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An Addendum to Optig's Awesome Safari trip report - Malilangwe, Gonarezhou


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Gonarezhou – it is the Shona language for A place for elephants. And so it is.



When I read an earlier TR by  Sangeeta  on Gonarezhou, the park became a romantic notion that haunted the back of my mind. The remote, rugged and raw beauty captured in her eloquent words and visual pictures called. I had to see the place for myself, burying fears of long walks that could take a toll on my weak back and worries if I could cope with long drop loos and sleeping in the open in nothing but a mossie net around me.


I read the books that talked about the horrors visited on wildlife while humans fought for their right to take the land for themselves and fought for power to rule over other humans. During the Rhodesian war and the Mozambique civil war, men of war took what they wanted from the park to feed their mouths, and to feed their wallets with the ivory tusks torn savagely from the faces of elephants.


After the wars ended, there were efforts to put together the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park that combines the Gonarezhou park, Kruger national park and Mozambique’s Gaza park. In 2006, Frankfurt Zoological Society was brought by the Zimbabwean government to shore up the park and the wildlife started to flourish. Data from the Great Elephant Census shows now that some 11,000 elephants roam the grounds of Gonarezhou.




Back in 2009, the estimated number of elephants was 9123,which was a record number in the park. The numbers had fluctuated although a sharp drop came after 1983 when a cull of over 2000 elephants was done. The drought of 1992 hammered not only the elephants but all the other herbivores. But the wildlife bounced back strongly after that dreadful year. (Source is Kevin Dunham published in the African Journal of Ecology : http://www.rhinoresourcecenter.com/pdf_files/135/1353045317.pdf








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I have to admit that I was deflated that during the 7-night stay in the heart of Gonarezhou I saw no predators. Oh their signs were everywhere. On the first morning, while enjoying the view from the loo, the baboons were shouting alarms and i heard impala snorts around me. Later I learned that those at the dining hall had seen 2 lionesses walk by, coming from the direction of my tent. Then while I started preparing to dress up, the baboons were making a ruckus in a large tree some 50m behind my tent. The screams from the baboons were accompanied by a huge hacking cough growls. This went on for about 5mins, and I wondered how no one else had heard it. I rushed out from the tent to see baboons sitting at the ends of branches. And a loud roar followed by baboons throwing themselves out of the tree. I began to run towards the dining hall and bumped into Optig who went off to fetch Ant. I couldn’t believe they couldn’t hear it but the wind had picked up very strongly and was blowing the noise away from the camp. We were late for the game drive so sadly we didn’t go check it out immediately. On our return from the drive, I was very keen to check out the tree with Ant’s right hand man and fully registered guide Scott, but our path was blocked by the injured bull elephant resting in a nice shade and no way was I going to shoo him off. So that was the end of a potential leopard.


And of course when we were fly camping close to the Save-Runde junction, a male and female lion decided to appear on the riverbed in front of the main camp. We tracked male lion pug marks twice and lost the tracks after a while. Dog tracks were seen too but no flicker of white tails were to be enjoyed. Driving into Gonarezhou, we walked with Ant to check out drag marks. We found the kill but Ant said he had a fleeting glance of the shy leopard which melted away.


So there are predators. In fact, According to an article by Grumeti Fund director Steve Cunliffe (here: http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SA-4x4-Gonarezhou-Final.pdf), there are some 80 lions now (from only 20 when FZS took over), over 200 dogs in 8-10 packs. Some of the dog packs are collared courtesy of Rosemary Groom’s SVC project.


I had to remind myself, there are few visitors to the park so the animals are not habituated to humans. And the natural instinct to hide remains strong when they have just recovered from poaching and food ration killings. Tthere are pros and cons of a remote park – there is no one out there to radio you that a lion has been sighted.


the closest we got to a predator was the sightings of their kills or carcasses of animals which died of natural causes (there's been a drought). a buffalo that died, sitting in he tiny waterhole - quite a poignant moment. all around it were tracks of lions and dogs.




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From FZS: “Latest estimates for large mammals in the Park are: Impala 12 347, kudu 2 564, buffalo 4 425, zebra 1 685, nyala 258 (Gonarezhou is the only place in Zimbabwe where nyala are found in significant numbers), wildebeest 1 416, eland 384 and giraffe 473. (




There were hints of the diversity of mammals as we drove into Gonarezhou.









a breeding group ushering the young ones away fromthe road


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With an area of 5,053sq km, Gonarezhou is the second largest park in Zimbabwe, and yet it is among the least visited. Tourists flock to Hwange or Mana Pools or Vic Falls, but few venture into the place of elephants. Perhaps, partly because of a lack of good accommodation, and partly because it is hard work to get into the park. Certain parts of the park are restricted during the wet season from late November to April. There are now self-catering chalets at Chipinda Pools and Ant said they were quite comfortable. The chalets are at the edge of the park but visitors can do short stays at campsites distributed around the park. There is also Chilo Lodge started by conservationist Clive Stockil.



Ant runs the only private mobile camping outfit in Gonarezhou. We were often the only vehicle wherever we were. We came across only one vehicle from Chilo Lodge close to the Chilojo cliffs, and a couple of times passed a couple of self drivers. Optig and I were joined by a very lovely mother and daughter team Pam and Annabelle. Pam runs The Hide, a popular lodge in Hwange Park, and having met her I can imagine why the lodge is such a hit. We had enormous fun when they were there (for 4 days) and it was a great pleasure to meet both of them.



The mobile camp run by Ant is at the extreme opposite of Pamushuna. The combined area of all the four dome tents we occupied was probably equivalent to the size of the bathroom in Pamushuna. My little tent was the size of the half toilet in the Pamushuna room. There was a rope that ran across the room where my clothes were draped over, and lighting was two Sunking solar lights. But they were sufficient for the couple of hours I was really in the tent during the night. Every night we were there, gusts of really strong wind blew and my tent heaved and groaned, the floor of the tent was lifted partially so I placed my bags at the front of the tent to anchor it. the canvas sides bent inwards until I swore it was an elephant trying to sleep against me but it was always pliable as i pushed the sides out. the first night I couldn't sleep worrying the tent would be ripped out and blown off with me wrapped in it by the second night i just fell asleep the sounds of the whines and whistles of the gusts of winds.


My tent was right at the end of the camp and completely private. well private at least to humans. But it was a busy highway for the wildlife - the lionesses walking behind my bathroom, elephants were always around me, baboons were behind me, impalas gathered at a small clearing in the evening between optig and my tents. one day, during a downtime, a large male baboon made its way out of the bush towards my tent. I was just about to go to the loo but when i saw him picking the pods on the floor, i skipped back into the tent. he only ran away when one of the staff came to pass me something.


Ant mentioned that Meru tents will be used next year, so you will get more space. A flushable loo is also on the cards at the mess hall.


The first four nights we would gather around the fiery bush TV on the dry sands of Runde River under the starry skies before dinner in the dining tent. I savoured those moments sitting in the dark and listening to the Zimbabwean stories.


some pics of my little home




the au naturale "ensuite bathroom"






tents closer to the mess hall



dining hall


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Since it was a national park we weren’t allowed off-roading or driving in the night. We were often back in camp around 6.30pm but by then the sun would have already dipped below the horizons. The highlights were always the walking trips and that is what Gonarezhou Bushcamps is all about.


A lot has been written about Ant and his legendary walking trips and guiding skills. What strikes me is that he always puts the guests first. My first encounter with a big bull instilled in me full confidence in him. Although I would be the first to acknowledge there were a couple of times my heart would go thumping and I would have moments of panic. While he would be engaging with the elephants, he was also always checking where we the guests were. There was always a sparkle in his eyes as he smiled cheekily as if he enjoyed each encounter with the elephants as if it was his first. That’s how much he loves the grey giants.


He was a consummate host, ensuring each of us had our tea or cookie, and had enough food (all the food was yummalicious but oh, the salads were crazily good, perfect for the hot hot weather – there was one day the mercury hit 40 celcius but oddly we didn’t really suffer from it). How the salads stayed crisp and fresh during those 2 days of fly camping, well, the secrets stay safe with Ant.






A Scott in a tree





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Our first encounter with the jumbo was on the second evening when we did our first proper walk. We had heard some alarms and went in search of it. I couldn’t hear the soft sounds of bush leaves brushing or the soft thuds that the feet would make. As the light began to fade in the late evening hours, Ant immediately saw the bull and got all excited. It was McKenzie, an awesome 50-year old big tusker he hadn’t seen in months. Elephants would walk miles around the park. Poaching although reduced does occur, and if elephants walk out of the park or go down south, there are hunting concessions as well. Sometimes some elephants were seen each season and some not. So it was with great relief and with warmth that we greeted McKenzie’s temporary return to this part of the park. When we were there, we didn’t see the Beast - named for his size, obviously, but also for his not so cordial temperament.


But McKenzie was different. With a mild temperament and relaxed, he allowed us pretty close to him. I did hide behind Ant but you could just sense the calm and chilled sense of McKenzie. The presence of Ant helped as well. we were told to stay silent and still with no sudden movements (we had to dress in dark colours, as they don't react well to bright colours). It was fascinating watching Ant interact with them such that I was never quite sure I was watching the elephant or him.



Who are you guys?



Oh ok, it's that ant scent, while he scratched his hind leg






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One evening we met McKenzie again, surrounded by a few other bulls and we met Steffy, a suspicious elephant who would watch us in earnest and did not welcome our presence warmly . Now,just a quick digression with all these talk about naming wildlife and being anthropomorphic (such a pompous word) about it. I felt there was nothing humanised or emotional when Ant and Scott talked about the named elephants. It was their way of identifying the elephants and keeping track of their status and locations.


But, being anthropomorphic, I shall venture to say this trip, more than anything else, revealed to me even more strongly than ever that elephants have individual personalities. Sure, we sense it, we can even say we know it or perhaps deny it but, they can have their own personalities . So just like with Steffy or McKenzie or the breeding family that we had such a pleasure and such an honour to interact with, elephants come with their oversized personalities as well.


steffy with that intense stare in his eyes and overworked trunk.












as we drove further down, Ant decided we should take a little walk to peek at McKenzie. He moved ahead to see where we could watch the big guy without disturbing him and where we could stay safe (Scott stayed with us to make sure we behaved <_< ). we walked forward, taking a little circle around, and found him enjoying the bushes. just behind the bush, steffy had caught up. Both didn't see us. we walked back from where we came, and Mckenzie prodded forward. we kept looking back for him as he slowly but steadily headed for a baobab tree.














Suddenly, Ant noticed Steffy standing at a distance watching us. He shooed us into a bush but Steffy followed. At no time did we feel any tension or stress from Steffy. It was simply just curiousity on the elephant's part. We went further down to a bush, he walked into the clearing looking at us, and after a minute or two, he walked away.






Curious Steffy against a stunning backdrop - only in Gonarezhou. :wub:






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Getting an ele in front of the iconic cliffs is a prize, a place for elephants. Your encounters with Steffy and McKenzie are classic and made possible by skilled guiding provided by Ant.


Your little home looks very "homey" and comfortable and the salads stay crispy! What more could you want.


Gonarezhou is a mesmerizing place!

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When I was in Gonarezhou, we would find elephants at every turn and every corner, particularly the areas around the Chilojo campsite. I was reminded frequently about the incident where an elephant charged and trampled a tourist vehicle in a post put up in ST and the discussions around how one should approach the jumbo giant. Ant had come up with a list of what to do and not to do in the presence of elephants which is particularly pertinent to self-drivers. It was interesting to watch how Ant was always aware of where elephants were when we were driving. If they were close to the road, from a distance, he would immediately turn off the engine and let the car roll towards the elephants so that the engine noise would not stressed them out. or even if we saw them further in the road, he would stil turn off the engine and allow them to see us so that we didn't startle them. There were a couple of self drivers in the park and Scott had advised them to drive very slowly through if they saw elephants along the road and didn't want to stop.



an elephant reacted with curiousity



elephant reacting to us on the road.





here are few more pachyderms we had the honour to say hello to. the ways to recognise them was the notches or holes in the ears while the tusks would generally give an idea of their ages.




The thick tree cover in the lowveld would often help disguise the elephants.





One day, while crossing the dry River Runde, we saw an elephant at the bottom of the riverbank, trying hard to stay in the shade. he decided he was hungry and walked towards a tree where he had to stretch for the leaves on the high branches. It was fascinating how he stretched his legs to help him get the balance as he "trunk-ed" for his food. My camera (just a bridge camera) really strained to try to capture him as he was quite a distance from where we were.



















elephants rushing for shade as the mercury rose






completely relaxed and dozing as he laid his trunk on t he floor









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going to bombard this with more portraits of the elephants...... skip this if you have had enough. :unsure:











(a few pics taken by Ant)ztjJjvwrk_x7iocpHJadIFMa3ohMmPYJFVTmpRTW


















The elephant below had a frozen trunk - although the tip of the trunk was unable to grasp the leaves or branches he managed to use the middle part of the trunk to push the bushes into his mouth. fortunately the bushes near the Runde River were still green and with leaves. Ant explained that sometimes elephants ate toxic leaves that sometimes lead to temporary paralysis.









we saw a lot of bulls congregating close to the Runde River, some on their own but many in a loose group. but this year, probably because of the drought, there were more breeding groups from the dry parched lands further inland that came here, attracted by the dense bushes and leafy trees. The breeding groups were more nervous and stressed by our presence than the bulls.



a tuskless female











Folded ear boy






we bumped into the limping elephant that had visited my tent and we could see his injured feet clearly






if you can find the grey giant here...




an elephant highway


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It wasn't only elephants in the park, of course. There were other mammals which made long minutes of quiet drives a little more special. It didn't matter if it was the ubiquitious impala or the majestic kudu stag - this was their home and they as one made the park what it is - a special one. Here are some which said hello or dashed off without saying goodbye either during the walks or on the drives


a fleeing hippo at the crack of dawn












a surprise and a delight to see dwarf mongoose
















can you see the steenbok here:



here's a clue



and another one



and another







a common duiker i thinkkD7wj-V5YTsWJ5zNkkFxqueWWBr-57UGFrr6IPNg



a baboon shares a dry river with a southern groundhorn bill








one morning when we were at the viewpoint on the chilojo cliffs we saw a group of 16 kudu stags with impressive horns on the river quenching their thirst. I've not seen such a large gathering as this before.






at times, the cliffs made sure we didn't forget them













i'll be remiss to miss out another species although we were pleased there wasn't an abundance of this species and that those we saw were really lovely to hang out with



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we spent two nights fly camping. It was my first experience at fly camping but it was a fantastic one. we slept in little mossie nets laid on a green carpet. a portable but very comfortable mattress with the pillow and blanket from our respective tents unfolded easily in the pup tent. our wash basins using boiled water from the stream made washing up last thing in the night and first thing in the morning so convenient. I used drinking water to brush my teeth. Ant collects aluminium flasks from other lodges so if you have one to spare, bring it along, use it and leave it behind! toilet is anywhere they can't see you, although in the pitch dark I was too much of a coward to wander into the pitch dark which Optig did. I might have embarassed myself by flashing my butt in the dim light, but when you are out in the open and you can't see an inch in front of you, I did not care one ounce.


The first night we camped about 1km downstream of Lisoda as the campsite we aimed for was taken by the group of self-drivers. we went as far as we could from them and we didn't hear their party. The second night we camped at Mutamagwenzi. Both are along the River Runde and heading towards Chilo Lodge. Ant's bushcamp is somewhere across the Chilojo Cliffs.





we had quiet nights although apparently elephants walked by when we were sound asleep on the second night. The skies were dark on the second night, and some drops of rain fell and we (by that I meant Ant and Scott) bundled most of the things into the car. the fall-back plan was if it rained heavily, we would abandon fly camp and drive in the dark back to the main camp. the drizzle eased off and we went back to bed, but sometime inthe night I felt drops of rain on my face. I pulled up the blanket, covered my face and went back to sleep. the drizzle must have stopped because the next thing I knew was opening my eyes to the sun peeking over the horizon and to the birds calling.


still lying down and getting a shot of the sunrise









preparing for our first night



my first braai truly in the wild! i devoured everything. the food was darn good






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@@Kitsafari, the final photo of that hulking great Rhino next to that fine, almost delicate Sable is incredible. That would have to be on my wall for all to admire. What a unique sight. Some great Elephant images in there. Boy those little tents sure do look little out there, what a great experience.

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Lovely selection of some of the other mammals including smaller ones @@Kitsafari.


I would still be searching for that steenbok without the clue! and yep that looks like a common duiker. Aren't they both delicate and beautiful animals?


Obliging of the duikers to stay still enough for photos!


The klipspringer and dwarf mongoose are also special sightings.

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Please take a look at the following link because it gives the number of wildlife that there is in Gonorezhou. Yes,it does point out that the numbers of predators has increased in Gonorzhou even for cheetahs,which is quite astounding given the fact that their numbers have fallen so badly everywhere else in Zimbabwe. i simply can't understand why there's still a quota for cheetahs. but this isn't a government which is interested in conservation.


Edited by optig
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@@Kitsafari, the final photo of that hulking great Rhino next to that fine, almost delicate Sable is incredible. That would have to be on my wall for all to admire. What a unique sight. Some great Elephant images in there. Boy those little tents sure do look little out there, what a great experience.


@@elefromoz i was just awed first by seeing the stunning sable, and when we saw the rhino, I just couldn't believe i would see both species standing so harmoniously and calmly close to each other. it was a bit of shock to see the little tents after we came from Pamushana but I think my adventurous side was brought out by it. At the very least, I now know I can fly camp and I can do mobile camping easily, although i did wish once (for a brief second) towards the end for a proper shower to wash off all the dirt accumulated in my hair and body!



Lovely selection of some of the other mammals including smaller ones @@Kitsafari.


I would still be searching for that steenbok without the clue! and yep that looks like a common duiker. Aren't they both delicate and beautiful animals?


Obliging of the duikers to stay still enough for photos!


The klipspringer and dwarf mongoose are also special sightings.


@@Caracal you are so right - the steenbok and duiker are so delicate and so tiny! the second duiker stayed a long time as it couldn't make out what we were. we were walking and stopped to look at the impalas when we saw the duiker but as the impalas were not alarmed by us - yet - it just stared at us. we saw a lot of klipspringer in Gonarezhou.

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Beautiful elephants - but a good diversity of other mammals. I particularly like the steenbok.

They fly camping looks like good fun!

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Feeling raindrops in the middle of the night while sleeping sounds familiar. I like the contrast in color in the baboon/ground hornbill shot. I played the find the steebok game, but did not do well without help.

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Beautiful elephants - but a good diversity of other mammals. I particularly like the steenbok.

They fly camping looks like good fun!


@@TonyQ in a way, the fly camp was pretty liberating. You are literally out there ensconced in nature, there is no canvas sheltering or protecting you (which explained why I rolled a towel above my head and put my stuff around me to create more width between my body and the mossie net! although it's all in the mind because if the Lion decides to open his mouth and take your head, a towel ain't going to protect me.), you hear all sounds before you sleep (like distant lion roars), and you wake to elephant tracks some 50m away. I walked barefoot in the dry river sand and I felt my tomboy childhood returning to me. Ant advocates the most basic of tent facilities to get one as close to nature as possible without all the luxurious trappings. I've never camped in my childhood, but I can imagine for those that such fly camp would also awaken great memories as well.




Feeling raindrops in the middle of the night while sleeping sounds familiar. I like the contrast in color in the baboon/ground hornbill shot. I played the find the steebok game, but did not do well without help.


@@Atravelynn, I saw Doug's tent in your TR and was quite taken by the vent at the top of the tent but as you had experienced, it won't stop the rain coming in. thank goodness it didn't rained too heavily on you all too. :)

Edited by Kitsafari
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@@Kitsafari @@TonyQ As Kit already knows I feel like her that the best part of my most recent safari was the two nights that i spent fly camping in Gonorezhou. I truly felt that I was far better connected with the bush. I have to say that I really enjoyed setting up the camp,and assisting Ant and Scott. I 'll be fly camping for two nights when I stay for 5 nights at Sarara lodge and walking with camels. I may also be fly camping at Ol Malo Camp. Furthermore,I'll be fly camping in Katavi when I stay at Chada Katavi.


I have to say that my first experience of fly camping when I was at Kichaka in Ruaha National park wasn't exactly encouraging. Moli and Noelle told me that there would be an armed ranger from TANAPA to watch me in my mossy dome. Unfortunately,one didn't arrive. I wasn't able to sleep at night. I've never blamed Moli and Noelle because TANAPA isn't known for

it's reliability.


I have to say that after you've gone fly camping in the bush with just your guide to protect you;you truly have to learn to trust them. I feel this way about Ant Kaschula, and Scott Pelly.

Edited by optig
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@@optig Ant and Scott Slatter were very good in setting up the camp and campfire and dinners! i wished we could have made more of an effort to help them but we were so delirious with excitement at fly camping, we just sat and enjoyed the peace, the quiet as the animals began to roost in the fading light.


our tents were set up such that we were given privacy while their tents would be slightly back. Do you recall the first night of the fly camp, when a gust of wind blew Scott's pup tent almost into the trickle of stream? he had to chase it down! wish i had taped that. :)

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@@Kitsafari I do remember when the wind blew Scott's mossy dome away. I do remember carrying things from the land cruiser. Please don't even think about it because I was impressed with your adventurous spirit,and intrepid attitude. I can also remember being amazed when Ant found water in the dried up riverbed and dug a hole. Do you remember how he made fires? It was just awesome.

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@@Kitsafari I do remember when the wind blew Scott's mossy dome away. I do remember carrying things from the land cruiser. Please don't even think about it because I was impressed with your adventurous spirit,and intrepid attitude. I can also remember being amazed when Ant found water in the dried up riverbed and dug a hole. Do you remember how he made fires? It was just awesome.


when he dug for water from the sands, I thought to myself now will I be able to wash my face with that water? that was a for a split second and no second thoughts after that washing my face and have a wipe with that water.

yes i recall how he and scott were competing for the fastest time to make fire using a braided string made from baobab fibres. it was amazing. I lost my baobab string, sadly.

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sorry for the delay. time to get cracking and i'll be as brief as ever so i can wrap this up quickly!


The second day of our fly camp, we made our way to the Save-RUnde junction and the landscape changed dramatically. Gone were parched dry mopane bushes. In its place, green lush trees and bushes and palms dotted the area, making the area prettier. The soils here are richer. the wildlife was pretty amazing. but when Ant drove into Machinawa pans, I gasped. it was filled with birdlife. the scenery was just stunning as the hot sun shimmered on the waters, and a whole list of birds were resting, surfing the waters for food. the area was filled with birds chatter. I was told Zakouma would be 10x this but for now I was just beside myself. My photos and videos don't do it justice, but just for a glimpse at the potential of the place, here they are:
























a pied kingfisher with his lunch












here's a short list of the birds we saw - i'm sure there were more...

sacred ibis

hadeda ibis


egyptian geese

white face whistling ducks

spurwing geese

great egret

black winged stilts

pied kingfisher

go away bird

Edited by Kitsafari
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the elephants were all around the pan and had just finished quenching their thirst. i watched a small breeding group on our left with the young ones enjoying a mud bath when a tiniest one pop up as the adults starting moving off (second half of the video).


















A large breeding group of over 30 were on our right, making their way to the shade of the trees. These elephants were about to give me one of my top five experiences in Arica.


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