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An unusual day

I recently had two entirely different experiences in the same day.

It started in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon when I was walking around outside the compound looking at some trees that elephants had pushed over (not your normal landscaping problem) when a fork-tailed drongo flew up and landed on a tree branch about an arms-length away. I thought he (she?) was an unusually brave bird, looked at him for a few seconds and walked on. About ten seconds later he flew right past my shoulder and landed on a bush again about an arms-length away. Now I thought this was very unusual, but again continued on. This happened three more times, and I was starting to think that this was getting downright strange when I realized what was going on. I assume you are familiar with buffalo egrets (we call them cattle egrets in the U.S.). Well, this was the same thing with the drongo playing the part of the egret, and me playing the part of the buffalo. He had flown to the ground three or four times to catch an insect that I had stirred up. I am quite sure he was disappointed when I when back inside my compound and quit stirring up easy meals for him.

The second experience started about eight-thirty that evening when I heard the sound of something hitting the fence. This is not terribly unusual, so I was going to ignore it, except that I heard it again a few seconds later and then again a few seconds after that. At that point I was concerned that a kudu had jumped the fence and was in the compound, so I went outside to check things out.

When I got outside I saw that my workers had also noticed the sounds and were out looking around. After a couple of minutes, my foreman, Jose, told me that he had spotted a young female kudu standing a few meters outside the fence. He said he when picked up a handful of dirt and tossed it her direction she ran along the fence about twenty meters and laid down. I walked over to look at her and immediately realized that she wasn’t laying down, she was dead. She was on her side, which was not how kudu lay down to rest or chew their cud plus, her head and neck were arched back at an unusual angle. I called Graeme to ask what I should do and he told me to make sure she was dead and, if so, to drag her out into the bush and cut open her stomach and let nature take it’s course.

So, I went over and put my hand on her chest – she was not breathing. I then shined a light in her eyes – no reaction. She was dead, but I was no going to send my workers out into the bush at night, but I didn’t want the kudu right next to my fence, so I told them to drag her about ten meters over by my entrance road. While they were doing that I was looking at the road for spore and found lion spore, fresh lion spore. That really killed any idea of dragging out into the bush in the dark, so that is where we left her for the night.

I was a little surprised when she was still there the next morning, but quickly realized that we had almost certainly spooked off the lion when we first came outside, so he, the lion, didn’t know that the kudu had later died. That day was quite cool and very windy, so I was surprised that she was still there on Thursday morning. Friday morning, still there. I checked again on Friday afternoon and she was still there. But when I went out Saturday morning, she was gone. The only thing left was some of the stomach contents in the shape of a ball about the size of my fist. I went back inside to get Jose (he knows the bush better than I do) and when we got back out where the kudu had been, the ball of stomach contents was gone. Something had found it in the intervening five minutes and taken it away. What we did find was hyena spore.

So, it took three plus days for a hyena to find the kudu. And never any vultures, I have never seen any vultures in this part of Xonghile. There are more trees around here and I suspect that the vultures like more open areas where they can see the ground better. I also suspect that, as the game populations of Xonghile grow, the scavenger populations will also grow such that, if any thing like this ever happens again, it will not take three days for a scavenger to locate the body of a dead animal.

The Lady from Niger

I know this is off-topic, but the relationship of the Republican party to the Tea Party more and more reminds me of an old limerick.

There once was a lady from Niger
Who rode out on the back of a tiger
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside
And a smile on the face of the tiger.

Another Intruder

A week after the male kudu got into my compound I had another intruder.  About 7:30 in the evening I heard the sound of something hitting the fence.  I got up and went outside with a hand-held spotlight and, although I could hear something moving around the inside of the fence, I couldn’t get the spotlight on it.  So, I went back inside assuming that it was another male kudu.  This time, however, I have a good idea why he jumped the fence since a minute or two later I heard hyenas nearby.  I later went to bed thinking he would jump the fence to get out.

When I got up the next morning, however, I discovered that I had been only partially correct.  It was a kudu alright, but a female kudu, and she was still inside the compound.

Now you might think it was neat to have a beautiful animal like a kudu Well, not really, because when she spotted me she panicked and started running around the inside of the fence and head-butting it occasionally to try to get out. I walked over to my vehicle gate and opened it so she could escape, but, unfortunately, I opened it to the inside as I always do. When she got to the gate she veered around it, right past the opening, and head-butted the fence right next to the gate post and then kept going around the inside of the fence (nobody ever said that kudu were the brightest of animals). She kept going until she was almost back to where she had jumped the fence to get in.* At that point she got tangled up in the fence. After struggling for a while she simply quit trying, laid down on her stomach and sat there.**

At that point I took advantage of her calmness and got in my vehicle and drove over to Xonghile headquarters and told Andre DuPont about the situation. He followed me back to my compound and started to try to herd her out of a gate. When she saw us she got up and ran along the fence and straight out a pedestrian gate I had opened.

She had scratched her head a bit when head-butting the fence, but Andre said that since the weather was cool and there weren’t many flies around she probably would be all right. If the weather had been hotter, flies would have gotten into the scratch wounds and she might have gotten an infection.

Three things about this incident. One, I now know what to do if something like this happens again.  Open all the gates. Grab some cokes and my workers. Drive down the road a couple of hundred meters and sit there, drinking the cokes, until the animal wanders around and finds an open gate.

Two, I have had three animals run into my fence, an elephant, a male kudu, and a female kudu.  The smallest of those animals, the female kudu, did more damage than the other two combined. I mentioned that she head-butted the fence right next to the gate post, well, she hit the fence hard enough that she knocked the gate post part way over, even though it was in a concrete footer. She may have been the smallest of the animals, but she still weighed about two hundred kilograms and that much weight banging into the fence repeatedly will do a lot of damage.

Three, that fence had been there about five years without any animal damaging it. Then, in about two months, an elephant and the two kudus.

By the way, you notice there are no pictures. I had other things on my mind other than running inside to get a camera.

* I know where she jumped the fence to get in because I found a section of the fence where the top was scrunched down a bit and there were a few hairs caught in it a just a drop of blood. She had barely cleared the fence enough to get it, which is probably why she didn’t even try to jump it to get out.

** This is a behavior I have seen in other animals, which I will comment on in a future post. They will be panicking or struggling and suddenly calm down and go completely passive.

LiveJournal Tags: wildlife,fence


I once had a white South African working in Mozambique tell me that he didn’t like to have his black workers ride in his car with him because they smelled.  Well, he was right that they smelled.  After all, if you were living on three dollars a day, how much would you spend on toiletries?

On the other hand, I provide my workers with a shower, hot water, soap, and towels.  I also let them use my

washing machine and provide detergent.  Every day after work they shower, and they periodically wash their clothes, and guess what?  They don’t smell.  It really isn’t all that complicated.

LiveJournal Tags: workers,SAW

An Intruder

I had an intruder in my compound very early on a Sunday morning a while back.  But, this being a game park, it wasn’t what you might expect.

I was awakened at about two in the morning by the sound of something hitting the fence.  I laid there for a minute or two, but didn't hear anything more, so I went back to sleep.   A while later I awoke again, this time to the sound of my cats on top of my tent.  They were moving around a lot and seemed to be agitated.  So I got up, got dressed, muttered something to the cats to settle them down, as if they would pay any attention to me, and went outside.

Nothing.  I didn’t see anything.  I didn’t hear anything.  So, after a minute or two, I went back inside and went back to bed.

The next morning I was standing on the deck looking around when I noticed that part of my fence looked a little torn up.  I went over, and, when I looked down the fence line, I noticed that the fence was torn up at a different place.  I also noticed some spore, actually, a lot of spore.

So here’s what I think happened.  The two o’clock in the morning sound was that of a male kudu running into the fence, getting his horns tangled up in the fence, and tearing the fence up in the process of getting them untangled.  He then jumped the fence.  Now you have to understand that I’m talking about an animal which weighs 350 to 400 kilos jumping a six foot fence from a standing position.  An impressive feat.  Anyway, judging by the amount of spore I found, he then wandered around my compound for fifteen to twenty minutes until he came within about 12 meters of my tent.  That is when my cats noticed and got agitated.  I got up and either the sound of me moving around inside the tent or the fact that I said something to the cats spooked the kudu.  He then ran away, ran into the fence again, got his horns tangled up in the fence, and tore up the fence again in the process of getting them untangled.  He then jumped the fence again from a standing position and ran away.

I was told and had read that a kudu could jump a six foot fence, I now have definitive proof of that.

LiveJournal Tags: wildlife,kudu

Interesting Night #3

Towards the very end of the dry season, which was very dry this year, all of the waterholes along a road five kilometers north of me dried out. As a result, there were some elephants coming to my water trough which I had never seen before. This included a group of eight bulls which came to the water trough from the north. When I walked to the front of the deck to get a better look, they got spooked and ran away. That was a strange feeling to have eight bull elephants, any one of which could stomp me into the ground, run away from me.

Later that night I was in my tent, surfing the web, when I heard an elephant bellow. That is something I don't hear very often, so I went outside, but it was too dark to see anything, and all I could hear was elephants drinking. So, I went back inside and didn't think anything more about it.

The next morning I was standing on the deck, looking towards the water trough, when I noticed that the fence to the left of the trough looked a little funny. When I walked down to the fence this is what I saw.

Two of the y-standards(those vertical black parts of the fence) were bent back at about a fifteen degree angle and some of the vertical strands of the fencing material were torn loose. When I looked a little closer this is what I saw.

That's the spore of the left front foot of an elephant.

And that's the spore of the right front foot.

Note that the left front foot came down just outside the fence, but that the right front foot came down just inside the fence. Now, how did he get his foot inside the fence? Ask yourself this, if his left foot was just outside the fence, where were his head and tusks?

My mental recreation of what happened is as follows:

He first hit the fence with his head. As he continued forward his head pushed back the y-standards to about a 45 degree angle. His left foot came down just outside the fence. His right foot hit the bottom of the fence and slid the fencing material up the y-standards enough for his right foot to come down inside the fence. By that time he had been jolted by the electrics on the fence and was turning around to leave. As he swung his head to the side as he turned, his tusks tore loose six of the vertical strands of the fencing material. When he cleared the fence the y-standards straightened most of the way back up and the fencing material slid back down the y-standards.

As I said in a previous post, maintenance problems around here can be a little different than what I was used to.

This incident did teach me something. I have a very good fence which is capable of stopping a bull elephant running at almost full speed and turning him around. It's somewhat expensive fencing, but it was worth every penny.

Christmas Eve in the Bush

I had a very nice, if a bit unusual Christmas eve. The people at plot 10 were very kind and invited me over for Christmas eve dinner. When I got there, they had set out a table and chairs in the open. So we had Christmas eve dinner under the stars. Try to do that in Illinois or Virginia, especially this year.

But this is a game park, and on the way over I had just gone around a curve in the road when I saw an elephant in the road, only about 50 meters away and walking towards me. I stopped immediately and put it in reverse, but just as I started to back up, the elephant turned off the road and headed north into the bush. I stopped again and sat there laughing, because I didn't know who was more surprised and startled by the encounter, the elephant or me.

Another Interesting Night

About ten days after the night mentioned in my previous post, I had another interesting night. It started in a similar manner in that, just after I had gone to bed, I heard a rustling noise, and, just as I turned over the spotlight turned on which enable me to watch an elephant come out of the bush from the North, and cross my entrance road to a silver-cluster leaf tree right at the bend in the road. There he proceeded to tear four or five branches off the tree and drop them in the middle of the road.

He then moved about twenty meters to the South, where I could just barely see him, and pushed over both trunks of another silver-cluster leaf tree. I could hear a nice sharp crack as he broke off each trunk.

He then moved again, this time about fifty meters to the South, and completely out of my sight. But I could still hear him as he pushed over yet another silver-cluster leaf, this time a larger one, right cross my entrance road.

He then evidently thought he had done enough damage for one night and moved off.

Note that all three trees he damaged were silver-cluster leaf. On that side of my compound elephants have pushed over a total of twenty-six trees, all silver-cluster leaf. That's pretty much of a trash tree. None of the wildlife likes to browse on it. It grows fast and would fill in the bush, if it weren't for the elephants and bush fires which kill off silver-cluster leaf more readily than most of the other trees. But, it is a hardwood and makes a good firewood. So the elephants have been doing me a favor, I now have about a two year supply of firewood stacked up. And one other thing. The first tree, the one that the elephant ripped some branches off of? It actually looks better now. It certainly wasn't his intention, but the elephant actually did a reasonably good job of pruning it for me.

An Interesting Night

A while back, just after I had gotten in bed, I heard a growl which was different from anything else I had heard here. I sat up in bed to see if I could tell where it was coming from and, a few seconds later, I heard it again, coming from the vicinity of my gate. Just as I was turning over to look in that direction, the floodlight turned on. I looked out the window, but I couldn't see anything, so, after a while I laid back down and went to sleep.

The next morning I went out the gate and looked around. What I found was leopard spore. A leopard had walked up my entrance road. But where the road makes a ninety degree bend to the left towards my gate, the leopard just kept walking to the north. This put him just enough in the open to trip the motion detector before he continued on into the bush.

A few hours later that night I heard an elephant bellow. This is not an uncommon sound for me to hear. When the elephants come to my water trough it can get a little crowded and frequently one of them gets a little grumpy and bellows at another one and chases him away from the trough. I have become accustomed to this and simply rolled over and went back to sleep.

About an hour before I usually get up, about the time it was first starting to get light outside, I heard a lion roar out in the pan. He didn't sound really close, so, again, I didn't get up to take a look, but, again, simply went back to sleep.

So, that night I heard three of the big five. I heard a leopard growl, an elephant bellow, and a lion roar, but I didn't see any of them.


Africans are famous for their walking. With the high poverty rate, only a small percentage of them can afford a car, and for many of them even the taxis are too expensive, so they walk.

This is a story about walking told to me by Paul DuPont.

It seems that while Paul was driving the south route out of Xonghile one day he met a elderly black man herding some cattle heading North. Paul stopped to talk to him and, at some point, asked him where he was going. The man said that he was heading to Massinger, about 30 kilometers to the north. Paul told him that that was a long walk. The man then responded “No, it’s not far. It’s only a day. If it were more than a day, then it would be a long walk, but it’s only a day”