This extract from the www.ecotraining.co.za website
For a taste of what its like to go on the Eco Training Practical
KARONGWE PRACTICAL APRIL 2006
With the excessive rainfall over the past few months we have noted a huge increase in the number of herbaceous plants in our area, compared with the previous few years. This has resulted in a lower density of grasses in the area and subsequently fewer grazers found locally. For the first time we have had no rhino movements recorded in the area directly around the camp. We did of course have several great sightings during the month, with elephants in the camp being a highlight when they interrupted an early morning lecture.
With the roads heavily affected by the rain, access was restricted during the month, allowing for more freedom on foot. We had great fun one afternoon following up on rhino spoor in an area where we could not get to by vehicle. We spotted the tracks while turning around to avoid a muddy patch. Closeby we found a rhino dung pile, so fresh that you could feel the heat coming off it, from two feet above the dung pile. We came across the three rhino in some long grass, the wind was in our favour but the terrain and vegetation did not allow for a closer approach. We watched the male, female and calf until they wandered off into a thicket, before we returned to the vehicle. The next morning we again found fresh rhino tracks close to a dung midden. This time we found the single male rhino standing in an open area close to the road, and had a lovely view of him as he stared myopically in our general direction.
We managed to cross the Kufunyame River one morning and were rewarded for our efforts with a sighting of one of the lionesses stalking a herd of impala. After several minutes of painstaking stalking, the impala caught sight of her and ran off, she then chased a flock of guinea fowl in frustration, much to our amusement.
We saw the one male rhino several times during the month in the vicinity of Zebra Camp, as well as seeing two bull elephants in the same area. We found fresh elephant tracks close to camp one morning and decided to follow up on them. As we followed the track, we searched the riverine vegetation for any telltale signs of their presence. Soon we heard the sound of an elephant's ears, flapping against his body as he cooled himself down. We stalked closer and caught sight of a bull elephant feeding close to the bank of the Karongwe River. The terrain did not allow for a closer approach so we returned to the camp to get the vehicle. By the time we got back into the area, the elephant had moved off. Again following up on foot we caught sight of two bull elephants on the south bank of the river. They caught our scent and moved off so quickly that we were not able to catch up with them.
We heard that two leopard cubs had been spotted in the Aloe Junction area. We made our way into the area and finally got into the sighting. The two cubs were playing along a small drainage line and we spent almost an hour watching them as they moved about in the undergrowth. At one stage the one cub stalked a group of crested francolin, and appeared to catch a baby francolin. Closer inspection revealed an old bone in the leopard's mouth, not a baby bird.
From there we headed off in search of a pair of mating lions, finding a male rhino along the way. We stayed with the mating lions for long enough to see them mate twice, before heading home for a delicious meal.
We had heard of a male lion sighting close to the Makutsi River a few days previously. Following up, we could not find any sign of the lions. Taking a flyer I took a walk down towards the riverbed in one of the few areas where the river was accessible. As I crested the lip of the riverbank, a young male lion bolted across the river in a spray of water, much to the amusement of the students watching from the vehicle behind me. We drove towards the riverbed and caught sight of the dominant male lion, lying on a sand bar on our side of the river. He was busy cleaning himself and later walked across the river at a more leisurely pace than his son had crossed a few minutes earlier.
On the first afternoon drive, we were fortunate enough to view the two male cheetahs. We followed them on foot for almost an hour, until the failing light forced us to return to the vehicle. We followed them again a few days later, always a privilege to follow them on foot as they go about their business.
On our way home on the last evening, we came across one of the female rhinos and her newborn calf. Her two year old son was still in attendance, but was being rebuffed agressively everytime he tried to approach his mother. At one stage she charged him straight towards us. He turned so close that Ross, in the tracker seat, was already taking evasive action. Fortunately mom had moved off by then and junior followed on behind her, squealing for attention and out of distress at his mother's sudden change of behaviour towards him. It much have been very confusing for him, to have his mother suddenly totally absorbed in something else, after having been her sole responsibility for so long.
We saw a large number of snakes during the month, which is surprising as the bush is still very thick. We presumed that with so much water on the ground and still flowing through the bush that they were spending more time in trees and moving around in the daytime, looking for a snack prior to the colder, leaner winter period.
As always, another EcoTraining course comes to an end, with wonderful sightings and memories for all. We look forward to the next intake of students.