By Bert Duplessis
BIRDS AND CROCODILES AT CHADA KATAVI
The next morning it was all about the birds and the crocodiles, and the hippo. We witnessed one of the most amazing sights we had seen in years when a giant of a crocodile started tossing around a large dead crocodile, shaking it in its massive jaw like a limp rag. Cannibalism is never a pretty sight, but this was fierce! There were hundreds of other birds around the pond, including yellow billed storks and pelicans. We were impressed by the high density of African Fish Eagles at the bridge with two waterholes on either side. This is the bridge with the sign which prohibits free game-viewing or photography. Sure.
It is a short drive from there to the camp headquarters where we witnessed a spectacle like no other. There were several hundred hippos packed in literally wall to wall in a morass of mud and thick sludge-like water. Hardly moving and seemingly resigned to their plight to waiting out the dry season, they were just enduring the stench and discomfort, waiting for better days. One could not help but feel sorry for the poor beasts.
We then drove to the main (Katsunga) pan, where we had another picnic breakfast at a lovely spot beneath some trees. The ‘vegan’ option was a cold toasted egg sandwich without bacon. Something got lost in the translation there, but not a big deal. I just don’t much care for picnic breakfasts, vegan or not. It would be different if there was a fire or hot plate to grill something, but I think the point has been made. Over coffee we admired the pretty scenery and took some photographs of giraffes moving across the open plains, fringed with large stands of Borassus palms.
We drove past Katuma Bush Lodge and Fox Camp – both of which I think have a somewhat better location than Chada Katavi, being closer to the main river and floodplain. Earlier in the dry season the Nomad property – which is on the edge of Chada Pan – has a grandstand view of the huge buffalo herds for which the park is famous, so it all depends on conditions. However it felt like we drove quite a distance on most game drives, to and from the most productive game-viewing areas.
Just before we returned to camp for lunch and a siesta, we checked out another few individuals belonging to the Chada lion pride; this time a male (known for his grumpy behavior) and three female lions, one older female and two young ones.
That afternoon, it was back to the lions, observing a female with two young cubs around 3 months of age. The lions seemed to be hiding in the grass, possibly getting into position for a late afternoon hunt. We left them temporarily to have sundowners with a breeding herd of elephants as ‘entertainment’ in the background. The next activity was a night drive which produced a good crop of nocturnal animals including three genets, several lesser bush babies (one good clear sighting) and one of our best ever views of a Serval Cat.
A TWO GUN FOOT SAFARI
This morning (Oct 30) at 6:30A four of us plus our guide Mohamed and a TANAPA (Tanzania National Parks) ranger set out on a 2-gun foot safari. As it turned out that was two guns too many, the most dangerous game we encountered being warthogs. Of course it is well-advised to be protected at all times as one could come across elephant or buffalo unexpectedly – with unpredictable results.
Mohamed was exceptionally knowledgeable about various plants and trees, and we learnt some fascinating things about elephant dung (responsible for spreading Borassus palm seeds), a salty shrub (which the animals seek out for – duh – salt), acacia melliflora (thorns low down but not high up), sausage trees (size matters – it’s a long story) buffalo thorn tree (natural viagra for the Hadzabe) and we watched the leaves of a ‘touch me not’ shrub close up at the lightest of touches. It was a pleasant outing and a nice change of pace from the vehicle.
A bit later that morning we saw two sleeping elephants next to Mohamed’s tent, right in camp. They were quite relaxed, just taking a nap.
ALL THE WAY TO PARADISE AND BACK
At around 10:00A we set off to Paradise to check it out briefly and then to go on to Palahala Camp for a site inspection. Our friendly and competent Starlight driver-guide was Promise. It was a long 2-hr trip to Paradise but we did see quite a bit of game en route, including giraffe, impala, zebra, ground hornbills, a few buffalo and some hyena.
It’s true what your mother told you. Getting to Paradise is not easy. It was a good 40km from the bridge across the Katuma River and several stretches of the road to Paradise were infested with some pesky, persistent tsetse flies. By now I was well-prepared for them and really had very few issues. They tend to like some people more than others and unfortunately I am in the ‘favored’ category. So here’s what you do:
BERT’S TSETSE FLY PROTECTION PLAN
Over the years I have had a few run-ins with tsetse flies. Most memorably on a drive along a tsetse fly corridor to a camp in Zambia which I don’t think is even in business anymore. Here are my hints on how to avoid being bitten by these useless pests. Or at least to reduce the damage they can do.
i) Before you put on anything for the day’s outing, spray yourself all over with -preferably – Peaceful Sleep which is a very effective TF repellent. If you don’t have that on hand then use whatever DEET-containing spray or roll-on or cream you have on hand. Try to cover as much of your body as you can (even your back as they will probe and/or bite through clothing).
ii) Wear a neutral color long-sleeved shirt and long pants – shorts are just too much of an invitation. Tuck your long pants into your socks (the longer and thicker the better) and use some Peaceful Sleep or other spray or insect repellent liberally around the ankles. The TF like ankles A LOT! If you want some extra protection, wear gaiters around the ankles. The gaiters might even protect you from other biting flies.
iii) Put on a hat to cover your head. Next time I might even take some sturdy biking gloves for certain tricky spots or activities (a boating trip in Odzala-Kokoua, Republic of Congo come to mind).
iv) Then spray yourself again – including on your clothing and socks, everywhere – with Peaceful Sleep. Repeat as often as necessary.
v) Take a small spray bottle with a Dettol anti-septic mix with you (2/3 water, 1/3 Dettol with some lotion to make it stick) and either spray it on every 20 to 30 minutes or so, or whenever you see TF activity increase around you. The TF don’t like the smell of Dettol. Yeah you will smell like an infirmary but trust me, TF bites itch like crazy.
vi) Take a cortisone cream or other anti-itch cream with you & apply it to a bite immediately. Take a couple of Benadryls if you get several bites. It happens.
vii) When there are a few tsetse flies around, stay calm and don’t panic & flail away. It might be that movement attracts them, I don’t know. Still testing this theory – might have to book a trip to the Kafue region of Zambia to check it out.
viii) If you do get bitten, don’t worry too much – it is not fatal and you won’t get sleeping sickness. I am told that the reaction to the TF bites reduces sharply after a week or so of getting bitten. If the choice is to get bitten by TF repeatedly for a week to build up resistance or do all the stuff above to avoid getting bitten, it should be an easy decision.
Chances are you won’t need to take all of these measures but best to be prepared. Nobody likes to be bitten.
The good news? There was not a mosquito to be seen anywhere in Northern or Western Tanzania. Too dry.
Once we got to Paradise, it was worth the trip. For one thing, the most amazing Borassus Palm forest dominates the landscape on either side of the river. It towers above the surrounding bush and thick riverine vegetation. We drove by several pools of clear water, at least compared with the dirty, muddy pools of the Katsuma River. We saw several bushbuck and a nice small group of Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest, a local specialty. The previous day some African wild dogs had been seen in the area, but we missed them as well as the roan antelope commonly seen here. Of course we were driving at the worst time of the day.
Palahala Camp – which is what we had come to see – consists of 8 rooms and it has a large mess tent and lounge area, conducive to spending some time reading and relaxing. The tents are large and somewhat elevated on a deck with a view of the Kapapa River. We did a back-of house inspection and I was impressed by how clean and well-organized everything was. By the time we got back to the lounge several elephants had wandered into the picture and over lunch we observed them drinking and feeding. We did pretty well ourselves with those two activities, tucking into some rice, a lovely coleslaw and a chicken curry dish, rounded off with a creme caramel. All in all a cozy, friendly camp with a good location. It is rather a long way from the camp to the Katsunga Pan area for game drives.
Back at Chada Katavi I spent an hour catching up on some e-mails, and shortly afterwards we departed for sundowners on the Chada Pan. As it happened, there was a really nice herd of about 300+ buffalo right in the open floodplain. Mohamed maneuvered the vehicle so that we had the sunset in the background. This is what you come to Africa for. Enjoying a gin & tonic while the sun sets over a gorgeous African scene, with a near 360-degree view of nothing but grass, a tree line on the horizon and a sky as big as Texas. And of course a few hundred buffalo.
Rather reluctantly we returned to camp by about 7:00P for a leisurely dinner – more like a feast really with a rice pilaf, roast pork, a traditional local bean dish, ugali, spinach and a mixed cabbage salad. Yum!
Our last game drive at Katava was relatively quiet. We saw some of the usual suspects (impala, giraffe, zebra, waterbuck and of course dozens of hippo) but no predators. A couple of good elephant sightings were most welcome, as we had not previously had any opportunities to photograph them in good light. I managed a couple of decent shots of a small herd moving from the Katsunga floodplain to the adjacent woodland. We also bumped into the only Roan antelope which we would see on the trip – a handsome yet shy individual who did not permit us to get any closer than about 500 meters.
Then it was back to camp to pack and enjoy breakfast (toast, baked beans, fruit and good Tanzania coffee). After making our contribution to the Tip Box we said our goodbyes & headed off on the 30-minute drive to the Katavi Airstrip. Soon enough a TFC Caravan appeared as if out of nowhere, flew over the runway to check for giraffe, banked again and came in for a landing. Within minutes the aircraft was airborne again, this time with us on board, and the pilot punched in the GPS coordinates for a small airstrip on the edge of Lake Tanganyika, just north of the border of the Mahale Mountains National Park. Next: chimps on the lake.
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