Kwihala Safari Newsletter: December / January 2012 / 2013 - story and photos by Steven Roskelly
A return to the Ruaha is always special for me no matter what the season!
There are always amazing spectacles to behold and experience, from the tiniest of creatures to the greatest leviathans
walking the wilderness here. Once again, Ruaha never fails to disappoint the diligent observer of nature
or a relaxed mind allowing colour, sound and scent to envelop and infuse the senses!
Arriving to take over the reigns from Marc on December 1st, I was struck by a landscape attempting to extricate itself
from the hot and parched grip of the dry season, a little rainfall having been felt only a short while before, as the wheels
of the Cessna Caravan hit the deck at Msembe, Park HQ. The Great Ruaha River was still “dry,” with only some isolated hippo pools
and water flowing beneath the seemingly desolate expanse of its long, sandy bed. Shoots of green were only just appearing
at the soil-atmosphere interface, blasted pitifully by the hot rays of the sun overhead and unshaded by what few green leaves were appearing on the trees.
A new chapter of renewal and reproduction was emerging then, and as I write this now Ruaha is a fully fledged
emerald savanna of almost blindingly bright colour, verdant open plains, thickly wooded riverine habitats and rocky fortresses
that play habitat & host to her many and varied wild inhabitants struggling for survival every hour of every day.
The green season has always been said to be “quiet” and fraught with “difficulty to spot game,” and although
this is partly and only slightly true, such opinions extolled with so much zeal are, I humbly opine, greatly over-exaggerated!
We have enjoyed the ever-increasing population of elephant here every day of the season, every outing producing
a view and an encounter, the sounds and scent of which we allowed to wash over us, all our senses bombarded
and simultaneously caressed by the audible deep rumblings, collected and masticated vegetation and soft footfalls
of these great pachyderms. Wow! These huge beasts gave an experience beyond the wildest imaginations of
many of our guests, often walking past, feeding, playing, mud & dust-bathing & sleeping around us…peaceful, quiet…
sometimes with a little tension or a brief charge to cut the atmosphere crisply and remind us of our frailty.
One young cow broke away from her small group who were grazing peacefully en-route down to the Mwagusi valley
and approached us in a very relaxed manner, as is fairly normal with individuals who are inquisitive or just want to get to “that”
bush for a quick “bite”, with the vehicle being inconsequential nor a point of interest. She stopped short of the vehicle and
became mildly interested in us but then proceeded to act in a manner quite unusual:
Getting down on her knees several times, flapping her ears, throwing her trunk around almost uncontrollably with a few droplets
of water landing on us, digging her single tusk into the ground repeatedly to dislodge and break up some clay at the edge of the
puddle! It went on and on for almost twenty minutes with us agog and very amused, laughing all the while! She almost seemed
to enjoy her audience, reacting to the favourable laughs and silent applause from her human spectators…
We could have shouted at her or moved away but we just allowed her to “behave” like a naughty girl and were rewarded
with an incredible experience never to be forgotten.
Many other wonderful animal sightings in a rapidly changing landscape were enjoyed by everyone who had the good fortune to choose Ruaha
as part of their African safari itinerary. Rainfall was softening everything, allowing green life to flourish and with it all that depended
on such an eruption of verdant and lush vegetation. Wild flowers were sprouting forth, grasses growing inches by the week and a
myriad of colourful insects erupting from their respective births and hiding places, showed us just how brilliant nature is at reproducing en masse.
We had the privilege of viewing a group of nearly 20 Wild Dog on one occasion, the first sighting of the entire season!
These hunting dogs, if their condition is any indication of the general health of the entire Wild Dog population in the greater
Ruaha ecosystem, are doing very well with shiny coats and alert, inquisitive behavior! On the run, their fit and lithe bodies flow
through the savanna and bush almost effortlessly in search of prey to hunt down. And with no shortage of prey around the dogs
seem to be on a winning wicket at the moment, Impala antelope giving birth to their lambs in great profusion at this time of year
– they were almost everywhere! The plight of Wild Dogs surviving naturally is a serious one, most intricately linked with their requirement
of suitable and extensive habitat in which to thrive, Ruaha providing one of the very few massive areas in which they have the freedom to do so.
Tanzanian National Parks have taken the steps necessary to ensure that this remains a healthy and thriving ecosystem for wild life
and natural processes having recently expanded the borders of the park in the south to make it Tanzania’s largest National Park at just over
20 000 square kilometers. Wild Dogs need space and prey, they have it here!
During this beautiful part of the season we really had no problems at all viewing so many different antelope, warthogs, as well as many
zebra and some Cape buffalo too – usually very scarce at this time of year in the Mwagusi / Ruaha valleys. Our time spent viewing these animals
in their natural habitat was unimpeded by lush vegetation now growing with more intensity than ever before, but rather accentuated and made
all the more beautiful to appreciate and photograph due to their verdant surroundings.
The “emerald season” as it is rapidly coming to be more widely known, for me is really the season to experience a diversity of nature
and activity not seen during the dry time of the year. Sure, cat sightings in general do drop, but only slightly, and the photographs
of cheetah and lion illustrate the beauty of their home.
Cheetah in particular were conspicuous by their presence and we had many occasions to view them in pristine surroundings, full of life and vigour!
One day we came across a mother Cheetah and her three cubs (almost a year old) and watched them for some time
until they eventually spotted a group of unsuspecting Impala and the mother cat gave chase with the youngsters
having being told to “sit and stay!” The entire hunt was laid open before us and the lithe adult cat was successful,
her efforts being rewarded with a well placed paw after an 80m sprint to bring down a fat, young Impala ram!
We sat for another few hours experiencing the vocalisations between the cheetah, dragging and feeding on the carcass,
the first few vultures arriving and their eventual departure later on to frolic in the cool sand of the Mwagusi! Not something you see every day!
Nesting & newly arriving migratory birds filling the air with song and wing-beat added massively to the general observation of rejuvenation
and rebirth at Ruaha – the Paradise Flycatchers were particularly eager in their efforts to raise young in three separate nests we found
just within the camp area! Hundreds of Amur Falcons arriving on storm fronts, Abdim’s and White Storks floating in hundreds on rising thermal
columns of air, Ostrich searching for food with their youngsters through the open plains – there are too many bird sightings and species seen to list them here.
Suffice it to say that it’s more important to wonder at the colour and song of countless different types of bird than to list their individual names;
to do so sometimes categorises them too scientifically, almost robbing us of a sense of wonder and mystery we should feel when our eyes
first gaze upon their immaculate plumage!
So, with the ‘greening of Ruaha’ in full swing, bursting with life in every corner, refreshing and essential rain falling every once in a while,
(sometimes on our heads while watching elephants!) might mean for some an ‘intrusion’ or a ‘slight inconvenience’;
we in fact believe it to be one of the best times to visit this beautiful and awe-inspiring wilderness, one of Africa’s greatest wildlife hotspots!
Clearly Africa - at Kwihala Camp