Matthew the Hippo Man

Trip Start Nov 01, 2011
Trip End Nov 22, 2011

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Flag of Zimbabwe  ,
Friday, November 4, 2011

Our agenda for the next two days will be:
Wake up at 5:00
Breakfast of tea, coffee, toast with jam, peanut butter or beef spread that tastes like Oxo cubes, porridge, & fruit
Depart in the canoes between 6:00 & 7:00
Stop to do a walking safari, have lunch, then relax & nap for an hour or two
Canoe for an hour or two
Stop on an island and have tea, coffee & sweet treats
Canoe for an hour or less to camp
Relax, have showers, enjoy one of Graham's sundowner drinks
Have a fabulous meal prepared by Chef Bob
Relax around the fire with an after dinner drink
Retire to our tents

Our first stop in the morning was at Mucheni, (means tiger fish) for our walking safari. You would think walking among all of these wild animals would be dangerous, well, it can be, but Henry & Matthew had rifles to use if necessary. Henry led the way & we all walked single file with Matthew bringing up the flank. Along the way we learned about the vegetation, birds & animals:
Acacia tree or Winter Thorn - pioneer species; high browse line for the elephants
Sausage tree
Rain tree
Strangle fig
Natal mahogany tree - the leaves are eaten by the kudu, eland & waterbuck, impalas
Dye plant - another pioneer species
Macro termites - large mounds - this type of termites are farmers of fungus (termitomyces) - active at night because their skin & eyes (underdeveloped/ intolerant)
Harvester termites - leave piled by the entrance - fully digest the cellulose by enzymes in their guts
2 bull elephants - the large one showed signs of stress, his temporals were dribbling (coming into must) & both were skittish which is very unusual with big mana bulls; the youngster was skittish, but that is quite normal
Kudu bulls with the cork screw horns
Impalas - Henry explained about dung mating - the male does his business, then all the females follow suit. The dominant male then sniffles the dung pile with the lip curl & determines if any females are in heat; flare hemming; he pees on the dung pile again & shuffles it to disguises the scent of his females to ward off other males; we saw two rams were having a go at each other
Hyaena poop is all white - it is rich in calcium from the bones & it also provides a visual marker to mark their territory. Hyaenas will also rub their anal glands on the ground to leave their status for other hyaenas in the area
Wart hogs - they live as a families, this one was a father mother & three piglets 
Brooding head elephant - we were heading in the same direction as she was, so we turned around. It is not wise to go into thick vegetation with a large group of tourists
Eland - they are the largest antelope

Things got a little exciting when we were trying to make our way back to the canoes.  There were three groups of brooding herds of elephants - some on the flood plain, a tusk-less cow with 2 offspring, and some along the ridge of the top shelf, a mother, two adults & 1 baby. As a precaution, we circled back along the river bed, then back up onto the ridge. Henry was cautious & when he gets nervous we get nervous…  We arrived safely back to our canoes & relaxed & had lunch.

Our lunch was great! We had buns, quiche, beans, crackers, cheese, apples and potato salad. While we relaxed we were able to watch Carmine bee-eaters. Nearby there was a large colony along the water bank. They move along very quickly, but tend to lose their steamer during wet/breeding seasons. Their young are born without the tail feathers. We were also able to see many White-fronted bee-eaters eating insects.

We were also able to watch a Giant Kingfisher in action. He was diving for lunch right in front of us. We were also able to enjoy Ox peckers landing on the backs of the buffalos. They are older buffalo bulls aka retired generals or the dagga boys (meaning muddy) as they like wallowing in mud. These bulls leave the herd when they are older & form grounds of bachelors. We saw lots of baboons with their babies. So, it was quite enjoyable to just rest there, watch all the activity, doze off on our mats & get awakened by large biting ants. After a long rest, we shoved off in the canoes again. As we were departing, a gecko welcomed me back into the canoe by resting under my foot & startling me. It gave everyone a good laugh!

During the course of the day we saw many birds:
Common sandpiper
Three-banded plover
Spur wing geese
Egyptian geese
Crowed lapwings
Saddle billed stork
African fish-eagle
White-backed vulture & a Fish-eagle together (just before we stopped for our walk)
African skimmers
Blacksmith lapwing

Of course, we saw many animals on shore during our canoe trip:

When we stopped in the afternoon at the swimming stop we saw elephant prints. The front print is round with 4 toes & the back is oval. If you see prints that are overlapping, then it means that the elephant was walking slowly. We could also see that there were baby tracks with the same pattern. Their strides are far apart & the dragging shows the direction of their movement.

On our last stretch to camp for the evening we had a little excitement. One hippo (the torpedo hippo) almost capsized a canoe with Matthew, Josy & Rolf. He popped out of the water at the wrong time and everyone in their canoe got wet because he quickly went down again and made a huge splash. Right before camp we saw a large herd of buffalo in the last channel into the camp.

Graham & crew welcomed us with moist towels & we headed to the site. We said "hi" to chef Bob who was making our chicken for dinner. We arrived a bit earlier this evening, so before it became dark we saw hippos, an elephant, baboon, impala eyes from the bathroom, marshall eagle & buffalo. We could also hear hyaenas, lions & frogs.

That evening we had a great shower & some drinks. For dinner we had sausage to start, chicken casserole, salad, baby corn, snap peas & banana cake with cream. It was fabulous! Over dinner I dubbed Matthew, "the Hippo Man" for his close encounter this afternoon.
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