Vultures, a Game Drive, and Indulgence

A challenge for any tourist-oriented business, but especially for isolated resorts, is how to keep the tourists entertained during off-hours.

The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge came up with a creative solution, probably originally for kids, but it turned out to be interesting to adults, too: feeding the vultures. I’m sure you have all wondered what feeding hundreds of vultures (and a few Maribou Storks) would be like, right? Well, wonder no longer. It turns out to be a good way to get rid of meat scraps, too.

Africa has eleven species of vultures, and eight of them have declined by about 62% in the last 30 years. Globally, vultures are the most endangered bird species.

Vultures can strip a carcass in a few hours, which helps keep our environment clean and disease-free, not to mention re-cycling nutrients.

Threats to vultures include:

Power lines: Vultures’ large wing span makes it difficult to turn quickly and avoid power lines.

Loss of food supply: Humans have encroached on wildlife areas, resulting in a diminished food supply for vultures (and others.)

Direct poisoning: Poachers poison vultures to prevent them from alerting rangers to the location of a poaching victim.

Indirect poisoning: Farmers poison the predators who prey on their livestock, and vultures die when they consume these carcasses.

Veterinary drugs, such as diclofenac, kill vultures when they consume animal carcasses that died despite medical attempts to save them.

Traditional medicine: Some believe that some diseases can be cured with vulture body parts, or that consuming vulture body parts will give them paranormal visions.

Direct persecution: Vultures are perceived by some cultures to be pests.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge works with the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust to help survey nesting sites and perform vulture counts. In addition, they help fit satellite tracking devices and tags on the birds and report to VulPro, Vulture Protection in Southern Africa, when a tracked vulture visits the lodge or is otherwise spotted.

The largest birds are the Maribou Storks, but the others are mainly vultures of one kind or another. Two of the most common kinds of vultures found in this crowd are endangered – the hooded vulture and the white-backed vulture. I thought there would be more competitive fighting over the meat, but there wasn’t. Whatever challenges there are elsewhere, in the local area, they must find enough food.

That said, it doesn’t take long for them to consume the pieces thrown out for them, and then the birds are gone.

I mailed postcards in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The clerk even helped me stick the stamps on because I had so many – there had been no opportunity to mail them while on tour, so I had quite a collection. I haven’t heard if any of them have been delivered. Things got pretty chaotic in Zimbabwe soon after I was there, so it’s possible that mail delivery suffered.

I went on a game drive in a private reserve one morning. There was only one other person, who turned out to be from Ann Arbor, Michigan, so we talked about Ann Arbor and Toledo.

Baboons are always entertaining as long as they have not become too friendly with humans. They are so agile and active. Here, they are coming down from their tree in the morning to warm themselves in the sun and find something to eat. The dominant male came down last, and kept an eye on his family while sitting a little separately to keep watch, too.

This hyena was looking for breakfast, too, and visited a handy giraffe carcass that was nice and ripe, much of it having already been eaten over a couple of weeks (estimate of the guide.) There were other hyenas in the area barking, and so he looked up every so often to see if any were near.

We came across a couple of Impala males who were facing off to see who would dominate. It’s a major preoccupation for males in the animal world.

There’s a yellow hornbill in the branches. They are elusive birds, and their coloring does a good job of hiding them.

A placid Zebra, and warthogs – you gotta love ’em. This Zebra is found in Southern Africa – the brownish stripe gives them away. Warthogs are everywhere. They are not very bright, which is why the warthog in “The Lion King” is named “Pumba.” It turns out that pumba is Swahili for stupid. (Or at least, so I am told.)

The animal on its knees, above, is actually a Bush Pig. I saw them again later on. They can be very aggressive, even though small, so humans should be cautious with them. You’d think their knees would be sore, but that’s how they graze.

We returned from the game drive around lunchtime. I wanted to get to the train station and make a reservation to take the train from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. It runs overnight from the Falls to Bulawayo.

The ticket seller’s window was closed for lunch, so I walked over to the Victoria Falls Lodge, a much older and more traditional establishment than the upstart, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. VF Lodge has the more restrained, sedate atmosphere, left over from when people traveled by train (hence the proximity,) and dressed for dinner.

One of the great things about hotels like that is that a person can walk in straight from the game drive and be served just as if they were a duchess because, you never know…. So, I walked in, straight from the game drive, in my game drive dishevelment and muddy shoes (I did knock the worst off before I walked through the lobby,) and sat down on their terrace. A server arrived immediately with a menu and I asked for coffee with milk, please. It arrived in a coffee cup (not a tea cup,) accompanied by milk, warmed, thank you, in well under a minute.

I had lunch, a sandwich, but I wasn’t ready to leave yet. It was very pleasant on the terrace. I ordered dessert, something I rarely do, and sat with my brownie and ice cream and coffee, savoring the moment: being in Africa, watching the “smoke” rise from Victoria Falls in the distance, the warthogs gamboling in the garden, and thanking the powers of the Universe for letting me have this moment.

May 11, 2019

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

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