The sands of time are slipping through my fingers as I try to cup the year and hold onto it in a vain attempt to slow things down. I realise it is mid-year and this is my first visit to Hwange National Park and the Wilderness Safaris camps. Ridiculous! Normally by this time Mike and I would have been on our third visit, or certainly our second – but not the first! The dry season is starting to take its grip but just gently as there are still mature tinges of green in the landscape.
As we bounced along the road into the concession area, it felt warmly familiar. And yet, strangely, I had to wrack my brain to remember the roads. You know that wonderful feeling when you are on safari and you drive out of camp and all of a sudden you are just lost in nature, not really knowing which direction you are going in, or where the camp is, but just being in the here and now, living life in the moment. That is the therapy of safari!
Along the main road going towards Linkwasha Camp we passed the familiar waterholes. We paused to assess the water levels, commenting amongst ourselves on how much better things appear to be this year compared to last year which was already at this time significantly drier owing to poor rainfall. The cameras were still safely in their bags on the back seat while we did a mental stock take of everything.
Peter the resident Pelican was sleeping on the banks of Somavundhla Pan, his head and beak tucked under cover of his broken wing. The hippo were in the middle of the pan with just ears, eyes and noses checking us out. Egyptian geese stomped and waddled along the water’s edge, the light was fading and the shadows on the ripples were getting deeper – all was well and where it should be.
As we crept closer to Linkwasha we came across the two male lions of the area. New boys so to speak, probably between four-and-a-half to five years old. We followed the young males as they padded along the road. Their affection for one another was evidenced by how they kept so close together, allowing themselves to rub shoulders from time to time as their gait took them over the uneven ground. In the mellowing afternoon light, when the landscape looks impossibly beautiful, the dominant male started to roar. Being that close to his regal rumble sent reverberations all the way down my spine right into the pit of my being. I felt as though we were being ushered in, announced, given a royal welcome – a tremendous privilege.
Next morning in the cold crisp light we found the male couple on the vast open plains of Ngamo – a dramatic landscape that has to be visited to be truly appreciated. Actually we knew the lions were there because one of the other vehicles guided by Lovemore, who was hosting two wonderful friends of ours, informed us over the crackle of our handheld radio. However, we drove past the sighting twice before the males sat up and revealed themselves. While we watched them stroll across the plain, being carefully observed by herds of grazing wildebeest, I asked Lovemore what names they had assigned to these two males. The collared dominant male is called Ngqwele.
It is an Ndebele name and it means ‘dominant one’ but has particular reference to the head cattle herder in Ndebele tradition. Traditionally the role will be filled by a young boy who would be responsible for delegating and giving instruction to all the other younger herd boys as to where to move the cattle for ideal grazing and water. For those of us not fluent in Ndebele the name is quite tricky because it has a click in its pronunciation as the ‘g’ and the ‘q’ click on the side of the tongue when spoken. So it sounds something like ‘en-click-wele’. The second male is called Butch, and despite his seemingly tough name, he comes second.
These two young males are making their presence felt in this whole area. Females are bearing cubs which is the start of new generations of lions prides for this area. The circle of life continues and we look forward with great fondness to these two male lions growing up, filling out and becoming the large kings of this glorious Hwange kingdom.
Written by Marian Myers
Photographed by Mike Myers