Tuesday 7th of November – Reggae
In ZCP camp, we are blessed with the presence of Jukato. He is a handyman and lives up to that title like no one else. He is a bright, happy and kind soul that lights up everyone’s day with his humour and creative solutions to our 99 problems. Another thing I often appreciate about Jukato is his music choice (I say often, not always).
The thing is, in my opinion, that the general Zambian music taste is not superduper. There is a lot of gospel, alternated with the most horrible rap songs and songs that just contain one repetitive sentence such as; (the hit of the moment): “Love you! I will always love you. I will always looooove yoooouuuu”. It gets quite annoying, especially when blaring out of little phones and speakers that have a skewed distortion:sound ratio.
But Jukato… Jukato likes reggae. That, I appreciate. He likes Bob Marley and there is one song that he always sings along to: Redemption Song. Just now I was in the shower and heard music from ‘the other side’ (the other bathroom, divided by a ‘matete’ wall). When Redemption Song came on both Jukato and I both started singing along without hesitating. Together, while each enjoying a warm shower on a rainy evening, we sang a beautiful bush-bathroom duet. I think it sounded pretty awesome.
Thursday 9th of November – 1 in so many million
‘The odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in so many million’. But how is that when someone is in the middle of a plain? With all kinds of gear? And an antenna in the air? Does that make it 1 in, just a random number, 20?
‘When you’re in a car, you are safe, because you’re standing on rubber tyres and lighting can’t ground. But does that mean you won’t get struck? Or do you just not feel it? And how is that on a motorbike? Lightning striking your head can’t be good, right? Even if it can’t ‘ground’? Or will it just not strike? What if I put my foot on the ground to correct for swerving and are hit then? Will I die? No because the soles of my shoes are rubber too… Or… Are they? And what if I put the bike on the stand? And stand on the bike? With an antenna in my hand?
‘Lightning strikes the highest point in the landscape.’ Is that me? Or is a wildebeest higher? Why are wildebeest never struck? Or zebra’s? They have big ears? Maybe we just never see that? Should I drive in the (now still dry) river? Will I even get home like that?
Just some questions crossing my mind when a good thunderstorm surprises me in the middle of the plains, a few kilometres from home. On the plains, standing on a bike, with an antenna high up in the air, I kind of feel like a lightning rod. And although the chances of being struck are teenytiny, they must be a lot bigger when defying fate like this. It surely won’t be the first time and I will get used to it. But I don’t like it.
Friday 10th of November – Important ethics
I want to get some frustration off my chest, dear reader, starting with the following request: Please don’t touch wild animals. Ever. No matter how relaxed or sad they seem or how many ‘other people do it’. They are not pets, control your emotions and urges. Don’t think ‘it’s cute’ but rather think about the stress you inflict by touching them, picking them up and have them smell your human scent that they have learned to fear and avoid by years of imprinting. Stress that can cause an early death.
Should you come across an animal used as (tourist) attraction or one that is injured, malnourished and/or distressed, then please seek advice from an expert before taking any action that interferes with its natural behaviour and being. Take time to assess the situation. Is the animal touched out of free will or is it caged, chained, drugged, held or otherwise made immobile? Animal ‘seems ok’ with being touched? Remember that animals do not ‘smile’ or are ‘happy’ or ‘choose to come to you’, despite what its ‘caretaker’ might say.
Is the animal in trouble? Is the cause natural or human inflicted? Can it be monitored before deciding on actions? What do experts say? It doesn’t matter where, when or what, always ask (and honestly answer!) those questions before deciding to interfere with natural behaviour. Together with the expert, decide on a course of action. Keep in mind that even IF the animal is in danger and even IF you manage to ‘save’ it, the risk of death or spending the rest of its life in unnatural circumstances is high. Remember that no wild animal will enjoy you touching it, as much as it may seem so, nor will it aid to its conservation. An organisation/person that lets you encounter or touch wild animals does not act in the best interest of the species but merely uses it as a cashcow, and guess what? Your money won’t go towards conservation, it’ll go into someone’s chest-pocket.
Is the animal’s distress caused by something natural? Then please keep your human emotions in check and let nature take its course. Walk away, do not look into the cute eyes, trust that nature will sort itself out. Yes, it’s difficult, but that’s nature. And obviously, a perfectly healthy wild animal should be left alone, untouched, in ALL circumstances (no, that quick selfie or touch is not ok!).
Please, if you ever find an animal anywhere, or if you are unsure or if there’s anything that makes you want to touch it: Contact an expert; a vet or a professional rehabilitation centre. Don’t know one? Contact me. Not an expert, but I can refer you to one. OK? Promise? Alright, rant over.
Monday 30th of October – New life
Tiny hoofs are sticking out already. She is nervous, uncomfortable and probably in pain. This is the moment of truth. For 8 months she has carried her calf, now she has to birth it and keep it safe without getting hunted in the process.
Her body contracts as she finds a sandy spot to lie down. Soon the front-legs of the newborn come out. Now comes the hardest part and she knows it. She stretches, she bends, she contracts, she relaxes. Still half inside its mother the calf gives a first sign of life. Ears twitch, the head shakes. With a few more powerful contractions, mother pushes the calf out and a new wildebeest gently slides onto the earth’s surface. Mother turns around to meet her child. The calf is soaked and its ears still hang down but it raises its head towards its mother and the first contact is made.
They have no time to waste though. Trivialities as bonding will have to happen later. Now the calf must stand and walk and with so many predators around, it better be quick.
Soon the calf gets to work. It is quick to learn how to move its head and body. Carefully it tries to put its legs under its body, rolling over a few times in the process. After a few rolls it changes tactics. Instead of 4 wobbly legs under a newly born body, it might be better try 2 at a time. So there it goes. First the bum is raised and the hind legs are carefully and widely placed under it. Half is up. Now the calf is half-standing with widespread hindlegs, leaning on the knees of its frontlegs. It tries to get them under the body as well and then the calf stands! with widespread wobbly legs. Then it tips over, face-forward into the sand. Confused it shakes its head. One more time then…
It tries again, leaning against its mother for extra support and then… It’s STANDING!!! Hesitantly the first few steps are made. It falls over a few times but encouraged by its mother it carefully walks and walks, away from the blood that kept it alive for 8 months. 10 minutes after birth the calf walks and is able to keep with its mum. Incredible, isn’t it?
A huge hurdle has been conquered. It is not there yet, Liuwa is a dangerous place for newborn calves, but it has made it further than some of its fellows already. Within a few days, this calf will be able to run almost as fast as its mother and it will stand a fair chance to outrun potential danger. With a good mother like that, I’m sure it will be alright!
Thursday 2nd of November – Expect the unexpected
Out in the field, far away, looking for collared wildebeest, I get a radio call from Daan. He asks me if I might be able to go and find 2 cheetah. Of course! He gives me coordinates and we decide that I will get on my way and Daan will follow with the filmcrew a bit later. I am still in the ‘wildebeest-find-mood’ so I do stop about half way to check a big herd. When I look around with my binoculars I see many vultures descending in one spot. This usually means a carcass, a carcass means data, data is exciting. So I get on my way to where the vultures are.
Half way I lose my bearings and I have to look with my binos again to relocate the vultures. When I find them I also see a familiar shape under a tree. I look again and my heart makes a little excited somersault in my chest. It’s a cheetah!
I ride closer and see that it’s not one cheetah but three! They are the sisters of the sibling coalition and they are feeding on a freshly killed wildebeest calf that the vulture seem to find tasty too. They used to be with four (including their brother) but now it seems that their brother has left them. It obviously hasn’t compromised these girls’ hunting skills!
I did not expect or prepare to be in the field all day but I don’t want to leave the cheetah alone as they might continue their hunt. But there is also that other cheetah I was supposed to find… A radio chat with Daan solves the problem. We decide that I will stay with the girls and that he will continue the search for the other cheetah. Now I get to spend the rest of my day with 3 awesome ladies.
Friday 3rd of November – Just wow
It’s just amazing. I don’t know how else to describe it. The calving peak!
In a timespan of roughly a month all cows drop their calves. From the one day to the next the plains are covered in wildebeest calves! The same herd I saw 3 days ago has now doubled in size and light-brown wildebeest run around, sleep in the grass, practise running or make their first attempt at walking. It’s unbelievable. I have no words for it.
Monday the 16th of October – Oh… Hello!
I am far away from camp. Somewhere up in the North-west. I have checked a hyena den but didn’t find anyone so I move to a nearby pan to see what is happening there. No hyenas either. Slightly disappointed I ride away from the pan but I remember I wanted to radio someone so I stand still and switch off the engine.
I sit there for a minute thinking of where to go when something next to me catches my eye. I look and see a lioness, about 20 metres away, bedded on a mount and gazing at me without much interest. I exclaim ‘oooooh… hello!’ and am not sure what to do now. Liuwa’s lions are very gentle and docile but you never know what they think of someone so close and exposed on a motorbike. So I’m careful and don’t make any sudden moves while I scan my surroundings for the other lions. They are all further away and just as uninterested as LLi-281. The whole pride is there, including Kleine Fietsie who entertains itself endlessly by going into old collapsed burrows and jumping out again. Far away I see the male enjoying a freshly killed wildebeest calf.
I watch them for a few more minutes and then remember I was out to find hyenas so I continue.
Disclaimer: Mum, I know you don’t want to read this and we are really not meant to be that close on a motorbike but like I said: I didn’t see them at first. Liuwa’s lions are used to bikes and at that time it was already so hot that they would never have wanted to do anything (like catching a carnivore researcher), that’s why I knew there was no reason to stress. But obviously I carefully started the bike without sudden movements and took a safe distance to observe them!
Wednesday 18th of October – Protective mums
Rewind to a long time ago, a random day in August. Daan and Mboo observed one of the collared female hyenas (LHY-343, or ‘Betty’) sitting in a small den that could be a natal den. Hyena mothers have their young in such a den and keep them there during the first weeks. Only after the cubs have grown a bit, she will move them to the clan’s communal den.
After that day, I found LHY-343 in that small den several times and was the first to hear the squeaking of cubs. The cubs don’t show themselves in those first few weeks simply because they cannot climb out of the den yet. But when I heard their sounds, I vowed that I would also be the first person to actually see the cubs. That turned out to be so much more difficult than I thought…
After 2 weeks, LHY-343 moved her offspring to the communal den, from where I thought it was going to be peanuts to see the young ones.
I was wrong…. Oh boy was I wrong
For MONTHS I visited that den every 3 days and I usually found this:
That’s 343… Keeping her cubs there where it’s safe. She would sit there like that all day! And night… Much credit to her, she stayed with her cubs to protect and nurse them, even when it got burning hot outside. She’s a good mother.
I have to admit: when colleagues came back from North clan without having seen THE cubs, I was always relieved. I wanted to be the first one after all, especially now that it had become a proper mission. However, one fateful day, not so long ago, what I feared for so long became reality. On an ordinary Tuesdaymorning, 3 of us were ready to go out into the field but only 2 motorbikes were available. Because I figured that the cubs ‘wouldn’t come out of that *$#^* den for anyone but me anyway’ (ok, and because I had a fair bit of officework haunting me), we decided that Teddy would go to North clan instead of me.
BIGGEST. MISTAKE. EVER.
It was exactly this morning that Betty left her cubs in the den to run after a wildebeest. Exactly this morning, the cubs decided to be cheeky and climb out of the den without their mother knowing. And it was my colleague Teddy who was the witness of that glorious moment.
Needless to say I was disappointed (in myself mainly, obviously I should have gone that morning) and kind of sad to not be the first one. But I got it together people. I decided that being second was nice as well after all those months of checking on them and wouldn’t make them any less cute. Plus: I still got to name them.
Today was the day! Meet LHY-Bambi, LHY-Balu and their great mother!
Thursday 19th of October – Social life
The unthinkable has happened. We had a social life this week! It started with a filmcrew coming to Liuwa and staying in Matiamanene. All the logistics of their stay are being organised by a friend of ours and another friend joined him to assist. Lots of extra people in camp to chat with, that’s is quite rare in our life, as not many friends make it over here.
This week was exceptional though, not only did we have old and new friends at our very own Matiamanene camp, also another friend of mine, made it all the way to Liuwa! She stayed at a camp 8 km from us. Despite our busy schedule D and I managed to go over for a drink and that was a lot of fun. A social life all of sudden… In the Liuwa bush… Who would have thought!
Saturday 21st of October - Monkey pole
I have an amazing boyfriend and he gave me a pole. Sound weird to you? I can explain!
Once upon a time, a long time ago actually, I was looking for something to do that was fun and a good work-out and eventually I stumbled upon something perfect: Pole fitness! That’s right. Pole FITNESS, that’s different from pole DANCE. I decided to give it a go and loved it from the very first lesson. It’s a great excuse to behave like a monkey (climb, hang, spin) while getting fit. So I learned the basics and became quite good at it (if I may say so) in half a year. I went for polefitnessing/monkeying 3-4 times a week until I moved to Zambia.
I couldn’t have a pole here because it’s quite the challenge logistically and IF you’re going to take that challenge, you’d better be sure that you’re going to use it for a while. I mean, try buying a 4 meter pole of the right width here in Zambia and then try transporting it through Liuwa, then try setting it in the Liuwa sandy soil making sure it is strong and stable enough and try finding paint that will make it not too slippery not too rough. I honestly thought it would be impossible but I knew boyfriend doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Around my birthday I knew that I would be staying in Liuwa and so when amazing boyfriend asked what I wanted for my birthday I said: a pole. First he laughed, then he realised I was dead serious, then he said: ok.
And set about organising everything.
Step by step the pole became reality. Daan went to find a pole in Mongu, managed to tie it on the Cruiser and get it to Liuwa. He bought concrete, stones, more concrete and dug sand together with Jukato. I bought the right paint in Holland and together we painted it. Daan and Jukato casted a 1mx1mx1m block of concrete and set the pole in it. Finally, they tied ropes from 4 trees to the top end to stabilise it even more. And now there is a pole next to our tent. It won’t move an inch, it’s straight, just perfect and I climb in it every day while the monkeys watch and learn. It’s the best birthday present ever!