Baobab Blitz-Fruit Bats and ethereal flowers

In late November, after watching flower buds develop on the baobab trees at Chilo, we got down to some “citizen science” with our entranced guests..IMG_9579.JPG

… so much fun was had, watching baobab flowers opening at night and eating baobab-themed meals. Rain was dripping down, much needed after a drought season, so no complaints – just a bit of a problem getting into the park – but village trips by Clive and our Chilo guides, and baobab movies by Ralph Stutchbury kept  every one busy-

Here is our sweet Chilo “Sunrise Baobab”, one of my favorite trees, looking down the Save River….

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and here he is again by moonrise…(photo by courtesy of Chris Sheppard)

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We had good sightings of elephants, during the Baobab Weekend…


and for the birders, a wonderful view of an African broadbill displaying, in the Sandforest…IMG_1118.JPG

Plus guests saw wild dog in the park on a game drive and, wonderfully, one lone wild dog calling plaintively for her pack in the cool of an overcast morning, on the sands opposite Chilo!

A haunting sound…….one of my favorites…

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On park drives we investigated baobabs everywhere we could, such as this beauty near Mahove Camp site, now protected from hungry elephants by our wire netting technique… alliance with Frankfurt Zoological Society and Park management.

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So many living things use baobabs as home…

Note the Ansellia orchid high in the branches…

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and this spectacular python curled inside a hollow cavity, having just shed it’s skin, glistening and new and waiting for real rains and good hunting….


plus millipedes, “Chongololos”, waiting in cool baobab crevices for real rain to come…


Magnificent elephants crossing the Save river below Chilo Gorge deck accompanied coffee and tea…


Here is one of Heike Pander’s fabulous elephant photos , from an excellent article in the Huffington Post…..

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The highlight, of course, was watching the fleeting, ethereal baobab flowers open each night and fading the next day…falling to the ground in gorgeous rosettes of white, fading to deep rust as they dried…

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The large, heavy, white flowers are 12 cm across, pendulous and showy, they have a sweet scent……


but later emit a sulphur/carrion smell, sometimes strong and sometimes weaker…

They turn brown and fall after 24 hours.


perfect “dried roses”…..


Lucky guests at the baobab weekend were hosted by Sarah Venter and Ralph Stutchbury, together with Clive Stockil, the “Sunrise Baobab” in the background…

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 Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge  welcomed guests in to the warm glow of our re-cycled art “baobab” lights..


Dr Sarah Venter, the owner of EcoProducts in Louis Trichardt, South Africa, is passionate about the Baobab Tree and her doctorate thesis focuses on the life cycle and conservation of this iconic African Tree.
Eco Products specializes in the production of organic baobab seed oil and organic baobab super fruit powder, empowering venda women to support themselves. We were lucky to have samples of the products, delicious powder to make our morning smoothies with milk or fruit juice, and smooth baobab oil to rub into our grateful skins!

we made this cheesecake– easy and truly delicious!

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Big plus: we tasted varied and excellent products from Zimbabwe’s own passionate baobab product guru, Gus le Breton, co-founder of Phytotrade and founder and CEO of B’Ayoba, a baobab processing company based in Harare, Zimbabwe


My favorite breakfast…

Muesli, flavoured and thickened with milk, marula jelly and baobab powder..

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We savoured views of exquisite white baobab flowers against cobalt skies…


We warned guests that if you inadvertently pick a flower from a baobab, you might just find a lion staring you in the face….

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Traditionally valued as sources of food, water, health remedies or places of shelter these charismatic trees are steeped in legend and superstition…..along the Zambezi, the tribes believe that baobabs were upright and too proud. The gods became angry and uprooted them and threw them back into the ground upside-down. Evil spirits now cause bad luck to anyone that picks up the sweet white flowers. More specifically, a lion will kill them!

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In contrast some people think that if one drinks from water in which Baobab seeds have soaked, you will be safe from crocodile attacks.

Pollination in the baobab is thought to be achieved primarily by fruit bats, but bush babies and several kinds of night insect such as hawk moths may also assist. Day-flying insects are unlikely to be pollinating because by sunrise, the stigma and style of the baobab flower is wilted and dry and therefore no longer receptive. However beetles that visit the flowers at night could certainly be contributing to pollination.

Gilly and Rich, managers of Chilo took these photos on the baobab tree near their house…


Close up of the beetle..

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Clive Stockil and the Chilo team observed the following insects in the flowers by day:

1. Honey Bee.
2. Little brown beetle (species unknown.)
3. Mopani Bee.
4. Stingless Bee – Trigonia.

mopane-beeSome aspects of the baobab’s reproductive biology are not yet understood. It is still speculated whether fertile baobab seeds can result from pollination by the tree’s own pollen. It would appear as if pollen from another tree is required for fertile seed, as isolated trees do form seed, only to abort them at a late stage. The existence of some very isolated trees, may then be due to their self-incompatibility and inability to reproduce.

So- Sarah Venter is investigating the pollination mechanism, and while Ralph filmed,


we sat around the Mahenye Airfield baobab,  watching flowers begin to open..


watching the calyx furl outwards,


and seeing the exquisite flower emerge in full white petticoats….


Under the Airfield baobab we saw hawkmoths, but no bats, perhaps because it was a rainy night.

Watching and chatting under the Sunrise baobab at Chilo each successive night, we saw hawk moths come and go, but most exciting, we saw the fruit bats who live in Chilo Lodge roof, actually visit the flowers, clinging in some instances to the side of the flower to lap nectar from the rich store at the base of the petals…

(Note from Sarah Venter: both Gambian (Peter’s) and Wahlberg’s fruit bat distribution overlap in this area and may roost together. These species can only be distinguished by the palatal ridges after the last molar! So basically can only be told apart if they are in the hand.)

Fruit bat observations by Lin Barrie and Kelli Barker:

27th November:

5.30 pm:
twenty four fruit bats, (Peter’s or Wahlberg’s epauletted-we can not tell which from a distance) are roosting on beams in the thatch roof at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge. Four of them are licking their epaulettes.
Two in particular are cuddled close.


5.59 pm:
more activity – one scratching its head with fingers..

6.06 pm ten out of the twenty four are licking their wings and shoulder epaulettes with very long pink tongues!


Very doglike in their facial expressions and action…


6.19 pm some active bats adjacent to each other “growl” at each other -noses outstretched…
One of these flies away from the group..

6.15 pm:
All bats are licking and active except one who dozes, head wrapped in his wing..

6.30 pm
Two bats fly around in a circle and land on the thatch nearby…

6.36 pm
All but six bats have left after flying round.

all have flown but some return through the roof beams and fly around calling- lots of flight interaction throughout the roof and back again…some land. Perched bats stare intently at passing flying bats and when some come close they lift their wings and seem to hunch or shrug their shoulders at each other…

I can hear bats ” pinging” from the trees outside the building

6.45 pm
Most have now dispersed- even Mr Dozy!
The two who were cuddled close have flown together…
A few bats keep flying around- interacting with each other.

Some perch in other parts of the thatch roof.

Going outside I can hear the various distinctive tones of individual fruit bats calling from their perches on the surrounding Bravhystegia glaucesens trees

7.06 pm
Buds are cracking on the “Save Sunrise” baobab.

Two Hawk moths visit the “Save Sunrise” baobab.

6.30 pm flowers opening…..

A fruit bat flies through the baobab’s leafy canopy

8.30 pm flowers are 3/4 opened and I notice a first wave of sulphur sweet scent

I notice another wave of scent…

I see a hawk moth high in the canopy.

Notice another wave of scent…

We see three different visits by fruit bats to the flowers that night…

Tuesday 29th November:
8.33 am Kelli notices a baby ! It is large, cuddled against its mother -hidden within her wings, and only becomes apparent when all the bats become restless and start licking and cleaning themselves with their long pink tongues! Then it becomes very active, wriggling madly and barely restrained by the long-suffering mum!IMG_1489.jpg

The baobab is a traditional food plant in Africa, but is little-known elsewhere. The vegetable has been suggested to have the potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development, and support sustainable land care.

The fruit of the baobab are large, egg-shaped capsules. They are filled with pulp that dries, hardens, and falls to pieces which look like chunks of powdery, dry bread. The seed are hard, black and kidney-shaped.

The pulp contains 50% more calcium than spinach, is high in antioxidants, and has three times the vitamin C of an orange. The dry pulp is either eaten fresh or dissolved in milk or water to make a drink. The leaves can be eaten as relish. Young fresh leaves are cooked in a sauce and sometimes are dried and powdered. The powder is called lalo in Mali and sold in many village markets in Western Africa. Oil extracted by pounding the seeds can be used for cooking but this is not widespread. In Sudan — where the tree is called tebeldi — people make tabaldi juice by soaking and dissolving the dry pulp of the fruit, locally known as gunguleiz.
In 2008, the European Union approved the use and consumption of baobab fruit as an ingredient in smoothies and cereal bars. The United States Food and Drug Administration granted generally recognized as safe status to baobab dried fruit pulp as a food ingredient in 2009.
Baobab leaves are sometimes used as forage for ruminants in dry season. The oilmeal, which is a byproduct of oil extraction, can also be used as animal feed. In times of drought elephants consume the juicy wood below its bark.

Baobab seed withstand drying and remain viable over long periods, as it has a hard seed coat. It can potentially be dispersed over long distances, and its germination potential is improved when it has passed through the digestive tract of an animal. Animals like elephants, black rhinos and eland can potentially convey the seeds over long distances. Baboons likewise spread the seeds in their dung, but over shorter distances.

Arab traders introduced it to northwestern Madagascar. There they were often planted at the center of villages, and sometimes outlived them.

About wineandwilddogs

Lin Barrie The Save Valley Conservancy stretches along the upper reaches of the great Save River in the south east of Zimbabwe. The Gonarezhou National Park laps against the southern banks of the Save River and between these two nestles the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. These three celebrated wildlife areas form part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, (GLTFCA)- a unique wilderness jewel which is home to the “Big Five” (endangered Black and White rhinos, elephants, buffalo, lion, leopard) and the ”Little Six” (Klipspringer, Suni, Duiker, Steenbok, Sharpe's Grysbok and Oribi). Endangered African wild dogs, Cheetah, Brown hyena, Bat-eared foxes and a host of special birds and plants contribute to the immense variety of this ecosystem. Communities around the GLTFCA contribute to innovative partnerships with National Parks and the private sector, forming a sound base on which to manage social, economic and environmental issues. This is home to artist and writer Lin Barrie and her life partner, conservationist Clive Stockil. Expressing her hopes, fears and love for this special ecosystem with oil paints on canvas, Lin Barrie believes that the essence of a landscape, person or animal, can only truly be captured by direct observation. Lin Barrie states: “Through my art, and my writing, I feel an intimate connection with the natural world, and from my extensive field sketches of wild animals, people and landscapes, I create larger works on canvas. Lin's work is in various public and private collections in South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Australia, England, Canada, Sweden and the United States of America. She is represented by galleries in South Africa, Zimbabwe, England, Kenya and Florida, USA.
This entry was posted in adventure travel, Africa, African flora, African Safari, african wildlife, art, baobab, beauty, bio diversity, birding, Chilo Gorge, Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, citizen science, clive stockil, conservation, conservation education, conservation news, conservation publication, cooking, cultural beliefs, culture, eco-tourism, edible plant, education, elephants, endangered species, flowers, food, food culture, Frankfurt Zoological Society, gardens, gardens and flowers, gonarezhou national park, great limpopo transfrontier conservation Area, Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, Honey gatherers, landscape, Uncategorized, wilderness, zimbabwe and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Baobab Blitz-Fruit Bats and ethereal flowers

  1. Pingback: Baobab Blitz-Fruit Bats and ethereal flowers | Luanshya musings

  2. Pingback: Bees, Baobabs and Baboons…… | wineandwilddogs

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