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Shark Bytes

December 2014 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Wild dogs at Mana Pools National Park

Posted on Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Dear Shark Lovers

 

My apologies for the Shark Bytes silence over the last couple months. Since the Great White Shark season finished at Seal Island Chris and I have been on our annual holiday. Our adventures have taken us to Zimbabwe and Namibia, where we spent a number of weeks in the bush and a bit of a break from the sea!

Shark Bytes this month is mostly about our bush experiences so I hope that you will not mind a change of scenery. We did have an amazing encounter with a Sperm whale which I also write about. These are all extracts but look for the links to the full blog if you are interested.

Before getting onto our adventures we are very proud to announce the launch and revamp of new website http://www.apexpredators.com/.We welcome you to visit and would appreciate your feedback.

You’ll find information on all our 2015/2016 expeditions as well as Chris’s Shark and Wildlife Image Gallery with an online shopping cart. You can also view Photos Of The Month here.

 

Sperm Whale Encounter

You can read the full blog here.

"Just as we were preparing to depart for home John spotted another Sperm whale spouting fairly close to us and suddenly it was game on again. Chris was still in his wetsuit and Pam directed me perfectly onto the swim path of the whale. Chris slowly eased in the water and then swam like mad to reach to exact meeting point of the approaching sperm whale. He had a breath-taking view as the whale passed within a couple of meters from him. Even though we weren’t in the water with Chris all of us on board were so excited at the experience Chris had just had. The whale moves at a speed you are not aware of when watching them from the surface and once the whale swims past you it is impossible to keep up with them. So, the “dive” is literally to get yourself ahead of the whale on its approach, and hope like crazy it doesn’t turn away.

When Chris got on board we spotted a second whale a few hundred meters away. I didn’t have time to put on a wetsuit so I got ready in my shorts (luckily the water was warm) and grabbed my mask & fins before getting ready on the dive step. Chris lined the boat up and very soon I got the command to get in, and then swim as fast as I could. I suddenly found myself, in my shorts, in the middle of the open ocean, over a thousand meters of water and racing towards a gigantic 20 ton sperm whale, on my own! It was a daunting feeling but the moment I realised my frantic swimming was taking me towards an experience of a lifetime I calmed down and tried to take the moment in.

I got ahead of her and on the surface I had a terrific view of this huge bulbous head riding slightly above the surface, and then hearing that beautiful exhale as she approached to within visibility under the water. I ducked myself down and there she was, swimming straight towards me… I couldn’t believe it! I think she must have been curious, I am certain I was the first human she had even seen underwater, and changed her path even more directly towards me. I found myself trying to back pedal as she came less than a meter from me. I didn’t realise how much depth a sperm whale has to its head especially. As she came past I tried to find her eye so that I could look into it. It took a few heart beats before I located it way down beneath me.  She was just calmly looking at me in a thoughtful way and I definitely felt the intelligence behind it. In fact it was very human-like.

It is difficult to describe how large a 20 ton whale is and when it comes to a sperm whale I can now say with authority that it can be likened to an ice-berg; 90% of it is underwater, and seeing one on the surface definitely does not convey how large it is. I was completely in awe as this massive animal moved past me and only realised too late that I should have started kicking with it much earlier in an attempt to stay a little longer with her. In just a moment she was already on her way and her fast moving tail left me in her dust, or prop wash more literally!"

 

From everyone at Apex we wish You and your Families a very Happy Holiday, hopefully it will be a Great White Christmas!

Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe

If you think you have done just about everything in the African Bush you are mistaken if you have not yet had the privilege of spending time in Mana Pools. This Zimbabwean National Park is located in the Zambezi Valley along the mighty Zambezi River. It is like a Garden of Eden with the canopies of varyingly magnificent trees such as giant Figs, Natal Mahoganies and Apple Ring Acacias creating a maze of archways under which elephant, eland and impala are framed; with

Baboons scampering in the branches overhead and fish eagles calling above.

Not only is Mana Pools breathtakingly beautiful, it is one of the few Parks in Africa where you may walk on foot in the bush and this allows for a very real and intimate experience with the wildlife, and gives one a true sense of freedom.

Below in an extract from one of our experiences. You can read the full blog here and hear about our wild dog encounters, elephant interactions and the general beauty of Mana Pools.

 

“We had a long drive to Livingston so our plan was to have one last look for the pack of 17 dogs that we had spent most of our time with. We were just finishing our short drive and were doing one last check at The Green Pool when we noticed the impala were stressed and staring pointedly in one direction. This normally means only one thing and a few moments later I spotted a few dogs running along the tree line… They were on the hunt.

We raced ahead of them in the car and tried to estimate where in the bush we would be able to intercept them.

Trekking about 800 meters into the bush we came across the most idyllic scene. In a dry river bed covered in a blanket of green shoots and over hanging archways of apple ring acacia trees above was a herd of about 60 Eland, their soft brown and tan colours adding perfectly to the magical scene. Spread out around them were the 17 dogs lying lazily about. It was such a beautiful scene and I stopped for a moment to take it all in.

 

 

Just as quickly the tranquillity was shattered as a returning dog re-joined the pack. The excited dog began chasing the young eland and this in turn got the rest of the pack going. Dust and excited dog chirping dominated the scene as the adult eland protected the young in the middle and began moving off.

This signalled the departure of the dogs as well and they were swiftly on the move again in their pre hunt jog.

The moods change quickly and this time excitement radiated through the pack as they happened along a troupe of baboons. Wild dogs are known to hunt baboons in Mana Pools which seems to be unique as this does not appear to happen in other areas that we know of.

Some of the adult dogs had managed to tree a young baboon and it was now shrieking its lungs out in pure panic as three or four dogs nipped at its heels below. As the adult dogs moved off the large male baboon came to protect the young baboon that was still stuck in the tree. Four of the pups began chasing the adult baboon and we sat enthralled as the chasers became the chase-ees numerous times back and forth. We also found it very interesting to observe how aggressively the adult baboon was prepared to protect the young baboon from the pups, there clearly was no love lost between them.

 

 

All the adult dogs had pushed on and the four pups eventually had to give up the chase and follow the pack. By now the dogs had settled under a perfectly shaded fig tree, slightly elevated overlooking yet another Eden of Mana Pools. The scene before us was 17 wild dogs, baboons, and elephants scattered in the background.

We slowly crept up to the pack and settled down to watch them for the last time. Our peace was shortly to be disturbed when a large bull elephant happened along the way. The elephants don’t seem to like wild dogs and we have fairly often seen them annoyed or even grumpy with them.

As soon as this elephant came across the pack he trumpeted loudly, shook his head and charged them angrily. The dogs merely skirted out of the way but we were left standing close by.

By now the elephant was seriously angry. His posture was fully extended, ears were flapping and everything about his body language was screaming aggression.

The elephant spotted us standing about 15 meters away and I guess projected his mood onto us. With ears flapping wildly and loud trumpeting blaring I was sure he was going to charge us. Chris whispered to not move a muscle (elephants don’t have very good eye sight), and I didn’t as the elephant stood and contemplated what to do. I didn’t breathe either…

As soon as he turned his head away from us for a moment we quietly and quickly moved toward a pile of dead tree logs. Elephants don’t easily walk over high things so this was a very good option in this kind of situation.

After a few heart stopping moments the elephant stormed off and away from us. 

This was yet another intense life moment that had our adrenalin pumping and left us feeling truly alive. It was also a good reminder of how constantly vigilant you need to be when walking exposed in the bush. Mana Pools, a unique place with experiences like no other…what a way to end our time here!"

 

 

Mana Pools Safari Company, Mana Pools

Read the full blog here and hear about our time walking in the bush with John Stevens.

 

“As we were finishing our meal a friend who was with us timed his routine torchlight search perfectly. As he turned the torch on we were greeted with a lioness charging in our direction with a huge male lion right behind her.

The lioness was not coming at us. We presume she has come in oestrous and the male was now pursuing her against her wishes. For us it was an adrenalin filled moment seeing two huge lions appearing out of the darkness in close proximity. The lioness made a dash for the camp kitchen and managed to hide herself under the washing line here. In no time at all a total of three adult male lions were in camp searching for her and they were roaring to their heats content. The sound, being so close to them, ripped through the night and reverberated through the camp. It was deafening and the kind of noise that you can feel right into the core of your belly. Amazing, amazing, amazing!

It was definitely time to head for the tents and let the lions get on with what they needed to do.

Chris and I hid in our tent, our excitement building as we sat listening to the lions calling for the female in the still night. Ten minutes later the female made a dash from the kitchen in an attempt to evade the males. Her escape path took her right past our tent and she was shortly followed by the males who sensed her movement. The camp staff were spot lighting the males so we could easily make out their shapes are they ran towards our tent. I now have an image firmly imbedded in my mind of two male lions striding backlit towards us in the dark night, their huge manes illuminated as they called after the lioness. As they passed within a couple meters of our tent entrance they were silhouetted against the night sky and at this point we had to have absolute faith in the millimetre thin fly net that was between us and the lions!

The moment was so full of excitement and energy that it was difficult to fall asleep that night listening to the roaring now way off in the distance. What an experience!

 

The Desert Wildlife in Kaokaland, Namibia

If you’d like to read the full blog and here about our sightings of the desert elephants as well as the very fortunate two days with the desert lions please click here.

 

"The two herds spent the entire rest of the day together with a bull hanging around on the outskirts.

The adult females didn’t seem too excited to have him in the vicinity and would often show their annoyance by shaking their heads and ears at him.

There was one female in particular that he was enamoured with. She had obviously gone in oestrous and the attraction to her was too much for him to bear, he was never far behind despite her not so subtle hints to leave her alone. It was plain to see that he was becoming increasingly frustrated and we both felt pretty sorry for him. It meant that he finally had to resort to extraordinary tactics and by rifling around in a dense bush of vegetation he came up with what surely would be a game winner for him.

He had come across a dead Mopane tree and proceeded with the most impressive stunt. Mopane wood is very dense and thus very heavy but with seemingly no effort at all he grappled it between his tusks and lifted it above his head in order to lift up the whole tree and drape it across his back.

We could not believe the feat we were witnessing and I mentioned to Chris that I would definitely be interested if I was that female elephant! But, she showed him no interest at all even though the poor guy performed the task another two times. I guess she was playing hard to get… Not only was it an incredibly impressive sight to see, it was also extremely interesting to observe the obvious frustration the bull was feeling.

The following day we stopped at the dead tree that now lay in the middle of the river bed and by trying to move it, and trying to slightly lift it, we estimated the weight to be around 300-400 kilograms."

 

 

An Elephant Love Story

Read the full blog here.

"This may sound like an odd title to a blog, but it’s true, this is something of a love story and about how we have reached a deeper understanding and appreciation for elephants over the last two years. I have been spending at least two months every year in the bush since I first met Chris in 2000. Being in the bush is now what I call my “soul time” and has become a huge part of my life. I always feel like I have arrived home no matter where in the bush I am.

One of the best parts about going on a bush trip is to hand over my phone and laptop to our office to take care of and head into the “real world” of no phone, internet, tv or shopping malls… Give me dust, heat, a tiny tent and a complete immersion into wildlife and I am at my happiest.

I have to admit that I do have my favourite animals, as everyone does, with wild dogs, a beautiful lioness and the full of character honey badger topping my list. Elephants were never really of a great interest and I must confess that we never really spent that much time watching them, thinking them to just lazily stand around eating and drinking all day.

However, two years ago whilst on a two week stay in Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe I came to know a very small adult female elephant who we have now named “Mrs Stumpy Tail”. This little elephant is part of a herd of four. The matriarch seems to be old with a very sunken head making her easy to identify. There are also two juveniles which we presume to be each adult’s calf. Mrs Stumpy Tail as her name suggests, is missing about two thirds of her tail, most likely due to a lion when she was still a calf.

And so begins the love story…"

 

 

Happy Holidays!

From everyone at Apex we wish You and your Families a very Happy Holiday, hopefully it will be a Great White Christmas!

 

Until next month!

 

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

Tags:

Marine Life, Wildlife, Mana Pools National Park - Zimbabwe

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