Day 88 - Thur Jun 30 Tubu Tree Camp to Chitabe Camp
(Chris) Back to the 'relaxed' 6am wake up! Today we took our last game drive at Tubu, which wasn't particularly eventful, at least in that it had no cats. Moa took it slow as usual (he tends to drive about 3 mph, which is probably good for not missing any game), and saw quite a few herbivores and birds. The main sightings were reedbuck, leaping impala, a honey badger and some bachelor elephants. I was really tired, to the point of having a hard time concentrating. They just don't give you a lot of time to relax here. Here's the well-defined schedule at all camps:
6am wake-up (either a knock on the door or tribal drums)
6:30 morning snack
6:45 morning game drive (very cold at first, 50 deg + wind chill in open vehicle, warm near end)
noon free time (shower, sleep, journal, read, etc) OR travel to new camp
3:30 afternoon snack
3:45 evening game drive (hot at first, buggy in middle, cold near end)
9pm free time / sleep
After the drive, per the schedule we said goodbye to the staff and made our way to the airstrip. Up pulled a 4-seat single-prop plane, and Jen was overjoyed (not!). The takeoff was uneventful, and the game viewing along the way enticing, but the landing not so great. The stall warning buzzer went off twice loudly during the landing, and he bounced on the runway. Unfortunately when we got off the plane, we found out that wasn't our stop, so we got to do it all over again. Stall buzzers and bouncing included.
Chitabe is much dryer than Tubu was. Tubu had tons of standing water and marshes. Not here. It's dusty and dry. On the drive from the airstrip, we saw quite a lot of elephant so were excited about that. The camp is quite nice (a lot of it burned down 4 years ago they tell us, so a lot of it is new). There are raised wooden walkways between all the buildings, but they still escort us to our tents at night.
Our night game drive was uneventful and sort of boring. Our guide, while doing all the basics okay, just didn't have the insight and personality that Moa did. So we're going to ask for a switch.
Dinner was good, and when we returned to our rooms there was a mosquito net over the bed (which we didn't like so much) and a hot water bottle at the foot of the bed (which Jen loved).
Day 89 - Fri Jul 1 Chitabe Camp
(Chris) Today we switched guides, to the fellow who brought us from the airport, named Newman. It turned out to be very exciting from the get-go, as right when we were leaving someone said on the radio that there were wild dogs nearby, and wild dogs are apparently quite rare. So Newman raced out there, us all bouncing along, to find them. It didn't take long, and there were several Land Rovers around all looking for the same thing (one of them from BBC filming a documentary of some sort). We watched them for awhile, sometimes only seeing 2 dogs and eventually seeing the whole pack of 7. They had just killed an Impala, but were immediately chased off the kill by a male lion (they call it the king of the jungle for a reason) who was scarfing it down. Along the way we saw our first hyena as well, though apparently wild dogs are so rare that pretty much everything else was secondary, so we didn't stop long.
After the lion, we went out in pursuit of leopard and cheetah. Newman heard a call on the radio of a cheetah sighting, and deduced where it might be going, so we went on an amazing 4x4 ride through the savannah. Newman ploughed where there was no road, over logs, bushes, weaving around the big stuff and ravaging the medium-sized stuff. We had to constantly move to avoid the brush hitting the side of the LR. At one point he hit a small stump and had to jack up the LR to get back off it. We were all hanging on with both hands and having a great time.
As fortune would have it, we did spot the cheetah, who had just killed an impala. However when 2 LRs showed up she retreated a bit and just laid out in the shade. Cheetahs have surprisingly small ears. After about 20 minutes of gawking waiting we left. On the drive back to camp we also saw numerous impala (live ones this time) and elephants.
The evening game drive was fairly uneventful. It's been hit and miss for us; one drive will be slow and the next will be 'as wild as it gets.'
Day 90 - Sat Jul 2 Chitabe Camp
(Jen) Our morning drive was fairly uneventful. We did see several giraffes, mostly alone or in small groups of 3 or 4. We even got to witness two male giraffes "fighting". Newman said they were still quite young so they weren't very serious about it, but they would stand side by side head to tail and then try to wack each other with their necks. It was sort of like watching them in slow motion though. Every once in a while you'd hear a relatively satisfying "thunk" as one of them struck the other, but mostly they just swung their heads at each other and missed completely. Sort of the WWF version of giraffe fighting I think. Towards the end of the drive we also saw our first hippo, albeit only the top of its head. He was soaking in a channel of water and wasn't inclined to come out. After brunch we said good-bye to Simon and Hannah who are off to the beach vacation part of their honeymoon.
Our evening game drive was phenomenal. Newman tracked down a leopard and its 2 month old cub by following tracks from a carcass being dragged through the sand. We found the carcass of an impala up in a tree and then spotted the cub and its mother soon after. It was still daylight and both were quite skittish (the female ran away when approached) so Newman suggested we come back after dark when they should be less scared. We did and Chris got a great shot of both. The cub was especially cute. He was lying by himself amongst some bushes. On our way back to camp we were lucky enough to see the wild dogs again - they just ran right in front of the truck. They didn't even seem to notice us though and they were playing all around the truck. They make a high pitched yipping sound and love to jump all over each other. Most of the animals we see are either eating or sleeping (Chris: especially the lions), so it was fun to see some playfulness.
(Chris) Coming here, it's really much more evident how the whole food chain is laid out. Herbivores eat trees & grass. Carnivores eat herbivores. Scavengers pick at carcasses. Bugs break down everything that is left. Everything seems to have a defensive mechanism. Trees have spikes on their trunks, or large sharp thorns, or make their own leaves taste bitter shortly after some have been eaten. Herbivores have horns or tusks, or run very very fast, or have specialty camouflage (for instance zebras are hard to attack when they run in a group because the lines give the chaser vertigo). Herbivores that stay in groups typically have lookouts, and/or utilize lookouts from other species (for instance impala may use warnings from a baboon or a franklin [a type of bird]. There are numerous symbiotic relationships, such as birds eating the ticks off the back of a zebra or giraffe. It all fits together very nicely, in a complex way that makes sense. Newman says that life out here isn't easy, and any animals around today are clever in having found a way to survive.
The guides also use this info to their advantage while tracking. They look at prints, to be sure (and where it's dirt there are tracks covering every square inch). But they also know what the various animals like to eat, what type of terrain they prefer, and even see if other species are alert. I suppose they also use the radio to exchange info with other guides in the area. Sometimes an exciting radio call will cause 3-4 LRs to arrive at the same spot in a hurry: "2 male cheetahs hunting near the old bent tree!"