I’m sat on the porch in front of our tent, the sun has set and there’s just a little light left in the sky. About 10m away from me is a small herd of impala. The silence is broken by the sound of them nibbling on the grass, and the occasional snorts and gurgles of hippos, who are cavorting in the nearby waterhole. As I type, a giraffe has just wandered into view and stopped to much on a bush in front of me. As the light fades away completely we get out our torches and scan the area – it’s so dark that the only thing you can see are pairs of eyes, as the light catches the baboons’ faces. Switch the torch off, and you’d have no idea you had company. There could be lions out there.
This is just the culmination of an exciting day. We had a full day game drive planned, with the intention of driving to the far end of the park. We set off a little after sunrise, after following Peter’s instructions to eat a hearty breakfast. Within half an hour of driving Peter jammed on the brakes and we came to a halt in front of a waterhole. Walking towards it were a pair of cheetahs, what appeared to be a mother and an almost fully grown male cub. We were lucky enough to get a couple shots of one of the cheetahs drinking, before they stood up and walked away from us, and towards a small herd of gazelle.
The mother lay down and waited patiently whilst her son had some fun playing chase the gazelles. All part of the learning experience, and the gazelles seemed to know it. Eventually some more gazelles joined the group and they chased the cheetahs off. We followed their progress through the grass and then drove around to meet them as they crossed the road. We then watched them for another 10 minutes or so before they eventually wandered off into the bush.
We continued along, stopping briefly to photograph some more elephants, until we came to the river. This is the first substantial amount of water that we’ve seen since arriving in the park, and in the dry season is one of the few sources of water remaining, so an important source for all the wildlife. At our first stop we saw an ibis, and then at the appropriately named Crocodile Point, we caught a quick glimpse of our first and only croc as it slunk into the water. We followed the river up to the top of the Lugard Falls, nestled within the reddish rock formations. The water in the river is very brown and blends in to the colour of the rock.
Further along we met a group of hippos, heads barely poking out of the water. The largest rose up in the water a little to take a closer look, the little ones were more nervous and stayed submerged. I took some photos, but like my previous hippo photography attempts, I remain unimpressed, they’re hard animals to capture well.
After a short lunch stop back at the Falls we continued on our way. The roads in this part of the park were very narrow, and before long we came face to face with an elephant who was snacking on the trees by the road. Fortunately, as there was very little space to manouevre, he didn’t look too bothered by our presence – as a general rule, the elephants in Tsavo are far more nervous (and therefore aggressive) than in some of the other parks, because of the history of poaching.
This area of the park is full of interesting rock formations. We stopped at the Mudanda Rock, ‘mudanda’ meaning ‘strips of meat’, as the shape and counters of the rock are reminiscent of strips of meat laid out in the sun to dry, and indeed the rock was used in the past for this purpose by the local people.
Heading slowly back, we came across another herd of elephants who wanted to cross the road in front of us. We waited for them to cross and then slowly proceeded forward. One of the herd took exception to our presence, suddenly turned around and came running after us, ears raised and trumpeting. Quite an experience, and it certainly wouldn’t have been a good time to run out of gas! Although the elephant numbers in Tsavo seem to be good, it’s very sad to see the effects of years poaching on the elephants’ temperament. Peter pointed out that when the elephants here hear cars coming they tend to turn their back, because there is such a history of them being shot in the head. I think it will take a very long time before the elephants here will become less suspicious of humans, and rightly so.
The rest of our drive home remained uneventful, although we did have the good luck to spot a monitor lizard as it crossed the road in front of us.
Back at camp, the vervet monkeys had set up shop on our veranda. The amount of wildlife at the camp is increasing… as the promise of water comes closer, there are more and more impala and oryx coming in, and the hippos are really making their presence felt also.