. Sketching on the deck at Chilo Gorge…….
As I drift in my thoughts, sketching an African wild dog in preparation for a larger painting, I become aware of splashing in the Save river far below me. Hippos, I guess- it must be the resident pod of three mothers and youngsters…I will watch them later once my sketch is done. It is background noise, intent as I am on my work. I add a puppy to the sketch. This is the time of year that the Alpha females of the various lowveld packs that we know of, will be heavily pregnant and searching for suitable den sites.
The intensity of the splashing increases, pulling my eyes off my page, and I see two young bull elephants rolling in the olive-green water below me!
They play and tussle for long minutes, submerging and keeling sideways, like toddlers in a play pool. Delight is mine, and I share this with nobody- all is still but for me and the elephants – that charmed hour between day and night.
The bulls splash over the shallow sand bar to the bank, stand a while and begin to browse slowly along the vegetation in front of me. The joy of watching wild animals undisturbed, is mine.
A monstrous crocodile draped on a sand bar does not impose, she is merely a silent and awesome presence. Part of the landscape. As is the gigantic and equally silent baobab behind her…
Silence is broken only by the crunchy munching of the two elephants as they tear at green stuff, and then one elephant’s flatulence is let loose on a grand scale! Laughing, I wonder at how lucky I am to be in this place at this time…
A leopard begins its rasping grunt on the far bank. I peer intently through the decorative railing, entranced. I imagine the hidden spotted cat watching the elephants….and they seem to do the same, lifting heads high and cocking their ears, but relaxed in the knowledge that a mere cat is no match for them.
The baboons coming sneakily in to roost on the rocks think otherwise, and set up a hullabaloo, anxious to get to bed before the cat begins prowling. A golden glow to match the depth of the leopard’s rasp throws a warm mantle over the rocks. The name ”Chilo” means ‘baboon roost’.
As dusk falls, the occasional squeal of a chastised baboon baby punctuates the air and the two elephants continue to browse along the edge, stretching far with extendable trunks to reach into the high branches of desirable trees. More impressive flatulence is loosed by the stretches of the two.
Then comes a fly – past, a band of raucous Hadeda ibis – oh- three only! They make noise enough for seven! They fade upriver to find their favourite night roost. Just a little taste of paradise, as I peer through the railings of the deck, suspended over the pristine wilderness that is Chilo Gorge on the edge of Gonarezhou National Park…
And to top it all, I know that somewhere out there in the half-light, the African wild dog pack which resides in this area is hunting their supper! Hopefully, they will successfully den this year, as they did last year. A satisfying thought, which fills me with warm anticipation of months to come, spent in this special place on the edge of Gonarezhou. I will use this sketch of wild dog and pup to adorn the Jerabohm, the huge 3 litre bottle of Painted Wolf Wine that Jeremy Borg is donating for auction to our Taste of Africa event on 29th June at the Mukuvisi Woodlands in Harare. An awareness and fundraising event for the conservation of all African wild dogs in Zimbabwe!