Day 11: The Ele That Walked to the Leopard

Sept 14--The morning drive was rather uneventful, but highly informative. Last night another group covering the same area as us was lucky enough to see a wild dog pack kill a small kudu right at sunset (would have been tough to photograph with so little light). So we headed out this morning to go see the remains. Holy moly. All that remained was bones.

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In less than 24 hours the wild did their thing, with all the creatures of the night conspiring to consume virtually every bit of skin, muscle, meat, and organ of the kudu. I'm sure the dogs did a lot of the damage, but the kudu was picked clean and we saw plenty of other tracks and evidence that suggested that vultures, hyena, and more, had managed to get their share. As I wrote earlier, every animal, insect, and even plants, plays a part in the great life cycle of the full ecosystem. Yesterday the kudu was a living, breathing, kicking part of the ecosystem. Today bits and pieces of him are spread all over the area.

On the afternoon drive my vehicle encountered a very calm bull elephant as we went left when the other vehicles went right. Of course we stopped to admire and photograph him. His left tusk was long and impressive, his right tusk much worn and shorter. Elephants, like humans, are left- or right-handed. Uh, left or right-tusked, that is.

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Another vehicle showed up and our bull friend decided that he wasn't going to pose for them and headed into the woods. We should have followed him.

Instead, we drove in a broad circle in the area, eventually getting to the river. Which is where we found—yes, you guessed it—our big bull friend. He again tolerated us quite well, so we resumed his modeling session, this time with the full drinking ritual. Plus he had friends now. So we spent some time photographing them, too. Since we had started late this afternoon (more on that in a moment), the light was turning into that gentle late warmth that makes the African wildlife scene so magical sometimes. 

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Another vehicle showed up and our bull friend decided that he wasn't going to pose for them and headed back into the woods. We should have followed him.

Instead, we heard a distant kudu alarm call, so we decided to go pursue that. About the time we figured out that we had gone too far for the call and needed to head back a bit, we got a radio call from another of our vehicles that was behind us: leopard in tree.

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So we quickly drove back halfway towards where we had been only to find a leopard in a tree and our friendly bull elephant underneath it, calmly chewing down the bush under the tree. This time eight other vehicles showed up and our bull friend decided that he wasn't going to pose for them and headed back into the woods. I wonder if we should have followed him?

Instead, we stayed with the leopard, got a couple of decent shots right as the sun got at its lowest, and then packed out for our sundowner.

"Sundowner" is a safari tradition: you find someplace nice to watch the final drop of the sun into the horizon while having the drink of your choice. Here, that usually means a view through acacia or other interesting trees, so sunsets can be quite nice. Normally after sundowner you head back to camp, but today we had a special treat in store: night driving. Because we're in a private concession area, we're allowed to use spotlights during the night. 

So, armed with a spotlight and standing up through the roof, I searched the area for tapetum lucidum. That's the mirror at the back of most animal's eyes (but not humans, who have blood vessels only). The color of the reflection usually tells you something about what you're seeing. I seem to be great at finding the red eyes of crocs, as I found many. I also managed to acquire a wild cat (small African predator), but as we tried to close on him he bolted.

At night you see lots of animals you don't during the day. Tonight we didn't manage to do too well on that front, getting mostly the things we'd seen during the day (including, amazingly, our elephant friend one more time). But you get nothing if you don't try. We finished with a Fish Eagle Owl on a tree next to the road, then heading back to camp for dinner. 

I wonder where that bull elephant is now?

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