Social beasts?

As you know if you followed this blog, this past August we visited Hwange National Park and camped at Ngweshla picnic site. The site is well shaded by some nice large trees that is very good during the hot months but that makes it very cold during the winter as we had suffered last year.[1]

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A view of the canopy above us at Ngweshla.

This time the temperature was slightly higher and we were also much better prepared for the cold. I had even succumbed to peer pressure and acquired a pair of long johns to sleep in, in addition to a thermal bag that fitted inside the sleeping bag! The only challenge remaining were the possible night visits to the Gents that required little thought and fast action!

Camping at Ngweshla is always exciting as usually lions walked very close and their roaring reverberates strongly inside the tent! Only the experience of many such nights spent in the Maasai Mara and other wild places stops you from running to the car seeking the protection of the metal cage. I must confess, without shame, that we had done in earlier close encounters!

We need not had worried about lions but much smaller creatures!

A small swarm of African bees decided to land on a tree above our dining area and, although at first they were polite, soon they became cheeky and started to descend on our food, particularly moist and sweet stuff. We have never had a problem with the infamous African bees and did not expect one. However, the fact that our son is hyper sensitive to wasp stings and needs to carry an epinephrine auto injector made us jitterier than usual.

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Probably because I do not like bees, I was the first victim when I got stung in what I consider a self-defence act although my family unanimouly agree that it was an act of sheer foolishness! I was in the car peacefully enjoying elephants at the adjacent waterhole from the camp when a bee landed on my arm and I squashed violently. I was not violent enough as the beast, despite the smack, managed to leave her sting on me! I was not amused as, although my wife’s family and herself are beekeepers, I am not and I am not planning to learn the skills involved in stealing honey from them!

During the final day the situation got worse and at some point in the afternoon first my wife was stung and then me again! I did not move away fast enough from the seen of the attack and got a second sting. At that time we decided to reacted to lock our son in the toilet fearing a more severe onslaught and to vacate the camp and go on a game drive, after collecting our isolated son with the car from the toilet’s door!

Luckily that was our last day and by the time we returned to camp, after dusk as usual, the bees were sleeping. We left early the following morning, before they woke up, luckily without further incident.

Although the bees were annoying, they brought about some gain. Their presence attracted both the Little (Merops pusillus) and Swallow-tailed (Merops hirundineus) bee-eaters. These spent all day at camp enjoying easy pickings. Of more interest for me was the appearance of a Greater Honey-guide (Indicator indicator) a special bird indeed.

The Honey-guide, as its name implies, guide people to the nests of wild bees by attracting the person’s attention with various calls and flies to a bees nest repeating its call often spreading its tail and making itself conspicuous. Once the bees nest is raided by the honey hunters the bird eats what is left. The tradition of the San people is to thank the bird for its “services” by a gift of honey as they believe that not doing this risks that the bird will guide the hunter to a lion or poisonous snake!

Studies have shown a mutually beneficial partnership for two very different species:man and bird. The “use” of honeyguides by the Boran people of East Africa and the Yao people in Mozambique showed that the honeyguides reduce the search time for bees nest by approximately one third![2]

Although these birds are present all over Sub-Saharan Africa, this was my first encounter with a Greater Honeyguide. Although I knew their trade, I was happy to watch the bird from a cautious distance as I was not interested in obtaining its help but rather the opposite!






  1. Hanne and I were lucky enough, while travelling through Rumuruti, to stop for coffee beside the road when we were approached by a Honey-guide. The bird called and we worked out what it was and then we were joined by 2 locals walking along the track. They knew exactly what to do and called the bird to let it know that they were ready to help and then we were off following the bird to the “beehive”. Our companions were quickly up the tree dismantling the colony and leaving some comb with bee larvae and honey as a reward for the bird. Altogether an amazing, unforgettable experience.

    Best wishes – keep the blog rolling


    1. How lucky you were! I have never seen such a thing. I was in touch with the lady that did the research in Moz and she sent me a few interesting papers on the subject. I could forward if interested. I will keep writing and at the moment I have a bit of a backlog!!! Warmest regards and thank you for reading and the comments.


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