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April 2009

Wowee - what a month! Our first couple of safari experiences (real live ones with real live guests), the emergence - in spectacular form - of Gorongosa's lions after the rainy season, a ceremonial blessing of the Park and our operations by the local regulo Chitengo, and what may be one of the wildest crocodile encounters I have ever witnessed ... Oh, and the appearance (albeit a somewhat brief one due to aforementioned lions) of a wee Easter Bunny around the middle of the month.

So then, about these lions: the first to emerge from the months of long and green grass was one of the old bucks here at Gorongosa, a large and pretty magnificent beast with a prominent "L" scratch on his nose and a notch in his left ear. The L apparently stands for Lion King, but all sorts of names come to mind when sitting watching him 5 meters off: Large, Leader, Leave-me-alone, Let's-get-outta-here ... "L" hung around for a couple of days with some impressive roaring displays at night, but soon moved on to find some lady-friends. His place was taken by two younger boys (still sporting some spots around their legs and bellies, and with teenager manes) who appeared on the lake edge one morning, fat and panting - spotted bellies distended with some manner of kill from the night before. They provided our second group of guests with a spectacular sighting as they drank from the lake (keeping a close watch for crocodiles) and generally tried to digest the ton of waterbuck that was weighing them down. One of the boys is an impressive blonde lion with enormous paws and a stately nature that should see him become a serious contender for king in the future. His buddy, however, was a fierce, snarling type with a scratched up face and a whole lot of ugly. The two of them spent almost 3 days in the area before moving off east. "Beauty and the Beast" will hopefully stick around and become a more permanent feature at Gorongosa.

The very next day, a pride of 8 lions including yet another large male - this one of the "Brotherhood" coalition - were found contemplating life on the large floodplain behind the Lion House, whiling away the afternoon lazed out in the tufty vlei grass. The group included three cubs of around 6 months and three beautiful adult females - all with noticeably long, elegant noses and dark almond-shaped eyes. We have decided to refer to these striking girls as the Cleopatra Pride if they continue to hang around the area. They really did look terrific in the late afternoon light and provided great photo opportunities as they started getting active for the evening ahead.

Gorongosa is not just about lions, lions and lions. (Or is it?) At the end of the month we had a great experience when a pair of testosterone-fueled male waterbucks started rutting and generally chasing each other around our camp. The younger one, obviously short on experience and a bit slow on the uptake, got himself caught on the bank of the river between the water and the aggressive other male snorting at him from behind. Taking his chances he dived in to the river away from his opponent, introducing the Rio Mussicadzi to the phenomenon known as an NSMCT (non-submersible mobile crocodile target). Within a flash a large croc from the far bank had slipped into the water and made for the now flailing buck. The big croc caught him around the neck with a flying leap out the water and dragged him under. A few seconds later a feeding frenzy ensued as around 10 crocs of varying sizes arrived onto the scene as if from nowhere. The waterbuck obviously didn't stand a chance and was soon on the Mussicadzi's a la carte for the evening. The crunching and chomping, splishing and splashing continued all evening, much to the horror and glee (if one could be gleeful in horror?) of our resident guest tucked safely away under his duvet in his tent on the bank above. The following morning, a dozen or so very satisfied crocs were found drifting through the mist rising off the river pool. If crocs could smile, these ones were truly beaming. As we left for the morning walk, our guest commented: Is this a pretty normal week here at Gorongosa? I did my best attempt at a crocodile smile and whispered: I sure hope so!

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March 2009