Monday, 2nd of October – Playing is better than hunting
For 2 nights in a row, D and I have been following the lions on their hunt. It’s one of ZCP’s research methods appropriately called ‘Hunt-Follow’. Hunt-follows can be extremely boring. When the carnivore prefers sleeping over hunting, us researchers spend our time in the dark car writing notes, thinking of stories or just watching them sleep while fighting to stay awake ourselves.
But hunt-follows can quickly switch to being exciting and that’s when we witness spectacular chases and skilled stalking. Watching lions creep closer and closer to their prey or racing over the plains after hunting hyenas is exhilarating. After a successfull kill, the carnivores have to protect their precious food from creepers trying to steal it. The details of all of the above is our data, our job to observe and note.
So anyway, tonight we are following lions and though their belly is empty, they are not in hunting-mood. They stalk some wildebeest until one of the youngsters isn’t able to contain his excitement and starts walking around. Hunt disturbing cubs... All part of a lion's life!
After this attempt, the lions walk on and then bed. Soon I am surrounded by sleepers. 5 lions around the car and Daan in the backseat. So I sit, occasionally checking that the lions are not quietly sneaking off. When they finally get up, I’m hoping they will hunt in the last hour before sunrise. But no. Again, no interest in hunting but a preferance to play instead. Kleine Fietsie jumps onto her brothers whenever she can and they roll over, then creep up to here in return and bowl her over. Fietsie is tough as she gets slapped and rolled around a lot but seems to enjoy it and runs back time and time again for more games. The females also join in the games and stalk each other, their nephews and offspring. In the tall grass sometimes all we see is a lion (big or small) jump up before running after another one. Fietsie is obsessed with her mother’s tail. She runs after it, jumps up and grabs it. Mother however, just keeps walking. Fietsie refuses to let go and so for about 10 metres LLi-282 drags her cub after her. That little one is crazy! Eventually, while playing, running and rolling, the lions drop us at Matiamanene before finding some reedbeds to spend the new day.
Tuesday, 3rd of October – Reality check
Daan and Anna are talking to a local woman and her 2 daughters from a nearby village whom have come to Matiamanene to sell tomatoes. Daan buys many for our and the other camp.
A few hours later I am identifying some hyenas on the laptop when the woman and girls come back to say bye to Daan, but he is not around. One of the girls sees a photo of a hyena on my laptop screen and walks over with a big, curious, smile. Soon her and her sister and mother are gathered around me while I show them photos of hyena(cubs), (baby)monkeys and Liuwa birds. Anna is there to translate while I explain things with the photos and the children ask me questions. They mesmerise at photos of hyenas eating a wildebeest, especially when I tell them that the hyenas have hunted it themselves. I enjoy showing them the photos and love their reactions, many oohs and aahs and excited screams of the local names of the animals.
Only after they have left to return to the village, I realise that though they might live in Liuwa, they have probably never seen hyenas, birds and baby-monkeys from that close.
Later I talk about it with Anna and she adds that they had never seen a laptop before either. That thought had not even crossed my mind… They live in a small, remote village, far away from towns, many things that were on my desk at that moment are things that they have never seen, let alone know what they are for. Imagine! It has me thinking as I’m trying to imagine the life they have grown up in that is so different from mine. It is these small things that make me realise once again how damn fortunate I have been and still am every day. Reality-check!
Wednesday, 4th of October – Treasure hunt
Today is community day. On these days, the ZCP team goes to Mishulundu school to contribute to the conservation club, a group of children of various ages that are interested in conservation and come together every Wednesday to do activities around this theme, all organised by the school. We give presentations, show them what we do, do quizzes and tests and Teddy, Kings and Mboo even took some children on a gamedrive to see the lions! This kind of work is extremely important to educate this new generation and make them aware of the unique and beautiful landscape and animals they are surrounded with.
Today we are doing an activity that resembles a treasure hunt. We hide some radio-collars (ones we use for animals) in the bush around the school, divide the group in 4 separate groups, give them tracking equipment, explain once more how it works and then all groups are off to find their hidden collar. We as ‘helpers’ are not allowed to actually help as we want the children to get a feeling of what it’s like to be a real carnivore researcher. The children are extremely enthusiastic and because the groups can see each other, soon the whole activity ends up in 4 groups of kids running straight through shrubs and bushes in search of their target. Although not every group gets there in a straight line (read: Sandra did a lot of bushrunning behind her group that day), all collars are eventually found. Everyone is happy, screaming, still running and proud of each other and as one big massive group we all walk back to the school, where Mboo gives a final speech about the value of hard work. A very happy and successful day I would say!
Friday, 6th of October – A bunch of wildebeest
We’ve seen the first wildebeest calf! The actual first calf was seen last week by Teddy, but now Daan and I have seen one as well! Wildebeest are cool for many reasons and one of them is that in a timespan of 1-2 months, pretty much every adult cow gives birth to a tiny little white-brownish calf. From the one day to the next the plains are filled with mother-wildebeest and their calves.
Another cool fact: Wildebeest can delay the birth (yes, hold it in!) for about a month depending on when they feel the rains are going to start! Isn’t that just miraculous?!
The peak of the birth period is in October, so… Now. Today we still have to look for calves and see one per day, next week we’ll get tired of counting them. As the calves are so small and surprisingly well covered behind their mumsy, one would expect it to be difficult to see one. But it’s not. Daan told me something useful: when the first calves are born, the herd doesn’t understand this small creature in their midst and has to get used to it again, after all it’s been a year since they last saw a fellow that small. So wildebeest gather around the newborn and its mother and keep it in the middle, protecting it but also getting the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the new weirdo.
So basically, if you see a pile of wildebeest running from one side to the other it is likely that there is a calf (and its poor mother) in the middle of which every move is followed. Yes this is funny. Picture a bunch of wildebeest sticking together like glue and running from left to right and back without any obvious reason. Then ask yourself: what the hell are these guys onto?! Then check if you see any legs that are white and much smaller and you’ll know the answer.