Hwange Game Census 2021

by J Brebner and P Dell
(Friends of Hwange Trust)

Lions seen at Ngweshla (IMAGE CREDITS DAVID DELL)

Lions seen at Ngweshla (IMAGE CREDITS DAVID DELL)

The Annual Hwange Game Count, organised by WEZ Matabeleland, is always an adventure. The 52nd count held in September this year had 90 teams participating throughout the park. It was encouraging to welcome back a few teams from South Africa and to see some Parks’ staff teams taking part too.

We were lucky enough to be based at Ngweshla for three nights. The night before the count the resident pride of lion that had been hanging out at Masumamalisa pan arrived back at Ngweshla evidenced by tremendous roars echoing from everywhere around camp. At dawn a short drive revealed the two magnificent pride males out in the open, sleepily gazing towards the rising sun. Further along, a young lioness was having a great game chasing a cheeky black-backed jackal, and not far off five more lionesses languished with their six cubs of varying ages.

Returning to camp, we bumped into eleven more sub-adults and juveniles sauntering across the vlei, occasionally stopping on their way to give a quiet grunt or to hide behind an anthill to ambush another of their pride. Counters travelling in convoy to their allocated pans in the Wilderness concession a bit later had the wonderful sight of a pile of creamy bellied, sleepy cats lying in the shade very close to the road – what a start to their day!

We were counting at Mbiza - a very special place on the southeastern border of the park in an area of wide-open grasslands scattered with numerous Ilala palms. We briefly glimpsed a small herd of eland on the drive in which, as usual, didn’t stop to be admired but trotted off at speed.

The impressive expanse of water at Mbiza was a sight to behold but it gave us a large area to keep an eye on which was fine during the day but a little more challenging overnight. We found a decent shady spot for the daytime counting however the large tree under which we parked was obviously a good overnight roost for baboons, as it proved to be a little malodorous!

Our count was quieter than usual which seemed to be the norm this year, probably due to a decent rainy season and numerous pools of natural water still lying about. All the 350 or so elephants we counted came to drink after dark, and some of the herds were none too settled, perhaps evidence of harassment in the forest areas across the railway line. Early in the count, three lions were spotted way across from our spot, but they did not come closer. Overnight we were often disturbed by the sudden barks and shrieks of baboons roosting in various llala palms close by and rigorous shaking of palm fronds when one or other of the primates shifted to the annoyance of the others.

Two different sable herds visited the pan – one on the first day with, surprisingly, two very handsome bulls each proudly bearing an impressive set of horns and another the following day with some youngsters and a few beautiful, statuesque cows. Late in the evening, a lone old buffalo Dagga-boy ambled in and after quenching his thirst, had a rather inelegant, squelchy roll in the mud, hooves skyward as he tried to flip over. A few giraffes sailed by but only one or two stopped to drink. Several small herds of zebra ambled to the water then spent time grazing around the periphery of the pan.

We also had numerous warthog rootling and wallowing in the mud, shy roan antelope quenching their thirst, several black-backed and one side-striped jackal in the darkness, a small group of wildebeest peacefully grazing, and numerous hyena that were heard but surprisingly didn’t visit the pan.

Birding was good with lots of Red-billed teal along the bank, heads tucked under their wings, one lone White-faced duck, several Little grebe ducking and diving, the resident pair of Egyptian geese kicking up the usual racket, a lone Pied avocet sweeping the water with its curved beak and a single Little egret, feet in the water, hunting along the edges.

A Tawny eagle spectacularly dived in on a dove and having felled the bird, was swiftly robbed of its breakfast when a Yellow-billed kite swooped down to claim the victim. An African harrier-hawk flew past followed closely by a platoon of African palm swifts. The hawk proceeded to land and clutch onto the underside of a palm frond, obviously attacking a swift nestling to the agitation of the adults that flew about in a furious, noisy cloud. The hunter was not the least bit deterred and took off clutching its prize. A few Dickinson’s kestrel were seen and there was a magnificent fly-by of a Rock kestrel, its beautiful chestnut plumage and sharp facial markings striking in the mid-morning sun.

Several White-backed vultures arrived to bathe and paddle and then stood or lay in the sand with wings outstretched to dry. A gorgeous pair of White-headed vultures joined them as did a few Hooded vultures while a pair of Lappet-faced vultures looked on from their perch not far off.

The sunset was magical as was sunrise the next day. At first light the baboons scuttled down out of the llala palms, sitting in bunches grooming one another in the early morning sun - a peaceful scene except for the odd noisy altercation that was swiftly dealt with.

Returning to Ngweshla, we found the vlei and surrounds teeming with elephants - some drinking and swimming in the two main pans while others took advantage of the smaller natural pans dotted about. Four of the lion pride, three young males and a female, had been left behind when the rest of the group moved off. Myriads of zebra, wildebeest, kudu, waterbuck, impala, giraffe, and a handsome male ostrich were dotted around the plains – situation normal at Ngweshla!

In the early hours of the morning, we woke to chomping and stomping - a large critter was in camp! Quite undeterred by the newly erected fence around the picnic site, a young elephant had stepped in and after munching on one of the trees, pulling down some greenery from another and slurping the water out of one of the bird baths, he rubbed himself copiously on a tree and then noisily rocked the fence back and forth before climbing out. We waited with bated breath as he made his escape. Our tent had been securely tied to the fence and we had visions of him dragging the fence off and us along with it!

Well done and a big thank you to WEZ for pulling off another successful Game Count, and as always, appreciation to ZPWMA for their co-operation and assistance.

J Brebner and P Dell.


Friends of Hwange is committed to ensuring the future of Hwange National Park and its wildlife. Contributions are always most gratefully welcome. Click here to make your contribution

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