African Wildlife Encounters

African Elephants in the wild.

Siduli Hide: An African Wildlife Experience at Victoria Falls

Author(s): Animalinfo Publications - Diana Andersen

An Encounter with Elephants and Giraffe

Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of Giraffes in the wild. As a zookeeper, I had seen them up close many times but seeing them in their natural environment is different. From inside the Siduli Hide at the waterhole below the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, my guide from Discover Safaris quietly taps my shoulder and points out the entrance door behind us. As I turn to see, I catch sight of a long neck and large soulful eyes surveying our presence. The desire to drink has brought the Giraffe to the waterhole but the caution in his behaviour is immediately apparent. There is not the same relaxed saunter that you see in Zoo animals... after all, this is Africa and danger is part of everyday life.

From inside the hide, I can see Nile crocodiles less than ten metres away. They wait, barely moving as helmeted guineafowl scratch around in the dry earth around the waterhole. A grey heron preens its plumage, seemingly oblivious to the crocodiles and a yellow-billed stork in the water practices some athletic fishing manoeuvres. A giant kingfisher swoops and catches a fish. On the bank of the waterhole, its meal is interrupted by a juvenile crocodile that charges unexpectedly from the water attempting to steal a meal of the fish, the kingfisher, or both but misses its target. Sometimes referred to as “undertaker birds”, groups of marabou storks stand around as if waiting for their next client. The giraffe that was behind us now appears at the front of the hide, although still partially obscured by trees and vegetation we can now see that he is not alone. My guide tells me that something is spooking them, they are more nervous than they should be. Anticipation of what that might be raises my adrenalin level a notch!

Grey heron preening seen from inside the Siduli Hide

Giant kingfisher at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge waterholeHelmeted guineafowl walking around the waterhole seen from inside the Siduli HideYellow-billed stork fishing in the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge waterhole.In an instant, the giraffes receded into the bush and vanished. My guide, whispers that he thinks he hears elephants. Surely not, I can’t hear anything but birds! To my amazement, with very little sound a fast striding elephant appears, pausing momentarily to look straight at the hide entrance. It is obvious that while the hide offers protection, the approaching animal is immediately aware of our presence. She flaps her ears and her head more than fills my camera viewfinder… time to change cameras for a shorter lens! More elephants stride in raising dust clouds as they head to the waterhole to drink. The group lowers their trunks in unison and drinks their fill before amusing themselves by squirting water and raising more dust. For the first time, the crocodiles move a little to avoid the large lumbering feet.

Elephant arriving at the waterholeNile Crocodile at the waterhole in front of the Siduli Hide

Curious about our presence, the group gradually wanders closer to the hide, close enough for me to feel the need to back away from the viewing slot to avoid curious trunks. As quickly as they appeared the group was gone again. As an animal photographer, the day could not have gotten any better, but as I turned my attention back to the birds, my guide again indicated that I should look in the direction the elephants had gone. With the departure of the elephants, the group of Southern Giraffe had returned. Still cautious, they gradually emerged from the bush and headed for the water. A large male in front was the first to drink with the other females and a younger animal queuing behind. Such large, majestic animals their long strides give the illusion of movement in slow motion. With the failing light and the call of the Grey Go-Away Bird, it is time for us to go.

Sudilu Hide elephants getting close to the hide entrance

Southern Giraffe drinking at the waterhole below Victoria Falls Saferi LodgeThe elephants and giraffes visiting the waterhole have come from the adjoining Zambezi National Park, a 56,000 hectare area bounded by the Zambezi River. On the walk back to our vehicle, I question my guide about the dry conditions of the surrounding bush. Despite the area having a striking beauty, the bush seems devoid of moisture and much of the vegetation appears dead leaving me to wonder how the animals find food. He assures me that when the rain comes the trees will sprout again but for Zimbabwe and much of the Southern African region, the rainy season is becoming much less reliable. Zimbabwe has only had one good rainy season in the past five years. Lack of water and vegetation is putting pressure on wildlife and is increasing the incidence of human/wildlife conflict as desperate animals cross into farming areas in search of food and water. Climate change is a harsh reality in this region that cannot be denied.

African Elephants at the waterhole below Victoria Falls Safari LodgeMuch of the wildlife in Zimbabwe’s national parks rely on waterholes like the one below the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. In parks like the Hwange National Park in the north of Zimbabwe, authorities are pumping water in the dry season to help support struggling populations of elephants, lions, wild dogs, hyenas, and other wildlife, as well as birds and aquatic life. If the pattern of drought does not change, it will not be enough. Regular water supplies for wildlife like the Mana Pools, a group of four perennial waterholes in Mana Pools National Park are failing. The pools that are usually filled each year by the flooding Zambezi River have been lucky to get 50% of the water they used to receive turning them into muddy death traps.

Southern Giraffe leaving the waterhole below Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

In the past in Zimbabwe, national park management has always adopted a non-intervention policy when it comes to feeding wildlife. After an early end to a poor rainy season the previous year, and the death of wild fauna including elephants from lack of food and water, supplementary feeding began in July 2019 to help sustain wildlife populations until the next rain. Elephants and other wildlife already face threats to their survival from poaching, loss of habitat and conflict with humans. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, giraffe numbers have declined by 30% in the past three decades. Elephant numbers are still declining at an unsustainable rate due to the illegal ivory trade. There is a great deal of conservation work being undertaken in Africa to support species under threat, but the impact of global warming and climate change is an issue that must be addressed on a global and individual basis. The prospect of future generations being unable to experience wildlife in natural habitats would be a tragedy.

From the balcony of my room the following morning I can see impala, greater kudu, bushbuck, and warthog visiting the waterhole to drink. Although I am much further from the activity at the waterhole, the view is nonetheless mesmerizing.  I felt both lucky and privileged to have been able to glimpse the daily life of these animals so closely, an activity that I would thoroughly recommend to visitors to the lodge.

Species Seen at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Waterhole

Greater Kudu in the bush around the Siduli Hide

Impala drinking at the waterhole below the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

I was lucky enough to see a good variety of animals at the waterhole.  I am sure it was only a small portion of the wildlife that potentially visits. Below is the list that will correctly identify the animals mentioned and included in the photos.

Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus)

Southern Giraffe (G. g. giraffa)

African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana)

Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)

Impala (Aepyceros melampus)

Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)

Grey Heron (Ardea cinereal)

Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima)

Marabou storks (Leptoptilos crumenifer)

Yellow-billed stork (Mycteria ibis)

Grey Go-Away Bird (Corythaixoides concolor)Bushbuck in the bush around the Siduli Hide

Visit Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Further Reading from this Author

Vulture Restaurants: A Dining Experience with a Difference

African Vulture Conservation: Guardians of the Ecosystem

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