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Kitsafari

Guassa in the Mist

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Kitsafari

Sangeeta:

 

The next morning, we set off at a brisk clip across the moorlands, against a beautiful backdrop of silvery foliage, swaying 'guassa' grass, and lichen-studded boulders and rocks. The air was crisp & fresh. It was a sunny day and the plan was to cut through the hills and dales and walk roughly 6 kilometers to the gelada research camp, which is located close to the cliff faces where the gels roost at night.

 

That had been the original plan. But we had not counted on what oxygen deprivation could do to two "femmes d'un certain age" who, though young at heart, were not exactly cut out for a deceptively steep uphill hike at 10000+ feet!

 

So we quickly slowed down from our 'brisk clip' and ambled uphill at a snail's pace, hopping along and over a collection of flat & not so flat rocks and boulders, stopping every few minutes to catch our breaths and to admire the astonishing beauty of a pristine patch of land in the midst of an increasingly-crowded Ethiopia.

 

We were accompanied on the hike by our guide Fikay and by Gabocher (I hope I am spelling his name right), the Guassa community liaison with FZS. Two fit & sprightly young men who skipped and skimmed over the meadows without missing a beat & more importantly, without losing a breath! :lol: The rock-strewn 'road' we had been climbing had apparently been the main road between Addis & Guassa & even further north before the relatively new road we had driven here on.

 

Then as we turned the corner on a flattish patch of land, we suddenly heard the sounds and calls of foraging geladas.

 

It was a small family group of 20+ monkeys, but what a treat to come across them so unexpectedly, as they scooted across the moorlands, intently pulling up shoots of grass and ignoring our presence entirely.

 

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Kitsafari

Sangeeta:

 

At first Kit & I were careful to stay low to the ground so as not to startle them, but we soon saw that they were neither alarmed nor unduly bothered by our presence. According to Gabocher, these gels can easily differentiate between tourists and villagers. They are wary of the latter and very comfortable with the former, especially if you carry a camera or wear a hat.

 

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Kitsafari

Sangeeta:

 

After 20 minutes or so watching our very first geladas on foot, who were every bit as gloriously beautiful as we had anticipated, the troop moved on in the opposite direction and we started off again towards the research camp. After a couple of kilometers of rambling across the valley and stopping at one of the cliff faces favored by the gels (with stunning views over the highlands), we had not seen any more gel troops & dark clouds had suddenly appeared out of nowhere low on the horizon, so we took the lazy/practical option, called in the car, hopped in and took the 'driving option' to the research camp.

 

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In Sangeeta's photo above - you can see the round homes of the villagers at the bottom of the cliff, and the photo below, the steep cliff face. the Gels need nerves of steel and small hands to grip their way down that steep slope!

 

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Some of the panaromic views from the clilff:

 

 

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(That's Gabocher checking his mobile!)

 

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Edited by Kitsafari

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Kitsafari

Sangeeta:

 

There we soon found ourselves chatting with the researcher, Katie, who happened to be alone at camp that day. To get to camp, we had a somewhat hairy drive past a line of giant lobelia that stand sentry along the road. Giant lobelia will usually grow at altitudes of 3600 m or higher and while that's perfectly fine on a sunny warm day, what must it be like to be there when the wind & rain are whipping about mercilessly?

 

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Kitsafari

Sangeeta:

 

Kit & I were really impressed by Kadie's dedication. And the fortitude it must take for field researchers to stay on, year after year, in the roughest of conditions, often with no salary or stipend at all! Katie had some bad news for us. The unexpected rains had caused the big 600+ troop of gels to move north, into very rugged terrain where we could not follow by road. However, she reported that some smaller troops of geladas had moved on towards our own lodge and with some luck, we ought to be able to see them there. So off we headed, having invited Kadie to dine with us the following day. I use the word 'dine' with intent - Addis' cooking certainly raised our meals to 'dine' level at Guassa :)

 

Sure enough a couple of gel troops were hanging around the lodge. This time, we knew how gentle and unafraid they were and what followed was a truly magical couple of hours for Kit & me - we sat beside them, walked with them, behind them, close to them, further away from them, on eye level with them... it was a gentle, peaceful & joyful encounter for us (the gels couldn't have cared less!). We soaked it all in and could not stop smiling. It would have been lovely to have seen the much larger troop, but this was an intimate moment. Not at all like the adrenaline-filled like moments that encounters with chimps & gorillas can be - but softer and calmer and just as fulfilling - Our Very Own Moments of Zen.

 

 

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Kitsafari

Kit:

 

It was bliss just sitting among the Gels, soaking in their placid energies. The Gels, even the alpha males, would nonchalantly walk by us just a metre or so away from us. I remember at one point the alpha male walked by me, completely ignoring me. But I was over the moon and glanced back at Sangeeta with a look of astonishment and amazement. Another time, Sangeeta sat with the gels and another alpha male sidled his way close to her. At that moment, they both looked like they were seated like old friends, chatting away and enjoying the views and enjoying the quiet moments.

 

If you noticed, the plains in front of the lodge were black with soot. There are overhead electrical cables that supply power to the lodge and the cables were pretty close. A fire started at one of these cable towers, and burned the plains and went as far as up a hill a km away. Fortunately it avoided the lodge. That was a few days before we arrived so new shoots were providing some juicy food for the Gels.

 

It was a different way of doing safari; sitting on our bums on the burnt soil or walking together with the respective troop which was following its alpha male. It was kind of therapeutic, just how I felt when I would gardening or weeding the grass. And it was rhythmic, as the gels plucked the green grass with their tiny hands and stuffing it into their mouths.

 

 

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Kitsafari

Sangeeta had lovely pix of the alpha male, but i've got quite a few too, so get ready to immerse in more Geladas:

 

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Edited by Kitsafari

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Kitsafari

Kit:

 

Too soon, the alpha males decided to head off, and they formed a single line and walked through the grass towards the hills to be closer to their cliffs to roost at the end of the day.

 

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Kitsafari

Sangeeta:

 

That night, at around midnight, I stepped out of the room for a loo break. From the darkness, right beyond the dimly-lit bulb, about 100 feet from the verandah, I saw a shape emerge into the halo of light. In the brief moment before it disappeared back into the shadows, I can almost swear that I saw the outline of a bushy tail. I waited quietly outside the lounge area for about 5 freezing minutes, hoping it would re-emerge into the light, but the dark shape had got wind of me and stayed away.

 

Was it a wolf? Would we see a wolf? With my fingers tightly crossed, I crawled back under the thick blankets and waited for the next dawn.

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TonyQ

@Sangeeta

@Kitsafari

What a wonderful experience - magnificent animals. I have really enjoyed the photos and videos. It is amazing how close you are to them as they go about their business.

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AKR1

@Sangeeta

@

 

 

Kitsafari

What a wonderful experience - magnificent animals. I have really enjoyed the photos and videos. It is amazing how close you are to them as they go about their business.

+1. Well said.

Thanks for sharing this Kit and Sangeeta.

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Kitsafari

@@TonyQ @@AKR1

thank you for the kind comments!

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SafariChick

@@Kitsafari Really enjoying seeing all these great Gelada shots. They have such personality! And ah ha - with the last entry of @@Sangeeta 's words, the plot thickens ....

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Kitsafari

kit:

 

When we were chatting with Kadie at the researchers’ camp, we broached the topic of Ethiopian wolves. Sangeeta and I knew the chances of seeing the wolves were very slim but there had been recent reports that they had been seen around the lodge, so we kept our hopes up.

 

Kadie said the wolves were sometimes seen at the end of the valley at the bottom of where the researchers’ camp was. But she added that cryptic wolves could also be seen. Cryptic wolves? What are they? Kadie went onto her laptop and brought up pictures of them – they looked exactly like golden wolves, previously called golden jackals. Sangeeta and I were greatly excited. She said some of the cryptic wolves were collared and the researcher was away but had passed the telemetry to someone.

 

What were the chances of seeing both wolves? We were hoping for the Ethiopian wolves at least.

 

The same day, @@Sangeeta, who is incredibly resourceful, had a brilliant idea. She paid the housekeeping guy a small tip for him to wash the toilet facilities at least three times a day. By the second day, we weren’t the only ones at the lodge. A German lady with three lovely kids had arrived, and with so many people using the loo facilities, it wasn’t the most pleasant place to answer nature’s call.

 

The wiry smiley housekeeping guy sprung into action immediately. Now I’m not sure exactly what transpired, but he seemed very pleased with the tip, and he shared that he had in his hands, the telemetry for the cryptic wolves. He said the wolves often emerged from their dens at around 6am. Now Sangeeta and I were really excited and planned with Fikay and Gabocher to catch the wolves. So, just like being in the bush, we were to get up at 5am to leave at 5.30am.

 

Fikay came to wake us up but we were already up. A quick cup of coffee to warm us up and we were out with gloves, thermal cap, light down jacket and scarves.

 

It wasn’t a very long drive – 20mins at most and we arrived what looked almost like a mining area. IN fact, there was a small village with a low wall boundary. Sangeeta and I felt nervous for the wolves to be denning literally next to the villagers, but the villagers seemed to have learned to live with them.

 

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We walked to their dens but the wolves must have heard us because they did not use the normal routes from their dens. Crestfallen, we thought we had lost the chance to see them. Using the telemetry, the guy was not about to give up. He traversed further ahead and then he ran back. Far in the distance, a pair of golden wolves were socialising.

 

 

Can you see them? they blended so well into the background, I was always searching for them.

 

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and then, they were up the top of the ridge and gone from sight.

 

apologies that the video below is very shaky as I had zoomed far but hadno monopod to steady the camera

 

Edited by Kitsafari

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Kitsafari

@@Kitsafari Really enjoying seeing all these great Gelada shots. They have such personality! And ah ha - with the last entry of @@Sangeeta 's words, the plot thickens ....

 

@@SafariChick our postings crossed!

Edited by Kitsafari

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SafariChick

@@Kitsafari ah, the cryptic wolves are so cool! So the toilet-cleaning guy just happened to be the one the telemetry equipment had been given to, but Kadie hadn't known that? And did he then hand it over to your guides? What a great turn of events!

Edited by SafariChick

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Kitsafari

@@SafariChick they were! and my first sighting of an African wolf, and with an ancient lineage as well.

 

The African golden wolf now called Canis Anthus, used to be known as the golden jackal. But a recent study showed that the canid had in fact the grey wolf DNA. What’s more, the so called golden jackal was not endemic to Egypt but is also found in two localities in Ethiopia and Guassa was one of them.

 

“The only grey wolf species to inhabit the African continent is a cryptic species for which the conservation status urgently needs assessment.” Said the authors of the study which can be found in this link:

 

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0016385

 

“C. a. lupaster (Golden jackal) most likely represents an ancient wolf lineage that colonized Africa prior to the radiation of the Holarctic wolf and as such should be reclassified as the African wolf.”

 

On his way back to us, the guy picked up another signal. A wolf was in a den close by. we sat around the den and waited. He sprung a surprise by exiting by another hole. It ran around us, up to the village. we tried to follow it and then it gave a loud cry. Fikay and I ran towards a mound for a better view, but a couple of villagers were walking along the road and the wolf was long gone. It was while running that I lost my pair of glasses. Fortunately I had another pair in my luggage.

 

It was so awesome to see the wolves. for me, it was the icing on the cake, especially because it was unplanned and so unexpected.

 

 

 

 

 

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waiting for the wolf to emerge; the guy on the right was the one with the telemetry

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watching the glorious view while waiting
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can you see the collar?
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posing for a minute
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while waiting for the wolf, we saw an abyssinian rabbit. it was too far to capture a sharp picture. and my camera failed under the cold conditions. :wacko:
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Kitsafari

@@Kitsafari ah, the cryptic wolves are so cool! So the toilet-cleaning guy just happened to be the one the telemetry equipment had been given to, but Kadie hadn't known that? And did he then hand it over to your guides? What a great turn of events!

@@SafariChick He came along with us and he was so enthusiastic and probably very excited and happy that we were so interested and equally excited about these wolves.

Edited by Kitsafari

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Kitsafari

a couple of photos I missed out earlier:

 

@@Sangeeta had a great picture of the cryptic wolf:

 

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and here's one of her being surrounded by the Gels....

 

 

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and of her having a tete a tete with the gelada, almost as if this happens every day of her life.

 

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and one of Fikay

 

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elefromoz

@@Kitsafari, @@Sangeeta, how exciting, a bonus extra Wolf sighting, really enjoying this report.

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Kitsafari

@@elefromoz so glad you are enjoying the report and thanks for reading! i'm going to wrap up my portion today. hope I can achieve that!

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Kitsafari

After the amazing morning experience, we returned to the lodge and enjoyed the quiet and chill air. I took a short walk around the plains in front the lodge with Gabocher, spied a couple of what Gobercher said were mole rats and a den that Gabocher said belonged to an Ethiopian wolf but no one was home. The giant mole rats are not found in Guassa, but the rats we saw looked like Abyssinian meadow rat (Stenocephalemus grisecauda), which probably make up the wolves' diet.

 

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Sangeeta has a better photo of the cute little rat:

 

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Kitsafari

Returning to the lodge, Sangeeta and I sat in the garden enjoying the brief spell under the sun while waiting for lunch.

 

A few pics around the lodge:

 

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Plenty of mules in Ethiopia and they are also for hire for mountain treks. The German family hired the mule so that the kids could take turns riding it when they got tired.

 

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the views before the fog rolled in

 

 

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The fog slowly rolling in

 

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a thick-billed raven

 

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a dancing bird - not sure about its ID

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Kitsafari

We could see in the distance that the Gels were back in the plains so we went to spend more time with them. The sky was clear as we started the walk but the fog was beginning to roll in from beyond the hills. That seemed to be a signal for the Gels as they started to take their leave quickly, running up the mountains after their respective male Geladas.

 

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I struggled to take pictures of the baby - my camera was not cooperating in the cold and damp weather, and the babies were always on the move. too fast for me!

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Kitsafari

After lunch we decided we wanted to return to the valley fronting the researchers’ camp to look for the Ethiopian wolves. The road that cuts across the reserve serves the villagers living on the fringes. A bus trundled through the reserve serving the residents from town to town, and at one stop, we saw a group of people and a bed on the side of the road. Fikay said the villagers had carried a sick man on his bed to the bus to be transported to the hospital in town. Indeed, local residents walked along the main roads to get to their destination. One of them included a woman with a baby bundled up against her chest. There is a new high-grade road that is being built between a village in the north and to the next town, which is a great worry as it will bring more heavy vehicles into the area and probably lead to more roadkills as animals cross over to a waterhole in the valley.

 

We drove along the stretch of road hugging the valley, but no wolves and no joy. But we saw a group of geladas slowly making their way back up the mountains towards the researchers’ camp. It looked as if the researchers’ gels were back, and just in time surely for the next batch of STers due to visit in less than a fortnight. we also watched a common duiker crossing the road a couple of times.

 

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A couple of wattled hornbills in the thick fog

 

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a villager and his mules carrying his cargo on the valley floor

 

 

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and the views were just breathtaking

 

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_Bz_xQu5ogI7JrZQDlcrHAvlrI7zRPRYbybDOLJB

 

 

0InLoDtD5a4XDf4UXNhKtHVcDsPJtR7mFGQa4D4C

 

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0PB2fbhORj2uZLY5Gj6FbXK07jOpT_82llHBSWzV

Edited by Kitsafari

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