It is not uncommon to sit in Hwata blind and see dagga boys come to the pan and drink. Dagga boys are the old grumpy buffalo bulls who have left the ‘buzz’ of the breeding herd and often join bachelor herds of other old bulls. The name dagga boys refers to their habit of wallowing in the mud (dagga), mostly as a means of thermoregulation. These old guys are very confident in their grumpiness and often end up walking into the middle of the pan on a hot dry day.
The same cannot be said for the breeding herds of buffalo, who are often rather skittish when it comes to drinking water. I am sure it is because of the stress of having young buffalos with them and the unwanted attention that these youngsters bring in the form of predators like lions, hyenas and even leopards.
Breeding herds here normally vary in size from small herds of 50 to big herds of 400. But as the dry season progresses you get herds joining together to form huge herds of 600 or more. With such numbers in one group there is a definite need for some order, and a hierarchy is established not just among the males but also the females. It is a linear hierarchical system with females of similar ages holding the same rank. These females will determine where the herd moves for food, water and shade to rest and ruminate.
Bulls come into sexual maturity around the age of 8 years old and fight among each other for mating rights to the females. Typically bulls between 8 and 11 years are the resident ‘studs’ but that’s not to say one should write-off the dagga boys! I have watched these grumpy old males walk into a breeding herd and take up rank where they presumably left off when they retired from being in the breeding herd full-time.
Sitting in a place like Hwata blind, is a great way to observe these beasts and their social dynamics, but for some reason Hwata pan seems to be a quenching destination for only the bachelor herds of buffalo, so you can imagine our shock and excitement when this big breeding herd streamed in to the pan to drink.
Being this close to them was amazing because you begin to notice individual characteristics and characters, and you can’t help wonder what they are thinking when you see some of their facial expressions!
A call crackled over the radio that the tracking team had found the River Pride on a buffalo kill near Hwata Pan. “Bonanza!” I thought. Not only because this would provide good photo opportunities of lions feeding in relatively open area, and the clean-up crew of hyenas and vultures that would make no bones of the carcass over the next few days, but mainly because Hwata Pan is where we have our sunken photo hide, and the lions would have to go and drink there at some stage during the feeding frenzy. I’ve waited for 10 years to get a shot of a predator drinking at eye level to me from this hide – could this be the chance at last?
The Malilangwe Dam is an amazing fishing destination. The most sought out species are tigerfish and tilapia.The best times of the year for fishing is when the water is warm – a good reminder is good fishing months all have an “r” in them from September to April. That said, we have still been enjoying some great fishing now in May – all the photos in this story are from early May.
It is most satisfying watching elephants enjoying a mud bath! It starts off with the approaching walk, an elephant has when making his/her way to the water source. To describe it, I would have to say it’s an excited, exaggerated, fast walk while bobbing their heads up and down and to the sides at the same time. We call it ‘the water walk’. Even for the novice person you can pick up the excitement of the elephant looking forward to a thirst-quenching cool drink, usually followed by refreshing mud bath.
I was camped out again, on my favourite dam wall that offers a good vantage point and a relatively safe refuge from the vehicle. I was trying to tell myself that really it was an afternoon of birding – just sitting quietly with binos and a bird book and trying to ID whatever came along, and enjoying the isolation and peace. But really what I wanted and hoped and wished for was a solitary black rhino.