Wednesday, July 24, 2013 – Hwange, Zimbabwe

Dickson was our guide on a game walk where we saw gnus (wildebeests), zebras, and baboons. Gnus and zebras are often found together in herds. Gnus only have lower incisors, and zebras only have upper incisors, so they don’t compete for food. Gnus and zebras are nomadic. The baboons live in a nearby leadwood tree. We saw the kill of a leopard hung up in a tree. It was a duiker, a small antelope. The leopard will store the carcass in a tree to keep it away from ground scavengers and eat it over a period of 3-4 days.

We saw a herd of Sable, with red-billed oxpeckers on their backs. The oxpeckers eat ticks off the backs of sables and hippos and gnus. We saw brilliantly black and blue starlings, and a leadwood stump polished by elephants rubbing their skin. The trees here are leadwood, ebony, and teak. We saw a re-billed buffalo weaver bird nest made of leadwood twigs lined with grass. We found some wild basil which is used as an insect repellent and for its smell.

Elephant droppings are full of acacia seed. Baboons and birds break up and scatter the droppings to get at the seed. Any seeds left when the rain comes will germinate. Termites will cover the dung with their cement to feed on the undigested grass out of the sun. We saw a russet brush willow tree which lives in clay soil, and which elephants love to eat. People use the dried leaves from russet bush willow to make bush tea. We also saw common thatching grass, and elephant bone which had been fed on by a hyena, and an elephant skull with a new set of molars showing. Elephants get 6 sets of molars during their lives, and when they wear down their last pair they stay near lakes and rivers in order to eat softer food. The fining of lots of elephant bones and skulls in low-lying areas gave rise to the myth that elephants went to special areas to die. When we examined the skull, we could see that the bone was very honeycombed in order to lessen the weight. We also saw a young (about 30 years old) elephant which had been dead for about 2 weeks.

An elephant gets a mud bath and then rubs the mud on the trees, which will help fertilize the tree when the rains come. The trees store their nutients in the Cambrian layer in the bark. The elephants chew the bark and can kill the tree.

We saw the spinach bush, sida cordifolia, which is softened with soda and boiled for a spinach-like vegetable. We also saw a creeper leaf, which has a bulb that porcupines eat, and a devil thorn vine, which is used as soap. When you shake the flower in water, it produces foam and acts as a lubricant and soap substitute. When dried, its seed case is very hard and spiky and can puncture through thick leather shoes. The leaves can be smoked for a bit of nicotine. We saw leonitis plants which have triple seed cases. Leonotis leonurus, or leonitis, has long been used in traditional African herbal medicine for fevers, headaches, dysentery, flu, chest infections, epilepsy, constipation, delayed menstruation, intestinal worms, spider bites, scorpion stings, hypertension and snakebites. Externally, it is often used for hemorrhoids, eczema, skin rashes and boils. Branches from the gwari plant is used as a divining rod for water, and twigs are used for toothbrushes.

There are two kinds of termites: fungal growers and harvest termites. The harvest termites have smaller mounds and are active during the day. The micro termites, fungal growers, live in darkness and build very large mounds. The are very well organized with a queen, king, soldiers, and workers. Old workers take care of the children and king and queen. New workers build the colony and tend the fungus and bring in other foods. The soldiers defend the colony.

When we got back to camp Abi gave us a talk on the Grand Circle Foundation and its work in Africa. He also told us what to expect at the Ngamo Primary School and the Ngamo village visit tomorrow.
We went on an evening game drive with Douglas and Dickson where we saw cape buffalo, zebras, elephants, gnus, a hippo, a Dickson’s Kestrel on a dead tree, a Marshall Eagle, and 2 secretary birds (ground eagles) in the grass. Zebras prefer to graze near termite mounds where the termites have made the grass more nutritious, so we saw that the grass is always cropped shorter near termite mounds. Zebras are bulk feeders. If their mane falls to one side instead of standing straight up, they are not in good condition.
we set off on an evening game drive
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gnus (wildebeests)

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secretary bird

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Douglas pours some wine for Marian at the evening break

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Our guides, Douglas and Dickson, with Judith Blecha and Marilyn Herel

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Our guides, Douglas and Dickson, with Polly Anna Randol and Winston Padgett

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Our guides, Douglas and Dickson,
with Janet Shi

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Our guides, Douglas and Dickson, with Arthur & Martha Luehrmann