Zimbabwe, Zambia

Kariba & Middle Zambezi

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Atlassing and carcasses in Kariba

Atlassing and carcasses in Kariba

Fish Eagle
Fish Eagle

‘Birding with a purpose.’This was my mantra when planning a weekend trip to Kariba to celebrate my son’s 16th birthday. I was enticed after reading Damian Newmarch’s article on bird atlassing. I briefed my children (this was to be a family affair) and Steve Edwards, our guide, patiently helped us identify the birds. On our first day we headed out on an afternoon cruise, with binoculars, notebook and the will to see as many birds as possible.

It really was good fun and as we noted down each bird, Edwards’s prolific knowledge of the habitat and habits of the birds added further enjoyment. We learnt how white-fronted bee-eaters have a synergistic relationship with cattle egrets. As the cattle egrets walk through the verdant grass, insects are disturbed and the opportunistic bee-eaters get an easy meal. We saw a black-headed heron, apparently a newcomer. Normally this species is found in agricultural areas, not in the national park wilderness.

In the distance a hippo carcass could be seen and our focus changed to bigger game.

Lions and crocodiles

The death of one is the triumph of another. We were mesmerised by the chain of events that took place over four days: lion and crocodile sharing a meal. The focal attraction was a young bull hippo carcass on the Kariba shoreline near Musango Safari Camp. (Musango Safari Camp is on a private National Parks island in the mouth of the Ume River, the western boundary of the Matusadona National Park, on Lake Kariba near Bumi Hills).

Day 1. As we approached the dead hippo we watched one lion after another come down to the carcass. We counted ten, including three or four little cubs. Initially the lions just nibbled the carcass, not the ferocious feasting that I would have imagined. A few crocs lurked in the foreground.

Day 2. In the morning we returned, surprised to note that not much had been eaten, but the numbers of crocodiles had vastly increased. It was decided that a bit of human intervention could take place to assist the feast. The underbelly was slit open – how our guide stomached that exercise I don’t know.

We returned in the afternoon – the meal was well and truly underway. Their behaviour was quite orderly, as they slithered over each other taking turns to rip off chunks of meat, not a pretty sight. We counted no less that forty crocodiles close by.

Day 3. There was still plenty of the hippo to eat; the lions were not perturbed by us and both crocs and lions were eating together, although the lions appeared to be in charge. The youthful exuberance of one lion had him jumping on top of the carcass, playing ‘king of the castle’. Two hippos swam right up to the shore, with much grunting and displaying of canines; a last farewell? As we sipped on our cooling drinks, every one of us from child to adult knew that we were lucky to be witnessing nature in all her rawness.

Day 4.06:30: Enroute to watch fish eagles we stopped once again at the scene. All that was left was head, bones and hide. Vultures were trying hard to get their share but the crocodiles were not very obliging. This was now their turf.

A pleasant diversion ensued as we headed up a beautiful creek to visit two fish eagles that over the years have become habituated to the occasional fish being thrown their way; an excellent photographic opportunity. We learnt that the call of the male fish eagle is higher than that of the female, and that the female is larger than the male.

08:00: Time to return to camp, and have another quick look at the hippo. Nothing! The crocodiles had pulled the remains into the water. The feast was over and for us it was time to head home. Altogether an unforgettable time in the wilderness.

Read more articles from this issue:
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More from the Zambezi Traveller:
Kariba & Middle Zambezi Destination Profile
Kariba & Middle Zambezi News