Weather and Landscape
The rains have arrived in Liwonde and with them the incredible feeling of new beginnings which are brought about by the rains. Chris Badger from the Lilongwe office was recently at Mvuu, and had the following to say:
The intense build-up of heat was followed by rolling thunder clouds, which released their first drops of water in the afternoon - building up from a light shower to heavy sheets of rain within an hour. A quick walk around the lodge showed puddles forming in minutes, and the formation of small streams which started flowing into the lagoon.
The colony of white-backed night-herons that live opposite the lodge decided to change from their normal nocturnal routine and all flew down in broad daylight to the edge of the lagoon to feed on the influx of frogs and small fish being swept into the lagoon. We witnessed some extraordinary behaviour from a small crocodile: usually the most energy-efficient of beasts and the most successful of hunters, this young one was leaping out of the water to lunge at a perching heron that was always comfortably out of range.
Dinner that night was wonderful - the frogs were calling so loudly we could barely hear ourselves talking and all manner of insects including some impressively large predatory beetles flew around the paraffin lamps feasting on the winged alates.
After a beautifully cool night we awoke at the crack of dawn for a morning walk. The skies were clear and the air already clean and crisp from the rain. The first noticeable feature was the thousands of red velvet mites - these tiny arachnids appear immediately after the rains and carpet the floodplains.
The hundreds of impala that live around Mvuu and have endured a particularly long and harsh dry season were noticeably more active than usual, already feeding on green shoots that had appeared as if from nowhere and the younger ones were prancing about and play fighting each other.
The transition from dry to wet inspired many great sightings in December, some of which were quite rare and unusual for the area.
At the beginning of the month Jimmy and his guests found a Sharpe's grysbok in the Rhino Sanctuary. This was only the beginning of the group's good fortune, as they soon came across a large herd of around 160 buffalo - one of the biggest herds recorded in the park! As luck goes, things usually happen in threes, and the group then found a black rhino and her tiny little calf.
Two weeks later, it was Rocky's turn for good luck as he had some great sightings with his guests. It all started when Rocky was sitting at the main area waiting for his guests to arrive for high tea. He watched a hippo cow make her way down to the lagoon, but he noticed something small following the hippo. At first he thought it was a warthog, but after closer inspection, it was a tiny hippo calf, most likely heading for the water for the first time. The little one battled to keep up with its mother, but as soon as it reached the water, it moved with great ease.
In general, elephant have been very abundant, sometimes with large herds of 90 being seen along the river.
Birds and Birding
December was an incredible month, even in terms of the birding and avian delights. As mentioned above, after the rains there was an explosion of insects, which has attracted such a huge variety and number of bird species. A few of these beauties can be seen on our blog here
Black Rhino Conservation
Last month we reported on the rhino darting and monitoring operation and as this continued into December we would like to elaborate further on what the mission is and on what has been achieved so far. Black rhino are under huge poaching pressure all over their increasingly limited range in Africa and Liwonde's unique population is no exception. Over the last few weeks a number of organisations and individuals have come together to put a plan in place to enhance their protection. The plan was to dart and collar as many rhino as we could find and then monitor them continuously to record their movements and territory. The Wilderness Wildlife Trust provided both VHF and satellite collars at considerable expense, and Dr Pete Morkel, one of Africa's most highly respected wildlife vets flew up and darted and collared the rhino as well as taking DNA samples. Krisz Gyonnyi, a graduate student with considerable experience in monitoring and studying black rhino flew out from Europe to take care of the monitoring, and Bentley Palmer from Blantyre organised funding for a temporary three-strand fence to replace the old and ruined sanctuary fence, African Parks provided trackers and a dart gun and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife supplied a team of scouts to assist in finding the rhino. In a three-week spell of intense tracking and hard work in the blistering heat we have managed to dart and collar seven rhino and these are now under constant satellite surveillance.
"When I am old and grey and sit by the fire, I will remember my stay at Mvuu where I was happy, where I saw such beauty, where I met such great people - Oh what memories I have."
Newsletter by Jim, Duncan, Jimmy, Rocky and Chris.