Monday, 7th of August – Lunar eclipse
Through the trees I see the moon in the night-sky. She is supposed to be full today but she looks a bit odd instead. As if someone took a bite out of her. I get up and can now see the moon clearly, there is indeed a shade over her. ZCP team is in the kitchen and excited I shout: ‘hey guys, I think there’s a lunar eclipse!’. Everyone comes to see it and phones come out to check whether there should be that eclipse tonight. Our slow internet gives confirmation surprisingly fast; yes there is a lunar eclipse. But here in the bush you don’t need internet to find out, all you really have to do, is look up at the sky every night.
Tuesday, 8th of August – A legend dies
A sad day for Liuwa: Lady Liuwa has left us.
Lady, the last lioness, who survived on the plains all by herself for over 7 years.
Lady, the lioness that kept defying the odds.
Lady, who took care of Sepo, who came from Kafue, and showed her where to go and how to hunt on the plains.
Lady, who helped Sepo raise her cubs, playing the role of babysitting granny every time Sepo went to hunt. In return, Sepo took care of Lady during her retirement, when she was no longer able to help in the hunt. It is this bond that has helped both Sepo and Lady survive for years.
Lady, who became an estimated 17 years old, instead of the lion’s average: 14.
Strong Lady, the guardian of Liuwa. She defied the odds time and time again, she touched many souls, became the pride of Liuwa and the foundation of Liuwa’s new pride. Now it is time for her well-deserved rest in peace, leaving Liuwa in good paws.
PS: Lady is the star of documentary The Last Lioness, if you can look it up I’d totally suggest it, it’s pretty cool, tells Lady’s story and has some pretty images of Liuwa too.
Wednesday, 9th of August – Worried
Any person working with wild animals will tell you that forming an emotional bond is, the worst thing you can do. Whether we like it or not, nature will take its course and she doesn’t care more or less about our favourite animals. An emotional bond will give anyone unnecessary grief when the time comes for that particular animal, even though we know very well that “that’s nature”. Despite that, I can’t help seeing an animal and trying to figure out its character, wondering what it is thinking when we follow it for hours and how it communicates to its fellows or us. So when an animal we follow regularly, disappears off the radar, I’m worried. I can’t help but think of all possible scenarios, since we don’t have one a single clue of what could have happened. But "that's nature".
Friday, 11th of August – Where the heck are the animals
Daan and I are out in the North for a few days. We are here to do wildebeest counts as this is the time that the wildebeests migrate far away from Matiamanene. Here in the North it is wet for longer and there are more fires which means there are plenty of new grass shoots to feed on. To reach our herd count targets, we have to go to them and find the collared individuals. A herd count mission in the North means a camping-trip; driving around, finding the herds and scanning for collars during the day, setting up camp somewhere under a tree, making a fire and sleeping in a tent at night.
So here we are, in the North, driving around and scanning like we should. But there is a minor problem… We can’t find Liuwa’s 25.000 wildebeest… We find lots of cool things all day, but the primary goal (wildebeest herd counts) has still not been accomplished much…
Until today on day 3 of the trip, by the end of the afternoon, the tides turn. We finally find wildebeest. Oh boy, do we find wildebeest! In the far distance we see 3 black dots sticking out of the tall grass, 3 wildebeest so it seems. As we get closer the number becomes bigger and bigger until we are surrounded by an estimated 8000 of them, all on that one plain. Wildebeest as far the eye can see! Liuwa may be flat but she still surprises us every minute of the day. Within 30 minutes we find 4 of the collared individuals and with a smile on our face and full of hope for tomorrow, we find ourselves a nice camping spot and have a celebratory beer.
Saturday, 12th of August – A lion’s bond
The past week has been something else. With sad things but beautiful things flowing out of them. We have witnessed something that, with my human emotions and interpretation, I can describe as: the bond of a family. A lion pride in this case. Bonds and connections that are touching, overpowering and life-saving. My human eye saw lions mourning the loss of their guide, leader and adopted family member: Lady. Young ones got themselves into a panicked situation but survived with indispensable help of other pride members that fed them and kept them safe. It was amazing to see that young lion snuggled up against 2 adult lionesses, sheltering him from the big plains. Daan has described it very straightforward: these lions just go on like they always do, sometimes they are joined by other pride-members and when they are, because they are the same pride, they take care of each other, that’s how lions work. But I like to think it is also a little bit of love and compassion they feel towards each other and each other’s offspring.
I am actually writing this on the 13th. It’s been a long day, night and new day. Circumstances have required us to keep an eye on the lions so when Daan and I returned from our North-trip yesterday, we didn’t have time to go to camp. We went straight to the lions and stayed with them throughout the night. They covered a vast distance (18 km) but did not manage to hunt successfully. When they bedded in the shade at 07.30 am, we did some wildebeest counts in the surrounding area until our colleague came to take over the lion-watch. When we finally returned to camp we were dirty, hungry and exhausted from our 30-hour workday. A long shower and nap made it all a lot better. It’s all part of the job, unexpected situations sometimes lead to broken nights and non-stop work. We don’t do 9 to 5. Ever. It’s one of the reasons why our work is so unique and rewarding. The lions are ok by the way!