huge creatures are intriguing to watch as they come to the waterholes to drink and “bathe” themselves in the white mud which then turns them into huge ghost-like creatures.

The elephants happily share the waterhole with a variety of animals including many antelope and zebra. However the elephants seem to have an intense dislike for ostriches. One young male elephant takes this enmity to an extreme – every time an ostrich approaches the waterhole, the elephant sucks up a trunk full of water and gives the ostriches a good hose down. The ostriches reply to this indignity with much fluffing of feathers, flapping wings, shaking of tails and stomping of feet while retreating to a safe distance to wait for another opportunity to approach the waterhole when this rambunctious elephant had his back turned.


Waterholes are often places where old and sick animals come to die. The heat of the plains and the rough, rocky ground are hard on old feet and the grass is often dry and brittle. These weary animals make their way to a waterhole in the hope of sweet, soft grass and the coolness of the water. It is interesting to observe this cycle of life as it turns a full 360 degrees. Eventually, these aged, sick or wounded animals become the life giving meals to a whole range of other animals from the big cats, to the scavengers like jackals and hyenas, and of course the vultures, storks and buzzards circling in the sky that will their descent onto the carcass.

On my last game drive in Ongava, my guide Bono suggested that we visit a distant waterhole with the hope that we would see the resident pride of lions which we had tracked in the morning. On arrival at the waterhole in the late afternoon we saw at a short distance, in the thick bush that surrounded the waterhole, a number of giraffe nervously approaching the waterhole. They were cautiously eyeing the open ground around the waterhole as this is a very dangerous place for any unwary animals. Sure enough, there was a huge male lion and lioness lying in the grass metres from the waterhole. The giraffes, pushed by thirst, approached the waterhole but the sense of self preservation made them reconsider and they retired back into the thick scrub to wait for a safer time to drink.

We sat there quietly for some minutes and out from the long, thick grass emerged another lioness and followed by six cubs around eight weeks old. They made their way to the water’s edge and, one-by-one they lined up and started lapping the water. As if this sight wasn’t wonderful enough, another three females with older cubs around six months approached with a huge male sporting a magnificent, thick black mane. They all clustered around the waterhole and drank freely and loudly.


I was amazed how the sound of their lapping carried to where we were sitting some 10 metres away. The lapping of all those thirsty tongues was like the sound of many small hands softly clapping. They continued to drink for quite a while until their thirst was completely sated, as this would have to last them through the night while they hunted.

As each of the lions took their fill, they lay down beside the waterhole and relaxed or grabbed forty winks while the younger cubs played. The cubs spent their time wrestling with each other or sneaking up on the lionesses to grab their tails, bite their hind legs, or crawl over their mother if she was lying down and grab a quick drink of milk. The lionesses were patient up to a point, but if the wrestling became too vigorous, she would get up and go over and give the cubs a soft hit with her paw to quieten them down.


The least patient of all in the pride were the large males. One had removed himself from the group and was keeping close company with a female and discouraged interaction with the cubs. The other male was quietly lying by the water, and every now and then, a cub would approach and try to engage him in some fun. This was quickly rebuffed by a deep growl, a quick flick of his tail or a swat of his huge paw. Everyone seemed to know that these big boys were serious and not into games with the kids.

Sundownders are part of the ritual in the African bush; as the sun set, Bono prepared our gins and tonics. We then sat in the Land Rover with our drinks and watched this magnificent family of 20 lions play, relax and communicate with each other. They were completely uninhibited by us and walked up to the Land Rover and around us to investigate noises in the bush with sharp eyes and keen ears.

My heart skipped a beat and I looked to Bono for reassurance when a very large and fit female approached the jeep and stared at us through the windscreen for five minutes. She was only one leap away from joining us in the front seat. Satisfied that we did not pose a threat, she ambled off to join her sisters and cubs.

Much of this playacting by the cubs is in preparation for hunting. The cubs stalk each other and then pounce on their brother or sister and try to wrestle them to the ground. When they are old enough to follow their mothers into the bush for a real hunt, the adult females will bring to the ground a small quarry so they learn how to kill it by choking it around the neck. Then it will be their turn to try their skill at stalking and bringing down their own prey. There will be many lost opportunities along the way, but eventually, they will take their place as part of this finely tuned hunting machine.

It was a wonderful opportunity to watch and study the lions as such close quarters. Their social and familial bonds are very strong and totally cohesive if the pride stays intact. This is the responsibility of the alpha males in the pride, they need to protect their home range and spend much time proclaiming their ownership by marking their territory, sending out loud calls to warn off any intruders and protecting the females from any threat.


The younger adult males will be pushed out of the pride by the alpha males. These young males will then form a coalition by themselves or join up with other solitary males and become a bachelor group. They wander the bush looking for other prides that they may be able to join, or as they mature, they will try to challenge the resident alpha males. If victorious, the young lion will take the place as alpha male in the pride. These fights are vicious and often deadly.

When a young male is victorious, he will lay down the law to all the females and, if there are cubs in the pride, he will kill them. The females will then come into heat and he can then mate with them immediately to ensure that his genes are carried onto the next generation.

It was a very moving, but nerve wracking experience, sitting in the African wilderness with a huge pride of lions moving about only feet away. They are intelligent, strong, socially organised and formidable. These magnificent animals are indeed king of the African bush!

Categories: Animals, Botswana, Elephants, Giraffe, Lions, Namibia, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Zambia, Zebra | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Namibia – A Story of Hope

Agnes is a 23 years old Namibian born in an isolated village in the north east of the country. I had the pleasure to spend a few days at Desert Rhino Camp in northern Namibia and here I met Agnes – a very modern African woman. Agnes has embraced the modern age and the opportunities that are now on offer to the new generation of liberated females of Namibia. This trend to modernity is a rarity here in Africa where the tribal norms are prevalent and strongly reinforced by custom, tradition, and tribal law.

Agnes tells me that she was a safari guide for three and a half years before being promoted to the role of Camp Manager. The notion of a female guide set the cat amongst the pigeons with her male colleagues. Guiding in their book is very much a man’s job. Surely, a girl can’t know the difference between an elephant and a lion? But Agnes laughed off the resistance, and quickly learned her craft, including changing flat tyres on the jeep, fixing starter motors out in the bush and using a wide variety of skills and bush craft to ensure her guests were safe and sound while in her care.

Her aspirations reached new heights with her promotion from Guide to Camp Manager. She is undertaking a degree in Environmental Law from a South African University and is now approaching her final year. She is hopeful that the safari company will offer her a role in their Environmental Department on completion of her degree.

However, her modern outlook and attitudes are tempered by her tribal roots. Every time she returns to her village, a two day journey away from camp, her parents quickly denounce all her modern ideas and practices. They remain traditional and uphold the African way of life as far as the role of a woman, marriage, family relationships and children are concerned.

When I asked Agnes if she has any siblings she said shyly replied “yes 13”. This number, even for Africa is considered a large family. She said that her father “had been a very busy man”. Apparently, nine of her siblings are from nine partners. Agnes and four other siblings are from the union of her mother and father. Amazingly, in her village the traditional custom of strong familial bonds means that all siblings born outside the current marriage are collected from the other partners and then raised by the wife. Consequently, Agnes’s mother has raised 5 of her own children and nine step children.

Her parents are forever badgering her to marry. They are perplexed why she, at age 23, should still be single. Her father is often proposing possible suitors to her, such as suggesting that she marry one of his friends who was 52 years old. She said, “Daddy have you lost your sight and your mind? I want to marry for love”. This sentiment left her father perplexed. He believes that companionship and finding a woman to look after him are more important, than the so-called notion of “love”.

A chink of light from the modern world has crept into Agnes’s family. When Agnes returns home she takes a large bucket of KFC chicken pieces, apples and oranges. This feast is quickly devoured during the first day and everyone is happy and appreciates Agnes and her modern food. However, the next day when all the food is gone, old habits and traditional values reappear, and Agnes’ parents revert to telling her what is wrong with her life and that her values as a modern single girl don’t bring them any happiness or grandchildren.

As a joke on a later visit to the village and the family, Agnes took home a photo on her phone of an Asian gentleman that she had met at Rhino Desert Camp. Arriving at the village, after the bucket of KFC was consumed, her parents like a broken record, asked her about her marriage prospects. She replied with a broad smile, that she had found a wonderful man and she wanted to marry him very soon. She showed her parents the photo, to which, her father proclaimed that he had been taken seriously ill and needed his blood pressure pills. He then took to his bed for the rest of the day. From his sick bed he would look at Agnes with baleful eyes, moan loudly, roll over and face the wall in a state of depression.

Western values and marital fidelity are not practised with much rigour or enthusiasm amongst most people of Namibia. People live together and have many children out of wedlock to multiple partners. The children inevitably end up being reared by the grandparents. However, if a couple decided to marry it is a rigorous, drawn out and expensive affair. Firstly, a man with daughters is considered to be very lucky because at the time of the marriage, a dowry has to be paid to her family by the bridegroom’s family. This is often four cows, or is in the case of town people, the equal price of such. This price can vary upwards if the bride’s parents are not convinced that the potential groom is a suitable match or that there may have been some earlier indiscretions or wrong doings in the groom’s past.

Even though Agnes expresses modern ideals and appreciates that her gender has achieved a level of liberation, she confesses to me wistfully, gazing out on to the Namibian landscape, if she could meet a good man, have a baby and live in the bush, she would be in heaven.

Life for Agnes is a paradox, and no doubt, one that she will be in a constant battle with. My hope for her is that she will achieve her intellectual potential and career ambitions, as well as, find a good man who she loves and rather than being forced into a marriage where she will be a slave to him and their children and have to live with the consequences of his inevitable infidelities.

Being a modern and liberated woman in Africa is a struggle however, many women believe that the fight for equality and self determination is valuable. Go Girls!!!

Categories: Black Rhino, Botswana, Elephants, Language, Lions, Namibia, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Zambia | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Namibia’s Hidden Treasure – Black Rhino

I am on my way to see the elusive black rhino of Namibia.

My flight from the Southern Namib Desert is in a small 6 seater plane. My two fellow passengers are Americans – the chap is interested in everything and happy to chat and ask questions as we fly over the amazing scenery. However, his wife sat tensely, gripping the edge of her seat, and quietly under her breath, muttering requests to God to get us down quickly, and preferably on an airstrip.

The route to Desert Rhino Camp in Northern Namibia traversed a huge sea of red sand dunes, approximately 35 kilometres wide. As far as the eye can see is sand, sand and more sand. On reaching the Atlantic Ocean, we headed north along the Skeleton Coast, which is famous for the hundreds of ship wrecks, sea lion colonies and deserted mining camps. As we flew over these sights I wondered about the foolhardy individuals who tried to eke out a living in this God forsaken landscape with promises of unimaginable wealth. They lived with sand from horizon to horizon, not a tree or a blade of grass to be seen, constant wind and the threat of starvation or dying from thirst were daily reminders of the inhospitality and harshness of the landscape. All that is left of this human folly is an abandoned train line and some flimsy wrecks of houses and mine workings.

Finally, after three hours of bouncing around in a little plane I land at Desert Rhino Camp, which is about 35 kilometres inland from the coast. Desert Rhino Camp is to the south of the Kunene region in Namibia. This area covers 450,000 hectares and is made up of rolling, rocky hills, flat-topped mountains and other geometrically shaped outcrops that graphically punctuate the skyline. This area is called Samaraland, named after the indigenous Sama people.

I am collected from the plane by Raymond, my guide for the next three days. A new experience awaits me as we drive to the camp, which is a 45 minute trip from the airstrip. We set off in the Land Rover, and in the first 5 minutes my bones are rattling, my teeth are chattering, and I am gripping on for dear life as we bounce, crash, rattle and roll over tracks that appear to be impassable by vehicle. After 45 minutes of this, we arrive at Desert Rhino Camp and I am met by my host Agnes, with a welcome drink and a cold towel to wipe off a thick layer of dust.

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The stony landscape is a challenge to modern machinery. The Land Rover spends 90% of its time in four-wheel drive as we negotiate rough tracks comprised of boulders, stones, gravel and sand. Bouncing along over these terrains, the guides have christened the experience “the African massage” where every muscle gets a work out – particularly your bottom. There are occasional river and creek beds where permanent springs release a trickle of water for the desert adapted inhabitants. The most amazing of these are the elephants and black rhinos.

The camp is situated in a wide valley. The tented accommodation is comfortably airy with artful African touches in the decor. The dining and sitting area is a large open tent giving great views of the surrounding area and the mountains beyond.
This conservancy is well known and praised for its work in protecting and fostering a large population of desert adapted black rhino. I was lucky enough to see these on my second day. However, the journey was long, hot and arduous over incredibly rough terrain.

When the call came over the two-way that the trackers had found these elusive creatures, our guide revved up the Land Rover and we took off at rally car speed. After 15 mins of bone rattling driving and sweaty palms, we arrived on the scene to find a mother and baby (2 years old) on the hillside about 200 metres away. We were lucky to have a 15 min viewing before they ambled off over the crest of the hill.

At Desert Rhino Camp there is a permanent patrol of rhino conservation officers, who leave HQ at dawn every day, and somehow within the 450 sq kilometers they’re able to track and find rhinos. Their role is to record where the rhinos are, what the rhinos are grazing on, the spread of their home range (as they are solitary animals and establish their own domain) and their general condition. They photograph them and complete a visual checklist, which is then sent off to Headquarters where all this information is put into a centralised database.

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The trackers are an interesting group of men. Denzil, Marten and Danziggy, spend weeks out in the field away from their families and have a variety of backgrounds and experiences but they are united by a common bond to preserve the safety of the rhinos, unlike their neighbours to the south. South Africa is losing a rhino a week to systematic poaching and it is believe that this is the result of corruption at the senior government level.

Danziggy tells me that his grandfather was a poacher when finally, after many years, the law caught up with him and he was thrown into jail. While in jail, he was approached by a lady who was starting a rhino conservation programme. She visited all the jails and in a deal with the Namibian government, paid them to release all the poachers into her care. She then employed them and skilfully utilizing knowledge to look for rhinos and to track their movements so she could educate the locals and lobby government to do more regarding their protection.

Danziggy was only a boy when this happened and sadly his Grandfather died only few years later. His Grandfather had nominated Danziggy as his successor and so he was offered a job when he was only 13 yrs old. He was taken out of school and lived in the bush where he spent time with the trackers observing their craft. He quickly adopted their passion for the rhino. His mind was made up; he chose to take the job as a conservation officer and not complete his education. Following his Grandfather’s example was more important to him.

What is a Black Rhino:
• An adult black rhinoceros stands 132–180 cm (52–71 in) high at the shoulder
• An adult typically weighs from 800 to 1,400 kg (1,800 to 3,100 lb)
• Two horns on the skull are made of keratin with the larger front horn typically 50 cm (20 in) long, exceptionally up to 140 cm (55 in).
• The longest known black rhinoceros horn measured nearly 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in length
• For most of the 20th century the continental black rhino was the most numerous of all rhino species. Around 1900 there were probably several hundred thousand living in Africa. During the latter half of the 20th century their numbers were severely reduced from an estimated 70,000 in the late 1960s to only 10,000 to 15,000 in 1981. In the early 1990s the number dipped below 2,500, and in 2004 it was reported that only 2,410 black rhinos remained.
• The black rhinoceros had been pushed to the brink of extinction by illegal poaching for their horn
• A major market for rhino horn has historically been in the Arab nations to make ornately carved handles for ceremonial daggers called jambiyas. Demand for these exploded in the 1970s causing the black rhinoceros population to decline 96% between 1970 and 1992.
• The horn is also used in traditional Chinese medicine, and is said by herbalists, to be able to revive comatose patients, cure fevers, and aid male sexual stamina and fertility
• Black rhinos has a reputation for being extremely aggressive, charge readily at perceived threats and have even been observed to charge tree trunks and termite mounds
• They will fight each other, and have the highest rates of mortal combat recorded for any mammal: about 50% of males and 30% of females die from combat-related injuries
• The black rhinoceros is a herbivorous browser that eats leafy plants, branches, shoots, thorny wood bushes, and fruit

Categories: Black Rhino, Botswana, Elephants, Lions, Namibia, Travel, Uncategorized, Zambia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Zambia – Hippos and other things that go bump in the night!

On leaving the salubrious surrounds and 5 star accommodation of the Royal Livingstone Hotel overlooking the rapids of the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls, we were keen to get back to the bush. After 2 days of civilization we were hankering for the wide-open spaces and the daily adventures of spotting animals and other exciting events that occur in the African wilderness.

We flew out from the Victoria Falls airport on a small 20-seater plane bound for Lusaka in Zambia. The flight challenged the most flight-hardened stomach, as the plane lurched and rolled through turbulent air currents. This had many passengers reaching for the little bags in the seat pocket. Somewhat green about the gills, we finally touched down and made our way to a small bush plane that was to carry us to the Jeki airstrip on the Lower Zambezi River.

Our initial confidence in the pilot and plane was somewhat diminished when we arrived at the plane sitting on the airstrip and found the pilot banging a window back into place and also noticing that a good part of the door mechanism was held together with gaffer tape. Gulp!!

We managed to shoehorn ourselves into the cramped twin-engine eight seater, with the window finally in place and door somewhat secured behind us, we commenced to taxi to the runway. As the engines revved up, the noise was deafening and the vibration had everyone’s teeth chattering. After taxing for 5 mins, the pilot announced that he was not happy with one of the engines and was returning to the hangar for maintenance. We, and the luggage were offloaded and after a 30 minute wait a solution was sorted out. The decision to change planes was made and we transferred to a larger and speedier plane as the afternoon light was slipping away and nightfall was only a couple of hours away. This meant that landing on a bush strip would be impossible after sunset.

We left civilization behind us as the townships below gave way to farmland, and then in turn, the farmland gave way to wide-open spaces dotted with small isolated villages of round thatched huts and wooden fences. After the plane crossed the rugged and sparsely vegetated highlands we dropped over the escarpment and there spread out before us, was the panoramic view of the Lower Zambezi Valley. The mighty Zambezi River in places was up to a kilometre wide; punctuated by grassy islands, reed beds and sand bars. However, we knew that more exciting and dangerous things lurked in the river. As the plane began its descent, we spotted crocodiles lolling on the sandbars catching the last rays of the day, and in the river, large pods of hippos were submerged in the deeper water.

While circling Jeki airstrip checking the surrounding bush for any animals that could wander onto the strip, we spotted our guide and jeep waiting to take us on a 10 minute trip to the high-speed boat for a 60 minute ride upriver to Sausage Tree Camp which will be home for the next four nights.

The boat rounded the river bend and there hugging the banks was Sausage Tree Camp. Overlooking the river was an open sided dining area with a large wooden terrace with a central fire pit, where in the evenings everyone would congregate to share stories of their great African adventures. Tall tales and true!

Our homes for the next 4 nights were comfortable thatched huts with walls made of reed canes, large doors opened onto a wooden veranda overlooking the river and the resident hippos. The bathroom was “en suite” which in Africa means that your bathroom comes complete with geckos, lizards, monkeys, insects (some the size of small birds) and anything else that can fly, climb or walk its way into it. The bathroom had a wonderful view of the river, which could be enjoyed from all vantage points, including sitting on the toilet.

My “butler”, was a charming, shy young man who is married with a little baby girl – Isabella- whose picture he very proudly showed me on his phone. He seemed to materialise at any time of day or night. In the morning before dawn, there would be a discrete “knock knock” at the door and he would slip into the room to deliver a morning cup of tea. In the evening, he would be waiting at your door to escort you to and from dinner, while walking along the paths he would cast his flashlight into the surrounding undergrowth to make sure that no intruders were lurking there. During the day, when we were out on safari, he would prepare the room and bathroom and make sure that the laundry was done and all was ready for our return. He was very caring and professional and would be a credit to any five-star establishment.

Sausage Tree Camp is unfenced and therefore open to all animals so we were unable to roam at night and before dawn and needed to be accompanied to and from the rooms and jeeps. This was an important precaution as the resident hippo “Dexter” was very happy roaming about in the night and many elephants made themselves at home as well, day and night. It is not unusual to see furry, large toothed carnivores roam around as well, so these precautions were not over rated.


Dexter does not venture very far from his pool in the river in front of the camp. It appears that his attachment to this spot is because he is the son of a resident female hippo that used to bring him there when he was very small. Sadly she no longer around, and it seems that Dexter has taken up residence at the camp. He spends his days in the water in front of the camp and occasionally he will make landfall on one of the immediate islands to graze during the day. At night he is a constant visitor around and about and you can hear him grunting as grazes at night.

Our camp routine was quickly established: early morning “knock knock” call, a quick breakfast, onto the jeep for a game drive or other activities such as fishing, walking safaris, canoeing or boating, home for lunch and a much needed thirst quenching beer, the usual afternoon siesta, afternoon tea, afternoon game drive, sun-downers, home for dinner, and then fall into bed to the sounds of the night.

The African nightly chorus can be deafening. When all the members of the choir are in full voice there are frogs whose croaks vary from bell-like tinkling to a deep throated bass rasp. The sound builds in strength and volume until it feels like the air will split and then inexplicably they will all stop and silence descends on the river. There are a myriad of crickets whose sawing sound comes and goes in waves of sound. The hippos splash, snort and grump about in the water before making their way onto land at night to graze. Some nights, sleep is interrupted by the deep barking cough of male lions proclaiming their territory to any likely intruders. This can be heard from many kilometres away and is a terrifying noise if it is close by. In the marshes you can hear the elephants foraging for water-lily roots, which they thrash about in the water to remove the mud before gorging themselves.


During our stay we were treated to a special lunch. We were taken by boat out onto the Zambezi River and beached on a sandbar in six inches of water. What a surprise – we were delighted to find the lunch table set up under a canopy, set with pristine glassware and cutlery. We were treated to a delicious BBQ lunch washed down with Pimms while enjoying the unique experience of the Zambezi river rushing through our feet. The thought of crocodiles and hippos joining the lunch table did cross my mind but I am sure that our hosts had this under control.

Next post – Namibia. A different Africa with amazing scenery, huge skies and wonderful people.

Categories: Animals, Botswana, Elephants, Hippos, Lions, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Zambia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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