Supermodels At Hwange National Park
The frantic pace of camp life has calmed down at Camp Hwange with a brief hiatus in between a camp full of guests. This means that the learner guides are fortunate enough to spend more time learning from the professionals and we get to fill our log books with hours of new experiences, animal approaches, and sightings! I have enjoyed using this time to learn more about the lion dynamics around our concession under the guidance of Adam Jones, a professional guide working at Camp Hwange.
We were up early as usual and heard the spine chilling call of a lion near our pan at the front of Camp Hwange. We gobbled down our breakfast in the hopes that we would find the calling cat. Sure enough, we found a member of a group of lionesses who we refer to as the ‘Super Model’ girls and a young male lion who we had recently named ‘Toy Boy’. We watched them interact with each other in a romantic courtship when suddenly tension cut the atmosphere as an unknown young male lion came out of nowhere to challenge ‘Toy Boy’. We watched the two males stare each other down as they dueled over the lioness, much like an episode of ‘The Bachelorette’! Luckily, before any physical contact was made between the two, the intruder backed off and left ‘Toy Boy’ with his lady.
After this delight we took our guests to an elephant carcass at Masuma Dam; we hoped that it would bring a little more excitement to the day! Upon arrival, we hopped out of the 4×4 and climbed to the top of a nearby kopje so we could look down upon the carcass. When we got to the top of the kopje, I found that I was slightly exhausted as it was my first strenuous walk with ‘Simba’, my 4kg Bruno .375 rifle, (I am still getting used to carrying it with two hands) as well as a backpack full of water bottles for the clients! Luckily a pride of at least nine male and female lions were feeding on the elephant carcass, an electrifying sighting for the guests! As we suspected, it was indeed ‘Liam’ and ‘Mandla’s’ pride full of their usual attitude. We kept very low and quiet so as not to disturb them and watched them feed in awe.
We returned to the car and continued our drive. The magical day continued because we managed to see four of the ‘Big Five’ (lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo) before 10am! When we returned to camp for lunch there was further excitement as the unknown male lion had made another appearance on the concession; this time he was lying inside the log hide that overlooks our pan with two other males from our resident pride! ‘Toy Boy’ was still with his ‘Super Model’ about a hundred metres away which meant that within about a four hundred metre radius of camp there were four male lions showing interest in the ‘Super Model’: what a gal! We are fairly certain that she is in oestrus and that her sister, the other ‘Super Model’, is pregnant. What a thrill it was to eat our lunch with our version of “The Bachelorette” so close by!
After our afternoon siesta and tea, I was lucky enough to conduct the afternoon game drive with Adam’s supervision and this also proved to be eventful drive! By the time the sun set that day, we had managed to see 25 different species of mammals: lion, leopard, serval, black backed jackal, elephant, hippo, buffalo, giraffe, sable, roan, zebra, steenbok, impala, kudu, waterbuck, reedbuck, warthog, baboon, hyrax, scrub hare, spring hare, tree squirrel, selous mongoose, dwarf mongoose and the slender mongoose. The adrenaline did not stop for the duration of the drive and needless to say, we all fell into bed that night exhausted but full of wonder!
The next day dawned full of promise and with a new group of clients we set off to Masuma to check out the elephant carcass again. When we arrived we saw lots of lions lying around the water with very full bellies however we still walked to the carcass to check it out and sure enough, there was one lioness feeding. Adam decided that one lion was approachable and that he was going to take the clients and me on our first lion approach! We walked stealthily, constantly checking the wind and to see if she was aware of our presence. We crept around the bushes with the putrid stench of the rotting elephant filling our nostrils. We managed to get about fifty metres from the lioness when she noticed our presence and lifted her head in curiosity. She was relaxed and we could see that her tail was not flicking but we decided to leave her in peace as these Masuma lions are known to have a cantankerous attitude!
As we were walking back to the vehicle, we saw a lone bull elephant and decided to do just one more approach for the day! Again we constantly checked the wind and walked around to the elephant and crept behind a dead tree that had fallen down with Adam at the front of the group. The elephant noticed us and decided to investigate and advanced on us at quite an alarming pace! Usually, elephants give us signs that they are going to engage further, but this elephant swung his front leg, deciding what to do, and gave no other signs before hastily advancing on our hiding spot – he wasn’t there to play!! As he did this, Adam stood up and showed his presence, shouting and walking towards the elephant. It got within 5 metres of us before turning around and running off into the distance. Needless to say this was another adrenaline-filled moment! An important lesson learned from this is that animals will not always give a warning or behave as expected so always keep your wits about you when doing approaches!
After we had all calmed down, we started walking back to the car and Adam turned around, looked at me and said, ‘Squire, you’re up. Lead the walk back to the car.’ At this point I was not really sure of where I was but Adam quietly reassured me and told me to calm down, find the trees, find the points and he told me that I would be fine. So I took my first lead on a walk and successfully took us back to the vehicle. As we were coming to the vehicle, I was aware that there were lions in the vicinity so I kept my eyes open and saw about twelve lions about a hundred metres from our car lying in the shade . We walked out into the open so that they could see us and the lions gently got up and trotted away – phew!
Bethany Squire is a learner guide training with Camp Hwange in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. Along with her love of nature, elephants and rifles, she loves being behind the lens of her camera capturing her adventures under the African sky. She is best known as the writer of the ‘Zim Girl in the Wild’ Facebook blog where you can follow her incredible journey thus far.