This Christmas we decided to spend it in Zimbabwe, camping at Masuma dam and Robins Camp in Hwange National Park.
Already in the rainy season our expectations of a green Hwange were confirmed, a marked change from our usual visits that take place in September, during the dry season. We also knew that the animals would not be so dependent on the permanent water holes and that they would be scattered in more remote and unreachable areas of this very large park. Finally, there was a good chance of having daily showers. Despite these drawbacks, it was a suitable time and place for a family reunion so, we took the challenge.
We prepared well for a wet camping experience adding a large awning to our usual dry season gear and packed our rainproof jackets, just in case. As it happened, the latter precautions were only useful for the first two days when we had a couple of showers as, luckily for us (but not for the park!) the weather continued being dry over us although there were some spectacular rainstorms around us.
We counted twenty-three hippos and about half a dozen crocodiles at the dam as well as a large population of geese (both Egyptian and Spurwing) as well as a few Knob-billed ducks. The few resident Senegal thick-knees were there, busy protecting their nests against the threatening advances of the monitor lizards.
Numerous impalas, waterbuck and greater kudu frequently visited the dam, mainly to graze on its now lush green shores as they were drinking in safer places, avoiding the dam´s crocodiles. So, we did not witness any of the crocodile ambushes to drinking herbivores that we had witnessed before (See: https://bushsnob.com/2015/02/22/hippos-from-hell/ and related posts). Below there are pictures of some of the animals we saw:
Although the elephants did not come in the we see in September, they still came, particularly during the days when fresh water was pumped into the dam, either they had a way of knowing this by the pump noise or they exhibited an amazing sense of smell! The later is more likely as the pumps are operated by solar energy and they are quiet!
Although we spent many hours at the water edge, we failed to see any predators coming for a drink or a possible kill. We did see a couple of young lions mating near Kapula Camp, and a family of two lioness with four cubs and a male on a buffalo kill, just opposite the Shumba picnic site. We heard them and hyenas almost every night at camp and Mabel heard the unmistakable rasping cough of a leopard while it walked up and down the new (rather weak) fence that now encloses the picnic area.
We had some nocturnal excitement on our first day. After midnight Flori and her boyfriend Giacomo (new at camping in Africa) were rudely awakened by very loud banging noises coming from the ablution area. The following morning a large hole was found in the fence through which an elephant had entered the enclosure, probably in search of clean water. His adventure got interrupted by the appearance of the camp attendant that stopped it from doing more damage. The elephant retreated, not through the entry hole but crashing the gate!
We needed to work hard to find large game but luckily had more luck in the bird department. We were able to watch and photograph a shaft-tailed wydah, a bird that we had not seen for years. We also watched several bee-eaters, rollers, and orioles, among other small birds. We were happy to see several groups of ground hornbills, including one feeding their young at a nest.
Finally, on Christmas day we had some of a reward for our efforts. Flori, Giacomo and I went to have a look at Little Toms, a small stream near Robins Camp. I did not have much hope to find anything special based on earlier experience. I was wrong! Perhaps two hundred metres before we got there, we caught a glimpse of many elephants in and around it. Although we approached the water very slowly, to our dismay, they started to move back to the bush.
We were disappointed but we remained very still and quiet, waiting. After a few minutes of uncertainty, a few of the larger animals turned and started to come back. Soon we had a couple of hundred back at the water.
As I am not able to do justice to what we witnessed, I present you with two videos that Flori and I took of this truly magical thirty minutes!
When living in Mozambique we drove a couple of times to Swaziland (from 2018 renamed Eswatini) to spend time in its national parks. Among these, we visited the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary where we spent some time walking as there are no dangerous animals, except crocodiles as the following sign warns.
Checking the waters edge, we did find a couple of large crocodiles and another sign that was rather confusing.
Usually wildlife has right of way but to prohibit members of the plant kingdom is baffling! I wish to believe that there is a missing line in the sign that should have said “Removal of …”
After this surprise, I Googled for a definition of the word wildlife and what I found both in the Oxford and Webster online dictionaries was very similar: “Animals, birds, insects, etc.that are wild and live in a natural environment” and “living things and especially mammals, birds, and fishes that are neither human nor domesticated” respectively! So, it seems that plants and trees are not part of wildlife!
But things do not end here! In 2020, Carly Cowell (1) of the Kew Gardens highlighted our inability to recognise plants as wildlife known as “plant blindness” and discussed the consequences of this for the conservation of the plant kingdom!
Interestingly, confusion between members of the animal kingdom also seems to exist as this sign from Hwange National Park shows:
I believe that the intention was to repace the word “mammals” for “animals” to make the message clearer to all visitors of the potential negative impact of such practice!
After our time at Kennedy One and Main Camp, it was time to have some more comfort so we headed for Robins Camp, to the relief of our visitors. It was nice to be back to a very nice place with welcoming staff and to be able to relax without the chores of camping, particulalry cooking and washing-up!
The bats that inhabit the tower were there although we did not spot the dwarf mongose group that we had seen earlier. We had our compensations as we watched other interesting birds in the camp and nearby.
During our earlier visit to Hwange National Park (HNP) after the Covid pandemic (See: https://bushsnob.com/2022/04/03/zimbabwe-post-covid/) we visited a place known as the Salt pan and we were lucky to have a glimpse of a rather shy cheetah family that took off as soon as they saw us. We also “discovered” a salty water dam with several interesting water birds. Grey herons were the dominant species but there were also little grebes and the beautifully brittle stints with their very long and thin pink legs that seem to be unable to support even their very light weights. So slender the legs are that the water is almost still when they wade through.
At the time we also found a small family of hyenas and many vultures perched on the trees surrounding the dam, a sign that kills were frequent there.
So, during our present trip, the first morning at Robins Camp we started early and headed for the Salt pan.
This time we did not see the cheetah but, on our way to the pan, we met with a group of spotted hyenas composed of seven adults and two youngsters, the largest group we have seen so far in HNP and Zimbabwe. As they are one of the favourite animals of our daughter Flori, we stopped to watch.
One of the hyenas was probably carrying a chunk of meat and moving away from us never to be seen again. The rest of the adults continued walking and they tolerated our presence. We have had literally hundreds of daylight encounters with spotted hyenas over the years and they have always been rather unconcerned by our presence, keeping a considerable distance from us, either on foot or inside our car.
Although one of the young hyenas continued walking with the adults, the second either did not hear the adults‘ warning or it was an “infant terrible”, so it stayed behind, rather curious of our presence. At first it stopped to watch us but, not totally satisfied, it decided to come to have a close look at our car and its occupants. It approached us while loudly sniffing the air until it stopped at about one metre from us.
It remained there watching us intensively until, perhaps following some inaudible signal from the rest of the clan, it started to move towards the adults and we thought our close encounter was over but suddenly, it retraced its steps and repeated its exploration of the car a second time. Clearly satisfied with what it found and not showing any sign of concern, it finally moved back to the adults and the group moved off leaving us with the beautiful image of a young and curious animal.
We then continued our journey to the Salt pan area and found some interesting water birds such as grey herons and stilts, among others. There were a couple of dozen grey herons at the dam and we saw at least two pairs nesting there.
During our recent trip to Hwange National Park we spotted this beast. Can you see it?
You will agree with me that it was a rather easy find as the following video taken by Mabel shows:
This rather large flap-necked chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis) resides in the dining area of the camp. One evening it was perched on the white canvas windbreaker almost as white as the canvas! THe following day it was spotted drinking water from the garden sprinkler! See it in action through another of Mabel´s videos below:
It was a good entertainment to see it almost daily and I hope it goes on living there undisturbed.
After two days camping at Kennedy 1 and, as usual, feeling that we should have stayed longer, we travelled to Main Camp to stay for a couple of nights. Main camp has seen some improvements recently and we stayed at some of the refurbished bungalows that were in good condition and very suitable.
Aiming to impress our visitors, as soon as we could, we headed for the Nyamandlovu pan where we always find elephants. Not this time! Although we stayed for a few hours, the pachyderms did not make an appearance. We then moved to Dom pan and drew another blank. We have not experienced the absence of elephants during all of our earlier visits when both pans have always been visited by sizeable numbers.
We do not know the reason for this but possibly the rains were good this year and there was still food and water available to the elephants in other areas of the park.
The second night -our last in Main camp- we had another BBQ of excellent Zimbabwean beef and sausages accompanied by a good Pinotage. It was a lovely night with an almost full moon and, more rested, we decided to set up our camera trap close to our BBQ place to see what its meaty whiff would attract. We were confident to have night visitors as the camp´s perimeter fence offered several “unofficial” entry points!
So, we placed the camera approximately thirty metres behind the BBQ grid, about twenty metres from our bungalow and hoped for the best! 
The following morning, after collecting our camera, it was time to resume our safari. We left Main Camp early as we needed to travel more than 100 km, the distance that separated us from Robins Camp in the northern part of the park. Although the road started well enough its surface soon turned red and became heavily corrugated. As happens in these cases our vehicles started to shudder badly. Familiar with corrugated roads both here and in South America, we tried all our tricks, but the shaking continued until, near Shumba picnic site, the road became narrower and the going smoother.
We arrived at Robins camp in the afternoon, and we rested until dinner time. In the meantime our son checked the memory card of the camera and decided that it was worthwhile having a game at guessing what animals had visited our BBQ area the night before. So, while having our sundowners, we each chose an animal we guessed that could have been there.
Species chosen were hyena (Mabel and Brenda), jackal (Roberto), African civet (Florencia) and honey badger (myself) . Julio A. and his girlfriend Pat dis not participate as they had selected the pictures.
The following are the pictures of the animals that came in order of appearance. Please note that at the time we set the camera its clock was four hours ahead of the real time.
After the picture show´s comments had subsided, our son called our attention again and showed a final picture:
At 23:49 hours a fully grown leopard had paid a visit. It is quite common that leopards inhabit the vicinity of camps, sometimes busy ones. Although it could have been attracted by the BBQ smell it is also possible that it felt the movement of the other animals and came to have a look. Whatever the reason for this visit, it gave room for a lot of comments and it made our visit to Main camp memorable!
 I overlooked that the camera clock was 4 hours ahead of the actual time so, I have corrected the times that appear in the pictures.
 I had seen honey badgers at camp in an early camera trap experience so I tried to take advantage of this but failed!
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.
The two years we spent confined to our farm in Salta, Argentina, increased our desire to come back to the African bush. Luckily, we got vaccinated and, gradually restrictions were lifted and we started planning our exit from there by the end of 2020.
To get from Salta to Uruguay, apart from crossing the Argentina-Uruguay international border you need to traverse four Argentinian provinces: Santiago del Estero, Chaco, Corrientes and Entre Ríos (each one of them about the size of Uruguay!). Usually, the trip is long but trouble-free but during the pandemic situations differed in each province and it was only in September 2021 that all places were open to private cars, if you carried a negative PCR.
Eventually we found ourselves in Uruguay where we spent a month with the family before journeying to Rome to visit our daughter and later to Spain to have a long desired family Season holidays.
Finally, the 8 January 2022 we left Europe and travelled to Harare where it was great to see Nic, Gabriela and Ana Lucía again as all our earlier plans for travelling in Zimbabwe with them were dashed by the pandemic. So, we soon found ourselves plotting some joint safaris to recover the wasted time!
After searching for options and considering that we are in the rainy season, we settled for meeting at Masuma Dam in Hwange National Park. With Ana Laura, a Mexican visiting friend, they would come from Victoria Falls. We would travel earlier and spend a few days at Robins Camp  where we got a good special offer for a few days stay.
As usual when we travel to Hwange, we spent a night in Bulawayo after driving the first 440km. The next morning we continued to the park by following the main road to Victoria Falls. Although the trip was rather uneventful, we noticed that our car engine coughed a few times while on the road to Bulawayo but it kept going. We did not think much about it as we thought that the car was suffering from some fuel dirt accumulated over the two years we did not use it.
As we were going to the southern part of the park, this time we turned into Hwange town. We found that the area adjacent to the park is now dominated by coal mining and these activities had changed the road layout. As a consequence, while traversing the various mining fields, a sight belonging to the industrial revolution rather than today’s modern world, our Google maps stopped showing us our road and we took a wrong turn.
After a few kilometres we realized that we were heading back to Hwange town! We stopped one of the coal-laden lorries and the driver confirmed that we needed to go back and follow the road until we reached a boom that would be open for us to cross. To make matters more interesting, our car started to misfire again, something I attributed to the rough road shaking the fuel tank and sending dirt up the fuel line.
A superficial check-up, as it is normal in these cases, did not show anything obviously amiss (meaning that the engine was there!) so we decided to go on as the fault was not constant. After negotiating the boom, the road reappeared in our Google maps and then we followed it until we got to Sinamatella to report our arrival. Another 60km further we finally reached Robins camp, almost at gate closing time!
We had not seen Hwange as green as it was now since an earlier visit in 1999 at about the same time, when it was not only green but also very muddy and we got stuck in a couple of spots trying to reach some of the waterholes around Robins. The dense tree growth and very tall grass did not bode well for animal viewing. In fact, we only saw a handful of zebras and a few impalas, and we only heard an elephant when it trumpeted, scared by our car and giving us a fright back. Luckily, it did not charge!
To see the park so green added to our enthusiasm for being back as it seemed that trees were re-growing after the heavy damage that the elephants had given them during early severe dry seasons. Despite the abundant of vegetation, almost entering Robins camp we spotted a leopard walking on the road Infront of us.
It was probably a young adult by its slender appearance and it wasted no time in disappearing in the tall grass. We enjoyed a moment of joy at such a find at the end of our journey that we thought bode well for our stay. It also made us forget, albeit briefly, of our spluttering car engine!
Five minutes later, at the camp, we mentioned our encounter to the National Parks lady ranger in charge of the Robins office who expressed her surprise. Before we left the office she said: “Please, come back tomorrow so that you can enter this in our sightings book!”
We settled down at Robins and we were its sole guests, so we had all attention to ourselves for the first two nights and then four more people arrived! Our room was not luxurious but it was what we needed after the long journey.
The presentation of the room offered some lovely details such as the great towel arrangements with our bath towels, courtesy of Ntombizodwa, our kind room attendant.
Herbert George Robins  farmed in this area until his death in 1939 when he bequeathed his 25,000 acres “to the people of Southern Rhodesia” He lived alone, with his loyal staff and great Dane dogs. At the start of WWI, he bought “Little Tom’s Spruit” in the northern part of HNP today (Little Tom today). Although despondent with his purchase at first, Robins persevered and managed to keep 1700 head of cattle between 1915 and 1925 when he decided to convert his cattle ranching into a game reserve that was very popular at the time.
This initiative greatly helped the establishment of Hwange National Park (HNP). A controversial figure, Robins fought for Rhodes’ British South Africa Company against Lobengula in 1896 and in 1902 ventured into the then Belgian Congo and Angola in search of minerals and diamonds. Eventually, Robins paid the price for this adventure suffering from sicknesses related to the hardship he endured.
Robins was, undoubtedly, a character with his abundant bushy beard that gradually turned white as the years passed. He was not concerned about what he wore and did not change his clothes often. He was frequently seen with a knitted white cap, a pyjama shirt, khaki trousers and high boots. He would wear an old Stetson and shoes when going to town!
A small museum still keeps some of Robins belongings and the large telescope and pictures of him looking down a microscope indicate that he was involved in some studies or observations although I do not know of what precisely although astronomy is an obvious one.
Gradually Robins became tired with the visitors and their attitude. In addition, his health was deteriorating and, in 1933, he signed a document donating his land to the Government and he got more isolated. He eventually died on 28 June 1939. His homestead became the present Robins Camp and he was buried in the camp.
Although we visited the camp briefly in 1991 while living in Zambia, we only stayed in Robins about eight years later. We returned to the camp in 2018 when its renovation was being completed by its present private management. Unfortunately, the new camp could only function fully for about one year when the Covid 19 pandemic shut all tourism activities in Zimbabwe.
We found the lodge very comfortable, and we had a room with a double bed and en suite toilet. The abundant hot water coming from a solar geyser. The garden was kept in great shape and, although there is a waterhole nearby, being the rainy season, the grass was very high to see much in terms of animals coming to it.
We were looked after by very helpful staff headed by Lazarus, the new Manager. He kindly let the camp mechanics to help us to keep the car going. So, after a few scares when it just stopped, we kept going, hoping that it would not die at a remote place as we did not see another visitor driving around during all the time we were there!
The park in general had a new look for us because we are now at the end of the rains and the foliage and grass were rather exuberant, in marked contrast with our earlier visits during the height of the dry season. The roads to Little and Big Tom’s were too muddy until our third day at camp when we were told that it was possible to reach the former.
We toured the area following the track that crossed several swampy areas with treacherous black cotton soil that had been used by elephants during the rain and transformed it into an elephant road where the car juddered along while we tried to avoid the deeper footprints. We knew that the elephants were there but we could not see them because of the tall grass so we focused on saving the car! Amazed by the depth of some of the footprints, we stopped to peer down some of them and it was clear that the ellies had been buried up to their bellies.
Rather frustrated with Little and Big Toms, we decided to explore an area known as Salt pans where we had better luck. Although elephants were still absent, we (or rather Mabel) spotted two cheetah and a few hyenas as well as many vultures feeding on a buffalo carcass by the salty water. So, there was action at that spot!
Coming back to the camp (rather late as usual) I was startled by Mabel telling me the usual “stop!” followed by “reverse” to what, also as usual I replied, “what is it?” “I saw a cat in the grass”, she replied. I reversed looking for a large cat but did not see any, but she had seen it and she now had it in her binoculars. “I think it is a wild cat” she said . I still could not see anything although I had now stopped looking for a lion!
“Knowing you, you will need to look through the roof hatch to see it” she said. I manoeuvred inside the car to perform this operation at my age! Eventually I managed to get in place and, following Mabel´s instructions, I just saw a brownish outline in the grass that, after intense observation through my binoculars became a small cat, slightly larger than a domestic cat! It was indeed an African wildcat (Felis lybica).
It was another feat by Mabel that spotted such a small and well camouflaged animal in thick grass while driving at 40 kph! While watching the cat, we were surprised that it tolerated my spastic movements inside the car that took place about four metres from it, I became convinced that Mabel can find anything. When I asked her the (silly) question of how she saw it, she simply said “I saw its ears”. I had nothing much to add apart from admiring her eyesight yet again.
Before departing Robins we got the fuel filters cleaned and we set off to find our friends Nic, Gabriela, Ana Lucía and a friend of theirs from Mexico called Ana Laura. We headed for Masuma dam, our favourite place in Hwange where we had spent some amazing times in the past .
Before leaving Robins, a kind driver gave us the contact of a mechanic at Sinamatella that he was sure would help us and, expecting an issue with the filter, I asked our friend Nic to bring a new one from Victoria Falls. So, I got in touch with Musa the mechanic and arranged to meet him the following day at Masuma dam to see what could be done with the engine before returning to Harare.
So, we travelled to Masuma still suffering from the spluttering engine, but we got there and met our friends at the right time to set up our camp for the next four nights. Because of the absence of visitors, we were allowed to camp overlooking the dam and there we set up our tent as well as Ana Laura´s. Despite not having experience camping in Africa, she was very relaxed and survived the experience without hitches.
Gabriela, Ana Lucía and Nic slept on their car roof tent, and they had the advantage of moving their “bedroom” to a place of their liking. Apart from some excellent Mexican tortillas brought by Ana Laura, food was mainly pasta (by Mabel) and barbeques (by Nic). As usual, the smell of the roasted meat attracted hyenas that called nearby but too shy to approach us, to Ana Laura´s disappointment that had not seen them before.
The dam was the fullest and greenest we had seen. As usual the hippos were there but, unusually, we saw very few elephants (not more than twenty the whole time!) and those that came did so very briefly and drank as far from the viewing platform as they could!
We entertained ourselves watching other animals, particularly a small flock of Crowned cranes that had taken residence at the dam and that, every so often, flew across it, probably in search of food. However, the absence of elephants drinking day and night while disappointing was a good sign that there was abundant water and food all over and that they had dispersed throughout the park.
Eventually Musa the mechanic arrived and dealt with the car. It was “bush mechanics” at its best! Apart from being nice, he came with the necessary tools and soon he had diagnosed the problem: the second filter was too old and blocked (it was not replaced at the recent service) and the diesel would not flow through it normally. Anxiously I asked if he could fix the problem to what he replied, “If the problem is between the tank and the engine, Musa can fix it, if not we are in trouble”. He did mend it and the car is still going well at the time of writing, a month later.
Game drives still did not show elephants but one morning we had a beautiful view of a leopard, again spotted by Mabel, that was relaxing on a rock by the side of the road but still hard to be seen. Unfortunately, Nic, Gabriela and Ana Laura, not surprisingly, drove through despite my attempt of calling their attention flashing the car lights. Luckily, their daughter Ana Lucía was with us during that drive and enjoy the sighting as she was looking forward to finding a spotted cat!
On the day of departure, it was our time to miss a pair of lionesses spotted by our friends. When they told us what had delayed them, we immediately turned around and, following their indications, we found them resting under the shade of the mopane bushes. I am not sure how we missed them this time!
From Hwange we drove to the Matopos National Park, a place we have visited in the past and that we usually overlook despite its beauty. We stayed two nights at the nice Big Cave lodge  that offers an amazing setting, having been built on the actual rocks and making use of them as part of the buildings.
The service was excellent and the staff helpful and pleasant. Our room offered a magnificent view to the rocky hills, particularly beautiful at sunset (see above).
We had our sundowners high up on the hot rocks that were, apparently, very good to relax the tired backs of those who tried laying on them between beer sips. That, combined with some great sunsets followed by some amazing stargazing when the clouds allowed, had a positive impact on the team members.
We drove into the game area of the park mainly looking for rhino and found a rock formation known as “The mother and child” and later a group of rangers on patrol. We arranged to take two of them with us to try to find some white rhino that they had seen earlier that day. They went off on foot looking for the animals while we waited for their return having our lunch.
Eventually one came back to inform us that the animals had moved. We parted company with the now “lone ranger” as he was sure that his companion would return to find him there. He was right as we found the second ranger walking back towards his colleague a couple of km further.
We left for Harare, as usual, wishing that we could stay longer and we made it back without problems, our car preforming normally after Musa´s intervention.
 Data on H.G. Robins taken from Haynes, G. (2014). Hwange National Park. The forest with a Desert heart. The Hwange Research Trust. Gary Haynes, 2014; all rights reserved. 226p. This is the best account of the creation of Hwange National Park that I had seen.
Driving around Robins camp in Hwange National Park we spotted this beast, the first one we have found in Zimbabwe. If you looked carefully you may have spotted somewhere in the picture. Below I present you with a close-up where you can see that it is an African Wild cat (Felis lybica).
The following (bad) picture shows some of the characteristic markings of this kind of cat.
I will further ellaborate on this finding in my next post on Hwange National Park.
I already described hippos competing with crocodiles to eat their impala prey at Masuma dam in Hwange National Park  and this observation was part of a comprehensive publication on the transmission of anthrax among hippo populations .
Hippos trying to get an impala carcass away from the crocs.
The 2018-19 rainy season in Zimbabwe was very poor and Hwange National Park was no exception receiving much less than its 576 mm yearly average. So, during a visit in mid-September 2019 the park was very dry and several of the pans were drying or already dry.
This situation was also severely affecting some of the dams that require pumping to keep an acceptable water level. Both Nyamandhlovu and Masuma dam pumps were hardly able to cope with evaporation and elephants’ thirst despite working full time.
Only one hippo was seen at Masuma of the usual number of about sixteen individuals that we had seen during earlier visits. We believe that the missing hippos had moved to Mandavu reservoir, a much larger water body situated 15km away.
So, we went to visit Mandavu and noted a large number of hippos still there as there was plenty of water. While observing the hippos we noted a dead one floating close to the shore opposite to the picnic site and, as expected, there were a number of crocodiles surrounding it.
Hippos and crocodiles around the dead hippo carcass. Credit: Julio A. de Castro.
There were also a few hippos and they were feeding on their dead relative!
Hippo feeding on the carcass. Credit: Julio J. de Castro.
Joe Dudley has mentioned to me that he believes that hippos are not able to open up a carcass and that they depend on natural fermentation or on other carnivores to do so in order for them to feed. It is likely that the crocodiles had eaten part of the carcass and the hippos were taking their share. The hippos were seen pushing the carcass and submerging to later emerge chewing and swallowing.
After about one hour the wind started blowing the carcass towards the centre of the lake and the hippos did not pursue it, staying at the opposite shore with their pod.
This is not the first report of hippo cannibalism  but the present observation adds the Mandavu reservoir to other areas in Africa where this phenomenon has been reported.
 Dudley, J. P., Hang’Ombe, B. M., Leendertz, F. H., Dorward, L. J., de Castro, J., Subalusky, A. L. and Clauss, M. (2016), Carnivory in the common hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius: implications for the ecology and epidemiology of anthrax in African landscapes. Mammal Review 46 (2016): 191-203.
 Dorward LJ (2015) New record of cannibalism in the common hippo, Hippopotamus amphibius (Linnaeus, 1758). African Journal of Ecology 53: 385–387.
This year Masuma dam offered an amazing spectacle because of the very dry conditions that prevail in Hwange National Park at the moment. There was a continuous flow of animals coming to drink at the shrinking waterhole despite its constant water pumping that could not match evaporation and what hundreds of animals needed to drink.
As described in the previous post the elephants were the stars of the show but there were other visitors, not less interesting such as impala, giraffe, zebra, greater kudu, warthogs, baboons, jackals and some buffalo. Among the latter there was a male that looked in very poor condition that we predicted that it would not last too long and that ended up as a lion meal two days later.
After watching the lions feeding on the buffalo we returned to Masuma to continue with our “comfortable” viewing from our camp as the water is very close to it. We were -as usual- focussing on the comings and goings of the elephants when we noted a large brown cloud rising far away, in the direction of Mandavu reservoir.
One afternoon we were enjoying game viewing from our platform at Masuma when we spotted dust in the horizon.
We thought that more elephant family groups were arriving but the dust turned into a large cloud and we realized that a large herd was indeed coming. But we were wrong, there were not elephants but a very large herd of buffalo! Hundreds and hundreds of them coming to drink at Masuma.
We had seen very large numbers of buffalo during previous visits at Mandavu reservoir and probably this was the same herd forced to move in search of grazing.
It was an amazing site as buffalo, usually respectful of elephants just bulldozed their way through by the pressure of their large numbers and took over the entire water body! It was interesting to see that the elephants were forced to wait this time.
After about an hour, when the afternoon was turning to dusk, they slowly moved off in in the direction of the Shumba picnic site and the other animal’s wait was over. The herd went slowly, probably in search of grazing and hoping to drink at Shumba where there was abundant water still.
Pictures by Julio A and Mabel de Castro, Patricia Ruiz Teixidor and the bushsnob.