Dom pan

Elephants!

As I mentioned in the earlier post Hwange National Park is going through a severe drought and some of the classical water points where wild animals usually drink are shrinking and drying up.

The hippos at Masuma (except a lone one that is there part-time) are gone, probably to Mandavu reservoir, a walk of about 18 km, not a great distance for a hippo. However, although it is unlikely that such large water body would dry up, grass availability remains the limitant and grazers such as hippos and buffaloes may be the ones to suffer most.

As for the elephants, they were congregating in large numbers at Masuma dam and Dom pan -the areas we saw-  and drinking 24/7 as it is now said. Nyamandhlovu and Masuma dams’ water levels were low and getting lower. Although usually most elephants prefer to drink from the water inlet to get the clean and fresh water, there was no room for everybody there and mostly the large individuals managed to hold their ground there. The majority were forced to drink the muddy water from other areas of the dams, a thing they would not do under normal circumstances.

Tempers were also hot and trumpeting and squealing day and night were heard. At one stage thee was some brawl that ended up with a loud crack when one of the elephants had a tusk embedded in its rump that cracked when the victim tried to move away! After a night of intense elephant traffic we found a dead young elephant near the water although we do not know how it died.

So, there was drama at the dams and pans but there was also great fun with the youngsters as usual and I just wish to show you a few pictures and videos of the action so that you can get an idea of what took place.

Videos and pictures were taken by my son Julio A., his girlfriend Patricia and myself.

Arrival

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The dust can be seen for several minutes before the thirsty animals arrive.

Drinking

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A youngster frolicking and drinking.

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Not able to use its trunk yet a baby uses its mouth!

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And then it gets the real treat from its mother!

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The amazing trunks in action.

Bathing

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Preparing the water for a mud bath!

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Mud sprinkling.

Powdering

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Hanging around

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Scratching

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Itchy belly!

When tempers flare

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A young calf scatters smaller animals before drinking.

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A tusk wound. The result of a hard push that broke the tusk of the aggressor.

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A funny moment!

Although pictures show some of the action, I also present you with a few videos to show you the atmosphere at the water holes.

First Masuma dam:

Then my son did a time lapse one evening:

 

The next two videos were taken at Dom pan, near Hwange Main camp to show the elephant numbers present there at the time (September 2019).

I really enjoy the start of the video with the arrival of the first group and the noises of the elephants.

 

An antisocial lion!

Bush lions are normally tolerant of vehicles, even the open tourist ones. The only aggression we have seen was related to times when mating was taking place and the male normally leaves no doubt about how close you should be! The situation can be different on foot when the utmost care is needed where these cats are concerned to avoid accidents.

While checking in at Main Camp in Hwange National Park, we were warned of the existence of a new lion: Mopani[1]. The lion, explained a sign placed at the booking desk by the “Lion Project”, came from an area devoid of tourists and it was aggressive, charging vehicles! Siduli, another male, and two females accompanied it. We were also shown a video taken from a tourist vehicle being chased by Mopani and learnt that one of the females was in heat and mating with one of the males. We thought that Mopani’s progeny was assured and planned to keep our distance from him!DSCN9991 9.04.30 PM copy

The lions had taken residence around the Main Camp area so we were delighted at our luck, as we were sure not to miss them! “Cecil may have gone but in comes Mopani!” was our thought!

Although recently arrived from a longish trip, the possibility of spotting one of our all time favourite animals made us drop our luggage at the lodge and drive off in search of lions. We found the two females at Dom pan. They were clearly different: a paler one and a darker one. The latter appeared to be the older of the two.

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After watching them for a while, a male came out of the bushes and greeted the darker one while the other moved away a short distance. Were we about to witness some mating? Not so as Mopani, who we assumed was the dominant male, only rubbed heads with the female and then moved off in the direction it came from, leaving the female pair alone until the day ended and it was time to get back to our lodge before the mandatory return time of 18:30hs.

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We did not need to plan our next day activities as finding the lions again and spending time watching them was the only option! As a friend of mine says, “we slept in a hurry” and we were up before 06.00hs. No need for alarm clocks! We drove straight to Dom pan, as we believed that they would not have gone very far from there. On our way we realized that several migratory bird species were present at Hwange at the time. These were Crowned Cranes, Abdim and Woolly-Necked Storks, African Kites and Amur Falcons to name but a few!

We had little time for bird watching as the lions had killed a young elephant at Dom pan during the night and the two lionesses were feeding on it! After this find, most of our activities during the visit centred round Dom pan where we spent a lot of our time. We watched the lionesses feeding and interacting for several hours and I present you with a number of pictures and a video, as these are better than words. We only left them to return to the lodge for lunch and a rest.

When we came back during mid-afternoon, only the paler lioness was by the carcass. A search of the surrounding area revealed two lions laying together a few hundred metres from Dom. They were the mating pair: the darker female and a male that, to our surprise carried a radio collar. As we doubted that Mopani had one, it could only be Siduli. Clearly the lion that acts most ferociously towards cars is not necessarily the dominant when it comes to affairs of the heart! It was then clear that the male we had seen the day before was Siduli and that Mopani was hidden from view somewhere! But where?

Luckily my wife was with us as, if there was someone that could spot it, it would be her. And spot it she did, to our amazement, again! The wild-looking Mopani had been lying low under some bushes, unseen by anyone (except my wife) until then. It remained unobserved by our fellow game-spotters with the exception of another lady that clearly shared my wife’s eyesight. We thought it better that it remained unseen and got used to cars if it is to remain in a tourist area so we did not reveal its whereabouts.

As Mopani was still not willing to socialize and remained sulking under a bush, we focussed on the others. Mating in lions is a long-lasting affair as the pair remains together and mating takes place often for a few days, while the female is still receptive to the male[2]. This was clearly the case, as they remained “occupied” for the rest of the time we were at Hwange. That left the other lioness guarding the elephant carcass and Mopani hidden from view! After a while it was time to move off.

We drove to the Nyamandlovu pan as our daughter is very partial to elephants. Despite the abundance of drinking water all over the area, we were extremely lucky to witness the visit of a herd of about fifty animals that, as usual, appeared suddenly as if the product of a magic tree-to-elephant metamorphosis. The result was about one hour of one of the greatest shows on earth: elephants enjoying life at a water hole! There were about five family groups, each led by a matriarch and composed of its progeny, including some really young and tiny babies that were the centre of our attention.

The elephants not only drank but also entered the water where many were seen frolicking about and playing as only elephants are able to do among wild animals! It seemed to us that the latter were at risk of drowning while entering the water with their huge siblings and that they were under even more danger while swimming among them! Somehow they managed to keep their tiny trunks above the water and their mothers were extremely protective and they were always in close contact and ready to assist them!

The three resident hippos felt very uncomfortable at this sudden disturbance and two moved to the very centre of the pan while the third moved to the shore where it put up brave stance against the elephants, only to return to join the others as it was not at all respected by the excited pachyderms! Again, a picture gallery and videos are better than my limited power of description to let you know what took place.

The elephants’ joyfulness in the water delayed our return so we only drove past Dom pan, catching a glimpse of the lions who unwittingly startled a herd of 30 odd elephants intent on drinking from the pan, who retreated in a cloud of dust as soon as they caught sight of the lionesses. We arrived late at the gate where we were told off by a rather grumpy lady game ranger! The justification for our tardiness did not go far with her, clearly used to all sorts of excuses from people arriving late to camp!

The following morning, as expected, the lion pair continued their courtship, the pale female was still guarding the carcass and about fifty vultures (white-backed, white-headed, hooded and lapped-faced) were waiting on the side-lines for her to leave it. While in waiting, the Lappet-faced vulture was seen having a snack by pulling and cutting the dry tendons and sinews from an older dry elephant carcass that other vultures also shared once it opened up the hard bits!

Mopani, the antisocial, still preferred to remain out of sight! We can only hope that he starts turning into a more car-tolerant lion by accepting their presence as part of his daily life. Who knows, maybe one day he could become Cecil’s successor.

 

[1] To name wild animals or not to name! This is the question… for which I have no clear answer!

[2] Both leopards and lions have the same mating procedure. They can mate as often as every fifteen minutes for up to five days. This is the consequence of weak sperm and mating-induced ovulation.