Hwange National Park

Trip Start Jun 05, 2012
Trip End Jul 10, 2012

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Flag of Zimbabwe  ,
Sunday, July 1, 2012

The trip notes for the schedule got changes a little.  I woke up by 5:40, showered while Miles worked on the tent and carried the camp equipment to the truck.  I had cereal then eggs and toast at 6:20.  Then after dishes we had a long way to carry all the stuff to the vehucle.  We left Bulawayo by 7:00, and the air was cold!  So strange to hear how hot it is at home, and we are freezing and all bundled up in AFRICA!!!  Crazy.  We were supposed to stop at the Painted Dog Conservation tomorrow, but we needed to meet up with the other truck that is working its way from south to north.  Something was expiring on their truck and we had the appropriate paperwork for them. It was almost 3 hours to Hwange National Park. I slept until after 9:00 when Victor called for a bathroom break.  Miles was working a crossword and I was wishing I had a book to read.  Maybe I can find a book in Victoria Falls but over the last few days I haven't had any luck finding a single book.
     We stopped at the Painted Dog Conservation and they had 3 of these endangered species in the rehab center.  There are only 3000 left in all of Africa and 750 of which are in Zimbabwe.  We went to the visitor center first which was very informative.  Then we walked across a large walkway about half miles long. At this moment there aren't any dogs in the enclosure.  Finally we reached the rehab center and there were three dogs there.  Two were behind a few fences pretty far away and there was a blonde female. We talked to the conservation guy for awhile and supposedly they are going to start a breeding program for these endangered animals.   We bought a bracelet and a card game to help support the program.The card game was actually very informative.  For example, their poop smells like tar, the send out a call that can be heard kilometers away, the only have 4 toes unlike normal dogs with 5 toes.  There are no two dogs that have the same markings, they can run 65 kilometers per hour, they can devour an impala in less than 10 minutes, the pups always eat first, they can travel 30 kilometers per day.  Only the alpha female has young (between 2-18) but the others help out.  The female gives birth in a den where the pups stay for 12 weeks.  The pups suckle for three weeks then eat regurgitated food, there is a 9 week gestation period, and the longevity is 5-10 years. 
     We met the other Intrepid bus and gave them their necessary paperwork.  Their bus had a working fridge and the windows had nice shades to keep them cool, and apparently while eating lunch a pack of wild painted dogs came up to them!  They also have a table in the bus.  Talk about adding insult to injury. 
      We continued into Hwange National Park.  We got to camp, set up the tents and prepared for lunch, with lots of bees also excited about our presence. Victor had us set up our tents in the wrong spot, so we had to carry them across the park to the spot where primitive campers were.  We ate a of lunch meat, veggies, and cooked rice left over from last nights dinner, and waited for another group to arrive so we could start our first game drive.  We had time to walk to the park office and pick up a map and list of birds that we might see.  We bought some airtime minutes to try to call the Zambezi Swing place.  Apparently the number didn't exist so we will have to figure out a different plan tomorrow.  We found out that our game drive wouldn't start until 2:30 because the group meeting us was behind. We watched the news and some churches in Kenya were bombed and 16 people were killed.  The group was even later than expected and around 3:00 we had finally loaded into a jeep.  Ernie took the front seat, Marlene, Miles and I took the next row, and made the rest of the group squeeze in the other two rows. 
     We saw quite a lot of life including crocs, hornbills, brubru birds at Dom pan, then kudu, an elephant, and some impala. Then we went to the Nyamandlovu pan.  These are areas that in the rainy season have water.  Right now, everything is very dry and dead so the park has bore holes that they pump water from and create watering holes so the animals won't die of thirst.  There is a platform at the pan so you can climb up and have an amazing view of the whole watering hole.  When we arrived there were 14 elephants, 3 crocs, 2 hippos and a giraffe drinking.  Then 2 bull elephants came, then a herd of 16, then a herd of 47, then another 6.  That is a lot of elephants including some that were still nursing from their mothers!  One of the giraffe was really fun to watch.  I think he was thinking, "Oh crap, I want a drink but where can I go, where can I go". He was super skittish, and even the smallest think would make him run back without getting a drink. It was about 20 minutes before he finally got a drink. The elephants would get really close to the crocs. some would freak out and back up, while others would get very curious. Even though the crocs would snap at them, ultimately it was the croc that would retreat into the water.  Apparently the biggest croc that we saw was sent to the national park in a shoebox via the mail in 1945.  
    Then we hurried back because the gate closes at 6:00 and apparently the people at the gate take this pretty seriously.  We saw a sable antelope (our first in Africa) on our way out and 4 buffalo, which made us get to the gate at 6:01 but the lady just gave our driver a dirty look and let us through.  Kioko had popcorn ready when we got back. Then we ate dinner and had to the option of a night game drive. The other group had to pay $30 extra per person but it was included for us. An option because it is an open air jeep and the temperature was about 40 degrees!  Of course we weren't going to miss this chance. I would have been so upset if the group would have seen something cool when I was sitting at the tent.  Five layers of clothes later, a stocking cap, and the sleeping bag we were headed out on the night drive.
      There used to be 40 rhinos in the park, but now there is only one bull left. The last female and her baby were poached a couple of months ago.  The horn sells for about $50,000 per kilogram so even though it is horrible, that amount of money can change a poachers life.  The baby only had a little bump when it was killed which is very sad.  The rule if you see a poacher is to kill them on sight.  Shoot first and ask questions later.  A poacher would not hesitate to kill a person who spots them, and thus the unwritten rule. 
   We aren't allowed a spotlight in the national park so we went out of the park and onto the roads. Boy am I glad that I went.  We ended up seeing 6 species that we hadn't seen before including 3 that are rarely seen.  We saw several dika which are a small deer like animal that is active at night.  Apparently they will eat just about anything, including human excriment.  Next, we started seeing several night apes which only weigh a couple hundred grams. Their eyes glow bright red in the spotlight and they jump around the trees like crazy at night.  Some people keep them as pets, but they pee on their hands and feet to mark their territory.  Next, we saw a huge number of checkum babboons on the powerline towers. Then we saw the endangered species the bat eared fox run across the road.  Usually, they are in pairs because they mate for life.  Then we saw 4-5 kudu.  Next we saw the, as our guide said, "very elusive"genet cat with a bushy black tail, then 2 white tailed mongoose, the largest of the mongoose family.  
Next, we went to a lodge, squirmed out of the sleeping bag,  had a cup of hot chocolate and visited a pan that was lit by the hotel.  The lodge was very nice with about 250 rooms but apparently they are only renting about 45 beds per month.  As far as tourism goes, Hwange has really been hit hard. We heard jackels, but couldn't see them, saw some elephants drinking, and a mongoose. On the way back,  there were elephants right by the road so he shut off the jeep and we sat in the full moonlight and watched them eat, then cross the road about 50 feet in front of us. The guide pointed out some constellations (southern cross, gemini, and scorpio)  with a really awesome lazer pointer. We saw a bird called the fiery neck night jar which hunts insects at night using almost whisker like feathers by the beak.  Apparently there are 6 types of night jars.  Next was the most exciting.  At first the guide thought it was a huge owl sitting on the ground.  Then we all said, no it looks like a cat.  We finally made enough noise to make it run and it was the African black footed cat.  It was the FIRST time our guide had EVER seen one!  Very exciting!  We made it to the gate right at 10:00 which was the deadline for getting back. The gate was closed and no one was there.  Jordan yelled for the worker, but on one came, so Jordan got out of the jeep and opened the gate himself.  As we came into camp he introduced us to yet another new animal, the spring hare.  It was more like a rodent than a rabbit.  We saw two hopping around like little kangaroos.  What an awesome game drive!Then we proceeded to freeze our butts off all night long in the tent.

Budget $50              Souvenirs $8 Food $1.10
Spent $12.10           Phone card  $3
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