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!