Friday, February 3, 2012

The emerald bush - Katavi and Mahale in the Green

By Richard Knocker

We had a very weird spell of weather in October and early November – tremendous rains, unusually early and heavy.  It was very patchy, so while everything at home was green and flourishing, and there was heavy flooding in parts of Serengeti, large swathes of Maasailand remained brown and parched.

So, November came around and with it a group of old friends from our days in Turkey.  We were headed out west, for a week in Katavi and Mahale.  Katavi will be at it’s best at this time, won’t it?  The long months of hot and dry mean that large numbers of game will be congregated near the few springs, so game viewing will be a cinch.  Except for that early rain (see above).  The whole park was freshly painted in luxuriant greens, the Katuma River was flowing and the air felt vibrant with life. 

Many of the hippos had moved out of the springs at Ikuu, their dry season refuge, and back into the newly formed pools on the Katuma.  The crocs were slowly coming back to life, although many were still more or less somnolent in their riverbank holes.

The downside to all this, of course, was that much of the game, released from the tyranny of the dry season, had scattered to the four winds 

It was gorgeous and we did find just about everything we wanted to see, so we had to earn out sightings with patience and good tracking!

We found a lovely pride of lion with cubs (the Chada Pride), and followed them for a couple of hours through the bush as they made their way to the river, presumably changing hunting grounds.  They were lean and hungry looking, but with a healthy glow.  We stayed with them for some time, hoping for a hunt (they were clearly ready for action), but nothing came of it.

It was the same story with elephant – when we finally caught up with a herd, we had a long visit with them, following slowly as they fed through the bush.  There was a tiny calf with them, but we only got brief glimpses as Mama kept her close by her side.

It was strange to see so few elephant, but the mystery was solved when some of our group spotted a large herd, several hundred they reckoned, waaaay out on Katisunga Plain.  Too far to go and see them, sadly, but nice to know they’re there.  And always nice to solve the puzzle!

This happens frequently: elephant clans are forced to break up into small family groups during the dry season, because of the lack of resources, but when the rains start and food and water are plentiful, they gather once more into large groups.

Not long after we left, a herd of several hundred was seen just in front of Chada Camp – very likely the same clan.

One of our Chada highlights was a large scorpion, found by one of the camp waiters.  Scorpions have this weird undead glow under ultraviolet light – perfect material for nightmares!

All too soon, our time was up and we upped sticks and moved on to Mahale Mountains. 

Again, the recent rain meant that the forest was bursting with new life.  Gorgeous butterflies flitting through the clearings and fresh new leaf everywhere.  The miombo woodland on the mountain slopes was resplendent in shades of copper, crimson and brilliant fresh greens.

We had high expectations of our time with the chimps: as you probably know, the Alpha male of Mahale’s ‘M’ community was killed by his own kind back in July (??).  Pimu was a thug who ruled by brute force and terror, and in the end his subjects rose up against him.  If only Gaddafi had taken heed of this sorry tale…

Anyway, we were intrigued to find out how the succession struggle was working out.  There are 2 contenders: Alofu, the former alpha, deposed by Pimu; and Primus, a young buck with his eye on the top spot. In the event, we had unexpectedly mellow viewing, consisting of peaceable group grooming sessions and youngsters endlessly at play. Endlessly watchable.

We are still waiting to hear who will take on Pimu’s mantle, but we can expect a great deal of manoeuvring and wheeling & dealing before the dust finally settles on this saga.