The Hippo Series V – Lower Zambezi Valley


Earlier this month Piet and I were invited on a trip to the Lower Zambezi, where we stayed at a self-catering lodge called Munyemeshe. This lodge is on the Zambian side of the Zambezi River where wildlife wanders freely between the Game Management Area (or GMA) and the nearby Lower Zambezi National Park.

It is a rustic place.  There is no electricity, no wi-fi and – best of all – no mobile phone signal, so for seven glorious days we were cut off from the World, no worries, no cares, no constant pinging of the telephone.

Each night I would lie awake in the dark, listening to the bush sounds – the eerie call of the thick-knees,  hysterical hyena scrapping over some left-over lion kill, the deep belly laugh grunting of hippos echoing across the water or the rustle and crack of elephants grazing from the tree above our chalet.

One was kind enough to leave us his calling card.

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The days were spent on the boat, fishing, eating, relaxing, laughing and reminiscing with old friends about old times. And hippo watching.

In my last post I mentioned that I had rarely had the opportunity to photograph hippos out of the water.  My luck changed on this trip.

I don’t recall ever having seen so many hippos at one time. At every turn in the river, in each inlet and on every sand bank we were met with the glowering stare of at least one of these beasts. Pods of fat, shiny bodies sunned themselves, soaking up the weak winter sunlight – regardless of the time of the day.

It was a hippopotophile’s dream.

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The Hippo Series IV


Hippos spend most of the day wallowing about and grunting in the river, leaving the water at dusk to graze on land through the night.  I have rarely been lucky to capture decent photos of hippos out of the water because light at that time of day is poor and I am usually bobbing about on a boat, so it is difficult to keep a steady hand.  A while back I was lucky and managed to get a few decent shots, which I have shared in my Hippo Series. You can see them here, here and here.


 

They may look cute and cuddly but in reality hippos are not your friend.

Being territorial animals, hippos don’t like it when people invade their personal space, and like all mothers, they are also fiercely protective of their young. So woe betide anyone who looks like they might be a threat to their wrinkly offspring. We always stay far away from hippos and try not to come between them and the land (or adults and their babies).

It is reputed that hippos have caused the deaths of more humans in Africa than any other large wild animal and most of their victims have been subsistence fishermen in makoros (a canoe-type boat made from a hollowed out tree trunk). They don’t actually eat people, but they do bite – their teeth are very long. Usually the hippo overturns the boat, and since the majority of the fishermen are unable to swim, many of the deaths are through drowning. Occasionally people have been unfortunate to come across a hippo on land and if they were unable to outrun the hippo (hippos can run 23Km/h) the result is always violent and often results in death.

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An Alien Encounter


Before I left Zimbabwe I lived in a beautiful house on the banks of Mazwikadei, a large lake which serviced our farmer neighbours. Being in a rural area we often had wildlife in the garden; kudu, duiker, genet and the odd wild cat.

Once a farmer’s cattle roamed into the garden, creating quite a stir with the dogs – and with First Born. He had just got home from school when I heard him calling from his bedroom:

“Muuum! We have too many animals in this house already! What have you gone and bought now?” I looked out of the window to see what he was talking about: 1-61954_469168182455_1077579_n But the most unusual and disturbing visit by far occurred in the middle of a cold winter’s night.  The boys and I were alone in the house (their Father was away) and I had all the dogs inside – for our protection and for their warmth.

1-197992_4828222455_7753_n At about 2am the dogs woke me, barking frantically to be let out. I could see nothing obviously threatening through the window so I opened the door and was nearly knocked off my feet in the dogs’ desperate scramble to get outside. They tore off to the water’s edge, still barking and snarling and then suddenly went silent. There was a quiet whimper, a thunder of feet on the lawn and they all tore back towards the house, and me.  By now I was standing barefoot on the grass, a few feet from the front door and in an instant all the dogs were huddled behind me, shaking and whining and peering around me towards the water. These were not all small dogs – two Great Danes, a couple of Labrador-sized rescue dogs and a miniature poodle – we must have made an amusing sight, had anyone been around to witness this.

It was very dark and I could see nothing but then a sound began to register – a strange shuffling noise accompanied by a scrunching, scraping noise which I could not identify. The noise stopped for a moment, everything went quiet and I took the opportunity to dash back into the house, dogs close on my heels, to fetch a torch. Armed with some light we all ventured back into the garden and I crept as close to the water as I dared, shining the torch in all directions and looking for Goodness knows what.

The scrunching began again, I flashed the light towards the noise and saw two specks of light – about a foot apart – that seemed to be dancing in time to the scraping, a few feet above the ground. My blood ran cold and every hair on my body stood up. My legs became dead weights and for a minute or two I was rooted to the spot, unable to move, think, react. What alien being was this?

Then one of the dogs growled, the light specks stopped moving and in a moment a large, grey shape came into focus.

Not someone you want to bump into in the middle of the night

Not someone you would want to bump into in the middle of the night

We were looking at a hippo making a midnight feast of the long grass growing on the edge of the dam in the front garden!

Both boys slept through the excitement but I wish I had woken them up. This was the first sighting of a hippo in our lake and no one believed my story – I took no photographs and for a long time jokes were made about ‘pink hippos’ and alcohol.

A few days later I was vindicated when the hippo appeared in the bay in broad daylight. The dogs were a lot braver this time around. 1-33653_475750722455_379878_n 1-33653_475750727455_5519209_n The hippo hung around for a few more days and then disappeared forever.


This is my first entry into Cee’s Odd Ball Photo Challenge.

“Odd Ball Photos are those great photos that you take which really don’t seem to fit into a common category.  We’ve all taken them and like them, because we just can’t hit delete and get rid of them.  There is never a theme to this challenge, so what is an odd ball is all up to discover and photograph.”

I’ve always loved the first photo, of the cattle in the garden (it is a scanned copy and unfortunately I have lost the original) and thought it would fit nicely into this challenge. And it is pretty odd to have cattle gazing at you from your front garden.

WTF Friday – Which Way Africa Style (Part Four)


Once a week Cee from Cee’s Photography Blog runs a Which Way Photo Challenge – everyone is welcome to take part.

You can read the rules for the challenge here.


We came upon this bridge while travelling in Mocambique some years ago. It didn’t even look safe enough to walk across but we had to get to the other side …

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On my last trip to Zimbabwe I happened across this accident. It was late afternoon and I didn’t want to be on the road after dark, so after an hour of sitting around waiting while nothing happened I decided to ‘bundu bash’ through the bush to get around the truck and continue my journey. Thankfully no one was injured.

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One of my neighbours hung this hopeful sign on her vegetable garden fence.  I wonder if the hippos take any notice?

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To see last week’s wonderful Which Way entries click on the thumbnail below.

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