footprints

Signs in the sand

The Covid pandemic left a backlog of bookings in most national parks in Africa and Zimbabwe was not an exception. For this reason we could not get our yearly spell at Masuma dam in Hwange National Park (HNP). We did manage to get a few nights at Kennedy 1 and Main Camp followed by four more nights at Robins Camp in the northern part of the park.

This time we were lucky to have our two children with us, our son´s girlfriend Pat and a couple of friends that visited Africa for the first time, Brenda, and Roberto from Spain. We rented another car to accommodate all of us and the rather impressive amount of luggage, camping gear and food that we took with us.

As usual when traveling to the HNP we divided the trip in two parts. During the first day we got to Bulawayo traveling at a slower pace than usual to allow our visitors to see the place as well as to adjust to driving on the left side of the road. We got to the Hornung Park Lodge (http://www.hornung-park-lodge.com/) where we were hosted by its friendly owner Fredi (Rita was away). The lodge is very nice and quiet, and we were treated very kindly by our host.

The following day, after an early breakfast we moved on and managed to arrive at Kennedy 1 in mid-afternoon to set up our camp. As we needed four tents, preparations took quite a while before we had our camp ready. The two new tents and additional gadgets brought by our children took some time to assemble and we finished just before nightfall.

Yellow hornbills watching us preparing our camp.

At my ripe age I refuse to sleep on the ground, so I carry a camp bed for these occasions. Its assemblage is now “infamous” with the family as it requires quite an effort. So much so that four of us climbed on it while trying to fit all pieces together, something that finally happened with a “twang” that indicated success! This time there were no injured fingers.

While camp was being prepared, we noted many lion footprints in the sand and Terence, the nice and young camp attendant, informed us that lions had visited the camp during the night and that they were still close by. Despite our efforts to break the news of the footprints gently to our first-time campers in Africa, the idea of “sleeping with lions” did nothing to build up their confidence on the protection offered by the tents. The situatiation did not improve when they saw the condition of the camp perimeter fence!

Ground hornbills and a crimson breasted shrike visiting our camp and surrounding area.

After we were done with the camp it was too late to look for animals so we focused on dinner. As usual Mabel produced an amazing dish of pasta with pesto and green peas, and we uncorked a bottle of South African red to end a great bush day hoping for a great bush night. We were not disappointed as the hyenas called early and then the lions roared frequently, just to reminded us that we were staying on borrowed ground!

The following morning, surprisingly Kennedy 1, 2 and Ngweshla had no elephants and almost no other game. Luckily a male ostrich decided to perform some kind of solo courtship that included the usual wing balancing act with the addition of mad fast runs of a few hundred metres each that showed its speed but that seemed rather useless in the absence of a female! Perhaps it mistook pour car for a potential partner?

Rather surprised by the absence of large game we headed back to our camp. We were lucky to find a couple of young adult lions that, like us, were coming to Kennedy 1 for a drink. We stayed watching them until late in the afternoon until it was time to return to camp for a BBQ followed later by more lion roaring, still respecting our space.

All pictures were taken by our son Julio A.

Puma?

Puma, Puma concolor, are usually quiet and therefore they can live with humans undetected as solitary predators feeding on medium sized and large mammals such as deer and agouti but also on smaller prey such as snakes, hares and rats.

Puma are the most adaptable of all wild cats in the world and inhabit many climates: boreal, tropical, desert and rainforests and they are equally at home in lowlands or mountains. Shy and suspicious of humans they are rarely seen.

Our farm in the Yungas of Salta is home to wild cat (Oncifelis geoffroyi), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), jaguarundi (Herpailurus yaguarondi) and puma[1]. Luckily, there are still wild areas where these animals can dwell and the agriculture frontier is not yet here so no many incidents with livestock predation occurs.

Although we have never seen a jaguarundi or an ocelot, we have seen a skull of what we believed belongs to the latter.

20150217_102012-copy

Ocelot skull.

A few years back the family (while the Bushsnob worked away in Bolivia) bumped on an adult puma that crossed the road in front of them about one km from our farm while driving at night.

As you can imagine, after such a find our farm went up in our estimation, as, at the time the cat was observed, we were not sure about being able to return to Africa.

Aware of our exciting animal neighbours, checking all footprints we see is the norm. Although most of what we see belong to the various domestic dogs that are kept by our neighbours, occasionally we find some that clearly belong to felines, particularly after it rains.

It did rain on the night of 12 to 13 Feb 17 but the morning started sunny so we went for our usual walk to burn a few calories and to get our telephone signal located three km away at a place known as “The Cross” where a wooden cross remembers a past fatal accident.

Returning from the walk I stopped to photograph a butterfly and noted two footprints. They had no sign of nail marks and the larger one was 9 x 7.8 cm (foto). Our first thought was that they could belong to an ocelot. However, when we checked them in our mammal book[2], their size coincided with those of a puma although, as usual, some doubts remain.

Whether they belong to what we suspect or not, it is a great pleasure to be able to walk on a road where you can find such footprints and believe that such animals are around you in the thicket, probably watching your movements!

 

[1] Moschione, F. N. (2014). Relevamiento de Fauna. Finca El Gallinato, La Caldera, Provincia de Salta. Informe Relevamiento 2013-2014. 55pp.

[2] Emmons, L. H. (1997). Neotropical rainforest mammals: a field guide. 2nd. Edition. 307pp.