Trip Report: Hwange Safari, October 2016

Do you love elephants? Read on...

Do you love lions? Absolutely read on...

Do you love staying at a safari camp where animals constantly visit? No doubt the trip report for you...

I have been to Hwange several times over the last few years, but no single visit could compare with what I found this time round.

I have never visited this region of Hwange before. Boy, where has it been all my life?

My guests and I were treated to incredible experience, sight's unique to this area.
At Wild Eye we pride ourselves in bringing you safari experiences that are different to the norm, special in every way. It's what makes us different.

(Oh, and obviously the super quality guided experience) ;)

But yes, I have always had a soft spot for this forgotten wilderness! Hwange to me is one of the parks in Africa that still gives you a glimpse into old-school Africa. The Africa before we humans came and interfered with our fences, policies and management practices.

It's wild, it's real, it's authentic!

On the plane over from Victoria Falls, I confidently told my guests the following...

"Mark my words, in the next 5 days we are going to see a battle between lions & elephants."

Now that's a pretty darn big statement, right? Well, I just had this gut-feeling. I just knew it, just felt it! Sometimes you just do! I am sure you know what I'm talking about!

We found the lions on the first afternoon. Where, you might ask?

Right in front of camp ;)

They arrived in the morning and drank from the main waterhole some 20 meters away. Then, when we arrived in the afternoon, they all moved up to the main camp's drinking trough and quenched their thirst right there & then.

How amazing is that not!?

https://youtu.be/tpwHoO2i3Cw

They were completely at ease with the guests in camp, not a care in the world. It was a large pride and the members were scattered all around the lodge, our vehicle and the waterhole itself.

As the sun set to the West we decided to stick with the lions. There were some buffalo not too far off and the pride showed some clear interest in the old bulls.

When they started moving they headed straight towards where the buffalo had last been. They spotted them, stalked for a little while but had no luck. The big buffalo bulls picked up on their scent and swiftly moved off in the opposite direction.

All of this was happening right next to our beautiful camp!

The lions then settled infront of camp again.

Then, all hell broke lose!

We got news from a guide approaching our position that a young, lone elephant was headed in our direction. He was not far off at all.

Immediately my heart rate shot up to 2oobpm! I ensure my guests had their cameras ready, settings dialed in and prepped with what to expect should the elephant arrive in the sighting!

Yes, I know it's a sad thought, but remember this is nature. Nature can be hard on the young, weak & injured. That said, we are here first & foremost to document nature without altering the natural behaviour of either party.

As soon as the lion caught sight of the young calf, they were up on their feet and ready!

A young lioness moved in first but had no luck. Then the pride male reacted boldly and immediately grabbed hold of the hind quarters of the now running elephant calf.

I remember it all happening so quickly! That said, I had played this scene out so many times in my mind, and my guests and I were ready, well positioned, and firing away!

The sheer power of that male lion was staggering! That elephant surely weight well over 12oo kilograms! He was running for his life. The male lion managed to stop him dead in his tracks twice.

Had it not been for the late response from the rest of the pride, this elephant would have suffered the worst kind of fate - death by lion!

His saving grace was that a large herd of elephants had arrived at the waterhole next to us, and he aimed all of his efforts in the direction of the herd. He knew that safety was waiting for him and that if he could muster the strength to get to the herd, the lions would be chased off!

As a final attempt, more pride members got involved and gave chase! Sadly for them, it was a little too late. The elephant had covered enough distance and closed to gap to the large herd of elephants.

The herd then sensed the presence of the panicked calf, and they then ran at the lions, sending them off and away from their prey!

This was one lucky little calf! Had it not been for that herd, he would have been dead.

https://youtu.be/Phc8Qj102Ig

It was an incredible start to our Wild Eye Hwange Safari. I simply knew that this would happen, I could feel & sense it and arrived with confident anticipation. I did not however think it would happen on Day 1, and right in front of our camp!

Lions and elephants in Hwange National Park do battle each and every dry season. It's well studied behaviour in the park, and nothing out of the ordinary!

It's most prevalent during the driest time of year when elephants are weakest & most stressed! The older calves are most targeted. The very young calves are under constant supervison from their mother's. It's when the older calf strays too far, that they get picked out & isolated by the hunting lions.
It's simply a learnt behaviour. Some lions specialize in killing buffalo, some love hunting giraffe.

Hwange lions? They hunt the giants of the land!

Elephants are common throughout the entire park! Zimbabwe holds Africa's second largest elephant population next to Botswana. There's an estimated 80 000 elephants, with Hwange supporting about 50 000 of those!

That's a massive number within a single park, and this leads to incredible sightings when on safari here.

The region is dominated by Zambezi Teak, apart from open areas that flood during the rainy season.
These open areas are dominated by nutritious grasses and are a haven for wildlife during the dry season when they congregate around the remaining waterholes.

This is where the elephants of Hwange are best viewed & experienced!

During the dry season (June - October) the park is not only dry and void of highly nutritious vegetation, but it is also very hot! The heat of the day drives elephants to the waterholes.

Spending time with these herds at the water is an incredible experience! They flood in from all different directions, and to see them interact socially is just so special!

Undoubtedly the most special of experiences for my guests was to watch the little elephants enjoy the mud! Little seems happier than a baby elephant in the mud!

They completely lose themselves in the moment and play and frolic as if there's no tomorrow!

I often tell me guests to just sit back and watch! It reminds us all to just let your hair down and have a little fun! There's so much to learn from nature if you look close enough!

https://youtu.be/i71LaFxy9VM

The waterhole at our camp also attracted vast numbers of elephants every day!

It's difficult to place a number on how many visited every day, but it would never stop! The elephant activity continues day & night, it never stops! I often woke in the early hours of the morning and just listened to the herds outside my room as they went about their business. It's an experience very difficult to describe here in mere words!

At any point in time you can wander over to the waterhole in front of the main camp area, and find a herd or 3 busying themselves with the task of drinking, mudding, playing or simply lazying about.

It's an incredible experience friends, one that puts this particular camp & Wild Eye safari in my top 3 of all time!

https://youtu.be/B9Ql075gJ4s

The camp staff are exceptional and looked after every single of my guests as if they were royalty! Their attention to detail was exceptional and the quality on offer was top notch!

There was a great diversity in meals offered, and the way it was presented was fantastic!

I clear winner for most of the guests (including myself) was the build-your-own-pizza lunch! It was so good that we requested it again!

https://youtu.be/08Hnklk8mJI

The best part about it was the company!

We were joined for breakfast, lunch and dinner by elephants! Just too special!

Fortunately they could not get to where our table was, reckon there would not have been too much left of us OR the lunch had they decided to actually join us!

A friendly and overly-confident Yellow-billed Hornbill was also an ever-present companion at lunch.

That's the beauty of the camp. There are no fences, no boundaries, nothing stopping the animals from making the camp their home! It's such a natural place and completely fits into the surrounding environment!

And to answer the question you all might have right now...

YES, there are more animals here than just elephants & lions!

A very, very special animal found in relative good numbers with Hwange is pictured above.

The extremely rarely seen Roan Antelope.

They are found throughout the park. There's few places where they can be seen as often and also as relaxed as here in Hwange. Very few of you would have seem them before.

To give you an idea of how special it is to see them this relaxed...

Kruger Park, all 3 million hectares of it, has a population of less than 60 Roan! Goodluck finding one in there!

Seeing a hard of Roan as large as this is simply awesome!

Another relative of the Roan also occur within the park in very good number. It's one of Africa's most striking antelope and much loved by all who know them!

This is a Sable Antelope. It's a bull and equipped with large horns and a stiking black & white coat!

Ostrich also frequent the open areas and during this time of year the chicks add a great element to sightings! They can have many chicks at a time, but few make it to adulthood. Predation by many different predators pose a serious threat to their well being!

Many other general wildlife call Hwange home, including zebra, wildebeest, large herds of buffalo and much more. It's a richly diverse habitat and therefore supports a great number of fauna!

A lovely surprise awaited us one afternoon.

After enjoying a great lion sighting our guide took us to a waterhole close by for a "leg stretch". As we arrived we saw a beautifully decorated table and a familiar face from camp!

They had gone out of their way to set up a sundowner spot for us to enjoy during the late afternoon.

It was a fantastic surpise and the fact the elephant has joined us was just the cherry on top.

These experiences are what makes it so special. My guests will never forget this. It will stay with them for life, no doubt about that!

As we were leaving we found ourselves in the way of an approaching herd!

Have a look at the riveting video below!

https://youtu.be/JHsi9lCAFGs

You can't plan for exciting moments like that! You just have to be at the right place (Hwange) at the right time (October 2018) for these things to come your way ;)

We were incredibly fortunate to spend some quality hours with lions on this safari.

2 of these sightings really stood out for us, and both happened on the very same day.

We followed a large male lion in the early morning across a massive open clearing. By his behaviour and posture we was set on a mission. To me, it seemed as if there were other lions within the vicinity. Perhaps he heard them calling, or he maybe got wind of them. This was his territory so it was likely his own pride.

My suspicion was confirmed when we spotted members of his pride in the distance up ahead. He too saw them and he increased his pace from a fast walk to a trot.

We moved up ahead to meet the rest of the pride, and to watch his appoach from their perspective. Within his pride were 5 young sub-adult males. Since their father had not seen them in some time I anticipated some aggressive interaction from his side, and boy was I right about that...

One of the young male's spotted his dad approaching and made the error of jumping up in an effort to greet his dad.

The big pride male did not take well to this gesture and decided to make an example out of the unfortunate young male lion.

To put it lightly, he was met by the full force of his dad, the pride male!

What to us might seem harsh & unnecessary, is an extremely important move from the pride male.
These young sub-adults are growing at a rapid pace and getting stronger by the day. With this size comes confidence in their abilities. This, is something their dad wants to suppress for as long as he can.

There's no doubt that this altercation between father & sons signalled the time for the young males to leave the pride. This time would come sooner or later, and it's vital that the group of young lions step out on their home in order to secure a territory for themselves.
This won't happen immediately as they are still young and lack the confidence and power needed to overthrow a large dominant pride male. If the 5 of them stick together though, they will no doubt be a super force to be reckoned with! They will be way too much for other smaller coalitions to deal with!

For the time being though, they will need to display incredible submissive behaviour, as pictured above, in order to avoid the wrath of their father.

To see this behaviour was incredible special!

Here's a bit of video footage of this particular pride male lion. What a beast!

https://youtu.be/hgQdHxYCTaY

nbsp;

That afternoon we decided to return!

We were so fortunate to see the first rains for the season arrive that afternoon! It belted down and the land soaked it all up! We left camp a little later due to the hard rain, but we would once again be treated to a magnificent sighting of the pride.

We found the pride with 2 very young cubs in attendance!

As we arrived it was raining softly, and the two cubs were on top of a termite mound with a stunning dark backdrop! It was a perfect photographic setting for my guests to enjoy!

What more could you ask for?

Well, how about cubs playing with a stick and annoying their father? Yip, that also happened!

https://youtu.be/88IueqDrMiU

It was a great sighting! For some of my guests, this was their very first time to see little lion cubs! And to see them this playful and interacting with their big dad, that was terrific!

The safari experience at Hwange is just so different & unique! The setting, the animals, the behaviour, it's all so special and unlike many other places we take our guests!

It's one of those safari destination where anything could happen at any point in time.

Not all the animals are completely relaxed with the presence of the vehicles, but that adds another element of beautiful wildness to the experience.

There's no doubt in my mind that Hwange is one of the best places in Africa to view lions & elephants. The elephants are incredibly abundant and the lions are very active!

In fact, few other safari destination will offer you daytime sightings of lions as good as Hwange does. The lions are active from late afternoon, usually well before the sun had set! The fact that they spend so much time around the waterholes means there's almost always something to garner their attention.

As elephant came down to drink one evening, a calf fell prey to the young males mentioned earlier.

Under the cover of darkness the lions pose a serious threat to the elephants & their young. They move quickly and once the herd panics and potentially runs, calves like this youngster get separated from their mothers.

We spent many hours following the pride and it was very rewarding!

We even saw a lioness feeding on a tortoise!

Here's some video highlighst from tiem spent with the resident pride.

https://youtu.be/Qyg4T8tFcwI

As good as the game viewing is out in the field, I just loved being at the camp! The guests loved it so much that several of them even skipped game drive to enjoy the comfort, quietness & game viewing that the camp brings about.

The permanent water source at camp draws in so many animals and makes for a fantastic experience.

I loved the evenings in particular!

Elephant would arrive herd after herd throughout the entire night! What interested them the most was the water trough attached to the camp's wooden deck. There was a constant flow of fresh water and this was like finding gold during the harsh dry season!

I took advantage of the water source and the elephants close proximity to the deck.

The photographic results were absolutely mind blowing!

Let me tell you that this kind of photography is not for the feint of heart.

These elephants were drinking right on top of me, to the point that I was wet after each photographic session there! I wanted my guests to experience something similar, but not too many were that keen, ha ha! Can't blame them!

This camp just offers so much and it just never seems to end!

Here's a small gallery of some more notable images captured across the length of the safari.

I will go back there time and time again! It represents everything that I love about Africa!

Wild!

Beauty!

Landscapes!

Authentic!

Thanks so much for your time in reading through this lengthy trip report! I look forward to hosting you on safari in the future and who knows, perhaps in Hwange itself!

Till next time,

Marlon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *