OUR FIRST SIGHTING OF GIRAFFES
Late afternoon on day two at Mfuwe Lodge, our guide Manda heard there were lions at the small landing strip where conservation groups share an old Cessna for patrols. Manda drove us to the end of the small gravel runway where mature male lions with huge dark ruffs and their prides rested with full stomachs. The lion prides were off to the side in tall grass with their cubs. Lions often nap upside down with their bellies exposed because their undersides are a much lighter color and reflect the heat better. Fortunately, elephants and other wildlife, like lions and leopards, don’t seem to see people in a safari vehicle. If we stepped outside our vehicle to get a better photo, however, we could be dessert for a lion. As long as we’re inside the vehicle at a respectable distance and keep our voices down, our movements calm, we can observe and snap all the photos we want. It seemed surreal to be sitting in a vehicle looking at live, wild lions whose size and appearance reminded me of the MGM lion logo. I was too fascinated to feel fearful of their powerful enormous paws, teeth, claws, and muscles, which were impressive even when they were at rest.
We watched them for about fifteen minutes, and then Manda headed off for new regions of the park, each with its different ecosystem, in search of new animal sightings. We saw our first leopard that night, along with a civet (a small, nocturnal cat-like mammal), a hyena, and dazzles of lovely Thornicroft giraffes, which are specific only to this park. It was still brutally hot when we were in the sun, but the open-air vehicles and occasional drives through shady, damp glens made it comfortable. One minute we were splashing through a muddy ravine, the next we were driving through acres of dead mopane trees where elephants stripped their bark. Our vehicle swerved into bush so dense no other car could make it through, and we pounded across uneven ground, bounding over tree stumps. The next curve in the dirt track opened up to reveal a new lagoon from the first rain where waterlilies had already sprouted and were blooming. I inhaled the smell of dry bush grasses after a light sprinkle. The dampness in heavily shaded small wetlands smelled rich and earthy. As it got dark and cooled off, the fragrance of damp wilderness was like a tonic to my city lungs. I breathed it in the way I try to breathe in the ocean air when I can get to the coast.
At sunset, we stopped for refreshments while giraffes and elephants visited the river’s edge for an evening drink. We tried to memorize the colors and beauty of the sunset, knowing cameras and descriptions could never capture the true beauty.
The cool dampness turned to cold as the sun disappeared. Tired, satisfied, and hungry, we snuggled under our blankets and returned to the lodge for another delicious late dinner, our minds and conversation filled with memories of the day's sights— herds of elephants with some standing up on their back legs to reach the more succulent tree branches, resting lion prides, our first sighting of giraffes for the day.
Written by Patricia Cole
An Africa Hope Fund board member for 7 years, Pat is a writer and a conservation activist. After traveling to Zambia, she became dedicated to helping Africa Hope Fund provide education to the next generation of Africans and ensure their future by protecting wildlife. Find Patricia on Facebook and Twitter, or on her websites www.writepatwrite.com and www.patmcole.com.
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