It was the sound of a calloused hand casually stroking
a leather briefcase: it was directly behind me and it was very, very close.
I instantly recognized the sound and realized the extreme danger I
was in. I slowly turned around.
massive bull elephant had stopped less than 3 meters behind me. Its
incredible grey bulk towered over me and blocked out the late
Standing absolutely still, I felt the gentle breeze
on my face and my heart tuned cold as ice as a tsunami of
adrenalin washed over me.
Any sudden movement or sound would be catastrophic.
The bull raised the tip of his gigantic trunk and
uncertainly sniffed the air, moving it slowly from side to side like
a cobra hypnotizing a rat.
In the silence and slow-motion of an action replay,
I looked up at the thick twin columns of ivory, stained by time and
tree sap to the caramel of a chain-smokers’ fingers.
Like a mouse before a Rottweiler and only my Canon
7D in my hand, I stood defenseless and facing an unpredictable granite mountain of
muscle and bone - and I felt the dread chill of fear.
It was the soft scrape of the bull’s front sole on
the red sand that alerted me.
My two friends,
Kobus Hugo and
were oblivious of the impending danger and
were sitting in the vehicle behind me, busily taking photos of the
other elephants playing in the waterhole.
had come to Hwange through Botswana’s via Nata pans and the
Pandametanga border gate.
Every year a couple of friends and I go to a place
where the last bit of wild Africa still can be experienced. We go to Moremi, Savuti, Linyanti, Caprivi, Chobe, Magadigadi - the places
with the magical names and wild freedom from email, work, cellphones
and other responsibilities. This year it was Kobus, myself and
We have one inviolable rule: what is said in the
bush stays in the bush. So we talk about sex, money, God, family,
careers and life - but not necessarily in that order.
We go to get our perspective back and we come back
stronger - more focussed and even better friends.
The three of us camped at Nata lodge (20° 13.514’S
26° 15.942’E) with hot showers and good facilities for one night for
P186. Diesel was P6.36 per liter in Nata.
Entry to Nata Pan was 60 Pula. It is an endless
expanse of shallow, briny water with thousands of flamingos
patrolling for small crustaceans and diatoms.
Every year, as if by magic, the flamingos know
conditions are right and they begin to arrive by the thousands
within days of flooding. Approximately 30,000 breeding pairs of
greater and lesser flamingos turn the surface of the pans a deep
The high salinity and the abundance of nutrients
brought in by the rivers provide highly productive conditions which
causes algal blooms. Some of the algae provide food for the small
invertebrates, otherwise known as shrimps. These shrimps hatch from
eggs that can lie dormant in the dry pans for years. Greater
Flamingo predominantly eat crustaceans such as fairy shrimp, various
species of seed shrimp and water fleas.
Lesser Flamingo specialise in feeding on microscopic
algae and diatoms, which they filter with unbelievable precision.
With an abundance of food flamingos take the
opportunity to reproduce. The pan provides good nest building
material on a site that is completely isolated and undisturbed by
land predators. Numbers breeding on Sua Pan often exceed total
estimates for southern Africa, estimated to be approximately 47,000
Greater and 26,000 Lesser Flamingos. These additional birds may be coming from East
The origin and migration routes of these flamingos
were, until recently, a mystery. In July 2001, the first
satellite-tracking project on flamingos in southern Africa was
carried out at Makgadikgadi in an attempt to uncover some of the
mystery behind flamingo migration.
A highly dispersed movement was observed over a 6
month period, with destinations including sites in Namibia, South
Africa and Mozambique. Migration was recorded only during the night
which supports the theory that flamingos migrate in darkness.
Entrance to the pans was 30 Pula per person.