After an overnight stop at Victoria Falls, I began the next leg of my August 2012 safari trip to Zimbabwe. This segment consisted of 3 nights at Robins Camp and 3 nights at Sinamatella Camp, both at Hwange National Park (HNP) followed by 2 nights at Rhodes Matopos National Park (RMNP) in Bulawayo. Godfrey from neighboring Zambia joined me for this leg of the tour. I had met him back in May that year when I visited Zambia. He is an excellent guide on bird life.
On the 22nd August, during morning hours we drove up to HNP from Victoria Falls in our rented 4×4 vehicle, after picking up dry rations at Vic Falls. I had rented a 2 roomed, self-catering bungalow at Robins Camp that had basic facilities. My first priority after arriving at our lodging was to prepare a Sri Lankan rice and curry meal. I had not had Sri Lankan food for the last 2 weeks and I was craving for it.
The highlight of this trip to HNP was running in to the Robins Pride. We counted 11 Lions in the pride of which 6 were cubs that were only a few months old. This was on the 24th of August, 2 days in to my stay at Robins camp. Having left the camp at dawn, we found the pride on the road heading to Sinamatella. There were no other vehicles at the sighting for about half an hour and I was able to take photos undisturbed. At one point, the pride with the six cubs were all looking intently at our vehicle, as if they were posing for us. That scene reminded me of a recent family photograph that we took at a studio in Colombo on my 40th wedding anniversary, when all my seven grandchildren posed together with me, my wife and my children. The Lions did look hungry and desperate for a meal. We found the pride again the next day at the same spot but this time they were after a good meal having hunted a male Kudu and fed on it.
It struck me on this visit that the Elephants at HNP were demonstrating fear of people and were bolting away to a safe distance at the sight of vehicles. This kind of behavior of these gentle giants is quite unusual compared to other wild life parks in Africa. My guess is that it is due to the activity of poachers who kill Elephants for their tusks or even sport hunters who are given licenses at a price by the authorities in Zimbabwe to hunt for pleasure within specified areas. While killing these majestic beasts for the ivory value of their tusks is a criminal offence worldwide, I cannot comprehend the psychology of a man who kills wild animals for enjoyment. The concept itself is sickening.
My stay at the Sinamatella Camp was reduced to two nights since I had an extra night at Robins Camp looking for Wild Dogs. The Sinamatella Camp is located on the top of a hill overlooking the savannahs and the Mopani woodlands of Hwange NP. It is a very scenic location but the facility has not been maintained very well.
In spite of quite an intense effort, we had no sightings of the Painted Dog at HNP on this trip. I did a follow up visit to the Painted Dogs Conservation Center at Hwange which I had supported by donating a new set of batteries for their solar power generating system. I was pleased to see the solar power system in operation at the research facility with the batteries that I supplied.
We went on to Bulawayo on the 28th and after an overnight stay at the city, we spent the last two nights at the Rhodes Matopos National Park, which is one hour from Bulawayo by road. RMNP is the oldest national park in Zimbabwe. The rock formations around Matopos hills is unique, some are in the form of kopjes. The Matapos Hills have one of the highest concentrations of rock art in Southern Africa dating back at least 13,000 years. The park attracts tourists for its rock paintings and the grave site of Cecil Rhodes, one of the founding fathers of Zimbabwe, which was known as Rhodesia during the colonial rule of the nation by the British. Rhodes was buried as per his wishes, among a ring of gigantic boulders at the summit of Malindidzimu, a rock mountain in the park. The site is also called the “World’s View” and it is an apt name as the view from the mountain peak is fascinating.
The park apparently has a significant Leopard population but I did not see any, except some pug marks. However spotting the Black Eagle, a bird of prey not often seen in other parks in Africa, made the visit worthwhile for me. Its favorite prey in Matopos NP is the Rock Hyrax, which is said to be the Elephant’s nearest living relative. We also came across three White Rhinos at this park.
On the 1st of September we drove from Bulawayo to Harare and after an overnight stay in Harare I flew back to Sri Lanka while Godfrey took a bus to Lusaka.