Friday, 21 August 2009

Day 5: Letaba

Friday 31st July 2009

Izzi was most unimpressed when the alarm went off at 04:45, but despite this we all managed to get up, washed and dressed, and were waiting at the camp headquarters by 05:15 ready for the morning drive. It was pitch dark, of course, so the first part of the drive was looking for nocturnal animals. Not very far from the camp an elephant had died of natural causes a few days previously, and this had become a magnet for carrion feeders. At this time in the morning the carcass had been adopted by a family of hyaena.

As can be seen there wasn't a great deal left of the elephant to scavenge, and it was only later that we remembered observing that the tusks were missing. Presumably they'd been removed by the rangers as soon as the carcass had been discovered in order to avoid temptation for poachers. Much of the time the hyaena were actually inside the elephant's ribcage, and every so often a head or a backside would appear from within!

It wasn't long before the sun was up, so we started to look for other animals (not very successfully, it has to be said). Our driver spotted where a lion had been relatively recently, but that doesn't really count as a sighting! We saw some giraffe and the occasional pala pala pala pala, but otherwise things were pretty quiet.

On the way back our guide stopped by a rather unassuming tree with gnarled bark. On closer inspection it was clear that there was a "cross" marking on the trunk, and apparently this dated from the turn of the last century when this part of Kruger Park was used by traders going to and from Mozambique. The mark in the tree trunk was put there as a way of aiding navigation in the bush.

We all then went back to the camp for a well-earned brunch of bacon, eggs and fried potatoes. Being gluttons for punishment, Harriet and I decided to go out again about 11:30, but Izzi stayed at the rondavel for a snooze. Back at the elephant carcass, the hyaena had been replaced by vultures: mainly white-headed, as shown here, but with the occasional lappet-faced too.

Yet again there was no sign of our feathered friends bursting into song... Speaking of feathered friends, we were lucky enough to watch a pair of African fish eagles flying around. The pictures aren't great, unfortunately, and certainly don't do justice to these magnificent birds.

We were also able to watch a herd of buffalo go down to a watering hole, which was very impressive. They're big animals, and - according to the rangers we spoke to - the most fearless in the park: they refuse to back down, irrespective of their predicament. Needless to say we observed them from a safe distance!

Inevitably we saw lots of elephant (they were becoming almost as common as pala pala by this point) but were still pretty magnificent. I became fascinated by the tail of a rather large bull which was standing quite close to us, busily devouring a tree.

While crossing the Letaba river - a large expanse of sand during the dry season - in the distance we spotted a train of elephant doing the same. Apart from the little ones, they were walking in single file in a rather slow and sedate manner from their feeding area to the side of the river where there was still running water. A breathtaking sight, and the elephant help to give a sense of scale to the river itself.

We also spent quite a bit of time watching some hippo out of the water. Then one decided that it wanted to be in the water, and they all followed suit!

We got back to the camp about 15:00, feeing rather tired by this time. Harriet went back to the rondavel for a lie down, but I went into the elephant museum and then wandered around the camp taking pictures. As always there were vervet monkeys, and Letaba is unusual in that it has a breeding herd of bush buck in the camp. The final picture shows the garden at the camp and one of the rondavels (not ours!).

Harriet and I watched the sun go down over the Letaba river while sipping chilled white wine (it was a tough job, but someone had to do it!) and talking to a couple of displaced white Zimbabwean farmers, now of no fixed abode. I lit a braai as soon as it was dark, and we all crawled into bed very soon after 20:00 - without setting the alarm clock...