Ruaha’s Spotted All-Stars

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By Pietro Luraschi

Quintessential beauty, unforgettable elegance, striking power, heavenly grace and a perfect balance of many qualities: these are the words that come to my mind every time I see a leopard.

Every leopard has its own way and its own character: some are shy, allowing you just a glimpse of them, some are confident in trees but disappear as soon as they climb down, some climb rocks, others prefer trees, and others again do not like much climbing and prefer the undergrowth. There are leopards absolutely relaxed with cars around, then there the one-car-leopards that vanish the moment a second car approaches. Lastly there are the leopards that we never see because they are way too wary of humans – all we find are sets of tracks here and there, but no other sign of them.

As guides of Kwihala Camp we know of a good number of leopards around us, not less than fifteen individuals, but if I have to do the maths, there are probably five of them that count for the 80% of the sightings – our five ‘Spotted All-Stars’.

Furaha

Furaha, which means ‘joy’ in Swahili, is 4 years old, and at time of writing is probably busy with a litter of cubs that she has not yet revealed to the world.

We have known her since she was 4 months old. Festo and I were driving guests in the Sokwe Forest when we spotted a shy female up a rain tree no more then 8 metres from the road, and by her side, a small furry cub as shy as her mother.

Their impala kill tucked up on a branch kept them there for four days, and then one night the mother went down, killed another ewe and brought it up the same tree where for another four days the leopards enjoyed their meal. That gave little Furaha the time to slowly overcome her fear of vehicles and has made her a real joy for us since. She is a great fan of sausage trees, which are by far her favourite trees to rest in. She does not use trees much when there is good cover on the ground, but she climbs more and more as the dry season advances.

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Onca

Onca gets his name from the scientific name for the jaguar, as his pattern and shape of rosettes very similar to that of the South American cat. He is three and an half, and we have known him since he was one year old, when he had just left his mother. We found him around Kimilamatonge Hill, which became the centre for most of his activity. He is a very relaxed cat of predictable habits, where he loves the roads, using them to move along the hill to access the best rocks where Hyraxes live. Recently he started killing bigger prey but still stays around the hill where he can count on hundreds of bush hyraxes for easy meals. He has a real love for the mid rainy season, where he likes to sit on granite boulders in the late afternoon when the temperature drops, his elegant body wrapped around the rocks.

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Bandido

Bandido is an old pirate, one ear just a stump, his gums covering the lower incisors, and has a massive body full of scars. He often walks through the camp at night, and he is not afraid of humans: he just keeps a safe distance and does not run away at full speed when we cross his path. Completely at ease when he is up a tree, he does not like to follow roads when he is on the ground, usually moving steadily into thicker areas of undergrowth.

An old boy, definitely in his prime, he is one of the princes of the Mwagusi Valley, roaming all the area from Mbagi almost to White Rocks, more or less ten kilometres as the crow flies. He is not the only huge male around, as strangely his range overlaps with that of a very shy, blue-eyed male we call Ghost. Last year we saw him with a female between Lorenzo’s and my tent, and keeping just out of view, he mated with her all night, keeping us and half the camp awake!

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BRM and BRF

BRM and BRF are two siblings named Black Rocks Male and Black Rocks Female. I know the names lack imagination, but refer to the area where they live. Black Rocks is a basalt ridge surfacing along the Mwagusi River, a good place for hunting hyraxes, one of the favourite prey species of young leopards not confident enough to target bigger mammals. They are probably three years old. When we started seeing them they were around eighteen months old, together with their mother, who was extremely shy. She always moved away from us but the cubs would often stay, curious of cars and people.
At one of the first sightings we had of them, the three leopards were cornered by a pride of lions, perched high up in two huge baobabs! Over time, BRF has become very, very confident, and she is completely unfazed by vehicles even when she is on the ground. BRM loves baobab trees and in recent times has started killing impalas and dragging them up there, but when he is on the ground he likes to keep his distance.

They have left their mother to get on with their solitary lives, but sometimes when they meet, BRM always approaches BRF with a friendly manner, and she always tells him off with snarls and growls. This year we found them in a baobab with a third leopard, a male of the same age (BRM2) that seems to have a strong bond with them. He may be a cub of the same litter that left the mother before the other two, and before we started seeing them.

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Sightings of these “Spotted All-Stars” are often the highlight of visitors’ experiences here in Ruaha, with their effortless combination of fierce grace and power, and they certainly are among my favourite animals to photograph.

Pietro

Visit the Kwihala Camp website to find out more about the camp and Ruaha National Park. To come and stay, contact your trusted tour operator or enquire here.

A leopard or an expat jaguar?

By Pietro Luraschi

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Rosettes are rosettes, but jaguars have very different pattern and shape of rosettes compared to a leopard. On a jaguar, they are large and geometrical, especially on the back, compared to a leopards tighter and more compact formations.

There is a young male leopard that lives on the slopes of Kimilamatonge Hill, where hyraxes are his favoured prey. He is three years old and has a striking pattern of rosettes, a pattern that makes him look so similar to a jaguar that we decided to call him Onca, from the scientific name of the jaguar, Panthera onca.

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When you look at him you may think you are in the wrong continent, or that he is an expat jaguar that left South America to reach Tanzania!

Hyraxes are relatively easy prey, which is why in Ruaha National Park young leopards are often spotted around kopjes and granite formations where the hyraxes thrive.

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For the last two years, we always found Onca around the east side of the hill, always hunting bush hyraxes with different techniques: ambushing them in the grass, running them up Pepper Seed trees, and stalking them amongst the rocks.

The alarm calls of the hyraxes often helped us as guides to find him, his large rosettes moving through the peterodendron, his paws leaving an easy-to-follow trail on the road. He is a wonderful animal, relaxed and tolerant of our vehicles, but wild and fierce.

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For the first time this year Onca killed a bigger prey species – an impala ram. This is a milestone for him: something that in the future will probably change his behaviour, moving him farther away from the safety of the hyrax hunting grounds towards more challenging but more rewarding prey.

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We have been blessed to observe his unmatched beauty over the last two years, and hopefully the changes in his life will continue to allow us to enjoy his unbelievable jaguar-like pattern as he roams farther afield.

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A life in the wilds – Sue Stolberger.

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Sue Stolberger is Ruaha’s “artist in residence” and has lived in the park for many years. She is the author of “Ruaha National Park, An Intimate View”, one of the definitive field guides to the region, as well as “The Ruaha Sketch Book”. Here we discover her remarkable story.

Sue was born in Jamaica, but when she was four years old, her parents moved to Tanzania. She grew up enjoying the pristine beaches north of Dar es Salaam, and often travelled with her parents to Tanzania’s wonderful game parks during the holidays. These trips into the wilderness were without doubt a great influence on Sue’s desire to make a career from art and wildlife.

Sue began painting seriously after leaving school, and at the age of eighteen she held her first exhibition in Nairobi, Kenya. By the time she was 22, she had decided she wanted to make a career as a wildlife artist, and so took herself off to Italy to learn what she could from the great masters. She remained there for two years, and the knowledge and experience she gained in Italy only served to fuel her dream.

Funding everything by selling her paintings, she finally returned to East Africa where her adventures in the bush – paintbrushes in hand – began. Alone in her jeep, she ventured into the wildest of places – places she thought would be interesting – continuing to develop her artistic skills by sketching and painting from life. The more remote and inaccessible the places were, the more she enjoyed it. Her quest for adventure and her wonderful experiences in the African bush coupled with her desire to paint, has created a life of fulfilment and delight.

Sue always works exclusively in the field. Over the past nineteen years she has lived and worked in National Parks in Tanzania and Kenya, worked from her mobile camp that could be set up anywhere, sleeping under the stars with just a net for protection, and working under a fly-sheet to keep the sun off. She spent two years painting scenes of the nomadic Somalis and their camels in northeastern Kenya. This was dangerous country where bandits roamed, but she never encountered any trouble. Another project saw her living alongside the Maasai, developing collections of paintings for exhibition. She spent four years captivated by the scenery and wildlife in Tsavo West National Park with fabulous views of the magnificent Mt. Kilimanjaro. Two more years were spent in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. In 1992, she drove solo from East Africa to Namibia and back—an arduous journey that took over six months to complete. On all of her peregrinations, Sue recorded the local scenery, wildlife and people with her paintings.

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For the past eleven years, Sue has been living and working in the Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania, a place she remembers well from her childhood. Her studio is a camp on the banks of the Great Ruaha River. She finds the peace and solitude of the remote area not only conducive to painting but the best way to learn and observe from the vast array of wildlife that surrounds her home. She sketches prolifically, and never ceases to be inspired and enthralled by the diversity of light, colour, patterns and designs that nature conjures up.

“My motivation is to direct the viewer’s attention to the fascinating design and beauty surrounding us in the natural world. The patterns and combinations of colours used in display and camouflage are all so perfect in their detail. I like to focus on a subject to highlight its design, which can be almost abstracted from its form and yet still be part of its environment.”

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In a recent article by Africa Geographic, Sue Has this to say about her life in the wilds:

“It is very hard to capture the true essence of life in Ruaha in words or paint. I am merely a silent observer of a tiny, tiny portion of what goes on, and has gone on, for centuries.

I distinctly remember when I was 12; I was on a game drive and I vowed that when I grew up, I would make my life in the bush and the best thing ever would be to live in Ruaha. In 1994, when I was 34, I found myself driving back to Ruaha. I was excited and curious to see how I would find it. It did not disappoint. Ruaha has been untouched since the beginning of time. It is quite honestly one of the finest wilderness areas on earth. That’s why I stayed and I have remained here for the past 11 years.

You asked what the challenges are but I am so used to living remotely that I don’t find it challenging at all, to me it is ‘normal life.’ I suppose it does require you to be pretty organized, such as when you go on a shopping trip every six weeks. You do have to eat fresh stuff in a sequence of what goes off first and then what keeps last – cabbage and squash keeps for a long time, but soft fruit does not.

People often ask me what I do if I am sick. Most of the time it is nothing serious I just spend a few days being quiet. However, on a couple of occasions I have had to be flown out with a doctor, but it all worked out. The main thing is to be organized, and know your mental and physical limitations.

On a typical day I am a very early riser, so I potter about in my pyjamas, before the sun is up, taking in the sounds. I fill up the water baths for the birds and put out a bit of seed for them. My partner and fellow artist, Rob Glen, and I have separate camps, so at about 7.30 he comes over for breakfast: fruit, porridge, toast, tea and coffee. We sit on my veranda for all meals, often joined by birds and small beasts, like squirrels during the day and genets at night. We are usually in our respective studios or out sketching by 8.30am.

In the evening I heat up water on the stove in a kettle for a shower, which is the old style bucket shower, hauled up on a pulley. We eat around 7.30pm by candle light with the stars and moon shining above. Even simple things like going down to the river each day to collect water turn out to be a magical moment for inspiration: colour on the water, a fish eagle or a dragon fly landing on a rock.

What has always fascinated me is how nature comes up with the most marvellous combinations of colour. It is these combinations of colour and design that spark many of my pictures. I have always loved painting birds; their patterns and colours are superb.

When I see something that grabs my attention, be it a sky, an animal, a person or just a combination of colours that I find interesting, I will sketch this in a journal with watercolour and keep it for future reference. Or I may be researching an animal or bird with a definite purpose, in which case I will pay particular attention to all the colours and details and spend a week or more making notes and sketches.

I paint because it is what I love to do. I paint what inspires me or challenges me. It is very hard to catch that same spontaneous ‘inspiration’ from someone else’s idea. In the few commissions I have done I am constantly wondering: ‘is this what they had in mind?’ I concluded that it would be unwise to accept commissions as, although one might be tempted to follow this route as it brings in money, in the end it will be detrimental to one’s standard of work and one’s own inspiration. I can afford not to be controlled by fear of not having enough money because I know tomorrow will take care of itself.

I have several things that are firing me up at the moment: I am working on a ‘coffee table’ type book that will be filled with paintings of the Miombo woodlands, a pristine yet underappreciated area of Ruaha. In addition to that, I am looking to create a flower and tree guide on the plants of Miombo.

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I am in the process of compiling all the countless, little stories of my encounters and observations of the wonderful wildlife using photographs and sketches. And I have many oil paintings that are simmering away in my head waiting for the right moment to appear on canvas. These will be done in a random fashion in between all the other projects.

Here in Ruaha a road network is yet to be developed, so huge areas remain unscathed by humans; there is a tangible atmosphere of peace and tranquillity here. When I am alone in camp, I spend every waking moment sketching and painting, and with it being so quiet the animals come in very close – I feel like I might melt into the landscape, as somehow they seem to accept me as part of the scene.”

To see more of Sue’s work, visit her website here

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Life in the Field- update from the Ruaha Carnivore Project.

By Amy Dickman, Director, Ruaha Carnivore Project

Amy Dickman and the Ruaha Carnivore Project were recently voted into the top 3 finalists at the Tusk Conservation Awards for their innovative approach to big cat conservation, an achievement they have every right to be extremely proud of after all the hard work that has gone into the project. To see the highlights of this year’s awards, click here.

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Dangers of life in the bush – carnivore mortalities

Part of RCP’s research is to investigate carnivore mortalities, whether they are caused naturally or by humans. Recently, lodge drivers and guests in Ruaha National Park were lucky enough to witness a pride of lions hunting buffaloes, which are an important prey species in this area. However, they are extremely large and dangerous, and during the hunt, the buffaloes charged and gored two young lions, with fatal results. This is one of the risks of hunting such large prey – but if successful, buffalo hunts provide rich rewards for the entire pride, as a single animal can weigh up to 900kg and would feed the pride for several days.

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One of the sub-adult lions killed during the buffalo hunt

Later on in the month, a dead lioness was found on village land near a pond that is frequented by people and livestock. From signs on the carcass, it seems like the lioness was snared, and the head was found apart from the body. The team thought that poachers had cut off the head to get back their snare, as metal snare wire can be hard to get out in the bush so is ‘recycled’ from kills like this one. Most snares are put out to catch antelope like kudu or impala for bushmeat hunting, but predators and other species are often killed in them too. Poaching for bushmeat is a major problem across Africa, especially in very poor communities where meat is a rare and valuable commodity, so improving local livelihoods is a fundamentally important element of long-term conservation.

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RCP assistants Mgogo and Justin examining the carcass and taking measurements

Conflict mitigation – reducing attacks

In addition to accidental snaring for bushmeat, local people often intentionally kill large carnivores, mainly because of attacks on their stock. Such attacks can have devastating effects on local households, as livestock is a vital source of both economic wealth and social status. RCP staff members respond as quickly as possible to any reported attacks in the local area so that we can better understand how they occur, and therefore how they can be best prevented in the future. This month, staff investigated several attacks, including one where spotted hyaenas killed one goat and injured another. The goats had become lost in the bush, where they are easy prey for opportunistic carnivores, so improving herder vigilance and livestock husbandry in the bush is a top priority for reducing attacks, and therefore retaliatory carnivore killings.

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Spotted hyaenas killed one goat and injured another after they were lost in the bush 

Livestock guarding dogs

One method that has proven effective at reducing bush attacks from carnivores is by employing specialised livestock guarding dogs, such as Anatolian Shepherds. RCP is conducting the first trial of these dogs in East Africa, and so far they are doing well. The largest of our dogs, Shujaa, has moved with his herd of goats and cattle to a temporary camp a few kilometers away from his home in Tungamalenga village. Food for livestock becomes more and more scarce towards the end of the dry season and new grazing areas have to be found. As usual we visit him three times per week to ensure he is being taken good care of in this new environment, since this is a physically demanding time for the dogs due to the extended walks with the goats through the bush.

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Shujaa eating his evening meal at his temporary camp

One important part of the regular dog checks is weighing them, but this is becoming harder every week for the team! Thankfully the dogs are very used to it and are cooperative, which is useful as they are now getting very large!

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RCP staff members Msago and Mgogo weighing a cooperative Hodari, who tipped the scales at an impressive 41kg!

Another important part of the health programme for these dogs is their vaccinations, with disease like rabies a particular concern as it is a serious threat to both animals and humans. This month, we vaccinated all the livestock guarding dogs as well as village dogs, in order to reduce the risk for the dogs, large carnivores (who can be infected by village dogs), and local communities.

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One of the Anatolians receiving a rabies vaccination from the local vet

Kitisi clinic provided with medicine due to help from RCP

In order for people to really want carnivores around, it is not enough just to reduce attacks – they have to see important benefits from their presence, which outweigh any remaining costs. Villagers voted that healthcare was one of their most-desired benefits from carnivore presence, so RCP has been working with officials and the local community to equip a healthcare clinic in Kitisi. Thanks to this partnership, the clinic now has its own full-time doctor and nurse, which is very important in this remote area. Recently, the Kitisi clinic was officially registered as a government institution, meaning that it should be able to receive medicines from the government in the future. So far, RCP has been providing medicines and equipment, and this month we provided another three months worth of medicine. To date 1315 patients have been treated at the Kitisi clinic, providing an invaluable benefit for local people.

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Dr Samuel Dally and the new Kitisi clinic nurse working with some of the medicines purchased with the help of RCP

Lion Guardian literacy days – lessons under the tree

 Another important benefit from RCP’s presence in the local area is the Ruaha Lion Guardians programme, which was developed in partnership with the Kenya Lion Guardians programme and Panthera. This initiative employs and trains young men in conservation-related activities, and enables them to fulfil important roles in the community. Several months ago the Ruaha Lion Guardians established the very popular ‘’Literacy Days’’ as a free education opportunity both for the Guardians and for other pastoralists. Besides the educational aspect, the literacy days help to increase the status of the Guardians and demonstrate additional value of working in conservation.

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The Barabaig Guardians studying hard under a tree by camp

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George (second from left) teaching English spelling and pronounciation, and teaching animal names in English

Lion Guardian park trips

We had good trips to the park this month with all the Lion Guardians. Our two newest recruits had never been to the park before, so this was the first time that they were able to see lions, elephants and other game so relaxed and at such close proximity. Previously, these new Guardians had only seen lions and elephants briefly on village land, where the scared animals ran away from them, so this was a great opportunity to really watch wildlife and learn about them in close quarters. Very excitingly, we also finally caught up with the resident pack of endangered African wild dogs that some of the Guardians regularly see while out patrolling their zones.

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The local pack of African wild dogs that are thriving in our area © Sean McEnery

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Lions reproducing! Good news for the lion population in Ruaha © Sean McEnery

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Lions displaying their more tender and affectionate side © Sean McEnery

The Guardians in Zones A and B have seen tracks of two mature lions and three sub-adults on many occasions recently. We are hopeful that we may have resident lions in the wilder areas to the north of the villages. Our hope is that these lions will stay around peacefully and continue to avoid killing livestock.

Three of the Guardians have had big community gatherings at their homes this month, where all the young people in the area and the many of the elders assembled for story-telling and cultural “games” that include the famous jumping dances. The reason behind these is in an effort to build even closer relations among the Guardians and the communities in which they work. The hope is that, as a result of the close bonds that develop at these gatherings, the Guardians will start to hear about any lion hunts and lion activity in their areas much earlier and with greater reliability. The idea has seemed to have been successful at this early stage, both the community members and Guardians have responded positively, enjoyed themselves and made new allies.

Visitors to RCP

RCP is lucky enough to receive support from various organisations, such as National Geographic and the safari company Asilia Africa. This month, Erik from Asilia’s marketing department visited RCP to learn more about the project, and generously offered to help us develop marketing materials. In addition, Allison Parrish from Global Adrenaline (a company which works with National Geographic) visited RCP and learned all about our work, so they can better explain to visitors the kind of conservation activities being undertaken in the Ruaha landscape.

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Erik and Amanda learning about the guarding dog programme and other RCP activities

 

Small beginnings

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By Marius Swart, Kwihala Guide

It’s the end of the dry season and conditions demand every last bit of everyone’s evolutionary armour to survive. The elephants are focussing their efforts on stripping the cambium layer from trees which are desperate for the rains, impala are now switching to mostly browse as grasses are desiccated and nutrition-less, clouds are building everyday making promises they do not keep and the heat is oppressive…it is a fairly inhospitable environ right now. Despite the prevailing conditions and completely illogically there are however signs of hope! In so many ways the magic of Nature reveals itself when it seems at its most futile. The first newborn impala lambs are greeting the world at its harshest. This one was hiding in mom’s shadow as the sun was beating down particularly fiercely.

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The Mdonya Juu pride also sport four new cubs, two are about 5 and the latest additions only 2 months old! We managed to catch up to them due to the fact that they brought down a giraffe cow and her young calf!

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The rocky area in the Mdonya River provides a great hiding place for the cubs not to mention playground! Late afternoon when the heat had broken a bit we were treated to a few intimate moments. These glimpses of dearness resonates with our own psyches and one cannot resist but feel a sense of deep connectedness…

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Of course elephants have their young throughout the year but it was specifically poignant to encounter this calf. I only managed to capture this image when he was already a week old. Festo got to see him on day one!

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As is usual for this time of the season, the wells are being dug to access subterranean flows. The changing topography of the river courses with every flood, translates into a seasonal variability in the spots where water is available. This season is no exception and places frequented last year are now vacant and new ones discovered. At this well the water was more than 1m below the surface and the little calf emulating mom had to kneel down and eventually lay down flat to stick his trunk in as deep as possible…not quite knowing why. Instead he reluctantly gave up and started suckling. It is not only in the mammalian world where new life is flourishing in these times. Trees have the ability to store reserves in the rootstock and cambium, which grasses can’t. Pre-empting the start of the rains the woody plants burst into leaf and draw on their stored resources in order to get their blossoms and leaves out to capitalise on the increasing daylight hours and be “ahead of the pack” when pollinator insects abound. The baby Tamarind foliage starts off bright red and gradually transform to a light green and eventually a darker hue as they mature. Often magic surrounds us in so many guises but it requires an open eye and mind to recognise and appreciate it.

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Yours in awareness

Marius

By

Ruaha – Land of Giants

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By Ryan Green

On my first ever visit to Kwihala Camp in Ruaha National Park I had an inkling of what to expect after reading the reports from people who live and work in Ruaha and watching Owen Prumm’s amazing film about the lion and buffalo conflicts that occur at the end of the dry season (watch the preview here). I had three days to see as much of it as time allowed and was thrilled to come across so many incredible vistas and encounters with wildlife.

I wanted to photograph Ruaha’s vast and rugged landscape and its inhabitants the best way I could, but I understand the limits of being a visitor for a short time and expectations being set too high on what you hope to achieve.

So loaded with cameras and gear, I stepped off the plane into the searing heat of Msembe airstrip, where the dry air of late October made shimmering mirages over the landscape. This is the best time for game viewing. Animals congregate close to the dwindling sources of water in the Great Ruaha, Mwagusi and Madonya Rivers. The uncomfortable heat is a trade off with the excellent wildlife viewing you can expect in this iconic park.

With only a fraction of the park’s 20,000-odd square kilometres being utilised for game drives, I still only saw very few other vehicles while out on safari, comparable to being in a private concession elsewhere. I really enjoyed the company of the guides, Pietro, Festo, Lorenzo and Marius, and each of them has a passion for the wilderness and the magic of Ruaha that is obvious to all who encounter them. Sandy is an excellent and efficient manager, as well as a genial hostess.

The images below capture magical days of a truly unique and special place that will stay with me for a long time.

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The river may appear dry, but the elephants know that there is water just below the surface. They dig down to it, and then slurp away. After the elephants leave, other animals are then able to use these holes to access the water.

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Giraffe, zebra and baboons utilising the water holes dug by elephants on the

Madonya Sand River.

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Ruaha sunset, featuring a trio of the park’s iconic trees: Acacia Tortilis, Hyphenae Petersiana Palms,and the ubiquitous Baobab.

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Ruaha is known for its Baobabs, but I had no idea there were so many. I think I saw more of these incredible trees in one day than I have ever seen before. They spend 8-9 months of the year completely bare and then at the end of the dry season put out large white flowers that bloom at night, and only last a day. At the same time, they begin to produce leaves that will eventually grow into a thick canopy.

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Some trees just budding out with leaves, the others still bare.

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A male lion rests in the shadow of the branches above.

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We came across a large herd of buffalo resting in the shade of a grove of Tortilis trees.

Close by, a pride of lions dozed below a Rain Tree, keeping a wary eye on the herd.

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A little further on, we found these four females and a cub, resting off

what must have been a big meal.

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Ruaha has one of Africa’s largest concentrations of lions. This male wears the scars of a recent

territorial battle with another male.

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Another pride lies in wait for the unwary, scanning the white-hot glare of the dry riverbed.

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A large and colourful Agama Lizard

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A baboon feeding on the fruit of a Sausage Tree (Kigelia Africana).

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Monochrome zebras.

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Bat-Eared Foxes are normally very shy so it was a real treat to discover a den close to camp with very relaxed adults and puppies. The three puppies played outside of the den in the cooler temperatures of predawn or evening.

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The pups venturing out from their den.

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A tiny Dik-Dik antelope.

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A magnificent herd of Eland, the largest of the antelopes, with an

endless Ruaha vista behind them.

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A male Black-Faced Sandgrouse guards his cryptically coloured chick.

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A baboon mother and baby basking in the early morning sun.

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Giants of Ruaha : the park has Tanzania’s largest population of elephants,

estimated at 15 000 animals.

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Baobabs have the ability to heal and grow over the scars created by elephants.

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The landscape just seems to go on forever…

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And changes dramatically from place to place.

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On my last night, I saw Furaha (Joy in KiSwahili), a female leopard with her kill in a tree.

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This is a land of giants, and of a scale so great that one visit will never do it justice.

Impressions of Ruaha National Park

By Judith Rosink, Asilia Sales Manager, East Africa.

Judith recently had a whirlwind tour of the Asilia camps in Tanzania, and here she shares her impressions of a day at Kwihala Camp in Ruaha National Park with us.

This was going to be my first time to visit this National Park — I had read a lot about it and had been told that it would be very remote and completely different to the parks in the so-called Northern Circuit of Tanzania. We were only three passengers in the plane; a Dutch lady with her daughter were my travel companions and coincidentally, they too, were going to spend a few nights at Kwihala Camp. Upon our arrival at Msembe, we were warmly welcomed by our guide who offered us cold drinks while he arranged our park fees. The drive from the airstrip to the camp was 17 km, and since we had been delayed by an hour we had to go straight to camp. The landscape on the way was stunning- changing every five minutes from open plains to areas full of wild date palms, to beautiful woodlands.

When we arrived, Michelle the relief manager was awaiting us with a snack platter lunch, and while the two other ladies prepared themselves for their afternoon game drive I took some time to investigate the camp.

At around 19h30 we were all invited to have a drink at the “bush television” fireplace, where the most delicious snacks were offered. Pietro the guide insisted for the whole group to have dinner below the stars, so a large dining table was set up outside. Dinner was served by candlelight, and the meal was absolutely mouthwatering!

Afterwards I went to my tent for a good night’s sleep – I did not close the curtains because I really enjoy experiencing bush life and woke up to every single sound I heard to see what was surrounding me. Something small was scratching my canvas almost the whole night. I could not see what it was, but I suspected it would be a gecko. The next morning I had to wake up very early to go on a game drive with Pietro and the two other Dutch guests. After only ten minutes of driving, (it was still dark and we were using a flashlight), something large came out of the woodland – it was a very relaxed mature leopard who was obviously on his way to hunt. We tried to follow him but after 30 minutes we lost his tracks. It was too dark to take pictures but the memory will always remain with me.

We continued on our way, and witnessed the most amazing sunrise. Half an hour later we saw a group of young male lions courting a lioness. Unfortunately our game watch was brutally disturbed by some other tourists being noisy so we had to leave. It was our luck that after ten minutes we spotted another male lion, and he was not alone – in fact he was very much in love, courting a lioness! We followed them, as when they are mating, the act will usually occur every few minutes, and go on for days.

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Afterwards, both of them were drinking water at a waterhole when the lioness decided to walk away. Suddenly we heard the roaring of another male lion close by. The first male did not hesitate a second and started running towards the sound. We followed, and found the two males fighting. Being in the same territory, these two males would have known each other, most possibly being members of the same coalition. In such a case, the two lions would have established a hierarchy of dominance long before, and the fight was merely to reassert this claim, and wouldn’t result in serious injury on either side. Had the battle been for territory, the outcome would have been far more violent, possibly even fatal.

The first male won the battle, and then he continued his courtship of the lioness.

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Since we had left camp without breakfast, Pietro found us a beautiful spot close to a riverbank, with elephants walking around us. We had a late breakfast laid out on the bonnet before we continued on our game drive. Lorenzo (one of the other guides) called to report that a leopard had been spotted on a rock, and we set off on our next mission. It took us an hour to reach it but sadly, by that time the battery in my camera had died!

At 4pm we left again for a game drive and came across a herd of elephants in what appeared to be a dry riverbed. By using a combination of extraordinary sensory perception and experience passed down over generations, these animals have learned to perceive where water lies beneath the surface of the sand. At a point where it is shallowest, they dig a perfect hole, scooping out sand with their trunks until they can access the cool water below.

From where we sat, we could even hear the sound of the water slurping into their trunks, which made for a spectacular sighting!

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This phenomenon is not unique to Ruaha’s elephants, as it has been seen in many dry areas of the continent; but it is a testament to the incredible intelligence and adaptive abilities of these animals.

Continuing on our way, there was another surprise was waiting for us. Two male giraffes were measuring up who was the strongest, showing off by slapping their tall necks against each other. This is a dominance display where the combatants pound each other using the full force of their necks: with a combination of considerable weight and momentum, their heads and horns become sledgehammers, and it happens that giraffes knock each other out, and in rare instances are killed from these blows.

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Moving on, we tracked a pride of 14 lions feasting on a giraffe. In Ruaha, the lions are known for their large pride numbers, and this forces them to take on bigger, more dangerous prey: a giraffe is a considerable prize, and would provide enough sustenance to last them at least a few days.

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We then returned to camp for another delicious candlelit dinner below the stars, and later as I lay in bed I thought how incredible it was for me to have experienced so many exciting encounters in just one day!

The following morning it was time for me to pack and get ready for my journey back to Arusha, completely blown away by this incredible place – I will definitely return, that’s for sure!

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