HWANGE NATIONAL PARK ANNUAL GAME COUNT – 2015 - Part 2

by John and Jenny Brebner
(5th October 2015)

HWANGE NATIONAL PARK ANNUAL GAME COUNT – 2015

Part 2

Moving back to Ngweshla on Saturday for the actual count we set up camp with several other counters and again, enjoyed watching the birdbaths with their crowd of visitors and animals coming down to the waterhole in front of the camp. The camp was bustling with anticipation on Sunday morning as everyone readied themselves for the coming adventure and after packing up, we waited for all the teams to arrive before setting off in convoy into the Wilderness concession. The Wilderness concession must surely be the prime concession in the park and some of the country travelled through was awesome. The start of the drive was rather chaotic as no one really knew what was potting and it became a bit of a rodeo show as vehicles became bogged down in the deep Kalahari sand. However, as we progressed and counters peeled off to their respective pans, the going became easier. Our team had been allocated Ngamo and after assisting another team to find their counting spot, we settled in for the duration, having been warned by Pat Cox who did the pre-game count fly over, that there were several large and small pans in the immediate vicinity.

The massive open plain in front of the main pumped pan where we based up, was quite daunting for animals to cross to find water and there was certainly no cover for the skittish ones. Two zebra could only just be discerned in the middle of the vlei as the midday heat haze shimmered and swam. The whole time we were there, numbers of vultures and yellow billed kites were constantly swanning around but because we were quite a way from the tree lines, birding wasn’t as good as normal. Two grey crowned crane were busy around a second waterhole behind us and were joined the following morning by a saddlebilled stork. There were, we estimated, well over a hundred Blacksmith’s lapwings at the pumped pan we were facing and in amongst them was one lone African wattled lapwing! Fossicking around the edges of the pan were several wood sandpipers, one Kittlitz’s plover, a little stint and a common greenshank. There were several capped wheatears darting about and we were kept amused during a quiet period watching an adult flitting from one mound of elephant dung to another, gleaning food to feed a begging youngster. A couple of kori bustards were seen, the cock bird was puffed up and strutting his stuff and two long legged secretary birds also flew in and could be seen stalking around the vlei. Elephant plodded in in dribs and drabs during the day and overnight a few larger herds of twenty or so came in. All the animals were fairly calm except for one herd of elephant that came down shortly after midnight with some tiny babies and were obviously spooked by something at the last minute, dashing off in a cloud of dust and noisy trumpeting. During the 9 – 12 shift, two lioness were spotted but some way off and they probably drank at one of the smaller natural pans. Every now and then, black backed jackals vocalised with their eerie yodel – one starting up while several others joined in. Spotted hyena were also around, occasionally calling and several giraffe came along to the pub. Baboon, impala and warthog were coming and going during the day as were small herds of wildebeest, some of the older male gnus lying down making black blobs in various spots around the vlei. Although the “blood” moon eclipse was quite spectacular, sadly the count was rather spoilt by the lack of light from almost quarter past three until nearly five o’clock. During the darkest moments, it was eerily silent – no nightjars calling, the jackals were quiet and even the crickets seemed to stop chirping. Peace was, however, shattered at about ten to five by four Egyptian geese having an altercation. It was almost impossible to pick up anything in that light. The following morning a herd of between 80 to a hundred impala crossed to drink at a smaller natural pan down in a dip which we couldn’t see and shortly after we were treated to a large herd of sable with a magnificent bull crossing to drink at the same small pan. Two of our party had a good sighting of a lioness when they went to collect a team of counters at the end of the exercise. Unfortunately, by the time they had returned to call the rest of our party, the lioness had been disturbed and only some of us had a fleeting glimpse of her as she moved off into thick bush, delivering a deep throated snarl as she departed.

Driving back out from the Wilderness concession was a bit more organised this time and only one vehicle became bogged down briefly. We stopped at the Samavundhla pan to take a few photos of the lone great white pelican that was paddling around on the water. Having a damaged wing and unable to fly to rejoin its family, it is now confined to the waterhole. And so back to Ngweshla which was crowded with counters, recounting their adventures and after unpacking, we were all very happy to head for the shower. We were lucky enough the following morning to not be in too much of a hurry and had a slow drive back to Main Camp, having a wonderful last treat of seeing three to four hundred, possibly more, buffalo tramping in to drink at Kennedy One pan. It was quite a sight seeing this seemingly endless line of black emerging from the tree line, making its way almost in single file along the vlei before reaching the water.

Many people commented on the lack of water in the park – mainly in the Main Camp area. Unfortunately, Parks are not providing much diesel for game water at the moment. Most, if not all, the fuel for pumping water for the animals is currently being provided by sponsorship and donations collected and dispersed by Friends of Hwange Trust, with some help from WEZ Matabeleland, Mbejane Trust and some of the concessions. Most of the solar units are doing a great job but in some areas, can obviously not keep up with the numbers of animals wanting to drink. Gary, employed by FOH, is still having to do the majority of the work with the pump and engine units as well as refuelling amongst all the other work he is expected to carry out in the Main Camp area. He works closely with the Parks team and has a very good working relationship with them. There is little point in sitting back and complaining. We KNOW nothing is going to change. If we want to continue to enjoy our visits to Hwange National Park and the stunning array of creatures and flora it can offer, we HAVE to get on with it and do everything we can to preserve this wonderful heritage. Please, have a look at the Friends of Hwange website www.friendsofhwange.com and see what they are currently doing for the cause. For a small donation, there is a lovely new map of Hwange with fabulous pictures and a write up which has been produced by FOH. These are available from John at Acol or from Dave Dell in Harare.

John and Jenny Brebner

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